Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review of the Draft Core Arts Standards

We have our first look at the new Core Arts Standards! The draft documents for Pre-K through 8th grade are now posted on the NCCAS wikispace. I have already downloaded the files to my Dropbox so I can view them on my iPhone or iPad easily. (If you are not familiar with Dropbox, you can read about it on a previous post.) There is a survey for each area (music, art, drama, dance) you can complete after you review the standards. These surveys are only available through July 15th.

Basic Elements?

Not really included, they are more implied. I love the nine standards that are currently in place. I wish they had just elaborated upon those. Another blogger, Tim Purdum, has already shared his thoughts of the draft and agrees that the standards focus on creating and improvising, but don't address the steps required to learn the basic fundamentals.  Wendy Davidson, a middle school band and choir teacher in my district, shares the same sentiment, "I totally agree that there is no standard for ELEMENTS OF MUSIC! When I did the survey review, I mentioned that if they are not addressed, that is a major problem. It's like building a beautiful house on sand instead of a foundation."
How can a student analyze and create music without first learning the basic elements? The students need a strong understanding of the musical elements before they can apply higher-order thinking skills like analysis.

Student-Friendly Terms?

No. Our school and district requires that we post the learning objective as an "I can . . . " statement in student-friendly terms. (If you missed this post, click this link.) Many of the music standards are very long and technical. Here is a music anchor standard under responding, "Explain how your analysis of the structure and context of the work influence your response." The essential question related to this standard is "How does understanding the structure and context of the music influence our response?"  No student I teach (K-5) would understand what this means. The writers of the standards are thinking about the teachers and not the students. I would like to see age-appropriate language under each grade level so that we do not have to reinterpret the standards for our student learning objectives.

Grade-level specific?

Yes! Each grade level (Pre-K through 8th) has a description of how they should fulfill each anchor standard. I love how the early grades use language like "with guidance" and "with support." The language also progresses through the hierarchy of Bloom's taxonomy. Take a look at the second page of the Music Standards under Responding:

The verbs change from explore in Pre-K, to demonstrate in Kindergarden. First grade is asked to identify and demonstrate while 2nd and 3rd grades are asked to identify and write or explain. Fourth grade and up are asked to analyze. If you notice, the writers have used italics to draw your attention to the simple changes from one grade level to another. This is extremely helpful for teachers to interpret the standards. It looks as if they will also include lists of suggested music in the future drafts. This would be helpful as well, although I hope districts interpret them as suggestions only and do not limit us to a short list of repertoire.

Secondary Applications?

My colleague, Wendy, also shared her thoughts on how the standards would apply the ensemble setting vs. humanities classes,

"I know from experience that by the time they get into middle school they are not ready (in a general music setting) for the 6-8 standards. I think the standards work very well for ensemble classes, but not for general music or arts and humanities."

The high school standards have not yet been shared because they will not be structured by grade level, since many elective classes may contain students of many grade levels all learning the same content. Instead, they will be written in terms of a student's 1st year of study, 2nd year of study, etc. Perhaps they should have done something similar for the middle grades to address this difference in learning curve between students enrolled in ensemble courses vs. students in a general music class or humanities class.

Consistency Across the Art Forms?

I also teach visual arts one day a week because we do not have a full-time art teacher at my school. I also try to integrate dance and drama into my music classes, when possible. Because of this, I took a look at the standards for all art forms. Aside from the common processes of Creating, Performing/Presenting/Producing, and Responding, there are major differences between each art from.  The music standards include 4 or 5 pages under each artistic process. However, the visual art process of creating includes 11 pages. Also, the music standards only have one essential question under each Anchor Standard while the visual art standards have 2-3 essential questions under each anchor standard. I also feel like the visual art standards are written in more student-friendly language than the music standards. I think the writing teams need to communicate more with each other so that there is more consistency with language and structure across the art forms.

What Do You Think?

Take time to review the draft standards and feel free to share your thoughts below. But, most importantly, share your thoughts with the writing teams! The survey is only available until July 15th!


  1. There is a great discussion about the standards happening on the AOSA Facebook page. Check it out:https://www.facebook.com/groups/146906471237/

  2. Check out the letter in response to Tim's original blog post. This information is coming from Scott Schuler, arts consultant for the Conneticut State Department of Education and former president of NAfME.http://timpurdum.com/2013/07/02/letter-from-scott-shuler/

  3. Another blog review of the standards. . .

  4. yes, I agree with you, especially referring to the visual arts standards! it would be great if the writing teams would communicate more with each other for consistency across disciplines. Thank you for a thoughtful blog post.

  5. Great thoughts, Rebecca! I especially like the fact that your colleague thought about the MS standards, which I sort of glossed over due to my current teaching situation. Also, you are absolutely correct that the visual arts standards are so much clearer.

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  7. After reading the preface that was recently added to the draft documents, I immediately thought of Wendy's comments and how she thought these standards are more suited for her ensembles and not her general humanities courses. But, the preface says these are for general music and the band ones have not been created yet. I have not spoken to Wendy since then but will shoot her a message. I'm not sure she knows about the added preface

  8. An FYI on the elements of music:
    In the preface pages to the draft, it states that the elements will be in the "additional key material". The "Vocabulary and concepts will include the elements of music.....".

  9. Yes, but the preface was not originally there and was not present at the time when I first reviewed them. It was added after committee members saw people commenting about their concerns in the document. See the above link to Scott's letter. Also, none of the other art forms have this added preface. However, they should not have shared the document in its current state without expecting some head scratching.

  10. And along with that, how do I review the standards when what I really want to see is not included in this draft? All of my comments would have to be qualified with "as long as I agree with all upcoming documents."

    I've always thought that we need to teach music, but use the regular classroom "language/terms" so other teachers and administrators will know that we are valuable. I feel like this document goes too far that way though.

    I want something that will connect us, possibly justify us, to the common core and what our administrators are looking for. I don't want our standards to go so far that way though that we get away from teaching music for music's sake.

  11. Just an observation about creating and improvising, and teaching the elements of music. While I agree that the basic elements should be included, I'm actually glad to see creating and improvising emphasized in the draft. My experience is that students can analyze and create music while simultaneously learning the basic elements - there is no need for complete mastery in order to begin teaching composition and improvisation. I integrate melody composition into my beginning band and strings programs, and my students love it. Right now they are writing simple melodies using their first five notes and simple rhythms. I also teach improv in much the same way - limited elements allow young students to reach higher-level thinking skills, and can (should?) be integrated at all levels of development. My experience is that students can analyze and create music while simultaneously learning the basic elements - there is no need for complete mastery in order to begin teaching composition and improvisation. As an added benefit, these creative activities seem to reinforce, not hinder, students' understanding of the musical elements.