Elementary School Music

Teaching for Musical Understanding

Posted in Books for Teachers by P. Conrad on January 16, 2010

This is the second edition  of a 2001 academic book that emphasizes the constructivist approach to teaching — meaning the teacher steps out of the center of the classroom to create more opportunities for discovery by the students. This is an essential but immensely tricky aspect to teaching music with young students.

Jackie Wiggins is a professor at Oakland University and author of Teaching for Musical Understanding which is just out in its second edition from McGraw-Hill. The book is discussed favorably on the Music Work blog. (Unfortunately, it’s hard to find in city libraries and few used copies are available at amazon.)

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“Blueprint 2.0”

Posted in NYC DOE Resources by P. Conrad on December 20, 2009

In the spring of 2008 the Department of Education’s Office of Arts and Special Projects published a revised second edition of its Blueprint for Teaching & Learning in the Arts for music.

There’s a link for teachers to download the document as a .pdf file from the DOE website, but hundreds of  printed copies were distributed to music teachers and principals when it was first published. A quick peek at the new Music Blueprint shows great improvements both in content and design. (Although the font sizes are still small, the new layout makes it much easier to use.)

The Blueprint is meant to guide the teaching of music across 14 years of early childhood and young adulthood, including college prep. It’s based on the idea that music cannot be taught in isolation from the rest of the curriculum, and that along with performance and aesthetic appreciation, teaching and learning of music must emphasize music’s role in our daily lives and communities, including the world of work. Nearly half the bulk of the new edition is comprised of material excerpted from another document that was distributed to music teachers several years ago, Music From the Inside Out: A Resource Guide for Music Teachers. This consists of extensive essays compiled by WNYC’s John Schaefer on music through history and around the world.There’s also a pretty extensive list of resources, including books and recordings as well as on-line materials.


Since the Blueprint is a forward-looking document, this second edition is still an early stage in in its development. And this is made pretty clear early on, on page 9, in the introduction: “The new plan. . . will, as it evolves, provide clear and rigorous forms of assessment based on the best practices offered in the field.” The phrase “as it evolves” suggests that there is more work to be done. There are examples of “Wraparounds” — templates for planning lessons based on a piece of musical repertoire so as to include all five of the Blueprint strand. These pages do refer to assessment. However, evaluating learning outcomes is not dealt with very directly in this document.

The Blueprint is not the place to find a critical look at the fundamental problem faced by anyone who wants to make broad improvements in the teaching and learning of music in New York City’s public schools: scheduling and staffing are entirely up to the principals in each school, and these decisions are based on fluctuating enrollment and class sizes. Many schools cannot guarantee every child will have weekly music instruction throughout each of his or her seven years in elementary school. In some schools, one out of the four kindergarten classes will simply do without music; sometimes the whole fourth grade will have two science classes per week — at the expense of one weekly period for music. In addition, some New York City students change schools several times during their elementary careers.

Under these circumstances, consistent achievement (and assessments) for second and fifth graders throughout a given school, or across the whole city will be wildly impractical and difficult to ensure. Since the Blueprint document isn’t the place to address this problem, readers are left alone with the question: “What will my students learn, and how will I know they are learning it?”

Year at a Glance Lesson Planning

Posted in Lesson Planning by P. Conrad on November 21, 2009

In Jefferson County, Colorado teachers are guided by “Year-at-a-Glance” lessons plans that organize each year’s music learning into three trimesters. These are keyed to the district’s standards, but can easily be adapted for use with NYS Arts Standards or with the five strands of the Department of Education’s Blueprint.

The documents are worth looking at as an example of macro planning in music education. Their language suggests that the curriculum writers are familiar with Kodàly methodology’s organizing concepts (“prepare” / “present” / “practice“).

..First Grade ….. Second Grade …..Third Grade…..Fourth Grade …..Fifth Grade

Jefferson County Schools Music Curriculum

Music Education Standards in New York City

Posted in Music Standards by P. Conrad on November 9, 2009

Below are links and descriptions of the following:

  • National Standards for Music Education
  • NY State Arts Standards for Music
  • NYC Blueprint for Teaching & Learning in the Arts

For NBPTS standards for teachers, see the Professional Development page.

About the Standards

National Standards for Music Education

1. Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
2. Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
3. Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments.
4. Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.
5. Reading and notating music.
6. Listening to, analyzing, and describing music.
7. Evaluating music and music performances.
8. Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, & disciplines outside the arts.
9. Understanding music in relation to history and culture.

. . . That first item brings to mind a wonderful image: a young person who is “singing, alone and with others.” The existing National Standards for the Arts, New York State standards for the arts, and the NYC Department of Education’s “Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Arts” are all based on a single very important notion: that every child has the right to a rich, complete education, regardless of his or her race, or social class, or gender, or ability. They are written in an effort to guarantee this right, so it won’t be overlooked as city and state school systems organize their budgets and educational programs.

They’re directly useful for almost everyone involved: even with their tortured academic language, our national and state standards and the NYC Blueprint provide teachers with valuable reference points and opportunities for thinking about what we do each day.  Yet two questions keep nagging if you actually sit and read (or skim through) these documents: who wrote this stuff? and then, in what school did they envision all of this activity taking place?

“Accountability” is a favorite word in a lot of current writing on education. Balanced literacy calls for kids to engage in accountable talk, and schools, supervisors, and teachers are meant to be accountable for what children learn — or what they don’t. (The current mania for high-stakes testing is a symptom of this: education policy is being shaped by people trained in law and business administration, so the numerical data can take on a nearly mystical importance.) The standards help establish exactly what is expected of everyone.

Standards emphasize two basic curriculum categories: content (meaning what will be presented to the learners) and achievement (meaning what the learner will know and be able to do as a result). The NYC Blueprint calls these “subject-based curricula” and “outcome-based curricula.” Performance standards (or benchmarks) specify the abilities a child can be expected to achieve at the end of a predetermined course of study.

Below are links to some of the documents that make up our national and NY State arts standards as they affect the teaching of music in pre-kindergarten through 4th or 5th grades. In some cases, detailed descriptions of the standards can be downloaded as PDF files and printed out.

National Standards for Music Education

NYC Blueprint for Teaching & Learning in Music

New York State Department of Education’s “Standards for Arts Education” as they apply to music are linked below:

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How Much Music Should Our Students Have?

Posted in Music Standards, NYC DOE Resources by P. Conrad on May 13, 2007

The ongoing re-organization of New York City’s public school system has had some dramatic moments in the past year. One of these came when it was announced that Project Arts funding would no longer be earmarked for arts education, but would simply be a part of each principal’s budget, to be spent as he or she deemed best for the school. [There’s an interesting update on this policy: See Richard Kessler’s December 2009 blog post on the restoration of dedicated arts funding.]

There was an outcry from people who feared many principals given the choice might divert that money to literacy and math instruction for children who were not meeting standards. Enough that then-Chancellor Joel Klein saw fit to issue a special Chancellor’s Message on the Arts in the February 27, 2007 Principals Weekly re-affirming his commitment to arts education for all children.

Then, on June 23, 2007, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled a further measure to ensure that arts education will not be threatened during the undergoing re-organization of schools. The program — called “ArtsCount”— was given a sketchy description in the The New York Times the following day: it is basically a system of accountability for arts education that can be applied to schools and principals as a part of the overall school quality reviews and school “report cards.” The Department of Education’s announcement provides more detail.

Meanwhile, the Office of Arts and Special Projects issued a scary-looking document that sifted existing New York State regulations and the City’s own standards to come up with a formula for what constitutes acceptable levels of arts education, in terms of instructional hours distributed over the course of a school year.

Following is the OASP’s description of the New York State requirements for arts education at the elementary levels in New York City schools. Click here to download the full MS Word document (2 pp.).

NYSED Guidelines Grades 1 – 3
“In grades 1-3, 20% of the weekly time spent in school should be allocated to dance, music, theatre and visual arts” (Summary of Arts Provisions, pg 3)

In New York City, this is the equivalent of approximately 186 hours throughout the entire school year allocated equally between dance, music, theater, and visual arts, with approximately 46.5 hours per year in each discipline.

(186 Instructional Days/Year; 5 instructional hours/day = 930 total instructional hours/year in grades 1 -4. State guidelines recommend 20% of total instructional time to be spent in the arts for grades 1 – 3, which is the equivalent of 186 hours/year.)

NYSED Guidelines Grade 4
“In grade 4, 10% of the weekly time spent in school should be allocated to dance, music, theatre and visual arts” (Summary of Arts Provisions, pg 4)

In New York City, this is the equivalent of approximately 93 hours throughout the entire school year equally allocated between dance, music, theater, and visual arts, with approximately 23 hours per year in each discipline.

(186 Instructional Days/Year; 5 instructional hours/day = 930 total instructional hours/year. State guidelines recommend 10% of total instructional time to be spent in the arts for grade 4, which is the equivalent of 93 hours per year.)

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The National Standards

Posted in Music Standards by P. Conrad on September 7, 2006

The complete national standards in music (PreK-12) are available as a 48-page softcover book, The School Music Program: A New Vision (MENC, 1994). ISBN 1-56545-039-6 ($19.00). Or you can read them online at the MENC site. They include the following:

Opportunity-to-Learn Standards for Music Instruction: Grades PreK-12
Opportunity-to-Learn Standards are like a recipe for some professionals’ idea of the ideal learning environment. They are “intended to specify the physical and educational conditions necessary in the schools to enable every student, with sufficient effort, to meet the voluntary national content and achievement standards in music.” Here are wonderful lists of instruments and audio equipment, and measures of how often and for how long classes ought to meet. (The OTL also contains the seeds of the NYC Blueprint: one line reads: “The music curriculum is described and outlined in a series of sequential and articulated curriculum guides for each grade level.”)

Performance standards will be more familiar to people who witnessed the widespread use of New York State’s ELA and Math Standards in 1999. A single student response (or performance) can be keyed to a particular standard, to show where it reflects that bit of curriculum. Here’s where teachers can find specific assessment activities for measuring a child’s abilities, with reference to each standard, at any of three levels: “Basic,” “Proficient,” or “Advanced,” depending on how consistently the child can keep a steady beat, or identify different musical genres (for example).

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New York State Arts Standards

Posted in Music Standards by P. Conrad on September 7, 2006

There are four Arts Standards designated by New York State Department of Education. Each link below is for the relevant standard as it applies to teaching and learning about music:

1. Creating and Performing

2. Knowing & Using Arts Materials & Resources

3. Responding to and Analyzing Works of Art

4. Understanding Cultural Dimensions and Contributions of the Arts

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The Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Arts

Posted in Uncategorized by P. Conrad on September 7, 2006

The Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Arts:

Blueprint-image.pngNew York City’s Arts Blueprint is a somewhat different kind of document, built around an awareness that “the diversity of art forms, cultures, settings, and practices that entice visitors from around the world are available every day to our City’s youth.” The Blueprint goes beyond the national and NYS standards, by conceiving of relevant learnings that are common to all the fine arts. It is the product of a collaboration between the Department of Education and members of the “New York cultural community” — arts organizations such as the New York Philharmonic. Teaching and learning of dance, drama, visual arts, and music is organized into five “strands.” The descriptions that follow are quoted directly from the Blueprint.

I. Arts Making
The arts-making strands indicate what students should be able to accomplish at the end of benchmark years: second, fifth, eighth, and twelfth grades. These charts provide “snapshots” of the learning process—the skills, knowledge, and appreciation that should be mastered in selected areas and how these are honed as students mature.

II. Literacy in the Arts
Each of the arts has its own vocabulary and literacy, as well as its own set of skills that support learning across the curriculum. For example, although musical notation is a language all its own, a student who develops skills in reading musical notation is at the same time developing skills useful to learning reading. Similarly, the careful observation of a work of art resembles the close reading of a text—one that includes making observations and drawing inferences. More generally, the arts provide students with inexhaustible subjects about which they may read and write, as well as engage in accountable talk.

III. Making Connections
This strand provides social, cultural, and historical contexts in which students may understand the arts, while indicating some of the links to other disciplines in the curriculum. Students are expected to apply knowledge and skills learned in the arts to assist them in interpreting the world around them.

IV. Community and Cultural Resources
New York City is rich in community and cultural resources. Students should be actively engaged with the institutions, schools, studios, community-based organizations, libraries, concerts, exhibitions, and artists that contribute to the cultural and economic vitality of the City. These resources are integral to the development of young artists and musicians, expanding their horizons and enhancing the instruction they receive in school.

V. Careers and Life-long Learning
While some students will pursue careers in arts-related fields, most will regard the arts as a means of expression and a source of life-long enjoyment. The career-building skills learned in arts activities are those required in all other fields of endeavor: goals setting, planning, and working independently and in teams.

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