Sunday, October 13, 2013

What is Music Curriculum??

I have written a series of posts about music curriculum work (here and here). As a K-12 music department, we have been part of a district-wide intensive review of the curriculum of every course we offer.  That means, as the K-12 music curriculum coordinator, I have spent a great deal of time the last 2-3 years thinking about what good curriculum is in a music classroom.  We use the Understanding by Design framework by Grant Wiggins.  

If you are a music/art/PE teacher, I bet you've had this conversation sometime:
"This curriculum stuff just doesn't work for us.  We don't fit into the neat model that everyone else does.  We're different.  We're constantly performing and assessing."

You're right.  And you're wrong.

If you are embarking on music curriculum work, the first thing you need to divorce yourself from is the idea that your songs are units of study.  Your songs are not units.  Your year is not made up of one concert unit after another.  In fact, I would suggest the music you perform is not even a topic within a unit.  The music we study and perform in music class is an activity.  

Ugh ... when our music department realized that the songs we study and perform are lowly activities ... the bottom of the curricular foodchain ... we went through a grieving process.  

If you don't believe me, consider this:
As a music teacher (or PE, or art, or any subject), you want to teach transferrable skills.  If you are teaching brush technique in art, you don't want to teach it from scratch every time you paint.  If you are a choir director, good breath support and tone quality are transferrable skills.  It doesn't mean the students will get it right every time, but the concepts of phrasing, diction, blend, etc. spiral upon themselves with increasing difficulty as your repertoire becomes more demanding.

Robert Duke in his book "Intelligent Music Teaching" (read it!) says,
There are physical habits and principles of music making that are applicable in almost all circumstances in which musicians find themselves, and it is these principles that form the core of what we refer to as musicianship. (145)

Adapted from our district's curriculum handbook
In other words, teach the transferrable skills.  A middle school or high school ensemble unit might be called "Musicianship Skills" and the topics might include breath support, tone quality, blend, dynamics, phrasing, intonation, etc.  And the activities through which you teach these skills are the songs you rehearse, study, and perform.  Another unit might be "Musicianship Knowledge" which could include topics on theory, history, and sightreading.  If you must have a "Concert" unit, make it the performance and audience skills that students gain by being part of a concert.

If you look at music curriculum from this perspective - from the perspective of transferrable skills - then music curriculum is just like every other subject in school.

By the way, if you are worried that all this curriculum work will stifle the creativity of your music program, think again.  Grant Wiggins, the guru of Understanding by Design, says so.  Well-designed curriculum will allow for more creativity, not less.

No comments:

Post a Comment