Visualizing the new standards

On June 30th, the drafts of the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards was released. It’s a major revision to the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education. I’m curious to see how the new standards progress as they go through the revision stages, but for now I’ve got a few critiques to share.

First, the strength of the 1994 Standards was in their simplicity. Nine basic guidelines for creating a rich, well-rounded music experience for our students. This draft of new K-8 general music standards is over ten pages. That’s a lot of information to digest, and that’s before we even get to standards for performing ensembles and other strands. Simplicity and adaptability should be the priorities, so that these standards can be accessible to music teachers in vastly different situations.

The draft as it stands right now is based on Scott Shuler’s concept of the ‘Three Artistic Processes‘, listed as creating, performing and responding. I don’t take issue with those three processes, but I do find it strange that they are kept separate when laying out the standards. The reality of music is that there is often a great deal of overlap between Creator, Performer, and Responder. In many cases, one single entity will be engaged in all three processes simultaneously.

It’s important to show the relationship between these standards, especially if they could be used by a non-musician as part of our evaluations. Part of the richness of music is the complex way in which all aspects interact with each other. We musicians can take our understanding of that concept for granted, but we can’t safely assume that a non-musician will have that same understanding.

I’d like to see a different visual representation of the Standards than what we currently have. I’ve created a simple graphic that could help a non-musician understand some of these relationships and redundancies. Understand that it is by no means complete, it’s just an example of the type of visual representation that could be beneficial when it comes to understanding the standards and how they interact.


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That graphic represents just a small number of the ways in which different musical experiences can intersect and interact. It can definitely be adapted to include a greater level of detail. Something like that visual could be a very helpful tool to accompany the new Standards.

One Last Question to Consider

There has been a lot of grumbling about the legitimacy of the Common Core Standards. Do we want to align our arts standards with an education movement that has involved minimal educator input? Do we want to pin ourselves to a framework that may be deeply flawed?

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17 thoughts on “Visualizing the new standards

  1. Excellent post, Joe. I would love to see how the graphic could be extended by adding Responding. Everything you have in the middle would remain, as these are so dependent on musical response. I think this would very much clarify for people how much interpretation of music does not just belong in “performing”, improvisation does not just belong in “creating”, and composition also does not just belong in “creating”. Part of the problem with the current system is that certain elements of a well-rounded musical experience are isolated into different curricula – the band performs, the music appreciation kids listen, the music tech students compose, the jazz band kids improvise. Each teacher needs to understand how they can contribute to the whole musical experience of the child.

    • Thanks, Richard. Adding Responding, I think we’d see a lot of overlap between that and Performing. We’re constantly asking our students to respond to both visual and aural stimuli in a rehearsal, things like tuning, tempo, balance, etc. Students also have to decode and respond to the intent of the composer with things like expression and phrasing. It’s a complex web.

  2. The interdependence is key. Performing does not occur without responding in real time AND creating an interpretation of one’s own (or collaboratively in an ensemble). We have to recognize that there is no such thing as “performing” that is devoid of the other two processes.

  3. I totally agree with Brian Wis. Performing can also be viewed as responding– even if it’s to yourself or the audiation of printed music. You cannot respond if music isn’t present in some form (e.g. audiation, sound, etc..) You cannot create without responding to a thought of the music– which must occur before any sound eminates. Composition or improvisation could be considered the ultimate of these 3 dimensions. Will look forward to more dialogue on this important step in our history.

  4. Joe,

    I just took a class on Assessment In Music Education with Dr. Timothy Brophy, who contributed to these new standards, and he talked a lot about the performing, creating, and response modes as forms of authentic assessment. He discussed that assessing students toward attaining national standards shouldn’t be subjected to statistical scoring and grading in it’s traditional form, but on a constructivist approach where achievement is measured against set criteria rather than the mean of the class. I think this was part of the thinking of the way that they created these new standards in the way that they did – thinking about roles of authentic assessment. He talked a lot about when teachers are creating an assessment task, it might include more than one role, but the key is to assess them separately – which is why I think they separated them in the way that they did. That’s my take on why they separated into three roles, as I was also a little thrown when I first saw that. I included his definitions of these roles below.

    He describes the three roles as follows:

    “…performer places the child within the context of musical interpretation through active music making. In this context, students express and interpret music through singing instrument playing, movement, and drama. This role is the most common for students at all levels of the music program because of the emphasis on performance and performing groups…”

    “…creator places the child within the context of musical origination. As a creator of new music or musical arrangements, students explore the roles of composer, improvisor, and arranger at a developmentally appropriate level of expertise. In this context, students are given opportunities to demonstrate their accumulated musical knowledge through original expressions.”

    “…responding mode of artistic expression places the child in the role of audience member or consumer of music. It has been clained that the training of students in this role is not traditionally addressed by most music programs, nor are the roles of composer, improviser, and arranger. In the role of listener and consumer, students use the critical thinking skills and acquired musical knowledge to make reasonable and informed judgments about music and personal values with respect to music. This role is crucial for the development of musically informed and literate citizens.”

    • Andrew,

      Thanks for that clarification. The definitions that you share really shed some light on the thought process. Framed that way, the separation is less of a mystery.

      • I like the visual aid that you created – and I think that is be something that would be useful to students, as they aren’t going to read through all of the standards – and the new format doesn’t easily allow them to hang in the room, but the best part about it is that it has a trombone in the background 🙂

      • It may be less of a mystery, but it is still false segmentation, particular when performing. “In this situation I am performing, in this one I am creating, in this one I am responding.” I think that is just far too simplistic, and devalues performing to a mere carrying out of the “true” creator’s intent etc.

  5. Very thoughtful dialogue.
    One of the challenges in designing a model is to identify an appropriate organizational structure. The three processes are authentic, in that they reflect what artists do. They also, as Professor Brophy points out, provide an opportunity for measurement… which is one reason why they were used to organize NAEP.
    Check out my president’s column in the June 2011 MEJ to see how the shared elements among the processes — such as analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating — are valuable because they provide opportunities for students to transfer what they learn through one process to another. This is, for example, why students who learn to carry out the performing process thoughtfully, by eventually learning to carry out the verbs — rather than through rote learning — will become more effective at responding. Likewise. students who compose will become better performers.
    By recognizing these connections among processes the artistic process model is far less siloed than were the original 1994 national arts standards, which separated inherently related activities such as singing, notation, and evaluating into separate content standards. Hopefully the artistic process model will encourage more connected teaching and learning.

    • Scott,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and reply. You’ve been very actively engaging teachers over the past few days, and I think that will lead to some very strong and thoughtful revisions.

      I think it’s important to very clearly and frequently illustrate the connections between processes. This can give non-musicians a better sense of the complex thinking that goes into good musicianship (which might help inform music teacher evaluations), and it could also encourage strict traditionalists to embrace the standards because they will see how each process supports the others.

  6. Great post! Adding a visual like this at the BEGINNING of any new standards document would be a good start to alleviating confusion and fear. I know the key to teaching everything we need to teach in limited time constraints is to synthesize and hit multiple goals with one lesson. A visual like this helps show how to make those connections. Hopefully, it will also inform the language of the individual standards.

  7. I agree with including video and images. Short videos at the beginning of the standards documents would be awesome.

    I admit I don’t quite get the controversy. Perhaps since I live in CT and have seen Scott’s presentations for twenty years so I get the language.

    • There’s more to the “controversy” (which is really just the feedback/dialogue process of the 21st century) than just the division of the three processes. There’s also the elevation of specific activities, like students selecting performance repertoire. While this may be a fine exercise to engage students and increase participation and critical thinking, it does not truly strike me as a “core” component of quality music education. Even if those who agree with me on that point lose the argument, I think there’s a secondary argument that it should be moved to the end of the standards list under “performing” and clarified so that it doesn’t sound (as it does now) like the students are making ALL repertoire choices, devoid of teacher guidance, before commencing any rehearsals or performances.

      That’s just one of the biggest things, but there are issues with several other standards as well, that IMO elevate critical thinking over foundational skills in a way that will actually undermine the average teacher’s ability to teach either one.

  8. Just keep in mind that the standards represent desired outcomes from an entire grade level of work. Teachers will continue to select repertoire, and — particularly during students’ early years of study — teachers will prescreen the repertoire lists from which students will make choices. Eventually, as a result of being encouraged to make choices over time, students will develop the capacity to select literature for their own performance. If they don’t learn to do this independently, they will be forever dependent on a conductor to make such choices for them.

    The a capella groups that have been flourishing on so many university campuses are great examples of this kind of independence in action — often involving both performance and creating. I heard Straight No Chaser at Wolf Trap earlier this week… wonderful!

    • I understand it is an end of year goal (although I think that needs to be made as clear as possible for new teachers), but I don’t think selecting repertoire is on par with performance skills for Kindergarteners, or even second graders. It’s a thinking skill that can be safely added later without really hindering learning. The students would readily pick it up. The same can’t be said for matching pitch or steady beat.

      I like this standard for MS/HS, but even then I understand those who don’t. Scott, in your example of a cappella groups, I doubt if we asked those students about their K-12 experience that many of them would say they had a lot of choices in selecting repertoire. They did that because they were independent learners who had a strong foundational experience. Of course we should encourage this type of independence. I can even think of examples of how to tie it in with Kindergarten. It’s just that when thinking about all of the necessary lessons and expectations for lower elementary grades, this will always be at the bottom of my list. I teach independence through improvisation and games, which will then transfer later to other independent choices. That’s where the universal concepts that P21 use come in handy. “Flexibility” and “Productivity” leave a lot of choice how to achieve for teachers.

      Here’s another idea for a visual. Demonstrate how the weight of different standards fluctuates over grade spans.

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