Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cross-Curricular by Any Other Name Is....Cross-Curricular

Students creating chance music compositions
I recently participated in a national elementary music symposium this summer, presenting a short session based on the title of this blog. The thought of the presentation, as well as this blog, was based cross-curricular and Common Core-connected requirements coming down the pike for many music educators. I received quite a few grateful words of thanks, but I also received some real concern about "planting" standards from other subjects into music. I started thinking about these concerns and came to some conclusions:

  • The term "Common Core", right now, is politically polarizing, and for many reasons, rightly so. These standards are tough. These standards are NOT federally mandated: however, they are sort of a carrot that can help states get federal funding. This is the reason, I believe, for so many states jumping on the bandwagon without thorough thought about implementation or piloting. I think it's also the reason some states are jumping out of the fire they jumped into when they were in the frying pan. Because these standards are being implemented and interpreted in an array of different, confusing ways, people are up in arms, and they SHOULD be.
  • Common Core and the New National Music Standards are not the same thing, although the new music standards were modeled after these. My friend Tim Purdum does a much better job of expressing his views on this than I ever could, but suffice it to say, there is still quite a bit of confusion and worry about these standards as well. However, from my understanding, unless a state or district officially adopts them, music teachers are not required to follow them. It might be advisable to become familiar with them regardless. Education in this case is our best friend, and prevents confusion and mis-information: New National Arts Standards
  • As I've done research into interdisciplinary activities and cross-curricular activities for my Ph.D. papers, there is a common theme: this manner of teaching and integrating is very beneficial because this is the world in which our students live. Math facts should not live in a daily hour block, only to be put off until the next day. There ARE connections between math, language arts, social studies, art, physical education, science, and music. The trick is to make them relevant. And, honestly, in my experience, the kids love those connections. It makes them feel smart and it makes what they learn relevant. However, inserting multiplication facts in a song isn't cross-curricular. Incorporating multiplication facts as an improvisational part of a common version of  "Weevily Wheat" can be, since it is integrating aspects that already exist in the original. Singing a piggyback song a classroom teacher throws at you to learn spelling words is not cross-curricular, truly. Teaching students body percussion from Orff-Schulwerk's Rhythmische Ubung and asking the students to create a chant to help them with spelling words and that fit the rhythm is. 
  • That being said, classroom teachers definitely need to return the favor, so to speak. I'm excited about being an adjunct this coming school year for an area university, teaching music and movement integration to classroom teachers and how kinesthetics and music can help students learn (and if I have my way...beyond piggyback songs unless the kids write the lyrics!). In all honesty, I believe this is part of Common Core suggestions: that other areas are incorporated into language arts and math. I would just hope it goes beyond having students read books on musicians. This would NOT be a class about teaching classroom teachers to become music teachers. It is a class to familiarize them with the benefits of music and the importance of music.
  • I'm not totally sold on "forced" integration, such as "you MUST make the kids write in music." There are musically beneficial means to incorporate writing. As a professional, however, we must be the ones to make this decision. As we stand up for our rights and the integrity of our profession and our discipline, however, we need to be careful and prepared. Teachers are more vulnerable than ever in regards to their positions and refusing to cooperate outright not only hurts our jobs; it hurts our kids. We need to continue to do what we do, even if we need to add the correlating Common Core objectives to our lesson plans in writing. Sometimes, our administrators don't get it because they don't live it. Their musical experiences might not be the musical experiences we give our kids. Times have changed. Put it in writing and let the kids point it out. Sell the kids, sell the parents, and the administrators will be sold. 
    Students create recorder compositions from acrostic poems.

    Hopefully, there will be the day when the layperson can say, along with the music teachers," This higher level thinking and creating, reading, and math connections? The music teachers have been doing this all the time doing what they do!"