March is Music in Our Schools Month. Since ancient Greece, music has been an important area of study. The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 lists music as a core academic subject. So allow me to step on my music advocacy soapbox (we call them conducting podiums) and illuminate both why and how you can support music in our schools.
Advocacy for music in public education is important because it seems that in today’s society, where quality education is summarily evaluated by data from test scores, arts education is constantly threatened.
In the digital age, we have the world at our fingertips. However, nothing truly compares to experiencing something firsthand. If experience is the best teacher, then there is a strong rationale for field trips.
With the holiday season upon us, groups from schools across the nation will be performing in parades or at Bowl games. Spring break is just around the corner, and is a prime time to travel with students.
Despite this knowledge, I have been hesitant to provide my students with the same types of rewarding experiences I had on field trips in my youth. Sure, I would take my classes to district festivals, and last year even planned a rewards trip with a partner teacher to the local amusement park, but the idea of planning a larger experience for my students seemed daunting. Where would I begin?
The end of the school year brings excitement, events, and energy. It is also the time for summative state assessments. Regardless of your opinion on the validity, value, or necessity of mandated state testing, the reality is it is a standardized measure of what is being accomplished in our profession, and it isn’t going away any time soon.
As a music teacher, I have an interesting vantage point for the state testing experience at my school. My district has adopted two assessments as our benchmark to demonstrate learning and growth in music: one based on music theory, and the other based on performance. However, my state has not adopted a standardized exam with astatetest music component, although rumors that one will be created have persisted throughout my professional career.
In some districts, this may translate into an unspoken culture of a “sub” content; that a class is of lesser importance because it is not being tested. Assessment in today’s educational environment is equated with validity for an educational professional. It is how educators show the “outside world” that what is happening within the walls of our classrooms has value and worth. I understand that mentality, but I don’t think it should be the only factor that determines what, or rather why, students are being taught.
Educational technology affords our students experiences firsthand that they could previously have only through a secondary source like slides, videos, and teacher lectures. I liken the experiences students could potentially be having to the Holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show that was popular while I was growing up in the late ’80s. It was here that Jean-Luc and his interstellar crew could find solutions to problems in a low-risk environment, as well as engage in fantastic hypotheticals and, on occasion, have fun.
Imagine having a Holodeck to teach about the Civil War, or to experiment on “living” organisms without doing mortal harm. Imagine inputting the components of a classic novel, and bringing it to life for your students as they take on the role of a character. Well, guess what, my esteemed colleagues? The ability to “boldly go where no (class) has gone before” is at the fingertips of every educator right now.
March means one thing for educators: spring break. If you are anything like me, you may try to achieve some sort of balance between professional development, catching up on work responsibilities, and being able to take time to relax and recharge. Also, if you are anything like me, you will feel guilt about not being able to achieve any of these objectives with a semblance of success, tainting the time spring break is supposed to afford us to recharge for the final weeks of the school year.
For a music educator, February through April can be one of the most hectic times of the year. The beginning of second semester in the music world has a different, more serious tone, but also a frenetic feel to it as individual students and ensembles perform and prepare to perform at a plethora of events.
Spring break provides a slight reprieve to the insanity. It neatly cuts expected performances in half, making where and when I am required to be at concerts, festivals, and competitions seemingly manageable. I know many ensembles across the country use their spring break as an opportunity to travel with their students. This allows directors to shoChoir-SpringBreak_3-5-15-1wcase the hard work ensembles have put in over the course of the school year, as well as to afford students performance opportunities that they will remember for a lifetime. I, however, do not subscribe to this practice for various reasons, mostly because, if I am being honest, I need the break.
I consider the Super Bowl to be a national holiday. Regardless of your religious background or your cultural upbringing, the Super Bowl is a uniquely American social experience that unites even non-sports fans for one reason: the commercials.
This year’s Super Bowl was especially significant for me, and not just because it was hosted in my hometown of Glendale, AZ. I feel there were several companies that chose to use their 30-second time slot addressing the largest audience of the year not just to sell a product, but to share a message. One in particular, the Coca-Cola Commercial, really caught my attention. So, as my students returned on Super Bowl Monday buzzing about the big game, I decided to capitalize on an opportunity to augment my objectives for the week.
I teach music, so being creative is kind of essential to my classroom. However, a little bit of everything should be present in all content areas, because that helps depth of knowledge and retention. So let’s get past the stigma of what something looks like in an “art” classroom or a “science” classroom. What should student motivation look like in any classroom?
21st Century learners are used to being plugged-in. They crave it. They have been raised in a technology rich environment. When toddlers reach for a phone now, they immediately try to text and swipe, rather than mimicking talking into the device. The times are changing, and your classroom should too.
But what if you don’t have the funding? Maybe your district was hit particularly hard during the recession. Maybe resources are being allocated to special programs like STEM or to magnet sites within your district. Maybe you teach an elective course, and resources are reserved for “core class” instruction. How can you tap into your student’s desire for technology on a tight budget and with limited resources?