the interconnected circles

R – As a follow up to my initial discussion around spot on teaching, I want to elaborate on my thoughts around that true balance between the three domains (circles) of 1) developing in students an interest and love for the subject, 2) developing in students a growth of a more personal nature and 3) developing and assessing (being held professionally accountable in) academic skills in that subject.

My concern in music education is that music educators must truly embrace all three elements, just as any social studies teacher would. Just as any English teacher would. Just as any Math teacher would. “But music is different”, I always hear said. Well, it depends on the context. And I begin with this premise: there is no such thing as an “academic subject”, but rather fields of study that become academic when presented within the parameters of academic instruction. Is Math academic? I know of plenty of school math clubs and so do you… and none of them are “academic”. What’s the point to them? To have an outlet for students who are interested in that subject to love it even further while growing as young adults in the process. The same holds true for athletic teams, doesn’t it? They foster a love for the sport while embracing elements of personal growth and maturity (responsibility, teamwork, commitment, and so on).

These activities are called “co-curricular”; they are “extra-curricular”. And it has NOTHING to do with the subject area or WHEN it takes place. Yes, they may happen before or after normal school hours, but that is not WHY they are co-curricular. They are co-curricular because they bring together only two of the three circles. What do you call a Math club where there is a curriculum, learning targets, instruction toward those targets, assessments to determine if students are meeting those learning targets and accountability on the part of both the student and the teacher to see that this is all taking place on a daily basis while imparting a love for the subject and causing students to grow personally? A math class. What do you call athletic activity where there is a curriculum, learning targets, instruction toward those targets, assessments to determine if students are meeting those learning targets and accountability on the part of both the student and the teacher to see that this is all taking place on a daily basis while imparting a love for the subject and causing students to grow personally? Phys Ed class.

Love for the subject + personal development of the student academic accountability = co-curricular activity.

Love for the subject + personal development of the student + academic accountability = essential academic instruction.

Which of these do your music classes fall under? Your chorus? Your Band? Your general music class?

I’ll go one step further: every other core subject area in federal education legislation BEGINS its premise with the academic, rigorous skill development AND ASSESSMENT circle first, and then makes it a point to articulate how good teaching brings the other two circles together with it. Why do those of us in the Arts insist on going at it the opposite direction… and then get pissy when we’re perceived as less academic???

We have been guilty for generations of trying to run co-curricular activities where our students play instruments and sing together and pass them off as academic whenever that third circle is not entrenched in our course work. Principal: “Chorus is not an academic class”. Teacher: “Of course it is! Studies show how students grow and develop as people, music is a life-long language, and everyone should have music in their lives!” Principal: “That’s why we have co-curricular offerings in music. Where are your learning targets for each individual student, how often do you assess each individual student, where is the data on that individual student and how do you tie that all into your curriculum and instruction?” Teacher: “whaaaa?”

The sad thing is that when that same Principal proposes the same premise to every one of the other 7 content areas, the answer to the Principal’s last question is at their fingertips. When it comes to arts teachers, I’ve actually encountered colleagues who get offended at being asked. And we wonder why WE are the ones on the chopping block each Spring, and why we STILL have a one year High School requirement when the others have two, three and even four.

THIS is why I have been on fire for several years now about that third circle. It’s not that the other two circles are not as important, if not more so. Instead, it’s the difference between having co-curricular offerings in music disguised as classes merely because they happen during the school day, and instead having academic courses in music that are held to the same standards as every other academic course in that school. The difference is in the incorporation of that third circle, not the omission of the other two.

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