Integrating Common Core Standards into the music classroom is an important (and often required) contribution to the school’s learning community. As music educators, we need to reexamine the music rehearsal to encompass all aspects of learning while simultaneously maintaining high-level, culminating performances. Integrating writing and reading skills into the rehearsal room is a common sense approach to including Common Core Standards that can deepen music learning and lead to expressive performances.
Since the Common Core Standards have been adopted by a majority states, it is likely that most music teachers are being asked to integrate these standards into lesson and rehearsal plans. Here are a few quick tips to help you integrate the Common Core Standards into the music classroom in easy, common sense ways…
One of the Anchor Standards for Writing [CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7] states that students should, “Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.” Music teachers can address this standard by asking students to answer focused questions about the music being prepared for the next concert. Students could compose the answers outside of class and submit them electronically (or in written form).
One alternative can be to integrate an “exit slip” strategy used by other disciplines. An exit slip is a written student response from a question posed by the teacher. This quick, informal assessment asks students to summarize a portion of the content learning from the class period in a few sentences as they depart from class. Sample writing prompts might include:
- Describe a musical phrase in your own words.
- Why do composer’s change keys in music?
- What percussion instruments are used in the piece?
- What is an anacrusis?
- How do the meters in the piece relate to one another?
- What is a canon?
The best writing prompts for exit slips directly relate to a musical topic from the rehearsal, but it is also possible to use more general questions to inspire student focus in rehearsal or to glean feedback from the students for planning the next rehearsal. More general writing prompts might include:
- This piece of music shows…
- The best part is…
- It was hard for me to learn…
- A question I was curious about and want to learn the answer to is…
- What changes did you make today?
- Today we worked on…
Another Anchor Standard for Writing [CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10] states that students should, “Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.” Teachers can craft writing prompts that can be answered by the students in one sitting, or develop more complex questions that require extended time (perhaps a week or two).
- What is folk music?
- What is your favorite American folksong? Why?
- When does the composer use augmentation and inversion in this piece?
- What is a mode in music? How does modal music make you feel?
- How is a phrase used in poetry? How is it used in music?
- What is Ballad form? How is it used in this piece?
An Anchor Standard for Reading [CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1] states that students should, “Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.” A second Reading Standard [CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10] states, “Read and comprehend complex literary and informational text independently and proficiently.” Another way to integrate Common Core Standards is to ask students to read an informational text related to the music a (or about the composer).
Music teachers can find a plethora of informational texts related to a study composition by using quick internet searches. Students may write a short response or summary about the readings – again, integrating writing standards into the curriculum. To focus student responses, teachers may provide additional writing prompts:
- Why did the composer write this composition?
- Who premiered the composition? When was it premiered?
- Does this music include a program? Describe the program in your own words.
- What style of music does this piece represent? What musical elements are included in this piece that are typical of the style?
- If you were visiting with the composer, what would you tell him/her about this music?
The ability to design student activities that reach musical goals using the Common Core State Standards is only limited by the instructor’s creativity (and investment of time). Rehearsal time is a cherished resource in any music program. Music teachers may be worried about “adding more” to an already overflowing plate. However, it should be noted that most of the activities recommend in this article could be completed outside of the classroom or in short, in-class activities that require only a few minutes of time.
When music teachers adopt a common sense approach to integrating Common Core Standards they develop immediate, useful and practical applications that lead student musicians to an enlightened and expressive performance while simultaneously supporting the school’s learning community.
David Kish is director of bands and professor of music at Metropolitan State University in Denver, and was recently appointed conductor and musical director of the Colorado Wind Ensemble.
David has taught instrumental music at all educational levels. His writings have been published in The Instrumentalist Magazine, Journal of Band Research, Music Educators Journal, and four volumes of the popular resource texts, Teaching Music through Performance in Band. David recently authored Volume VI of his book series, Guides to Band Masterworks.
Dr. Kish earned the D.M.A. and M.M. degrees in Instrumental Conducting and Music Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and B.M. in Music Education from Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA. He maintains an active schedule as guest conductor, clinician, and lecturer throughout the United States.
 Adapted from Tools for Powerful Student Evaluation by Susan R. Farrell, Meredith Music Publication, 1997.