NCCAS standards and Kodaly-inspired teaching

Hi everyone! It's Aileen from Mrs. Miracle's Music Room. This past summer, when the final draft of the music standards from the NCCAS (National Coalition for Core Arts Standards) came out, I was swamped with work teaching Kodaly Level I at DePaul University, and just didn't have time to delve into them. I did, however, hear a decent amount of concerns from other music teachers, so as soon as my work cleared up, I sat down and studied them.

Like others, I did have concerns. I read several blog posts about concerns (like the posts here, here, and here, although I should note that these blog posts are written about the draft, not the final standards; a newer blog post about the final draft can be read here.)

I could write about my concerns here, but honestly, since the standards are final, and I'm a half-glass-full kind of girl, I'd rather move onto the acceptance phase and talk about how we can use them in a Kodaly-inspired classroom. I am not required at this point to align my lessons with the national standards (as my school district uses Ohio's learning standards) but I decided to align my lessons with the standards as a way to really start to understand them, and I can honestly say they've made my lessons more deliberate and creative. So that's a good thing, right?!?! Here are three strategies for understanding the standards within a Kodaly context:

#1: Read and write out the standards
Okay, I know, this seems simple, but I have to tell you, it took me longer than I thought I would to find the website, and finally, the new standards. I was finally able to view the new standards here. I also customized a handbook for K-6 music here.

Even after reading the standards, though, it was hard for me to really comprehend what exactly they meant until I typed up a list for each grade level and each strand. Just like writing out folk songs for retrievals help us learn that folk song, writing or typing out the standards by grade level and strand helped me wrap my mind around each standard.

#2: Align your lessons to the standards
Although I am not required to use the standards at this point, I did think it would be good for my understanding and my teaching if I began aligning. I've done this in two ways--by simply including a check box on my lessons for creating, performing, responding, and connecting, and by including those words along with the verbs beneath those words (such as analyze and interpret.) Here is a shot of the simpler alignment; I included checkboxes (under "forms" in Word), but you could also just bold or italicize the appropriate words on your lesson plan:

And here is an example of the more detailed alignment:

By looking specifically at each of my lessons and how it is aligned to the standards, it has helped me not only understand the standards better, but make small changes to my lesson to better align (more on that in a minute!)

#3: Focus on your classroom, not the classrooms of others
One of the criticisms of the standards is that they do not use the word "sing." Of course, as Kodaly-inspired educators, this is a bit frightening, as singing is such a focus of what the students do. Someone else who is not comfortable with singing might interpret the standards to mean, "Oh, great! I don't have to sing at all with the kids!" Yes, that could happen...but don't concern yourself with others. Think about how your lessons align with the standards. Instead of using the word "sing," they used the word "perform," so all of your students' singing can fit perfectly within the framework of the standards.  If you look at the standards through the lens of what you can add to your lessons, instead of what you have to do to vastly change your lessons, or how others might be interpreting the language, the standards become much more accessible.

Here are three strategies for using the standards to improve your teaching:
#1: Make small changes
Once I sat down and looked at how my current lessons aligned with the new standards, I realized that often, there are minor adjustments I can make to my lesson to address some of the standards. For example, in first grade, it says in the create strand that students should, with limited guidance, "use iconic or standard notation and/or recording technology to document and organize personal music ideas." After students work with popsicle stick manipulatives to dictate rhythmic patterns with ta and ti-ti, why not have them create their own pattern? When working with solfa manipulatives to dictate melodic patterns, why not have them create their own pattern, then try to sing that pattern? It could take just a few extra minutes but could give students ownership with the process.
There are opportunities for alignment, making small changes, throughout all of the standards. Whether it be giving students a list of known songs to decide which they'd like to perform (and then explain why), or after listening to Haydn's "Surprise Symphony" for ta and ti-ti, having students describe how the music sounds, the standards are full of opportunities for reflective and thoughtful discussions, as well as opportunities to give students choices.

#2: Think in terms of student-friendly language
I think one of the biggest downfalls of the standards is its use of somewhat scholarly language. For example, in first grade, it says that students, with limited guidance, should "demonstrate and discuss personal reasons for selecting musical ideas that represent expressive intent."
I had to read that a few times over to understand what it meant, and I'm in my sixteenth year of teaching music. I really wish the committee had included simpler language for those music teachers just starting out. I wish they had thought about "student-friendly language," a term that I have often heard in my district.
The essential questions are also very wordy and at times, confusing. I found that going through them one by one and thinking about how I would word the questions to students was a very helpful process (I created this Essential Questions set with student-friendly language for others AND for me!)
Lastly, the cornerstone assessment they've included on the website has many good ideas about how to transfer the standards into reality...but they are also, in my opinion, complicated and overwhelming. I've always been taught to keep assessments focused and simple, and the assessments they included seem like they are trying to do way too many things. However, since I am a half-glass-full kind of girl, I'm going to look at the ideas and songs presented and make them my own. I love the idea of giving students a list of known songs and having them choose to perform one, then explain why they chose it. I love the fact that the assessment calls for students to sing on pitch with proper performance etiquette. There are a lot of great things that can be pulled from the information they've presented.
Think about how what you've read can be simplified and adapted. I'm not encouraging anyone to make the standards easier--instead, simply to reword the standards and assessments as needed to make them accessible to both you and your students.

#3: Keep track of which standards you've covered.
I made a checklist for myself to help keep track, by grade level and strand, which standards have been taught throughout the year. Halfway through the year, I plan on looking at what has been checked and what hasn't been checked, so I can brainstorm ways to address those standards I haven't really touched. You could do this by typing up a checklist, or simply printing out the PDF of standards and highlighting as you go.

I know the standards can be quite overwhelming, but I hope this has helped you figure out how you can integrate them into your own teaching. I feel like the work I've done so far with them really has made me more intentional with students, to integrate more creativity and reflective questioning into my Kodaly-inspired lessons. I plan on blogging about more specific lesson ideas as they relate to the standards in a future blog post. I have also heard that information about specific musical skills, and where they fall within the standards, will soon be coming from NCCAS.

How have you used the new standards in your Kodaly-inspired classroom?


  1. Excellent article, thank you. :) I very much appreciate your constructive, yet positive critique of the standards.

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  3. Thank you, Aileen, for the motivation and suggestions how to implement the new standards. My feeling of frustration is significantly lessened!

    1. Glad you're feeling less frustrated, Michelle. :)

  4. I'm glad I'm not the only one who read the standards and went "Say what?." I will be giving it some thought. I actually started typing them up to help myself get to the bottom of it all. Thanks for the student friendly vocab tip!


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