What WERE they smoking?

My last post was simply Ontario’s Grade Five music curriculum.  In fairness to the Ministry of Education & Training, the grade five curriculum assumes that the earlier elementary music curriculum has been followed.  If we assume that these children were properly instructed in the grade one music curriculum, of which the sample below is a small part, and in all the grades in between, it might be reasonable to hope that grade five students could accomplish the goals of their curriculum.

Part of the Grade One Music Curriculum

ELEMENTS OF MUSIC to be acquired in Grade 1.

duration: fast and slow tempi; rhythm versus beat; two and four beats per bar ( and metres);

quarter note (oral prompt: “ta”), eighth note(s) (oral prompt: “ti-ti”), quarter rest; simple rhythmic

ostinato (e.g., “ta, ta, ti-ti, ta”)

pitch: high and low sounds; unison; melodic contour; simple melodic patterns using the notes “mi”,

“so”, and “la” (e.g., the “so–mi–la–so–mi” pitch pattern in some children’s songs)

dynamics and other expressive controls: loud, soft; a strong sound for a note or beat (accent); smooth

and detached articulation

timbre: vocal quality (e.g., speaking voice, singing voice), body percussion, sound quality of instruments

(e.g., non-pitched and pitched percussion), environmental and found sounds

texture/harmony: single melodic line in unison (monophony)

form: phrase, call and response

If you wish to see the whole elementary arts curriculum for Ontario, go to: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/arts.html

Learning this music curriculum would enhance the academic curriculum.  One obvious example is the way music teaches and requires the recognition of patterns, a skill necessary in mathematics and science.  The skills acquired in paying attention to each other and the music would transfer to other classroom work.  And music, like the other arts is just plain fun when you have some skill.

What’s the Problem with the Music Curriculum?

The difficulty is that there is no requirement that teachers have any knowledge of music before they start their preservice training, nor is music a mandatory course during that training.  Even if a student teacher were to take the music course, it might amount to a half-year course (as at the University of Ottawa) and be focused on the teaching of music, not the learning of it.

Nipissing University cleverly offers a course on music education through technology using MIDI soft and hardware.  See below for details.  This is practical and helpful to willing and non-musical teachers.  It is, however, a makeshift solution to meeting the demands of the curriculum without a teacher who is a specialist in music.  It also depends on the technology being available in the school.  When overhead projectors are becoming scarce and specialist music teachers are even scarcer, it is hard to imagine the technology becoming available.

How much Training is Needed to Teach the Curriculum Successfully?

Even some musical training is not adequate to the task; after a year of singing lessons, I would find it very difficult to teach the music curriculum without support.  So what do teachers do?  What they can.  They select the elements of the curriculum that are possible for them to teach and do those.  For some teachers it may only be music appreciation, for others it may include rhythm or even a smattering of the technical requirements.  My guess is that only students whose teachers have had a strong musical education will come close to meeting the curriculum expectations.

Why Propose the Unrealistic?

Why did the ministry set these expectations?   As Glen Brown points out in his comment, there is a huge assumption that all the resources are available.  The expectations look great on paper but nobody cares if they are implemented, except the overly conscientious teacher.  I wonder how long it has been since the writers set foot in a classroom and  – what they were smoking as they wrote.

Nipissing University

Music Education through Technology – This course will introduce students to basic music concepts through the use of MIDI technology.  The primary goal is to provide students with the rudimentary skills necessary to teach music in Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8 classrooms.

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