Starting a Student Composition Unit in the Choral Classroom
By Marcia Russell, WMEA State Chair, Choral
The current National Standards for Music Education (see Appendix A) have impacted instruction since their inception in 1994. These standards have been the foundation for curriculum design in many school districts. Creative thinking skills are not specifically addressed in these standards, yet intuitive teachers have found ways to incorporate creative thinking in models for instruction and curriculum design. According to Branscome (2012), educational initiatives have often shaped music education, instructional planning and curriculum design. His research showed a connection between political and legislative educational reform and paradigm shifts in music education. One such paradigm shift is the proposed revised national core arts standards. In February of 2014, the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) posted revised standards for public review. The Coalition outlined four artistic processes that attempt to align the music standards with current educational initiatives such as Common Core and 21st Century Skills. These artistic processes are Creating, Performing, Responding and Connecting. These standards reflect the current trend to develop both critical and creative thinking skills in all students. Reimer (2012) discussed the need for music education to re-capture the wholeness of music making: creativity. He proposed revised standards that went beyond skill and knowledge, and addressed creativeness as performers and creativeness as listeners (see Appendix B). He maintained that music education must dramatically change to allow creativity to flourish in the music classroom (Reimer, 2004, pg. 27). That change is now.
Creative Thinking in Models for Instruction and Curriculum Design
O’Toole (2003) found that creative thinking can be implemented in the music classroom through the Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance (CMP) model. Of the five points of the model (Music Selection, Analysis, Outcomes, Strategies and Assessment), O’Toole found that teachers who designed intentional, affective outcomes often utilized teaching strategies that promoted creative thinking. The significance of this research is that creative thinking in the music classroom begins in the first stages of instructional planning and curriculum development.
Closely related to the CMP model, the Arts PROPEL philosophy is the view that assessment practices should encourage student learning rather than simply report it. Pontius (2009) found that the Arts PROPEL model provided a means for documenting the creative thinking in which the students engaged. Research showed that both the CMP model for instruction and Arts PROPEL were effective in motivating students to use creative thinking in the music classroom (Pontius, 2009, pg. 85).
The Webster Model of Creative Thinking in Music (Webster, 1990, 2012) was created to measure the effectiveness of instructional practices that inspire creative and divergent thinking in the music classroom. The model is in three parts. Part one is Product Intention, the projected goal or intention of the creator. Part two is Thinking Process, which encourages both convergent thinking (the “right” answer) and divergent thinking (imaginative, open-ended answers). Both types of thinking are necessary for conceptual learning (Webster, 2012). Part three is Creative Products, which is the culmination of the learning process, such as a composition, analysis, recording or performance. This model was applied to several of the research studies discussed in this literature review.
Creative Thinking in Free Play
Niland (2009) discovered that free play was an effective way for young musicians to develop their own musical skills and ideas. Her research involved observing students in free play as they told stories, created dramas and made up original songs. The results showed that free play was important to the cognitive development of the child. Niland asserted that free-play nurtured the innate musicality of her students. Similarly, Stevens (2003) discovered that free play fostered intense and deep musical growth in her students. Designated time in free play following instructional units allowed students the opportunity to apply their conceptual musical learning in creative, original projects. Connors (2013) maintained that creativity must be encouraged and supported by the music educator. She created a three-part model for implementing free play in the music classroom:
• Establish a climate of respect.
• Present students with new experiences.
• Respond positively to students’ ideas.
Through this model, Connors’ students created songs and improvised rhythmic patterns in a free-play setting. The creative thinking activities reinforced conceptual knowledge and skills of beat, pitch and tempo, but another result was noted: self-control. Her research suggested that students who engaged in creative thinking through free play were more likely take time to explore, wait, re-discover, and ultimately share their ideas in an organized fashion (Connors, 2013, pg. 32).
Creative Thinking in Listening
Listening to music is an integral part of the music curriculum. Active listening can spark a child’s musical imagination. Webster (1990) found that if students listened to music and were then asked imaginative questions about the music, the resulting product was imaginative and creative. For example, the teacher asked the student: “Imagine that the composer used a cello soloist rather than a violin. How might this change the overall feeling of the piece?” Too often, students in general music classes are asked to complete simple, convergent listening tasks, searching for one correct answer: “What instrument is playing the melody?” An intentional, well-thought, imaginative question will encourage creative, divergent thinking. These conditions are largely outside the realm of the typical formal education (Webster, 2012, pg. 13).
The Artful Thinking program developed by Harvard’s Project Zero in collaboration with the Traverse City, MI Area Public Schools is a model for implementing creative thinking in the music classroom. Lind (2014) examined different “thinking dispositions” in the model: (1) Questioning and Investigating; (2) Observing and Describing; (3) Comparing and Connecting; (4) Finding Complexity; (5) Exploring Viewpoints; and (6) Reasoning. Lind used imaginative questioning and answering techniques in a routine called “I Hear/I Think/I Wonder”. This routine allowed students to ponder what the music made them think about and sparked their creative imagination. A similar routine focused on this question: “What Makes You Say That?” Students who were challenged with this question had to justify their answers with evidence-based reasoning. Lind’s research supported her assertion that students need to think creatively to thrive in today’s society (Lind, 2014, pg. 21).
Ideas for Composition in the Choral Classroom
Platteville High School Song Composition Unit (forthcoming)
Practical Composition Ideas
Buy The Book
Vol. 93, No. 4 (Mar., 2007) , pp. 38-43
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of MENC: The National Association for Music Education
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4127132
Arranging Pop Music
American Composer Forum