Notes for the session – Critical Thinking Handout

Please find resources from the session on Critical Thinking, 21st Century Skills,
and the New National Standards in the Intermediate Music Classroom

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Here is a pdf for what you see above. – NationalStandardsBulletinBoards.pdf


One possible layout for a word Wall – elements of music across the top, with more specific vocabulary underneath it.



Here is the Create/Composition worksheet students used to compose.  It goes along with the checklist/reflection in the handout.

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This article is not specifically about music, but I think it is an excellent article about the purpose of technology in the classroom.

Favorite quotes from the article:

“It wasn’t the 600 iPads that were so impressive— it was the mindset of a teaching staff devoted to giving students time for creation and reflection.”

“The teachers cared most about how the devices could capture moments that told stories about their students’ experiences in school. Instead of focusing on what was coming out of the iPad, they were focused on what was going into it.”

The Smart Way to Use iPads in the Classroom

It’s not about the games or educational apps.

By |

I try to frame any learning, including anything that has to do with technology, by connecting it to create, perform, and respond – the 3 artistic processes defined by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) in 1997.  This has been the framework for many state arts standards and remains the framework for the current revision of the National Arts Standards in the US, undergoing revision right now.  (More info here:

Although I have used iPads for “drill and kill” purposes, like letter name recognition and rhythm recognition (Read Music was the app I used), that is not the most important, powerful, or transformative use of technology.

Essentially, it is about thinking.  What are students thinking?  Understanding?  Reflecting on?  Learning?  Technology has the power to help us know THAT in ways that have not been available to us in the past.

Reflection on performance seems to be an easy way to start, as music teachers.  Having students see their singing or playing and capturing their responses through either an app or blog.  The challenge for a music teacher then becomes organizing, storing, and assessing their ideas.  But without the technology, we wouldn’t even have the option of gathering this much information.  How we use it becomes the next question.

However, as the article aptly points out . . . will we invest in the TEACHERS and allow teachers the time it takes to teach thinking, with technology as a tool.  Or will we just throw technology at students and hope for the best?  I currently teach at a school that does the former (also an international school).  I wonder if my experience will be the same when I am back teaching in the US next year.  A girl can hope.


We had a Google rep come and visit out school a couple of months ago.  He was talking up all the great projects that Google has going on.  And he mentioned Google’s 20% time – where employees get to work on their own projects for 20% of their work week.  (Article with more info:

Then one of my colleagues tried the same thing in his classroom.  Kudos to Gene Quezada for trying this project and Phil Rynerson for writing it up.

If what I want for students throughout their lives is that they internalize curiosity about music and musicianship and they become self directed learners, then Google’s approach was worth a second thought for my music classroom.  Since I value thinking/reasoning in the music classroom, and I know that choice bring motivation to learning, I started to wonder what 20% time in the music classroom might mean.  How can I offer students more choice in their own music learning – and the opportunity to share their learning and expertise with others?

I also have a healthy number of questions like

  • How do I make sure students are still actively MAKING music (singing, dancing, playing instruments)?  If they don’t do it with me, many of them won’t be active music makers at all.
  • How I ensure that the critical thinking and connections to what they are learning in class are there?  And how do I help them transfer their understanding of the skills (verbs) and knowledge (elements of music) to what they are choosing to learn?  (Relevance and transfer.)


  • How do I set up a project that keeps music at the center of the process – and technology a tool . . . not the other way around.
  • How does this fit in with the larger curriculum?

The reality is. . . I don’t how this is going to turn out.  But I checked with my colleagues and administrators, and they were in favor of my taking the risk.  In fact, they all asked how they could support me.  (I realize not everyone is fortunate to have the same reaction from colleagues and admin when they want to take a risk.)

I always encourage my summer masters students to take risks during their courses with me – and that the class and I are there to help them.  I decided to practice what I preach!

*** I also want to add that although I fear there will be less active music MAKING in the classroom the last 6 weeks of school, the students just got done with a gargantuan performance in February where each child performed (and some composed) music and danced, so most of 3rd quarter was sort-of a “perform” unit, based on the expectations of this particular school.

At the center of my classroom are the artistic processes of create, perform, and respond.  (See previous post about classroom visual).  So I knew I wanted to structure the beginning of the project around that.  I wanted to their choices about studying to arise out of curiosity and questions.

The first question I posed scared me a little.  I thought it was too big.  Too broad.  Too obscure.  But as ofter happens, the students rose to the occasion.  I asked, “What do you wonder about music?  What questions do you have about music?”  After the stunned silence passed, they started talking with their assigned partner.  And these are the questions one of the classes shared:

  • Why is music called music?
  • Who discovered music?
  • Why did music start?
  • How did people discover music?
  • When did people start music?
  • Why did people start music?
  • What is the history of music?
  • What is music?
  • Why don’t animals make music?
  • How is rhythm created?
  • How did they name the different genres of music?
  • How do songwriters choose their notes?
  • How/Who/When/Where/What invented the piano?

After they lost some steam, I asked them to focus their questions a little differently.  We started with performing music, one of the artistic processes.  And underneath perform are the verbs sing, play, move.  I asked, “What are some music jobs?  What do REAL performing musicians do?  And what performers do you know?”

I then posed the following questions, “If you could ask any of the performing musicians you just named/mentioned a question, what would you ask?”  Here is a sampling of responses from 2 classes:


Real-life Performing Jobs:

  • Drum player
  • Traditional dancing and music
  • Pianist
  • Break dancing
  • Singers
  • Synchronizations with feet and hands to make music – body percussion
  • Guitarist
  • Violinist
  • Indian classical dance or music
  • Hand percussion
  • Chris Brown
  • Michael Jackson
  • Katie Perry
  • Whitney Houston
  • One Direction
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Sixth Grade Band
  • The Dead Mangoes
  • The Spider Monkeys
  • Fun
  • Beatles
  • Owl City
  • Justin Bieber Lady Gaga
  • Shankar Mahdevan
  • Sonu Nigam
  • Psy
Questions we have about performing:

  • How do you perform in front of millions of people?
  • How do manage to make your voice so sweet?
  • How do you remember the stage directions?
  • Once at a concert, how do you remember the words
  • What inspired you to be a performer?
  • Why is Lady Gaga so popular?
  • How does it feel to perform in front of 100,000 people?
  • What do you do if you forget lyrics in middle of the song? (Katy Perry)
  • How do you act once you fail in the middle of a concert?
  • How did Adele get so good at singing?
  • Why do we have to learn music if we don’t need o learn music to go to college?
  • How do songwriters think of songs?
  • How long does it take to train your voice to get it to sound great?
  • How do they find the instrument that fits their style?
  • Why does almost everyone in your chosen profession die before 40? (to popular pop/rock star)
  • Are Taylor Swift’s songs all about her real ex-boyfriends?
  • Why are there so many singers that are famous but not that good?
  • Eminem, why do say so many bad words?
  • Where do you get inspiration for you songs?
  • Do you ever have stage fright?
  • How much money do performers get?
  • How do you remember your songs? Can you teach me?
  • Why do you like to sing?
  • Who inspired you to be a performer?
  • What made you want to sing?
  • Why do you want to perform?
  • Are you nervous when you perform? If so why? (Eric Clapton)
  • How do you keep your beat steady?
  • Why don’t you freak out on stage?
  • What inspires the performers to make new songs?
  • What if you have to go to the bathroom or an emergency happens, what will they do?
  • How do the performers not get nervous?
  • Why did you choose the type of music you do?
  • What is the biggest secret of performing?
  • Do you like to perform with other people or not?
  • How can you stand all the haters on the internet?
  • What do you do when you make a mistake?
  • Do you enjoy performing in front of the crowd or do you practice in front of the mirror?
  • Why did you become a performer? (Justin Bieber)
  • How much do you get paid?
  • How do you sing Opera?
  • Have you ever got embarrassed?
  • How do the performers get so popular?
  • Why do you want to be a performer?
  • How did you become popular?
  • How did you start your career?
  • At what age did you choose to be a musician?
  • What inspired you to perform?
  • What country do you prefer to perform in?
  • Did you have any rivalries?
  • Did you have any trouble starting your career?
  • Who inspired you?  Which other musicians?
  • What is your favorite instrument to perform with?
  • What is your favorite style of music?
  • What is your favorite song that you invented or played?
  • What was the first/last song you wrote?

All in all, I was impressed with their questions.  May of them were asking questions that, with some research and resources, had the potential to transform their lives as music makers, creators, or responders.  And some questions are very evident of their stage of development as 5th graders.

With the first two classes, I created a template (like you see above) and we generated jobs and asked questions as a large group.  After 4-5 questions were generated for the right-hand column, I ask the students to work in pairs to write questions on post it notes.  I later typed up their questions so they were all housed in the same document.  With the NEXT 4 classes, I am going to check out the classroom set of iPads and using either Socratic (app) or google docs, have the student type in their answers.  (Not a transformative use of technology, but a helpful use for sure.)

My plan for this week:

1) to finish this process with the remaining for 4 classes

2) begin to craft their “planning sheet” or “project proposal” for choosing their topic and planning their path.

3) collaborate with with Gene Quezada (5th grade teacher) and Gary, one of our fabulous tech integrationists, during our planning meeting this week.

My resources for this project are my colleague’s, Gene Quezada’s, planning sheet for his students, edutopia, project-based learning, and Phil Greco’s site “Portrait’s of Practice.” (

Stay tuned, if you are interested.  More to come.  Would love your thoughts along the way . . .


Inspired by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the visual created by the Minnesota State Arts Standards 2008 revision team, this visual is the center of classroom learning.  At least once per class, we refer to the visual to see how we are being musicians in that moment.  Are we creating, performing, or responding?  My goal is that we are doing all three each day – some days more emphasis is placed on one that the other.

This visual, created in collaboration with my colleague Douglas Beam (music teacher, inquiry-based thinker, composer, arranger, and fabulous human being), is the foundation of how we “frame” music learning in the music classrooms at the American Embassy School this year.

** Note: I would place read and notating in the “perform” process, not the respond.  However, the way the standards are written at this school right now place read and notate in the respond category.  Since I am a one-year teacher at this school, I agreed to go with their verbs and processes, as stated in their standards.


I got the following article from a colleague today, and it struck me as definitively different than most of the ways I have seen leadership defined.  The author says, “leadership is an actual art, not metaphorically an art.”

I am struck by the specificity of qualities of a leader mentioned in the article – certainly artistic in nature – that I believe hold true whether one runs a classroom or a company.  And these are not things that have always been considered important for leaders.  It seems to me that this “take” on leadership is, indeed, part of the evolution of leadership and facilitation that I believe to be a defining part of 21st Century Education.

The aspects of intent, authenticity, human significance, and criticism caught my eye. 

I find myself more and more often clarifying my intent in various situations to students.  “It is my greatest intention to be helpful right now.  Would you like my help?”  Or “I intend to help you learn as much as possible today.”  Or “I intend for the things we learn in music class to carry with you far beyond the walls of this classroom.”  I don’t think we can take for granted that students know our heart’s intention unless we plainly tell them.

Perhaps the hardest people on the planet to fool are children.  At some level, I believe that students know intuitively when we are being inauthentic.  In order to encourage children to be their truest selves, we need to model – in as many moments as possible – our truest, most authentic selves.  It is also my experience that synergy develops around authenticity – when we are our most true selves, the true desires our our hearts and minds come toward us.

Human significance is not one of the things I was taught to consider in my formal education training.  The importance of this subject came from other sources.  But imagine the impact of a teacher/leader who acknowledges what is possible for each person and encourages reflection about who we most want to be/become.  Hopefully we have each had a mentor shower the gift of human significance upon us at least one in our lives.

The final point that caught my eye was criticism.  In my experience, most teachers were taught that being competent and “right” were important characteristics of a successful and worthy teacher.  I am reading a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck that highlights 2 different kinds of mindsets: fixed and growth.  In a fixed mindset, we believe that our intelligence is static.  In a growth mindset, we believe that intelligence can be developed.  It makes sense to me that having a fixed mindset makes it much more difficult to accept criticism from others.  We may believe we have failed and are somehow not worthy, and our ability to change is shut down.  But a flexible or growth mindset would allow us to accept such criticism and continue to develop our intelligence and skills.

Perhaps this goes without saying, but modeling all of the above qualities in ourselves makes them more viable options for students as well.  When they see them “living and breathing” in someone else, they more easily see these attributes as possible in them.

The intended audience for this piece is clearly a corporate one, but I found much inspiration in this article as an educational leader in my classroom as well.

I would welcome your comments and feedback.  May out artistry be evident in our leadership in the classroom and beyond!

This post will speak to elementary/middle school teachers more than high school – but I couldn’t resist this fabulous article.  Although not music specific, these books get at many of the “big ideas” we teach about in music class, beyond the rhythms and pitches.  Anything from valuing difference to listening to another . . .

Because I have a few students who speak no English this year, I had the opportunity to use Google translate to help students understand the directions.  In particular, I have 4 Hebrew-speaking students who are learning English for the first time this year.  Here is how it looked – you should have seen the look on their faces when they FINALLY understood what was going on in class!  It made my heart SO happy!!Image