Amy-Jo Cherner

Curriculum Writing Success in 9-12 vocal music: A new approach to spending

For the past five years, our K-12 music department in district 196 has been going through the curriculum cycle that every public school educator has been through time and time again.  Why five years to go through this cycle?  COVID!  We are finally wrapping up, and I am excited to share the unique ways our district has allowed us to move forward with spending.  For those wanting help navigating these waters or looking for contracts, please reach out!

The curriculum cycle is typically a two year period, when the school board gives you money to help you teach the MN standards.  This money is to cover your “textbooks” for the next ten years. As you know, we are not the same as social studies or Math, where we just need new textbooks. Our “textbooks” are primarily our music, which changes with each group, concert and year.  In years past, we have used the money to buy new electric keyboards and countless octavo’s, in hopes we will use the music over ten years.  However, when looking at the music we purchased in our last curriculum cycle, much of the music we ordered was no longer applicable to today’s groups.  Whether they were culturally insensitive or have themes that are no longer relatable, we wanted to make sure the money given to us was used wisely.  I am so proud of how our team of colleagues came together to fight for the following purchases.  YES fight, because some of these purchases and requests were new to the finance department and not “traditional”, tangible items.  Yet, we have set the stage for future cycles and hope we can be of help to other districts.  The list below highlights our favorite purchases and includes how they are tied to the MN state standards.

  1. Sight Reading Factory subscriptions.  Thanks to Gina Toso (Rosemount), she negotiated contracts between our district and SRF for over 6,000 student subscriptions (1519 per school) for us to use over the next five years.  Since we use the learning platform Schoology, students just log into SRF via schoology and it automatically creates an account for them.  It also included teacher memberships for all eleven 9-12 vocal music teachers.  Please note NOT ALL companies will do this, where you purchase the subscriptions upfront but SRF was a fabulous group to work with!
    1. Anchor Standard 1.1: Use foundational knowledge and skills while responding to, creating, and presenting artistic work. Students will use SRF to practice and assess pitch, rhythmic, and articulation elements.
  2. CHOIR COMMISSIONS – We are MOST proud of this process!  Our district created a contract that allowed our schools to hire composers for a commission, even if they were planned for a future year.  Almost all of the composers agreed to being paid 100% upfront, and booster clubs stepped in if a composer needed an immediate down payment.  An average commission takes two years, and we had each high school be strategic in asking for different voice parts and skill levels.  A few of the high schools made an effort in reaching out to under-represented composers to help get their music into the schools.
    1. Standard 5.9 Integrate knowledge and personal experiences while responding to, creating and presenting artistic work. Anchor Standard 5.10:  Understand that artistic works influence and are influenced by personal, societal, cultural, and historical contexts, including the contributions of Minnesota American Indian tribes and communities.  The process of commissioning and working with composers is the next step our programs need to take to meet our standards.  This would give our students the opportunity to be a part of the composition process and watch how a song changes over the course of being written.  Our students will be involved with the process in helping choose text, keys, and emotion.  Our district would be at the forefront of new compositions related to current events.
  3. JBL Portable Bluetooth Speakers.  As inexpensive as they were, we are using these daily in curricular rehearsals, musical rehearsals, student sectionals, and lessons.  Each school purchased at least three, and these have been GOLD!
    1. Strand 3: Perform, Anchor Standard 3.5:  Develop and refine artistic techniques and work for performance. Strand 4: Respond: Anchor Standard 4.7 Analyze and construct interpretations of artistic work., Anchor Standard 4.8 Evaluate artistic work by applying criteria.  The bluetooth speakers will allow students to play accompaniment tracks to assist with student run sections at a volume that is loud enough to be heard by an entire group .  In addition, students can use them to listen to various musical examples to critically analyze musical performances.
  4. Roland HP704 Digital Pianos.  In the past, our district had approved acoustic pianos, however they said NO MORE because the curriculum could not cover the tunings and repairs.  Instead we found these Roland pianos which sound and feel like the real deal.  We added piano dollies for easy movement and have loved this upgraded digital piano.
    1. Strand 1: Foundations, Anchor Standard 1.1:Use foundational knowledge and skills while responding to, creating, and presenting artistic work., Strand 3: Perform, Anchor Standard 3.5: Develop and refine artistic techniques and work for performance.  Electric pianos are essential parts of our curriculum for student run sectionals, voice lessons, and independent student study. Some of our current electric pianos in our departments are over 30 years old and no longer work.  They are essential for almost every standard.
  5. IPAD Pro’s – Teachers had the option of ordering a 12-inch IPAD pro to use as their “choir folder”
    1. Strand 4: Respond Anchor Standard 4.7:  Analyze and construct interpretations of artistic work. This device would allow the teacher/conductor to read digital scores more efficiently. Currently, the smaller screens on iPads are not big enough for a teacher/conductor. In addition, the technologies on an iPad pro could more easily allow for score markings and audio/video recordings.  Devices would also assist students on honor choir, all state, college and scholarship recordings.