How U-46 is revamping music, arts education
Learning music in elementary school used to be about whether students could sing along with others or grasp the basics of how to play an instrument.
That's about to change for thousands of students across Elgin Area School District U-46's 40 elementary schools.
Starting next school year, the district will roll out a new elementary fine arts curriculum aligned with national standards that goes beyond the basics and incorporates new technology.
It replaces the current skills-based curriculum, which focuses on students mastering tasks. The new curriculum -- aligned with National Core Arts Standards and Common Core State Standards -- is more analytical and helps students understand and identify musical concepts and connect with the material with greater depth of knowledge.
It's been more than 10 years since U-46 updated its music and fine arts curriculum, officials said.
U-46 is ahead of the state, which is expected to implement a revised version of the National Core Arts Standards in 2018-19, said U-46 Fine Arts Coordinator Alicia Kopec said.
The new curriculum provides teachers and students "hands-on interactive lessons" and a database of ideas teachers can utilize in the classroom, she added.
Students will learn to appreciate the inner workings of how music comes together, said Morgan Lentino, who teaches music at Otter Creek and Willard elementary schools and has been testing the new curriculum this year with her first- through sixth-graders.
"Instead of (students) being able to read a rhythm, they should be able to find the rhythm in a piece of music and use it in a new way, so it's a lot more application and higher thinking," she said. "It's a lot more creation based. It's so cool."
Instead of using traditional textbooks, the curriculum is web-based.
Through the Quaver Music website and a wandlike interactive device, Lentino can project lessons on any surface. The website offers games, animated songs, and instructional videos taught by a character named "Mr. Quaver," who introduces students to musical concepts. Students also are exposed to a wider variety of music than has been the practice for decades.
"It's like a YouTube-style video that's really silly," Lentino said. "The kids are much more engaged, especially my older kids. I'm able to choose things for my students that I know they will connect to. It's still very much led by the music teacher. The resource basically gives you access to a lot of interactive visuals. It's very comprehensive. There's enough in there per grade level for three times the amount of time we see our kids."
Lentino is one of five teachers testing the online curriculum this year. They will be training other district music teachers so the program can be implemented districtwide this fall. Teachers also will receive professional training this fall through Quaver Music.
Now, music and visual arts are offered once a week for 40 minutes in first- through sixth-grade classrooms. Educators hope the new curriculum will provide a road map to expanding music and visual arts in the elementary grades. It also supports arts education for kindergartners and eventually could lead to adding music to the full-day kindergarten program, implemented districtwide this school year.
"We wrote a kindergarten curriculum map in the hopes that in the next seven years, if the district decides to incorporate music and visual arts at the (kindergarten) level, it's ready to go," Kopec said.
Kopec said that will require district leaders to have a broader conversation about expanding music and art offerings in the coming years.
"It would be great for students to receive more art and music weekly, but we will take what we can get and we will work with what we have," she said. "We are ecstatic and overjoyed that it's approved and we can move forward."