Ms. Cavallaro's Reading List

Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World by Heidi Hayes Jacobs (2010)

The premise of this book is that the typical American school curriculum is in desperate need of an update. The education system is charged with the responsibility of preparing students for the future, yet, many schools are in a rut with antiquated instructional practices and assessment tools. In reading this book nearly a decade after its publication, I notice that some of the technologies described are already dated. This reaffirms that technology and the way we communicate is evolving fast. It is imperative for schools to create flexible systems so that they can adapt as times change.

This book is composed of short works by different experts in the field of education. Each contributor outlines their idea for modernizing schools. Topics include technology, media literacy, global connectedness, sustainability, foreign language instruction, and more. The piece by Tim Tyson, “Making Learning Irresistible,” and it’s focus on student engagement was a highlight for me. It discusses shifting the role of the student from passive compliance to creator and global contributor. We are always creating products through performance in music class, and sharing through music can be powerful. This chapter had me asking if there are more ways, beyond school site concerts, to encourage my students to contribute to the community through music.

Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning by Mike Schmoker (2011)

The message of this book is so simplistic, it almost seems too good to be true. The author asserts that common curriculum, sound instruction, and authentic literacy are the three fundamental building blocks for quality education. If these elements are consistently and satisfactorily attended to, they will have a profound impact on student outcomes. Here are brief summaries of each element:

  • A common curriculum is a set of standards that are determined to be essential. They should be manageable in number so that they can be taught and learned in depth.
  • Sound instruction consists of clear learning objectives, modeling, guided practice, and checks for understanding.
  • Authentic literacy is the foundation for learning every subject. It is the tool students use to gather and share information. It is an essential skill for students to be lifelong learners and contributors to society.

This book resonated with me as a music educator because mastering fundamentals is imperative to learning an instrument. Pushing on to advanced concepts and techniques before mastering the basics is futile, possibly detrimental. Also, the best (only) way to learn an instrument is by playing. Much like Schmoker describes literacy as the framework through which students learn content, performing is the framework for learning concepts in music class. In my opinion, playing needs to be the core of every instrumental music lesson. Schmoker’s no frills lesson outline also works in music. The teacher models good technique, students have a chance to practice, and the teacher responds to checks for understanding. I tend to agree that new initiatives or technologies should only be adopted if they augment these simple lesson elements, and do not detract from the time students spend playing their instruments in class.

Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids by Denise Pope, Maureen Brown, and Sarah Miles (2015)

This book urges schools to define success as more than academic achievement, and recognize the benefits of encompassing soft skills and social-emotional wellness in education. An approach that focuses solely on testing and rote learning fails to meet the needs of many students, while putting a significant amount of pressure and stress on others. If schools want students to be genuinely engaged and motivated beyond earning good grades, they need to put structures in place that promote meaningful learning. The authors offer concrete, research-based shifts that schools can make to advocate healthy student development while maintaining academic rigor. Authentic assessment, project-based learning, homework policy, and schedule shifts are some of the options discussed. On a personal note, this book had me considering possible ways to make practice charts and assignments more reasonable and meaningful for my students.