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Consultant to El Sistema Fellows (Boston, MA)

Attention all El Sistema-Inspired Entrepreneurs!

I would like to introduce myself to you all as a personal resource for all El Sistema leaders interested in building capacity for research and evaluation as part of your long-term goals for your nucleo/programs. Beside creating and chairing the Music-in-Education Department at NEC since 1998, I have been running a national research and development center (Center for Music-in-Education) for over ten years and have served as a “principal investigator” for over a dozen federal and locally funded music education projects over the past fifteen years (including initiating and co-directing the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston) and I am eager to share my perspectives and learn from El Sistema leaders that began their careers as El Sistema Fellows at NEC.

In discussion with Heath, I have agreed to serve the El Sistema Fellow support network as someone who is deeply interested in the El Sistema movement as model for music education that can serve the entire public school community.

My particular take on El Sistema is that it is essentially an open-access (no auditions or determination of talent), intensive (requiring the hours of practice that are needed to acquire a significant music education), and community-enriching (engaging multi-age populations supported by community partnerships) model of music education. Yet I also believe that El Sistema programs in the U.S. need to pay close attention to documenting and analyzing student learning outcomes—ranging from effective home practice, engagement in community service, musical progress to academic performance and social-emotional development—in order to succeed.

El Sistema leaders have reported to me that they must pay attention first to program development needs, yet they are constantly aware that research and evaluation are vital to the success of their organization. It is my experience that the main reason R&E plans don’t materialize is that the organization currently lacks the information and guidance necessary to carefully develop the capacity to manage research and evaluation methods effectively or in ways that serve best the needs of fast-developing nucleo programs.

This is why I am volunteering now to help nucleos that are interesting in developing the capacity to plan, manage and learn from their research and evaluation efforts.

Specifically, I am interested in providing special research and design guidance for those sites who would be interested in “starting small” by working on a designed pilot study that can later turn into something much larger over time – a proposal for a 3-5 year research-based program development plan crafted to support mission and goals of your organization and reporting student learning outcomes from both your organization and in relation to local public school performance.

The next step?   Please indicate your interest starting your research and development plan to Heath and we will arrange a conference call for those who are interested in finding out more about how to take the first steps toward this goal.

Oakland Unified School District (Oakland, CA)

For full report see MILE PI Report


From 2005-2013 the Oakland Unified School District developed, implemented and finally researched the Music Integrated Learning Environment (MILE) Project, offered as a model of support for early literacy intervention strategies to address school improvement through “Music PLUS Music Integration” (M+MI) professional development, curricular units, instructional practices, portfolio practices, and musical literacy skills tests. This project targeted high poverty schools with a high percentage of students at risk for failure in both early literacy and social-emotional development. The cross-sectional design of this project developed a parallel set of literacy-rich, music-integrated instructional program interventions in lower elementary (Grades K-2) and upper elementary (Grades 3-5) curriculum.

Findings from the project indicate that, with the advent of professional development programs aimed at M+MI teaching practices and support from digital portfolio systems for both music and classroom teachers, (a) MILE school student cohorts outperformed their matched control school cohorts in academic achievement and musical literacy skills, (b) low performing MILE school results approached the level of performance of the high performing laboratory schools that had far more experience with MILE, and (c) MILE schools demonstrated a relatively higher “degree of association” between music learning and academic achievement outcomes—especially for African American students. We have seen the school culture of low income families transformed by MILE teaching and learning practices through qualitative analysis of teacher focus group interviews. We have learned that (a) MILE digital portfolios can demonstrate high quality curriculum units that reveal both the nature and impact of MILE on critical thinking, meta-cognition and social development, (b) adapted M+MI lessons and assessment instruments can be employed productively in both music and classrooms, and (c) MILE portfolio conference interview tools in the future can be used to rate teacher and student reflective understanding of M+MI and its impact on teaching and learning in elementary school classrooms.

Chicago Opera Theatre (multiple schools), Chicago, IL

View School Project Digital Portfolio: 2010

View Team Planning Process Digital Portfolio: 2010

Download School Project Report: 2010

Project Background:

Story: In the Fall of 2009, Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education staff and the Chicago Opera Theater education coordinator, Linden Christ, met with the General Director of COT, Brian Hickie, the General Manager, Roger Weitz, and the COT board education committee. The COT team asked CAPE what COT’s education program needed to go to the next level both aesthetically and pedagogically, and how that growth might be shared with the opera company’s publics.

The program was structured as a 25-week residency in multiple Chicago public schools, with a script, score, costumes and props shared across schools. Each school double-cast their production, with different actors performing the lead roles in the culminating performances. The scripts were designed to give performance opportunities to as many students as possible. The instruction was provided by talented young singers who worked in collaboration with the classroom teachers at each school. Visiting artists from the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE) added composition and design elements during a total of two visits per each of the five schools.

Partnership Organizations:

Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education
Music-in-Education National Consortium (MIENC)

Key Elements:

Teaching opera as a multi-media art form. CAPE pointed out that as well received the Opera for All program has been by both teachers and students in participating schools, having singers as the only type of teaching artists fails to represent the richness and complexity of opera as an art form. As a result, CAPE identified artists of several different disciplines who could collaborate with the students, singers and the classroom teachers to present a more comprehensive and authentic encounter with opera. This team included a musician who would teach composing to the students, a theater artist who would teach blocking and characterization, a sculptor to design innovative props and costume pieces with the students, a videographer to design projections with the students, a 2-D visual artist to work on set design elements, and a photographer to work on documentation. Each of 5 participating schools worked with singers and one member of the CAPE team to create design elementsused across all 5 schools. During the 2009-2010 school year, the students created student versions of Giasone, the thrilling story of Jason and the Argonauts. The CAPE artists worked with the students to create monster projections, harpy wings, fire breathing bull costumes, and “hero” music.

Raising the bar for aesthetic daring As COT prides itself on being “opera less ordinary” – performing contemporary and overlooked works from the classical repertory–COT challenged CAPE to provide its most experienced, cutting-edge artists as partners in the COT/CAPE collaboration.

Raising public awareness about innovations in opera education As COT provides a wide range of public forums, lectures, and seminars exploring its main-stage productions, COT sought to create an equally compelling series of public forums, lectures, and seminars exploring its education programs. This required rich and rigorous documentation of the COT/CAPE collaboration, professional development for teacher and artist presenters, and planning and collaboration with opera and education experts in designing an exemplary lecture/demonstration workshop for the public as a model for future programming.

Hickory Hills Elementary Arts Academy (Marietta, GA)

View School Project Digital Portfolio: 2010

Download School Project Report: 2010

Project Background:

A neighborhood school for 50 years that has recently been remodeled to serve as an Integrated Arts School for the Marietta School System.   The school provides Kindergarten through fifth grade students a comprehensive, standards-based academic program that incorporates the arts as a way to enhance students’ academic achievement; and likewise, the entire staff provides integrated arts instruction on a weekly basis.

The transition from a traditional elementary school to an arts academy initially fueled interest in arts integration teaching and learning. The dramatic change in the student population prompted by the changing community demographics and the change to a charter school provided strong incentive for instructional change. The transition to an arts academy also prompted personnel changes as faculty and instructional leaders decided about appropriate “fit” for faculty members in this new instructional environment. Traditional instructional approaches were not effective or appropriate for the changing student population; thus, arts integration was explored as a best practice that might effectively meet the needs of a “new” Hickory Hills.

Partnership Organizations:

Auburn Elementary School
Music-in-Education National Consortium (MIENC)

Key Research Considerations:

  1. Continuing to insure that all teachers are using best practices consistently;
  2. Encouraging and facilitating increased collaboration between all teachers (including music specialist, other arts specialists, and classroom teachers);
  3. Addressing the needs of, and providing engaging instruction for, all student populations (particularly ELL);
  4. Moving school culture beyond “status quo” to one that embraces continuous improvement; and
  5. Invigorating teacher comfort with and commitment to investigation, research, and authentic assessment.

Conservatory Lab Charter School (Boston, MA)

Download Case Study School Reports: 2003 (JLTM II), 2007 (JMIE)

Project Background:

Boston public school in need of stability due to funding, building operations, transient students, and administrative leadership creates partnership with New England Conservatory’s Research Center and establishes prototypical standards for the RUBRICS CUBE assessment system.  Generative models for MLL curriculum development, teaching practices, student work documentation, and teacher professional development take root in the context of NEC’s MIE Guided Internship Program and Research Center.

Placing music at the center of the curriculum and professional development produces evidence of substantial academic improvement linked with growing excellence in music and leads to the formation of the Music-in-Education National Consortium in 2002 and its Learning Laboratory School Network in 2005.

Partnership Organizations:

New England Conservatory (NEC)

Key Elements:

The Five Processes Framework and Shared Fundamental Concepts: School adopts the Five Fundamental Processes (Listening, Creating, Performing, Inquiring, and Reflecting) intrinsic to fully engaged learning in music and any other subject area.  Interdisciplinary Lessons are designed to help students understand (1) fundamental concepts shared between music and language, math, science, history, movement, visual art, social-emotional development, and technology, and (2) key interdisciplinary features shared among all disciplines including:  Shared Concepts (proportion, sequence, part-whole relationships, symmetry), Shared Strategies (sorting, counting, collaboration, decoding, systems thinking), Shared Contexts (historical periods, cultural perspectives), Shared Representations (graphs, words, notations), and Shared Assessment Devices (performance assessment, tests, portfolios, rubrics).

The Teacher Portfolio: Classroom teacher and music specialist Teacher Portfolios become tools for practitioner-based action research.  With professional development support, teachers develop and revise their portfolios, which become rich descriptions of the individual teacher’s interpretation of work, questions, and issues raised throughout the year.  Teachers report enhanced engagement with their more active teaching practices and thus enhanced, ‘hands-on’ student understanding of music and its connection to other academic classes.

The Student Portfolio: Student Portfolio System provides evidence of learning from multiple sources and thus a validation of the essence of the school’s mission in public education.  Based on rigorous standards of data collection and annotation and multiple rubrics for various categories of student progress and content-based learning, the portfolio process provides a close-up view of how music enhances learning across the curriculum.  Teachers gather student work to provide evidence of Engagement; Progress over Time; Achievement of High Standards of academic, social-emotional and musical development; High Standards of Interdisciplinary Learning; and Five Processes Learning.

Music and Math: The study of rhythm music notation provides an alternative symbol system for understanding fundamental concepts of duration, proportion, ratio, and fractions.  Student work samples show evidence of student learning in both music and math.

Music and Language Arts: Teaching for Learning Transfer strategies provide multiple strands of evidence of music-integrated learning.  E.g., one lesson focuses on the process-rich investigation of ‘main idea and supporting details’ in language arts and music and provides evidence of causal links between the two disciplines.

Data Analysis: Student academic, music, and music-integrated learning outcomes are analyzed, displayed, and employed to further the institutional advancement of the laboratory school and contribute to research in the field of Music-in-Education.  Data show a strong correlation between academic and music learning over time within the context of music-integrated instruction.

Related Links:

Northwestern University (Evanston & Chicago, IL)

Download School Project Report:  2007 (JMIE)

Project Background:

Northwestern University’s Partnerships Through the Arts program challenges both music and education students to work as Artist-Teacher-Scholar intermediaries (Guided Interns) between the university, Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education teaching artists, and music specialists in the Chicago Public Schools. Founding Consortium member; active from 2000-2007.

Partnership Organizations:

Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE)

Chicago Public Schools

Northwestern University

Music-in-Education National Consortium

Centennial Place & Fernbank Elementary Schools (Atlanta, GA)

Download School Project Report: 2007 (JMIE)

View School Project Digital Porfolios: 2006 (Centennial Place; Fernbank), 2007 (Centennial Place; Fernbank)

Project Background:

Two schools with widely varied demographics partner with the MIENC through Sound Learning, a curriculum-based music education partnership between Georgia State University, community musicians, and local area schools designed to enrich children’s music learning, support the role of the music specialist in the school, and advance the role of music in children’s development and interdisciplinary learning. Founding Consortium members; active from 2000-2007.

Partnership Organizations:

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Georgia State University School of Music

Sound Learning

Music-in-Education National Consortium (MIENC)

Key Elements:

Music and Math/Science:  Music PLUS Music Integration curriculum investigates the key elements of sound; the commonalities between mathematical measurement and musical measurement; how technology can be used to better understand the rhythm and patterns of the human body; how rhythm, movement, and music can be used to demonstrate an understanding of patterns; and the correlation of patterning between music and other academic subjects.

Specific activities designed across the curriculum for integrating music:

Music: Students compose music for the recorder based on pattern techniques.

Math: Patterns learned in math are transferred to art projects.

Social Studies: Students learn and perform colonial songs for “Colonial Day.”

Science: One unit is based on sound, including a visit to Fernbank Science Center for a sound lesson, and “Sound Free Day.”

Reading: Student study letter form and write thank-you letters to the visiting performers.  In addition, students write reviews for Sound Learning performances and their visit to the Atlanta Symphony.

Writing: “Kings as Collectors” project, which relates to their visit to the art museum, includes a music component.  In this assignment, the students write essays on favorite pieces that are personally inspiring.  Also, the teacher designs a ‘tic-tac-toe’ activity that relates to the Symphony trip.  In response to this trip, the students describe their experiences through art, writing, or musical expression

Music and Geography:  Third grade students discover how music was and is used to express culture in the various geographic regions of Georgia.  First, students are introduced to music and musicians from specific geographic regions of Georgia.  Then, each class selects one region and a song that represents that region to study in-depth. After analyzing the song’s form and lyric construction, the class writes new lyrics that reflect that particular region’s geography and culture.  For the final visit, students perform their class song with the Peachtree Brass Quintet.

Professional Development Plan: The Sound Learning Team meets before the program is implemented to discuss curricular connections and goals, project ideas, and timelines for the four-visit residency.  Teachers are then asked to complete a graphic organizer for each visit that outlines how their students would be prepared, expectations for musicians, and any assistance they may need.  Embedded professional development is continuous throughout the residency via email, phone, and on-site visits.

Guided Interns:  Georgia State University music students become MIE Fellows.  Bridging the disciplines of music education, performance, and composition, students participate in seminars that introduce principles of music teaching and learning and their application within a collaborative classroom context.  Students observe Sound Learning in schools, develop performance-based instructional methods, and become resident artists who participate in professional development, collaborative planning, and interactive classroom teaching.

Results:  The teachers collect a wide variety of student work that address the project as it unfolds, allowing the teachers to constantly gauge student interest, engagement, and understanding as it develops throughout the project.  Data is collected through a wide variety of student work tailored to each of the individual visits, allowing for high levels of both teacher and student creativity.  Teachers develop original assessment tools based on student reactions.  Students are given multiple options for exploring and expressing their reactions to the visits.  In these ways, the students’ academic skills are developed and utilized in conjunction with their aesthetic sensibilities.  Music is integrated into all areas of the curriculum, meeting the goals for the inquiry question.