Culturally Responsive Practice in the Music Classroom


Culturally Responsive Practice in the Music Classroom

A Transcript of the March 27, 2017, NAfME Council for Innovations Twitter Chat


NAfME’s Council for Innovations is the home for innovative ideas in all areas of music education, including emerging ensembles (i.e., world and popular music) and digital media.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Council for Innovations seeks to provide professional development opportunities, including education, research, and resources. The council also works to expand innovative curriculum offerings in music, particularly at the secondary level, to encourage lifelong study and making of music for students, including those not engaged in traditional ensembles and study. The Council is led by Anne Fennell, who was recently named the 2017 National Magnet School Teacher of the Year by the Magnet Schools of America.

On March 27, 2017, the Council hosted an #In_Ovations Twitter chat, led by Anne Fennell, who posed four questions, inviting interested parties to share ideas. Share your own responses in the comments below.

Woman's hand holding white speech bubble. Hashtag notification concept. | aydinynr


Question 1: What culturally responsive practices do you model in your classroom to meet the needs of your students?


  • Denese Odegaard (NAfME President): Spend time getting to know the students and their abilities and talk with them about their needs.
    • Anne Fennell: Yes, when we can teach from literature that they enjoy, their ownership is fantastic.
  • Melissa Clark: I like to use technology. We are currently working on learning “Bitter Sweet Symphony.”
    bittersweet symphony
    Photo courtesy Melissa Clark


  • Chuck Hulihan: I use the guitar as a lens through which we see the world; the instrument has found its way into every culture and genre. I find it equally important to expose students to music outside their own culture, geography, preferences, or tastes.
  • Andi Hasley: Students feeling welcome and accepted in the classroom just as they are is a good start. If you’re going to make a mistake, make a big one! Encourages kids to “put themselves out there.”
    • Anne Fennell: And me included—I make mistakes every day, and when I share these, the students feel comfortable to do so. From these we grow.

      culturally responsive | tumsasedgars
  • Allyssa Jones: Let’s unpack the word “cultural.” What does that mean to you in this context?
    • Denese Odegaard: Cultural is what makes each student unique which is a gift to each other and the class.
      • Anne Fennell: EXACTLY! When we find the gift in each student, they find the gift within themselves: lifelong music-making!
      • Allyssa Jones: This way of thinking can lead to equity beyond our first-response strategies around race and nationality.
      • Anne Fennell: And the way we think is the way we respond—all connected. Love this!
    • Chuck Hulihan: The word “cultural” is too often only associated with nationality or race. Culture can be applied to any group of people, “the guitarists,” “band kids,” [etc.]
      • Anne Fennell: Yes, it’s “how we do things” characteristics and knowledge of a group of people—many cultures in every school and in every room.
    • Anne Fennell: Simply—within the ensembles/class or a group of people “the way we do things”—simple definition. E.g., “what is the culture of this?” So a culturally responsive classroom connects with students, and it’s a shared culture of all, vs. of one teacher.
      • Allyssa Jones: Yes! #In_Ovations happen when you face why we teach, what, and how. Ask why until the deepest answer and step over it to reach the kids.


Question 2: How can we discover how students want to engage in music education?


  • Denese Odegaard: Have conversations with students who aren’t in music and see how you can get them involved.
    • Anne Fennell: Face-to-face conversations are SO important! We can help students see their potential. I have students introduce their friends to me, and I have an open mic club so at lunch anyone can come in and make music.
  • Anne Fennell: In my classes we spend 3-4 days choosing music, listening, discuss audience needs, arrangements, student needs, theory, etc. In Music Composition students choose own genres and apply needed music theory, and in ensemble classes the students pick music based on class needs.
  • Chuck Hulihan: Allow students to choose what is programmed for a concert, how a lesson is structured, a chance to lead a rehearsal. Remind your students that YOU are a student too, connect with the process, let them know you embrace challenge.
    • Anne Fennell: YES! And we discover together! Sage on the Stage is old school. Students in shared leadership in the ensemble creates ownership.

      Photo courtesy Melissa Clark
  • Melissa Clark: I have my students write compositions. Last week we had our first young composers’ night.
    • Anne Fennell: LOVE LOVE LOVE this! Music composition is a beautiful way for students to own all aspects of music-making. #gestalt
  • Nora Allstedt: Talk to students, not just ones already in music ed—at lunch talk with students and ask them what they want.

    music students


Question 3: How can you create a new pathway in music education within a culturally traditional program?


  • Denese Odegaard: Spend time learning new styles as a teacher and find literature that matches the interests of the students.
  • Anne Fennell: Yes, and attending conferences So much to learn in music, how wonderful to expand and grow with students.
  • Robert D. Jones: How about showing the dramatic impact of music in other art forms: film, theatre, poetry.
    • Anne Fennell: Brilliant idea! Yes—and connect their movies, gaming music, poetry, etc. So important to keep arts connected. Music creates the mood so it’s vital—we can provide that insight in connecting music to all of life.
    • Jared Johnson: A great challenge—providing relevant context for the arts while differentiating students’ special needs and backgrounds.
      • Anne Fennell: Thank you for mentioning this—yes, it feels quite daunting at times. Even one connection of relevancy will create a lifelong learner.

        lifelong learner

    • Deanna Nebel: Adding: What do those forms miss when music is taken away? Also, can we get students to think about lyrics like poems?
      • Robert D. Jones: Imagine a Scorsese or Tarantino film without music? Music not only enhances but dramatically gives images life.
    • Allyssa Jones: First, I rename “traditional program” as Western Eurocentric. Kids always respond with a flood of rep/course ideas.
      • Anne Fennell: Agreed—great idea!
      • Deanna Nebel: Agreed re: Euro-centricity. It makes Chuck Hulihan’s point about guitar more interesting. I would add drums too. Also, the voice and different ways it is used across cultures and sub-cultures. There are options!
    • Chuck Hulihan: Identify standards/competencies/skills and apply to traditional style. Often in my classes I’ll limit the focus to one style and force the standards/competencies/skills I must teach to fit. It’s a great exercise and great way to create pathways to learning in traditional programs.
      • Anne Fennell: And I will even have students go through the music and identify the theory, standards, etc., so they drive the discovery.

        music program


Question 4: What types of unique music education programs are thriving in the U.S.? Why?


  • Andi Hasley: In my area choir seems to be thriving. Not much initial financial investment needed and there’s something for all.
  • Melissa Clark: I am very fortunate to have a wonderful grant foundation that supports music education.
  • Chuck Hulihan: Behind every unique education program is a unique educator; too many artists find obstacles to becoming educators. We must focus on access, at both ends of the music education exchange.
    • Allyssa Jones: VERY passionate about this—finding new pathways into music teaching and reimagining the current ones.
    • Anne Fennell: Ditto and then learning what the students need to make the best program possible for them: students in the center.

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Catherina Hurlburt, Marketing Communications Manager, May 18, 2017. © National Association for Music Education (