"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
May 22, 2013
Curricular Goals
by Emily S. Jorgensen

One of my piano pedagogy teachers at BYU was quite adamant that if a teacher does not consciously decide how to teach each concept in a clearly thought-out way, she is just going to end up teaching it the way she was taught it when she was young.

This is a problem in my field because many musical and pianistic concepts have historically been taught poorly to children, either incompletely, or in a way that is difficult for children to grasp.

As I have considered this problem — the tendency for us to teach the way we were taught — I have found inspiration to be more aware of how I teach things by using the principle of Curricular Goals.

School teachers who are any good at all always use curricular goals. Their entire year’s curriculum is based on what they wish their students to know at the end of the year. Perhaps they want them to be able to do well on the state tests. Perhaps they want their students to know how to used the scientific method, or have their times tables memorized.

Whatever the end goals, a wise teacher spends her precious instruction time teaching to those goals.

As a piano teacher, I have in mind goals of what I wish my students to be able to know and do by the time they leave lessons with me, usually as an older teenager. My teaching methods to my 6-year-old students have in mind what I hope they can do when they are 10, 14, and 18 years old.

Without the ultimate curricular goals in mind, piano lessons would have little direction. So, so many piano teachers do not teach their students scales and arpeggios. Why? It is generally because the teachers do not see the point of them, and students don’t really like them. So why bother?

The truth is, their usefulness is not apparent until a student is about high school age. It is at this stage that the piano repertoire becomes much more challenging and it is nearly impossible to learn well without sound knowledge of scales and arpeggios. However, if they don’t already know them by then, it is too late, and they will never have the facility at them they could have had if they had learned them when they were young.

Parenting is a lot like piano teaching, in that the ultimate curricular goals are a long way off, and skills and preparation for meeting them have to be started years earlier than they will ever bear fruit.

Although my parents were good parents, there are many ways I would like to parent differently than they did. In this endeavor, it helps me to think through what my curricular goals are as a parent.

What do I want my children do know before they leave home as young adults? What is the most important skill or knowledge I want them to have?

Personally, my Ultimate Curricular Goals in parenting are these two:

  1. Work myself out of a job. In other words, raise children self-sufficient enough to leave home and support themselves in every way.

  2. Do all that I can to give them the opportunity to gain their own testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know I cannot make sure they gain one; that is between them and the Lord. But, I can do my best to give them the experiences that will help them.

There are many worthy goals parents have for their children — living a healthy lifestyle, learning the principle of choice and consequence, learning to work, and so on.

However, how often do we parents keep these goals in mind in the humdrum of day-to-day?

The way I treat my children when they are acting silly instead of doing their chores, or when they are running late to school, or when I catch them bullying a younger sibling, will either contribute toward my goal of raising Christian children, or it will detract from this goal.

Teachers know they must plan every day and every lesson if they are to reach their year-end curricular goals. So must we parents monitor every interaction with our children, every word we say to them, every example we set.

Of course we will not be perfect every time. That is the way time is on our side when our goals are years in the making — little blips can be overcome if most experiences support the goals.

A mislearned fingering in a C# minor arpeggio today can be fixed the next time we practice that scale.

However, if that fingering is never fixed, then Beethoven’s great Moolight Sonata will never be mastered. And that would be a pity, since it is one of the most beautiful piano pieces in the world.

Likewise, politeness, work ethic, responsibility, testimony, and the whole host of attributes that makes a happy LDS adult grows in our children a little bit at a time, day by day, depending on what we teach them.

Let’s teach them on purpose, and not just because that’s how we were taught.

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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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