CRT in the Music Classroom at Riverbend Elementary

In the music classroom at Riverbend Elementary, I have seen a couple examples of culturally responsive teaching in action.  At Riverbend, there is a large Filipino student population, so music class is a place where Filipino culture and customs can be integrated and explored.  My host teacher has taught a Filipino tongue twister game called Sagidi Sapopo as a classroom activity for the last couple weeks.  This game involves saying a tongue twister while a leader performs rhythms using various types of body percussion and the rest of the group imitates.  The game incorporates multiculturalism into the music classroom and teaches a valuable musical skill – canon.  A canon is a compositional technique in which a melody or rhythm repeats itself in imitation after a certain duration has passed.  So, my host teacher has used a multicultural activity to teach a fundamental musical skill that is present in many cultures.

In a few weeks, my host teacher plans to teach an exploratory unit on Filipino folk dance.  Her students will be able to share their expertise and be leaders and teaching assistants during this unit.  The class will be learning about Tinikling, a style of traditional dance in which two or more percussionists beat long bamboo poles rhythmically against the ground while dancers step and jump through the poles.  When participating in this dance, the Riverbend music students will learn to rhythmize their bodies, develop a sense of inner pulse, and learn to move in time with the music.

Another way that I have seen culturally responsive teaching in the classroom is in the way that my host teacher acknowledges our students’ prior cultural knowledge that they bring with them to the classroom.  Many of the music lessons in the Game Plan curriculum, which we use, involve a weekly “moving to the beat” activity.  In these activities, students are expected to move their bodies in time with the music, taking a step on each beat, showing where rests are by standing still, and accenting different beats in the music using their bodies.  For these activities, my host teacher always asks students to share dance moves from their own popular culture to be incorporated into the activity as a way to express rhythm.

Teaching with Heart

Parker Palmer’s quote, “The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living, require,” inspires many thoughts for me.  The best teachers I have known have had heart and guts, shown their vulnerability and sincerity openly, have been confident and rooted in their inner selves, have displayed passion and unbridled enthusiasm for their subject and their teaching, and have lived and breathed their craft.  They have given so much of their hearts to the craft and the students that it seems they could give no more, that they seemed to be superhuman, and yet it was because they were so deeply human.  I think that Parker Palmer’s quote reveals how much heart and humanity go into teaching.  We don’t just convey information about our subjects when we teach.  Compassion, fierce determination and dedication, and building deep connections have been integral parts of my best teachers’ personas.

As a high school student, a music teacher I had never met before reached out to me during an audition and offered me free viola lessons, taking me under his wing even though he had no need or obligation to do so.  What was it about my playing that caught his attention?  Why did he choose me?  “I’d like you to be my student,” he requested after I had finished playing.  It usually works the other way around.  The student asks the teacher to teach them.  The teacher checks their schedule, sees if they have enough space in their studio, then asks to see the money after you register for your first lesson.  The second thing Mr. B said to me after I agreed to be his student was, “Don’t even think about taking out your checkbook.  These lessons are free.  Your first lesson will be on October 6th.”  I knew that this was something rare, special, incredibly uncommon.  The busiest orchestral player, Hollywood studio musician, college professor, and private teacher in town was asking me to be his student.  He had no time in his schedule and no space in his studio, but he asked to teach me anyway.  Eventually, because of his inspiration and generosity, I became a music major and his full-time music student at the university.  If I had never met him, I never would have considered it.  Sometimes the people we meet change the course of our lives.  I know it’s true for me.  When I asked Mr. B years later why he decided to offer me the gift of lessons, he replied, “You had such talent, such a strong musical voice.  A voice that was fighting to be heard no matter what.  You had things you needed to say with music.  But limitations, lack of technical tools, and lack of resources were holding you back.  You were so determined and so musical.  I knew I had to help you set your artistry free and help you gain the technique to fortify your musical voice.  I knew I had to be your teacher.”  That’s compassion enacted through teaching.  No doubt.  My teacher saw the musical voice I already had and helped me to build on it and strengthen it.  Make it strong enough that it could be heard clearly every time I spoke it.  Make it reliable enough that it would never fail me in performance.  A great teacher acknowledges the creative voice you already have inside you and helps you harness it and make it stronger, helps you transition from novice to artist through trust, belief, and apprenticeship.  That’s powerful teaching.  That’s what helped me become who I am today.

680 Final Reflection

  1. How does understanding culture and power impact your teaching?

Understanding culture and power impacts my teaching greatly because the classroom is a battleground where unjust power structures fight to maintain their dominance, and cultural understanding is the key to inclusivity in education.  Understanding that a dominant monoculture controls everything from what information is taught in school à to how students are expected to learn and behave in the classroom à to how students are expected to interact and behave in the social world à to how students are expected and influenced to view themselves and the world around them à spurs me as an educator to question our current education system and challenge the injustices I see being inflicted and perpetuated.  Unjust power structures in education and society prevent students from achieving their full potential, from feeling valued, from being respected and honored as human beings.  From understanding that power and oppression go hand in hand, I know that I want to strive to take the power out of the hands of the oppressors and help students to grasp empowerment that lies in their hands.  Some of the ways I can strive to dismantle these oppressive power structures are through: creating inclusivity, practicing and teaching critical thinking, using culturally-responsive teaching, encouraging teamwork, fostering multiculturalism, and embracing diversity.  As Ernestine Hayes said, “If you are not combating colonialism, you are contributing to it.”  I strongly believe her words, and I feel that we must think and act radically, critically, and actively as educators in order to push education toward progress and multiculturalism.  I can start in my own classroom by honoring the diverse backgrounds and experiences of my students and by including local cultural knowledge in my lessons in an active effort to move away from the Euro-centric, monocultural education model.  As a music teacher, I will start by challenging the Euro-centric notions of the hierarchical orchestra and the western music notation system.


  1. The three words I chose from the word wall are: 1) uncomfortable, 2) self-reflection, and 3) tolerance vs. transformation. I chose these words because of their significance as steps on a path toward positive change in education.  Uncomfortable means “feeling slight pain or physical discomfort” or “causing or feeling unease or awkwardness.”  Self-reflection means “meditation or serious thought about one’s character, actions, and motives.”  Tolerance means “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.”  Transformation, however, means “a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.”  Change starts with being uncomfortable.  We must be uncomfortable with our privilege and address it before we can look outward and make change.  We must be uncomfortable with our situations before we can question them and make change.  We must be uncomfortable with the status quo and the power structures in place before we can challenge them and make change.  Being uncomfortable is one small step toward transformation.  Practicing and teaching self-reflection is key to our ability to analyze ourselves, our feelings, and our motives.  When we can reflect as teachers, we can make sure that we approach all teaching situations with sensitivity, respect, perspective, and reduced personal bias.  When we teach our students self-reflection, we can help them to be better citizens and more thoughtful and sensitive peers to their classmates.  Change starts from within, whether you are the teacher or the student.  Once we look within, we can look outside of ourselves at the larger situation.  Tolerance is the first step toward embracing and honoring diversity, but it is not enough.  Tolerance does not imply enough growth.  Transformation takes change to the next level.


  1. I plan to teach in a culturally responsive way by incorporating traditional Tlingit music into my music lessons. I will be teaching strings and general music both in the traditional music classroom and for the El Sistema-inspired string program, JAMM.  I hope to invite Elders into the classroom to teach traditional songs and prepare my students for performance.  I also intend to incorporate more learning through oral tradition in addition to reading music with western notation.  I will help students to put knowledge in their own hands through self-guided learning, project-based learning, peer mentorship, and team activities.  I aim to use place-based learning as a way for music students to get in touch with the musical landscape of their local environment.  One way I can incorporate place-based learning is by having students engage their local community to share and teach a diverse repertoire of local music.  Another way I can incorporate place-based learning is by having students listen deeply to the sounds of their natural landscape and then use those environmental sounds as inspiration for their own compositions.  One way I want to make strings class more culturally responsive is by turning the role of the orchestra on its head.  Traditionally, the orchestra has been a place of hierarchy, inequality, and deeply entrenched power structures.  I aim to use the El Sistema model to reinvent the orchestra as a tool for team building, cooperation, and collaboration, and as an expression of respect, unity, and diversity.  We can be inclusive in the orchestra to include players of all backgrounds and experiences and to present music from a wealth of diverse places, not just the western world!

Culturally-Responsive Lesson Plan

Below you will find a PDF file of my lesson plan, Exploring Rhythm and Pulse in Inupiaq Dance Music:

Exploring Rhythm and Pulse in Inupiaq Dance Music

Below is a link to the PDF version of my lesson chapter from the Arctic section of the iBook:

Katie Kroko Inupiaq Music Lesson

Below are links to online resources and YouTube videos used in the lesson plan:

King Island & Little Diomede Dancers

on YouTube

Kivgiq 1988 Point Hope on


1987 King Island Eskimo Dancers ­ Raven Dance on YouTube

Barrow Dancers; Loon Dance

on YouTube

Barrow Dancers; Whaling

Dance on YouTube

AFN 2013 Point Hope Dancers

d9 from YouTube

Alaska Native Dance at

Echospace artice on Education through Historical Organizations


Here is a list of the Alaska cultural standards for curriculum, which my lesson plan incorporates:

  • Cultural Standard A – a culturally-responsive curriculum reinforces the integrity of the cultural knowledge that students bring with them.
    • Section 1: a culturally-responsive curriculum recognizes that all knowledge is imbedded in a larger system of cultural beliefs, values and practices, each with its own integrity and interconnectedness
    • Section 2: a culturally-responsive curriculum insures that students acquire not only the surface knowledge of their culture, but are also well grounded in the deeper aspects of the associated beliefs and practices;
    • Section 3: a culturally-responsive curriculum incorporates contemporary adaptations along with the historical and traditional aspects of the local culture;
    • Section 4: a culturally-responsive curriculum respects and validates knowledge that has been derived from a variety of cultural traditions;
    • Section 5: a culturally-responsive curriculum provides opportunities for students to study all subjects starting from a base in the local knowledge system.
  • Cultural Standard C – a culturally-responsive curriculum uses the local language and cultural knowledge as a foundation for the rest of the curriculum.
    • Section 3: a culturally-responsive curriculum incorporates language and cultural immersion experiences wherever in-depth cultural understanding is necessary.
    • Section 4: a culturally-responsive curriculum views all community members as potential teachers and all events in the community as potential learning opportunities.
    • Section 5: a culturally-responsive curriculum treats local cultural knowledge as a means to acquire the conventional curriculum content as outlined in state standards, as well as an end in itself.
    • Section 7: a culturally-responsive curriculum is sensitive to traditional cultural protocol, including role of spirituality, as it relates to appropriate uses of local knowledge.
  • Cultural Standard D – a culturally-responsive curriculum fosters a complementary relationship across knowledge derived from diverse knowledge systems.
    • Section 1: a culturally-responsive curriculum draws parallels between knowledge derived from oral tradition and that derived from books.


I feel that my lesson plan embodies the aforementioned cultural standards because it embraces and enhances the knowledge that students bring with them to the classroom, it uses the local Inupiaq language and culture as a foundation for the lesson and the music curriculum, and it fosters a complementary relationship between western classical music learned in an ensemble setting and Inupiaq traditional music learned through oral transmission.  I think that my lesson on rhythm and pulse in Inupiaq music is most clearly linked to Cultural Standard C, specifically sections 3, 4, 5, and 7.  This lesson requires immersion in the Inupiaq language in order to learn the words to the songs in the lesson plan.  It also requires cultural immersion in order to learn the motions to the dances and their meanings.  This lesson treats members of the local community as teachers, and invites local Inupiaq Elders to the classroom to conduct the main portion of the music lesson.  Traditional music and dance are elements of local cultural knowledge, and learning and honoring traditional art forms is the main focus of this lesson.  In addition, learning traditional Inupiaq music and dance can help students to learn conventional music content standards by building skills such as inner pulse, rhythmic stability, and eurythmics.  In this lesson, all activities would take place under the guidance of or with the approval of the Elder leading the lesson, and all content would sensitively convey local cultural knowledge.  The role of the classroom music teacher is to enhance and build upon the cultural material presented by the Elder and to weave connections with western classical music concepts.

Project-Based Learning Reflection

My experience in Alaska Studies class was an overwhelmingly positive one because of the learning format.  As soon-to-be student teachers, we got to learn from the perspective of the student, a technique which I found to be invaluable.  As teachers, we were immersed in the experience of the learner, an experience which can either be engaging and empowering or dry and force-fed depending on the presentation.  I liked that ALST 600 was a course which was in direct opposition to the style in which I learned as a 1990s and early 2000s public school student.  We turned the traditional classroom model on its head by becoming our own teachers through the project-based learning model.

I think that project-based learning has provided me with a window into the perception, processing, and experience of the learner that I was not able to directly experience as a student in the primary and secondary grades.  I did have the opportunity, however, to experience lots of self-guided learning with my viola professor in college, so this has greatly influenced my desire to make the learning process more adaptive and engaging for my own students.  Experiencing project-based learning has allowed me to expand my own teaching toolbox and add more tools that challenge the student to empower him or herself and seek out knowledge on his or her own.  I love how project-based learning puts the impetus for learning in the hands of the student, in contrast to the authoritarian teacher-driven methods of old.  I personally believe that this is one of the ways that we as teachers can improve retention and increase engagement with our students.  Research is no longer a drudging task, but an opportunity for exploration, discovery, and creativity for the student.  This is groundbreaking when we consider the historical “sink or swim” memorization expectations for students in the not so distant past.  Without project-based learning and other methods of innovative student engagement, students are less likely to create meaningful connections about the information they are exposed to in school.  Students are less likely to learn the critical thinking skills needed to question the social structures and power dynamics of the status quo.  Without those critical thinking skills, a student can easily become another cog in the wheel of the machine.  Project-based learning is a way to teach students independence and self-empowerment.  Project-based learning lets students know that the ability to learn is inside them, just like David Katzeek said when he visited our class.

Writing a textbook on Alaska as a class was an enlightening and eye-opening experience for me, and it revealed many opportunities for personal and group growth that would be valuable to students in any classroom.  The project not only taught the subject, Alaska history, but it taught the skills needed for learning – the building blocks of the learning process.  We researched Alaskan history, but we also actively used our skills of teamwork, collaboration, cooperation, critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis.  Many of the skills that the iBook project fostered are in alignment with the skills and values I strive to teach my students in El Sistema-inspired music programs.

Through writing the iBook, I learned the value of giving students projects and assignments that challenge them to think critically and be global citizens.  Our project was proof that students both strive to achieve greater heights academically and are able to internalize knowledge more successfully when challenged to think critically and demonstrate their knowledge in a creative format.

Some of the most amazing aspects of this project were the personal, interpersonal, and community-minded transformations that it fostered.  Writing individual lesson plans for the iBook spurred many of us to develop deeper connections to the material we were studying and writing about.  Working as collaborative teams on our regional chapters pushed us to come together and make sure that we were accurately and sensitively conveying the history of the region we were assigned.  This required much humility, and it challenged us to hone our listening skills and our ability to compromise.  As we compiled and edited our chapters, we used our critical thinking skills to determine which information we wanted to include in our chapter and how we wanted to present it.  Communication skills were crucial for our groups to navigate this process and make sure that everyone’s voice was heard in the final product and to make sure that everyone’s contributions were woven together with a unified voice.  We used our critical thinking skills to determine which sources would prove most useful for our project, discerning to discover which sources provided us with unbiased, up to date, and accurate information.  One of the most transformative parts of the process was the final editing and reviewing phase.  I felt that this part of the process allowed us to deeply analyze our work, confront our own personal biases, and hold our product under a critical lens to determine if we had presented Alaskan history in a balanced and culturally sensitive way.  By the end of the process, I felt like we as a class had learned more about how to be culturally responsive teachers and citizens through a process of researching, making, doing, internalizing, and analyzing.  After working on our iBook project, I feel that project-based learning is an incredible way to teach students life skills through a process of exploration and experiential learning.

Standards for Culturally Responsive Curriculum

During our class discussion on the Alaska Standards for Culturally Responsive Curriculum, my group looked at Cultural Standard C, which states that “a culturally responsive curriculum uses the local language and cultural knowledge as a foundation for the rest of the curriculum.”  Some important aspects of this cultural standard are as follows: 1) utilizing local language as a basis for deeper learning, 2) utilizing the study of place, 3) incorporating language and cultural immersion, 4) including all community members as potential teachers, 5) utilizing local cultural knowledge as a way to teach conventional curriculum content, 6) utilizing modern technology to preserve and document traditional cultural knowledge, and 7) treating traditional cultural protocol with sensitivity.


A music lesson I would design based on Cultural Standard C is something I would describe as a “Community Musical Exploration”.  For this lesson, I would provide my students with field recorders and then send them out into the community to explore and document the local musical traditions.  Each student would complete a self-guided project exploring and making connections with the great variety of musical traditions and performers in their community.  For this project, I would have students ask a community member, Elder, Culture Bearer, or relative of their choice to teach them a local traditional song from any background (i.e. a Tlingit song, an old time fiddle song, a blues song, etc.).  I would encourage the students to ask their new teacher for permission to record the lesson and song in order to document the learning and performing process.  If permission is not granted or the community member does not feel comfortable being recorded, I would have that student write about the lesson and the song they learned instead of making audio documentation.  After learning a new song from their community teachers, I would have each student write a reflection about their experiences and what they learned.  After going out into the community and learning from community members, Elders, Culture Bearers, and relatives, I would have my students come back to the classroom and present what they learned to their classmates.  This would help the students to expose their peers to the rich diversity of local music making that is occurring in their community.  Imagine 30 students sharing 30 different songs from 30 different teachers of diverse backgrounds.  The potential for explorative learning and community building is huge!  For the presentation of this project, I would have students share their songs, lesson experiences, recordings, and reflections with their classmates.  Students could even invite their community teacher to see the class presentations.


Here are some ways that this lesson incorporates Cultural Standard C.  It brings in community members as teachers, incorporates language and cultural immersion with the community teacher on the song they choose to teach (i.e. a Tlingit Elder might teacher might choose to teach a song in Tlingit, immersing the student in the language), incorporates local cultural knowledge into the music learning experience, and it connects students to place and local cultural traditions.

Multicultural Literature

The first book I picked up during our multicultural storybook exploration was called The Day the Sun was Stolen by Jamie Oliviero. I was drawn to this book because of the formline art it featured for illustrations. All of the characters and settings featured formline faces and designs, an element which captures the reader’s attention immediately. In this story, Raven creates the sun, which is quickly stolen from the world by Bear. Bear has heavy fur and decides to keep cool by stealing the sun and hiding it in his cave. Raven sends a young boy to rescue the sun from Bear. The boy disguises himself as a fish and waits for Bear to catch him. Bear catches the boy, but, too full to eat him, takes him back to his lair. The boy shaves off Bear’s fur and escapes in the night. When Bear wakes up, he is too cold and realizes that he must put the sun back up in the sky. After evaluating this book with the rubric for multicultural literature, I would give this book at 2.5 rating. For the category of “Quality Literature”, I would give the book a 2 rating because I feel that the story could have been more developed and delivered more convincingly. For the category of “Authority”, I would give the book a 2 rating because the author is not a member of the culture. However, he treats the story and the material sensitively, and the illustrator Sharon Hitchcock is of native ancestry, so these are some positive points. For the category of “Authenticity of Characters”, I would give the book a 2 rating because I felt that the characters could be more developed and multifaceted. For the categories of “Authenticity of Setting”, “Dialogue and Discourse”, and “Theme”, I would give the book a 3 rating for each category because the story was sensitively conveyed and did not resort to stereotypes. Overall, this comes out to a 2.5 rating.

The book I would use for a lesson in my content area is called Raven Goes Berrypicking by Anne Cameron. I feel that this storybook has great potential to be used in the music classroom because it can be used to introduce the study of chamber music. In this story, Raven is a trickster who has three friends named Puffin, Gull, and Cormorant. The four friends go canoeing, fishing, hunting for mussels, and berry picking as a team, however Raven finds a way to get out of doing work in every situation, and she is the antithesis of a team player. After being tricked during all of their adventures, Gull, Puffin, and Cormorant decide to teach Raven a lesson. They force her to do all the work she has avoided and tie up her beak, so that she cannot complain. In the end, Raven realizes that she has alienated her friends, and she is destined to live a solitary life, alone in the treetops. I would utilize the moral of this story to introduce some of the social, cooperative, and teamwork skills needed for playing chamber music. It could be a great intro to some teambuilding activities to prepare for performing in small groups. I would use the story to stress the importance of communication, respect, equality, teamwork, compromise, and cooperation in playing chamber music. Looking at the four characters of the book would be a great way to introduce the string quartet in a strings class. The class could look at the relationship of the four characters and compare with the relationship of the four players in a string quartet as a way of understanding the social dynamics that go on in an ensemble. The story could be a good way to broach the subject of maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships in a string quartet or any other type of ensemble. The main focus of my lesson would be to emphasize the importance of creating a strong interpersonal foundation and sense of responsibility and teamwork within a small ensemble.