Monday, December 9, 2013

Nature versus Nurture via "The Talent Code"

As a music teacher, I have taught thousands of students over the past 12 years. Among those thousands are the small percentage of super-talented students, some of whom choose a career in music. These students have a love of music, an intrinsic motivation to constantly improve, and recognize that hard work pays off. No, they are not all music "prodigies." Their effortless ability is a result of passion and practice.

I recently read "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle. Being a person who witnesses this talent every year, I wanted to see the insight Coyle could bring to this process. Are there really prodigies? Or is it simply the result hard work and ambition?

Coyle found that these prodigies are simply people with a combination of intense desire and purposeful practice. These talented people, whether in art, sports, or academics, have a targeted focus, gather the necessary resources to make progress towards that focus, and practice purposefully & deeply to achieve the focus. The process is rather scientific.

"Skill is a cellular insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows in response to certain signals." (page 15)

"Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways - operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes - makes you smarter." (page 28)

"Deliberate practice is working on technique, seeking constant critical feedback, and focusing ruthlessly on shoring up weaknesses." (page 80)

Ability is less about who or how long, than what and how much. As I read the book, I found many of Coyle's discoveries and connections to really make sense. Of course deep practice would result in greater skill! Of course the presentation of challenges instead of repetition creates better learning experiences!

"The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle." (page 31)

"Players touching the ball 600 percent more often learn far faster." (page 44)

Coyle consulted scientists who research and study the brain to simplify the process down to three steps:

  1. Every human movement, thought, or feeling is a precisely timed electric signal traveling through a chain of neurons.
  2. Myelin is the insulation that wraps these nerve fibers and increase signal strength, speed, and accuracy.
  3. The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit, and the stronger, faster, and more fluent our movements and thoughts become. (page 51)

That makes complete sense. Those of us who have experienced this process, personally or through someone close to us, are more likely to understand. For example, I impress on my students that muscle-memory is a key component to improvement. Once the muscles can do these tasks automatically, the brain can then focus on more challenging tasks.

Coyle then gives three rules for encouraging this process to occur. These rules can be used personally or for coaching purposes. Being a music teacher, and teaching band, these are not completely foreign to what I do in the classroom.

  1. RULE ONE: Chunk it up. Look at the task as a whole, then divide it into the smallest possible chunks. Slow the action down and speed it up to learn the inner architecture. Eventually link them together in progressively larger groupings. (pages 124, 131)
  2. RULE TWO: Repeat it. Systematically fire the circuits required for the skill. (page 136)
  3. RULE THREE: Learn to feel it. Students don't like the "taste" of deep practice at first; eventually they begin to tolerate and even enjoy the experience. (page 143)

"...the deepest truth about deep practice: to get good, it's helpful to be willing, even enthusiastic, about being bad." (page 145)

For anyone to be willing to commit to deep practice, something has to motivate them. Coyle labels this Ignition, motivational fuel. "Where deep practice is a cool, conscious act, ignition is a hot, mysterious burst, an awakening." (page 154).

I know as a public school teacher, I wonder how to spark that ignition. Most of my students begin to play an instrument because they think it will be fun. After about 10 weeks, the realization that playing an instrument is work settles in... and they hit their first wall. I then work hard to re-ignite them and get them past this wall. And repeat this process whenever the next wall appears.

The moment I finished the final page of this book, my mind was swirling with information and ideas. These are the key adjustments I am making to my day-to-day "coaching" tactics in my classroom as a result of this book:

  1. I will impress upon my beginners that it is a long-term commitment. I will not say "if you continue;" I will speak in absolutes regarding the continuation of learning music. My change of mindset will affect the mindset of my students.
  2. I will be more creative in providing learning & practice opportunities that focus on challenges and not just repetition.
  3. I will recognize and commend skill achievement appropriately, since this leads to greater confidence which will encourage more risk-taking in efforts of gaining more skill. This affects my choice of words: "You really tried hard" and "That must have taken focus and energy to achieve."
  4. My "coaching" needs to be delivered in short bursts. STOP THE LECTURES, whether intentional or not!
  5. Make sure I mention to my students how the myelin process works, that skill is not just about natural talent (everyone does have natural aptitudes) but about what you are passionate about and  how you work towards your goal.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

NAfME Pre-Conference Day Two

What another incredible day!!! Lots of great information was shared, plus practical examples and opportunities to put the info to use.

On a side note, some of the presenters used for us to interact... pretty cool stuff!

Here is the basic summary of the topics and discussions today:

Introduction to the Workbook - Kelly Parkes, VA Tech
What IS evidence of student achievement?
How do we collect and track the data?
School systems are being asked to implement a "one size fits all" system
The NAfME Workbooks are available for general music and school ensemble focus.
The need for these workbooks is outlined on the NAfME website.

Workbook in Detail:
Divided into: Introduction, Use, Sample Forms, Opportunity to Learn, References, Resources, Comparison Chart (between Workbook, Danielson, Marzano, and McREL)

**Designed to be used by an evaluator with a music background, or to at least bridge the gap between music educator and a non-music evaluator

Largely based on Danielson - the task force believed Danielson best fit the needs of music educators and modeled the language while substituting music learning expectations and examples

The purpose of the Workbook is for Professional Development.
The task force is working with a vendor to make it web-enabled.

Guided Group Evaluations 

Karen Steele (principal in Towson) & Rebecca Wilhelm (middle school band teacher)

Criteria for Evaluation Section of Workbook:
1. Supporting Structures - use the NAfME Opportunity-to-Learn Standards (appendix 1 or online) to outline to admin what is or is not available in the building
2. Curricular Goals and Measures - separated into Creating, Performing, and Responding
3. Professional Practice - refers to the Domains, can adapt to any model the district uses
4. Additional Program Expectations and Collective/General Measures

Practical Evaluations - Glenn Nierman
We watched 2 video examples and used the tools as practice (2c & 2d for an "opera" general music lesson for 8th grade; 3c & 3d for "rodeo" general music lesson for 2nd grade)

Practical Student Outcome Assessments - Scott Shuler & Johanna Siebert
We watched two video examples of lessons and discussed pre-observation, evidence collection, and post-observation.

Threats to Quality Content Supervision

  • "Fine Arts" leadership consolidation - instead of "Music"
  • Loss of content-specific supervisor positions
  • Narrowing of preparation programs for non-arts teachers and administrators - no time to take arts-related courses

5 Key Attributes of Effective Teachers
  1. Content expertise
  2. Content-specific pedagogy
  3. Generic pedagogy
  4. Personal qualities
  5. Professional dispositions
School admin can only speak to 3, 4, and 5; the music expert can focus on 1 and 2.
Content-Expert Supervisors can provide more detailed input to teachers and are better prepared to address those 2 key areas. They can provide feedback/evaluation on content-specific teacher standards and content. They can compare classroom content to curriculum, apply generic rubric domains with contextual understanding, and prescribe and identify appropriate PD for teacher growth.

Consequences of Content Leadership Void:
  • Irrelevant district PD
  • Lack of support/guidance for budget, curriculum, assessment, teacher growth, and professional participation (conferences, boards, etc.)
  • Loss of statewide leadership
Strategies for Filling the Void
  • Outside expert consultants (MEA network of expert retirees, university faculty trained in the state system)
  • Shared supervisor (multi-district)
  • Regional network (county)
  • Trained peer coaches
Advice for Music Teachers
  • SMART goals
  • Learn and leverage the system - educate yourself on the rules/procedures, use the system to improve, set clear outcomes, link goals to opportunities for PD
  • Measuring growth - select an issue, focus on a subgroup, focus the SLO/Measure, and focus the PD
  • Video record - both when not being observed and during observations, preferably from both perspectives (back of class and front of class)
Possible Pretest Strategies
  1. Complete entire Final Assessment: benefit = exact comparison, challenge = unfair/upsetting
  2. Complete One Pre-Task from Final Assessment: benefit = exact comparison, challenge = limits scope
  3. Complete easier Final Assessment: benefit = adjusted to current ability, challenge = how to compare scores (factor in difficulty)
... and 2 more that I did not catch; I will update once I receive the PPT files of these presentations.

What Are the Next Steps? - Mike Blakeslee
Continuously collecting comments and improvements
New editions will be released yearly, including digital versions (from Innovate School Music)

Thus the Pre-Conference was brought to a close. I feel... enlightened and empowered. I have gained insight and information to be shared with music colleagues and administrators in my county. I feel that I can advocate for myself and my music education profession in a much more informed manner.

And I feel I can conquer the world! No, wait... I'm getting a little carried away. Perhaps just conquer this new phase of teacher accountability :)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

NAfME Pre-Conference Day One

By some miracle, my school district (county) saw fit to provide grant money so that I could attend the NAfME conference in Nashville, TN. Woohoo! Or should I say, Yeehaw!

So here I am at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel having just finished Day One of the Pre-Conference focused on Teacher Evaluation and Student Assessment... both hot topics in education, but particularly in music education.

I am battling very slow WiFi, so I am not sure when/if this post will upload.

The day opened with remarks from NAfME President-Elect Glenn Nierman and NAfME Deputy Executive Director & COO Mike Blakelee.

Why Focus on Teacher Evaluation Now?
  • ESEA (NCLB) is up for reauthorization
  • Research has proven that teacher efficacy directly impacts student achievement 
  • Race To The Top has put greater emphasis on evaluation, assessment, and accountability.

Based on the three items above, there are two primary concerns:

  1. Are we teaching to look good and not to do good?
  2. How do we collect data on student growth?

Mike also introduced the "Workbook" which we will tackle in depth during the sessions tomorrow:

Workbook for Bulding and Evaluating Effective Music Education

  • Section 1: Supporting Structures
  • Section 2: Curricular Goals & Measures
  • Section 3: Observations
  • Section 4: Other Outcomes

Next up was Beth Cummings from Polk County, Florida.

Polk County (Florida) Performing Fine Arts Assessments Project
This project is funded by RTTT to create summative and formative assessments of individual achievement, instead of group achievement (such as in ensembles).
The assessments focus on Responding, Performing, and Creating Music.

Although there are MANY benchmarks for each course (200-350), assessment items attached to only the benchmarks that can be best assessed in the classroom and are essential to learning.

Those creating the assessments wanted to reflect what is important to the classroom teachers.

Performing benchmarks are combined into tasks divided into Prepared (time to practice), On Demand (sight-reading), and Creating (improvise); rubrics for each type

All Responding assessments are on computer! 30-40 minutes total (30%)
Performing assessments are no longer than 15 minutes (70%)

CONCERN: When can we test since the students are already facing lots of testing?

NOTE: There is a website, however the slow WiFi will not let me test the links prior to posting. I will update when I have a more reliable connection.

Doug Orzolek presented Research, Issues, and Trends in Teacher Evaluation

Doug's Categories of Teacher Evaluation

  • Linked to student outcomes (SLOs and assessments)
  • Linked to observations
  • Linked to self-assessment and reflection
  • Linked to all three (multifaceted evals)
From MET (Gates Foundation):
External observations are a good ongoing check for internal bias.
Observers should be trained in observation and should always be done by more than one observer.
The more lessons and observers, the higher the reliability of the evaluation.
1/3 each student survey, observation, and reflection combined for the evaluation yields the highest reliability (.76)

Danielson "Framework for Teaching" is reliable, especially since it encourages reflection and self-assessment, however the tool needs to be adapted and changed to be music ed friendly.

David Hawley presented recent changes in SmartMusic in relation to student assessment.
  • Added a new Rubric scoring option; rubric is teacher-created
  • Added a mic check prior to playing
  • Click on errors to see corrections, as many takes as they want
  • Added an open response assignment option utilizing NotePad
  • Added state standards

RTTT Teacher Evaluation 
Dru Davison presented the TN Fine Arts Student Growth Measures.
Since current assessment options (MAP, SLO, teacher-created or district-created assessments) were not applicable, the solution is a flexible but rigorous portfolio, demonstrating student work and utilizing peer review)

System Requirements:

  • 5 evidence collections (sampling) - teacher choice reflective of course load
  • Collection shows evidence of student growth in 3 out of 4: Perform, Create, Respond, Connect
  • Self-scored, then peer review
  • Built in secondary peer review for instance of disagreement
Challenges to creating the system: must be time efficient, must account for limited tech, must account for inequity of resources/class time/curricular support, must have a fair peer review system, and must move towards standards-based instruction

The Gladis Project created a cloud-based evidence collection tool which allows for double-blind peer review and accepts a variety of formats.

After a lunch break, we were presented with the correlations between Music Literacy and Common Core by Amy Charleroy & Johanna Siebert. These were too numerous (which is a good thing!) to list here.

The NAfME Immediate Past-President, Scott Shuler, then teamed up with Richard Wells.
Re-Imagined Standards, Student Assessment, and Teacher Evaluation
Common Music Assessment Project
Why? Transferable, Consistent Quality, Reliable, Credible
"If the teachers can't score [the assessment,] it is not of any use."

Core Arts Standards & Cornerstone Assessments -
  • Public Review - December 2013
  • Final Version - March 2014
Creating, Performing, & Responding (Connecting is embedded) - CPR+
Cornerstone Assessments are designed to provide models of quality assessments and to generate student work to illustrate standards.

The Connecticut Department of Education created a website with tons of examples for teachers regarding student assessment. Select "Task Search," select "Music" from the drop down menu and keyword search "CTCAA."

Lynn Tuttle then emphasized the wide variations between states on meeting federal requirements of teacher evaluation. If 68% of the teaching workforce (in Arizona) are teachers of "non-tested" subjects; why are we then held accountable to assessments that we do not directly impact?

The final session of the day was a presentation by Chris Woodside who outlined what NAfME has been working on in the policy sphere on the National level. He also discussed the "Groundswell" advocacy tools available on the NAfME website.

Overall, the day was highly informative and the presenters provided valuable information on the background of the evaluation and assessment movement. I look forward to tomorrow and being able to get "hands-on" with the tools NAfME has created for music teachers.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Back to School, the Band Way

If you hadn't noticed, I took the summer off. Well, I didn't completely take the summer off. I was working at a local community music school as well as preparing for the new school year, however I did not blog for a few months.

I have returned and I am starting out by sharing my lesson plans from the first 2 days of school.

For the first time in 12 years, I am teaching ONLY band classes this year. I know: MIRACLE. I have taught band, general music, guitar, piano, theatre, foreign language exploratory and remedial math. This is refreshing and I'm hoping it will help me to focus and provide a better overall plan for my students.

Here is the break down of my teaching schedule:

On A days (every other day) I see my 7th & 8th grade Concert Bands (on grade-level ability) for 80 minutes each, and my 6th grade Advanced Bands (started playing in elementary school) for 38 minutes each divided into a woodwinds/percussion class and a brass/percussion class.

On B days (the opposite day) I see my 7th & 8th grade Symphonic Bands (advanced ability) for 80 minutes each, and my 6th grade Beginning Bands (never played before) for 38 minutes each divided into a woodwinds/percussion class and a brass/percussion class.

The program is growing, with a total of 160 students this year. Of course, I'm aiming higher ;)

For the first days of school, I decided to keep the activities interactive. There's a lot of "policies" and "procedures" in all of the classes, so I needed to keep their interest.

Day One, Step One: Attendance
I need to take attendance to make sure the students are in the correct classroom and to make sure I am not missing anyone. Instead of responding with "here" or "present," I ask them to respond with a Musical Term. It can be as simple as the name of their instrument, they can look at the words posted around the classroom, or they can state a term they remembered from last year. I was impressed by 6th grade students saying "fortissimo" or "crescendo." Side note: for the next 2 classes, the students insisted on taking attendance in this manner since they enjoyed it so much.

Day One, Step Two: Non-Negotiables
In my school building, we have a set of 4 Non-Negotiables which guide student behavior. These are reviewed and briefly discussed (with examples) to reinforce that the guidelines are school-wide. Student volunteers read the Non-Negotiable aloud and then we discuss the meaning.

Day One, Step Three: Who is Mrs. McEndree?
I created a PicStitch of six scenes from my summer. For students who I had last year, it was an opportunity to "catch up" with them. For the new students, it gave them a glimpse into my life and who I am.

Day One, Step Four: Incredibox
Thanks to the Facebook Band Directors group, I was introduced to the awesomeness of Incredibox. I use this as a tool to encourage the students to introduce themselves and tell something about their summer. To be able to use the ActivSlate and manipulate the "groove" being created, they have to share. They were so excited to share and work with the website! They often request to play with Incredibox when waiting for buses at the end of the day!

Day One, Step Five: Writing Rhythms
This step is not completed by the 6th grade students, since their class was half the length of the 7th & 8th grade classes. The students create rhythms on whiteboards based on guidelines (4-beats, 8-beats), and then random students are selected to create the rhythm on the screen, using the ActivInspire program and the ActivSlate. The entire class tapped/clapped the rhythms, and then we selected rhythms to add additional sound effects. For example, a rhythm might end up as clap-pat-pat-snap-rub-clap-clap.

Thus ended the lesson for Day One. I save the Band Policies and Procedures for the second class, since I know they are inundated with this information in all other classes on the first day.

Day Two, Step One: Attendance
The students respond with a Music Term to verify attendance for the day.

Day Two, Step Two: Policies Scavenger Hunt
Which student really wants to read through the class policies? The student that is being given candy! I make a game out of reading through the policies, in which a correct answer earns a small piece of candy. The process is simple. A question is displayed on the screen (using PowerPoint or ActivInspire). When the students find the answer in the policies, they stand at their chair. I select a student to answer the question,making sure every student has the opportunity to earn candy. All correct answers earn a piece of candy. Many of the questions have multiple parts: How many Musicianship points can you earn each class and how do you earn them? The students then enjoy learning (or reviewing, for returning band students) the class policies and are actively engaged in the lesson.

Day Two, Step Three: Review Non-Negotiables
Another reminder of the school-wide Non-Negotiables

Day Two, Step Four: Band Participation Self-Assessment
This step is not completed by the 6th grade students, since their class was half the length of the 7th & 8th grade classes. Based on a document I found on Teachers-Pay-Teachers, I give the students a Band Participation Self-Assessment. As a point of clarification, the students are able to mark multiple answers for one question. After the students complete the assessment and complete the tally, we share answers in a general sense: I read each question aloud and ask the students the raise their hand (if they feel comfortable) as I read the answer they selected. Once finished reading the questions, I ask them to raise hands based on their final tally. Only at this point do I share with them how the tally relates to their probable success in class. Then we discuss ideas for changing their habits to increase success in class.

The students seemed to really enjoy their first two band classes. Although I went through a lot of candy, it was worth it to have them actively and positively reading the policies. The 7th & 8th grade bands began performing on instruments for the third class, while the 6th grade classes began rhythm and melody reviews prior to performing on instruments (and as a way to buy some time while they rent instruments and purchase method books).

I hope your first few days go as smoothly as mine. I try to rotate "First Day" activities, so that the returning band students do not repeat an activity (although the Scavenger Hunt is a yearly favorite!).

Sunday, June 2, 2013

End-of-the-Year Packets

The annual question: what to do in band class following the spring concert?

Each year I have experimented with different activities to do with the days (or weeks) that follow the band spring concert, from sight-reading music for the next year to making recordings of music for future students to composing music. The students and I enjoyed the set of activities that were completed last year, so I decided to improve upon it this year and create a packet.

Cover page to a packet
Each class received a slightly different packet, each including activities they were required to complete and additional optional activities.

OPINION SURVEY: Each student was required to complete an opinion survey. For 7th grade students it including questions regarding activities and music from this school year, as well as questions about next year. For 8th grade students, I did not include the questions about next year. I asked the students NOT to put their name on this survey; I hope to receive honest opinions through anonymity. This was the back page of the packet; once the survey was complete, the student pulled off the page and handed it to me. I marked on my grade-sheet that the student completed the task.

COMPOSE A MELODY: Each student was required to compose an 8-measure melody for their instrument. I gave them guidelines: it must be in a key (use a scale as a guide), it must use all 7 pitches of the key, the key must be accurately noted, and it can be composed using the rhythm given or with an original rhythm. Percussion students had the option of creating the entire 8-measures for bells, or splitting it 4 for bells (with all guidelines followed) and 4 for snare (rhythm entirely original). The student had the option of performing the composition for me as bonus. I graded based on adherence to the guidelines.

SELECT A PLAYING QUIZ: Each student was required to perform a final playing quiz. Each class was given a choice between 2 exercises at the current playing level, except for the advanced 8th grade class: these students could select any exercise (not including warm-ups or scale) to perform. Percussion were asked to complete half the quiz on bells and half on snare. This is standard in my classroom; this way I can check both skill sets (note-reading on bells and technique on snare) without asking them to perform more measures than the rest of the band. I included the grading rubric for the quiz on the back of the front page to the packet. When the student was ready to play, I used their rubric to grade and give feedback and wrote the grade on my grade sheet. The student kept the rubric and were able to practice and perform again if they wanted to improve.

PAY YOUR BAND DEBT: This only applied to students who owed fees for books or rentals, or needed to check-in a school-owned instrument.

WHAT DO YOU MEME?: This optional activity asked students to look at band-related photos (2 were of our actual students) and create memes that will be postures for our classroom next year.
Meme Bulletin Board
There are 3 complete meme examples at the top and then 9 photos to use for new memes. The two photos directly below the green sign are of band students. I have not read all of their ideas, however the ones shown to me are really funny!! I'm debating using my judgement to select the best/funniest, or allow them to vote in the fall and then have the posters created.

TOP 3 TIPS FOR BAND SUCCESS: Last year, an optional activity was for students to write a short letter to a future band student. This year I adjust the optional activity to have the students list their top 3 tips for being successful in class, which I will then use to create a Top Ten list to give to incoming band students. I encouraged them to phrase them using kid-friendly words, being funny or serious or whatever works for them. I have only glanced at a few, but there as some goodies: "Don't eat and then play; your instrument will smell gross."

MY LIFE IN SONG: This optional activity asked students to list songs and events that are forever tied in their memories. For example, whenever they hear a particular song, a specific event is brought to mind. The students found this one to be the most challenging; some could only think of one or two and others did not even bother with this activity since it was optional and they were stuck on ideas.

PERFORM SCALE FOR BAND REWARDS POINTS: The final optional activity was the opportunity to earn more points for the Band Rewards program. There were many students who were 1-2 activities away from earning the next level, so this option gave them class time to memorize and perform scales to earn points.

Overall, this packet was successful. The students could complete the activities in any order, and jump around to difference activities if they felt "stuck" on something. They were also able to work together and assist each other. The atmosphere in the room was "controlled chaos." I see my students for 80 minutes every other day, so most were completed the requirements and the optional activities of their choice within 3 classes (240 minutes). Of course I had a few stragglers that struggled with time-management, but perhaps that was a lesson they needed to learn :)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

48 Festival Judges?!?

If the band director or music teacher world had political parties, I would probably be placed in the ultra-liberal, radical party. I have ideas, and views, and ways of doing things that are not always traditional. I do them in search of additional avenues of teaching my students and guiding them to be musicians, not to make waves in the music education community. But it seems as if the waves are a natural side-effect of my choices.

My latest wave-making idea is the "Comments-Only" festival attendance. For the first time, my band participated in our county festival for comments-only, no rating given by the panel of judges.

I believe my students do need the ears and eyes of other music professionals to help them progress and improve. I absolutely LOVE band clinics, where the "clinicians" listen to the band perform then work with them to make the performance even better. I am no so in love with the festival which keeps the "judges" and the band separate. I do not feel the comments have as great of an effect when they are written and recorded as when they are personally delivered and immediately performed.

I explained to the students about the "comments-only"status and we discussed as a group how that can be beneficial to us: instead of having just 3 judges, we will have 48 - each student in our band will be a judge, plus we will have the comments from the 3 official judges.

While performing at the festival, I made a "clean" recording of our performance using a digital recording device on the conductor's podium. Not the greatest placement for getting a good sound, but at least I had something to immediately share with the students. I then received the recorded comments on CD and written comment sheets from each judge following our performance.

The next class, the students received a "Compliments & Critiques" sheet to use while listening to the clean recording. As they heard great aspects of our playing, they would jot down these thoughts under Compliments. As they heard aspects of our playing that were not so great, they would write them under Critiques. I have worked with them all year learning how to write specific thoughts: "we played good" is not a compliment, instead we write "the trumpets entered at the right time with good volume."

After listening to the entire clean recording, the students turned to the back of the Compliments & Critiques page where they found a ratings chart. It is the same concept as what the judges complete, however simplified for a middle school student to complete. The students places a mark (check, star, shade-it-in) for the letter grade (A, B, C, F) they would give the band for each category (intonation, tone quality, etc.). Then they completed some quick math (add, multiply, & add some more) to find our overall rating.

It was amazing to find that 95% of the group had the same result, with 3% rating slightly higher and 2% rating slightly lower. The students believed this rating had more weight and meaning than when it comes from a judge they don't even know or have not met.

During the next class, we listened to parts of the judges recordings (not the entire performance from each judge due to time constraints) and I shared all of the comments from the recordings and comment sheets. The students placed a mark (star, check, underline) on their Compliment & Critique sheet if a judge mentioned the same thing they had written. Every students had multiple items with these additional marks. Definitely an eye-opening experience for many of them.

The students kept these sheets in their folders to refer to whenever we play these selections in preparation for our spring concert. Although my method breaks with tradition, it seems that my students gained musicianship skills from this experience: better listening skills, a more discerning ear, better use of performance-based vocabulary, and improved problem-solving skills (how to fix what they critiqued).

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Music Class Reward Programs

Over this year in my classroom, I have organized two types of reward programs: one program to reward band students for "performing" above and beyond the class requirement and one program to encourage my general music students to make good behavior choices.


As with many band directors, I have struggled with how to recognize students who are motivated to complete additional assignments beyond the class assignment such as scales, practicing, and attending performances outside of school. This year, I experimented with this program:
Activities, point values, and reward levels
Each additional assignment is assigned a point value; I also remain open to any suggestions from students for assignments I haven't considered. As the students accumulate points, they reach prize points. I printed class rosters, posted them on the wall, and keep track of the points in a prominent area of the classroom.
Class rosters and point tally
For my highly motivated students, this gives them the recognition they desire. For the slightly motivated students, this gives them the kick in the butt to work just a bit harder. For the rest, not much difference in their choices, however it is not viewed as a negative consequence.


Prior to winter break, my 6th grade general music students began making very poor behavior choices. So I spent a few days devising a rewards program to encourage them to make the good behavior choices.
Class Dojo, star-shaped hole punch, reward cards

Using ClassDojo (online and iPad app), I created class rosters for each class and set up the lists of desired behaviors (positive, green points) and undesired behaviors (negative, red points). During the class period, I keep track of each student's behavior choices. By the end of the period, they need to have earned more positives than negatives and be "in the green." This earns them a "star:" I hole punch a star onto the reward card. Stars can be redeemed for prizes such as candy, key-chains, or special privileges.

Within 4 days (I see my student every other day), the reward program was paying off. The students who consistently make good behavior choices are rewarded for these choices. The students who sometimes make poor behavior choices have a reason to choose positive behaviors. Of course, there are still a few (approximately 1 per class) that this program does not work for since they find more power and control in their current poor behavior. We can't win them all, but we can encourage those on the "fence" to make appropriate choices.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Reflective Musician: My MdMEA Session

I presented (for the first time!) at the Maryland Music Educators Association Conference. For those who were not able to attend my session (since you were busy or live in another state) and for those who wanted a chance to review the info, here is my presentation in a nutshell (but not literally "in a nutshell", although that would be an interesting delivery system):


This session will provide methods and resources in teaching student reflection techniques to gauge personal learning and progress in instrumental music classes. Methods range from instant reflections using only a few seconds of class time, to complete projects involving multiple class sessions and methods of reflecting. Session attendees will leave with a packet containing worksheets & prompts that can be used immediately, and concepts & examples of how to implement reflection methods daily. 

(Confession of dishonesty: I did not create packets since I could hear the trees screaming. Instead I provided my contact information so those who wanted electronic documents could request them... as can you.)

Why Teach Reflection?

  • Reflection is an inherent task in the Arts. An artist must evaluate what they produce in order to learn and grow from the experience.
  • Growth is achieved through mistakes and successes. Students often focus on success or mistake, but not both; we must teach them to look at both.
  • The more we practice Reflection, the more comfortable the process becomes. Have you ever watched a video of yourself teaching? My first experience was one of the most uncomfortable moment of my life; now I find the practice invaluable!

 Reflection is in the Standards

         (This list is a quick touch on the standards; there are methods of linking reflection to practically every standard.)

Reflection is in Teacher Evaluation

Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching
  • Components 2a, 2b, 3b, 3c, & 3d

How Much Time?

  • Minimal Time & Preparation: Thumb Checks and Rating Scales
  • Medium Time & Preparation: Recordings and Performance Reflections
  • Extensive Time & Preparation: Portfolios and Projects

Minimal Time & Preparation

These practices do not need any preparation time or equipment and take minimal class time. These are "instant" reflections.

Thumb Check & Rating Scale: to quickly gauge student understanding or opinions

"Thumbs up if you completely understand Allegro, thumb middle if you kind-of understand, or thumbs down if you have no clue about the term."

"Thumbs up, clarinets, if you successfully shifted from A to C; thumb middle if you need more practice; thumb down if it did not work at all."

"Show me fingers of how well we followed dynamics when we performed this piece: 1 is we performed all the dynamics, 3 we performed some, and 5 we performed none."

Always incorporate follow-up questions. As the teacher, you can select any student and ask "Why did you give us that rating?" or "Why was your thumb in the middle?" You can also ask that student to then ask another student to share their reasoning and so on.

Medium Time & Preparation

These practices need preparation time and/or equipment and take some class time. These are reusable reflections once you create them the first time.

Recordings: of a professional group or of the student group. I keep a digital recorder handy at all times to record my group and do instant playback.

"Listen to this recording of Over the Waves; compare and contrast it to how you just sang it."

"I just recorded you as you played the chorale. What do you think of our balance?" 

Concert or Festival Reflection: listening to or watching a performance and completing reflection questions on a worksheet.

"List two things the band did well at the performance."

"List one thing the band needs to improve."

"List one critique from the festival judges." 

"What is one suggestion from the judges that you can implement immediately. Why did you select this suggestion?"

Depending on the experience level with reflection practices of your group, you may also keep the worksheet open-ended:

Using this form, the student lists the compliments (+) and critiques (-) for each piece of music, circling the one that can be fixed at the next rehearsal.

Practice Reflection: with an emphasis on goal-setting and reflection, instead of total time spent practicing.

The student sets two goals for the week and marks progress towards achievement at each practice session. Additional reflection questions are answered at the end of the week.

Extensive Time & Preparation

These practices need preparation time & equipment and will take class time, often spread over multiple days.

Portfolios: this method is primarily for goal-setting and performance preparation. Depending on the needs of your students, the goals can be performance-based (intonation, musicality, etc.) or behavior-based (bringing class supplies, talking when appropriate, etc.). Portfolios can be combined with a project, as shown below.

Projects: this method is used to achieve a task while setting and progressing toward goals. The task can be solo performance, small ensemble performance, or composition.

In the examples below, my students formed small ensembles and selected music to prepare & perform for the class. This process was spread over 15 class meetings, using only 15-30 minutes at a time.

This is the first task which occurred over 2 class sessions. The students were encouraged to write honest and thoughtful answers, not answers they believed I wanted.
The students then set individual goals to give them a focus during the project. I insisted on complete sentences for every item in the portfolio.
Open-ended question allowed them voice their opinion, while encouraging them to practice good writing skills.
Two of the items in the portfolio asked them to reflect on goal progress.

Prior to performing for the class, the groups had to record and assess their performance. I encouraged them to be honest in their evaluation, since the grade at the bottom of the chart would not be the grade at the top of the sheet; that grade is based on completion instead of performance.

As with all teaching practices, I continually tweak my methods as well as gather new methods. I attended a session the day before I presented my session and discovered additional reflection practices that I plan to use this year.

Keep your eyes and ears open, listen to and address the needs of your students, and remember to share, share, share!!! The more the students reflect, the more they will reflect without your guidance, which is something they can use in every facet of their life.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

MusEdMot Transcript: Teacher Evaluation

Here is the threaded transcript of the discussion I moderated today on Twitter for the Music Ed Motivation Day.

 Mused Motivation Day ‏@Musedmot
It's Noon! @MusicHeather is our moderator for a discussion on Teacher Evaluation! Come join in!

Heather ‏@MusicHeather
#musedmot Teacher Evaluation in the Music Classroom.

What, where, and for how long have you been teaching?

Heather ‏@MusicHeather
Music (band & general), MD & PA, 12th year :)

Catie Dwinal ‏@musiccargirl14
Elem general, NH, 3 years!

 Kelly Petro ‏@kellyapetro
7-12 choral Rochester, NY 9 years

 Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
5-12 band, HS music tech, theory, comp, history at Berwick Academy southern ME 9 yrs there - 35 total Yikes!

Pat Toben ‏@mrstoben
19 years- general music, music tech, band, choir

Elizabeth N ‏@MsNystedtMusic
Elem general in Elgin, IL. This is my (gulp) 10th year.

Have you been evaluated this Semester, or will you be evaluated next Semester? Was (or will) your evaluator knowledgeable in music?

Kelly Petro ‏@kellyapetro
Our eval is a year long process I've been observed 3 times so far. There will be at least 3 more.

Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
informally but formally probably not. DFA visual art based good educator, likes music but really knowledgeable in music ed. ped. no.

Pat Toben ‏@mrstoben
No. Walk-throughs but not formal.

 Elizabeth N ‏@MsNystedtMusic
My evaluator is in charge of Fine Arts for the district, but she is a former art teacher, not music.

Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
@MsNystedtMusic same here.

 Heather ‏@MusicHeather
I have been evaluated this Semester, and I will be evaluated again next Semester.

 Elizabeth N ‏@MsNystedtMusic
I think my evaluator knows what to look for, though, since she does see so many music teachers in action. I have not been evaluated yet this year, but I am on the cycle to be.

Briefly describe the evaluation form or system for your school.

 Pat Toben ‏@mrstoben
Hybrid CharlotteDanielson model every 3 years. Walk-throughs all the time.

Heather ‏@MusicHeather
@mrstoben CD as well here, 2nd year using the Framework

Pat Toben ‏@mrstoben
@MusicHeather I love it! Very comprehensive.

Kelly Petro ‏@kellyapetro
end of the year I will be given a number score based on my observations and the results of student tests - both music and ELA

Heather ‏@MusicHeather
@kellyapetro My final eval also depends on math & reading scores

Kelly Petro ‏@kellyapetro
this is the 1st year of this eval system. NY districts were required by law to adopt this system because of RTTT

Elizabeth N ‏@MsNystedtMusic
This is the 3rd year we're using Danielson, the 2nd time for me being evaluated with it. We are evaluated every other year.

Kelly Petro ‏@kellyapetro
scored out of 100 based on a 38 page rubric, observation results, and student test scores

Heather ‏@MusicHeather
2nd year on Danielson Framework; 2 evals (50%) + MAP scores (30%) + School Index; used to be "check-list" form: poor, area for growth, satisfactory; I find Danielson more comprehensive & useful

Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
Very generic form, 3yr cycle, 2-3 DFA in-class obsv., mostly based on yearly self-evaluation, sit-down chat w/DFA. we are moving to a more formal evaluation but not quite there yet. we also currently include Ss evaluation in each class we teach 7-12

Catie Dwinal ‏@musiccargirl14
We have a confusing teacher eval system, It makes it look like we did badly but in reality a check minus is good. I get observed 9 times a year because I'm in my first 3 years. Anyone else have this happen?

Heather ‏@MusicHeather
@musiccargirl14 That's a lot! First 2 years = 4 times for me.

Joe Guarr ‏@jguarr
@musiccargirl14 I think that's new standard in MI. 3 observations/year until you get tenure.

Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
@musiccargirl14 in public/current school supposed to be several times 1st 3 years in school. In all my years never happened.

Catie Dwinal ‏@musiccargirl14
@MusicHeather @jguarr told admin I get nervous when they're in there. The new admin started showing up at least for 5 min 2X a wk

How does the eval system work FOR you as a music teacher?

Heather ‏@MusicHeather
Checklist system did not work for me. Danielson kicks my butt into gear!

Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
self-eval is good for me, makes me reflect/document Whole process makes me look good but doesn't help me be a better teacher.

Heather ‏@MusicHeather
@Stephdon Part of my eval is to video record lessons and self-eval 2x a year; definitely see myself differently!

Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
@MusicHeather Yes! Video and/or audio tells it as it is! Agree!

Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
@MusicHeather record audio almost every band class mostly to check band sound - but amazing things I learn about my teaching!

How does the eval system NOT work for you as a music teacher?

Joe Guarr ‏@jguarr
@MusicHeather I crave content-specific feedback. There's no system in place right now to get observed by a music expert

Heather ‏@MusicHeather
@jguarr I had the privilege of getting a music expert in to observe me last spring...  soooo helpful!!

Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
@jguarr @MusicHeather This would be so helpful to us!

Catie Dwinal ‏@musiccargirl14
Wish I could have a music expert eval me!

Joe Guarr ‏@jguarr
@MusicHeather Somebody from your district, or somebody from outside?

Heather ‏@MusicHeather
@jguarr The principal of our Arts Magnet HS, who is a former band director; he provided amazing feedback, insight, and ideas

Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
@MusicHeather @jguarr That is fabulous!

Catie Dwinal ‏@musiccargirl14
@jguarr @MusicHeather its hard to get evaluated fairly on one class

Joe Guarr ‏@jguarr
@MusicHeather @musiccargirl14 So true. A brief snapshot isn't terribly informative for admins or teachers.

Heather ‏@MusicHeather
50% of my overall yearly eval is based on items NOT in my classroom: math & reading tests scores and school performance, and my evaluator last year & this year are not knowledgeable AT ALL in the arts, much less music!

 Joe Guarr ‏@jguarr
@MusicHeather That's a huge flaw in eval today. We should not be evaluated based on     students that we might not even teach

Catie Dwinal ‏@musiccargirl14
I really wish my evals were based at least a little on my shows, thats the final result of those classes that they come watch!

Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
It is too fluffy. Doesn't help me improve my teaching and specifically related to how I teach music.

 Heather ‏@MusicHeather
@Stephdon Fluffy? How so?

 Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
@MusicHeather Not consistent from teacher-teacher/yr.-yr., set up to make us feel good     w/o any concrete, helpful feedback.

 Heather ‏@MusicHeather
The current system (Danielson) is better than checklist, but seems better suited to ES classroom teachers

 Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
@MusicHeather con't. I feel the "form" is generic seems like it covers the fact the evaluator lacks content knowledge. 

Where could you find "music experts" in your area to ask to observe you?

 Heather ‏@MusicHeather
Colleges & Universities (although some may have been out of "the classroom" too long)

 Joe Guarr ‏@jguarr
Put out a call to any retired music teachers in the area. Wouldn't be "official" but could be beneficial.

 Heather ‏@MusicHeather
@jguarr Definitely! Great idea! I'm sure my fine arts supervisor knows who they are.

 Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
univ. faculty observe, more relevant to have music colleagues w/excellent programs. Issue = their time.

 Heather ‏@MusicHeather
@Stephdon Yes, and the idea of "compensating" them for their time is always my concern.

 Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
@MusicHeather Yes $$ compensation important!

Does the eval system provide useful feedback for you as a music teacher?

 Catie Dwinal ‏@musiccargirl14
Somewhat, I get good feedback on classroom management but nothing else really

 Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
some things relating to classroom mngmt/org but not at all related to my music teaching.

 Heather ‏@MusicHeather
Yes and no. The feedback on the new sys is more valuable and useful, however does not come from a musician

 Joe Guarr ‏@jguarr
Classroom management tips have been helpful, content specific feedback has been non-existent. So yes and no. 

Elizabeth N ‏@MsNystedtMusic
I agree, not much on actual MUSIC teaching, just on teaching in general.

 Kelly Petro ‏@kellyapetro
we used to have a peer eval/mentor program. this provided me with the most useful feedback ever! I worked with other choral teach

 Elizabeth N ‏@MsNystedtMusic
We can take days to visit other music teachers in our district for ideas, although I haven't taken advantage of it.

 Elizabeth N ‏@MsNystedtMusic
I'm assuming it can work in reverse and we can ask those other music teachers to visit us for evaluation.

 Heather ‏@MusicHeather
Our time is up!!! Thanks to @Stephdon @jguarr @musiccargirl14 and @mrstoben for an excellent discussion!

Heather ‏@MusicHeather
Also thanks to @kellyapetro and @MsNystedtMusic! What an awesome PD method :)

 Catie Dwinal ‏@musiccargirl14
@MusicHeather Thank you for moderating!!

 Mused Motivation Day ‏@Musedmot
@MusicHeather Thank you for moderating!!

 Kelly Petro ‏@kellyapetro
@MusicHeather Thank you for a great discussion

Stephanie Sanders ‏@Stephdon
@MusicHeather Thank You! I so value these opportunities to connect with my virtual colleagues!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Posture Pictures

Every couple of years, I do a project with my band class I call "Posture Pictures." Not only do I find out what concept of "good" playing posture the student's have, we have fun and laughter is always involved.

A Band Class (or Orchestra or Chorus or Jazz)
Various Instruments (or none if the students sing)
Chairs & Music Stands (or none if not used in the ensemble)
Picture-taking apparatuses (camera, iPod, iPad, etc.)
15-20 Minutes of Class Time (or more or less depending on class size and number of apparatuses)

1. Inform the class that they will be posing 3 pictures: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
2. The students may select the groups or it can be done by section; I put a max of 3 students in a group to ensure they are all participating.
3. The "model" in the pictures may be the same student in each, the students may take turns, and/or multiple students may be in the pictures.
4. If the class is an instrumental group, the instruments must be included in the pictures.
5. The "Good" picture must demonstrate the preferred playing/singing posture for the instrument.
6. The "Bad" picture must demonstrate the typical posture issues seen during class (slouching, leaning, arms on legs/chair, feet on case, etc.)
7. The "Ugly" picture can be any creative idea that is school appropriate; it may be impossible to play the instrument while in the posture.
8. Each group must plan and "practice" each pose before asking to use an apparatus.

I download the pictures to my computer and organize them by class and by type (good/bad/ugly) for my purposes only. I create a slideshow for each class that has the poses mixed and not categorized. For each pose, the class votes on whether it is Good, Bad, or Ugly, and I select students to explain why the pose fits that category. The "Ugly" pictures get some great laughs, and the "Bad" pictures often get comments such as, "You sit that way every day!" Of course, the "good" pictures are excellent representations of the preferred playing postures.

For your pleasure, here are some examples from a class a few years ago. No worries: the models are college-age at this point and have fond memories of this project. I will not label the category; I'm sure you know to which category each examples belongs. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 - Looking Ahead

In the essence of the new calendar year, I present my blog and teaching resolutions... and you will help to keep me on track.

1. I will post to the blog twice per calendar month. My original intent back in August was to post once per week. If you look back through the posts, you know exactly how well that worked. So I'm adjusting my goal. My new goal is still a challenge, but not to the point of failure.

2. I will work on my Patience in the classroom. Some days, the well is limitless. Other days, I only have a few drops. So using a mixture of breathing techniques, meditation techniques, and mantras ("be calm"), I will be more in control of my personal response to the occasional crazy in the classroom.

3. I will actually upload something to my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I opened one. There's nothing in it so far. I will share the address once there is something in the store. Although I happily offer many of my ideas for free to whomever needs them, I have complete lessons and units that have teaching & monetary value.

Three is a good number: for keeping track of progress, for making real progress, and for not spreading myself any more thin than I already am.

Happy New Year! May your year be an enjoyable roller coaster ride: full of ups and downs but ultimately leaving a smile on your face and the want to do it again!