Saturday, October 19, 2013

Random Articles: Music, Test Scores, and Intelligence

I have an inbox full of articles I've been meaning to blog about.  And they all seem to do with music, testing, and intelligence.  It seems that links between the study of music, test scores, and intelligence are coming out constantly these days.  (Death, taxes, and musical research studies?)

Of course, in the past, there was no need for studies like this because musical performance was a more regular part of people's lives.  Notice I said musical performance because so much of music today is passive - listening, observing - but not doing the things that can truly help us become more ... human. Church choirs, community bands, even the singing of the National Anthem have all dwindled.

The other sad thing is that no matter how many studies come out that suggest the link between music and thinking, we seem to be preaching to the choir (pun intended).  Who is reading the plethora of studies and saying "YES! Let's add more music to our curriculum!"  I am guessing very few.  Project-based learning - yes!  Flipped Classroom - yes!  More collaboration and creativity - yes!  Guess what?  Music has been doing all of that for centuries.

Lest this blog post sink further into despair, here are the truly uplifting stories that have crossed my radar in the last few weeks.

Article #1 came from the Pacific Standard.  The academic achievement of 180 students in an IB program in Quebec was studied.  It revealed that the students who choose to continue music study after it became optional in school scored higher than their non-music counterparts in 23 out of 25 classes. And in the other two classes, the non-music students rated only marginally better.  But the end of the article was the best: "It's conceivable that kids who feel socially connected (say, as members of a school band) develop the confidence and self-esteem that can lead to intellectual curiosity, and better grades." If this is true, then I would like to see studies that say the same of other non-music socially connected groups.

Article #2 came from  One of this year's Nobel prize winners, Dr. Thomas Sudhof, a Stanford University neuroscientist, said his most influential teacher was his bassoon teacher.  His quote: "My bassoon teacher, Herbert Tauscher, who taught me that the only way to do something right is to practice and listen and practice and listen, hours, and hours, and hours."  He also says he would like to have dinner with Mozart to find out if his creativity was "conscious or inherent".

Article #3 came from the New York Times editorial page on October 12, 2013, and is entitled "Is Music the Key to Success?"  One of the best quotes is from Microsoft's Paul Allen, who says music "reinforces your confidence in the ability to create".  Another is by advertising exec Steve Hayden, who says, "Ensemble playing trains you, quite literally, to play well with others."  But the real gem of this article is the fact that the famous people mentioned - Chuck Todd, Alan Greenspan, Paula Zahn, Paul Allen, Woody Allen, and others - were all strong musicians who learned communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration (the 21st century skills) from the study of music.  No, kids, you don't have to become a professional musician.  But the study of music will help you become a success at whatever you choose to do.

Lastly, I've been holding onto this tweet for awhile.  Good old Albert Einstein, himself a talented violinist, said the following:

Perhaps someday there will be a direct, uncontested link between music, test scores, and intelligence that people will believe.  But then I would worry that the establishment would insist that music programs only be delivered in the way that created the conditions in the original research project.  That would be anything but creative, and therefore, not music.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Can 5th Graders Compose?

In music, knowledge always manifests itself in a physical way.

Everything a musician (or artist, or athlete) knows about a topic is proven through performance. Musicians prove their skills through performance, artists prove their skills through their works, and athletes prove their skills through competition.  In the arts, in sports, and in any applied subject, the ultimate focus is never on skills - the focus is on what you do with your skills.

But at what age can we expect students to prove their skills at something as advanced as composing? That is what I hope to find in the project I have started with my 5th grade students.  We are composing using

To be fair, even 5K students can compose with inventive notation (I buy pipe cleaners in bulk).  But I am talking about real composing with traditional notation.  These two questions come to mind:

• Will the students be able to live up to their own expectations when composing a song?
     If the students are not able to compose something that sounds like the music they hear around them, they will likely give up before feeling a sense of accomplishment.
• Have I (as the teacher) given them enough skills to make this experience possible?
     I've had most of these students since 5K.  Have I made the most of every minute together so they can be successful at this project?  Have I scaffolded our learned appropriately over the last 5 years?

It is something I've always wanted to do with students, but in the golden age of Sibelius and Finale, composing was reserved for the few with the money and the skills. Now, web-based programs such as Noteflight have made it possible for anyone to compose easily.  Programs like Noteflight make it easy for students to experiment, make connections quickly, listen, and revise work without too much risk.

We will see - and I will let you know.  If you have used Noteflight (or similar programs) in upper elementary, please let me know what worked (or didn't work) for you.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What are the BIG Goals for Your Music Program?

What's the BIG Picture for your school music program?  Have you taken the time as a K-12 music department to put into writing the BIG Goals you have for students?

In my recent posts about music curriculum, I have mentioned that our district has undertaken a thorough review of all course curriculum using the Understanding by Design framework.  Good curriculum starts with the end in mind, and in Understanding by Design, the "end" is called "Enduring Understandings". These are the big ideas that should remain with students long past the time when they leave your classroom.

Honestly, we did a lot of searching online and found a lot of ... not so great ... examples of Enduring Understandings in a music program.  Written by well-intentioned teachers who may not have known what an Enduring Understanding really represents.  The only exception is #1, which did come from another source (though I have since lost the source). They are open-ended ideas, not specific skills or targets.  

As a K-12 music department, it took us several months to come to consensus on our Enduring Understandings.  We decided (as did our PE and art colleagues) to have a single set of Enduring Understandings for all of our courses.  We wanted a set of questions that could work for any grade level, so that no matter if a student is in 5K general music or 12th grade band, the reasons for music study and the final goals remain the same, even if the rigor increases.

Here are the five we now live:

1.  Students will understand that, at its core, music is about tapping into things deeply human: the desire to learn, to grow, to be in community with others, to contribute, to service, and to make sense of our time on earth.
2.  Students will understand that music provides a means of creativity and expression.
3.  Students will understand that all music has value, even if it differs from an individual's musical preferences.
4.  Students will understand that music is an important and influential element of the history and culture of humankind.
5.  Students will understand that music is an aural experience, but also a written language.

Notice there is nothing in the list about intonation, technique, playing xylophones, phrasing, or performing certain genres of music.  This list of Enduring Understandings is just that - the ideas we hope will endure; the ideas students should take with them.  And these understandings can be used at any age level - from 5K through 12th grade.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

What is Music Curriculum??

I have written a series of posts about music curriculum work (here and here). As a K-12 music department, we have been part of a district-wide intensive review of the curriculum of every course we offer.  That means, as the K-12 music curriculum coordinator, I have spent a great deal of time the last 2-3 years thinking about what good curriculum is in a music classroom.  We use the Understanding by Design framework by Grant Wiggins.  

If you are a music/art/PE teacher, I bet you've had this conversation sometime:
"This curriculum stuff just doesn't work for us.  We don't fit into the neat model that everyone else does.  We're different.  We're constantly performing and assessing."

You're right.  And you're wrong.

If you are embarking on music curriculum work, the first thing you need to divorce yourself from is the idea that your songs are units of study.  Your songs are not units.  Your year is not made up of one concert unit after another.  In fact, I would suggest the music you perform is not even a topic within a unit.  The music we study and perform in music class is an activity.  

Ugh ... when our music department realized that the songs we study and perform are lowly activities ... the bottom of the curricular foodchain ... we went through a grieving process.  

If you don't believe me, consider this:
As a music teacher (or PE, or art, or any subject), you want to teach transferrable skills.  If you are teaching brush technique in art, you don't want to teach it from scratch every time you paint.  If you are a choir director, good breath support and tone quality are transferrable skills.  It doesn't mean the students will get it right every time, but the concepts of phrasing, diction, blend, etc. spiral upon themselves with increasing difficulty as your repertoire becomes more demanding.

Robert Duke in his book "Intelligent Music Teaching" (read it!) says,
There are physical habits and principles of music making that are applicable in almost all circumstances in which musicians find themselves, and it is these principles that form the core of what we refer to as musicianship. (145)

Adapted from our district's curriculum handbook
In other words, teach the transferrable skills.  A middle school or high school ensemble unit might be called "Musicianship Skills" and the topics might include breath support, tone quality, blend, dynamics, phrasing, intonation, etc.  And the activities through which you teach these skills are the songs you rehearse, study, and perform.  Another unit might be "Musicianship Knowledge" which could include topics on theory, history, and sightreading.  If you must have a "Concert" unit, make it the performance and audience skills that students gain by being part of a concert.

If you look at music curriculum from this perspective - from the perspective of transferrable skills - then music curriculum is just like every other subject in school.

By the way, if you are worried that all this curriculum work will stifle the creativity of your music program, think again.  Grant Wiggins, the guru of Understanding by Design, says so.  Well-designed curriculum will allow for more creativity, not less.

Curriculum Conversations

There are three elementary music teachers in my district (myself included) which serve four K-5 schools.  The three of us have been together for 11 years now - long enough that we can finish each other's sentences.  We know each other's areas of expertise.  We are a high-performing team.

But in the last two years, we have stepped up our game to a new level.  In my last post,  I mentioned the curriculum work in which our district has been engaged.  As a music department, we needed to take every course we taught (that's 23 courses K-12) and list out the:
Enduring Understandings
Essential Questions
Academic Vocabulary & Prerequisites
Academic Vocabulary & Common Assessments
Links to materials or websites
Learning Targets
Alignment to Standards

This was not a normal "scope and sequence" activity.  This has been a detailed work-up of every course (did I mention we have 23 courses ...) and entering all of this information into an online tool called Build Your Own Curriculum.

Back to the three of us elementary music teachers.  This meant sitting together for the last two years, hashing out not only what we taught, but how we taught it, and why we taught it.  Remember, we are three teachers with similar styles, curriculum, and expectations.  But we still found so many things that we do at different times, with different outcomes, and for different reasons.

The purpose of our conversations was not to get all three of us to teach exactly the same way.  Rather, the conversation was focused on best practice:
• What is one person doing that results in better achievement on a particular unit?
• What are the skills and steps students need in K-2 so that reading traditional notation is a logical next step in grade 3?
• What are the skills that need to be in place so students can sing in harmony by 4th and 5th grade?
• What might I have to drop or add from my teaching to help students become the best musicians they can be, both now and in the future?

If you have never engaged in "curriculum talk" at this level, beware.  You have to step away from your own egos, realize that your songs are not your curriculum, make peace with the fact that you don't need to change the art of how you teach, and be open to new ideas.

We were already a high-performing group.  Now, we have higher-performing curriculum as well.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Weekend of Curriculum

Somewhere in the heat of work this weekend, I sent this tweet:
Our district has undertaken some of the most serious curriculum review work I have seen.  The conversations we have had about what we teach, why we teach it, when we teach it, and how it impacts student achievement are really remarkable.  It has been years of work, all entered into a tool called Build Your Own Curriculum.  It is an amazing group effort, but at some point it comes back to one person to go over everything.  

I have spent the last four days aligning and refining elementary music curriculum for 5K, 1st, 4th, an 5th.  It meant pages of curriculum spread out across tables, the floor, or my kitchen island.  The time was spent looking for commonalities, differences, and gaps and then making notes in many different colors in the margins.  Then, back to the computer to make the changes needed.  

Now, we are left with four grade levels of incredibly written and aligned elementary music curriculum. Our team has a short "to do" list to complete these four grade levels, and then we'll start working on 2nd and 3rd grade curriculum.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing ...

"I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony ..." (thirsty now?)

The longer I teach, the better my students are singing.  This is a sentiment that (hopefully) all music teachers find.  I think the quality has really improved at the elementary level since I started teaching a section of middle school choir three years ago.  My expectations are higher for my elementary students now, and the students live up to them beautifully.

I have a set of ten songs for 5th grade, many of which include singing in harmony.  We do warmups in harmony just like a choir would.  At this early stage of the year, we have one warmup and three songs being sung in harmony.  The three songs are Peace Round (Share the Music), Erie Canal (Music Express), and Yellow Bird (Share the Music).

But we cannot just teach our kids to sing in harmony.  Teach your kids about the different types of harmony.  These three pieces form harmony in three different ways:
Peace Round - canon
Erie Canal - melody plus descant
Yellow Bird - homophonic (although we just call it "true harmony" right now)

After learning all three of these pieces, I asked the students the question "How do you make harmony?"  I was quite pleased and impressed with their answers.  Together, they were able to define these three different forms of harmony.

I think of this like reform math - it is not enough to just be able to do the math problem; you need to know why it works.  Same thing for music - teach students to explain their musical thinking and we will build better musicians.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Drumming Up Some Fun

I am a drum circle novice.  It is a 2-part problem for me.  First, I have yet to experience a real drum

circle for myself.  I have a lot of books and resources (see below), but I haven't attended one of those great conferences with an expert.  Second, with elementary students, getting a drum circle to actually "groove" is very difficult.  We do simple drum activities, but seldom do we attempt a real "drum circle" where everyone is in the groove at the same time.  But I do have a great set of drums.

Recently, I finally was able to get a "real" drum circle going and loved it.  My 8th grade general music class has been doing really well and we have been studying rhythm.  So, I loaded up my car and took my drums and a few other percussion instruments across town to the middle school.

If you are a drum circle novice and just trying to get it started, here's what worked for me.  Most are from Kalani's book "Together in Rhythm".

• Pieces of Eight - Everyone picks a number, one through eight.  Counting slowly, students play once on their own number (once every 8 counts).  To make it more difficult, students can then pick two numbers and/or try speeding up the tempo.  Then stop counting out loud and just play.

• "Let's all play our drum" - The teacher says this phrase at various tempi, but the students only play on the word "drum" at the end of the sentence.  Shorten the phrase to "play our drum".  Lengthen it to "Let's all play our drum because it's so much fun" and have students play on the word "fun".  Start leaving out words so that students have to think the phrase and still play at the right moment.

• Rumble Ball - Two students pass a ball between themselves.  When the ball rolls on the ground or flies through the air, the class "rumbles" on their instrument (a light tapping or rolling sound).  When the ball is caught, the class hits the drum once.

Yes, I know it's not a circle ... 
• My own variation on Rumble Ball - Instead of using a ball, use your hands.  "Roll" your hands for a rumble, and clap for a hit.  To make it more interesting, add a dynamic level to the gestures.  When you roll or clap low to the ground, the class plays softly.  When you roll or clap higher from the ground, the class plays forte.  Makes for some great dynamic contrasts.

• After all this, we were finally ready for a "real" drum circle that was able to go on for several minutes.

By the end, we were exhausted as a group.  And I still had to load my drums back in the car and drive across town ...

Here are some great drum circle resources I have found, if you are just getting started like me:
Kalani - Together in Rhythm (DVD included) from Alfred - great activities and ideas
Will Schmid - World Music Drumming (classroom kid includes teacher guide, DVD, and reproducible student book) from Hal Leonard - great ensembles to use
Mark Burrows - Accidental Drum Circle from Heritage Music Press - anything Mark Burrows is great for elementary music!
Christine Stevens - The Art and Heart of Drum Circles (CD or DVD included) from Hal Leonard

Friday, September 27, 2013

My new Assessment Center

I have a new name for the piano in my classroom - it is being re-christened the "assessment center".

Music teachers are constantly assessing.  The assessment/instruction cycle in a music classroom is so short that it is almost imperceptible.  It is part of a music teachers's DNA that what you hear (assess) instantly guides what you say (instruct).  Add this to the fact that many of the procedural skills a choral music teacher assesses are things humans usually do unconsciously (breath support, vowel shape/tone, diction, etc.) and you have a quagmire of assessment for instruction.  This is the challenge that music teachers somehow love - finding the perfect sound.

But back to my piano.  Why am I going to start calling it my "assessment center"?

In my elementary classroom, the students first walk in and stand around the piano.  We do warmups together - for the same reasons that any choir would do warmups - we work on beautiful sound. Sometimes we sing in small groups or individually.  This is our pre-assessment.

When I am teaching a song, we usually use the CD's that come with our textbooks or other resources (Activate, Music Express, MK8).  But when it's time to see how the class is progressing - back to the piano!  We make this a big deal - can you sing/play it with the piano??  These are our formative assessments.

Finally, when we have a song down pretty well, it's time to record it and publish it to our website. Where do we record the song?  Around the piano!  This is our summative assessment.  Is everything we put out on the internet perfect?  No.  But at the elementary level, the focus is on process, not product.  And letting the students listen to the recording lets them assess themselves, too.

Hope you love your new assessment center.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

(Google) Scripts for Success

For teachers who desire the ultimate in productivity, it's hard to beat Google Scripts.  Scripts automate other dull tasks.  But honestly, scripts scare me a little.  There are always several steps.  They're not pretty.  If you have never tried Google Scripts, read on.  Once you start using them, you'll wonder how you ever lived without. Thank you to gurus of Google Scripts (like Andrew Stillman and Jennie Magiera) for helping the rest of us harness the power of scripts in education.
The messiest desk in the world
Is this how your Google Drive looks?
Teachers who start using Google apps with students quickly realize that management of student work can become a nightmare. Misnamed documents and incorrectly shared files can make your brain and your Google Drive a mess.  The Doctopus script is a perfect fix for this.  Instead of each students creating his/her own document, naming it, and sharing it to specific people, the teacher creates one master document.  Then, Doctopus copies it to each student's own Google account, naming it the way the teacher prefers, and sets the sharing.  The teacher is left with a spreadsheet that links to every student's document.  I'm sure this is great for all grade levels, but when you work with elementary students, this is a godsend.

To use Doctopus, you need two things:

1.  A master copy of the document that each student will use.  Create a folder in your Drive just for this assignment and place your master copy in that folder.  You can also have the student work automatically placed in this same folder later, or have Doctopus create a new folder for incoming work.

2.  A simple spreadsheet with at least the student names and the Google account of each student in two columns (it's ok if your school doesn't use Gmail for students - Doctopus will put the document directly into a student's Google Drive).

In the spreadsheet from step 2, click "Add-ons" and choose "Get add-on".  Search for Doctopus.  With the new Google Sheets, you only have to add it once, and it will be available in the "Add-ons" dropdown for all of your Sheets.  Doctopus will walk you through the process when you click on it each time.

You will be led through several steps asking for sharing settings (i.e., can students view each other's documents or not, editing and commenting rights, etc) and where you want the completed work to go in your own Drive (the folder from step 3).  When you complete all steps, every student will have a copy of the document in his/her own Drive and the teacher is left with editing rights to all student files and an easy way to access every file.  No messy Google Drive or lost/incorrectly shared files.  If you want students to work in groups, add a "Group" column to your spreadsheet, and Doctopus can set sharing settings based on groupings as well.

For those of you who have never used Google scripts, give this a try.  The 5 minutes you spend setting it up will save you way more than that in precious time.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

My iOS7 Wishlist for Education

My biggest hopes for this week's Apple event have nothing to do with a rainbow of colors, a "flatter" design, or what new voices Siri might have.  For me, it's mostly about sharing.  As an educator, here's my wishlist for iOS7, in no particular order:

1.  Photo Sharing - Photo sharing on the internet has become the wild west.  The Google+/Picasa changeover still remains messy.  You can't do much with Apple's current Photostream sharing except share a link to the album.  Facebook and Instagram are not very viable choices for schools.  iOS7 is supposed to rethink Photostream.  I would like multiple photostreams that are embeddable in websites and true shared photostreams in which multiple people can contribute to a single photostream.  Also, the possibility for the photos to remain in the "stream" rather than be deleted automatically.  As a teacher, I want to keep those photos from our field trip several months ago!

2.  Special Education - Apple is leading the way in adaptive and assistive technology for special education students.  Features like Speak Selection and Guided Access are incredibly helpful.  I work in a school with a large special education population.  No specific wish here - just a "keep up the good work" and continue innovating in this area.

3.  Teacher management of devices - For teachers like me who manage their own handful of devices, we're never going to have a cart.  It can be difficult to manage devices (going into settings every time, allowing downloads, updating, turning off access to iTunes store, etc.)  Anything Apple can do to help out the "little guy" with management is great.

4.  Screensharing between devices - Along the line of teacher management, some kind of integrated teacher-to-student screensharing option would be nice for devices in a virtual "room" together.  Sort of like a Chrome Remote Desktop for the iPad.  Sounds like AirDrop will allow greater sharing between devices.

4.  Apple TV - I know ... this is not an iOS issue, but recent updates to Apple TV software are bringing more features.  Certainly, the new Chromecast is trying to challenge Apple TV.  For me, Apple TV is about integrating your life - making everything seamless from laptop, iPad, or iPhone to TV or projector.

Big Group = Big Procedures

Every once and awhile, you teach a class that requires the ultimate preparation.  That is the situation I found myself in this year with my 86-member 8th grade choir.  The middle school choir room is not big enough, so we rehearse in our high school choir room (both schools are one connected campus).  I am teaming with a great colleague to teach this group.

It's a good problem to need this many folders
86 eighth grade students need to do the following in 45 minutes:
• Get in the room
• Put other books and materials elsewhere in the room
• Get the correct choir folder for class
• Have a spot to sit/stand
• Take attendance
• REHEARSE - maximize our worktime together
• Put folders away in an orderly fashion
• Get out the door

Don't forget that just finding 86 folders for a choir is an issue, storing those folders, and all of the technology I purchased and installed in the middle school choir room last year needed to be moved to the high school choir room.  This was shaping up to be a procedural mess of Harry Wong proportions.  But it's a good problem to have.

Here's the procedure we set up:
1.  The folder list is posted in the hallway
2.  I put wheels on an old music folder cabinet.  Before class, the cabinet is wheeled into the hallway.
3.  Every folder has a QR code with student name and folder number.  Since these are 8th grade students, I put clear packing tape over the QR code to (hopefully) eliminate doodling on the sticker that could thwart my plans.  The folders were purchased when a local office store had a 1-cent sale.  The limit was 10 per transaction.  Everyone in my family bought ten ... at multiple store locations ... on multiple days.  I got to 120 folders before a manager caught on to me.  Total cost was $1.32 including tax.

QR code on choir folders
4.  Students pick up their folder in the hallway.
5.  The QR code on each folder is scanned before entering the room using the Attendance 2 app.  Many thanks to Dr. Christopher Russell for this suggestion - read his great advice about it.  The app creates the QR code for every folder.  The iPad scans each folder as students walk by, and with the click of a button I know which 2 or 3 people are absent.  This also eliminates the dreaded "I don't need my folder" excuse because students need it for attendance.
6.  There are two doors to the room - men enter through one door, women the other.  This helps eliminate the backup as students are looking for a place along the wall to set down their other books.
7.  We have set up 7 section of risers instead of using chairs.  Students will get used to standing for most of our rehearsals.
8.  Now, we can actually rehearse!
9.  Five minutes prior to the end of class, the folders are given to four students who put them all away in the cabinet.  This eliminates the crush of bodies at the cabinet at the last minute and keeps my very expensive folders (ha ha) in good shape.  The cabinet is wheeled back into the room.

I also plan to set up a number of "jobs" for students this year to help things move smoothly:
• Attendance person - scan the folders and enter attendance into powerschool
• Secretary - If you need something from the teacher, or if I need to remember something for the next class, it will be this student's job to write it in my notebook.
• Sunshine - two students to check on birthdays and honor students each week.  With this many students, community building is going to be important, but it has to be efficient.
• Folder people - four people to put the folders away at the end of class as mentioned above.

These procedures were put together for an extremely large choir, but if they can work for a large group, think how they could help a smaller group maximize rehearsal time as well!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Classroom Leadership

I've been thinking a lot about leadership lately ...

• I am directing an 8th grade choral group of 85 students this year
• I am mentoring a new MS/HS choral director in our district this year
• I am in my 3rd year of K-12 leadership in our music department
• We have some transitions at my elementary school (my "home" school)
• Our keynote speaker for the week focused on attitudes and leadership

I am thinking about leadership mainly because I will have a choir of at least 85 eighth grade students, all in one section.  This was not the fault of a guidance department error or some other schedule anomaly.  I asked for it.  The principal checked my sanity several times.  The guidance people checked to be sure, too.  District-level people checked to be sure this was not a mistake.  It was not.  I asked for it.

For the past several years, my Middle School choirs have been split into two sections.   It would be two sections of about 35 students each.   We would combine for ONE joint rehearsal right before a concert.  It worked.  Barely.  But it wasn't fair to the students.  When students are learning to sing in parts, there is strength in numbers.  Last year, I decided that academically ... musically ... it was the right time to make a change.  So I asked for it.  And they're coming next week.

That brings me back to leadership.

Educators are expected to be natural leaders.  Music educators are expected to be natural leaders with large groups of students from day one.  Principals and coaches are expected to do the same as well.  In a society where most people would say leadership is earned, teachers are dropped into the midst of the storm.

I am a true believer in servant leadership.  That fits the role of a teacher perfectly.  Strong leadership, but always from a foundation of service.  My favorite quote about leadership comes from Max DePree, a CEO famous for his leadership skills.  He said "The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.  The last is to say 'thank you'.  In between, the leader is a servant."  That's the role of a teacher - to define reality (here's where we're at and here's the vision), and at the end to thank all those who made it happen.  In between, the leader is a servant.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Does Your Classroom Have a Dream?

50 years ago, on August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his tide-changing "I Have a Dream" speech.

Yesterday, Principal Baruti Kafele was the keynote speaker for our district inservice.  Principal Kafele spoke about identity and dreams.  He said "Our dreams our as divergent as our identities."  You can't share a common dream unless you first establish a common identity.

Ask the teachers in your building what the identity of your school is, Principal Kafele suggested.  If you get a variety of answers, then you do not have a common identity.  And you will never share a common dream.

Perhaps we need to ask our students "What is the identity of our classroom?"  As a music teacher, it is a little daunting to think that the 85 students in my 8th grade choir this year all could have differing ideas of the identity of our class.  How does each of those 85 students fit into our common identity as a performing ensemble?  But the challenge can loom just as large for 20 kindergarten students.  Students across the board are developing their own identities, and we need them to share a classroom and school-wide identity as well.  How could a student who attends four or eight different classes every day juggle "identities" if we do not have a school-wide common identity?

Identity is going to translate to purpose, vision, mission, and dreams.  Dr. King eloquently laid out his dream for the world.  It was through his leadership and vision that the rudder of humanity set a new course.  In our own schools and classrooms, we must show leadership this year to establish common identities and, only then, share a common dream.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Music & Mentoring

I was cleaning a bookshelf in my office the other day and came across a set of the "Journal of Research in Music Education" from MENC (now known as the National Association for Music Education).  I'm guessing I must have been getting this journal when I was writing my Master's thesis several years ago. As I flipped through the table of contents for each journal, one research article caught my interest:  "Perceptions of Experienced Music Teachers Regarding Their Work as Music Mentors" by Colleen Conway and Al Holcomb (Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol 56/1, Spring 2008).

As I begin year 15 of teaching, I am mentoring our new MS/HS Choral Director.  This person is not new to the profession - just new to our district and we are so excited that he is in our district.  But this is the first time I am serving as an official "mentor".  I have taken classes about being a mentor, but never had the occasion to serve in this capacity.

Some of the questions in the method of the research article caught my attention:
• What do you believe to be the characteristics of a good mentor?
• What do you think you have to offer as a mentor?
• What will help you to help your mentees?

Mentor programs are not new.  I was a mentee in my first position in Iowa.  Iowa Choral Directors Association was piloting a program that paired up new choral teachers with seasoned professionals.  I had a great mentor - the only problem was she was in a different school district.  It's hard to develop good communication between mentor/mentee when you rarely see each other.

When I came to my current district, we had a strong mentoring program.  The problem this time was that due to a wave of retirements, there were four new music teachers in our mid-size urban district, and therefore, not enough music teacher mentors to go around.  As the most experienced teacher of the four, I was assigned a mentor that was not a music teacher.  He is an excellent teacher and has a great music background, but not a member of the music faculty.  But at least we were in the same building, and I did not have that many questions at the time.

But now I think mentoring takes a village.  Our district has seven music teachers, and besides our new hire, the rest of us have been there a decade or more.  Having gone through some tough budget years, we lean on each other more than ever - team teaching, teaching in areas that people may not be as comfortable, etc.  We have had to mentor each other through some new situations.  And, even more importantly, we think about the K-12 music program before we think about our own programs.  Everything we do affects each other and the program at large.

But what did the research article say?  Some of the results said that:
• mentors need mentors (creating a community of practice - our department)
• time management (taking time can be hard, but essential to future success of program)
• observations are important (including mentees observing mentors)
• technology is a positive resource for mentors and mentees (we are working at getting our entire department active on Google Hangouts, too)
• a supportive, rather than evaluative role for the mentor is best

In the last few years, I have come to believe that having an impact beyond the walls of your classroom is essential in the growth of a teacher.  Mentoring another teacher to discover and deliberately use that impact will be a new adventure.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Notes take Flight

I have been intrigued by Noteflight, a web-based tool for composition for about a year, but it was not until recently that I have had the chance to use it with students.

For those who have used Sibelius or Finale, working in Noteflight is very intuitive.  But let's be honest - Sibelius 2 offered me pretty much everything I needed as a teacher (when I first used Sibelius 2, I was a high school choral teacher arranging for show choir).  Over the years, there have been great upgrades to composition software, but they are expensive, even for the student versions.  It was only a matter of time until something simpler, less expensive, student-focused, and more collaborative came along.

So here are my experiences with Noteflight in the first few weeks of use with my 8th grade general music class:
Noteflight Classroom options

• Yes, you could try to go the "free" route, but that gives each person a limited number of scores and the Terms of Use say it is not for children under the age of 13.
Trust me - the features offered with the educational version are outstanding.  Ordering through a purchase order was incredibly fast and easy.  There is nothing I can find about age restrictions in the Classroom version.

• Setting up a classroom was very easy - you just enter user names and passwords for every student in your virtual classroom.  You can set each student to a simple password and have Noteflight prompt them to change it, but I put in each student's district username and password.  I also choose to not allow my students access to the Noteflight forums.

• When you purchase a classroom license, you set up a closed community just for your students.  If your district uses Google Apps, the sharing options of Noteflight Classroom feel very Google-ish to both teachers and students.  You get a web address that looks something like this:
Noteflight's teacher homescreen
Teachers can create and assign projects, and when students complete the assignment, it is automatically sent back to the teacher's account.  You can share scores with selected individuals or the entire class.  Students can choose to share with just selected people in the classroom or the entire class.  Editing, viewing, and commenting rights are very similar as well.

• One problem I see coming is when more teachers in my district start using Noteflight classroom, what will we do?  I hold the teacher account, but could have up to 250 students connected in one classroom at our license level.  If other teachers or classes wanted to start trying it, it could get quite messy.  Of course, Noteflight has options for multiple classes which cost more money.

• I am pretty sure Noteflight is supposed to work on mobile devices, but I have not been able to get it to work yet on iPads or iPhones.  I have not had any problem on laptops or desktops (both PC and Mac) and since Noteflight lives in the "cloud" students can work from home as well.

My next blog will be about what I have done with students so far using Noteflight.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Interviews and Questioning
I spent the day yesterday interviewing candidates for a music position.  Of course, I won't say anything about the position or candidates.

I just want to say is that interviewing candidates is one the best forms of professional development.
It always makes you think deeply.  It is one of my favorite things to do as a teacher.

We know great teachers ask great questions.
We know great teachers let the answers lead to even more great questions.
And that is what an interview is - questioning and answering in its purest form.

That is what happens on an interview committee - the members of the committee are challenged just as much as the candidates.  While the candidate sits in the "hot seat", the committee members silently ponder, "How would I answer this question?"  Interviews call us back to our roots as teachers by examining the reasons we teach, the content we love, how we work with students and parents, and so on.

Would we get hired for our own position if we were interviewed today?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

If You Want a Child to Change the World ...

Sparks From Flickr by Stephen Walford on Dec 25, 2011 If you want a child to change the world, teach them to be a creator.

I am even more convinced of this after the conference I attended at the Milwaukee Art Museum last week which was about student creativity, engagement, and student-generated content.

Creation is always a community-oriented event.
The only reason we create anything is to provoke or elicit a response.
Created things are supposed to have an impact on our lives and on our world.
Just think of the times you have been impacted by a work of art, a piece of music, a great meal, an editorial, a movie, a new app, and on and on.

When teachers create something, we do it to change the future - one child at a time.
Is it possible that as teachers, our highest calling is to create creators?

If creation is truly the way to impact the world, then we have no other choice.  We must model creation in our classroom, create experiences, and celebrate creativity.

But on that path, it is our duty to instill the values of what good creativity is.  We must not allow it to be diluted to the point that creation does not have an impact upon others.  We must teach creation, but also appropriate appreciation of worthy creations.

Making the choice to be a creator means you are making a choice to impact people beyond your own walls.  If you are going to make an impact, you need to make the choice to be a creator.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Milwaukee Art Museum Connects

Milwaukee Art Museum from Flickr by Bryan Chang on 9/4/2010 The Milwaukee Art Museum is our #1 "go to" place as a family.  But it is also becoming the "go to" place in the Milwaukee area for discussions about revolutionizing education and 21st century learning.  The so-called "Calatrava effect" seems to beckon not only great artists, but also great educators in recent years.  But, great ideas do not come to take shelter under the wings of the Calatrava.  Rather, they come to take flight.

On April 20, the art museum hosted a conference called MAM Connects: Creativity, Connectivity, and Student-Generated Content.  Chelsea Kelley, the museum's manager of digital learning brought together over 200 educators along with three keynote speakers: Logan Smalley (director of TED-Ed), Rushton Hurley (direction of Next Vista for Learning), and the director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, Dan Keegan.  The conference was presented FREE with the support of Kohl's Cares.  I was one of the teacher leaders who led a small-group breakout session after the keynotes.  The twitter hashtag for the conference was #mamconnects.

Some of the great ideas and questions that came out of Saturday's conference included:

How do we make problems portable?  Both Mr. Smalley & Mr. Hurley believe video is a prime way that students can make their problems portable, and since video elicits an emotional response, it also can make our solutions portable.  This is essential if we want students to succeed beyond the walls of our classrooms.

Do we celebrate creativity in our classroom?  Truly celebrate?  Sometimes creativity results in an answer that we never expected, and that can be scary as a teacher.

Do we create experiences, or are we merely curating knowledge?  Humans crave experiences.  We use knowledge to create new experiences.  Are we participants or spectators?  Dan Keegan, the director of the Milwaukee Art Museum is the most eloquent arts advocate I have ever heard, and he believes the mission of community museums have always been to create experiences.  Perhaps the transition we are going through in education is much the same.

How do we balance process with product?  Especially if you are an elementary teacher, the process of creation in not only messy, but time-consuming.  We need to strike a balance that works for all involved.

How do we hold high standards for creation as more and more students become "creators"?  It used to be that few students reached that top level of Bloom's taxonomy.  But as creation becomes more of a norm in education, how do we ensure that it does not become diluted?

Who are the "educators" in your classroom?  Students have so much to offer - to each other and to us, the traditional "educators".

Thanks again to everyone who helped make this great conference possible!  I look forward to more great discussions about education at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Here is a link to the museum's teacher page.
And here is a link to the information about the conference, at least until the museum removes it from their calendar.

Winter Break

Carey, Chris. clock33752.jpg. Dec-99. Pics4Learning. 21 Apr 2013 <>
Took some time away from blogging recently, but I truly missed it.  As a music teacher, there is a long Winter season of concerts and events (usually December through March) that are great for us as teachers and for our students, but perhaps not as interesting to a reader.  But in the last few weeks, I have attended and presented at a few conferences and have been trying new things in my classroom that are blog-worthy.  Hopefully, Spring is coming as well as more blog posts.