Thursday, October 2, 2014

ZMOT in Education

Technology itself is not changing education.
From the eBook by Mr. Lecinski & Google

The behaviors we have created for ourselves as a result of technology are changing education.

While at Google HQ in August, we heard from the head of Google's offices in Chicago, Jim Lecinski. Soon after hearing him speak, he published an article entitled "ZMOT: Why It Matters Now More Than Ever".  After reading it, you realize our behaviors as a culture are changing because of how we interact with the vast amount of information available online.

Educators needs to know what ZMOT is and how we might use it in schools.

ZMOT means "Zero Moment of Truth", and it refers to the exact moment when a person has a need, intent, or question he/she wants answered and goes online to find it.  A product that can answer that need in the moment has an advantage in the marketplace.  Online presence and advertising allow the consumer to find an answer and the merchant to make a profit. Google has pioneered the concept of ZMOT, and Mr. Lecinski has written extensively about it (click here for Google's collection of ZMOT resources).

Marketers are very interested in the habits and behavior of consumers, and Google is a marketing giant.  ZMOT is easy to think about in your own life:  Think of a recent online purchase you made. What was your original need or intent (a hotel room? household item?)  Now think about how much research you did and how many websites you checked before you hit the final "purchase" button.  Did you research quality, price, design, shipping, promotional codes, etc?  Marketers want to know exactly what it takes for you to finally hit their "buy" button.

But what might ZMOT have to do with education?

Do we know what our student's questions and needs are?
People go online when they have a question that needs answering.  Do we know what our student's questions are?  Do we know what they want to know?  If not, does that make us less helpful to them than the device in their pocket?  The job of a teacher is increasingly becoming setting up the next set of questions we want students to be thinking about.  That's how we stay a step ahead in the "marketing" of knowledge.  But we do not need to have a monopoly on that information anymore - there is a world to support us.

Do students believe teachers as much as they used to?
On a recent road trip, my wife and I read a lot of hotel and attraction reviews before purchasing.  If students are growing up with a consumer mentality of checking 10+ merchants before hitting "purchase", are they going to believe the first thing a teacher has to offer?  On the other hand, it might mean students are willing to consider varied sources before making a final decision.  Either way, Constructivism saves us here - teachers who create the conditions for building knowledge allow students to struggle, research, and build upon their natural curiosity.

Jim Lecinski, the author of the article, offers four tips to win the Zero Moment of Truth in the marketplace.
I think they apply to education as well.  They are:

1.  Use search to uncover and understand the moments that matter.
We need to build relationships with our students.  Our students have questions and needs.  We cannot know those questions without building relationships first - relationships that are even stronger than the mobile device they will consult.  We must search out the moments that matter to our students.

2.  Be present in the moments that matter.
When the question arises, go for it.  Don't put it off.  It took a lot of courage for that student to put him/herself out there and voice that need.  Build time in your classes for these moments to develop. Value questions.  If you can answer that need in the moment, you have made the student's life better and passed on your knowledge as well.  They'll come back again next time.

3.  Have something interesting, relevant, and/or engaging to say.
Do you have something different or unique to offer?  In a system where the ultimate product (knowledge) is pretty much the same from any source (CCSS), do you offer better quality?  Or a better design experience for your students?  They'll come back to you next time if you do.  In a world of standardized learning, teachers must turn to quality and design to differentiate their product (see Daniel Pink's book A Whole New Mind).

4.  Measure the impact.
Marketers are really good at this.  Teachers are getting increasingly good at it.  Everything our students say and do provides data.  Do we harness it and use it to improve our practice?  Do we know where our students are so that we can offer them the next greatest concept when they are ready with their next question or need?

If we truly follow this ZMOT logic in education, we will understand the imperative of breaking down walls between students based on age.  Zero Moment of Truth means students would get the information they need to grow at just the right moment, not by grade level.  It is differentiation, but not based on age or grade level.  It is based on standards, needs, and curiosity.  No more letting some kids sit for days at a time while others are double dosed daily.  Everyone works at their own level, based on current need and questions. Our changing human behaviors are driving us to this new reality.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Early Thoughts on Mastery Learning in Music

So, 4-5 weeks into the school year and I have taken a slower pace than I have ever taken previously.  I had always been a teacher who had a concert's worth of music (or more) in folders, ready to go on day one.  I had always believed in getting right to work and setting the tone with a full plate.

This year was different, and it was due to the assessments that were designed for both music theory and music performance.  When you are moving into a standards-based/mastery model, you cannot jump right into rehearsal.
Here is what the first four weeks of school looked like in choir (45 min of choir every other day):
Week 1 - Study the history of the Star-Spangled Banner (200th birthday) and use the National Anthem to work on quality performance skills.  Also worked on two simple patriotic partner song choral pieces. Talked about upcoming assessments.
Weeks 2 & 3 - Assessments - Every students had two assessments:  an online music theory test (a Google Form that is self-graded by Flubaroo) as well as a performance hearing (their choice of patriotic song).  Performance skills were based on three factors for the first assessment:  posture, accurate pitch matching, and vowel shapes.  Click here for my post and screencast about how I set up Google Docs and used Kaizena to record performances.
Week 4 - Make-up assessments for students who missed or that we ran out of time.  Start rehearsal of our first concert piece.  And I didn't worry that some students were out of the room for make-ups with a colleague - I just started rehearsals with students who were present.  It actually was nice to "prime the pump" with a smaller group that could then teach the larger group once we all were together.

And how did the assessments go?  Pretty well.  A few observations:
• Students are used to the idea that everything gets a grade.  One of the most tension-reducing moments for students (and teacher) was when I told students that these assessments would not be part of their grade, except to say they had completed them.  They are just to find out where you are - why should anyone be penalized for that?
• Students wondered how the assessments would be used.  When they found out we would be focusing on growth, I think we had immediate buy-in from 95% of the class.  Telling a person you are focusing on his/her individual growth immediately establishes a relationship of care and concern.
• We also spent a good amount of time talking about other things students are good at, how they got to that point, and growth mindset.
• Assessment takes WAY longer than you imagine it will take.  Students who are poor at theory struggle over every best guess, never finish, or never hit the "submit" button at the end of the survey. And even though each student only sang for 20-30 seconds in a performance hearing, it takes a long time.
• The positive culture in the classroom and the high expectations of musicianship that hopefully continue have already made up for the 3 weeks of time it took to get mastery learning off the ground with these assessments.

In the end, I have two sets of baseline data:
Music Theory Knowledge (from online form graded by Flubaroo, 67 questions)
Musical Skills Performance Assessment (from performance hearing, max score = 9)

One thing that has not happened yet is having the students use the data to set their own goals for the next assessment.  That will be the next step.

Assess with Kaizena & Gather Data with Goobric

In a previous post, I explained how to use Kaizena to record performances and attach audio performance to the comment feed of a Google Doc.  We have completely joined the performance to the assessment tool in a single file.

In this screencast, I explain what to do after recording a student's performance.
Teachers can listen to the recording and then capture data to analyze.  This would work for any teacher - not just a music teacher.

The steps in the screencast include:
1. Open student assessment rubric
2. Click on comment feed; Kaizena opens in new tab to listen to performance
3. From Google Doc assessment rubric, use Goobric to submit scores and comments
4. Use Google Form and Flubaroo to create and grade online test of music theory
5. Use scores from theory exam and performance hearing to create data set for entire class
6. Use Google Sheets to create various charts from collected data for analysis.

Here's the screencast:

Sorry the screencast is so long.  It's probably three separate blog posts (at least).  But, as Mark Twain might say today, "I didn't have time to write a short blog post, so I recorded a long screencast instead."  (Apologies to Mark Twain)

I will do a separate blog post on using data in the music classroom in the near future.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Dumbest Person in the Room ... and Loving It

In August, I had the pleasure to visit the Google Headquarters in downtown Chicago as part of the CPS Googlepalooza conference.  Google flew in top Apps for Education people from all over the nation for this event, and in the course of the two days, we heard, met, and learned so much.

Two of the people who spoke that week were Jaime Casap, Google's Global EDU Evangelist (who wouldn't want that title?) and Jim Lecinski, the head of Google's office in Chicago.

My favorite quote from the conference was spoken by Jaime Casap in the midst of a roundtable Q&A with the Googlers.  Speaking of his job, he said "I love being the dumbest person in a room of really smart people!"  He was clearly being self-deprecating since he is a smart guy.

But what does "I love being the dumbest person in a room of really smart people" really mean?

• It is really hard to grow when you think you're the smartest person in the room.
If you think you have little to gain, you're probably right.  People who think they're the smartest person in a room are difficult to relate to.

• Put yourself in risky situations where your mind may be totally blown.
Two years ago, I went to an EdCamp wanting to attend a scripting session.  I didn't know anything about scripting, but I wanted to know about it.  It was one of those times where I was in way over my head, but I loved that feeling.  Today, I look for opportunities to have that same mind-blowing feeling.

• Have a growth mindset.
When you surround yourself with really smart people, you start to question yourself.  Don't be afraid to grow based on those questions - those really smart people in the room probably questioned themselves at one point, too.
Growth Mindset anchor chart from @escott818

Everyone wants to look smart, including our students.
What do we do to get students to be comfortable with the idea of being the "dumbest person in a room of really smart people" and not feeling down about themselves?  Let me be clear: I am talking about a growth mindset here - not achievement or excuses.

• Develop relationships.
Students need to recognize the "really smart part" of every student. Trying to appear smart (or class clown) is a coping or defense mechanism when we don't feel valued in another way.  Developing relationships, recognizing the "How are you smart?" in every student, and being able to say "You matter!" lowers the defenses.

• Support student goal-setting.
Goals really are just framing our shortcomings in a positive, action-oriented way.  Goals say "I need something here - I am missing something here.  Here's how I will set about achieving it."  Goal setting moves a person into a growth mindset, as long as the goals are achievable and supported by others.

• Celebrate accomplishment.
How do kids celebrate accomplishment in a video game?  By moving on to the next level!  Same thing in a classroom.  Celebrate accomplishment and move on to bigger goals.

I hope to make my next blog post about my other big take-away from Google HQ.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Standards Based Learning and Assessment in Music: An Index

After a series of ten (ten?!) posts regarding Standards Based Learning and Performance Assessment in the music classroom, I put together a "table of contents" or index of the entire series. Feel free to click and read any or all of the posts.  I hope this is of use to others.  Good curriculum design crosses content areas - there are applications in these pages to all areas of the curriculum.

Chapter 1
Standards Based Music Assessment - Why state contest ballots won't help students improve.

Chapter 2
Standards - What They Are and What They Are Not - The pieces you perform are not units.  This post also details the four musical units we have put into place for all 6-12 ensembles.

Chapter 3
Why SBL in Music? - The personal reasons why I have started a journey to standards-based learning in music.

Chapter 4
Love at First Sight - Practical books for music departments that are focusing on student achievement and curriculum

Chapter 5
A Book You Must Read - Tony Frontier's Five Levers to Improve Learning will change the way you teach and lead

Chapter 6
Four Questions to Ask When Designing Music Assessments - It's all about quality - individual quality, ensemble quality, responsibility, and improvement.

Chapter 7
Setting the (Learning) Targets - Every topic in music can be broken down into smaller components. Teach students these 18 targets for quality vocal performances.

Chapter 8
Defining Quality - Once you have your learning targets, you can identify what represents quality (or lack of quality) in each of the 18 areas.  Also, offer strategies for improvement in each learning target.

Chapter 9
Standards Based Music Performance Report - Using the materials developed from the first eight chapters, I have designed the music assessment document presented in chapter nine.

Chapter 10
Recording & Assessing Music Performance - A pretty "tech-y" workflow that makes standards based learning doable, practical, and shareable for students, parents, and teachers.  The point is to use data to improve student & ensemble performance.  Not just to collect data.

Thanks for being a part of this journey!

Recording & Assessing Student Performance

What is the biggest obstacle in musical performance assessment?
Recording student performances.
How to record? When to listen? Who listens? What to do with the recordings? How to use the recording for assessment?  With all those students? How does it help the ensemble?
The questions are so numerous that we often give up.

What if we could "attach" the performance directly to the assessment?

And allow students to self-reflect and set goals based on the data?
And allow parents to be part of the process?
And be able to archive it, creating a digital portfolio?
And be able to keep it over the course of many years?
And be able to collect the data and use it to identify areas of need for individuals and the group?
And be able to do it all for FREE?

This post is about to get pretty tech-y.  If that scares you, I apologize.

Here's the simple list of the tech tools we can use to make this work:
Kaizena - to record voice comments (student performance) and attach to a google doc
GClass Folders - to create folders in every student's Google Drive that are accessible by both the teacher and the student
Doctopus - to copy assessment forms into each student's Google account
Goobric - to score students and collect that data back into a single teacher spreadsheet
QR codes - to provide easy access to individual student folders

Two questions come up right away?
1.  Why not use Smart Music?  It's not free.
2.  Why not use Google Classroom?  Right now, Google classroom allows only one editor of a document at a time.  It is written so that the student and teacher alternate editing rights.  If we want student and teacher to collaborate, both teacher and student need editing rights concurrently.  I hope that becomes a feature of Classroom in the future.

Now, a little more in-depth about each tech tool.
Kaizena integrates with your Google Drive.  Once you connect Kaizena to your Google Drive (click red "New" button, choose "More" and "Connect More Apps", then search for Kaizena), you can open any document with Kaizena (right click on doc, choose "Open With" and then Kaizena) and record audio.  The audio is then saved as a Comment in the comment feed.  When you, the student, or the parent (if granted permission) opens the document, the recording will remain in the comment feed.  Re-recordings could be added.  Kaizena allows you to tag your audio comments and will send notifications of new comments.

GClass Folders is an add-on in Google Sheets that enables a teacher to install a folder into each student's Google Drive.  Actually, it adds three folders to every student's Google Drive, preset with the correct permissions.  One folder is for classwide viewing, one folder is for classwide editing, and the third folder (assignment folder) is individualized for each student, accessible only by the teacher and student.

Doctopus & Goobric are also add-ons in Google Sheets.  Once you have set up your student folders using GClass Folders above, use Doctopus to make "virtual copies" of your assessment document.  The assessment will be placed into each student's "assignment" folder.  Doctopus integrates with GClass Folders, even though they are separate add-ons.  Goobric, on the other hand, is part of Doctopus.  Goobric allows you to attach a rubric template to your assessment.  As you fill out the rubric, the data is collected into the teacher's spreadsheet.  From there, you can analyze the data for the entire class.

I previously did a blog post on Doctopus.  I am not making a screencast of how to use GClass Folders, Doctopus, or Goobric because it involves student names (no FERPA violations here), so I'll leave it to the experts to explain it better.

QR Codes are a great way for teachers and students to have fast access to anything.  But did you know you can have Google Sheets automatically create QR codes?  Put your URL (or any other content) in the first column of a spreadsheet, and in the second column, paste this formula:
If needed, be sure to change the "A2" at the end of the formula to whatever your reference cell is. The formula will be replaced with a QR code.  You can copy down the formula for as many rows as needed in your spreadsheet.  Print the QR codes and tape them to folders, binders, desks, bulletin boards, or wherever so that students can skip the steps of searching through their Google Drive for the correct folder.

OK - so the assessment workflow COULD be this:
Beginning of the year:
1.  Teacher creates assignment folder for each student with GClass folders (one time, update as needed).
2.  Create QR code links to each student's assignment folder and tape to choir folders.

Every time students will be assessed:
1.  Teacher uses Doctopus to copy assessment document into each student's folder.
2.  Teacher uses Goobric to associate rubric with assessment document.

During assessment:
1.  Student or teacher opens assessment document in Kaizena and records performance. (Depends if teacher is listening live or recorded.)
2.  Teacher assesses performance and assigns scores using Goobric.
3.  Student and teacher together set new goal for next assessment period.  The assessment document has a spot for reflection and goal setting.

After assessment:
Multiple options: Teacher can share assessment doc to parents, teacher can pull up assessment documents at conferences, teacher can use in class for analysis by other students (with permission), teacher can use class data from Goobric and present to the class to analyze.  There are many options!

It took a long time to work all this out, but not very long to set up.   The real breakthrough was Kaizena and the ability to connect performance with assessment.

This has been my Summer project.  My hope is to focus on individual students, and in turn, raise the level of the entire ensemble.  It also makes music assessment quantifiable, yet clearly standards-based.  And it is built entirely on solid curriculum.  This process could be used in other curricular areas as well.  If you would like more information, please contact me on Twitter or by leaving a comment below.  Thank you!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Standards Based Music Performance Report

All of the blogs I have been writing about standards-based learning over the last several weeks have brought me to this point.  Taking all of the standards and learning targets, defining what quality looks and sounds like, linking individual performance growth to the performance growth of the group, and so on has brought us to actually assessing student growth.

At some point, we must assess the individual student for several reasons:
• To establish where the student is at one point in time as compared to the standard (pre-assessment)
• To identify opportunities for growth (goals)
• To monitor growth (formative)
• To provide individualized feedback
• To provide individualized exercises to meet student needs (differentiation)
• To establish that the student performs concert music at an age-appropriate level (summative)

Using the spreadsheet that defines quality for all learning targets (previous post), I created a somewhat-simpler assessment page.  It is not a rubric.  Defining what quality looks and sounds like is acceptable.  I think we will start to see rubrics more and more replaced by "quality" statements because they allow for greater flexibility.

It starts with the student's current goal, takes the student and teacher together through the assessment, asks for feedback from the student and the teacher based on the data collected, and then finally the student and teacher together set a new goal and plan for improvement so that the group may continue to improve.

Here is the assessment sheet as a Google Sheet.
Here is the assessment sheet as a Google Doc.

Partial screenshot of Individual Assessment for choral music
My next blog will be to explain one possible workflow and way of using the assessment sheet so that student, parents, and teachers all benefit.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Define Quality

We are really getting into the nitty-gritty of performance assessment in the arts now.  But this is the point where it could be most effective for students (and therefore, the program).
Which of these lists will help a student become independent

List 1
Can I sing?

List 2
Am I using proper abdominal breathing?
Am I using a north/south mouth shape with teeth apart and correct lip shapes?
Can I sing one note while someone else sings a different note?
Can I sing a non-melodic part independently & accurately?
Do I take breaks at predetermined, thoughtful locations in the music (phrases)?
If there are certain notes that the composer has indicated to be performed specially, am I doing that (articulation)?

Since we have 18 learning targets (see previous post), we have at least 18 questions.  The more questions a student is able to demonstrate positively, the better the chance of a quality musical performance.

But students also benefit from non-examples, and so I have provided what each learning target would look or sound like when not performed with quality.  This is not to make a student feel bad.  Rather, it is the start of a conversation leading to growth.

Furthermore, each of these 18 learning targets can be applied to any level of musical achievement.  You can use these learning targets and their examples at a 6th grade or 12th grade level.  In fact, twenty years after graduating with a performance degree, I could still use these same learning targets.

Finally, every example and non-example offers strategies for improvement.  I have compiled a beginning list, not an exhaustive list of steps to take to move to the next level.  I could imagine pulling together a list of warmups based completely on each of these 18 learning targets (i.e., "Need to work on articulation?  Work on exercises 22 and 23 for next week.")

Click HERE to view the full spreadsheet (click tabs on the bottom to switch topics).
The learning targets for "Intonation"

The next post will get into how to use these with students.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Setting the (Learning) Targets

In my previous post, I wrote four questions for designing performance music assessments:
1.  What does quality look like?
2.  What does quality sound like?
3.  What will a group sound like if everyone performs with this level of quality?
4.  How do individuals improve so the group may improve?

The answers to these questions provide your learning targets - the concepts we expect students to be able to do or demonstrate.  If we take a step back at this point and look a vocal performance unit so far, it would look like this:
performance unit within South Milwaukee's curriculum for ensembles
As you can see, each of the four topics have been broken down into 3-5 learning targets that are essential if a student is to perform with quality.  I decided that these learning targets were the major contributing factors that would create quality tone, intonation, musicality, and technique.  I tried to match the state ballot as much as possible.  You might come up with different ideas for learning targets, especially if your state ballot differs from Wisconsin's.  

I didn't try to make 5 learning targets in each area, but as it was coming together, I really liked it since our state ballot gives students a rating of 1-5.  It seemed like a logical way to help students make a connection between how they perform in class and what kind of score they might expect in a contest situation.  And since we have tied individual quality to group quality with our guiding questions above, our 1-5 rating could work on large group contest as well as solo/ensemble.  

We're not done.  Each of these learning targets needs to be broken down into criteria for assessment. But that will have to be the next installment in this series ...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

4 Questions to Ask When Designing Music Assessments

In my initial post in this series (here), I wrote that contest ballots are not helpful rubrics for students. They are written for adjudicators and teachers.  In designing standards-based performance assessments rubrics for music students, the most important consideration is to make it usable for the students!  With this in mind, I have developed an assessment based on four questions, based on my learnings from the resources I blogged about (here and here):

1.  What does it look like?
Pretend you have a student in front of you that was ready to sing, but as he/she was singing, the sound coming out is completely muted.  Would you be able to assess that student's tone?  For the most part, yes!  You can see the student's posture, you can observe his/her breathing, the relaxation of the neck muscles and jaw, the position of the soft palate and tongue in the mouth, the space between the teeth, and the shape of the lips. These are all deliberate choices that a singer makes when performing. Students, especially beginning students, need to be able to assess based on the visual.  For topics such as intonation, the visual would be the notation itself.

2.  What does it sound like when a soloist performs this learning target with quality?
Now unmute our student and let the sound out.  What is the aural result?  This is where individuals take responsibility for their own personal sound.  This is where we focus on the individual growth of each student within the ensemble.  And in today's media, students hear all sorts of poor and even unhealthy styles of singing.  This question differentiates for students what kind of singing is expected in class as compared to what they may see on TV or youtube.

3.  What will an ensemble of musicians sound like when they all exhibit this quality?
Once again, most music teachers could listen to 50 students individually and then correctly hypothesize what the ensemble will sound like.  But a student cannot.  And young students often do not realize what their contribution is to the larger group.  This question places the responsibility for the sound of the group squarely on each member.  For example, how does your personal performance of phrasing contribute to the overall group's phrasing?

4.  How can you improve your individual performance in this area so the group can improve?
Don't leave students hanging.  Using the data collected, here's where you scored in each area, and now here are some suggestions that will help you move to the next level of personal performance.  Again, the responsibility for group growth is placed on each individual.  This is where the teacher and student together set goals for growth.  The teacher can also group students based on needs.

To recap, the progression is:
Quality Individual (visual & aural)  --> Quality Group  --> Strategies for Improvement

Next up ... the answers to these four questions

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Book You Must Read!

In one of my administrative leadership classes recently, a teacher used a short passage from the book Five Levers to Improve Student Learning by Tony Frontier and James Rickabaugh (ASCD).  It intrigued me, so I purchased the book which just came out this year.  It may be the most impactful book I have ever read about educational reform.  I bet your administrators have read it.  I bet you are hearing ideas that stem from this book in your district , even if you never hear about the book itself.  You need to read this book!  (I am receiving nothing for this blog and have never talked with the authors.)

The advantage of a lever is this:
If you apply pressure at just the right point, you get maximum effect with minimal effort.

Just like different types and sizes of levers, the results we get in education often have to do with the tool we choose to use.
Bigger changes take bigger levers to be successful.
The wrong tool will make you feel like you are working hard, but your changes will ultimately be minimal and frustrating.

Frontier & Rickabaugh offer five types of educational levers:
• Structure - school governance, initiatives, and schedules
• Sample - how we manipulate the placement of students
• Standards - what we are going to teach
• Strategy - how we are going to teach it
• Self - self-efficacy that leads to independent learning

How many times have you heard these sample and structure ideas:
"If we could just change the schedule, everything will be fine." (structure)
"If we could just have fewer students in a class, students will learn more." (sample)
"If we could get everyone a device, achievement will increase." (structure)
"Perhaps single-gender classrooms would help students learn better." (sample)

The authors point out that sometimes, the lower-gear levers of structure and sample are the correct solutions, as long as they match the problem requiring resolution.  But in order for these levers to work in bigger problems, they need to be combined with higher-gear levers (i.e., changing to block schedule requires teachers to change how they instruct if achievement gains are desired - a strategy lever).

The decisions made at these levels are easy to grasp and look like quick fixes, especially for non-educators.  This could include smaller class sizes, 1:1 computing (without a change in strategy), charter governance, modified scheduling, and yes - even the battle over Common Core Standards.  How we teach (strategy) and how our strategies inspire ownership of learning (self) are hard to rally behind, even though they are the most powerful levers in our toolbox.

Why do I bring this book up in the midst of a discussion on standards-based learning?
Any teacher, department, or system that aspires to use standards-based learning or standards-based report cards without addressing the higher-gear levers of strategy and self will be frustrated when they don't get the achievement results desired.  For standards-based learning to be effective, teachers must change the strategies they use (especially the role of assessments) and influence students to become fully engaged in using the standards to guide learning and set goals.  Teachers who use strategies that increase student self-motivation to achieve or surpass the standards with some sort of independence and ownership will have succeeded in the transition.

Love at First Sight ... SBL Music Resources

After embarking on the road to Standards Based Learning in music, the first thing I did was seek out resources.  I'm not sure how I came upon this set of books, but it was love at first sight.  I started flipping through the pages ... I came upon this image ... I remember sitting at my desk and seeing it ...
From page 2 of "Scale Your Way to Music Assessment"
If this picture is fuzzy to you, let me explain.  It says Musical Understandings + Student Performance Skills are what contribute to Independent Musicians who create quality performances.  Why was I in love?  Because it's exactly how our department had set up our units in our new curriculum model about 8 months prior on our own.  The difference is that we call the units "Musical Skills" (performance skills such as tone) and "Musical Knowledge" (topics not exhibited in performance, such as theory).  See my blog post to learn more about our units & topics.

It is a series of three books by Paul & Ann Kimpton as well as Delwyn Harnisch on the second book. The first is called "Grading for Musical Excellence", and the second is called "Scale Your Way to Music Assessment".  There is a third book that we do not have (yet) entitled "Common Core: Reimagining the Music Rehearsal and Classroom".  The Kimptons are a husband and wife team - Paul is a retired music teacher and Ann is a curriculum administrator, so they put their books together from the practitioner's view of a music teacher and the curriculum view of an administrator.  I was so smitten that we ordered 3 sets to share in our K-12 music department.  The books are published by GIA Publications.

The books lead your team through the conversations and prep work that you just can't skip as you change the way you look at student work in the music program. It leads you through talking about our "baggage" as music teachers, aligning our department goals to district goals, identifying what quality performances are, writing assessments, collecting and analyzing data, etc.  There is a CD included with the "Scale Your Way to Music Assessment" book that includes many of the assessments developed by the Kimptons.

One of the reasons this series resonated with me is because it confirmed my belief that we need to make time to hear every student individually, not to track their abilities, but to advance their abilities as young musicians.

I have not received anything for this blog review, nor have I ever communicated with the Kimptons, but I do hope to someday.  These books would be great for any music department that either wants to assess students in a better way or finds themselves in a district requiring more assessment of students and wants to do it the right way.

A Standards-Based Interlude: Why SBL in Music?

I interrupt this series on standards-based learning in music to explain why I am on this journey in the first place.  This is not something my district has embarked on at this point or something that I just decided to try one day.  I can point to three factors in the past year.

#1 - The elementary tech project that grew into standards based learning.  Aurasma, which I hope to blog about separately) and decided to use it to video-record student performances instead of doing journal pages.  What did I realize as I recorded about 15 seconds of nearly every student in the school? A wide variety of what students were doing.  Really good stuff, but still a wide variety.  I realized: "If I had this information 3 weeks BEFORE the concert instead of the week AFTER the concert, I might have made a few changes."
After my elementary concert, students traditionally write journal pages.  I keep these pages and return them to the students when they are in 5th grade - the kids love it.  But last year, I found an app (

#2- A really big choir last year.  Ninety 8th grade students in a team-taught choir was one of the biggest (pun intended) challenges of my career so far. We did well, but the biggest problem with a group that size was the difficulty of trying to know each student's voice individually.
Beautiful, full, mature tone for the ensemble?  No problem.
Each student's commitment to individual growth for the benefit of the group? Unknown.

In fact, due to the size, instead of having every student work on a solo/ensemble piece in Winter, we added another concert instead.  The student/teacher ratio would not have allowed for that much individual in-class work time on solos, we do not have individual lesson times, and almost none of our students receive vocal training outside of school.  As a choir director, I crave hearing individual voices and individual growth.  

#3 - The curriculum work our district and department has been working on.  Like many districts, ours has worked hard on the deliberate creation of rigorous, quality curriculum.  Our district used the Understanding by Design framework combined with a tool called Build Your Own Curriculum.  As we move to the next step, teachers are looking more closely at student work and student data to drive improvement.  What data could we collect that would have the biggest impact on student achievement in music?

What do all three of these factors mean?  There is nothing - nothing - that can substitute for the importance of hearing students individually as a music teacher.  At any grade level.  In any ensemble. No matter the time restraints.

I have always been a proponent of students singing alone in front of a class at any time, but that has always been more of a "spot check" rather than a more refined listening, assessment, and reflection with the student.  There is no doubt in my mind that individual performance data is the biggest lever we can pull to increase music achievement.  The key is to do it in a deliberate way that involves the students and the parents.

So that's what has brought me to this point.  To be continued ...

Standards: What They Are and What They Are Not

If you are a teacher (music or not) on the road towards standards-based learning, then at some point you are going to have to deal with ... standards.

In a previous blog, I encouraged music teachers to divorce themselves from the idea that a piece of music you are rehearsing is a "unit of study".  It does not matter if the piece is going to be performed in a public concert or not - the pieces you rehearse are not units in your curriculum.  They are mere activities, and as such, they live near the bottom of the curricular food chain.

I can't tell you how hard - how painfully hard - it was to come to this realization as a department.  But it's easy to prove.

How many times have you said this to your students:
"We just talked about phrasing in our last song.  Let's see if you can transfer that learning to the next song in our rehearsal."  (Substitute phrasing for any musical topic.)  As teachers, we want our students to take one concept and apply it in many places.  In other words, good music teachers teach transferrable skills.  Songs themselves are not transferrable skills - they are activities.

So then, what are units and standards in music?  Here's how I view it as a music teacher:
Adapted from our district's curriculum handbook

Notice that "standards" do not appear on this image.  That is because standards are something that are written elsewhere and adopted by a state or local governing agency.  According to Tony Frontier & James Rickabaugh in Five Levers to Improve Learning, standards have two primary functions: "to
clarify what should be taught (content) and to articulate expectations for how work should be evaluated (quality)" (68).    

But just because you have standards does not mean you can embark on standards-based assessments. What will you teach?  How will you teach it?  How will you measure it?  What represents quality in an student work?  How will you offer feedback?  How will students incorporate the feedback into a continuous growth model?  How will you measure growth?  How will parents be involved in the process?  Standards do not answer these questions. Standards are not, in themselves, going to increase achievement - the power is in what you do with the standards.

Frontier & Rickabaugh go on to say a "standard-based system is largely concerned with developing a shared understanding of quality, generating accurate developmental feedback to inform one's efforts, and strategically utilizing effort to attain or surpass the articulated standard" (83).

If you would like to see how we structured our curriculum, click here to view a copy of one example. All of our 6-12 ensembles follow the same pattern.  It also includes our K-12 Enduring Understandings & Essential Questions.  The document looks simple, but it was years of work.

All of our 6-12 ensembles have four units:
• Musical Skills - the performable aspects of music (topics are closely aligned to contest ballot)
• Musical Knowledge - what a musician needs to know for success, but is not evidenced through performance (topics include sightreading, theory, and music history & culture)
• Concert - topics include stage presentation, audience etiquette, and self-evaluation
• Music as Creative Endeavor - as a department, we felt strongly that fully developed musicians make personal, social, and creative connections to the music (topics include character ed and creative process)

To be continued ...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Standards Based Music Assessment

OK ... I know that every music teacher has sat in an inservice and had this discussion:
Teacher #1 - We need to talk about performance assessment today.
Teacher #2 - That's what music teachers do all the time!
Teacher #3 - Every other department should be doing what we are doing!
Teacher #4 - Yes!  Teach kids math to the point that they can all stand on stage and do it near-perfectly.
Teacher #5 - [incoherent grumbling about standards and assessment]

I admit - I've been every single one of those teachers at some inservice in the last 16 years.  And, yes, I do believe other curricular areas could learn a lot from those of us who don't know any kind of assessment except performance assessment.  But we need to speak a common language in order to do that - and the current language of education is standards, rubrics, data, strategies, growth, and so on.

Music teachers understand rubrics all too well - directors and judges use them at contests, auditions, and festivals to provide feedback and often rank groups.  I have had students celebrate or cry based on these forms.  But these rubrics are designed for use by teachers and adjudicators who have years of experience - not for students who are just learning the building blocks of what it takes to make quality music.
"Tone" category on Wisconsin vocal solo ballot - great for teachers & judges
Let's say you are a middle school vocal student.  You are overwhelmed with learning how to be a member in an ensemble rehearsal, learning how to read an octavo, learning how to sightread, learning about intervals, and a host of other foreign symbols, rhythms, and notation.  If a director hands this ballot to students, this description of "tone" is not going to help much.  Yet most directors would agree that tone is the most important topic in musical performance.

Given the ballot above, the beginning student may wonder:
• What is "focused" tone?
• What is "appropriate breathing"?
• What is "vowel placement"?
• What is a "range" or "register"?
• What does "open, resonant, and full" mean?
• Why are the vowels spelled funny and out of order?
And that's just for tone!  Clearly, the rubric needs to be "unpacked" (another educational buzzword) for student use - especially if you are going to base musical academic achievement on these rubrics.

As directors, we say "I know good tone when I hear it".  But that doesn't really matter if we are teaching students to be independent, quality musicians.  Can students recognize good tone when they hear it?  Can students explain how one produces quality tone?  Tone is, after all, simply the result of the many physical choices a musician makes with his/her body.

In the next several blogs, I am hoping to unpack some of the realizations I have made this last year about standards-based assessment for musical growth.  They are the product of research and struggle, both on my own, and as a department.  They are not perfect.  But I am excited about putting them into greater practice this year, and hopefully they will resonate with you.

To be continued ...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

So Can 5th Grade Students Compose?

Too long ago, I wrote a blog post posing the question Can 5th grade students compose?
By "compose", I was testing if 5th grade students could use traditional notation to write an original work with some level of harmony.  These are students I have had since Kindergarten, so it was as much a test of my own teaching as it was their knowledge.  We took about 5 weeks (ten half-hour sessions) on Noteflight, with students working in pairs.
Students in pairs on

The answer is  YES!  and no ...
Yes - Students can craft a theme, notate it well, add a few instruments, and create harmony within guidelines.
But No - after a good start, most become a quagmire of notes because although making music is natural, the organizational principles that makes a composition successful are not always natural.

What students did well:
• Computer skills (logging in/create scores/input notes/copy & paste notation)
• Treble clef notation
• Writing a "theme"
• Identify and resolve dissonant harmonies
• Sequence a theme (copy & paste original theme, then transpose it up or down)

What students had trouble with:
• How to keep a theme short and interesting
• Keeping rhythms simple (not filling measures with notes)
• Bass clef notation
• How to use percussion notation to enhance/support a melodic line

I quickly realized we needed to develop some "Rules" or Criteria to guide student work.  Through a variety of assignments, we developed these rules together:
Rules or Criteria of 5th grade composing (please excuse the chalkboard, tech friends)
Rule #1 - We LOVE patterns in music (it gives our brain something to hook onto)
Rule #2 - If one part is slow, the other can be fast (we need contrast)
Rule #3 - Scales move stepwise up or down
Rule #4 - Chords stack notes (teach whole note chords in root position to support a melody)
Rule #5 - Leave some empty space (we don't eat Thanksgiving dinner every day)
Rule #6 - A Theme is short and to the point (like a topic sentence)

If you want students as young as 4th or 5th grade to be able to compose on Noteflight, here are some ideas I suggest you build into your elementary program.  These are the things I plan to enhance in my own program for the future:

• Teach students about the concept of a "theme" early.  We do a lot of program music in elementary school, but instead of just identifying themes (Peter and the Wolf, the Nutcracker or Firebird Suites, Danse Macabre, etc.) we need to investigate what makes a theme successful.  My 5th grade students did better when we defined a theme as a "topic sentence" - short and to the point.  John Williams music is great for investigating what you can do with just a few notes.
• Do MORE composing early.  We already do inventive notation projects in 5K, single line staff in 1st grade, 2-line staff in 2nd grade, progressing to traditional notation in 3rd grade, but I need to do MORE in each of those grades, incorporating the six rules above.
• Sing and identify the various types of harmony with students.  We learned at least one song in each of these categories: round, partner song, descant, homophonic (which we called "true harmony" rather than homophonic).  I wrote a blog post about teaching harmony in 5th grade earlier this year.  I will move this up to 4th grade.
• Bass clef notation.  I know ... it can be difficult enough to teach treble clef some years.

Have fun!  I hope to return to Noteflight with the 5th grade students after our Spring concert!

Friday, January 17, 2014


Starting this weekend, I am embarking on a new adventure.  This weekend I begin a master's program in Educational Leadership at Alverno College.  At the end of the program, I will have completed the coursework for licensure as a principal and as a director of instruction.  It is something that has been brewing for about the last two years.  And in the last few days, I have been thinking over what led to this point.  It's a combination of self-determination, taking advantages of seemingly small opportunities, and learning from great people.

On the very first day of inservice at my very first teaching job (15 years ago), I was talking to my principal about the inservice schedule and what meetings I was to attend.  She mentioned a Building Leadership Team ("BLT"/shared decision making) team that was optional.  But I went anyway, just to see.  Something about that snap decision to attend an optional meeting put me in contact with other teacher leaders right away, and people started to see leadership qualities in me as well.  Sometimes it's the snap decisions we make that can change the course of our lives.  I will always be grateful to that principal who invited me that day, who started as a Spanish teacher and is now a well-respected superintendent of one of the top school districts in Iowa.

When I moved to my current district, I was very happy, except that I had lost the sense of leadership.  I was in a suburban district where you needed to put in years of service before anyone would take real notice. After about six years, a technology committee was formed.  I was asked to join, and once again, joining a committee brought back that sense of leadership.  That committee, still led by one of the foremost tech-integrators in Wisconsin, opened up all sorts of new opportunities.

One more big event was being asked to serve as a CPI-trained crisis team member in my school.  As a result of this training, I was directly involved in student crisis situations, sometimes multiple times per day. Again, other teachers begin to see you as a leader - someone people look to take charge, able to think on your feet in the most difficult school situations.

Other opportunities have helped shape my experience: coaching classes, serving as a mentor, district visioning committees, K-12 music curriculum leader, tech conferences, and all sorts of other things ensued that allowed me the opportunities for leadership as a teacher.  Eventually, one gathers up all these experiences and starts to think "I can do this" - maybe I can serve our profession in a new way.

I once saw a tweet that said "You might be a leader if you want to influence people beyond the walls of your own classroom".  That has stuck with me.  Leadership looks different for everyone, and it's the decisions that seem small at the time that eventually lead to the big decisions we make in life.  It's also the people we meet that shape us and urge us on.  Then, it's up to us to decide what to do with all that.

Where will this lead?  Who knows, but it is really exciting to be at this point.