Wednesday, August 13, 2014

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 ...

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