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Friday, April 7, 2023

Create your own resources - FULL COURSE



TOP HECK HACKS:  How to create your own orchestra resources using google slides.

This will be one of the most beneficial classes you've ever done. Check it out!

This is a full course with presentation, over one hour of video instructions, and practice assignments for you to learn how to create your own worksheets, assessments, practice drills and more!

No expensive software is required. We will explore Google Slides, Rhythm Randomizer, Sight Reading Factory, and Flat for Education. There are 6 segments in the course, each with an project where you will create your own resource:

1: Basic Settings to turn Slides into a publishing tool

2: Make your own fingerboard worksheet

3: Create your own note-naming worksheet

4: Create your own rhythm assessment

5: Create your own sight reading or note assessment

6: Create your own custom practice assignment

Along the way, I will show you tips and hacks for creating professional-looking content in an efficient way.

You will also receive 9 TEMPLATES to use as ideas or for building blocks in your own creations.

To use the course, click the links on the slides to access video instructions and assignments. Complete it at your own pace by pausing the video and practicing each skill. It takes approximately 2 hours to complete the course. At the end, you can print a certificate of completion for PD credit.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Conference Presenter for Orchestra Sessions


Maybe I'm weird, but I love presenting.  I have very high standards for my presentations and I strive to make each one relevant, useful, engaging, and inspiring.....never BORING and NO SALES PITCH.  I've presented at many conferences/events including:  National ASTA 2022, National NAfME Conference 2015, 2016, 2017, state conferences in Utah, Delaware, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and district events in a number of locations in the US and beyond.  Email me today to inquire about dates!  I'm already beginning to fill my 2023-24 calendar!

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Re-framing playing tests and assessments

I spent years doing playing tests.  My first year teaching, I did a playing test every single Friday.  It was great!  I taught 4 lessons per week, then on Friday it was like I got a break.  Just sitting down, listening to students play one by one....very chill.  For me, at least.  After a couple years, I started doing playing tests less often.  Once every 2 weeks.  Then once a month.  Now?  Hardly ever.  Some may find that shocking.  How do I grade my students!?  I have a lot of opinions about playing tests, assessments and grading.  I've spent years experimenting, reflecting, and adjusting.  In this post, I will address some of the things I've learned and share reasoning for my recent changes in how I do playing tests.

Each year, my school district has teachers fill out a self-evaluation so we can assess teaching standards and make goals to improve.  There are quite a few questions in the evaluation regarding differentiation and meeting the needs of all students.  I started to make goals to work on this area in my teaching, but was really grappling with how to do it.  Students learn at different paces.  Some need lots of help and extra practice, some seem to excel on their own, some need a challenge, some need simplified materials.  It's a lot to keep track of for any teacher.  It difficult to even know where to start!  I feel a change in how I assess students is helping me meet the needs of individual learners.

I understand that my students learn in different ways.  Some have private lessons, others have help at home, some are only able to practice at school.  I began to wonder:

Do regular playing tests meet the needs of all students?  

Playing tests are great for students who practice regularly.  I noticed that the same 'top' students always perform well on playing tests while the same 'lower-level' students always perform poorly.  Playing test assessments give students a grade.  There are 'A' players, 'B' players. 'C' players.  Rarely did my 'C' players re-take a test to get a better grade.  I began to wonder if students were labeling themselves based on their playing test grades.  Are 'A' students perceived as more talented?  Probably.  Do 'B' students feel like they're not quite as good?  Probably.  Not the culture I wanted for my ensemble.  In a beginning ensemble, there are many skills that are absolutely essential for students to master in order to progress on their instruments.  Playing tests were helping me assess some of those skills, but were not addressing how to help the variety of students who were not yet attaining mastery.

In my ensemble, I want all students to work for mastery.  I fully believe each of my students can achieve to scores and successfully perform required skills on their instruments.  I don't want playing tests to just be about getting a grade.  I want playing tests that will INFORM students in their next steps.  While I believe all students can reach MASTERY on a rubric, I understand that mastery does not begin with mastery.  There might be some set-backs and challenges to overcome.  Differentiation means giving support and time for students to succeed.  Some students will take the long road to mastery, but that is ok.  It is normal for students to reach mastery at different times.  I believe a good assessment should encourage/empower students on their path.

Why do I give playing tests?

I realized I had been giving playing tests as a way to motivate students to practice.  I've mentioned in a previous post...I don't think that works.  Still when I hear a particularly bad-sounding patch of music, I have to suppress my first impulse to say, "We need a playing test!"  After years of giving playing tests, I've noticed the pattern....some practice, some don't (or can't).  Playing tests motivate only a few while others seems to get stuck. 

I no longer schedule playing tests.  That is because I now do assessments very frequently and they don't have to be announced ahead of time.  My assessments serve a different purpose than just giving a grade.  Mastery is a work in progress.  Assessments now help inform my next steps as a teacher and inform students on their path to mastery.

What is the purpose of student assessment?

When you hear the word 'assessment' you might first think of grades.  Yes, students need a grade.  But I feel assessments should do WAY more than just give students a letter grade.  I believe assessments (playing tests) should do the following:

Evaluate:  Students should quickly and easily be able to tell if they meet a specific standard/goal.

Inform: Students should know where they stand and what needs to be done to improve.

Motivate: Students should know that progress and mastery is attainable.

Track:  Students should see their progress.

Most of my assessments now are student/peer graded.  All students get the same grade for completing the assessment.  At the end of the assessment, students should know where they stand.  They write what they will work on next, they make goals, we keep practicing.  Students grade each other honestly because the 'grade' is the same no matter what.  Students help each other because we know it's in the ensemble's best interest for everyone to succeed.  I plan rehearsal strategies and activities to help students master their skills and we assess some more.  Students are able to see real progress.  Progress is motivating.  

Do my assessments benefit students?

I believe my 'old school' playing tests were somewhat beneficial.  Students got a grade and some feedback.  I believe my new assessments and rubrics are way more beneficial because students are taking on the ownership for assessing/knowing what needs to be learned and what needs to be worked on.  I support and help as students work and practice and rehearse.  Students are still getting grades.  They get grades for completing their work.  It allows learners at all levels to progress at their own rate.  I no longer grade playing tests.  Students are assessing themselves and each other. This frees me to focus my time on teaching/planning to meet needs of students.  

What about rubrics?

 I've experimented with various rubrics including a number scale (5-4-3-2-1), and labels (mastery, proficient, needs improvement, intervention required).  Since students are mostly assessing each other and themselves, I've simplified the rubric and I think it's way better!  My favorite part is there is no 'FAIL" or '0" on the rubric.  Instead, the 'lowest' point is labeled as "NOT YET."  This means there is hope.  It means the assessment isn't over.  It means there is still work to be done.  It means the skills are attainable with some more effort and practice.  Students will try again.  I try to make my rubrics short and specific to address the skills required.

Here are a few sample assessments my students completed last week.  After these assessments, some of my students had circled 'ALWAYS,' but at least half realized there was more to work on.  We addressed those challenged during rehearsals and students all improved.  These assessments helped guide rehearsals to address the needs of students.