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Saturday, July 8, 2023

Progress and practice tracker

 One thing I want to do better is help students develop a practice plan by teaching them what and how to practice.  Also, I believe it is important to teach students how to be reflective as they practice to achieve specific learning targets.

Earlier this week, I discovered it was possible to create drop-down menus in google sheets and in tables in google docs.  I think it's so cool!  There are many ways to used the drop-down menu feature in a classroom.  If I had smaller classes, I might use a google sheet or doc to track each student as they progress through various skills.  Since each of my classes have about 60 students and I am the only teacher, I have to find strategies that are efficient.  Tracking is important, but so hard to do because of how much time it can take!  To make this manageable, I need students to take on the ownership of tracking their skills and practice time.  

At the beginning of the year there isn't always much for beginners to practice at home, yet they are so excited to start!  I need to be better about making practice expectations clear and teaching students what and how they should practice at home.  (I don't grade on practicing...but that's a whole different article).  I believe this Student Progress Tracker will help me communicate with students/parents what needs to be practiced and mastered each week.  

I listed 'I CAN' statements for the week at the top and used drop-down menus for students to assess their current skill level in each area. That way students will have an idea of what needs their attention during practice time.  

I've always wanted to give my beginners a practice routine goes really well on this tracker.  I think it will really help beginners establish better practicing habits from the start of the year.  I also provided links to resources to help students practice specific skills.  That way students will have resources to help them learn outside of class.

At the bottom of the tracker, students reflect and makes practice goals and can type a note to me if they need help or have questions.  This will be a good way to me to 'check-in' with more students as they are working through the learning process.

Free Template HERE

At my school, we use Canvas for our LMS.  I will create an assignment where each student gets their own copy of the tracker in their google drive.  Students can access their document and update it throughout the week.  Rehearsal time is valuable so I have to be careful with chromebooks because of the amount of time it takes for all students to log on.  I am thinking of giving time 2x per week in class for students to access, review, and update their trackers:  Mondays and Fridays.  Each week there will be a new tracker for them to follow along for practicing at home and reflecting on their goals.

I was toying with the idea of using drop-down menus for playing test assessments, but I've decided it would take WAY too much time to review and grade individual digital files for 340 students.  I found way I can assess students efficiently that will also be quick and easy to grade.  Stay tuned...I'll post about to quickly and efficiently assess students more often.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Creative Strings: Beginning Fiddle Bowing - a collaboration with Christian Howes to teach beginners fiddle bowing and improv


A couple of months ago, jazz violinist and educator Christian Howes spent a day working with all of my students. I admit I was a bit nervous to have him come. Would my beginners be 'good' enough to do what he asked? Was he going to think there were skills I should have taught better? Would my students enjoy a new way to think about and play music?

I didn't need to worry. Christian was immensely knowledgeable and professional in how he selected activities that were engaging, relevant, and appropriate to the skill level of my students. He was encouraging and supportive as my students experimented with his methods for improv, feeling the beat, making musical choices, and exploring sound. After his visit, I knew my teaching would never be the same.

Traditionally, beginners are taught a somewhat rigid curriculum, focusing solely on technique and music literacy. While these elements are essential, it is equally important to recognize that even our youngest musicians possess an innate sense of curiosity and creativity, waiting to be unleashed. I've always felt my lesson plans were creating and engaging, but I realized there was more I could do to help my students begin to CREATE. By embracing their inherent creativity early on, we can nurture their confidence, problem-solving abilities, and overall connection to the music.

Allowing students to explore their own musical ideas from the outset is a vital step towards their growth as musicians. Nurturing a safe and supportive environment gives students the freedom to make choices about what notes and rhythms to play. This approach not only empowers them but also instills a sense pride in their musical achievements.

I believe beginner string students must be encouraged to delve into improvisation and creative exploration from the start to express their creativity, but also as a means of developing their technical skills. For example, by playing with a steady beat in a groove, they cultivate a sense of rhythmic accuracy, internalizing the fundamental pulse of the music. This foundation not only enhances their overall musicianship but also strengthens their ability to communicate and collaborate with other musicians in ensemble settings.  And most importantly, it is FUN!  My experience with playing/teaching improv and eclectic style is limited. After Christian Howes came to visit, I knew I HAD to teach these things...but I wasn't sure where to start.

So here's the big news. I recently collaborated with Christian Howes to develop a resource for beginning orchestra classroom to help students learn fiddle bowing in a way that allows for exploration and creativity. I can no longer just pass out a piece of music and go about rehearsing note after note and rhythm after rhythm. I want my students to be making choices and exploring the sound on their instruments. I want them thinking about how they want the music to sound.

CREATIVE STRINGS: BEGINNING FIDDLE BOWING features 7 detailed lesson plans with videos by Christian Howes to help teach students bowing simple fiddle rhythms, playing in a groove, maintaining a steady beat, improv using various fiddle rhythms, and turning Hot Cross Buns into a fiddle tune.

Lessons have custom resources included, such as worksheets and slides to drill rhythms and master each skill.

This resource can be used in 3 ways:

1. Teacher training on how to teach fiddle bowing and improv to young students. Teachers can watch the videos and use the skills and printable resources to help their students learn 'Hot Cross Buns' - fiddle style.

2. Use as an in-class resource. Students can watch the videos on each slide and play along and teachers follow the suggested lesson plans.

3. Asynchronous learning. Teachers can send all or parts of the slides to students via a LMS to practice with at home.

I'm so excited to offer this course to all beginning orchestra teachers and anyone who wants to start implementing creativity and improv in their classrooms. For a limited time, anyone who purchases Creative Strings: Beginning Fiddle Bowing will also receive a free BONUS resource: Creative Twinkles. This is a fun series of videos and worksheets for students to explore and create Twinkle Variations.

This set of CREATIVE resources is only available HERE at Hop over and get yours and enjoy exploring music with your students.