Oct 15, 2017

Not Your Ordinary Playing Assignment

If you're like most band directors, you have students that struggle with practicing at home. Student musicians, especially younger ones, often have not developed the intrinsic motivation yet to practice on their own. Creating a practice and self-assessment assignment that involves goal setting, reflection, and performance motivates them to practice and even gets their parents involved too. 

The most rewarding aspects of a practice assignment:
      1. It's self-reflective
      2. Engages students in goal setting
      3. Reinforces practicing
      4. Encourages parental involvement
      5. Communicates performance standards
Take time to guide your students through the assignment and communicate your expectations. It is helpful to send an email home about the upcoming assignment describing what to listen for. TIP: include a music symbol guide describing the types articulations and dynamics they may see and hear in their child's music.

The parental feedback I've received is overwhelmingly positive. I often read how enjoyable it is for parents to hear their child practicing at home and giving a 'living room' performance for the family.  These assignments can be tailored to all kinds of music. From scales to the Star Spangled Banner, the possibilities are endless.

1. Goal Setting Practice Assignment:

2. Concert Music Playing Assessment

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Aug 17, 2017

Getting to Know Your Students

Creating a positive student-teacher relationship at the beginning of the school year is so important. Learning about as much as you can about your students will pay huge dividends down the road. Those relationships will help maintain a positive rehearsal environment and allow you to implement an effective classroom management plan.

A first step, is having your students complete a Get-to-Know-You survey the few days of school. Any types of questions can be included, but think about what you really want to know about your students. What kind of information would help you reach your students? What could you learn about your students that would help you be a better teacher? These are a few essential questions to consider when creating your survey.

Feel free to steal my Get-to-Know-You survey and customize it for your own use. For Google Classroom users, these questions can easily be posted to the class as a Google Doc or even converted to a Google Form for your students to complete.

Additional blog posts:

Jul 18, 2017

Ten Strategies for an Effective Middle School Band Rehearsal

As another school year is just around the corner, here are Ten Strategies for an Effective Middle School Band Rehearsal. Both teachers and students are eager to start the school year in a positive direction. These strategies are solid advice for the younger director and great reminders for the seasoned veteran teacher.  Refer back to this list throughout the year to keep your rehearsals on-track.

Have a tip to add? Leave your comment below.

Nov 2, 2016

How to Use Chromebooks to Record Playing Tests

Many schools now have a one-to-one Chromebook program which provides an excellent opportunity for students to perform and record their playing assessments. For directors looking for an alternative to traditional assessment methods, video assessments provide a viable option. Rather than using precious rehearsal time for individual assessments, directors can watch, listen and critique videos of their students playing tests at their convenience. It is an effective tool to assess playing skills like rhythmic accuracy, note accuracy, articulation quality, and dynamics. I have used it extensively as a way for my students to perform excerpts from their band music and for scale tests.

"My students often share how much time they spend recording their playing tests in order to record it perfectly."

In order to record a video on the Chromebook, your students will need to download a Chrome browser extension called Screencastify.  It’s free and can be accessed in the Chrome Web Store. Once installed and set-up, students can select the cam option to record using the front or rear-facing camera on the Chromebook. Mic level settings can be adjusted for optimum recording levels and videos can be saved to Google Drive or uploaded to YouTube.  It is important to instruct your students to save their video as “unlisted” for privacy purposes.

Your students will find it easy to record and submit their performance videos. So much can be learned from viewing and listening to your students individually perform. My students often share how much time they spend recording their playing tests in order to record it perfectly. Below are a few more helpful suggestions and advantages to ensure you and your students have a positive experience with video assessments.

Example of a student playing test as recorded with Screencastify and his Chromebook. (Yes he's playing the trombone correctly - video is mirrored.)

  • Students can record their performance as many times as necessary in order to submit their best work.
  • Some students feel less pressure recording a playing test by themselves, as opposed to in front of an entire ensemble.
  • Rehearsal time is not lost to in-class individual assessments.
  • Screencastify works seamlessly with Google Drive and saves all videos to one folder.  This allows students to record multiple “takes” of the same playing test while keeping the videos organized.
  • Video allows the director to assess posture and instrument hold in addition to music skills.
  • Videos can be shared with parents and students at anytime, as well as at parent-teacher conferences.

  • Take your time when teaching your students to install and set-up the Screencastify extension. Review again when assigning a playing assessment.
  • Practice recording a sample video in class and submitting or emailing the video link.
  • If your school does not have Google Classroom, students can email you a link to their video.
  • Provide written instructions to your students for recording with Screencastify. Here's mine!
  • Create a rubric to grade the assessments.  Quality feedback is essential to growth.
  • Brass players should focus the bell of their instrument away from the microphone for better audio quality.

Sep 4, 2016

Building a Positive Rapport with your Middle School Music Students

One of the cornerstones of any effective classroom management plan is the rapport the teacher has with their students. Michael Linsin, author of the blog Smart Classroom Management, states “Rapport is nothing more than a connection you make with your students based on their positive feelings for you.” Successful teachers know that creating a positive relationship with their music students can lead to an elevated classroom culture of high student engagement, motivation, and trust. These key factors will ultimately lead to a rehearsal environment of fantastic learning and music-making.

Here are 6 six actions you can do to develop a positive rapport with your students.

  1. Smile and show the students you love what you do. If they see the enjoyment and passion you have, your class will be a place they want to be. Your enthusiasm will be contagious.
  2. Get to know your students. I don’t mean how well they play or sing or how much musical knowledge they have. All that stuff is important, but take a little time as students are entering the room or putting their instruments together to check-in with them and see how their day is going. Ask about activities they in or what sports they play. All you need is a few minutes each day to make this happen. At the end of the rehearsal, don’t be the first one to head out of the room. Stick around the last few minutes to chat with a few more students as they are packing up and getting ready to leave.
  3. Bring a positive attitude to the classroom and the podium every day. Even if your day is not going as planned, leave the negativity at your desk.
  4. Set high expectations. Kids don’t want to feel like their time is wasted. By setting high expectations, you are setting the tone for learning and music-making. Help them set goals and help them reach their goals.
  5. Reinforce that we work together as an ensemble. Playing together requires teamwork and your students need to buy-in to this idea for the group to be successful. Set the expectation and discuss it often with your kids. In rehearsal, recognize the students or sections that have do something positive and you will start to build momentum for others to improve. Kids want to be praised and noticed for their contributions.
  6. Finally, show students you care. Your actions will speak louder than your words. Barbara Harrell Carson reminds us, “Students learn what they care about, from people they care about and who, they know, care about them . . .” Your decisions and actions should always be about what is best for kids.

Building a positive rapport with your students is one of the most importants actions you should focus on at the beginning of the year. The most successful teachers are able to maintain positive relationships with their students. It’s not easy, but the benefits are huge and the sky's the limit.