Tag Archives: Blog

My Library of Links: updates and rearrangements

August 6, 2011


My main aim in setting up this website was to create a resource for music teachers, through which lots of other useful stuff could be found easily.

To that end, I created the LINKS library (top menu). This library is the main raison d’être of MusicTeachnTech.com. If you haven’t yet checked it out, please do so. You’ll find heaps of great resources created by educators and specialists from all over the world, and I update as I find new stuff.

I’ve rearranged a few things today. Music Technology, Music Software, and Mobile Learning have now all been shifted to the Music Teaching Resources category. So if you’re looking for them and can’t seem to find them, mouse over that link in the top menu, and they’ll show up there.

A couple of new links have been added today to Music Software. Wendy Strauss brought my attention to Mario Paint Composer and Jam Studio, so these have both been added. Wendy’s own fantastic website has also got its own spot under Music Teaching ResourcesTheory and Reference.

If you know of any good websites I can add, or if you have one yourself, please let me know about it by emailing me through the Contact page. I’ll check it out, and most likely it will find a new home in one of the library’s many categories.

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Two months since MTEC 2011: An Update

June 11, 2011


Two months ago, I attended MTEC 2011 in Sydney. Two months later, so many things have changed for me professionally, that I barely recognise myself. So I’m taking a moment to pause and reflect on all the changes, and how well they’re working so far.

The first thing, and probably the biggest thing, has really been this blog. Not only has it been a great way for me to reflect on my teaching practice and gather up a whole stack of teaching resources into one place, it has enabled me to get in touch with other music teachers and share it all with them.

That networking has worked wonders for my whole outlook on teaching, which I found quite lonely before. Being the only classroom music teacher in a smaller rural school, it’s easy to feel a bit cut off from everyone else in my field. I no longer feel that way.

In terms of resources, MuseScoreand O-Generator have both been installed over the whole school network. The students have responded very positively to the new software on the whole. My first composition assessment task for O-Generator (which my year 8s especially are finding “totally sick” – I think that means good) has just been completed this week.

MuseScore has been wonderful for teaching music theory, and a small number of students are engaging with it quite enthusiastically and using it to compose, even preferring it to O-Generator. We’re all wondering how I’d never heard of it before two months ago.

I finally have a full midi station set up in our classroom, with Pro Tools, M-Box, and an Avid KeyStudio. This PC also has Sibelius 5, Acid Music Studio, O-Generator and MuseScore all installed. Acid seems to be the most popular choice at the moment with the students so far.

Acid Xpress has experienced a few technical snags and we haven’t managed to install that one on the school laptops yet, but we’re working on it. If only we could get this one past the networking glitch, we’d be home and hosed.

There’s also some starter hiccups going on with Pro Tools: the keyboard will talk to the M-Box, the M-box will talk to the PC, the PC will talk to Pro Tools, but Pro Tools won’t talk to the speakers or headphones, so no sound comes out, even though everything else seems to be working. Hmmm.

Jing has been a useful little tool. I found out about this in one of Katie Wardrobe’s workshops on making video tutorials. Jing is a great software application for capturing images and screen shots, and making little 5-minute screen-capture films, very handy for “how-to” videos. I haven’t made any of those yet, but I have been able to make a “how-to” worksheet in next to no time, using image-capture.

Creative Commons has been a focal point in my teaching over the last two months. My 9s and 10s are just finishing up a composition task, part of which includes licensing their work under Creative Commons. I am also endeavouring to increase my students’ awareness of fair use and best practice as far as copyright is concerned.

I haven’t yet been using ipods as much as I would like, mainly due to a policy which restricts their use by students during the course of the school day. I’m working on that one. In the meantime, I use my ipad a fair bit in my senior class, most often for YouTube.

Two things I was already using proficiently before the conference, were an interactive whiteboard (not Smartboard or Prometheus, unfortunately) and an online virtual classroom (VCR) for my senior class. With the addition of resources since the conference, I’ve been able to get the students actively involved in using the IWB, and I’m looking at ways to extend the VCR to include my junior students as well.

The main thing which has restricted the VCR to my seniors so far has been the time it takes to set one up and manage it thereafter. I’m hoping that the added resources, plus practice, will shorten the time factor and increase my ability to run a set of VCRs more efficiently.

One of my quirks is that I tend to go through phases of intense concentration on a particular thing, for days at a time. My latest “thing” has been Acrobat X, and I’ve been spending long hours making interactive pdfs in the last week or two.

So far, I’ve made the reflection tools I mentioned in my last post, and some lesson and unit planners. These incorporate Essential Learnings and the Senior Music Syllabus (2004) from the Queensland Studies Authority, and the Dimensions of Learning framework developed by Robert Marzano et al. I’ve uploaded them on box.net for interested Qld music teachers and pre-service teachers (and anyone else who wants them) to download if you like. You can find the link under “Professional Practice – Planning Tools” on my Resources page.

The biggest change for me since the conference by far, has been my self-confidence. Daily online contact with other teachers in my field, constant new discoveries in resources and teaching strategies, and regular reflection through blogging, have literally helped me become a different teacher.

Last year I was studying with a view to leaving the profession. Now I’m thinking of redirecting my studies to further my teaching qualifications. I’m excited about teaching again and more confident in my abilities to make a real contribution. All of that has been thanks to the MTEC 2011 conference and all the contacts I have made since then. That, dear reader, includes you.

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Professional Reflection = Professional Development

June 4, 2011


Probably the most useful tool for professional development, I have found, is reflection. This is one of the reasons why I find blogging to be such a rewarding exercise, as I’ve pointed out in a previous post: 10 Reasons Why Teachers Should Blog and Tweet.

In my first couple of years as a teacher, I made a professional practice journal, which incorporated a set of structured reflection tools to help me organise my thinking (which needed all the organisation help it could get).

I found these tools to be extremely useful, so I have now reformatted them and uploaded them to share.

There are four different forms in this set, which you can download as interactive pdf files. (Thankyou to Anne Wisdom from MTEC 2011 for teaching me how to do that!) You can fill in the fields and save under the date or whatever name you like.

All the reflection tools in the set are published under a Creative Commons NonCommercial Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported licence.

1: Professional Practice 1 – Reflection

This is a very simple reflection tool for the end of an ordinary class lesson. There are three sections which ask about teaching and behaviour management strategies: what worked, what didn’t, and changes to make.

There’s a list down the bottom called “Professional and Interpersonal Goals”. It was created so I could keep to the forefront of my mind a number of little things which I was consistently having trouble with: things like raising my voice (which I was doing much too often), following through on behaviour management, refraining from getting into arguments with students, and trusting myself.

That list now contains a set of blank fields for you to fill out as you like, each with a checkbox to indicate whether that goal was achieved or not during the lesson.

2. Professional Practice 2 – What the hell was THAT?!!

We all have occasional lessons where everything just falls apart. This reflection tool was created after one of those lessons, where I wanted to analyse what happened in real depth so I could get to the bottom of what went wrong.

The sections are as follows:

  • What happened
  • Strategies I attempted
  • Did they work? (Yes/No/Sort of)
  • What I need to do or change
  • General Comments

There’s also a section down the bottom for a more detailed evaluation of “Professional and Interpersonal Goals” as listed on the original Reflection form. This was made so I could see whether any of those niggling issues may have been a contributing factor in the event of a lesson going wrong, by making me grade how well I achieved each goal on an A-E scale.

3. Professional Practice 3 – Think I might be in for a difficult day?

I can’t tell you how many times this one saved my neck. I’m not a morning person so my brain takes a long time to wake up. This reflection tool is for the times when I’m worried that it won’t.

Whether it’s because I didn’t sleep properly the night before, had a bad lesson the day before, have a difficult class coming up, or a conflict with a student or colleague on my mind, or even that I just haven’t had time to have my coffee yet, this form has helped me on numerous occasions when I found the thought of the day ahead just a bit too overwhelming.

On a more personal note, this reflection tool was created in the midst of a long and painful struggle with depression and anxiety, which I faced every day for many years. It really helped me to “get out of my head” and focus specifically on the practical tasks of the day.

It includes the following sections:

  • How I’m feeling right now
    • This makes me precisely identify my physical, emotional, and mental state: tired, angry, stressed out, ill, or whatever.
  • What’s on my mind right now
    • This gives me a chance to get whatever is going on “off my chest”. Writing it down also has a way of making the issue smaller and bringing it into perspective.
  • Is there anything concerning me specifically about today?
    • This focuses my attention to the current day ahead, as well as any worries or concerns about what might be coming up
  • Classes for today
    • After getting concerns and worries off my chest, this brings my mind to practical matters, by making me list all the sessions immediately ahead.
  • Tasks, strategies and goals to get through the day
    • A list of everything that needs to be done that day, with checkboxes for ticking them off.

If you also struggle with anxiety and depression, I know what it is that you face every day, and I can tell you that you are not alone. My heart goes out to you, and I really hope that this reflection tool can be of some help.

4. Professional Practice 4 – Teaching and Behaviour Management Strategies Quick List

Filling out the Reflection form day after day helped me to get a comprehensive list of effective and ineffective teaching and behaviour management strategies. This table is a tool for getting all those strategies listed in one place for easy reference.

Final Comments

I really recommend these reflection tools for pre-service and early-career teachers, since they were created when I was in that stage myself, and I shaped them specifically to situations I was meeting at the time. However, they are also a good honing tool for me even today, so I can recommend them to more experienced teachers as well.

When I first created them, I used them after every single lesson for about a fortnight. After a while, I found that I only needed to fill them out once a day, and then a little later once a week, as reflection became more automatic.

Generally, my pattern nowadays is a doing a detailed reflection a couple of times a fortnight or once or twice a month. Every so often I have a “reflection blitz” where I might have a week of going through every lesson again, just to refocus, which is also useful. There’s really no set pattern: you can use them in whatever way works for you.

To download the Reflection Tools, click here to go to box.net, where they are hosted. I will also be adding them to my Resources page.

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This article by Gabrielle Deschamps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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10 Reasons Why Teachers Should Blog and Tweet

May 19, 2011


I’ve been blogging and tweeting in the Music Education world for a month now, and doing so has dramatically changed my whole perspective about many aspects of my work. I now consider blogging and tweeting to be essential professional tools. Here are ten reasons why:

1. Networking

This is the most obvious reason, and for me, it’s a big one. I’m the only general classroom music teacher at my school, which is in a rural area, and it’s all too easy to be isolated from others in the same field. If you’re a cave-dwelling hermit crab like me, it’s even easier. Twitter has enabled me to stay in touch with other music teachers from all over the world on a daily basis. Following their blogs has introduced me to a lot of new ideas in a very little time.

2. The Global Staffroom

This extends from the first reason. In a really weird way, I no longer feel like my staffroom is limited to the four walls around me at school. My horizons have widened, and now I feel like the music teacher in Iceland I spoke with yesterday is just over there by the window.

The global staffroom shifts your perspective. Suddenly, the small daily-grind-type problems and challenges you face every day are not the only ones that exist, nor are they even the biggest ones. Suddenly there are more people around who can help you if you get stuck, like the colleague just across the room in Iceland, or the one two desks away in Arizona.

This may also be especially helpful if you happen to be in what I call a “toxic staffroom”. It’s a sad fact that workplace bullying does exist in the teaching profession, and if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in that situation, seeking support through online networking (even if you do so anonymously) can be a great first step to dealing with the problem.

P.S.: There are a couple of links to sites which deal with workplace bullying on my “Cyberbullying” page.

3. A Different Drum

If the other teachers at your own school are the only ones you ever see or speak to for an extended period of time, it can be impossible to avoid getting “bogged down” in the culture of that particular location. There’s a collective dynamic which means that people think a certain way, act a certain way, work a certain way, and it can be difficult to walk to the beat of your own drum.

This has been the case in both the best schools and the worst schools I’ve ever worked in, the supportive ones and the not-so-supportive ones. It’s neither good or bad; it’s just a thing that happens when people work together in the same place for a long time.

Blogging and tweeting have had a profound effect on the way that I think with regards to this. It has enabled me to stand outside the status quo and look in, more objectively. The daily contact with other colleagues worldwide, keeps me constantly exposed to different points of view and ways of working.

As far as I’m concerned, this can only benefit both me and and the school I work in, because it allows me to be a real contributor in ways I couldn’t before. I can bring new ideas to the table and add positive energy to the process of growth and change, because that energy is coming in from outside, from the global staffroom.

4. Professional Development

That kind of ongoing exposure to new ideas has meant that I’ve been able to undertake at least an hour or two of professional development almost every single day since I started networking online.

Five minutes on Twitter is all it takes to find dozens of blog posts, articles and news on whatever field happens to interest you. You can also participate in ongoing discussions with colleagues from all over the world in professional network forums like MusicPLN.

5. Reflection

Writing your reflections in a diary enables you to see and record new insights about your professional practice. Writing them in a blog enables you to share them with other like-minded professionals at the same time. This opens the door for them to give you feedback, and also for both you and they to learn from your experiences.

6. Communication

The blog is a public platform, and you are essentially writing for an audience. To blog well, you need to get your ideas across as clearly and succinctly as possible, to engage your readers and keep them interested. The process of writing your thoughts and ideas every day, in such a way that it gets across easily, increases your ability to communicate with others both online and off.

Your blog may also become a vehicle for presenting your thoughts and ideas not only to your online contacts, but also to colleagues closer to home, as well as to students, parents, and members of the public.

7. Motivation

I went to the MTEC conference in January of 2009, and it was brilliant. I arrived at school that year, brimming over with new ideas about how I was going to incorporate music technology into my classroom, enthusiastic about getting into teaching, and excited about sharing what I’d learned with my students and colleagues.

But then the budget was too short, the marking piled up, the paperwork and administrivia took on their usual overarching importance, and my ideas and my motivation went by the wayside. Very little changed for my students that year.

I went to MTEC 2011 jut over a month ago, and was inspired by James Humberstone to start a music teaching blog. I also joined Twitter. Since then, O-Generator has been installed on the school computers, my students have had their first computer-lab lessons ever for composition, I’ve seen to the installation of Pro Tools and Acid Music Studio on the classroom computer and now it’s being used nearly every lesson, instead of just sitting there.

Tomorrow I’m going to be running a demonstration to our beginning teachers on how to use the IWB and Interwrite Workspace software, I’ve just written my first year 8 music assignment which requires using music software to compose, and I’m planning lessons on music apps for ipad and iphone/ipod touch. My students have also been looking at Aviary Roc and SoundJunction, and their homework has been to check out YouTube videos on O-Generator and other music stuff.

I’ve begun to occasionally use the school email as another professional networking tool, emailing links to interesting sites and articles I’ve found to the rest of the staff, like the one on Spaced Learning.

I have been motivated every day since the conference to make these changes, and my momentum hasn’t slowed. The reason is because of this blog and my Twitter networking. It’s almost like MTEC 2011 hasn’t actually finished yet. Being around motivated people all the time is infectious, and when you come into contact with them every day through online activity, it has a way of keeping you going, and of giving you the determination to find solutions to problems which have gotten in the way before.

8. Passion

I have not always found my job fulfilling or rewarding. There have been a couple of difficult phases where my heart has been all but kicked out of teaching. Now, I find my passion as a teacher being brought back to life. I’m coming into my own in self-confidence, and rediscovering why I joined this profession in the first place.

The reason is again because of the ongoing contact I have with colleagues online. I love the exchange of ideas, the dialogue between like minds and not-so-like minds, the constant awareness of different insights. That kind of interaction with ideas always recharges my batteries and fires me up like nothing else can. With online networking, I can have that interaction as often as I like.

9. Sharing Your Expertise

It doesn’t matter if you’re a pre-service teacher or someone who’s been teaching for decades. You can always learn something new from someone, and someone else can always learn from you. You have something to contribute to the professional community. Go for it!

10. Support

If you network wisely, you can have dozens, if not hundreds, of like-minded, sympathetic colleagues in your list of contacts. When you’re in a bind, someone, somewhere, can help you out. If someone else is having difficulty, maybe you’re the person with just the knowledge they need, just the right link or website, or maybe just the right words of wisdom after a rough day in the classroom.

Sometimes teaching can be a really lonely job. It can be a relief to read a blog post about someone else’s struggles with a difficult class or an unfamiliar subject area, and know that you’re not the only one going through it. It can be liberating to find that there’s a totally different way of seeing a situation that’s been bugging you for months. It’s exciting to find new ways of thinking and new ways of working, new solutions to old problems.

I also find it really affirming as a professional, when I can help others out, when I can contribute to the discussion, and when it turns out that yes, I really do know what I’m doing. That kind of feedback only comes from having a good professional network.

Final Thoughts

The job of teaching doesn’t just start at nine and finish at three. If we could all clock in our “overtime” and get paid for it, we’d be earning two or three times as much as we do now. It’s not like teaching leaves us with a whole lot of time on our hands. I have particular admiration for those who manage to also be parents at the same time. I just shake my head and wonder how you guys do it.

Under those circumstances, the idea of starting a blog and finding the time to maintain it can be daunting, and maybe it’s just not for you. But it is very well worth taking a few minutes out of the day or the week to have a look at some of the blogs that are out there. I’ve got a library of links to get you started. I also cannot recommend highly enough, creating a professional account for Twitter and getting in touch with colleagues worldwide.

Participating in the online conversation about music teaching has been more fruitful for me in the last month than years of trying to reinvent the wheel on my own. In the long run, online networking can actually save a whole lot more time than it takes.

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10 Reasons Why Teachers Should Blog and Tweet by Gabrielle Deschamps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by contacting me.

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