Tag Archives: School

Exploring a Practical Approach to Teaching Music Theory

July 29, 2011

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First, a small update. My year 9 and 10 classes, such a challenge for me last semester, have changed. I now have an almost entirely new set of students, and these ones seem to be much more motivated so far. I’m also seeing some year 10s who have the potential to do particularly well in senior music. My year 8s have also changed. Most of the girls have gone, except for two, and a raft of new boys have come in. I still wonder if this is because I teach guitar.

Something I took with me from the recent ASME conference was the desire to take a much more practical approach to teaching music theory than I have been doing so far. I formed a goal to use the traditional pen-and-paper theory lesson as little as I possibly could in the coming semester, and to utilise practical activities and music composition software as much as possible.

I’ve been doing a number of things, like getting out all the percussion gear I can find and letting the students do group improvisation. In this activity, I also make them reflect every so often on how well they are playing as a group, and ask them to suggest ways to improve, which we then try out.

Another one has been simply to send them off in various directions with various instruments, and get them to figure out how to play songs, much like any kid would do in his or her room with a guitar. This one takes a bit of monitoring: some students are very able at this and need to be challenged further. Others need some basic skill-building before they can proceed. There’s a lot of moving around for me during this exercise.

I have so far found that my year eights – this particular group, at least – need to be kept on a rather tight leash. They don’t seem to have the maturity yet to play well together in an entire-group ensemble with percussion. In more individuated prac tasks, the engagement is variable and the attention span fairly short. It doesn’t take long before they start fooling around and getting hyperactive. I’ve had to reduce the prac a little bit and put them back behind their desks for periods of time.

The year 9s are a little better at focusing, and the year 10s better still. I have more confidence leading a whole-class prac, knowing that while there may be some problems, it will just take a little time for them to learn to focus together. It just takes practice.

My seniors are also quite good, but they much prefer individual prac to whole-group activities. That’s okay, as I generally try to encourage them to be as independent and self-directing as possible by this stage, especially in year 12.

Every class, right up to my seniors, has been introduced to STAFF WARS. If you haven’t checked this one out yet, you really should. This has been my main method for getting them to learn the treble and bass clef notes so far. We haven’t gotten around to handwriting much yet, but that will happen.

I’ve asked every class to write down a list of songs that they would like me to incorporate into the repertoire we study. This becomes the basis for my planning. I’m compiling a handout of little excerpts of various songs they’ve chosen. They’ll be shown how to identify the notes, and how to find the notes on keyboard and guitar. From the beginning, they’ll be learning to read music through playing the songs they’ve chosen, as well as others I might introduce to them on the way.

That pretty much sums up the main approach I plan to explore in the coming weeks. There will be lessons for writing, listening, and analysing, but I want to see how I can utilise practical methods for learning as much theory as possible. I’ll let you know every so often how this experiment is going.

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Secondary School Choral Festival and Workshop

July 25, 2011

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Last Friday, my choir (very small, very new, and very quiet) had the opportunity to work with UK choral director David Lawrence during a one-hour workshop, followed by a three-hour combined choir rehearsal. The combined choirs were from secondary schools all over Mackay, and they gave a concert for the Choral Festival that evening.

I told David up front that I must have the quietest choral group in the Mackay district. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get these girls to come out of their shells and sing out.

So he spent the next hour showing me how to do just that. I think the most important message he got across to them was this: there’s no physical difference between singing on your own and singing with other people. Every one of them would willingly sing as long as others were singing, but when asked to sing on their own, they clammed up.

So he said to everyone, “now, all of you sing on your own…at the same time!”

That seemed to do the trick. A couple of hours later, I came upon them in the classroom allocated to us for the evening before the concert, and they were absolutely belting along to someone’s ipod.

I’m buying the sheet music for “Soul Sista” and “The Lazy Song” first chance I get. I think for the next little while, I’m going to spend some quality time with lots of songs that they not only like, but like to sing really LOUDLY…without hurting their voices.

I also need to do some reading. At the recent ASME conference, I bought a number of books all to do with directing choirs, because I am seriously lacking in self-confidence on this particular point.

That seems weird, because I’ve been in heaps of choirs, ever since I was twelve. The school choir, Qld Children’s Choir, Qld Youth Choir, Brisbane Chorale, Conservatorium Chamber Singers. I’ve travelled all over Queensland, and even went to Japan one time, singing with choirs.

But I think that might be just the problem. I’ve been in so many fantastic choirs, with so many great choral directors, that I seem to be totally intimidated at the idea of directing one myself. There’s some part of me that thinks there is just no way that I could ever be that good at leading a group and bringing voices together so well.

I already happen to know for a fact that this isn’t true. Last year I was the musical director for the school musical, and I managed to lead a group of about fifty-ish students, male and female, and they were even singing in harmony by the end of three months.

Unfortunately, while they loved being part of it all at the time, I couldn’t seem to persuade them to stick around. Besides that, many were seniors and are now gone.

I need some serious confidence-building in the area of choir-building, so I’m hitting the books. In the meantime, I’m trying to get the girls I do have to rope some guys in.

Back to the story. The concert was last Friday evening. Four of the six or seven school choirs performed separately, and then all choirs joined together into one great big mob on stage.

They sang a traditional Nambian song called “Halima Pakasholo”, and Elgar’s arrangement of “Ave Verum Corpus”. They also sang two uplifting ballads, “Raise Your Voice” by Tim Morley and Dawn Ellis, and “Together As One” by David’s wife Rebecca Lawrence.

I had such a great time that I was inspired to compose some choral music myself, so I sat down in front of my computer and basically stayed there for the next two days.

The result was a new setting of “Ave Verum Corpus” to add to the dozen or so that are already out there. You may or may not have seen me carrying on about it on Twitter for the past day or so. You can download the score from my Compositions page, and hear a Sibelius audio. You can also find it on MuseScore.com.

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ASME Conference, Day Four

July 22, 2011

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All you had to do was look at everyone’s faces to know that this was the last day of the conference. People were drifting around in a kind of exhausted daze, including me. Thankfully the workshop selection was nice and light: only two hours.

I only did one workshop session that day, with Katie Wardrobe. She showed us some very cool stuff for teaching composition with technology. She had some short (fourteen seconds) films which students can use for adding sound effects and music. I’m in the first stages of a soundtracks unit for my junior music classes, so these will come in very handy.

There was a panel discussion entitled, “Finding one’s way from Secondary to Tertiary Music Education and Training”, which sounded very interesting, but I only caught a few minutes of it. Then there was the closing ceremony, where we were treated to a performance by TSS Drumline. I’ve seen the film before, but I’d never seen a real live drumline group up close, so I was most impressed. We were drummed out to lunch (where Jenny Craig once again went by the wayside) and they kept playing for us while we ate gorgeous food. A perfect way to end a conference!

I spoke with Andrew Reid, one of the organisers of ASME 2011, a couple of weeks before the conference started. He was sweating, wondering if it would be any good, wondering of people would turn up. He needn’t have worried. He and the other organisers did a fantastic job. Two thumbs up from me!

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ASME Conference, Day Three (That’s right, I’m back!)

July 21, 2011

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My apologies to everyone for not getting this out earlier. Life took a turn for the busier just after the conference, and then the new term started. I’m just about back on board now, so here’s the rest of the ASME conference that you’ve all been waiting for with baited breath!

On day three, my first workshop was with Allan Melville, about creating and using electronic resources in the secondary music classroom. I was rather thrilled about this particular one, because I’m a subscriber of his fantastic website, e-learning resources, and Allan and I had spoken on the phone many times prior to this. (If you haven’t yet checked out his website, you really should. It’s awesome.)

I wrote a previous post on this resource, which goes into more detail about all the stuff that’s contained there.

The next workshop, held by Kelly Parkes from Virginia Tech in the US, was a very small and intimate gathering of three or four university lecturers plus myself. The topic was “Supporting and Assessing New Types of Reflective Practice in Music Student Teachers”.

It turned out to be targeted more towards the tertiary instructors, but I still found it useful from a secondary point of view. I’m a big fan of professional reflection, as some of you will know, and I was interested in finding some good ideas for encouraging a thorough reflective process in my student teachers.

I’ve mentored two pre-service teachers so far, and what I’ve found is that mentoring does wonders for my own professional practice as well (but that’s another blog post). Future pre-service teachers may find me a little more demanding after this workshop. I hope so. (*Evil laugh*)

I was particularly interested in the idea of a video diary, where the pre-service teacher is video-taped while teaching, several times over an extended period. Written reflections focus on their teaching practice at that particular moment, and its development over time.

Kelly talked about different levels of depth in reflection, and the importance of guiding the pre-service teacher to say more than just “this is what I did today”, but to actually think about why they decided to use a particular strategy, how well it worked, what could be done to make something work better next time.

The afternoon’s keynote speaker was Laura Hassler, and she delivered a beautiful – at times heart-wrenching – talk about how music can be used to heal and make peace in war-torn countries such as Bosnia. She talked about Musicians Without Borders, an organisation which uses music to do just that.

They travel in small groups on a “music bus”, and bring music to towns and villages where the ravages of war have sometimes affected the people so deeply that they no longer sing. Musicians Without Borders works with the people to help them find their musical voices once more, and in doing so, find healing.

One short film that stuck with me was about their work with the women of Srebrenica, whose lives were torn apart in 1995 when more than 8000 men and boys were massacred during the Bosnian war. The grief and pain on their faces was so deep that I found myself in tears just looking at them. I was in tears again when I saw them smiling, singing, clapping and dancing together, after Lord knows how many weeks and months of musical workshops it would have taken for them to reach that point.

I’ve always known that music has the power to do amazing things, but it was that keynote which really brought that fact home to me.

The Jacinth Oliver Address was given by John Curro, during which he dealt with the rather thorny topic of universities and their handling of specialist music degrees. He argued that far too much time has been taken away from the practical development of students as elite musicians, and given to research and university administration.

I brought this up in conversation at the conference dinner that evening, where I was seated with another university professor from Singapore. He told me that he got into “a heated discussion” about this during the afternoon, so this is obviously a subject of ongoing debate in tertiary circles.

My last workshop of the day was held by Ruth Bonetti, on assertive communication with…how does one say it?…difficult parents. You know, the ones who question why we didn’t award their child an “A” when the child is, after all, a genius.

I swear that Ruth could be a drama teacher (in fact, she probably is). She had the wigs and costumes all ready for us, so we could role-play the “interview with the difficult parent”, if we wished. As it turned out, we were all a bit too reticent for that.

Ruth took us through some strategies and choice phrases one could use to politely suggest that the child actually needs to do some practice during the week to achieve an “A”, or that jumping from grade three to grade five might not perhaps be such a great idea.  She delivered these lines with a big, toothy smile and a voice which reminded me of Hyacinth from “Keeping Up Appearances”. Delightfully hilarious!

That evening, we had the conference dinner, which I’ve mentioned. The food was wonderful – my Jenny Craig diet went decidedly out the window. We were also treated to some very fine performances from Best of Brass, the Blenders, and the Canterbury College Cantabile Choir.

Whew! That was day three. Day four will (I promise!) be posted tomorrow. In fact, I’m going away to write it up now.

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Day Two of the ASME Conference

July 3, 2011

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Another massive and awesome day at the ASME Conference. I saw quite a lot today, and I probably won’t get it all down in one sitting. There are a few things that I’ll need to sit down with for a while and mentally digest before I can write too much, but here are some brief brushstrokes:

George Spartels of “Play School” fame presented the keynote address for this morning’s session of the conference. His title question: If we take music out of the equation of children and their education, then how grounded, drab, and even unsustainable would learning be?

He talked about how music is absolutely basic to human development, right from the earliest days of childhood. Something he said which immediately stuck in my mind was,”children are not an inferior audience”. Young children have a highly sophisticated (and critical) faculty for listening, and it’s actually much harder to write a song for children than a song for adults.

He talked about how the script of an episode of Play School would be figured out in minute detail, how arguments went back and forth around the table for hours at a stretch over the selection of phrases, or even the choice of a single word. This was all out of a huge awareness of just how much children pick up in the course of an episode…and what they pick up may not be entirely what you’d expect.

Example: George showed us a clip of a song he wrote about surfing, where he was pretending to surf on his desk before going out onto the beach with an actual surfboard. He was trying to get across the message of fitness and of getting outdoors. What many children picked up was: the action of surfing is done by standing on a desk. George had nightmares of injured children and lawsuits after finding that out.

He spoke about the essential importance of music in an episode of Play School. I have fond memories of Warren’s piano playing, how it wove in and out constantly, how it could make me laugh, calm me down, or tell me, “there’s a song coming”.

George talked about the emotional cues communicated by music, which wouldn’t necessarily be conveyed in a script or a visual image. He described how music could be used to convey to a child: this is a safe place to imagine whatever you like, however bizarre or out of the box.

His keynote ended as only a Play School presenter’s keynote can: by all three hundred conference delegates standing up and singing “I’m a Little Teapot”, with actions.

After the keynote, I went to a workshop held by Ros McMillan, about engaging junior secondary students in musical activities. She showed us some interesting and fun ways to create rhythmic rounds on the spur of the moment, and gave us a number of ideas for using just one song in a variety of different lessons.

Something Ros emphasised was the idea of connecting her units to something wider than simply musical content, like “The Environment”, or “Relationships” for example, and embedding musical ideas within those contexts.

I saw two presentations by Geoffrey Lowe, the first of which was very effectively entitled, “This Sucks!” It was all about why so many students drop out of music at school, considering some form of music engagement (listening, playing, creating) is probably the single most widely preferred leisure activity among children and teens, over and above TV, computer games, or sport.

This was so popular that people had to bring in extra chairs, and it was very nearly standing room only. Geoff’s main premise was that kids prefer prac-based, contextual-based music learning, and hate theory and aural skills training when they’re delivered out of context (ie: when they can’t hear it, or use it to play or create something).

They also have very clear ideas about the kinds of music they do and don’t like, and familiar is preferred, so that brings up the (for some) delicate question of popular music in the curriculum.

Basically, Geoff’s presentation invited music teachers to reflect on their practice and ask, “am I doing something here which may be contributing to the cause of students leaving?”

I also attended a workshop on Musical Futures by Ken Owen. I’ve heard quite a bit about Musical Futures lately, mainly from the Music Teachers’ Network, so I wanted to hear more about this one.

I got to have my very first go at using a jam hub, which was exciting (when it worked properly). I also felt a bit affirmed: much of the Musical Futures approach is similar to the approach I try to take in my classes, at least some of the time: informal, prac-based, student-directed learning.

There are some drawbacks, though: it doesn’t always work. But I want to find out more about Musical Futures and see how I can refine my practice. It’s certainly a very good tool, and one that I would love to embrace more fully.

I finished my day with a workshop focused on ACARA, the coming national Arts curriculum, held by Andrew Reid and Jay McPherson. This is a rather thorny topic, with lots of rumours floating around about it. This workshop was first of all an exercise in straightening out fact from fiction, and myth from reality.

They also discussed the recent draft (or “Shape” paper, if I remember rightly) and ASME’s not-so-enthusiastic reaction to it, for a variety of reasons.

What I mainly got out of that one was: no one really knows when it’s coming, and no one really knows what’s on it. So don’t worry about it…for now.

They were the workshops. I should also mention the stunning performances I heard from the AB Paterson Chamber Choir and Brisbane Birralee Voices during the breaks. There was also the Gold Coast City Wind Orchestra, and Trinity Lutheran College Revelation, a rock group, both of which were also very impressive.

Whew! That was a long one. Sorry for the overlong read. I just wanted to make sure I got everything mentioned at least briefly. Tomorrow I won’t be posting, as the conference dinner will be held in the evening. Tuesday I’ll be heading to Brisbane to visit family after the closing ceremony, before flying back home on Wednesday. My next post on the conference will hopefully be either Wednesday or Thursday.

Till then!

🙂

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ASME Conference: Day One

July 2, 2011

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It’s official: I’m addicted to conferences. I attended Day One of the ASME (Australian Society for Music Education) conference at the Gold Coast Convention Centre today. I’m knackered, but I really want to get this written before I see too much more cool stuff, otherwise I’ll never get it all down.

Unfortunately, I missed the opening ceremony. Having not slept very well the night before, two alarms were insufficient to wake me up on time, and I slept in. Way in. I was most miffed and thoroughly unimpressed with myself.

However, I did get there in time to catch the latter half of Robert Duke’s keynote speech: “Strategic Confusion and the Joys of Learning”, which was very informative as well as highly entertaining.

Robert’s basic philosophy is this: if you’re comfortable, you’re not learning much. If students are getting everything done for them, having everything clarified immediately without first having to be a bit confused and do some searching for answers, they’re learning very little. Robert spoke about how he seeks to embed what he calls “strategic confusion” into his lessons to enhance the learning process.

According to research, the process of learning (on a physical, neurological level) is a process of error correction. Students have to have the opportunities to perceive their own errors in their own musical behaviour (eg: holding a violin bow the wrong way) and correct it themselves, instead of always having the teacher correct it for them (ie: making them too comfortable).

Finally, Robert’s other main point: teachers are learners as well.

The three sessions I attended today after the keynote were held by Katie Wardrobe, Stefanovych Roberts, and Antony Hubmayer.

Katie Wardrobe took us through a selection of software programs and games for teaching various aspects of music in her talk, “Music Technology Resources on a Shoestring”. The best part about most of these is that they’re free. The ones that aren’t, require only a small subscription fee.

Katie will be putting her notes and links on her website, so I won’t steal her thunder by putting it all here. But I must tell you about one thing which I just thought was the coolest of the cool: a “space invaders”style game called STAFF WARS. You can download it here.

Basically, musical notes come floating along a giant staff at the top of the screen, and the player has to name the note correctly before it crashes into the clef (treble, bass, or alto). When the player hits the right note name, a little spaceship at the bottom of the screen shoots the note. The game starts off slow, and gets faster as you go on. There are heaps of other games Katie showed us as well, but that was my favourite.

Stefanovych Roberts presented a doctoral paper on Metacognition on Music Performance: Theoretical frameworks within an Assessment for Learning paradigm. This presentation focused mainly on the importance of feedback for the student during the learning process, and he mentioned three types (coined by Hattie, if I remember right): feed up (where am I going?), feed back (how am I going?), and feed forward (where do I go next?).

He also spoke about the importance of formative assessment as a valuable tool for developing the student’s musical metacogition, and how there seem to be relatively few opportunities for that formative assessment process to occur within the secondary school environment.

The last seminar I attended today was by Antony Hubmayer: “Riding the wave of pedagogy: Designing learning experiences that deepen musical understanding without drowning the learner”. His presentation really resonated with my ideas about being a “learning designer” when he talked about “designing musical learning experiences” within a constructivist framework.

He showed us his “Learning Experience Framework”, a simple chart by which he plans his units, and then showed us some different examples of the framework in action. One was in the form of a student-created reflection video about the experience of teaching a younger class cohort how to play a song on the ukelele and perform in an ensemble. Another was for a choral group, and we viewed their eisteddfod performance.

Antony’s website is here, and I would imagine his presentation will be made available there sometime down the track, as his other ones have been.

Lack of sleep finally caught up with me after that session, and I had to go back to my hotel room to rest my brain, which by then was feeling a bit fried. I did manage to pick up a few good books on the way out though. (Books know my name. I always hear them calling me, and I am helpless to resist.)

Hopefully I will sleep a bit better tonight, and I can get there on time tomorrow.

Till then!

🙂

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Reflections after attending the Central Qld Region e-Learning Conference

June 19, 2011

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The Central Queensland Region e-Learning Conference was held yesterday and today at Mackay North State High School. They had hands-on workshops and seminars, and I saw some very cool stuff. It’s going to take a little while for me to mentally digest it all, but here’s a few initial thoughts and reflections:

Web Conferencing:

Something I’d never seen before was the use of software like Elluminate and Wall Wisher, which enabled real-time interactive conferencing. This may be of particular interest to those organising future conferences, as well as teachers in one-to-one educational settings.

These software programs enable students/workshop participants to make comments or ask questions during the course of the lesson, which are then posted up on the front screen, IWB, or even just the notebooks in front of the moderator and participants. People can answer each others’ questions or wait for the moderator to do so. Participants can also chat about the lesson content.

Something I liked about Elluminate in particular was that you could use little emoticons for “laughter”, “confused”, “applause”, or “disapprove” to display your reactions to something. There’s also a function which enables the moderator to ask a question and poll the participants, and the results of the poll are displayed on the screen in a matter of seconds.

Not only does this add another dimension to a lesson for everyone in the room, it also enables people to participate from anywhere else in the world where they might happen to be at that moment. You just need to set up a link and a password, and away you go.

OneNote:

I found this one of particular interest. The presenter was a teacher from a one-to-one school which has utilised Microsoft OneNote as a collaborative learning platform. There is a YouTube channel (which I can’t seem to find right this second) where this particular school has uploaded a number of tutorial videos for using OneNote in a variety of ways for different purposes.

This was the last workshop I saw today, and the one my mind has been chewing on the most since. I’ve been thinking of all sorts of ways I could use OneNote to organise resources, plan units and lessons, record reflections, deliver learning content, and set differentiated tasks. Watch this space, because when I get going on this one, I’ll start blogging my OneNote experiments, sharing what I’ve made and uploading things I create.

Differentiating for Diverse Learners:

This is a workshop which talked about the use of differentiation models for lesson planning. The resources which were presented are actually owned by Education Queensland, so I have asked for permission to upload and share some of them on this blog. This permission is still pending, so I’ll let you know the outcome when I receive word.

Other Thoughts:

A really interesting keynote presentation this morning touched on an important point about digital devices which, in all the excitement about being all high-tech and up-to-date, may be easily overlooked: the total cost of ownership. Upfront payouts, plus maintenance, insurance, replacement costs, upgrades; and all of that pitted against the cost of item x now, compared to the cost of item x six or twelve months down the track. There’s also the price of item x, compared to how much other equipment a school could purchase for the same price.

Example: I saw a video of a really cool-looking interactive conferencing table: something straight out of a James Bond movie, built for a classroom, where students could stand around the table and manipulate documents, images, and videos on the touchscreen tabletop. Wonderful for collaborative learning. The cost? $24,000. What could a school buy with that amount of money? A hell of a lot more than one table.

Finally, I found a few new blogs to follow, which I’ve put in my Links/Blogs section, under “Education: General”. Scroll down past all the music ed blogs to find them. Enjoy!

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Two months since MTEC 2011: An Update

June 11, 2011

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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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Lesson Planning: Using MuseScore to Teach Theory

May 31, 2011

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My year junior students had a look at MuseScore for the first time yesterday. It’s a really useful tool for reinforcing all the basic music theory concepts we’ve been looking at lately. My seniors were introduced to it today, and used it for a simple orchestration exercise to get the hang of the program.

I’m thinking of revamping my theory lessons so that the majority of them can take place using MuseScore, and perhaps Acid Xpress (a particularly good tool for visualising musical structure, I’ve found). It would be wonderful if I could have a midi lab, with all the computers set up with a keyboard, instead of having to remove students from the normal music classroom for theory lessons. That’s my long-term goal.

In the meantime, my brain is ticking over, and I’m coming up with a list of lesson plans, homework assignments, and classroom activities that I’d like to prepare with MuseScore. It would also be a great relief-supply tool for occasions when I happen to be away.

Does anyone know if there’s an online bank of MuseScore activities for theory and composition which might be up and running somewhere?

In other news, I spoke to one of the deputies yesterday about year 9/10 music, and I was told that there’s no need to worry on that front, which is a relief. My focus now is encouraging as many as possible to join senior music next year, which is traditionally a very small class.

Ben Smith from the Music Teachers’ Network has also introduced me to the Musical Futures approach, which I’d not encountered before this week, so I will be investigating that direction enthusiastically. I’ve had a look around the website today, and it looks fantastic!

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When the all the whiz-bang technology lets you down…

May 26, 2011

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"OMG!!! FRUSTRATED!!" by Jonathan Robison

You’ve planned your lesson perfectly, made all the right preparations, and then suddenly…

…the power goes out.

…or the data projector overheats.

…or the computer crashes.

It’ll happen sooner or later, most likely sooner. I had all my ducks in a row: assignment sheets printed off, spare earphones handy, research space allocated, notebooks organised. All my students sat with their laptops in front of them, ready to get into their composition assignment – the first one I’d ever set where the use of music creation software was a central requirement.

One by one, my students raised their hands and told me they couldn’t log on. We tried everything I could think of before I gave up and called for the computer tech, but he was busy in another computer lab trying to solve exactly the same problem. One false circuit in something, somewhere, had brought down the whole network.

Resigned, I got my students to pack the notebooks away into the recharge trolley and head back over to the classroom.

Rule No.1: when planning a technology lesson, always have a Plan B.

Rule No.2: memorise Rule No.1.

Since I have access to the musical instruments and a stock of practical lessons up my sleeve, technical hiccups like this aren’t a major drama.

I do feel for those colleagues whose subject matter absolutely depends upon a working computer, like IT Studies and the like. It must be incredibly frustrating when the network isn’t functioning, and I wonder how they manage it. How many Plan B’s can you have for a subject like that?

Those reticent about technology would seem to have a point: why go to all the trouble of decking ourselves out in all this whiz-bang technology when a: talk and chalk does just fine, and b: we can’t rely on all those gadgets and gizmos to work?

However, as Chris Betcher points out, staying up-to-date with technology and use it as fully as possible in the classroom is all part of the job, pretty much whether we like it or not.

Our students see all this technology around them every day: they should be able to expect that their teachers know how to utilise it. Age and the idea that they are “digital natives” whereas we ourselves may not be, doesn’t really make a difference: they go through exactly the same process of learning how to use something as we do. If they do it younger, so what?

Failing technology isn’t an excuse to neglect it: it’s a reason to make sure it gets continual improvement, and to invest in quality professional development so teachers have more strategies and technical know-how for when things go haywire.

In the meantime, have a Plan B. Always.

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Incorporating Creative Commons into Composition Assessment

May 23, 2011

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My junior students have been doing a songwriting unit this term. Also, a number of them have talked to me about stuff that they or their friends have been uploading to websites like YouTube.

I’ve only really been thinking with any real depth about Creative Commons licensing since I started this blog, and following other blogs whose owners talk about it all the time.

It has now occurred to me to wonder how much my students know about protecting their own intellectual property, in terms of songs and other arts works that they produce. So I’m thinking of incorporating this into their assignment work.

What I’m planning to do is have a lesson devoted to Creative Commons licensing, showing them the website and all the different options. They will then be required to go to the website themselves, license their composition, and document the license correctly on their work before they hand it in.

The only thing I’m not entirely sure about and will need to clarify is whether this will conflict with the intellectual property rights held by the school. My employer claims copyright for all sorts of things, including arts works created by the students for the purposes of assessment.

But what if my students write a really great song, and then want to go ahead and record that song years down the track and release it commercially? It seems reasonable to me that any songs they write would be considered their own work.

In the meantime, it also seems reasonable that, since they are already producing songs and music videos in their own time for public consumption, they should be aware of ways they can protect their copyright while still allowing free distribution of their work. In these days of self-publishing and YouTube, this issue is more relevant than ever.

So I’m thinking of incorporating this latest addition to my compositions assessments, particularly for my senior students, as a way of increasing their awareness of copyright and licensing of arts works – not just their own but everyone’s.

Does anyone else do this with their students already?

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Learning Management, Learning Design

May 21, 2011

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There’s a term for teachers which has been in vogue for a while: learning managers. At the Central Queensland University, for example, you can get a Bachelor of Learning Management, which is a standard education degree.

I have to say I’ve never really warmed to the term very much. I get the philosophy behind the terminology, being about “student-centred” rather than “teacher-centred” classroom strategies and such, but it just doesn’t do anything for me. I think it has to do with the fact that I’m not the “manager” type.

My Head of Department is a natural-born manager. Organisation is in her blood. The more things she has to organise, the happier she is.

I must be the bane of her existence because one of my favourite sayings is a quote by Douglas Adams: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

I’m more the artsy, intuitive type: I’m idealistic, impractical, have a bedroom messy enough to rival any teenager’s, and cannot spell the word “deadline” without using a dictionary.

A weird side-effect is that, since I know what I’m like with deadlines, I never set an assignment and then just assume that my students will just go ahead and hand it in on time. So I nag and harp on at them about their deadlines probably twice as much as other personality types who take organisation for granted.

About a week ago, I came across an alternative term: learning designer. I don’t remember where I saw it, but it fires my imagination in a way that learning manager just doesn’t.

While learning manager sounds highly efficient and practical, learning designer appeals to that creative, mess-making impulse in me that wants to get in there, build something, and come out with my face and clothing covered in paint.

Learning designer makes me want to build an artist’s studio for lesson planning.

If I take my planning and apply to it the idea of learning design, suddenly I feel like I’m planning a painting, sculpture, or composition. To paint a good picture or compose a good musical work, you need a clear sense of structure, balance, and motif. So, messy though the process might be, the result wouldn’t be messy: just the opposite.

In theory, anyway.

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Teaching students how to finish a performance

May 19, 2011

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My senior students have been rehearsing for an upcoming performance assessment during the past few weeks. One issue that frequently turns up is how to finish.

Specifically, it’s how to maintain that split-second of silent focus, through which a performer communicates to the audience one of two things: either, “it’s over, clap now,” or, “I’m not finished yet, stop clapping!”

You will never, ever see a professional performer get up on stage and do his or her thing, and then say,”…and that’s it.”

When my students are up doing their rehearsal runs, they will often finish their performances with that annoying little phrase.

Maybe it’s all those years of having to get up and do oral presentations in class for other subjects, all the way back to “show and tell” in our very first years of school. I remember how every one of us used to end with, “and that’s it,” whenever we had to be out in front of everyone, addressing the class for some purpose or other. It becomes a habit.

Or maybe it’s the fact that doing nothing is one of the most difficult things to do on stage. It’s hard to just stand there and be stared at by a bunch of people. One feels a need to fill the silence with something. It’s a specific performance skill, to be able to stand there, confidently and quietly, and just wait for the applause.

The only time in school when I was consistently, actively taught how to finish a performance, was in the rehearsals for school band and choir. That was fine for those of us who were in those groups, but it didn’t help the students who weren’t.

As it happens, none of my current senior students are “band geeks”. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a guitar player which acts as a drawcard for so many metal-heads to my subject area, I don’t know. Whatever the reason, although I’ve got plenty of band players in the junior cohort, my current seniors are mostly the types who wouldn’t want to be seen dead playing in the school band.

Interestingly enough, however, those who aren’t in the traditional school ensemble, do tend to be in their own little rock bands. A few of them get gigs. A number of them have played at the school social. (Yes, I do get them to perform their stuff for assessment.) I’ll be willing to bet my right arm that when they’re up there on stage, never once have they finished with, “and that’s it.”

Yet they do this over and over again in class.

So I’m on a mission: to eradicate “and that’s it” from the mouths of every one of my students, for good.

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Teaching students how to finish a performance 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

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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.
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Teaching senior students how to write a musical analysis

April 24, 2011

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Of the three musical assessment areas – performing, composing, and analysing repertoire – it’s the last one which invariably takes up the most lesson time, and the one which my students seem to have the most trouble with.  My analysis assessments generally involve an extended written task or a formal exam, where they have to write an essay of several hundred to a thousand words.  In order to let them analyse a work in as much detail as possible, I will generally give them only one question in the exam, or a choice between two or three in an extended written task.  Where possible, they will be provided with both a score and a sound recording of a musical work, and the question they must answer will require them to gather evidence primarily, if not solely, from those resources.

The problems which need to be overcome in teaching musical analysis don’t just involve teaching musical literacy – reading a score, identifying the musical elements, comparing and contrasting compositional devices, etc – but also English literacy: forming a main idea, listing dot points, constructing sentences and paragraphs, writing an essay.  Furthermore, the senior music student is required to demonstrate higher order thinking skills: using evidence to support a hypothesis, justifying a position, comparing and contrasting.  I’m constantly searching for more efficient and effective ways to teach all of these things, and yet still have time to get around to performing and composing.

One of the resources I created in this endeavour is a powerpoint presentation, which looks at the first four bars of “Et In Terra Pax” from Vivaldi’sGloria, and aims to show just how much information can be pulled out of that one tiny section of music:

The presentation has several objectives: firstly, it aims to help students take the elements of music, and pull out as much information as possible from the score about each one of them, one at a time.  Secondly, it shows them how to articulate that information as clearly and concisely as possible, first in dot points, and slowly working up to full paragraphs.  A third aim is to teach them how to look for evidence in the score and apply it to critical thinking questions.

The method for all this involves giving lots of visual cues and verbal hints at first, and slowly backing off until the students are getting no help at all and they’re on their own.  A sequence of animations take the students through each of the elements in detail.  They also aim to encourage students to look at the score and try to answer the questions, before being given any answers.

On my “Resources and Lesson Plans” page, you will find a download link for the powerpoint presentation, plus a student handout, teacher’s notes, and a “read me first” document which gives a few hints about running the slideshow.  Feel free to download all of these so you can use them in your own classes, if you wish.  You will also need to obtain a sound-recording of the piece to go with the rest of the materials.  It’s quite a long presentation, and will take several lessons to cover in detail.

I’ve made a short film which demonstrates the slideshow, so you can see what’s there.  Since I used Jing to make it, I had a five-minute time limit, so some of the slides go through quite rapidly, but the animations are designed so that you have manual control and can run them as quickly or as slowly as you think necessary.  To find the whole set of resources, go here and click on “Vivaldi Analysis”.  To see the five-minute runthrough of the content of the slideshow, click on the video link below:

Vivaldi Analysis Demo

You may wish to use PowerPoint to cut out some of the slides, and that’s fine.  What I don’t advise it editing the animations within each slide.  Fiddle around with them too much, and you may never find your way out again.  Believe me, I know.

If you do use this resource in your class, please get back to me and let me know how it went.  Some feedback on how it could be improved would be especially helpful, and I will do my best to apply it to any future presentations I make and share with you guys.  Enjoy!

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Teaching senior students how to write a musical analysis by Gabrielle Deschamps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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