Reflection on Formative Assessment

In the past several days, I have been reading a bit of Shawn Cornally’s blog, ThinkThank Thunk. I began with his second post back in February 2010 on Standards-Based Grading. At the time, Shawn was a math/science/programming teacher at Solon High School in Iowa. He experimented with implementing standards-based grading practices in his classrooms and blogged quite a bit about his experiences. He has several articles about standards-based grading, calculus, physics, and a variety of other topics. Shawn is now the Headmaster of Iowa Big Ideas Group, a competency based high school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Many of Shawn’s post on Standards-Based Grading got me thinking about what I am currently doing in my Instrumental Music 10 course (10th Grade Band), Music Fundamentals course (non-AP Music Theory), and brass lessons in terms of implementation of standards-based practices. As we approach the summer and a time to plan out what next year will look like, I wanted to lay out my thinking.

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JumpRope – an SBL Grading Tool

This year, I have been experimenting with JumpRope, a standards-based grade book. Our district currently uses Infinite Campus as their student information system to track grades, attendance, behavior, and many other data points (more on how we currently use IC). I am currently on an Infinite Campus sub-committee of our district’s committee on Standards-Based Grading. We are looking at ways we can make the grade book more standards-based learning friendly. While I don’t think we will be able to transition completely to JumpRope, I think our 6-12 Instrumental Music PLC can use it effectively during our lessons next year.
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SmartMusic as an Assessment Tool

SmartMusic is an “interactive music learning software” by MakeMusic, creators of the music notation software Finale. It can pretty accurately assess pitch and rhythm for nearly all of the instruments in the wind band. There is a multitude of method books, solo literature, concert band literature, and jazz band literature in their library with new material being added frequently. SmartMusic can also incorporate files created in Finale. It is an outstanding tool we use daily in our work with students.
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Collecting Data

As I mentioned in my post about Standards-Based Learning, we utilize Google Docs for the vast majority of our data collection. Each teacher and student have a Google Apps account ( for teachers, for students). We created a Google Form utilizing the pieces of our Wind Rubric and Percussion Rubric to allow for quick entry of information during a lesson. Continue reading “Collecting Data”

Takadimi and Solfège – Tools for Teaching Music

As part of the Curriculum Review process our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) went through in recent years, the K-12 Music PLC chose to specifically use takadimi and solfège to teach rhythmic and tonal literacy in General Music, Vocal Music, and Instrumental Music (we do not have an orchestra program in our district). Before delving in to the details of these tools, I want to emphasize that these are only tools. They are not necessarily the way, the truth, and the light. They are a means we use to teach to our power standards. This is my first year teaching using these tools in band, but it is our district’s fourth or fifth year of implementation. Students in fourth grade or below have received nothing but these tools in their instruction. Students in fifth grade or above have received a mixture of these and other tools. From my personal experience teaching vertically in a 6-12 Instrumental Music PLC, the consistency is the key. Because students have received a consistent method of instruction on rhythmic and tonal literacy, they are better at decoding the musical symbols on the page. So how do we use these tools?

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Standards-Based Learning

Our district is moving to a Standards-Based Learning model, and our 6-12 Instrumental Music Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) has jumped right in! I wanted to discuss a bit what that looks like for us, what we are wrestling with to improve our student’s learning. If you need a little bit more about what Standards-Based Learning is overall, JumpRope (an SBL software we are looking at using) provides some basic information on their blog. Our district has also released a document entitled Fair and Consistent Practices to detail what this will look like for us. In a previous post, I described our vertical lesson format that is allowing 6-12 grade students to take lessons with a teacher who is a “pro” on their primary instrument. We are using these lessons as our leaping off point for incorporating Standards-Based Learning into our programs.

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Vertical Teaching

I am very excited to be part of a new team teaching instrumental music in a vertical setting. In our feeder system we have four (soon to be five) K-5 elementary schools, one 6-7 middle school, one 8-9 middle school, and one 10-12 high school. In terms of band directors, there are currently ~3.0 FTE for 5th grade, 2.0 FTE at the 6-7 building, 1.0 FTE at the 8-9 building, and 2.0 FTE at the 10-12 building. The same system is duplicated for the other feeder system on the other side of town. I am not sure of the reasoning nor the history, but our school district does not have an orchestra program. Our music curriculum includes K-5 General Music, 5-12 Instrumental Music (Band), and 6-12 Vocal Music. Continue reading “Vertical Teaching”