There is a notion among music educators that our courses are some of the most difficult to merge well with technology in the classroom learning environment. School music classes are traditionally performance-based, with the primary learning goal hinged on a student improving their individual instrument play in the context of a large ensemble. In this blog post, I would like to show you the digital technologies I use with my students to address both individual and ensemble growth, to teach and refine technical concepts, and to maximize the efficiency of my band program.
I am in my first year teaching band at the International School in Bellevue, Washington. We are a public school in the Bellevue School District with an enrollment of 564 students, grades 6-12. All students are required to be in either a music or visual art class for the duration of their studies. International is 1-to-1 and each student and staff member is given a laptop for school and home use.
Our laptop devices are touch and stylus-enabled, which allows for both traditional applications and the use of new innovations. We are a Microsoft Showcase School, which means we work closely with Microsoft to pilot new innovative technologies in the classroom. We are considered a model for schools in our region, with guests regularly visiting our classrooms to see the incorporation of these technologies in a classroom setting.
At International, we operate on a block schedule every day. Though students are enrolled in seven periods, a block schedule means they only attend four per day. My 6th grade students are in class for 60 minutes at a time and meet one another eight out of every ten school days. All other grade levels are in class for 100 minutes at a time and meet five days out of ten.
This schedule allows us to dive in to advanced concepts during class, but it can also make it difficult for students to stay engaged or have enough physical endurance to play their instrument for an entire class period. I have made a conscious effort to incorporate our device technology into the learning environment, as a supplement to the instrumental skills students gain in my classes.
While we use printed sheet music for concerts, as a music department my colleagues and I have made a collective effort to go paperless in all other assignments. This can be a challenge, but ultimately saves budgetary resources, prep time, and grading time.
Here are some examples of ways I use digital technologies in my everyday teaching:
Using OneNote as a hub
All assignments in my classes are created and stored in a OneNote Class Notebook. This centralized location allows students to access materials easily at any point in the school year. I create assignments in a teacher-only space and can push them out to students at an appropriate time, such as the beginning of a period. This allows me to plan my lessons and assignments in advance, with the option of waiting until an appropriate time to publish the work. This is especially effective when I am absent for a festival performance or other professional development event, while students have a substitute. In the morning, I can quickly push the day’s assignment out for students to complete in my absence.
Recent example of a substitute assignment.
For my high school students, we have established a relationship of trust in which I am comfortable having them run sectionals while I am absent. This assignment page gives instructions on when they will be having sectionals, and what else to complete while they are in class for the day. To make sure substitutes are informed, I print the page out and leave it on my desk for them. If I am at a festival or other event, I can open my laptop and check in real-time how students are doing.
With OneNote, I can also drop in links for students to access shared documents. I use this for sign-ups, festival itineraries, permission slips, course syllabi, event calendars, and more.
A page dedicated to All-State auditions, containing audition sign-ups, music, and other information.
Video playing tests
With class sizes ranging from 21 to 49 students, it can be difficult for me to assess individuals accurately without sacrificing large-group instructional time. However, individual assessment is paramount to providing feedback and measuring student growth. To accurately assess student progress, while minimizing the full-group loss of class time, I designed a video playing test system.
I used OneNote to set up an instructional page for students to record their videos at home. If students turn in their assignment on time, I allow them to do re-takes. If they do not turn it in on time, the video they submitted receives the final grade for the assignment. This encourages student practice, and honors those who turn in work on time.
Example of how I set up the instructional page.
Example of feedback I gave one student.
Two of my favorite playing tests I received this year.
I have had students compose their own music with a partner, or in small groups, using the collaboration space in OneNote. They can create their own pages within the collaboration space and work on projects in real-time across multiple devices.
An example of a melody and harmonization assignment, where students were first asked to compose a short melody, then add a harmonization of either another instrument, or a piano accompaniment. While most students wrote their assignment out on staff paper that I imported into OneNote, this group engraved their work using the free program, MuseScore.
Reflective assignments and goal setting
After each concert, my students and I spend time listening and reflecting on our performance. While I play the concert recording in class, students answer a series of questions, based on what they hear. This leads nicely in to a class discussion about our performance and how we plan for continued growth. I value this assignment because it allows me to gather feedback from every student in my class. Some students do not want to share their thoughts in front of the whole group, so it provides a private outlet for students to honestly and accurately reflect. I also encourage my students to think about their long-term progress and goals in relation to music. It is important to me that I get to know something about each one of my students, and these reflective assignments help me reach students who may otherwise be unwilling to speak in class.
One student’s reflection after our fall concert.
Another student’s musical goals set at the beginning of 2018.
All our assignments are paperless in the music department at International, unless a student requests a paper copy of an assignment. This has saved my colleagues and I copious amounts of time normally spent at the copy machine, time that we can dedicate to planning for student growth. To create a digital assignment, I import a PDF of the worksheet for the day, add instructions, then push it to students. The entire process takes less than five minutes.
When we review the assignment, I can open individual student pages to show the whole class, or my own copy on the teacher page to show examples, or an answer key. The following are two student worksheets completed in class.
A 6th grade assignment on learning meter and time signatures.
A high school assignment on learning individual intonation tendencies.
Interactive Online Learning
There are numerous excellent online resources for students to practice. One I love to use is www.musictheory.net. I can create a customized exercise for students, place it on their OneNote page and have them take a screenshot of their webpage once they complete the assignment. This allows me to monitor student progress based on their correct response percentage, and it lets students receive real-time feedback from the website. Because these pages are stored on our class OneNote, students can reference the exercise links at any time to practice skills.
An example of an assignment.
These are samplings of the digital incorporation I use in class each day. Like other music classes, we spend a majority of our time playing our instruments to learn individual and ensemble-based skills. The use of technology in my classroom is not meant to detract from this learning, but augment it. I aim to provide the best learning experience for my students in this digital world of ours, knowing the importance of incorporating technology into lessons. While I am still in my first year of teaching, the results of this incorporation show it to be effective. My students and I are excited for our continued forays into digital music technologies in the coming years.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions – I am more than happy to share and discuss ideas!