Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Back to blogging....and reflecting!

How did June 25th happen?  My last blog had me right at the beginning of April, which was about the first third of our last trimester.  Somewhere in between that time and now there was a flurry of concerts, solo and ensemble festivals, final reflections, final tests, an elementary school tour with the Honor Band,  packing up the band room (and finding some really cool OLD instruments!) for a remodel....and now summer break.  Within this time for summer break I haven't allowed much reflection on the past school year, nor thoughts for the upcoming school year.  There are a couple reasons for this: 1.  this school year seemed to end quite abruptly.  We literally had to pack up and move the entire band room and my office so that a mini-remodel could take place, so I didn't have much time to muse over what went well and what didn't go so well.  My concern was trying to figure out what instruments should stay or go as I am not sure the last time the band room had been "purged".  2.  As far as I know, I won't be able to get back into my band room until mid-August!!!  I suspect that most teachers understand how LATE that is.  I typically take the month of June off and then I start going back and picking out new literature, creating new assignments, looking at class rosters...etc.  NOPE.  Not this year.  So the idea that I have about 10 days to get my band room back in order and get ready for the kids is a bit nerve-wracking.  But I am trying to not concern myself with that too much.  I seem to have this summer off that everyone keeps telling me that teachers have.  So I might as well enjoy it, right?

So, reflection time.  What are some things that went well?  Well, I implemented my assessment portfolios for all of my bands.  That was a bit a much, in terms of the amount of kids, but it worked out.  My filing system was slick and the kids figured it out probably a lot more quickly than I did (student leadership is awesome!).  I stuck with the portfolios and students did reflections every single trimester.  We kept theory and writing assignments in there and I think it was an overall great response.  At the end of the school year when we were going through them, I heard students say things like: "I can't believe I didn't understand that at the beginning of the year, it's so easy now" and "wow....I put a lot of time into that! (regarding their solo project programs".  So I think overall, it was a good experience.  The 6th and 7th graders kept theirs at school and we will continue to add to these throughout the next school year.  This was a big accomplishment for me as I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to follow through with it and keep the momentum going, but I did.

I am also happy with the way that I implemented playing tests this year.  While they were time consuming, I think they were a valuable learning experience for both myself and my students.  More importantly was the reflective nature of the playing tests.  I wasn't so concerned for the number of correct notes and rhythms that the students achieved, rather I was more concerned with how they students felt they did and what they learned.  Each playing test that the students completed also included a quick reflection that they needed to complete.  Many students were thoughtful about their preparations and made conscious efforts to prepare better for the next round of playing tests.  In the end, isn't that what we want for our students?  To become thoughtful and reflective humans who adjust to different scenarios?

What didn't go so well.  Playing tests-specifically the last round of playing tests.  I had this great idea that I wanted to start an electronic portfolio of the kids playing various things-starting in 6th grade and adding on so that by the time they are 8th graders they would have solid evidence of their growth.  I think it still is a great idea, but implementing it turned out to be a bit harder than I anticipated.  We don't have much technology at my school and even fewer places to administer such ideas.  However, we gave it a shot and it 80% worked!  My students recorded themselves on a laptop in my office using Audacity.  They did this during band so we wouldn't lose precious lesson time. I did this only with my 7th and 6th graders, but that was about 150 students recording themselves.  What worked is that all of the students got recorded.  What didn't work was my ability to listen to every single one of those recordings, make comments and give a grade.

Allow me to back up a bit.  Each student has a user folder that is only accessible to them and myself.  Each student saved their recording in their student folder.  The idea was that after they recorded their excerpt, I would listen, complete a reflection, save the reflection and then they would listen to the recording at home (they can access their folders at home), complete the reflection, save the reflection and then I would then look at their reflection and assign a grade.  In my mind, that initially sounded great.  However, after just writing that all down, I realize how convoluted that process really is!!  What a mess!  But like I told the students, this was an experiment and sometimes experiments fail and sometimes they succeed.  This particular experiment was mixture of both.  I was upset at myself for not being able to set aside enough time to do the above process of listening and reflecting, but a good friend and colleague made the observation that perhaps having the students just go through the process of preparing and recording was enough of an experience.  I agree with that.

The good thing that came out of this whole thing is that I do have a playing example from every single 6th and 7th grader from this past school year, so we can build upon that in the upcoming school year.  I hope to figure out some cool technology to use and obviously a better way to assign grades, etc.  But at least I have a start on the process.  We can only go forward with this, not backward!

So of everything that happened this year, those are the things that I am really happy that went well.  I was nervous to implement such a project as assessment portfolios, especially with all of my bands, but it was worth the risk.  Teaching is a risky business and without a little risk, there is little to be gained.  We grow and learn from what we have accomplished and build on those successes.  We also grow and learn from some of the things that didn't go so well.  If our students see us falter, that is ok!  They realize that we are human too!  I tell my students all the time that mistakes are ok-it shows that you are trying.  What is not ok is not trying to fix  those mistakes and learning from what we may have missed the first time.

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