Reflection: PLC at Work Institute

This past week, I attended the PLC at Work Institute in St. Charles, Missouri with many Ankeny teachers. This is the same institute that I attended in June 2014. That post has a lot of the background on professional learning communities, the structure of the conference, and how our vertical PLC was implementing practices at the time. I wanted to spend some time reflecting to better ingrain what I learned this past week.

I feel like the previous institute I attended was much more focused on the fundamentals of PLC work, but that may have just been where I was in my learning at the time. This year’s conference, I was able to better target my learning with the breakout sessions I attended, and have some great ideas for moving forward in our work. Throughout I took notes and tweeted pictures of slides and quotes I heard throughout.

Wednesday Keynote: The Professional Learning Community Journey: Creating a School of High Expectations with Tim Brown

The opening keynote Wednesday morning worked to connect the work of PLCs to the mission and vision statements of our districts and schools. Tim had a variety of different “bullet points” that he fleshed out throughout the presentation. I have organized them with some of my thinking below:

Three Big Ideas of the Professional Learning Community Model

  1. Focus on Learning
  2. Collaborate on matters related to learning
    • Curriculum – 1: What do we want our students to learn? – Identify essential standards
    • Assessment – 2: How will we know they are learning it – Common formative assessments
    • Instruction
    • Interventions – 3&4: How will we respond when they don’t learn? How will we respond when they already know it?
    • A Growth Mindset Classroom
  3. Hold ourselves accountable

Six Characteristics of the Professional Learning Community Model

  • A shared mission centered on a focus on learning
  • A collaborative culture with a focus on learning for all
  • Collective inquiry into best practice and current reality
    • What is our primary purpose?
    • What do we want our classrooms to look like for students and for us?
    • What assessment practices will we use to enhance student learning?
    • What does great instruction look like?
    • What is our plan for intervening when students struggle?
    • How can we extend and enrich our students’ learning experience?
    • What’s keeping us from becoming the school we want to become?
    • Why do students fail?
    • What is learning really all about? What is happening as the brain receives, organizes, stores, and retrieves information and develops ideas?
  • Action orientation: learning by doing
  • A commitment to continuous improvement
  • Results orientation

Tim specifically identified some principles of learning that we should support in our classroom practices:

  • Most children enter school with a growth mindset.
  • Learning is continuous.
  • Without the opportunity to correct, learning is likely to stop.
  • We improve with multiple attempts.
  • Effort and proper preparation are the main determinants of success.
  • Reflect to learn (processing time). The brain is chunking, swirling, and searching for connections as we learn.
  • Stressed brains do not learn the same way.
  • We are natural problem solvers and explorers.
  • People are wired differently with different experiences.
  • We work harder and longer when we are internally motivated.
  • We learn best in a positive environment

Many of the presentations referred back to the work of John Hattie and Robert Marzano, looking at best practices for student learning. I want to do a lot of digging into this research over the coming school year.

Some other thoughts fleshed out from my notes:

The Professional Learning Community Process: What Does It Really Mean? The entire staff engages in ongoing, collaborative, process of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for their students (Learning by Doing, 2016)

Tim showed us a video from comedian Michael Jr.’s series entitled Break Time. This YouTube video is the closest cut to what we saw at the conference. The big takeaway: “When you know your why, your what has greater impact because you are walking in and towards your purpose.” I definitely will be showing the video to classes of mine moving forward and asking them the why of their presence.

I also want to make sure I am explaining to my students the “how” of learning: neurons, dendrites, synapses. Tim referenced the work of other teachers in his presentation about growth mindset. “It is in there. It is possible.” It made me think about an AMusEd podcast about Social Emotional Learning and how I could incorporate that into my classroom.

Breakout 1: The Power of Data with Paul Farmer

This year, I felt I was better able to target my learning to things I or my PLC need. Specifically, I believe we need help in answering Question 3 and Question 4 of the Four Critical Questions of a PLC: How do we respond when they don’t learn? How do we respond when they already know it?

This particular breakout focused on making sure we were collecting meaningful data and ensuring we were focused on the results of that data. Paul took us through exercises that helped us identify whether certain data was meaningful to our position. One example he showed involved a school requiring PLCs to identify the essential skills from their first unit of study for the next year as part of their checkout process. The PLCs then created an assessment for those essential skills and gave it to the incoming class, informing their instruction for the next year!

Of particular interest to me, and I would like to do some further research into it, was how Paul used data in his roll as a principal. His school worked to show correlations between how teachers’ graded their students and how those students scored on standardized tests. They also looked at this data by sub-group, individual teachers, and individual class periods. This information is detailed in his book, How to Help Your School Thrive without Breaking the Bank.

Breakout 2: Taping Before Painting: Taking the Critical Steps to Respond Collectively When Students Do Not Learn with Luis Cruz

Luis’ presentation focused more on the preparation and collaborating teams need to do before assessing and responding, much like taping a room prior to painting it. It was not what I thought I was getting into, but it was excellent nonetheless. Some take-aways:

“A team of teachers must determine who on their team has the strongest evidence of learning, and, as a result, that teacher must be provided additional time and support within the professional day to re-teach students who did not learn the agreed upon essential learning targets to generate learning.”

THIS IS HUGE! And he spent most of the presentation unpacking it.

First, a team of teachers (PLC) has to collaborate and agree upon the essential learning targets in their course (answering Question1: What do we want our students to learn?). He used this opportunity to deepen our understanding of a PLC:

an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. PLCs operate under the assumption that they key to improve learning for students is continuous, job-embedded learning for educators.

His biggest focus in this was on collaboration:

A process by which members of a team work interdependently to achieve a common goal and ensure that decisions made collectively are carried out independently.

He had an excellent flowchart for what we need to be collaborating around:

It makes me really looking forward to curriculum review to go through that process of identifying essential skills and developing common assessments.

He also had an excellent graphic to help identify how well your PLC is collaborating. High-functioning teams are moving through Stages 4-7:

The entire conference seemed to tie back to the next question he asked us:

Are the decisions we are making right here, right now, what is best for our students or more convenient for us?

The pictures below are more slides as he took us through the process of collaboration:

Thursday Keynote: When All Means All with Mike Mattos

Mike took us back through the Three Big Ideas of the PLC Process from Tim’s Keynote to help us identify the things we must be tight about if we truly mean all students learning at high levels. Mike showed us that in the current economy, students need to have more than a high school education to be competitive. That means when they are with us, they need to be learning at grade level or better. How do we accomplish that?

  1. Work in collaborative teams and take collective responsibility for student learning rather than work in isolation.
    • “Collaborative teacher teams are teams of educators whose classes share essential student learning outcomes. These teachers thus work collaboratively to ensure that their students master these critical standards.”
    • “Across the school, we should schedule frequent collaboration time during the contractual day for teams to collaborate.”
    • This collaboration time piece is key. On paper, it appears that our PLC (HS Band & Choir) has time to collaborate, when in actuality, we do not share essential student learning outcomes. Our dPLC (6-12 Band) does not have time to collaborate unless we do not teach lessons, depriving students of essential curriculum.
  2. Implement a guaranteed and viable curriculum, unit by unit.
    • Marzano tells us that “creating a guaranteed, viable curriculum is the number-one factor for increased levels of learning.”
    • “Essential standards do not represent all you are going to teach. They represent the minimum a student must learn to reach high levels of learning.”
    • “Across the school, we should create a master schedule in which all students receive access to grade-level essential standards.”
    • “Across the school, we should identify essential academic and social behaviors.”
    • By identifying the essential curriculum, we can better answer Questions 2-4. These include academic and behavior standards.
    • Are there currently structures in place that prevent all students from accessing our essential curriculum?
  3. onitor student learning through an ongoing assessment process that includes frequent, team-developed common formative assessments.
    • “For skill interventions, you must get down to by student, by standard.”
  4. Use the results of common formative assessments to:
    • mprove individual practice.
    • uild the team’s capacity to achieve its goals.
    • Intervene or extend on behalf of students.
    • “What students did or did not master specific essential standards?”
    • “Which instruction practices did or did not work?”
    • We must assume that “not all students learn the same way” and “not all students learn at the same speed.”
  5. rovide systematic interventions and enrichment

Mike concluded by asking us if we could make every parent this promise:

It does not matter which teacher your child has at our school, if your child needs extra time and support to learn at high levels, we guarantee he or she will receive it.

Breakout 3: Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap: Whatever It Takes in Secondary Schools with Mike Mattos

Mike’s breakout session revolved around developing a system of interventions and extensions within a secondary school. This followed along with my desire to learn more about answering Questions 3&4. His presentation revolved around his Essential Elements of an Effective System of Interventions and Extension:

  • All students must have access to grade-level essential standards.
    • Students that are behind need remediation AND grade-level essential standards
  • The best intervention is prevention.
    • Identify students that may need interventions ahead of time
    • Identify academic behaviors all students need (in the vein of PBIS)
  • There must be a timely, systematic process to identify students who need extra help.
    • Mike recommended that process should:
      • Take place about every three weeks.
      • Involve all faculty members.
      • Avoid being too laborious.
      • Offer a 360-degree view.
    • His example from Pioneer Middle School involved this process:
      • Put in Academic and Behavior Grades every three weeks
      • Agree on Comment Codes for reasons of concern (Work Habits, Attendance, Learning, etc.)
      • Build in supports for these specific reasons
  • There must be flexible time in the master schedule to provide supplemental interventions.
    • Mike recommended that this flexible time should be:
      • Frequent (at least twice a week)
      • About 30 minutes per session
      • Available to all students

Mike provided us with a few different resources from Pioneer Middle School where he was previously an administrator. Their Pyramid of Interventions is based off SolutionTree’s RTI At Work Pyramid.

Another resource was how Pioneer Middle School implemented the flexible time in their schedule. I think that if our teachers really brought into the collaboration process, they would love implementing something more than what our current Seminar provides once per week.

Some other things that stood out:

Effort is not an option in our school. If you can not do it on your own, you will do it in front of us.

This system of supports needs to be SCHOOL-WIDE, not individual teacher interventions.

Breakout 4: Common Assessments: The Key to Uncommon Results for Student and Teacher Learning with Maria Nielsen

I originally planned on attending Great to Greater: PLC at Work in High-Performing Schools with Tim Stuart, but the emphasis throughout the other session on common assessments as part of the process led me to change my mind. Part of me wishes I had attended Tim’s session instead.

Maria provided us with excellent resources around developing common assessments. From Learning by Doing, specifically what the experts say about common assessments:

  • The focus is on student learning.
  • Assessments are created and agreed on by teams.
  • Results are collaboratively analyzed and acted on.
  • Students and teachers receive immediate feedback.
  • Students have multiple opportunities for success.

And some more resources:

Breakout 5: Student Data Notebooks: Developing Ownership, Motivation, and a Growth Mindset by Tim Brown

This summer, we have been developing resource binders for our 6-8th grade students, and Tim’s session tied right in. The beginning of his presentation focused on student ownership and student motivation through growth mindset. Because his presentation was not very linear, my notes may seem a little scatter-brained.

He shared with us through Hattie’s research that addressing students’ self-efficacy has the highest effective size in his study of education innovations. In fact, the best feedback stem for students was found to be:

I know you can do better because I have high expectations for you.

What we’re doing is important. You can do this. We are not going to give up on you.

More research from his slides:

Friday Keynote: The Will to Lead: Working Together to Create a PLC Culture with Anthony Muhammad

Anthony’s keynote focused around the culture necessary to implement professional learning communities. He too, related a lot of his presentation to John Hattie’s research:

If the average effect-size of instructional practices is 0.4, we want to be utilizing practices that have higher effect sizes.

If the average effect-size of instructional practices is 0.4, we want to be utilizing practices that have higher effect sizes.

He pulled out specific, evidence-based practices that fall on this zone of desired effects:

  • Teaching clarity (.75)
  • Providing formative evaluation (.9)
  • Feedback (.73)
  • Response to Intervention (1.07)

We want teachers on teams addressing curriculum alignment, formative assessments, quality feedback, and interventions.

Anthony encouraged us to have a “healthy” school culture. From Dr. Kent Peterson in Education World:

Educators have an unwavering belief in the ability of all their students to achieve success, and they pass that belief on to others in overt and covert ways. Educators create policies and procedures and adopt practices that support their belief in the ability of every student.

To create a healthy school culture, we had to confront the “elephants in the room.” Anthony identified these as:

  • Perceptual predetermination
    • “involves an educator’s own socialization and the impact of that socialization on his or her practice in the classroom, including expectations for student performance.”
    • Hattie found an effect size of 1.62 for Teacher Estimates of Achievement
  • Intrinsic predetermination
    • “is the student’s perception of his or her probability of success in school.”
    • Hattie found an effect size of 1.56 for Collective Teacher Efficacy, our belief that we can impact student learning.
    • Hattie found an effect size of 1.44 for Student Self-Efficacy, student belief that they can impact their own learning
  • Institutional predetermination
    • “institutional barriers in place that make the job of educating every student very difficult.”

Overall Reflection

I believe the big next steps for my PLC are to develop common assessments. Over the previous four years, we have done the work of prioritizing standards, creating assessments, and analyzing data. What we have found is that we can’t adequately respond because these assessments (I contend) are not common. We can’t compare my 6th grade trombone assessments to the 6th grade flute assessments because the essential skills for each are not common. This might mean that we also have to do a better job of identifying the essential skills as well, but I am excited for these next steps in our journey.

I believe the big next steps for my school are looking deeper into the flexible scheduling and system of interventions. I think that different PLCs within our building are implementing their own different means of addressing student concerns, but we need to be doing this school-wide.

And the next steps for me as an individual? I want to dig more into Hattie, Marzano, and a few of the other resources from the institute (handouts from other breakout sessions, How to Help Your School Thrive without Breaking the Bank, It’s All About Time: Planning Interventions and Extensions in Secondary SchoolHow to Develop PLCs for Singletons and Small Schools). I want to implement some more teaching around brain research and growth mindset. I have several different specifics I want to see in our student binders and on the walls of my practice and rehearsal rooms.

This conference was an excellent “boost” in the middle of the summer. I’m already looking forward to getting back in the classroom!


A Standards-Referenced Instrumental Music Program: Prioritizing Standards

On October 23, 2016, I began a blog post trying to collect my thoughts around our work in standards over the past four years. As I have organized (and reorganized) those thoughts, the post has evolved into plans for a presentation at the 2017 Iowa Bandmasters Association conference as well as a companion website of “how” we did our work in standards. This is the fourth in a series of posts detailing the “how.” The first four posts detail our district’s process for curriculum review and looking at the Iowa Core Curriculum, looking at national and state music standards, and presenting the standards we developed in 2011-2012.

Those previous four posts have been setting up the background for our answer to Question 1 of the four essential questions for a PLC: what do we want students to learn/know/be able to do? The answer that our K-12 music teachers came up with during the 2011-2012 school year was the following:

This is a lot to assess, especially for a sixth grader! At the time, we did not know that what we were doing was prioritizing standards, but we narrowed the focus down. Grade-level teachers decide what each of the above standards would look like and if they would be assessed at their grade level. The result was the following document:

Red text now indicates what we would call an introductory area. At the time, we were just indicating we would not assess those particular skills in those particular grades.

The next step was to answer Question 2: how will we know they know/have learned/can do it? We continued in our roles as grade-level teachers, looking at how we would assess during each 6-week grading period. The result was the following document:

And then we stepped into our roles as instrument-specific teachers to identify specific melodic etudes out of their lesson books that met the criteria of the above two documents. This resulted in the following (still in-progress) document:

These identify the grade level, the time of the assessment, the repertoire for the assessment, and the tempo of the assessment. Currently, our students use Student Instrumental Course Level 1 and Level 2 in grades 6-9 and Rubank Advanced Volume 1 in grades 10-12.

I think the next step for us is to better align our assessments so we can compare across instruments. Currently, every student will demonstrate the necessary skills over the course of the year, but the flutes might not necessarily demonstrate them at the same time as the trumpets.

Each student is graded against our rubrics:

Down the left-hand side of the rubrics are the necessary skills, across the top are the different proficiency levels. In the past year, we have worked to unify the language across so a 4 means you are always demonstrating the skill, 3 means usually, 2 means sometimes, 1 means rarely, and I means there was not enough evidence of the skill demonstrated. If a student receives an I in any category, we ask them to redo the assessment.

I have seen several examples of rubrics that align prompting with the proficiency scale. For example, a 4 would mean demonstrating the skill without any prompting, 3 would mean with a little prompting, etc. I’m sure those will come up in our discussions as we move forward.

The next step is to discuss how to analyze and respond to data.

Iowa Fine Arts Standards Adoption

As I updated in a previous blog post, the Iowa Department of Education announced a team to develop fine arts standards for schools. This Fine Arts Standards Adoption Team has been meeting almost monthly to:

  1. Examine all relevant Fine Arts Standards
  2. Create and/or recommend statewide recommended Fine Arts Standards in Visual Arts, General Music, Instrumental Music, Vocal Music, Theater, Dance, and Media Arts.
  3. Write recommendations about implementation of the standards through
    1. Professional learning
    2. Materials and resources
  4. Offer final recommendations to the State Board of Education

More recently, they put out a call for feedback from teachers, administrators, community members, and students on the National Core Arts Standards.

As I read through the agendas and notes on the Fine Arts Standards Adoption Teams webpage, I see that much of their work has been around the National Core Arts Standards. In their initial meeting, members worked to define the 4 artistic processes (Creating, Presenting/Performing/Producing, Responding, and Connecting) and categorize the 11 different anchor standards underneath the 4 artistic processes. Their consensus was the following:

From the February 21, 2017 Meeting Notes:

There was one standard in which the two groups differed on where it should go:
Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work. In the end, the group came to the
consensus that it fit under the responding process.

And this is one of my biggest beefs with the NCAS. In our performance medium, I truly believe interpretation is a creative process. If creation only exists when our students compose or improvise, I fear many programs in our state will not be successful if required to align to the NCAS.

Next, the team split into different strands to go further in depth with the NCAS. These strands included Visual Arts & Media Arts, Theater, General Music, Dance, Instrumental Music, and Vocal Music. The last two groups were asked to focus on the Traditional & Emerging Ensembles and Music Technology strands. It does not appear any group looked at the Harmonizing Instruments or Composition & Theory strands. Some excerpts from their notes:

The groups’ initial discussion was concern for schools that have one teacher in each of the strand areas and how that person would receive support and how he or she would discuss the standards with another team member.

Instrumental Music

  • Need a glossary
  • Needs to be a few tweaks
  • A companion document could explain what it looks like in the classroom
  • Professional development needs to be adressed
  • Like three levels at high school level

For their second meeting, the teams reviewed standards for Illinois, Oregon, and Utah. A summary of thoughts from the Instrumental Music team in their March 31, 2017 Meeting Notes:

They liked the set-up of NCAS and the high level of achievement associated with them, as well as the glossary of terms. Any companion document that is created for the Iowa Core would need to include some information that would help beginning teachers connect the document with the Iowa academic standards and give examples of how this would be taught in the classroom.

Then, different groups from the team video conferenced with educators from Kansas, New Hampshire, and Colorado. Here are some highlights:

Kansas is still in the process of creating and adoption standards for music and ensembles, and media. The fine arts consultant has been working with each discipline to create standards rather than a fine arts umbrella team. As a result, the process has been going on for more than four years.

(Colorado) developed its own state standards in 2009. Those standards are currently
being vetted as part of a six-year cycle review, and there’s little relationship with NCAS.
State officials started with performance standards for graduates and created standards
based on that. The process took two years.

Colorado’s standards have a glossary of terms and assessment resource bank that
includes units and lesson plans from more than 200 Colorado educators. The NCAS
standards were used as a guide for the revision of Colorado’s standards. The standards
are organized by grade level except for high school, which is labeled as fundamental
and extended.

The state consultant (New Hampshire) said the standards are only one piece of a larger system. As the standards were adopted, curriculum, student learning and helping teachers see the larger picture was a big focus.

New Hampshire educators took the four competencies and the anchor standards and
have them on one page. Each district is expected to create its own standards, but the
NCAS fits, so districts can use those or choose others. The goal was to guide students
to become artistically literate.

To conclude the meeting, the team worked to develop the survey for feedback on the recommended Iowa Fine Arts Standards mentioned above.

There have also been two different public forums on April 25 and April 27 to answer questions and elicit feedback. It appears the other strands, visual art especially, are happier with the guiding documents than instrumental music. For example, this comment came from Ellie Rohlck, Band/Choir/General Music teacher in Baxter:

I appreciate that the standards strive for students to connect to music more deeply, but they gloss over foundational skills necessary to reach that. Students need to be able to make music. There is no discussion of skills students need. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. I hope we align our standards to how our music programs function. It is important that we make clear to school districts that there are power standards that are more important over the course of the year. For example, a compositional unit should not the whole focus of a fourth of the year. At the elementary, we only have 30-45 minutes once a week. It’s a lot for them. We need to take a look at how that works. The process of creating music in an ensemble setting has creativity and imagination as part of it, but NCAS only sees composition and improvisation as creative processes. Performance is not simply a reproduction of someone else’s idea.

Or from Dubuque Senior’s content leaders:

We’ve spent a lot of time with the standards. Our music people have also talked about
needing that vocabulary. I like the pushing of the creative standards, but within
the whole realm of things, we’re spending a lot of time on things that really aren’t
assessable … You have to make the work before you have something to put up
there. We need to focus on power standards. Cornerstones in NCAS are too long
and too involved. We need to balance expectation levels. As we accept the state
standards, I appreciated getting the meeting minutes. The survey is a real
challenge; we put in (sic) on hold until after today. Do we really need to go step by
step or simply share the document we have?

Or Nick Menke, band director in Norwalk:

We have gone through a big overhaul of our standards. We looked at NCAS. We need to think about what musicians do in the real world: about 95% of our students will get music in the mail and rehearse and perform a concert. The majority is the battle of literacy – independent music literacy. There are so many conversations of students selecting music and improvising. For solo/ensemble contest we might give them two solos and they pick one, but that’s not enough to assess. A lot of the verbiage gets in the way. We do improvise – we have strong jazz programs. It would take a huge chunk away from the time we spend on literacy. It takes to perform music. We play out creative process in expression. Our general music folks have wholeheartedly embraced the creating part. Finding “assessability” in these standards is very difficult. We don’t look at them as all being equal. Responding really should be critically analyzing. We should help them as future consumers of music. The struggles: How do I assess? Where do I put the emphasis?

Abby Sheppard, Sioux Center High School Vocal:

The literacy aspect is missing – performing is how we spend the majority of our time. There is a need to add more depth. It would be helpful for ensembles with 9th-12the graders in the same choir.

Becky Pfeiler, band director at Collins-Maxwell:

I want to make them more applicable to standards-based grading. Currently, there is not much to measure which and it is not musically-related.

A lot of the comments from General, Instrumental, and Vocal music amplify and reiterate my biggest concerns:

  • Creating is limited to composing and arranging. While the components (imagine, plan and make, evaluate and refine, present) make it appear like it goes further, each of these components is limited in scope to original ideas developed by students. I strongly believe that improvisation and interpretation need to fall in this category.
  • The NCAS fail to address music literacy. There are foundational skills necessary to creating, performing, responding, and connecting. At a fundamental level, our students need to be able to understand and interpret the markings on the page and communicate them through their instrument. These skills are hinted at in the new standards, but not explicitly stated.
  • The NCAS are not easy to assess. While the writing team went very in-depth with what each anchor standard looks like with artistic processes, anchor standards, enduring understandings, essential questions, process components, performance standards, and proficiency levels, the statements within are still very broad. I fear administrators imposing an interpretation of these standards that will not bode well for music educators and their students.

The more I dig into these Fine Arts Standards, the more I feel a need to have (and write about) a better understanding of the National Core Arts Standards. Be looking for that soon.

An Update on Vertical Teaching

As I have been working on blog posts and a website for our 2017 IBA presentation, How-To: A Standards-Referenced Instrumental Music Program, I realized a lot has changed in the how of our vertical teaching program. I wrote about it a long time ago (April 11, 2014), so lets revisit.

As of the 2016-2017 school year, Ankeny has two high schools, each with its own 6-7 middle school, 8-9 middle school, and five K-5 elementary schools:

Distribution of Instrumental Music FTE across Ankeny Schools in 2016-2017. Updated from 2014 presentation at Drake University on vertical teaching.

Distribution of Instrumental Music FTE across Ankeny Schools in 2016-2017. Updated from 2014 presentation at Drake University on vertical teaching.

The staff for the secondary schools were selected so that a wide variety of primary instruments could be taught in a vertical setting:

Primary instruments of secondary instrumental music teachers. Updated from 2014 presentation at Drake University on vertical teaching.

Primary instruments of secondary instrumental music teachers. Updated from 2014 presentation at Drake University on vertical teaching.

Lucky for us, we will be adding a new band director at Northview AND a new band director at Southview next year, expanding the vertical teams to six!

Schedules were developed so that no instrumental rehearsals occurred simultaneously, allowing the team of teachers to “push-in” lessons during rehearsals. Students are also pulled for lessons from Choir, Study Hall, or free periods.

Secondary instrumental (maroon) and vocal (black) rehearsals in North system. Updated from 2014 presentation at Drake University on vertical teaching.

Secondary instrumental (maroon) and vocal (black) rehearsals in North system. Updated from 2014 presentation at Drake University on vertical teaching.

Class times for secondary schools. Updated from 2014 presentation at Drake University on vertical teaching.

Class times for secondary schools. Updated from 2014 presentation at Drake University on vertical teaching.

The district functions on an 8-period, A/B schedule. Ensembles listed with a letter next to their name rehearse only during those days. For example, there is an 8th Grade A Day Band AND an 8th Grade B Day Band. 6-9th Grade Students who are not in Choir have a Study Hall. These typically occur where Choir is listed. 10th Grade Students may have a Study Hall depending on their schedule and can occur any period. 11-12th Grade Students in good academic standing have Free Periods instead of Study Hall. These can occur any period.

On Wednesdays, students start one hour later with shortened class periods to allow for professional development in the morning. On those days, we typically travel first through third period, and then remain at our home buildings for the remainder of the day. Sometimes, this means rotating lessons from our home building on to this day from another day. Other times, it means a chance to catch up on administrative work or to meet with other teachers in our home buildings.

During the first three years of implementation (2013-16), we were able to see every 6-12th grade student on a 6-day rotation (A1, B1, A2, B2, A3, B3). Due to the sheer number of students (good problem!) in the 2016-17 school year, we had to expand to an 8-day cycle (A4, and B4). At the high school, this means there are 8 distinct lesson days. At the two middle schools, A4 and B4 days are used as make-ups when lesson days fall on Wednesdays, field trips, assessments, assemblies, sick days, snow days, etc. We are able to guarantee each student 10 lessons per semester. We are hoping with our added staff next year, that we will be able to go back to a six day cycle.

Here is some updated info from the post in 2014. Changes are italicized:

Lunch does happen, usually between 5th and 6th period due to the building schedule. Marching Band happens at the 8-9 building for a variety of reasons:

  1. The football stadium is located there.
  2. Most of the 10-12th grade students can drive themselves to before school or evening rehearsals, while most 9th grade students cannot.
  3. Traffic conditions between the buildings are not conducive to having students attempt to travel between buildings before the beginning of first period.
  4. Transportation is provided for students needing to go to the 10-12 building from the 8-9 building following morning rehearsals

Jazz Bands occur at the respective buildings, except 9th graders are included in the three high school jazz bands. Transportation is provided for the 9th grade students from the 10-12 building back to the 8-9 building in time for their school day to begin.

What makes our model truly vertical is our team of 5 directors teaching lessons and rehearsals 6-12. Our team’s primary instruments include saxophone, trombone, flute, oboe, and percussion. This allows us to teach the vast majority of our lessons 6-12 to students on our primary instruments. Students are receiving direct instruction from an expert!

In theory, we have four teachers that can teach lessons in any given period, with one on the podium. In practice, we are very close to this ideal. The problem comes in the sheer number of students we have to instruct and making sure they are receiving a lesson, as well as the “pro” teacher not being able to access kids in their own rehearsal for lessons. The pros far outweigh the cons. Kids very rarely miss lessons because we come to them in their rehearsals! We are hoping to give each other podium time across ensembles next year to enable the “pro” to teach their primary instrument in every ensemble.

Students in 6th and 7th grade receive lessons in groups of two or three depending on ability level. 8-12th grade students receive individual lessons. Material covered in lessons includes:

  • Instrument-specific Warm-Ups
  • Lesson Books
    • Student Instrumental Course Level 1 (Grades 6-7)
    • Student Instrumental Course Level 2 (Grades 8-9)
    • Rubank Advanced Volume I (Grades 10-12)
    • Instrument-Specific Method Books
  • SmartMusic Exercises
  • Honor Band Auditions
  • Solo & Ensemble Literature
  • Concert Band Literature (if struggling)

As we look to add a new person to our team, our 6-7 building is also adding a 7th grade team, meaning we will have an additional 7th Grade B Day band during 3rd period. The choirs at all three buildings will also be expanding. Hopefully as we narrow in on our new staff and master schedules, I can update this post to reflect those changes.

A Standards-Referenced Instrumental Music Program: Ankeny’s 2012-2013 Standards

On October 23, 2016, I began a blog post trying to collect my thoughts around our work in standards over the past four years. As I have organized (and reorganized) those thoughts, the post has evolved into plans for a presentation at the 2017 Iowa Bandmasters Association conference as well as a companion website of “how” we did our work in standards. This is the fourth in a series of posts detailing the “how.” The first three posts detail our district’s process for curriculum review and looking at the Iowa Core Curriculum, and looking at national and state music standards.

During the 2011-2012 school year, every K-12 music teacher in Ankeny went through the curriculum review process. Unfortunately for me, I was not yet a member of the team! Here is what I know:

Out of that process, a Music Curriculum Review Summary was produced. Please forgive the poor grammar in that document. Looking through it, it contains:

  • A goal statement
  • A professional development plan
  • A recommendation for curriculum resource adoption including:
    • Habits of a Successful Musician and Essential Elements for 5th Grade Band
    • Progressive Sight Singing and various solo, ensemble, and choral literature for secondary vocal
    • Essential Elements, 101 Rhythmic Rest Patterns, Bach and Before for Band, and Progressive Sight Singing for secondary instrumental.
  • A statement on an assessment plan
  • A timeline for new curriculum implementation
  • A statement on consensus maps, documenting the month by month instruction of the curriclum
  • Curricular course descriptions (which are no longer accurate) for
    • K-5 General Music
    • 5th Grade Band
    • 6th Grade Choir
    • 6th Grade Band
    • 7th Grade Bass Clef Choir
    • 7th Grade Treble Clef Choir
    • 7th Grade Band
    • 8th Grade Bass Clef Choir
    • 8th Grade Treble Clef Choir
    • 8th Grade Band
    • 9th Grade Bass Clef Choir
    • 9th Grade Treble Clef Choir
    • 9th Grade Band
    • 10-12th Mixed Choir
    • 10-12th Advanced Treble Clef Choir
    • 10-12th Honors Mixed Choir
    • 10th-12th Grade Band
    • Music Appreciation (never materialized)
    • Music Fundamentals (non-AP music theory)
    • AP Music Theory
  • Co-Curricular Course Descriptions (which are also no longer accurate) for:
    • 7th Grade Jazz Band
    • 8th and 9th Grade Show Choirs
    • 8th and 9th Grade Jazz Band
    • 10-12th Grade Show Choirs
    • 10-12th Grade Jazz Band
  • A list of Power Standards for each course, grouped as follows:
    • K-5 General Music
    • 5th Grade Instrumental Music
    • 6-8th Grade Instrumental and Vocal Music
    • 9-12th Grade Instrumental and Vocal Music

The rest of this post is going to focus on how those power standards progress from Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade. All of the Power Standards are broken up into four categories of skills: Rhythm/Beat/Meter Competency, Tonal LiteracyExpression, and Ensemble. The document then lists specific skills underneath each category. Below shows how these progress over time:

During the following school year (2012-2013) the teams began implementing the curriculum designed during the review process. The 6-12 Instrumental Music team chose to take a vertical teaching approach. Then, in the 2013-2014 school year, the district added a second high school, creating two distinct 6-12 instrumental teams, two distinct 6-12 vocal teams, a 5th grade instrumental team, and a K-5 general music team. The rest of this and future posts in this series will deal with the 6-12 North Instrumental Music PLC, as I am a member of that team.

Next, we will look at how the 6-12 North Instrumental Music PLC took those standards to answer the four essential questions of a PLC:

  1. What do we want students to learn/know/be able to do? (Standards)
  2. How will we know they have learned it? (Assessment)
  3. How will we respond when they have not learned it? (Remediation)
  4. How will we respond when they have learned it? (Extension)

Spring Break Reflections

As I have been avoiding my Nintendo Switch over Spring Break, I came across a sheet of paper I had scribbled things on during a professional development day earlier this year. I want to save those thoughts for later, so I can flesh them out.

Specifically that morning, we were working on two different areas: our district’s instructional framework (gradual release of responsibility/productive group work) and teaching behavior. Here are my notes:

Music Fundamentals

  • Need to organize by skill
  • Identify that skill
  • Give geedback towards that skill

Productive Group Work

  • What is the students’ role? Have a content purpose AND a behavior purpose (tied to Work Habits)
  • Symphonic Band
    • Flex Band Piece?
    • SATB Piece?
  • Tuesday Night Club
    • Real Easy Book
    • LJS Tunes

What if we setup by units (concert sets?) instead of 6 week grading periods? What skills do they need for this concert set?

To my Republican Legislators and Friends

Dear Representatives Koester and Landin,
Dear Senator Whitver and Governer Branstad,
Dear Representative Deyoe and Senator Schultz,
Dear Iowa friends who voted for Republican state legislators in this past election,

I am writing to ask a simple question: why? What is it that we did to make you want to propose the changes you did to collective bargaining?

I have my guesses. Are you fed up with our continued lobbying for more educational funding? Do you not like it when we point out that business tax cuts are quickly growing while we need to cut millions from the state budget?

Or is it more personal than that? Do I make too much money for the work I do? Based on the proposed bills in our state House and Senate, it feels like you just might believe this. It looks like you also think I should not have the insurance I currently do. Not only should I not be paid what I am for the work I do within the school day, but I shouldn’t be paid for what I do outside the school day either. You want my employer to be able to terminate my contract whenever they feel like, unlike your protected seats in our government. It also doesn’t appear like my experience in teaching and my further professional development beyond my undergraduate degree is of any value. The message you are sending is that you do not want quality public teachers in Iowa.

I understand that it is expensive to fund education in Iowa, but that does not seem to be the conversation we are having. In fact, it does not seem like you want to have a conversation at all. When asked similar questions to the top of this letter. Governor Branstad, you responded with, “They lost.” This appears like revenge politics, retribution for something public employees did to all of you. What was it?

I don’t think that our general public voted you in on a desire to crush public unions. As a matter of fact, Representatives Koester and Landin, you did not campaign on these points at all. Neither did many of your counterparts in this past election. I am curious, what contacts you have received since the start of the session either for or against collective bargaining? School funding? Did you vote for what your Ankeny constituents wanted or did you vote your party line?

There is currently a commercial circulating on our local television media. If the problem, as the ad suggests, is the inability of districts to fire “bad teachers,” I’m curious what their evaluation procedures are. Can districts not prove they are a bad teacher? Let’s go at it in another way. Iowa public school educators do not have tenure. If I understand correctly, districts are under no obligation to offer them a new contract. Why do districts keep offering these “bad teachers” new contracts? As a colleague shared, do people really think there is a pool of great teachers out there who don’t have jobs because those “bad teachers” are out there? You are in for a rude awakening if you start firing teachers without cause, as these new bills would allow.

I do not imagine I will get an explanation or an answer to my questions in this letter. I would happily welcome a personal response, and I would love an open dialogue about how we think education should work in Iowa.

That being said, please know that this is a large group of people who will not forget. If you think we will grow weary of this fight, you are wrong. I hope that sometime in the not too distant future, Speaker Upmeyer uses the paraphrase, “Nevertheless, they persisted.”