Innovative Teaching Practices in Wisconsin Schools
Music teachers from all over the state submitted innovative teaching ideas — some new, some reinvented. All submissions are shared below.
East and Longfellow
Wauwatosa School District
Instrumental music teachers are accustomed to assessing group performances at concerts and in class, but only provide a few if any opportunities to hear students individually. I began using playing assessments, recorded by students at home and submitted online, to hear my students and give personal feedback without taking up valuable class time. Before I started using this type of playing test submission, it would take me three or four days to hear all of the students in my classes for an individual playing test. I have heard the quality of my ensembles improve due to the detailed feedback and increased accountability for individual performance.
The fifth grade students of Sheboygan Falls Middle School (SFSM) received a collaborative experience this week incorporating music, gardening and the culinary arts. It all began with the idea “Salsa with Salsa” when two teachers – Mrs. Charbonneau, General/Choral Music Education and Mrs. Woodworth, Family/Consumer Education at SFSM wanted to make connections between their two curriculums and wanted to help students do them same. To begin the process, the students learned some basic steps to the salsa including, “the travel, the front step and the back step.” Mrs. Charbonneau then incorporated those moves into modern pieces that have those steps in them. Next, some classes were able to visit the high school and see the “hoop houses” that supply the culinary arts classes some of the vegetables for their entrees. High school students, Elizabeth Widder and Jade TenPas, who are part of the Agriculture Department, explained to students the different varieties of tomatoes and peppers that grow in the hoop house and how the hoop house was developed and taken care of. From there, the students traveled to the culinary arts class with Mrs. Woodworth to make salsa with the High School Culinary Arts students. The fifth graders joined in the chopping and preparations and were pleased with a very health treat! They definitely enjoyed the process and many new connections were made by all grade levels.
La Crosse Logan High School Orchestras
1. Unless you play it for them, most high school musicians will not seek out classical or film music that will expand their listening horizons. I used to play short excerpts in class. Now our orchestras use Edmodo, and I post a weekly or bi-weekly listening assignment (usually a link from YouTube) that lasts 5-7 minutes, then ask them to respond with a 3-4 sentence reply to a prompt from me. For example, last year we did the Hindemith “Five Pieces.” I found a spectacular performance of Yuri Bashmet performing the Hindemith “Trauermusik,” and used that as a supplement to what they were practicing. “How does this compare to the piece by H. that we are playing?” I asked. The overwhelming reaction was, “Our music is so aggressive and strange sounding, and while this one sounds strange, too, it’s so peaceful and beautiful.” Later in the year I posted a link to Gustavo Dudamel conducting the finale to the Dvorak “New World,” and so many of them fell in love with it they begged the conductor of the La Crosse Youth Symphony to play it this season, so LYSO will be doing a performance in November. They heard something new, they liked it, and they wanted to play it. A couple even bought a recording from iTunes. That was a first for me!
2. I’ve been involved with contemporary music since I was in high school and heard the Cleveland Orchestra attempt to make it through the then brand new Piano Concerto by Elliott Carter. It didn’t go over with the audience or the orchestra, but it made a huge impression on me. I try to play a lot of “real” as opposed to “educational” new music, so we’ve done pieces by Arvo Pärt, Henryk Gorecki, Morton Lauridsen, Karel Husa, Terry Riley (“In C”) and Philip Glass. The trouble is, a lot of this is rental only, which gets expensive, so I’ll usually just do one each year. Right now we’re trying to figure out how to find funds to rent the music for Lutoslawski’s “Five Folk Melodies for String Orchestra,” and we’ll be working with composer David Dies in November on his “Sketches for String Orchestra” that was originally written for Dr. Janet Jensen’s All-University String Orchestra in 2002 when Dies was studying composition at UW. Band and choir directors have a little bit easier time finding good music of our own time that’s playable by high school ensembles. I think it’s incredibly important to keep my kids connected with the new concert music that’s happening around them; they usually resist at first, but when they sense how much I love this music, they’ll “put out the effort for the Old Man” and, by the time we get to performance, they have usually found that they like the piece after all and have a sense of real accomplishment when an adjudicator at large group festival or another orchestra director comments on how well they’ve played challenging and unusual repertoire. My great dream: gather a consortium of 50-100 high school string orchestras to commission John Adams to write a high school level piece. How cool would that be?
Director of Bands
Greendale High School
We pair up interested fifth grade band students with junior or senior students in the top high school ensemble for three short, weekly mentoring lessons. We then combine all fifth grade band students from our three elementary schools with the high school wind ensemble for a daytime rehearsal and evening concert. We usually play pops music, selections the elementary students will recognize. The best part is the combined finale, interspersing the 5th graders with the juniors and seniors. The fifth graders were so excited, and the high school students really enjoyed mentoring the younger students.
Dan O’ Connell
Orchestra and General Music Teacher
Shawano Community Middle School
Once we have a few pieces of music that are coming together, I like to step off the podium on a Friday and pick up an instrument. I sit in with a section of our string orchestra and we go through our folders. The students get to vote on which pieces we are going to work on that day. It gets them to take charge of their playing while listening to each other and helping each other out. If a piece completely falls apart, we stop and regroup. Once they are able to do this, it is easier to dive in to dynamics and phrasing once I am back on the podium.
Geary H. Larrick
Doctor of Musical Studies
Assistant Professor of Music, Retired, UW-Stevens Point
Thank you for the invitation to write about innovation in music teaching. For the last 20 years, I have served as a volunteer musician at Washington Elementary School in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, since my daughter was a student there. I began with a show-and-tell presentation involving a snare drum and a book that I had published, to a second grade class. Then I played the marimba for general music classes. Recently I have been playing the piano in the lunchroom for students, parents and staff, once a month, doing 15 original compositions and standard repertoire.
Director of Orchestras
Whitnall School District
This year I am teaching a stand-alone course in digital music production at Whitnall High School in Greenfield (which has been a two-year project to get off the ground).
The course, called Music Production and Industry, gives students the opportunity to create, produce, mix, edit and engineer music through the latest digital recording and sequencing technology. Currently, students use GarageBand, paired with a MIDI controller, for most of the composition projects. As a result of this course, students deeper their creative and critical thinking skills, along with overall musicianship that is showcased through music compositions, reflections and creative listening assignments. The ultimate goals is that these relevant music making experiences will transfer to the ways students will continue to experience music as adults.
In its inaugural year, the one-semester, technology-based music course has close to 60 students (many of whom are not currently taking orchestra, band, or choir) enrolled in two separate sections, given a greater percentage of the student population the opportunity to keep (or add) music as a part of their school day. Because of the student interest in the Music Production and Industry course a second, more advanced level course is already being developed to hopefully be offered in conduction for next school year.
James Sewrey (retired)
My submissions are concerns for literacy in the percussion section for march performances, and the approach considerations have been time tested.
When a band plays a march in-concert, its stylistic treatment for the percussion section needs to be considered in relation to the march’s historical period; the selection and placement of the bass drum, field drum(s), cymbals and use of the small concert percussion and bells; how the drums are to be supported, their tension and tunings, snare selection and adjustments; the choice of beaters and sticks; the use of traditional or contemporary approaches to sounding the drums; the use of measured rolls on the field drum, and the stickings to be used in relation to the time signatures, tempo and character of the composition.
TEACHING CONSIDERATIONS FOR BAND CLASSES
Abandon the practice of teaching beginning and intermediate bands, using a heterogeneous approach at the school grade levels 4-5 and 6-8/9. Instead, use a homogeneous class approach for brass, woodwinds and percussion, and concentrate on sectional and ensemble teaching approaches.
USE OF A PRE-BAND APPROACH
Replace the instructional beginning-band approach with an exploratory approach that challenges the students to think more literally about making music using simple body sounds and percussion sounds.
Oneida Nation Middle School
Here’s what I do that is different than the way I did things in the past. I do not allow middle school students to change instruments during the school year. I tell them that they can try a different instrument at our Oneida Nation Summer Band Camp.
The students can try any other instrument including piano, bass guitar, percussion, brass or woodwinds. So far I have had students switch to their new instrument a few times. Some go back to the one they are playing. Some continue with two instruments and some continue with three instruments. It appears to me that the knowledge that the students gain outweighs the fear of not having the greatest student on their main instrument.
Here’s one for you. One of my best students (clarinet, flute, trumpet) is going to play trumpet in the band second semester because we don’t have enough trumpets for the concert festival this year. She will play trumpet in the band, a clarinet trio, clarinet solo, and a flute duet for solo and ensemble festival.
A couple of things that are unique to the Oneida Nation Middle School – All instruments are supplied to the students so we have enough for them to try different ones. The Band Camp is unique in that it is free to our students. The Oneida Nation Arts Program hires five teachers to work eight days, four hours a day. We start all the beginners and also work with the older kids. The students that want to switch instruments must start with the fifth grade beginners.
I’m having a lot of fun with this and so are the students.
While teaching at Stoughton High School in 2006-08, I had all of my concert band students improvise during their pullout lessons. Timid students used major and minor scales to improvise simple ‘atmospheric’ melodies over a piano drone of perfect fifths, while more adventurous students used major scales to improvise over a ii-V-I vamp, or minor pentatonics over a minor blues.
Additionally, we would occasionally take time to write simple four-voice chorales that would serve as our warm-ups for the semester (We used numbers instead of specific pitches so we could transpose easily to any key). Students had the option to volunteer to direct their own warm-up, with the challenge of assigning parts to specific instruments, or to use expressive conducting to bring ‘something more’ to the chorale.
I am still teaching in the greater Madison area, but now as a freelance private lesson instructor, ensemble coach and jazz director for various schools throughout Dane County.
Director of Orchestras
Lake Mills Area School District
Innovative teaching: The Lake Mills the High School Orchestra members has a select group (top 12) within the ensemble called Chamber Strings. These students play more difficult repertoire in concerts, play for weddings and events in the community, and go to honors festivals as well as State Solo & Ensemble Festival. Members of Chamber Strings also are involved in the summer as mentors to fifth and sixth grade students. They give private lessons at the school as an additional resource for second year players or late beginners. The high school aged mentors can show the students more advanced techniques while having a unique perspective, since they speak the same language being closer in age. It serves as great experience for the high school students if they would someday want to go in to education.
Music Teacher, K-3
Ripon Area School District
I created a log where second graders record songs we sing that are assessed for progress in vocal skills. They write the title, grade themselves using 1, 2 or 3 (which are defined on the log) and then I give them my grade to record. As a part of this process, we sing one simple song for grading each trimester, video-taping each other with iPads while I play the melody on the piano for them to try to match. Then they look at their recordings & assess themselves & each other. By the end of the year, I noticed an increase in pitch-matching skills where 90-95 percent of students increased their grade by at least one indicator on the progress report.
Stephanie M. Maletz
Longfellow Middle School
I thought this would be a great opportunity to share what I’m doing with my sixth grade band students!
I’ve adapted the whole “recorder karate” into my Sixth Grade Band Dojo. I’ve selected 10 things that I believe every first year band student should learn such as:
•Learning the basics of your instrument: how to put together, how to make a sound, how to take it apart, describing the different parts (white belt);
•Learning the first five notes of your instrument (yellow belt);
•Learning how to tune your instrument (orange belt);
•Performing in your first concert (green belt);
•Performing your Concert Bb scale ascending/descending (pink belt);
•Perform in a solo setting (either solo/ensemble or our solo informance (blue belt));
•Perform Concert F scale ascending/descending (red belt);
•Perform Concert Eb scale ascending/descending (purple);
•Perform the chromatic scale one octave ascending/descending (brown); and
•Completing their method book by performing the hardest selection in the book (This selection has chromaticism and dotted quarter/eighth notes (black))
This year, I’ve started to have them submit all videos of them trying to complete their belts through an app on our iPads called Showbie. I can go ahead and view it, and then give them video feedback instantly. Once they’ve completed their belt, they receive a little ribbon on their instrument AND their name goes on a giant poster of that belt color in the room.
I want to make sure that my students realize that all of these things are huge accomplishments in their first year of playing. I started this last year and my students LOVED the system. They thought it was a great way to motivate and encourage each other. For me, it’s a creative way to get students involved in their own learning.
General Music Teacher
SC Johnson Elementary School
Racine Unified Area School District
As a brand new music teacher, I am all about trying new and exciting ways of teaching music! Last year our district and city collaborated to put on a competition that involved each school creating a video that described the dangers of truancy and importance of staying in school.
I jumped on the opportunity and used the competition to create a music video unit with my students. We began by learning about the form of music and writing lyrics. I presented the students with a rap beat and encouraged the students to write their own lyrics while focusing on various literary aspects that create great lyrics! Then, we spent two weeks talking about the art and process of recording music. We discussed the technology behind microphones, practiced the self-discipline and patience needed to record music, and explored GarageBand! Next, we explored the various types of music videos and learned how music video production works. Finally, my kids planned the choreography and video shots, and we filmed the video! The only thing I did was edit the video together!
After over a month of my students hard work and dedication, we ended up winning the competition! it provided the perfect example to my students of how hard work truly does pay off! My kids are more excited than ever to get working on another video this year!
You can view the video by searching “Truancy is Trouble” on YouTube, or going to the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIeJvrAvVPU
Music Department Chair
Milwaukee High School of the Arts
We, at Milwaukee High School of the Arts, have been creating Understanding by Design lesson plans for our major works that the chorale and chamber orchestra perform each semester. These lesson plans help connect students to the Enduring Understandings inherent in either the poetry or the social context or historical time period of the piece being performed. It also helps students build prior knowledge of subject matter that ultimately yields deeper understanding after the piece has been studied and performed. It clearly connects music across all content areas for the students as well.
Frank Allis Elementary School Music Teacher
My cohort and I have a system of verbalizing rhythms in order to make them easier to play on percussion instruments. Many countries do this, and in Wisconsin many people use “ti-ti” or “pickles” for eighth notes or “ti-ri-ti-ri” or “pepperoni” for sixteenths, etc., but we thought it better to keep their thinking in one family, so we use all fruits for 4-4 and veggies for 6-8. We made laminated cards, and I hand out “fruit baskets” the kids can group up and arrange how they like, perform them together, and make a qualitative judgment about what should be changed to make it better. We’ll use this in our assembly to kick off the “healthy snacks” program, for sure.
To begin each class I always start with movement. Sometimes I lead them in specific movements — a choreography (Maple Leaf Rag, Sousa marches, “Stand Up” by Phat Phunktion are some favorites) — but most times I have started to do “Freeze Dance” for most of these movement chunks, where they simply improvise movements to what they hear, and I devote a bulletin board to our word wall, the ABC’s; A: Armstrong and Albeniz, B: Beatles and Bach, C: Chopin and Ray Charles, etc. and when I stop the music and they freeze, the people who are sitting because they had not frozen earlier can answer a multiple choice question about the music like, “Was that the verse, bridge, or the refrain?” or “Which instrument did you hear? Flute, clarinet or saxophone?” “Who was singing? Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder?” From history and geography to dynamics, they’re developing an ability to listen, and they’re getting some healthy, creative movement time. They’ll need to see videos from time to time to see sound sources, and they’ll need repetition, but in the end, I’ve got public, reviewable, readable documentation of a wide variety of music they’ve been exposed to, publicly displayed. They are SUPER intuitive, and to top it off, I’m helping them to realize they LIKE it. They say it out loud to practice; “That Bach was ALL RIGHT!” etc. In this world, too many times their musical choices are made for them without variety or discussion or exploration. I aim to stir it up.
I teach 4-8 Band in Fontana, WI. It is a J4-8 building. We have 2 music teachers – one vocal, and me. Kids all take gen music in addition to opting into to band/chorus at the MS level.
Several years ago I noticed my own children feeling some gravitational pull towards all the instruments I’d drag home over the summer. Not being too quick on the uptake, over time I noticed that they were gaining valuable experience just experiencing them. “Dad, can you show me how this clarinet works?”… that kinda thing. Eventually, they began investing their time/energy to those instruments that they found most compelling. And I thought ‘wouldn’t it be neat if all my school kids could have this opportunity?’
Long story short, I convinced our local music dealer to rent 5 each of flute, clarinet, alto sax, trumpet, bone, and perc kits. Then we set up a deal wherein kids paid $40 to take lessons – using that term very loosely here – so that they could experience them prior to selecting which, if any, they chose to pursue.
As part of this pre-band experience –
– students were all encouraged to participate in the 30 minute lessons
– the instruments were not allowed to go home
– all kids involved took lessons on all the instruments
– in essence, there was no practicing allowed and each student was required to ‘quit’, i.e. switch to the next instrument in the rotation.
– students not able to afford the fee had it waived
– there was no note reading involved, all teaching/playing was done thru modeling/rote
Despite the fact that I miss the old days where I just told kids ‘we need trombone players and you look like one’ only to have that kid come in the door 6 months later requesting to switch… or worse, quit… this explorational approach has done a lot to foster relationships with kids, help them find their interest/aptitude, prevent the twitchy/switchy syndrome, etc.