Top Ten Testing Day Time Killers

It’s that dreaded time again where we lock children into a room and force them to pretend they’ve learned something during the school year by taking a test that really has no meaning. If they taught us about this aspect of teaching in college we would have dropped out and perfected the art of flipping burgers. Yes friends, it’s time for standardized testing.

So much time is wasted on testing day that I always leave school feeling like the entire day was pointless, so I’ve come up with some things we can do to pass the time when we have no students. Obviously, you won’t be able to do some of these things if you are administering a test (my sincere condolences if you are), but if you’re stuck on hall duty, bathroom duty, or non-testing holding room duty, you can still be productive. Here’s The Top 10 Testing Day Time Killers you can do while not teaching music this week!

1) Score Study – Getting ready for contest? Perhaps learning new music for a late festival or Spring Concert? Why not sit down with colored pencil in hand and mark up your score? Not having enough time to study the score is one of the biggest complaints of music educators.

2) Put Music in Score Order – A few years ago I took about 10 pieces of music from our music library with me to hall duty and placed them in score order. I also took a pad of Post-it Notes with me, wrote down what parts were missing, and stuck it to the front of the box to order later.

3) Design Your Marching Show for Next Year – Have you thought of some drill design ideas? Maybe logistical notes for moving props, or pit equipment? Maybe you’re still trying to get your music selected. Take a notepad and pencil with you and put some of these ideas on paper. You’re much more likely to follow through with them if you write them down!

4) Make Lesson Plans – We all dread making lesson plans. It’s boring, it takes forever, and usually puts us in a bad mood, but it’s required by most school districts. Why not use this time to make them out, then make some money off of them! LessonPlanPro is a new website that’s still in Beta testing, but is currently operational. They specialize in selling lesson plans created for fine arts instruction. The site is very new, and there’s not a lot of content loaded at present, but that doesn’t stop you from creating some awesome plans and putting them up for sale. Definitely a site to keep your eyes on in the coming months.

5) Look for Lesson Plans – Other than LessonPlanPro, there are several ideas for good lesson plans for just about every class imaginable. There are also tons of free resources for rehearsal outlines for popular band literature. Why not use some of your time to find some? If nothing else you might learn how others are approaching teaching the same pieces you’re working on. And of course, you could always steal my lesson plan!

6) Enter Grades – Pretty self-explanatory. Finish grading papers and enter them into the grade book. If you use a web-based gradebook, go ahead and create entries for upcoming assignments, fill in missing grades that kids have made up, and possibly be the first person to turn in mid-term grades! Your principal will love you for this! Ok…at least they won’t hate you as much.

7) Backup Your Files to Cloud Storage – Since I also work doing IT for our district, I see lots of teachers cry when all of their teaching files disappear when their computer crashes. We constantly tell them to back up their files to cloud storage, but so few of them do. It’s really simple and largely free! Check out this post for more details.

8) Update Your Resume – After years of neglecting my resume, I have become a constant resume updater. The first time I updated it took me forever because it was so out of date. Even if you’re not planning on leaving your current job, update it with your latest accomplishments, and remove some of the old outdated stuff like that summer you car-hopped in college. You could also draft a generic cover letter so when you do find a position you want to apply for, you’ll at least have a start.

9) Fill Out Menial Paperwork – Do you have a football schedule for next year yet? Do you know when your contests are? Why not use this opportunity to fill out check requests, bus requests, and any other paperwork that will frustrate you later this year? Even if you can’t turn them in right now, just file them away for later. Get it all done months in advance, and then you don’t have to worry about them anymore.

10) Listen to New Music – Bring a set of headphones and a laptop to your seat outside the bathroom and listen to something more enjoyable than the sounds echoing out of those tiled hallways. Jump on Penders, J.W.Pepper, or SmartMusic and listen to find some new music you may want to purchase for your group.

What do you do to pass the time during standardized testing?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 


What Will Music Education Be Like In 100 Years?

What Will Music Education Be Like In 100 Years? That’s an intriguing question, isn’t it? If I could answer that question with certainty I could make a fortune lecturing at universities all over the country about how to prepare their music teachers to face the classroom in the coming century. And while I may not get rich off this idea, I do think I know the answer.

Lowell Mason

“I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.” – Plato

Let’s start by looking back at the beginning of music education in the public schools in this country. In 1833 in Boston, a banker and part-time church music director and composer named Lowell Mason created the Boston Academy of Music in hopes of improving church music in the area, but also for the purpose of introducing music education into the public schools. The school was an enormous success and enrolled over 3000 students in its first year.  Four years later, the success of the school could not be denied. Lowell Mason became the American public school system’s first music educator in 1837. It is important to note that this was an unpaid, volunteer position with no funding whatsoever. All supplies and expenses were paid for by Mason from his own pocket, but he did have complete control over the musical education of the entire Boston public school system until 1841 when he retired.

100 years ago most music education was found in community schools, not public schools. The majority of children still weren’t studying music alongside mathematics and history. They enrolled in separate schools of music to learn how to sing or play an instrument. Yet somehow in this time period, despite The Great War and a serious lack of musical education, our country experienced an explosion of new music called Jazz, and Swing, then Rock & Roll. Kids were picking up instruments anywhere they could in order to learn how to make music. Marching bands, community orchestras, and glee clubs sprang up everywhere. A lack of adequate funding, a second World War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, and Watergate didn’t seem to hinder the popularity of music and music education amongst young people. Some of the greatest strides and advancements in music education came from this very same time period.

“The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Today, despite all the tools at our disposal, university training programs, pedagogical resources, technological advancements, arts-education lobbyists, legislation, and enough music education advocacy materials and scientific studies to fill the Grand Canyon, we see our programs slowly dwindling away. Funding is cut, support is gutted, and some districts, even in the wonderful arts-friendly state of Texas, are completely eliminating arts-based education all together.

All of our public education music programs can be traced back to the impetus of a completely unfunded volunteer music teacher who worked a second job. Somehow our struggles in the profession don’t seem quite as bad. Could you and your music program survive under those circumstances? I suppose that would be up to you. Music has always been around, music teachers have always been around, and there have always been eager young minds ready to learn from it. And no matter the circumstances, music, its students, and its influence on our lives, has survived.

So, what will music education be like in 100 years? What are we going to do in the coming days, weeks, months, decades, and century to ensure that music education is vibrant, meaningful, exciting, and empowering to the next generations of students? I suppose that would be up to us. And it starts with the current generation of students. Go make a difference in this world. Start today. Start in your very own classroom. Change the world through music! It truly is up to us.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

Please Steal My Lesson Plan!

I am sick and tired of students telling me they did absolutely nothing in their other classes. Click To Tweet This! So I was motivated by my students lack of higher level thinking to alter my rehearsal plans on Friday. I decided to start class with something fun, interesting, full of educational value, and above all something to make them think! Surprising as it may sound, they really enjoyed it! We discussed music history, used advanced listening skills, higher level reasoning, and much more all in the first 10 minutes of class. This was such a hit with my music classes, I want you to steal my lesson plan! Here’s what I did. Click To Tweet This!

My favorite composer has always been Mozart, and my favorite piece is the Adagio from Serenade No. 10 in Bb Major (K 361) Gran Partita. I primed their pumps by talking a bit about Mozart and how early he started performing and composing.  I then played for them this short clip from Amadeus of Salieri describing the first time he heard Mozart’s music.

Yes, that video is a bit cheesy, but it does a good job of telling them what to listen for. Next, I played them this recording from the movie soundtrack of the same piece by Sir Neville Marriner and The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

I only played about the first minute and a half of the recording. At this point we discussed what the students heard and appreciated about the recording. We talked about the tone (“Does this group have a dark, rich sound or a bright, radiant sound?”) and the overall mood of the piece (“Was this a happy, or sad piece? Why?”) After a very brief discussion, I played this recording of the very same piece, but this time it was performed on period instruments. I told them that these are the instruments Mozart’s musicians would have used, and this is what Mozart would have heard when the piece was originally performed.

After this recording played, I asked them to describe what they heard that was different from the previous recording (you may need to replay the first few seconds of each depending on how attuned your group is to listening.) 

And now here are some discussion questions for your and your class.

Discussion Question 1: Which recording did you prefer, the one of modern instruments or period instruments? Why?

Discussion Question 2: We tend to like the way our instruments sound to the way the instruments of Mozart’s time sounded on the recording (at least all of my classes did.) Why?

Discussion Question 3: If Mozart were here with us today, which recording do you think he would prefer? Why?

Discussion Question 4: Should this effect the way we approach playing older music? Why?

I hope you find this useful. Try to work it into your lesson plans some time this week and see if your students have as much fun with it as mine did.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

3 Things To Do TODAY To Become A Better Teacher

Every day for the past several weeks, one of my students has asked me the same question: “Mr. Stidham, what’s one thing you’ve learned today?” She’s very insistent that I answer and will ask me repeatedly throughout the day if I don’t (she’s in three of my classes.) She reminds me constantly that everyone learns at least one thing throughout the course of a day, and in order to remember it, they need to share that new information with someone else. I couldn’t agree more! My motto is Learn it, Share it, Remember it! Here are three tips to help you do the same starting today! Click here to tweet this!

Learn – Yes, I know that we are at our schools for the primary goal of teaching others, but if you’re not learning from your students each day, there’s something wrong with your teaching. Click here to tweet this! Seek out new things to learn. Maybe it’s learning more about your students. Maybe it’s learning a new alternate fingering for that woodwind instrument you don’t play well. Maybe it’s learning about new technology you can use in your classroom. Form a new wrinkle in that brain of yours! Be intentional about learning something new every day. The best educators are lifelong learners themselves. Click here to tweet this!

Share – I’ve been doing this one for years. The moment I learn something new, I try to share it with as many people as I can as soon as I can. I read a biography about Bach several years ago where I learned that his students got together and tried to mug him because he was such a demanding teacher.  When confronted by the students, Bach beat them with his cane and, subsequently, none of them laid a hand on him. I share that bit of music history trivia with all of my classes each year and to date none of them has tried to mug me. Seriously though, if you share new information quickly, you are far more likely to remember it, even years into the future. Plus, you’re teaching others when you share that new information, and isn’t that what we’re paid to do?

Remember  My wife says that my memory is unique. She would tell you I easily remember quirky, trivial details about random subjects, settings, and events, after hearing them only once and can recall these details years later.  Pretty weird, huh? I learned to do this in my 6th grade English class, thanks to my teacher, Mr. Bob Cox. He taught our class about a wonderful tool called a Mnemonic Device. Basically he taught us a bunch of tricks for remembering things.  I remember him clearly teaching us that the height of Mt. Fuji in Japan is roughly 12,365′ tall. He taught us to remember this by remembering how many months are in a year (12) and how many days are in a year (365). Just relating that bit of information to things we already knew has stuck with me for nearly 20 years. (I also found someone on the interwebs teaching the very same thing about half way down the page here. Apparently Mr. Cox was’t the only one that picked up on this.)

Make it a point to Learn, Share, and Remember something every day this week. You just may be surprised by what you learn and remember!

Discussion Question: What are some ways you’ve found to help you remember information?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

What a Genius Can Teach Us About Music Education

I have one favor to ask. If you haven’t taken my 2014 Reader Survey, please take a moment to do so! This will help me learn more about you and what type of content will be most helpful to your needs. Don’t worry, it’s completely anonymous and only 10 questions long. Now, on to today’s topic.

One of the primary goals we have as educators is to teach students how to think for themselves. Too often we get caught up in what our students know or don’t know that we do them a great disservice.  We end up telling them what to think instead of how to think (don’t get me started on standardized testing!) Click here to tweet this!

Everyone thinks, but not everyone thinks the same way. If we study the thinking skills of those regarded as geniuses, we can gain some insight into how we can improve our own thinking skills, as well as those of our students! It’s been determined that the most genius people around us have developed one skill in particular that allows them to out think us. Luckily for us, it’s a pretty simple skill to develop! Click here to tweet this!

Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People by Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein analyzes these thinking patterns. The authors devote two entire chapters to detecting and utilizing patterns…more than any other topic in the book. It’s been discovered in study after study that geniuses look for, and recognize more patterns in every day life than the average person. It’s that simple! If you want to improve your genius (and that of your students,) beginning with pattern recognition is a great place to start. I’ve always been a very pattern oriented person and I’ve developed a few ways of doing things that rely heavily on patterns. Here are a few tips to get you and your students started with thinking in patterns, just like real geniuses!

Go Back To The Score – This may sound a bit elementary, but most composers build patterns into their music.  We were all taught to analyze musical form (binary, rounded binary, rondo, etc.,) but most music educators I’ve encountered rarely pass this information on to their students.  Students miss out on a great deal of musical understanding when we fail to teach them this most basic element of music. The more of the large scale patterns that students can recognize in our music, the better.

My recommendation is to share the conductor score with your students (possibly project your score on the screen using a document camera.) Do a quick structural analysis with them watching and have them notate the form sections (A, B, A’, etc.) in their parts. Also, the more connections they can see between their part and their classmates, as well as the larger form as a whole, the better prepared your group will be to perform their parts in an appropriate context.

Look for patterns to help you memorize music. I’ve used this process with my students for several years during marching season to help them quickly memorize their parts. We take their individual parts (not the work as a whole) and do a structural analysis as this will be different for each instrument part. We break their part down into small sections, sometimes as small as a phrase or sentence, and have them pass off these small portions. It helps them to keep the memorized sections in manageable chunks, and it’s very easy to help the students remember their music when they forget. “Horns, measure 65 is a repeat of your ‘B’ section.” They instantly remember what they’re supposed to play, and we’ve basically eliminated all of our memorization headaches.

This can also be translated to fingerings during difficult passages. As a classical guitarist I sometimes rely on the visual patterns of my finger movements on the fingerboard to help my memory during lengthy, complicated passages of music. My students, especially my brass players, will use this at times to overcome very difficult passages as well.

When dealing with a fast, running chromatic passage we will sometimes focus on a valve combination momentarily to overcome the difficulties.  Yes my students know how to read the notes on the page, and yes they know the fingerings, but they sometimes get “black-note-itis” and bobble the fingerings all over the place.  If slowing the passage down and gradually speeding it up doesn’t work, I’ve found that stripping the passage down to a valve combination removes the confusion, breaks the ingrained wrong habits, and helps the stumbling fingers through the passage.

We often use this type of approach with lip slurs for beginners by discussing fingering/position patterns, and simply instructing the students to slur to the lower or higher partial before telling/showing them the exact pitch they are playing. We do this as well with percussionists…just look at the rudiments we teach them.  We drill sticking patterns into them so that when they see a rhythmic figure the sticking pattern comes naturally.  Please understand I am not advocating turning your classroom into nothing but rote teaching, but rather using the variety of teaching tools available to us to show our students how to approach problems on their own.

Start looking for patterns…they’re everywhere! Don’t believe me? Check out Holst’s Chaconne from the First Suite in Eb and look how he treats the melody (even in retrograde inversion!) Patterns are everywhere! Start looking for these patterns, and teach your students to look for them too!

How have you use patterns? Leave a message detailing how you use patterns.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Please Take My 2014 Reader Survey

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Would you please take a few minutes to fill out the survey? By doing so, you will ultimately be helping yourself. Why? Because you will be helping me make my content even more interesting and relevant to you.

Your input is important to me. The survey is easy to fill out. The survey results are completely anonymous. I can’t tell who said what. It’s only ten questions and and will only take two minutes of your time.  Thank you in advance!

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How To End Burnout

Are you living on the edge of burnout? Are you stressed beyond belief? Are you at the end of your rope burning your candle at both ends and have no idea how you can stay afloat? Been there. When you find yourself in a situation like this a break (like spring break) can be a welcomed relief. But the burnout and stress will just come back unless you choose to make an intentional change to your life. Are you ready to leave the stressed-out you behind?Stress Burnout

Dr. Richard Swenson’s book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, deals with this very real issue facing our world. Swenson believes that we are now in an unprecedented age where we are involved in more, stress more, demand more, and work more than any society in the history of the world.  This also means our society is the most physically and emotionally burnt-out in the history of the world. More people are treated for stress and depression related illness now than ever before. Thankfully, the answer is simple and attainable for anyone who wants it.  It’s called margin.

Margin is the space in various areas of our lives – physical, emotional, time, financial – that can protect us from overload. When margin decreases, stress increases and burn-out is the inevitable result. Without margin we can function for a while, but eventually our physical, mental, and emotional health is sacrificed for the stuff that occupies our time. I fully recommend everyone reading Dr. Swenson’s book, but here are a few pointers to get you started on your path to more margin and less stress!

  • Learn to say “No.” – This one is incredibly difficult for me, but it’s something I’m working on.  Saying “No” is ok when your well-being is on the line (and it is.) Do not over-commit by saying accepting every opportunity and event that comes your way. Really…it’s ok.  Just say “No.” Doing so will allow you to…
  • Plan time for yourself. – I have time blocked off on my calendar every day for me. Nothing gets scheduled during this time because it’s part of my margin and I protect it. This is time for you to do what makes you happy. Relax and listen to music, go for a walk, sit on your porch and enjoy a drink, go on a date…whatever floats your boat. It can be as frequent as you like, but I’d suggest a minimum of once a week. Schedule this time to spend on yourself and DO NOT WORK!!! Disconnect from the world of work and simply enjoy life.
  • Rest when it’s time to rest. – I have a hard time turning off my brain when I’m stressed and while my body is lying still in bed, my brain continues to fire in this semi-conscious state, leaving me completely exhausted the next day. You’re probably not as weird as I am, but maybe you have trouble sleeping because you think about work, or stressful issues when you really need to rest. This is not a good long-term solution and can lead to major fatigue and health problems down the line. Allow yourself some time away from stimulation like TV, computer, cell phone, work, etc., thirty minutes before bedtime. Then when it’s time to go to sleep, go to sleep. Also be sure you’re getting 6-8 hours of sleep every night in order to feel rested.

Margin isn’t something you’ll achieve just by dumb luck. You must be intentional about creating more margin in your daily life. It is a process, and burnout doesn’t disappear over night, so you need to Start Today! It may take a while to get things exactly the way you want them, but start today.  Order Dr. Swenson’s book, and change your life by making intentional decisions toward creating margin and eliminating the feelings of burnout and stress from your life.

What are some ways you create margin? Share by leaving a comment below.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”