Audiation & Modeling

Since I began working on my Master’s Degree at VanderCook, I’ve given a lot of thought to audiation, hearing pitches mentally. The Orff Level 1 certification class during the summer of 2008 was where I began to understand better how the concepts applied to teaching singing. In previous years of teaching general music, my focus had been teaching new music by rote, with a little bit of notation understanding. Now my focus has changed to teaching students to listen to pitches intently.

One of the pitfalls I experienced before the Orff class was that I ALWAYS sang with the students. I had heard in previous classes that I shouldn’t, but I’d never forced myself not to. I wanted to hear the music correctly! I didn’t always like what I heard when I listened to the students! However, after MUCH practice, I’ve learned to stop singing with them and really listen. I’ve found that when I do that, it gives me a chance to think about how to help them with their own listening and matching pitches. I’m doing a better job of using formative assessment!

The problem for me continues to be transferring that formative assessment to a meaningful grade. I know many other music teachers do this effectively. Another music teacher in my district showed me Google Forms for assessment at the ICE conference. I must learn how to use that! With my iPhone, I could incorporate it relatively easily. As with all new (for me) processes in teaching, it takes time to get it going. But I digress. Audiation…

As I’ve concentrated on listening to students rather than singing with them, I’ve noticed something: I’m modeling how to listen and think! I now try to point out how to listen by exaggerating my “thoughtful facial expression.”

I think my efforts are beginning to pay off. A few weeks ago, a third grade girl requested to sing in front of the class. She didn’t sing with a CD at all, but sang a current Taylor Swift song with great pitch and rhythm. I could tell she was hearing the music accompaniment and pitches in her head. She even sang the key change correctly! It’s very possible she could have done that before I started teaching the way I now do. However, I was able to use her singing as an example of audiation (hearing music in your mind and matching it) with the other students in the class. I asked them, “Were you able to hear the accompaniment in your mind while she waited for it to continue singing?” I could see them thinking about it as they nodded their heads!

One more compelling example for me of the effects of modeling is the one boy who didn’t match pitch at all last year as a first grader. He comes from a family of…I’ll use the modern vernacular…athletic jocks! 🙂 I’ve noticed that even though he didn’t match pitch well (notice the past tense) last year, he always pays attention and thinks about what I say. You know that thoughtful look on a student’s face. A few weeks ago, I walked by him while the class was singing, and he was matching pitch in the correct range for a boy his age!!! Yesterday, I confirmed by singing near him again. Is my modeling and teaching having an effect or would he have reached that stage regardless? I’m not certain of the answer. Part of the problem is I didn’t listen closely enough in earlier years because I was too busy singing myself! I like to think this new (for me) way of teaching is paying off.


Dr. Robert Marzano, ICE Conference 2010

For the second year in a row, I’ve been able to attend part of the ICE Conference in St. Charles, IL.  This year I attended the Friday sessions.

I enjoyed every aspect of the conference, but the highlight for me was hearing Dr. Robert Marzano speak. His presentation showed correlations between interactive white board usage in classrooms and student achievement and engagement. He first referenced ongoing research that takes the teacher out of the equation. In this study, data is collected on two classes taught by the same teacher: one class using an interactive white board, the other without. I found it fascinating that both achievement and engagement improved by relatively high percentage rates. According to Marzano, when interactive white boards are used  about 75% of class time by an experienced teacher, who has also used the technology for some time and is comfortable using it, the best results are realized. He was careful to caution teachers on several points:

  • “Nothing is a silver bullet.”
  • Interactive white boards are best used by multiple students at a time rather than only teacher “stand and deliver” methods.
  • Make sure the use of the whiteboard focuses primarily on subject matter content. Use the technology as a means for students to interact with the content.
  • Teachers need to keep best practice in mind and use the whiteboard with those principles in mind (previewing, chunking, scaffolding, pacing, monitoring, physical movement, games, humor, pacing, friendly controversy, immediate feedback, questioning, wait time, etc.)
  • Remember, when we really know something we know it both linguistically and with mental imagery. He cautioned teachers to help students use one predominant form of learning.
  • Keep the presentation clean and simple. Marzano referenced Richard Mayer who has found students learn best when mostly words or mostly pictures are chosen in presentations. This avoids too much busyness.
  • Results don’t just happen because of the technology but rather how we use it. In the hands of the right teacher using the whiteboard in the right way, the technology is very effective in improving student achievement and engagement.

Marzano also gave several more specific helpful hints:

  • A few examples of immediate feedback the whiteboard provides are with the drag and drop, hidden content, and virtual applause features.
  • The random selection feature is very effective in keeping students engaged.
  • When questioning students, change the method of answering. Sometimes have students vote with their hands, sometimes with their feet (move to a room area designated for each answer), or use the whiteboard voting technology.
  • Students can type in their responses which can appear as text boxes on the whiteboard. The teacher (or students) can then manipulate the boxes. The students’ responses then become the content where learning takes place.
  • iTunes University is a site to watch.
  • Brain Pop was mentioned.
  • “Multimedia Learning” by Richard Mayer was referenced.

Marzano encouraged educators to remember that teaching is still an art even though the profession is becoming more of a science. Teachers can teach their own way, with some guidelines.

Frequency of Instruction and Practice

As the third grade classes dance one of my all-time favorites, a reel, to the music “Alabama Gal” in Chimes of Dunkirk, I feel right at home! My student teacher is currently in charge,  so I have time to write a few thoughts.

Yesterday was the first full rehearsal for the 2nd grade musical. The music and riser choreography is well prepared. I’m thrilled with that part of the production. However, the cast on stage is struggling. Part of the problem is all students don’t have their lines memorized yet. I also figured out last night, that there’s another problem. I scheduled practices a week earlier than last year (a good thing), but only once a week for each scene rather than twice a week. That wasn’t such a good thing! Most students need more frequent practice (fewer days apart) for their lines, blocking, etc. to stick!

The solution I arrived at will hopefully be enough. I’ve scheduled in another practice for each scene over the next few days. Frequency of instruction and practice is important for all areas of learning. I must remember that fact the next time I schedule the scene practices of even a simple 2nd grade play.


Another idea taken from a twitter friend (and countless others, I’m sure)…I could post podcasts of student musical performances on a page for students, parents, etc in order to listen, analyze, evaluate, or just enjoy! I have a podcast account. Gotta use it! Where is that info…


During a recent conversation, an idea was presented which I hadn’t considered in terms of assessments and teaching:  celebrations.  More specifically, I was asked how I plan to celebrate successes with my students.  I have a couple of rewards in place for good behavior, but what about academic successes?  In the following days I decided on several ways I can help students celebrate their success in music.

  1. Recorders:  I’d like to implement the reward system for Recorder Karate.  Other schools use it successfully.  All I need to do is get the yarn for the “belts” and away we’ll go!
  2. Skype Performances: I was on twitter yesterday and saw a conversation between two music teachers about a presentation they were doing between their two classes. Within just a few minutes, another teacher posted a request for a teacher to share early elementary holiday songs through Skype. I answered right away, and it’s going to work! I’m a little nervous, but I’m also excited about the motivational factor for my2nd graders who will sing for the other class.
  3. If I use Skype to help the 2nd graders celebrate and share, why not do the same with other grade levels and concepts?
  4. Finally, I plan to have each class invite parents for a performance at least once by the end of the school year. 

I imagine I’ll find other ways to help students celebrate musical success as the years continue. For now, I’ll start with those four.

This Year’s Main Goal: Improve Assessment

Last year was my first year in my current job teaching 1st through 5th grade general music. I followed a true gem of a teacher, a wonderful lady loved by students and colleagues alike. I spent the school year learning approximately 400 students’ names and trying to live up to the legend of the former music teacher. Well, I learned the names, but as to the latter? I’ve given up on that! I observed Mrs. T. one day the April before I started the job and was truly overwhelmed at her obvious knack for relating to kids and for teaching. One of the things for which she was known was having a fun nickname for each student (things like “Bobber” for Bobby). Students felt special because of her efforts in that area. My gifts don’t involve creating cute, imaginative nicknames. I can’t even remember any others names I heard from Mrs. T that day in April, 2008! Instead I smile, look at students, and say hello using their real names.

My main goal for improvement this year is methods/timing of assessments. Why? I need to know if the way I’m teaching students is really helping them learn the subject of music. How do I need to change processes and procedures to maximize learning time? Instrumental music instruction is a great model for teachers of any subject, in my opinion. Most of us instrumentalists learned from our own teachers how to observe student behaviors and outcomes, assess areas for improvement, make suggestions/teach students how to improve, then allow students the opportunity to implement new strategies before more feedback was given…usually all in one lesson. Implementing effective assessments has been much more difficult for me as an elementary general music teacher. I’ve wondered why and decided that I never actually saw (or realized I was seeing) teachers assess during my college observations. (A side note: one teacher in my building has many college student observers. I’ve been in her classroom and have seen her take the time to tell education students why she proceeds as she does. It doesn’t seem to interrupt the flow of the lesson, and it’s extremely valuable for a new/learning teacher, in my opinion.)

About half way through a previous eight-year tenure of teaching 1st-3rd grade general music, I started doing better with assessments, gave paper assessments and had grades in the gradebook. However, I sensed there was a better way. Did the students REALLY understand and could they PERFORM musical concepts I had presented? Was I even presenting concepts in a sequence and manner that helped them retain on a long-term basis? I didn’t know.  I was in the process of figuring out some solutions and implementing performance type assessments when my family moved to a new community where I landed a completely different music job: teaching 6th-8th general music and 4th-6th band. Hello, 1st year teacher all over again! Fast forward four years later (last year) when I returned to the elementary general music classroom as a “1st year teacher.”

Last year I taught 4th & 5th graders recorders, but never gave a formal performance assessment (i.e. grade in the gradebook). Just this last week, I added an assessment incorporated into a Recorder Baseball Game the kids like to play. The assessment rubric is simple: 1 point for left hand on top, 1 point for blowing gently, and 1 point for playing the song so it’s recognizable. For example, the 4th graders may choose between four songs for the game (1st base-easiest-Hot Cross Buns, 2nd-Merrily We Roll Along, 3rd-Ode to Joy, and home run-most advanced-Jamie’s Song-from the Bradley Bonner books). When they play the song, they also know I listen for a grade. (I think later in the year, the rubric should be more detailed/difficult.) The kids love the game and are willing to wait while each student plays! I also have the opportunity to listen to each student and time to individually assess.

My idea to use a game for assessment is as old as the hills…not original at all!  In order to get to this point, however, I needed to think about my teaching, listen to others, take classes, read etc. to figure out how to improve.

I reflect in my classroom and out of it constantly. I just wish I came up with solutions more quickly!