Help! How Much is Too Much?

Photo Credit: Stéfan via Compfight cc

The Situation

I’m blogging with three different music performance classes. Band I  - an entry level high school performance class, Band II for our more experienced high school musicians, and Jazz Ensemble – which is sort of a Band III and it’s reserved only for students who can pass an audition and are very serious about music and music performance. I have students use their blog mainly as a practice journal, but we also mix in some other kinds of posts – research posts about the composers and genres of music that we are performing and “talk about music” posts where the students have to either critique or describe the aesthetics of music. I’ve come up with a little rubric and guide for the students – so they can work independently and at their own pace. It works on a little point system – they need to have a certain amount of points by the end of the grading period.


The Assignment (Should You Choose to Accept It)

The Jazz Ensemble blog assignment has five categories: Critique and Self Assessment, Aesthetics, Research, Blogging Community, and Technical Features. Students must choose at least one assignment from each column and have 10 points total by the end of the grading period. We have some students in the class who are “honors” music students and are members of our Arts Academy – they must complete 15 points.

Band I & II have the same exact blogging assignment except that Band II students need to complete 7 points and Band I students only need to complete 5 points.

Basically it’s set up so that a student will have to write weekly about either his/her own practice at home or a school rehearsal. I myself also write and reflect on each rehearsal each week. Then – on their own schedule – students will need to complete at least one assignment from the other columns. I tried to mix up the types of assignments so there is something there for every student – regardless of their level of performance or grade level (I have freshman through seniors in each class!)


The Rubric

Of course I also have a rubric – I grade students on eight different criteria:

  •  Critique – Students’ skill at self-critique, using specific performance & music elements – proper vocabulary – good revisions & practice plans – and connections.
  • Aesthetics – Describing music using specific music elements, proper music vocabulary
  • Research – Does the student cite her sources? Have good writing quality?
  • Writing Quality – overall proper writing, no blog-speak, etc.
  • Community – Does the student link? Comment?
  • Creative & Tech – Does the student add personality to their blog? Add technical features? Photos? Videos?
  • Organization – Does the student use tags and categories to organize their work?
  • Frequency – Does the student blog weekly?
This week is the last week in the 2nd grading period so classes will meet in out music computer lab, students will be handed a copy of the assignment chart and rubric and will be asked to check of their completed points, and give themselves a grade using the rubric. Afterwards I mark-up my own assessments on the very same rubric. We then have a written exam and a performance exam – and we move on to marking period 3.

The End Game

Is this too much? I have students who are preparing for college and study very seriously – many of whom are destined to be professional musicians. On the other extreme I have students who are just starting out – they are in every sense beginners. My problem is that some students just aren’t doing the work. They aren’t keeping up even with several class days spent in the lab so they can blog during school time.
I’m thinking of changing up my approach – this is my first year in a few teaching Band I again and unfortunately my Band I students, and a few of my Band II students have not blogged before. I’m thinking of moving them to just commenting on my blog and on the Jazz Ensemble student’s blogs. They all were excited to get blogs at the start of the grading period – I wasn’t originally going to start this at all with Band I – but there seemed so eager to start I was excited to have students that wanted to learn.
In retrospect I feel I should have waited – taken smaller steps. Or am I wrong – I should stick to the assignment rubric – and the kids are just lazy?
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4 Responses

  1. spuchinsky says:

    Great ideas – I’ve been working one-to-one, commenting and helping students individually. Bringing it into the class will definitely help. I haven’t done it before as we meet in a rehearsal hall – no computers – and our class time is dedicated to performing and rehearsing. I’m going to need the class time spent on this, however, to get them to the next level.

    Thanks for your ideas – I’ll definitely be applying some of them next quarter.

  2. Steve says:

    Though I love the idea of stitching intentional reflection into the process, it may be a high mark for kids that might be taking band to “fill the schedule”. Your rubric rocks!

    I’d imagine many of the same students that don’t complete the assignments aren’t practicing much outside of class. Others might question the relevance of a writing assignment to a music class, affecting motivation to complete the assignments (Oh, man. A writing assignment. I hate writing…) :). There’s also a dynamic of open sharing that folks might not be thrilled with, which could also decrease motivation to complete the assignment.

    Michael’s idea of varying the type of narration is great. Other ideas that might work:

    1) Making students accountable to each other for the shorter increments of assignment. At the end of the week, the first 5 or ten minutes of class could be used to “buddy up” in groups of 3 to discuss their practice and progression during the week. On a rotating basis, a select member of the group could present the reflections to the class.

    and / or

    2) Expanding to a video capture that could be scheduled / done inside of the classroom at the end of the week. 2 minutes of students describing their practice journey, perhaps answering a question about the experience. This could remove a bit of the “writing assignment stigma” with the side benefit of honing the student’s performance skills and confidence.

    I’m really digging this idea and your execution. Intention is a big part of learning a new skill.

  3. spuchinsky says:

    Their main writing assignment is to do a weekly practice journal post. To reflect on their playing and practice. I find this really helpful as ( if and when they do it) it gives me a look into their practice and progress. A look I usually don’t get to see or hear in a full ensemble class with 20-30 musicians. I also have them write about music (aesthetics) and they do research projects – but this is a band class, not a writing class. They need to practice – but all of this writing is important too as it helps develop their musicianship. I will keep at it and keep experimenting. Thanks for your input and help!

  4. Michael Buist says:

    How awesome to have band classes blogging! I struggle with the too much issue as well. The way I’ve dealt with it I my mind and heart is to diversify the type of writing my students are doing. Sometimes is a narrative. Sometimes it’s informational. It may even be a poem. I’ve also diversified the audience to whom they are writing. By doing so, I think it keeps it fresh.

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