Blogs & Online Sources: professional learning
2019 MAEIA Institute
The Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment project offers the MAEIA Institute, a concise professional learning offering which trains administrators-arts educator pairs how to support and measure growth in the arts disciplines.
The Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment project offers the MAEIA Institute, a concise professional learning offering which trains administrators-arts educator pairs how to support and measure growth in the arts disciplines.
Cathy DePentu: Career-long Learning
I have been in school for 58 of my 63 years. Granted, I’ve switched roles a few times and moved back and forth from the front of the room to behind a desk (...
I have been in school for 58 of my 63 years. Granted, I’ve switched roles a few times and moved back and forth from the front of the room to behind a desk (or music stand), but still, the end of August is a turning point of each year. Even after all these years, I still toss and turn the night before school starts wondering what the year will bring. Much of my excitement is the same as when I was in elementary school: Who will I see the first day? What adventures we will share about summer? Will the people I work with be kind? Will they like me?
Every year, I am privileged to share my passion for music and music-making with a new group of students. We work together and learn from each other. Even though only a few of these students will choose the Arts as a career, I know that the thought processes and learning strategies involved in the performing arts classroom will benefit them all throughout their life.
We learn patience, collaboration, cooperation and persistence. When we fail, we try again. We value each others contributions and celebrate our differences. We are accepting and welcoming; our classrooms are safe spaces. Of course we will encounter obstacles to success–perhaps budget, administrative or legislative. While we may not be able to control the situation, we CAN control of how we choose to respond to it.
I say “we learn” because after all of these years, I truly feel once the unique process of teaching and learning through the Arts is shared, we are all both students and teachers.
Being willing to adapt and continue to learn while I teach keeps me from teaching the same year, over and over again…and so every year can be exciting and fresh.
Have a great year everyone, and remember that MAEIA is just a click away!
On that note, we’d like to invite MAEIA-informed community members to join the Facebook closed group: MAEIA PLC. Look for us under “groups”. Request to join and share in professional dialogue with like-minds about MAEIA and arts education.
Cathy DePentu is a MAEIA Leadership Fellow and serves as Director of Orchestras for Plymouth Canton Community Schools.
A downloadable pdf of this article is available here: CathyDePentu_Career-long Learning.
Cathy Depentu: The Benefits of Pushing Out of Your Comfort Zone
I believe in the importance of MAEIA and its resources. I always try to set aside my ego and throw myself into difficult challenges or situations in order to improve, from an advanced violin class (...
I believe in the importance of MAEIA and its resources. I always try to set aside my ego and throw myself into difficult challenges or situations in order to improve, from an advanced violin class (I am anything but advanced on the violin) to a challenging yoga pose (headstands anyone?). Technology can bring me to my knees. By the time I figure out how to do something, it’s obsolete. As I have prepared for my first solo MAEIA presentation, my MAEIA colleagues have been unfailingly patient while trying to teach an old dog new tricks. I am slowly getting better, which means a lot more obsolescence is on the way, but that is another story.
Stepping Out: Fears, Firsts, and Following
I am a talker–no one who knows me would dispute that. I am fearless in front of my students or with people I know, but generally not eager to speak formally in front of large groups. In fact, that is one of my fears. Another major fear is using technology, it hates me. So why is this what I am doing? What do I hope to gain? What do I hope to give people?
So, I made my PowerPoint and my Process Agenda, Heather Vaughan-Southard (my MAEIA guru) proofread it and I rehearsed it over and over in my head. I knew my content and knew my audience (another big fear). I was ready!
The Professional Development day got off to a roaring start. We had one of the best keynote speakers I have ever heard! Dr. Adolph Brown talked (and danced and sang) about how to truly reach every student and make a positive difference. Cornerstones of his inspiring words were the Four “F’s”: Be Fun, Fair, Flexible and have Faith. At the same time as I was devouring every word, a little voice spoke to me: ”How will you compare to this? You’re not even close to his fluid, choreographed delivery style. They won’t like you.”
Processing in Real Time
Time to present! I got there 30 minutes before my session to set up and scope out the space. When I got to the room, I discovered that the room was too small for the anticipated audience. From now on I will double check with organizers to make sure we coordinate details! The computer and hook-ups were on the teacher’s desk, in a corner of the room. This was awkward as I had to be positioned behind that desk to access my notes. I felt like I was hiding from my audience from there! As being able to move freely about while presenting and interacting with your audience can “make or break” the vibe in the room, I will carry a set of notecards, or a printout of my notes so that I am no longer “trapped”. Of course, when I become as adept a presenter as Dr. Brown, I will be able to get this all done as easily as a casual conversation with friends (dare to dream!)
Once I began my presentation I noticed I was covering material much more quickly than I had anticipated on my Process Agenda. This could have been due to being trapped behind that desk! I started with the background of MAEIA and the website, but think I may move that until later in the session, as a few participants would have preferred to follow along with me on the website (or break off and explore on their own). Later in my session, I was moving around the room assisting people and realized I had skipped a couple of things that needed to be added, particularly our next project, Collaborative Scoring.
The last thing we did was break into small groups and explore the assessments. Each person found one or two they liked, and shared with each other and then with the entire group. I had stressed throughout the presentation that the assessments were just tools to be used as is or modified to suit the class or situation, so our next step was to take an assessment and modify it for use at a different grade level. As I walked around, I heard comments like “Look at this!”, “I could use this!”, “This is great!”. One group of art teachers stepped out of the room to work on ways to incorporate the assessments into their SLOs right away!
As we finished up, I asked my colleagues to fill out the Quality Quadrant and leave it for me when they left. Regardless, only about 60% completed the form. I am not sure what to do about that, maybe I will use them as “Exit Slips” and stand by the door to collect them and say thank you and goodbye as people leave. In the week following the presentation, I have received several emails and notes from colleagues who are excited about MAEIA and all of our resources , and are eager to work together to incorporate some of the assessments into their classroom.
Finally, I am deeply appreciative to colleagues who shared these words of wisdom as I was preparing my session. I list them twice because of their importance.
Chocolate and a break are GREAT ideas!
Chocolate and a break are GREAT ideas!
Flexibility as a Practice
The focus of our PD this year is, “Take Chances, Try Something New, Start With “Why?”. For years, we as arts teachers have had to “build bridges” from the content of Professional Development to our own subject area. At general PD the next day, I was seated with a group of math, science, and business teachers focusing on technology in the classroom. I typically sit, listen to them and try to build those bridges. But I jumped out of my comfort zone, took a chance and asked if we could also address the use of technology to better suit the needs of the arts or solitary teacher. We had a great discussion, and I think we all learned something. I thanked them for being willing to be flexible and I think we all benefited from the session. I know I did.
I plan to present this session again to the K-5 music folks who couldn’t attend this one. I have also offered to present to colleagues in the Michigan American String Teachers Association (MASTA). I know as I continue to work with the sessions I am creating, my delivery will become more natural and intuitive. I’m not Adolph Brown yet, but I’ll get there (he has a crew to do all his tech)!
Cathy Depentu is a MAEIA Leadership Fellow and serves as Director of Orchestras for Plymouth Canton Community Schools.
A downloadable pdf of this post is available here. MAEIA blog: CathyDepentu_ComfortZones
Cecilia Gollan: How MAEIA has Made Me a Better Teacher (Part 1)
If you were to stand outside my classroom or talk to kids that take my classes, you would get the impression that I know what I am doing. Kids would make comments about how they...
If you were to stand outside my classroom or talk to kids that take my classes, you would get the impression that I know what I am doing. Kids would make comments about how they like my class and want to take more art. Well, that is all true. Personally, however, I feel that I am not a master teacher and can always do better.
An Invitation to Elevate
Back in 2011, there was this survey about arts education came out and I told my principal I was filling it out. Little did I know, I would become a part of this project called MAEIA. I am not sure how it came about, but I applied to become a part a meeting with other art teachers from across the state.
I remember sitting in my first meeting as a blueprint writer. I was in awe and a little intimidated by the brain power in the room. I had heard of some of these names, but had never met them. It was pretty amazing. As the day went on, our task unfolded. We were going to create a gold standard plan for four arts disciplines in Michigan. All I could think about was how exciting this MAEIA thing was going to be for the arts programs in our state and I was going to be a part of it.
I started as a blueprint writer. During this process, I learned how to better express myself in order to have a greater impact on arts classrooms, including my own. I researched to see what was happening in our state and across the country to support our recommendations.
Next, a program review tool was created to help districts and schools take a deeper look at their arts programs. I tested this on my own visual arts teachers. The results were similar to what I expected. I was able to share my results with my superintendent and he then was able to look deeper at our programing.
Around the same time an assessment specifications document was created which looked at state curriculum and national standards to suggest ways to assess students. This process helped me to look at what I was doing in my own classroom and reevaluate my assessment processes.
As these documents were written I don’t think is was until we started writing the high school assessments that I was able to reflect on my teaching and see the benefits of this project. The process of connecting the standards with a way to assess students that let me see my practices needed a 2.0 version.
At that point, I had been teaching middle school for 19 years. I had always strived to change things up and be innovative in my classroom. It is amazing what diving into state and national standards does for your classroom practices. As I worked through the writing of first high school, and then K-8 assessments, I also switched from teaching middle school to high school. I was a veteran teacher, but really felt like it was my first year. As I made this switch and needed to familiarize myself with the state standards I was relieved that I had these assessments as my finger tips.
The best part of this project and MAEIA assessments is that they are adaptable to our current practices and projects. I found that it was easy to slip in an assessment when I could search for one that was related to what was already planned.
Fast forward to October 2017, I am still a part of MAEIA. I am a Leadership Fellow- sharing these resources with teachers, administrators, districts, and cultural organizations who want to advance creativity in education. I am also a Team Lead for the Collaborative Scoring System pilot. Along the journey of MAEIA there has been many parts to make it what it is today. I have been fortunate to have been involved in many of them.
Janine Campbell: The Lasting Impact of Quality Professional Development
Professional development is an impactful tool for teachers. When it is directed in ways that allows teachers to take what they have learned and apply it in their own classrooms to engage students, it becomes...
Professional development is an impactful tool for teachers. When it is directed in ways that allows teachers to take what they have learned and apply it in their own classrooms to engage students, it becomes one of the most powerful tools we have. If you are interested in help assessing your district’s or school’s access to Arts-specific learning opportunities for professional learning, use the Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment Blueprint and Program Review Tool.
I am fortunate that I have had the continued opportunity to participate in and even lead quality Arts-specific professional development throughout my teaching career. Each conference, keynote, and presentation has made an impact on my approach to teaching in big ways and small. A key approach when I attend any conference is to take one idea, tool, or method and find a way to weave it into my practice.
Last April, I had the privilege to participate in “The Power of Art Conference” at The Lab School in Washington D.C. This three-day event gave me the opportunity to meet teachers from across the country, hear from thought-leaders in Arts Integration, and tour a school in our Nation’s Capitol that puts the Arts in the heart of their instruction. The Lab School hosted the event because of their commitment to Arts Integration and their history of sharing with teachers what is possible when you bring content and classrooms together for big, bold collaborative projects.
Over the years, collaboration is something that I have pushed more and more with my students. It has looked differently depending on what our end goals were; sometimes we did small group projects and sometimes we planned events that included the entire school. Regardless of the end result, the goals have always been for students participating to not only learn about the content covered through the creation of the collaboration, but to also feel a connection to those who are a part of making it. I often call these projects, “Legacy Projects” because of their lasting, visual impact on the school.
At The Lab School, legacy projects are everywhere. From the mosaic columns and the dragon fountain in the courtyard, to the large installation works often created with the help of well-known artists like one of the key figures in the school, Robert Rauschenberg, you can see something made by students in every area of the school. Each year before his passing, Rauschenberg would come and create a large collaborative work with the students for display in the school. Each time, something different was created and a new approach would be taken; each time, students knew they were creating something that would be left for others to view for years to come. This was something I knew I wanted to bring back to my school and weave into my teaching practice right away.
Fortunately, I did not have to wait very long before I was able to do just that. After returning home from “The Power of Art Conference,” I soon received an opportunity to use collaboration as a springboard into a large mixed-media piece my students made for one of the largest art competitions in the world: ArtPrize. The 19 day competition is celebrating its ninth year and has opened up a Youth Collaboration Award for the first time this year with a classroom grant of $5000 to those with the most votes.
Our collaborative work, “Painting Under Paper Cuts,” involves three 4x8ft panels and is a visual reaction to a week of state testing that happened to be occurring during its creation. Students started with choosing paint from a variety of colors. They were asked to paint how they felt and use brushes, sponges, and other tools, including their hands, to make marks overtop each of the panels. They then worked in pairs to create cut out images from separate pieces of colored paper that included images of their classmates and various symmetrical and asymmetrical circle patterns. These pieces were pasted on top of the painted panels. This work will be displayed during ArtPrize at Monroe Community Church in Downtown Grand Rapids from September 20th-October 8th. You can view and vote on site with your smartphone for the work at www.artprize.org/65259. Once the competition completes, the work will find a permanent home in our Library at our school.
I am thankful I work in a school that embraces the opportunities offered through quality Professional Development. Because I use what I have learned through these experiences in tangible ways in my practice, I am able to show my students and the greater school community what is possible when ideas are put into practice and when students come together to create a positive visual impact on their environment. These collaborations are one of the best parts of my job and one that my students often comment on as their favorite, too. If you would like more information on The Lab School of Washington D.C. or “The Power of Art Conference” and how to get involved, visit their website.
Do you work with the principles Janine listed above in your Visual Arts classroom? MAEIA suggests looking at the following assessment items:
**Janine Campbell is the Visual Arts Teacher at Byron Center West Middle School and is a Visual Arts team member of the Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment Program. Her classroom has won local and national recognition in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, as well as various grants for their use of technology. She was named a 2014 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator, 2015 Michigan Art Education Association Middle Level Educator of the Year, and 2015 National Art Education Association Middle Level Educator of the Year. You can see more of her students’ work in the classroom at www.bcwmsart.weebly.com.
A downloadable pdf of this post is available here Janine Campbell_Quality Professional Development.
Cathy DePentu: Excited and Engaged in Teaching After 35 Years!
Thirty-five years ago a guidance counselor asked me, “Why should we schedule a student all four years in Orchestra? Aren’t students just repeating the same class?” I attempted to explain that students continue to...
Thirty-five years ago a guidance counselor asked me, “Why should we schedule a student all four years in Orchestra? Aren’t students just repeating the same class?” I attempted to explain that students continue to grow musically and build greater facility and technique. He asked, “How do you know?” Hmmm.
Although I was able to describe the changes I saw and heard, and knew I was modifying the assignments for students at differing levels of experience, I had no way of producing concrete data. I can’t say I was too concerned about it at that stage of my life…I was a young, inexperienced teacher busy refining my classroom teaching skills, and as the kids were playing well. I thought I was all set.
Fast-forward twenty-five years. I met Ana Luisa Cardona and began my journey through formalized assessments and student directed learning. However it was not until I became a part of the MAEIA project that I began to see a transformation in both my teaching and my ability to assess and collect meaningful data. Over the past several years I have immersed myself in writing and editing assessments, field-testing and content review, demonstrating educator effectiveness/tracking student growth and am honored to be one of the Leadership Fellows. I look forward to delving into collaborative scoring next fall.
Many (okay, all) of these diverse roles have pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to reflect on my teaching. Starting with the basic—“what do I want them to know, how will I know when they have learned it, and how will I teach it”—I find myself moving more towards how can I measure an individual students growth and how will I teach them so that the material and the process of learning becomes “theirs”. I am trying to take myself out of the equation and empowering students to assume ownership for their individual and group process. The MAEIA tasks and events have helped guide my efforts, both as assessments and teaching tools.
Throughout this journey I have not seen a drop in performance quality, despite the fact that I do not direct the entire class period. Through sectionals and teacher assigned chamber ensembles, students are able to collaborate and contribute to their own rehearsal strategies and techniques. Many days I am a facilitator rather than a director, moving from room to room to observe rehearsals and occasionally offer a suggestion. It has been so exciting and rewarding to observe how a shift to seemingly “do less” has helped create empowered, independent musicians. As we debrief from these activities, students are surprised to realize they have created a learning process that can work in all areas of their life.
Using an assessment as a teaching tool: “Listen to our concert recording!”
We all remember hearing or giving those instructions. It usually resulted in a casual “hearing” of the piece while students chatted with their friends.
What was actually learned?
What was the directors’ implied goal for the activity?
Of course, the intent was to have everyone listen critically to the recording and objectively critique and analyze the performance. As teachers in the performing arts, this sort of listening and analysis is what we do every time we are on the podium, but have we taken the time to dissect what we are doing so that we can teach our students to successfully execute this multi-layered task?
So I asked myself, do students know how to listen? I know they can hear, but are they able to listen?
Can they accurately identify and evaluate the characteristics of tone, intonation and expression?
Can they construct and implement appropriate strategies to adjust and correct any problems they discover?
I have used M.T 421: Performance Critique for several years first in its newly written, untested form, subsequently as a field tester and beyond. I have modified it for use in grades 6-12 and use it as both a teaching tool and an assessment. For use as an assessment, I follow the directions as described in the teacher booklet. Modifications to the task to teach critical listening at all levels are described below.
Suggested Total Time:
This lesson can be completed in one 50-minute class period including time for discussion.
List of Materials Required:
-Recording of a short piece or excerpt of a longer piece from a recent performance and playback equipment
-The sheet music being performed
-Sufficient copies of the rubric/answer sheet for each student (I run two-sided copies, but you could project the rubric onto a white board).
-Pencils and a writing surface for each student.
All levels, lesson introduction: Direct students to listen to the recording and read the rubric. Play the recording.
Subsequently, have students listen to the piece and evaluate one element each time. You will listen a minimum of six times. (My students actually enjoy listening while they complete their evaluations, I just keep playing it as they write)
Modification for more advanced ensembles:
As students become comfortable with critical listening/analysis, they can be directed to evaluate two or more elements simultaneously and correspondingly, become more facile with appropriate music terminology. The number of “listenings” will also be reduced. (I explain to the classes that the goal is to listen/analyze while they play and apply these techniques to their role as an individual musician, member of their section and role in the ensemble)
Using this assessment has completely changed the way the ensembles listen to their performance recordings (even the 6th graders!) Most side conversations have stopped and students remain engaged and focused. Their developing ability to evaluate what they hear and create strategies and techniques to self-correct shifts the responsibility from the director (“Fix that!” “Too loud!” You’re sharp!”) to the students and empowers them to be independent musicians.
A Bonus Discovery! As I completed grading my three orchestras’ papers according to the teachers’ rubric, I wondered if the students were actually learning to hear/analyze to the same standard. I pulled a random sample from each ensemble and tallied responses.
All three ensembles used the top three categories…no one used the lowest standard (which made me happy, as this was a performance recording). The Middle School ensemble used all three of the remaining categories, fairly evenly spread. The Concert Orchestra also used the top three categories but clustered around ratings of 3 and 4. The Symphony (the most advanced ensemble) only used 2 and 3, demonstrating more developed critical listening skills. No one in the advanced ensemble was willing to give the top rating, while younger ensembles were less critical. This is VERY informal data collection, but it did lead to some interesting discussions in class.
I encourage all arts teachers to take a look at the MAEIA resources. Pick one or two and give them a try with one of your classes. Modify them as you see fit, share them with your colleagues and administrators. These amazing resources can provide so much to benefit our teaching and our students, take advantage of our work!
Cynthia Clingman: “Drop Everything”
The MAEIA Leadership Fellows present general and specialized professional learning presentations to educators, administrators, and community organizations who interact with K-12 schools. Below, Cynthia Clingman outlines what is was like developing her...
The MAEIA Leadership Fellows present general and specialized professional learning presentations to educators, administrators, and community organizations who interact with K-12 schools.
Below, Cynthia Clingman outlines what is was like developing her first virtual presentation as a MAEIA Leadership Fellow with colleague, Liz Andrews.
How are you dropping everything, taking risks, and promoting the arts? Share with us in the comments.
As I remember from years ago, I read Beverly Cleary books to my 3 daughters and son.
Beverly Cleary wrote about D.E.A.R. in Ramona Quimby, Age 8. We even have a copy of this book signed by Beverly in 1976. Since then, “Drop Everything and Read” programs have been held nationwide on April 12th in honor of Mrs. Cleary’s birthday.
As we approached the Drop Everything and Read day, I couldn’t help but apply the “Drop Everything” philosophy to our first MAEIA webinar!
The proposition for each of us planning a webinar as MAEIA fellows, is really to “drop everything” and think about how to support the Arts through professional development. Our first challenge was to plan and deliver an overview webinar for interested Arts Educators.
My presentation partner, Liz Andrews, and I discovered this was no easy task! We did have to drop any previous notions that we had about webinars, and really start from scratch.
Here are all the challenges we faced as well as successes we experienced;
Finding a host site
I met with the Professional Development Consultant, Mary Nell Baldwin, at Kent Intermediate. She helped me set a date, reserve a room, and assisted in creating the flyer. She also posted them on the ISD online registration catalog.
How to publicize?
She and I also met with the Assistant Superintendent to request time on the agenda of the upcoming area-wide monthly administrator meeting.I met with 40 administrators on March 2 to provide a MAEIA “pep talk,” encouraging them to share the webinar invitation with teachers.
I then scheduled a meeting with the technologist, Mark Raffler, to ask for suggestions for setting up the webinar. He suggested using Adobe Connect or Google Hangout. We decided to go with Hangout and scheduled a practice date with Liz. A practice session is critical! What support will the technologist give? Did we have the correct dial-in link? Are we visible, can we be heard? Will we know who has dialed in? Who will advance the slides? It took awhile to sort all of this out.
Develop the Collaborative Responsibilities
In the meantime, Liz and I worked on the presentation PPT slides, created notes for each slide and assigned speaking roles. We printed the slides with notes. We were ready to “drop everything” and go live on March 22nd!
Of course, there were a few setbacks – the link that we sent to registrants the morning of the webinar, was no longer active in the afternoon! So we put a second technologist to work to help contact the registrants with a new link. Those that dialed in late, though, were unable to connect and had to watch the recording of the webinar the next day. (We sent out the webinar recording, the PPT presentation and evaluation survey the next day).
Do your homework and promotion work!
Secure a location that will give you some technical support, and help with registration. This was so helpful to us.
“Drop everything,” keep a smile on your face, and hope for the best!
Liz Andrews: “Jump in- take a chance- try something new.”
The MAEIA Leadership Fellows work individually and collaboratively to create and present professional learning on the use of MAEIA resources in face-to-face and webinar formats. For some presenters, virtual sessions are new formats which lead...
The MAEIA Leadership Fellows work individually and collaboratively to create and present professional learning on the use of MAEIA resources in face-to-face and webinar formats. For some presenters, virtual sessions are new formats which lead to new understandings of how to create dynamic engagement.
We have invited the Leadership Fellows to write about their experiences as they engage the creative process in developing this work. Liz Andrews and Cynthia Clingman recently collaborated to present a virtual session. Here, Liz shares her thoughts on the process and the product of making her first MAEIA Leadership Fellows virtual presentation.
“Jump in – take a chance – try something new.”
These are encouraging words we give to our students and last month we got a chance to model this behavior. In creating and presenting our first webinar, my colleague Cindy Clingman and I did just that: jumped in, took a chance and tried something quite new. The result? Great experience for us and groundwork laid for future presentations.
Thanks to Cindy’s outstanding preparations, the technical aspects of the presentation including set-up and delivery were spot-on and easy for us to facilitate.
What I learned from the general lack of participant interaction is that we as presenters can improve our methods of instruction to adjust to the technical, online format. Basically, webinar participants can hit the mute button, walk away from the screen and tune out all together without the presenters ever knowing they left the room. Is this a high-quality arts professional development presentation? Without any engagement is any learning happening?
We need to adjust our planning leading to a webinar that brings the MAEIA project to life.
The challenge is how to make webinars: Engaging, Relevant, Interactive in ways that lead the participant to pursue the MAEIA resources further and want more .
After doing a bit of google research, here are some tips I’ve gleaned to pursue a more collaborative, inspiring webinar:
1. Make it personal.
Make some time at the very beginning of the webinar to find out some interesting facts about each attendee.
Begin with some type of question that requires an investigative answer. This can be anything from how much they currently know and/or use the MAEIA resources to other types of arts assessments they are familiar with.
2. Involve them with the content.
This can be like a guessing game – instead of presenting information on a slide and then moving on, show a photograph of a student in action and ask them to guess or make a prediction about the outcome relevant to the content.
3. Check in.
At several points within the webinar, stop and ask for specific feedback to check for comprehension. Present a thoughtful question that requires more than a “yes” or “no” answer.
I am looking forward to putting these ideas into action, making my next MAEIA webinar an engaging, inspiring presentation that arts educators will want to share!
Do you remember what it is like to try new things? Tell us about it!
Interested in becoming a MAEIA Leadership Fellow? We’ll soon be inviting applications to the program. Think it over! We are particularly interested in Administrators, Teaching Artists, Community Artists, and K-12 Educators.
Stuart Chapman Hill: “Creating” Better Professional Development
If you want to get a group of educators chattering in a hurry, walk into a teachers’ lounge and toss out a favorite educational “buzz” word or phrase. One of my favorites, as a middle...
If you want to get a group of educators chattering in a hurry, walk into a teachers’ lounge and toss out a favorite educational “buzz” word or phrase. One of my favorites, as a middle school choir teacher, was “professional development,” an idea that seemed so unimpeachably good on its face—what teacher wouldn’t want to keep growing and learning—but that so often came wrapped in unappealing packages that it prompted more eye-rolls than anything else. What does meaningful professional development look like? And what’s MAEIA got to do with it?
Recently, my colleagues Ryan D. Shaw and Cynthia Crump Taggart and I presented a study about MAEIA at the State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE) Arts Assessment Symposium. All three of us, in our own experiences as MAEIA item developers, felt that the work of writing and editing assessments for the MAEIA project had strengthened us as teachers—and we wondered whether other item developers had experienced the same. In short, we wanted to know whether serving as item developers had functioned as a form of professional development for the teachers involved.
We recruited six music educators involved in the MAEIA project—two from the elementary team, two from the middle school team, and two from the high school team—to be interviewed about their experiences as item developers for MAEIA. We talked to these participants about how their experiences developing these assessment items had influenced their work in the classroom and we invited them to reflect on the “nuts and bolts” of the process. After jointly reading and analyzing the transcripts, we found that the participants’ commentary cohered around three themes: looking “inward,” looking “outward,” and reflections on the experience.
The first theme, looking “inward,” refers to the reflection and growth that happened on an individual level for teachers involved in developing assessment items.
For several participants, the writing process presented a renewed opportunity to learn about national and state music standards and think about how to align instruction with them, as described here by Jessica (please note that all names used here are pseudonyms):
[Here are] the standards, here’s what we want the students to know, and so, instead of just picking a bunch of songs and then finding things to pull out from them and hoping that it’s good, I feel like, as a choral director, I’m going—Hmm, I should look at what they should be doing. I need to look at my colleague above me, see where they’re going. And I need to look at these standards and see if I’m gonna be able to meet those standards through this, and assess those through their performing and their learning of these pieces.
Some of the teachers, like Emma, felt that the process had strengthened their knowledge of assessment practices:
I got a much better understanding of what testers and assessment professionals are looking for…I know what music teachers are looking for when they listen to things or watch or do assessments, but then to have that other professionalism added in there, it made me feel like, I guess, what we were doing was a little more—I don’t want to say valuable, ‘cause that means what we were doing before wasn’t, but just a little more elevated, so that I knew going forward if I was to write my own or design my own assessment for my own classroom, I had more of these tools at my finger tips.
Many of the teachers simply described how the process had, in a more global sense, prompted them to turn a critical eye on their own teaching and assessment practices.
For Anne, an experienced band teacher, this opportunity for reflective practice might as well have been the aim of the entire project:
What I remember distinctly was it forced me…to think about what I’m already doing and also best practice, which I hope is one in the same, but it really does force you to think about that and to align, and to be very introspective about, “Am I aligning with best practice as much as I possibly can?” And I gathered through the whole process that that’s the goal, is to ask teachers who are willing to be introspective as they go clearly to get data about what’s going in their classroom but ultimately to be introspective and take that hard critical look, “Am I aligning with best practices as often as I can?”
It seems, for these teachers, that writing assessment items for MAEIA was an important part of their reflective practice as educators, strengthening their knowledge of state and national standards and giving them a constructive venue for self-evaluation.
Teachers in this study noted how the MAEIA process made them view the larger music teaching profession, and their positions within it, differently—a process of looking “outward.”
“it was really easy for me to have a bigger picture outlook…I was thinking now pretty globally about how to fit these assessments into a wide variety of music classrooms across the state.”
Several teachers acknowledged the sense of empowerment they felt, strengthening their sense of legitimacy as educators, advocates, and leaders of their colleagues.
As Sally, an orchestra teacher, explained,
We can show [administrators without arts experience] and say, “Look, this is what you’re going to be looking for in my class. This is how I’m going to collect data.”…And, because I showed the document to my administrators, they were like, Oh! … I see what you’re doing. I see that there is real teaching going on here.
Sally also described her enthusiasm for sharing MAEIA materials with arts colleagues in her building and district, joking that she feels like “the person who’s planted zucchini. People in my department run from me.”
Andrea, a middle school choir teacher, felt strengthened in her conviction that music education matters and that projects like MAEIA were an important instrument for advocacy:
What we do is really important. And to validate what we do, I think we need to be doing these hard things. I mean, this took a lot of work, but, you know, no one understands us, no one understands why what we do is important, just for people, for students, for humans. And I think that this … kinda puts that stamp—I mean, everyone knows, well, math is important. This is important. … I think it brought to the surface just how intricate music education is.
These “bigger picture” reflections helped teachers not only to see how they function within the larger music education world, but also to feel renewed commitment to their work and to advocating for their field.
Reflections on the Experience
Finally, teachers offered reflections on the experience of being a MAEIA writer in general. They shared that having the opportunity to work with colleagues in an authentic professional learning community was productive, helpful, and even joyful.
Sally said, “MAEIA—I tell my students, it’s like, imagine being part of a group project where everybody in the group is equally passionate about their subject and equally informed. And it’s so rewarding.” Participants enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate and walked away with new ideas to implement in their teaching.
Not everything was perfect, of course, as the newness of the project made it a learning experience for all. Some participants hoped for more specific training in how to write a good item. Others pointed out that it was hard to keep up with changing procedures as the process evolved. And, for many, it was challenging to keep up with MAEIA work and deadlines while also tending to the responsibilities of their full-time jobs at their schools. Still, these bumps in the road seemed outweighed by the enjoyment and inspiration that teachers were able to derive from engaging in this thoughtful, collaborative work.
What can we learn from these teachers’ insights? Although the pat on the back for the MAEIA project is nice, that perhaps is not the moral of the story. The model of collaborating on the MAEIA team to write assessment items differs from many typical professional development activities—conferences at which teachers listen to sessions and keynote speakers, school-level professional learning communities in which teachers discuss a common reading or the latest teaching fad.
One important difference here is that these teachers were engaged in the process of creating something together, a hands-on experience that prompted valuable critical reflection and real inspiration for classroom practice and advocacy.
In addition to creating valuable assessment tools for arts educators, projects like MAEIA may furnish a helpful model for schools and districts to use in designing meaningful, high-impact professional development activities for teachers.