About a year and a half ago, I was given the opportunity to initiate an education-based Community Engagement program under the auspices of NEC’s Preparatory/Continuing Education division, led by Leslie Foley, the (then) newly-appointed Dean & Executive Director of NEC’s Preparatory/Continuing Education division. At the time, I had been working with the Music-in-Education National Consortium, managing its FIPSE grant and consulting on documentation & portfolio assessment practices for its teacher professional development (“PD”)-driven elementary music programs.
Throughout my time with the MIENC (roughly 2004-2011), teacher and teaching artist training became an increasingly large part of how the programs were designed and implemented. I would travel with a small team of other experts and give PD sessions on a regular basis at each school; sometimes at many schools within a district, or at a district/region-wide teacher conference. While the other experts usually focused on standards-based curriculum design and teaching methods, my area of specialty was classroom documentation. I’d observe individual classes, meet with the teachers one-on-one, and offer advice on how to document and exhibit their work (in school community spaces; in online digital portfolios; on blogs, etc.) so as to simultaneously showcase their curricula, teaching style, student learning outcomes, answer project inquiry questions, and how their classrooms meet‐and often exemplify— inquiry questions and content/subject area/grade-level standards. We’d also look at how to design student assessments so that they could easily be used in those kinds of ways. Teachers loved the opportunity to demonstrate the artistry of their teaching, side-by-side with the development of their students’ scholarship.
Towards the later part of my MIENC tenure, I began freelancing as an educational researcher with Larry Scripp and served with him as a consultant for the PAIR Program (Partnerships in Arts Integrated Research), led by the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education organization. In that project, math & social studies classrooms (3rd-5th graders) were paired with music, drama, sculpture, and painting teaching artists, and we were charged with designing a portfolio program to document and assess those outcomes, as well as collect reflections by students, teachers, and teaching artists. Many of the participants (kids and adults alike) had never participated in a program where portfolio documentation was central to the curricula, and in the beginning, we had to do a lot of teacher training to setup the structure for collecting rich documentation, particularly when it came to eliciting student responses. Part of the challenge was finding a way to exhibit this data in ways that were rich, conversational, and authentic to both the kids and the teachers/teaching artists.
We eventually devised an interview protocol that put 2-3 kids at the same table as their classroom teacher and teaching artists, in which they had the chance to reflect on they learned (individually and from each other) throughout the semester; and perform or demonstrate their composition (music or play). Most students relished the chance to ‘show off’ for their teachers in a non-classroom setting, which was pleasantly met by their teachers’ candor. Unsurprisingly, this type of exchange boosted camaraderie back in the classroom, raised students’ self-esteem, and provided a rising platform for quality student participation.
From these two particular experiences, I saw first-hand the positive benefits of having a strong documentation component in music-integrated programs, and it’s from that vantage point that MusicLaunch was born. Like the MIENC initiatives and the PAIR program, MusicLaunch combines the two worlds of teacher professional development and demonstrating student understanding:
- MusicLaunch teachers and interns both have a hand in documenting the student experience, and in fact, kids do too. (Kids love taking video of themselves and each other!) A frequent activity is watching the videos together and reflecting on what the camera captured.
- From the ‘moments of learning,’ ‘aha! stories,’ and similar vignettes captured by documentation, we can look across them for meta-themes and overarching inquiry questions. What questions does this kind of anecdotal evidence answer, and to what degree are those questions different from the ones we set out to answer?
- Each week begins, and ends, with collaborative sessions with all students talking and sharing in the same room, in a structured reflection session facilitated by ML staff. Children are encouraged to demonstrate what they learned and—regardless of their age group, chosen instrument, or skill level—teach it to their peers. (We believe this to be a crucial first step in developing children’s musical and cognitive self-awareness!)
- All documentation is collected and organized by ML interns, and will be assembled into an evolving digital portfolio, to be shared and discussed with parents at designated times throughout the year.
Stay tuned for more posts as MusicLaunch grows and blooms this year, particularly from our interns and teaching staff!