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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

IB Music Ramblings


The school I teach for is an International Baccalaureate world school. All grade 11 and 12 courses are IB courses, and students have the option to take the full IB diploma, take certain IB courses to obtain a certificate, or simply take the courses required to graduate with an American high school diploma (from the state of New York). The interesting thing about our course is that we literally only offer IB courses in grade 11 and 12 - no other "regular" streamed options.
Because a picture always makes a blog more enjoyable :)
I am teaching Grade 11 IB music this year, which is quite unfamiliar to me. I had no previous experience (and very little knowledge) about the IB program. I attended an IB Music training session in California in June which was extremely informative. We had a great workshop leader - a Floridian music educator who had just retired from teaching. I believe he had over 30 (possibly 40 - I can't remember!) students in his IB Music class the previous year. That is crazy! I also networked with several colleagues from all over - Canada, the United States, and the world. I'm still in touch with several of these educators through email and Facebook, and I hope that we stay in touch as our IB Music classes progress.

I currently have 8 students in my grade 11 class, which is the biggest cohort the music class has ever had, I believe. My co-teacher currently has 3 students in grade 12. My students are all higher level (HL) music students, which is really nice because I don't have to differentiate as much! The standard level (SL) has a slightly lighter course load and different options than the HL program. HL students also must take IB Music for 2 years, and we meet 9 times in a 10 day cycle. If I had SL students, they would only come to 6 of these 10 days, and I think it would have been more difficult to plan. The fact that these students are all entrusting music to be one of their HL also implies that they like music, or at least have some experience with music. I love to teach students who like music!

Anyway, the point of this blog was to mention the fact that since the beginning of school, I have been working on music theory with my IB Music students. In the IB Music program, students don't have to actually "do" theory. They never have to sit down and write out major scales, or prove that they can write an augmented fifth above a given note. HOWEVER, I strongly believe they need music theory knowledge to be successful in the IB program, as such emphasis is given on listening and perception (I'll save these ideas for another post sometime).

I started the year off with theory for a few reasons:

  • Firstly, I wasn't sure what the course has looked like in the past at my school, or what type of resources our school had for the IB program (textbooks, etc).
  • Secondly, I have always enjoyed theory. It's a very mathematical subject, as there are right and wrong answers and set rules to follow. I was good at theory, and I thought it would be relatively easy to teach (Spoiler alert: I was very wrong. But it's okay, we made it through!)
  • Thirdly, I think that music theory is a very important base for listening. I think students will be able to recognize minor or major chords with more ease if they understand how these chords are actually created, instead of aurally hearing chords as "happy" or "sad".
  • Fourthly, our workshop leader was kind enough to share a year outline with us, and he started with theory first. That's reason enough for me!

Almost four weeks later (as if I've been already teaching for almost a month!!!), and we're ready to move on. I have given the students two theory exercises for homework, and corrected them and gave them feedback. I didn't "mark" them, although I circled the answers they had that were incorrect. As per the students' request, I created a document for the students entitled "IB MUSIC THEORY RULES" which organized all of the rules I kept telling them (ex. a minor chord is a minor chord with the third lower one half-step!). This rule sheet is gold (go me!), but I don't think the students have the "rules" memorized; rather, they rely on their sheets to complete the given theory assignments.

As a class, we decided that tomorrow's test will be given in two parts. One part will allow the students to only see The Chart of Keys (another resource I will share at some point). Students will therefore have to rely on their memory and understanding for the majority of this part. I will collect these tests partway through the period. The second part to the test will be the EXACT SAME test, but students will complete it as an open-book test, using both their own notes and my “rule” document. This way, I will be able to see if students understand the concepts with help by seeing if they perform better on the open-book portion.

Does this make sense, or am I crazy?! I feel like it makes sense to me, and my students agreed, but we shall see what the results are! I plan on grading both tests.

Once I figure out how this whole sharing of resources on a blog thing works, I will attach this rule sheet HERE in case you are interested!

Again, I must reiterate how much more valuable and fun twitter can be when you unlock your account and actually interact with other educators! I have been following along with several chats recently, since several people I follow participate in chats such as #sbgchat (standards based grading) and #aledchat (which I believe stands for Alabama Education Chat… but people from other places are involved as well). I realize that my primary focus this year as a first-year teacher should be “SURVIVAL”, but I’m really intrigued by standards-based grading. I have barely even begun to scratch the surface of SBG, but what I have read so far makes a lot of sense: homework is to reinforce skills and concepts, and should not be graded; students are allowed to retake assessments; and it’s a matter of learning the skills, not when they learn them. I’m not planning on implementing anything drastic this year, but I will definitely continue to read and learn about it for future use!

Fun fact if you have actually read this far: It took me a couple of weeks to finally spell "Baccalaureate" with confidence :)

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