Personalized Learning: Part 3, How it Works

I have posted a few times about my personalized learning goals for this year, and have received some questions about how it works within the band and orchestra world. I’ll try to explain how some of the day to day activities work within my classroom. You can access my previous posts here: Personalized Learning: Part 1 and Personalized Learning: Part 2.

Things are still going very well! By the end of the second quarter, 51% of the orchestra students met their goals (compared to only 27% in the first quarter), with 12% of those students actually exceeding their goals. 90% were able to show progress from the first quarter. While some might say that 51% isn’t a very good number, I am quite happy with it for halfway through the year. Considering the students are asked to be very independent learners, especially compared to the other aspects of their school experience, it’s great progress.

I have made a point to talk to students each class period to have them identify the skill(s) they are working on. This has helped them understand better that the learning targets are skills they need to master, not songs. Students have also started to look at feedback on videos that did not receive a passing score, to figure out what they need to fix. Once again in the second quarter, there were a small handful of students who made amazing progress! For me that is the best part of this project, seeing students who always do what you ask but nothing more, become inspired to push themselves beyond the status quo.

Here are a few tools and strategies we are using to make this all work:

Essential Elements Interactive

All students have school-issued iPads and we have installed the Essential Elements Interactive app, which corresponds to the lesson book, Essential Elements.  Within the EEi app students have access to recordings of all book songs, fingering charts, and more. The recordings can be played many ways, which the kids love: melody alone, melody and metronome, or the melody with a choice of 4-6 different accompaniments! Students can even choose to make the piece slower. Students who actually practice using EEi love it and are making great progress. The app also has the capability for students to record themselves playing along with the accompaniment and submit it to me, but since we use Canvas as our LMS that function isn’t necessary. The EEi app has been great for my purposes because it gives students something to reference when struggling with a specific skill, such as rhythms. The students also love being able to change the accompaniment, and I suspect often play pieces more times just to hear the various options.

Flexible Seating

After learning more about classroom design over the summer I decided to obtain some flexible seating options for my students. I talked about this in my first blog post in September. What I’ve discovered, is that students enjoy having a choice in where to practice! Many have settled into their favorite spots, and several seem to prefer standing, which is always fine with me. My biggest concern about giving students options of how to sit (on the floor, on a stool, with a pillow, etc.) was that there would be posture issues. The reality is, kids who have posture issues on a chair have posture issues on a stool or sitting on the floor! So while alternative seating options didn’t cure any posture problems, it didn’t create any new ones either. Those students continue to receive posture guidance from me throughout the class. During lesson time when students are practicing alone or with a partner, they appreciate having the option to find their own workspace within the room.

Recording Studio

IMG_2774I talked about the Recording Studio in my post about Flipgrid but students use it just as often to complete Learning Target recordings. The Recording Studio is a corner of my closet that gives students a quieter place to record their videos. During lessons, students are frequently working on all different things so the room can get loud. This helps to reduce some of the background noise and adds a bit of privacy to the recording process.


The Clothes Pin System

clothes pins

I’m not completely sure where I got this idea, but I have seen others do similar things with cups on student desks. Each student or group gets 3 clothespins: a green, yellow, and red. They clip the green clothespin to the top of their music stand. Students can switch to yellow if they have a non-crucial question, and switch to red if they cannot move forward without help. This keeps students from following me around the room and interrupting time helping others. It then allows me to focus on who needs help next. The best benefit is that often students will solve their own problems while waiting for me!

Many things with the project are still evolving, which is to be expected. For example, I have decided for the 3rd quarter, students who did not succeed in meeting their goals so far will need to come up with a detailed practice plan. Something to help hold them accountable. I’m sure there will be other tweaks and adjustments along the way. It’s a learning process for all of us!

Guest Post: “Music Was My Thing”

I am very excited to welcome Arah Allard as a guest on my blog! 

Music was my thing.  A childhood of lessons and practicing, performing and competing. By high school, my identity was completely wrapped up in my flute playing.  I was the girl up in the school attic practicing during her free period.  I took all music electives and by the time I was ready for college, my career path seemed obvious.  Music was my thing.

I pursued a music performance degree in college.  I was going to be a concert flutist, or maybe establish a soon to be famous woodwind quintet.  Never- I repeat never- would I TEACH.  One afternoon, my father asked a favor of me.  His colleague had a daughter that wanted flute lessons. Out of obligation more than anything else, (my father had paid for how many of my lessons?)  I agreed.

I will never forget that very first flute lesson.  The feeling of connection and wonder at helping someone else do something, even as simple as blow across the mouthpiece of a flute, stunned me.  I was shocked to find it surpassed even my joy of playing.

That week, I added a 2nd major to my degree.  I knew I had to become a music teacher.  After two more years, I had my first job teaching middle school band. Being a music teacher was rewarding and I completely understood that I would never- I repeat never- teach in a general education classroom.  Music was my thing. Through many more years and several states, I found myself the music teacher at an elementary school.  Sadly, the funding dried up and the program was to be cut.  I adored the school and was crushed to leave.  One credit shy of a general education teaching credential, I got into gear and finished.  My school hired me as a third grade teacher.

There was a crushing letting go.  I owed my path in life to my love of music.  I had to practice saying it out loud- I was no longer a music teacher.  It has now been 8 years of teaching third grade. It is challenging and inspiring work that I am grateful to have the chance to engage in every day.  I have come to believe that TEACHING is my thing.  And I owe that to music.

Arah Allard teaches third grade in Del Mar, California.  Music continues to soothe her soul every day.  Check out her teaching blog at

Using Flipgrid in Instrumental Music

I discovered Flipgrid over the summer during some online PD I was participating in and it was pretty much love at first sight! Throughout the summer I used it professionally for book chats and discussions with other teachers and it was great. The first grid I set up was actually not for school, but for my family reunion! Our family is spread out around the country and the last full reunion was twenty years ago. I set up a grid and asked everyone to record a video prior to the reunion, telling the group where they were, what they have been up to, and things like that. It was amazing! Videos were recorded by my 88-year old grandfather, 3-year old nephew, a service dog (obviously both with help!) and everyone in between. It was so much fun watching the videos and even better, at the reunion seeing people spark conversations based on what they had watched. Apparently my grandfather is still, 6 months later, going back to watch videos 🙂

Flipgrid is obviously a powerful tool, This year I began using it with my 4th and 5th grade Band and Orchestra classes and they LOVE it! They ask almost daily if we can use Flipgrid. Here are a couple of the ways that I have been using it.

How-To VideosIMG_2788

This was one of the first things I did with Flipgrid, and it may be one of my favorites. The students simply have to create how-to videos based on a specific skill. I had my 5th grade orchestra students work with partners (during class) to record bow hold tutorial videos. My 4th grade band students created videos (at home) describing how to properly assemble and hold their instruments. The benefits to this: the students have to really think through the process in order to make an accurate video, and I get to see who understands the process and who needs more clarification.

Partner Work

IMG_2790There are many times where I will have students work with a partner in class to practice de-coding rhythms, come up with a do-re-mi pattern, or something similar. At the conclusion of the activity, a small number of pairs would share what they did with the full group. By using Flipgrid, every pair could record their video, giving everyone the opportunity to share-out to the group.

Playing Assessments

While I haven’t exactly used Flipgrid for playing assessments, it is definitely an option especially using the rubric tool. Instead I’ve used it just to encourage students to play their instruments at home! For example, in October I set up a topic for Halloween Music, and handed out a sheet with 4 different Halloween songs. We worked on one of the songs in class, and the others were optional. The students were then encouraged to add videos to the topic, playing the various Halloween songs. At first, most students recorded the one we had practiced. But as soon as one student played an optional song, more of them wanted to! The next thing you know, most students had learned additional Halloween songs, meaning they had practiced their instruments on their own. And, it gave me the opportunity to hear students playing individually. I call that a teacher-win 🙂

Student Portfolios

This year I wanted to experiment with year-long student portfolios. I had some various technology restrictions so Flipgrid seemed like a good option. Right now I have a grid set up for each student. At the beginning of each marking period students recorded a goal video, and then responded to that video at the end of the marking period. Students also added a video containing a song of their choosing at the end of each marking period and have been encouraged to add other videos throughout the year. So far it’s working well, and I think it will be fun in June to go back and watch their progress. My next step is to find an easy way to share these portfolios with parents, which I hope to do in the next few weeks. My one suggestion if anyone tries this: use the “Duplicate Grid” feature – I discovered that about half way through the process!


Collaboration might be one of the greatest things about Flipgrid so far; the ability to collaborate with others outside of our school. After the success of the Halloween Music grid I decided to create one for Holiday Music. Again I distributed a packet of holiday songs and encouraged the students to practice them. Within the grid I set up topics for band, orchestra, and other (piano, guitar, etc.) I then shared the grid with about 7 other teachers around the country. The result was awesome! 451 videos and over 80 hours of student engagement! The videos were great, and watching the students interact with each other, leaving positive feedback and encouragement, was priceless. And again, I didn’t teach my students the holiday music; they were inspired by watching other students to learn it on their own. I also still can’t get over the fact that two students recorded a video playing Jingle Bells on the Zither! How cool is that?!



Another collaboration I am very excited about starts in a few weeks. We will be working with another elementary school in Chicago. My 5th grade students will be creating videos in Flipgrid to explain basic techniques in playing an instrument, such as posture, playing position, breathing, etc. The videos will be shared with a group of students beginning to learn the recorder. Our hope is the students will be able to interact through the videos, my students working to be good role models and leaders for the younger students. It should be fun! Follow @ATS_MrsDMusic and @Music_Room_253 to see more about our classes and watch this project unfold.

Recording StudioIMG_2774

I was recently inspired to set up a “Recording Studio” in my classroom, to give students a somewhat private and quieter space to record videos. Using a corner in my closet this is what I came up with. While it’s not perfect, it is nice for my shy students to have a private place to record their goal videos, and it also helps eliminate some of the background noise when 7 students are practicing different things and one wants to record a video. You can check out the blog post that inspired me here: “How to Build a Recording Studio.”

While there are many other ways Flipgrid could be used in instrumental music, this is what I’ve done so far. The students really enjoy it, and the benefits for me are huge: I get to hear from every student and it’s encouraging them to play their instruments outside of class. If you haven’t tried Flipgrid yet I highly recommend it. I’ve actually become a Flipgrid Ambassador, so if you’d like a free 45-day trial of the Classroom version, just use my last name DUCASSOUX for the offer code. I’d also love to hear from anyone else with great ideas for using Flipgrid in band and orchestra!



I just finished this sketchnote as part of the #flipgridfever #sketchnotes challenge – it’s not fancy, but it was fun to make!


VSTE Recap

In early December I attended (and presented at) the VSTE Conference – Virginia Society for Technology in Education. My presentation was about Flipgrid, and along with a co-worker who teaches Reading we shared uses and suggestions for using Flipgrid in an elementary classroom. Yes, blogging about Flipgrid is also on my list of things to do!  Many people asked what a music teacher was doing at a tech conference, and that’s a fair question. I really enjoyed my time there, and here are a few of my take-a-ways.


Symbaloo is a really neat tool to curate web links. Each link is stored in an icon, which we are so used to seeing everywhere. I just made this sample, Music Webmix, which includes links that Screen Shot 2018-01-01 at 8.43.43 PMmy students/parents might use. The presenter, Michael Wesley, shared one he created containing Tech Tips. I think this tool definitely has multiple applications, whether it’s to curate important links for students, or create a place to easily access student digital portfolios. Wesley shared how he created a Symbaloo for himself with links to portfolios; the icon for each link was a picture of the student. That would definitely make it easier with 150+ music students!

Google-CardboardVirtual Reality has made its way into education, and Google Cardboard is an easy and inexpensive start. I purchased a Google Cardboard viewer from Amazon and plan to play with Google Arts and Culture more over the next few weeks to see if there are any applications for the music classroom.

Eric Sheninger talked about BrandEd, and the importance of developing your own brand both personally/professionally and as a school. He said that true leadership comes from communication and sharing a positive message. Social media can be the key: it’s transparent, open for feedback and dialog, reaches people where they are, and has a high return on investment. This session helped me remember how important it is to share, both through this blog and on twitter, to further establish my own personal brand.

Google is something I know a lot about, but there is always more to learn. As a Google for Education Certified Trainer I feel like it’s my responsibility to know as much about Google as possible!  Patrick Hausammann was an incredible resources for what he called, “Hidden Google Goodness.” For example, I was aware of using to shorten urls, but I did not realize you could also use it to create QR codes and analyze click data. That is going to be useful. I also had fun learning about Smarty Pins. The best way I can describe it is trivia with Google Maps. Trust me, you’ll enjoy it!

While there were obviously a number of other take-a-ways from the conference, one of the greatest things was the mindset. People weren’t talking about using technology because it’s technology. They were using it to enhance learning experiences. The learning goals were the first priority. That’s something we have to remember no matter what the subject area. In my classroom, the first priority is the students learn to play their instruments along with finding passion and purpose in making music. What I do with technology needs to support that goal. In addition, people talked about the amazing things we as teachers can empower students to do. With technology we are no longer bound inside the four walls of the classroom. We can and need to break down those walls to connect with students, teachers, and professionals around the world. While the theme of the conference was “SuperEmpowering Kids and Learning,” I walked away feeling like a superhero, ready to start my epic adventure!

I truly loved having the opportunity to connect with colleagues and new friends over the three days. Learning from and with like-minded educators is something powerful. My wheels are turning, ideas are formulating, and I am excited to continue sharing this journey!

Personalized Learning: Part 2

I began writing about my Personalized Learning plan back in October, shortly after it was introduced to the students. Now that the first quarter is over I’ve had a chance to evaluate the results and am starting to make some changes moving forward.

To quickly recap, during the first quarter, students were given a list of Learning Targets (skills) and were asked to set a goal of how many they would be able to show mastery of by the end of the quarter. To show mastery, students had to submit a video of themselves playing a song to demonstrate each skill. I suggested three songs that would work for each Learning Target, and also offered the option for students to choose their own song. In addition to the video, students also had to leave a written comment, explaining the skill that was mastered.  All videos and comments were to be turned in through Canvas, which is the new LMS my county has introduced. Students were given time during class and also were to use home practice time to complete the Learning Targets.


At the end of the quarter these are the results for my orchestra students:

  • 45% of the students thought they had met or exceeded their goals
  • 27% actually met their goal (meaning, the skill was correctly mastered and the comments were included)
  • 9% exceeded their goals
  • 30% did not have 1 video successfully completed

The thing that surprised me the most was the number of students who turned in a video and then NEVER went back to check the feedback to discover either the video was not correct or the comments were missing! Most thought that since the video was turned in the Learning Target was complete – even though I reminded them at the beginning of each class to check the feedback on any submitted videos. Many did not leave a comment, or did not leave an appropriate comment (they said something like, “I mastered playing Hot Cross Buns” instead of naming the skill, “I mastered playing songs with 3 notes”). I have not finished all of the calculations for the band students, but just glancing the percentages seem very similar.

There were several students who commented on the end of quarter evaluation that they enjoyed the freedom they had this quarter. Many seemed to appreciate having choices, which is exactly what I  hoped! Quite a few students also mentioned wishing they had more time to practice. I don’t know what the solution is for this. Maybe starting a lunch time practice club? Or something after school? I don’t know yet.

Things that made me smile: when asked if there was anything else they wanted to tell me, here were some heartwarming responses:

  • “I want her to know that I really like the new way she is doing things by letting people work at their own pace.”
  • “I have loved playing violin.”
  • “I enjoy playing with Mrs.Ducassoux because she pushes me to practice a lot so I can get better, and to love music as much as she does.”
  • “I would like her to know she will never know how thankful I am for this great experience.”

There were also some students who said they still feel lost, and need more help. Others who want more time working as a full group. Which is to be understood. Full group instruction is what they are used to, and what they are comfortable with.

My goals moving forward:

  • Be more deliberate about mini-lessons at the beginning of each class
  • Provide more opportunities for students to lead mini-lessons
  • Get students to understand that learning targets are skills, and not songs. Maybe during class have students verbalize the skill that is being practiced
  • Offer additional practice times during/before/after the school day
  • Conference with individuals more frequently to assess progress
  • Help students make and stick to a plan for completing their quarterly goals

So, I would say this project is a work in progress. Some things are going well, others need to be tweaked. But overall I think it’s on the right track. This is a huge change from the way I’ve done things in the past, and a huge change from the way I was taught. But George Couros reminded us in “The Innovator’s Mindset” to think about change this way:

“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”

This has the potential to be something amazing. I’m excited about what it can do for my students! clark-tibbs-367075

Thanksgiving Concert: A Fun Project for Instrumentalists

turkey cartoon

Full disclosure: I have no idea where I originally saw this idea. If it came from you, let me know so I can give you credit!

I started doing the Thanksgiving Concert project a few years ago with my band and orchestra students as an optional assignment. Essentially, the students are tasked with performing a “concert” for family and/or friends at some point over the Thanksgiving break. They are given a blank “program” to list the pieces they play and a place for the audience members to sign their names. Both the students and families have had so much fun with this! The kids are very creative finding their audiences too – everything from a large group at Thanksgiving dinner, to grandma over the phone and the family pets. This is not a required assignment, instead I tell the students they will get a surprise upon returning to school with a completed program – usually a candy cane or something similar. This year there will be a second option, instead of filling out the paper program they can choose to record their performance on Flipgrid and take a selfie with the audience! I’m interested to see if any students try this option, as many of them love using Flipgrid.

My theory is, whatever I can do to get kids playing their instruments at home and involving their families is a good thing. The parents enjoy hear their kids play, and the students love sharing their music. It’s a win-win!

Here is a link to the blank program if you would like to try this with your students, just make a copy of the Google Doc and edit as needed. I’ll also include a link to what the Flipgrid topic would look like. Be sure to let me know how it goes!

Thanksgiving Concert – Program

Thanksgiving Concert – Flipgrid Topic


Going into the #IMMOOC experience I had no idea what to expect. I had read The Innovator’s Mindset over the summer and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was definitely on the list to re-read at some point, which made participating in the #IMMOOC a logical step. I had also recently set-up this blog, so “forced” blogging with suggested topics was appealing.

I’m not sure I can put into words the full impact of the last few weeks. It’s more of a feeling – a feeling of openness and desire. I feel much more open to new ideas, trying new things, and not being afraid of the (unknown) results. Along with that I have the incredible desire to do more. There is no reason to settle for doing things the way I’ve always done them – or the way I’ve always been told to do them! It’s ok to think outside the box, as long as student learning is at the forefront of every decision.

engage vs empower

The idea of empowerment also made a big impact on me. As a music teacher I have always felt that students should be actively engaged in music while in my classroom. Only very recently did I realize the importance of student empowerment and just how powerful that can be for a learner. To take it one step further, as a teacher I also need empowerment.  The good news is, if I don’t always feel that way within the walls of my school building, I have a strong PLN that will be there to step in.

Thanks for following me through this part of my journey, and thank you for helping me become an empowered teacher who will strive to inspire empowered learners!