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 get to hear from every student and it’s encouraging them to play their instruments outside of class.

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 halfway 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. I’d love to hear from anyone else with great ideas for using Flipgrid in band and orchestra!


**Update: June 2018 – Flipgrid is now completely FREE for everyone! They have joined forces with Microsoft to bring all educators free use of all Flipgrid features. I highly recommend signing up for an account.

**Update: March 2018 – be sure to check out the awesome Flipgrid Explorer Series for Music in Our Schools Month! This series will include a place for students to learn about careers in music, talk about what they love about music and why it’s important, and even share videos performing music! It’s not to miss. Learn more about the series: Flipgrid Explorer Series: Music or go directly to the grid: Explorer Series: Music.  (password = music) While this series is now over, it’s still worth checking out some of the videos.

Using Flipgrid in Instrumental Music

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


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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!