Nuggets from VMEA

Now that I am entering my third year as a Virginia resident and teacher I figured it was time to finally attend VMEA! To ensure it happened, I submitted three session proposals last spring. Two were accepted, which was excellent – attending the conference was meant to be. (Feel free to check out the presentations here.)

I love learning and will do so at any opportunity. Additionally, there is so much value in stepping away from school to spend time with colleagues. Often the best learning comes from the networking and conversations outside of the conference sessions. I was fortunate to have several of these valuable conversations, and attend multiple meaningful sessions! I’ve taken some time to go back through my notes and handouts, and based on all of that, here are some of my favorite takeaways from the conference

Practicing with Purpose

During this session, presenter David Kish spoke about philosophies, strategies, and tools for effective practice. He advocates for giving students a personalized practice plan instead of a practice chart. Initially, the teacher would create practice plans for the students, but the responsibility should gradually transfer to the student. This is personalized learning at its best! I purchased David Kish’s book, Practicing with Purpose, and look forward to reading it. Helping students learn more effective practice techniques is something I would love to be able to do.

Demystifying Disabilities in the Music Room

This was a very enlightening session by Patricia Vass. Ms. Vass spoke to clarify the meaning of various disabilities and explained how a disability impacts a student participating in music classes. She explained that special education helps students level the playing field by providing tools to accommodate their learning. Following the session, I asked some additional questions about students with intellectual disabilities. She gave suggestions such as removing any excess writing from the sheet music, enlarging the print, and also working with the special Ed teachers to determine which IEP goals could be worked on during instrumental music. For example, students who work on counting will be able to do that some in music, those working on tracking (when reading) can practice tracking reading music.

If you Play Something, Say Something

Brian Balmages presented a great session about the importance of musicianship and playing not only what’s on the page. He broke down musicianship into 3 categories: hollow, where only the notes and rhythms are played; choreographed, where the expressive techniques may be played as written, but with no intent; and engaged musicianship, where the performers understand and convey the musical intent. I do believe this is even possible with young students. Too often we drill notes and rhythms and assume they are too young or inexperienced to handle the expressive elements of a piece. For the next concert with my 5th-grade musicians, I plan to focus on students understanding the intent behind the music, working to play more than just the notes and rhythms, and actually saying something with their music.

Developing Healthy Socialization in the Music Classroom

Scott Edgar presented several sessions about Social Emotional Learning in music classes. While I was only able to attend this one session, it is definitely a topic I plan to pursue more. Scott Edgar talked a lot about the importance of creating a positive atmosphere, suggesting that conflicts are prevented instead of remediated. He also stressed the importance of relationships. As you build a relationship you are making deposits, and you cannot make a withdrawal from an empty bank. He also suggested giving students who are drama-filled leadership roles, even if only menial tasks. In most cases, the students know deep down they are the cause of drama, and having a job to do can help alleviate some of the stress. This is definitely something I want to learn more about!

While there were many other sessions I attended and even more conversations that took place, these had the biggest impact and are the ideas I plan to focus on this school year. If they are things that interest you, I recommend checking out the linked resources and sharing what you learn! Keep these conversations going, because that is how we can all continue to grow.

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