Q&A: Using EdTech to Help Shape Young Musicians
We spoke with Brian Bruggeman, Band Director at Monroe Middle School about how he is using education technology in his music classes.
Schoology: Tell us about your district, Monroe School District, and the role you play in it.
Brian Bruggeman: The School District of Monroe is a rural district in Southwestern Wisconsin. The district is comprised of three elementary schools (pre K-5), one middle school (6-8), and one high school (9-12). There are approximately 2,500 students served by the district. I am the middle school band director. I also serve on the district Learning, Assessing and Reporting Committee, the building Schoology Committee, and I am a WEB Co-coordinator.
You were the first Band Director to ever win Schoology Educator of the Year. Tell us about how you’re incorporating edtech into your music curriculum.
Receiving the Schoology Educator of the Year Award was a humbling experience. I have been fortunate to attend three Schoology NEXT conferences. Observing the quality of educators who attend, even though it is only a fraction of Schoology’s users, magnifies this honor.
BB: As a band director, I am able to incorporate Schoology in a number of ways in my classroom. First, Schoology is the infrastructure where I build my curriculum. Every class, every day, I have the daily agenda posted on the SmartBoard. Not only is this a benefit for my class, but if students are absent, they can access that day’s material as well. Second, using Schoology pages, I am able to embed my learning targets as Google Slides, allowing me to draw the students’ attention to what they should be able to demonstrate in my class. Third, by using Schoology’s test/quiz feature I have developed a greater understanding of what my students can prove they know. Assessing student knowledge acquisition through a quick exit ticket to determine their understanding is a powerful instructional strategy.
Another way that I incorporate edtech is by monitoring student growth in their performance. Unfortunately, my schedule does not allow me to provide lessons for all of my students. As a result for the past few years, I have had students record themselves directly into Schoology, providing me the opportunity to assess them and provide corrective feedback. Many school districts are focused on developing literacy skills across all content areas. Schoology also allows me to add a written literacy component into my curriculum. Watching videos of music that we are performing for a concert, I use discussion posts to have students answer targeted prompts.
Recently I began using Schoology for parent/teacher conferences. I was able to show parents their student’s scores, comments associated with the rubric, and they were able to listen to their student’s recorded performance.
You mentioned that much of your practice revolves around error detection and correction in young musicians. Share an example of how you achieve this on an average day.
BB: Music teachers habitually preach about the necessity to practice outside of class. However, if students are repeating errors at home, their practice is counterproductive. Therefore, I have become intentional in instructing students on building their capacity to assess and impact their own progress. Either in rehearsal or in lessons, I am more apt to ask how would we fix this problem? I believe that having them record themselves provides the students the opportunity to self-assess. When a student records an assignment, they are able to listen to the recording before clicking submit. My next step is to have students review the standards-based Schoology rubric prior to submitting their assignments and begin identifying areas of concern in their performance. My goal is to provide young musicians with the knowledge base to detect their own errors as well as initiate corrective measures when practicing. Ultimately, this will build their capacity to critically listen to and evaluate performances.
How have your students reacted to using technology in music class? Have they been more engaged?
BB: This year has been the best year in regards to how my students have responded to the assignments in Schoology, again through intentional instruction. One component that I am hoping to address this year is to increase student engagement in their performance, including reading and responding to feedback I leave in the rubric.
Technology has changed the way that teachers teach and students learn. I find that students have many opportunities outside of school and homework is just one of them. If teachers do not find ways to create pragmatic and engaging opportunities that provide a connection for the students between the assignment and the learning objective, then an educator’s job will become more daunting. Yet, I am still old school enough to maintain that in a music class there is no substitute for practicing.
Tell us more about the importance of self-reflection in your teaching.
BB: I have always thought about improving my ensembles as well as my abilities as a music educator. This year I have had two specific experiences that have narrowed my focus on improving my metacognitive habits. First, I participated in a workshop where the presenter and her team were masterfully able to transition the seminar effortlessly and without our knowledge from one activity to another. Not only did this leave me in awe, but I also wondered how I could achieve this feat in my classroom. Second, I enrolled in online courses, focusing on instructional coaching, reflective practice, instructional strategies, and curriculum design. I believe that these two experiences altered my thinking. Now rather than thinking how do I make my ensembles better, I am more interested in how I can be more intentional in the design of my instruction to guarantee that my students are understanding and applying the skills and concepts to their performances. This calculated planning requires an even deeper understanding of what it is I am trying to accomplish.
You are very active in the Schoology Community. How has a PLN helped you improve and grow as an educator?
BB: I am not the teacher I am today without my PLN. I did not open a Twitter account until I became a Schoology Ambassador. Most people geek out about a movie star or some other celebrity. Some of my biggest career highlights in the last five years have been meeting my idols, whom I follow on Twitter. I am fortunate to be a Schoology Ambassador and I stand in admiration of the people I serve with. They are genuine, compassionate, dedicated, student-centered educators, who have the ability to make me smile every day. Moreover, they will always help out with answers to questions, ideas for improvement, or ways to make me think of something from a different perspective. I can’t imagine being a professional without them.
What advice do you have for educators who may not be in a traditional role that would require technology? How can they be creative and incorporate it the way you have?
BB: When my school first started our journey with Schoology, we were transitioning between two principals who both supported creativity with edtech. While crucial, I understand that that component is not within everyone’s realm of control, however. The first step is giving yourself permission to experiment with what works for your situation. Very few people understand your community, your content, your goals, and your skills. Embrace all of those components, placing student learning in the middle and I believe you can surprise yourself with your outcomes. The second step is having the grace to forgive and ask for forgiveness when things do not go the way you planned. Several of my colleagues remind me of this when my intentions are not met with amazing outcomes. Next, organize yourself from the start. I hate trying to find an activity that I did last year. Tag your work and file it away appropriately. Also, build your PLN, discover people who share your passion for education and connect with them. Finally, I found this motivational quote the other day and it is serving as my mantra this year. Author and associate professor Stuart W. Scott shared, “Don't downgrade your dream just to fit your reality. Upgrade your conviction to match your destiny.” When times get tough as we know that they do in education, it is important to remain faithful to your conviction and return to the classroom ready to meet the challenges of our students and a new day.
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