Rob’s Talking

September 2, 2015

When a former student speaks, listen up

Thank you to Rob Westerberg, music educator from York High School and co-founder of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (formerly known as the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative), who provided the following blog post.

Katrina Faulstich is a former student teacher of mine and choral director at Bedford High School in Massachusetts. She has been doing some course work for her Masters degree down in Connecticut this Summer. As part of that work she submitted a paper for her Measurement and Evaluation class called, “The Use of Recordings to Assess Individuals in High School Chorus”. If you are not a high school choral director, don’t stop reading – this is one of the most informing pieces of writing I’ve come across in awhile. There are takeaways that translate to every music educator regardless of age group or specialty. To be sure, Katrina lays out her plans for assessing individuals in her program. And they are really cool. But there is so much more going on here and it’s a game changer when you look at it through a finer lens. She concludes her opening paragraph with the statement, “With so many changes affecting education, teachers must remember to do what is best for student learning and achievement.” Ya think? My takeaways from her paper:

  • We always cry foul when colleagues and administrators marginalize academic music programs, but research shows that they have every right to. J. A. Russell and J. R. Austin (2010): “researchers examining assessment practice in secondary music classrooms found that attendance and attitude were the most common grading criteria employed by instrumental and choral music teachers” (“Music Assessment Research,” para. 3). If this statement were true for any other teacher in any other core subject area, they would be fired. And you know it. We’ve been doing it however – and getting away with it – for generations. The research found that music teachers on average based 60% of grade weight on non-achievement criteria. When MAAI (MALI) ran its first state conference in 2011, the debate we had on the Leadership Team was whether or not to include the word “assessment” in it, the argument being that if we did it would scare arts teachers away. In retrospect, I don’t know which is scarier: that we were actually fearful about including the word or that we had reason to be.
  • We are too often guilty of assessing the skills of an entire ensemble over those of the individuals within. L.H. Tracy (2002): Two hundred and seventy four high school choral teachers completed a survey. (It was found that) teachers seemed to use personal philosophy to decide whether or not to assess individuals. In accordance with previous studies, Tracy found most teachers assess students on attendance, attitude, and effort. Tracey attributed this to the “‘teach as we are taught’ phenomenon” (p. 154). Most participants reported using in-class observations as a form of assessment, but Tracy stated this does not mean teachers know what individuals know and are able to do (Colwell, 1991, as cited in Tracy, 2002). Personal assessment “philosophy” has no place in 21st century classrooms. We know from a national standpoint as well as from an international standpoint that assessment of individual student growth is now a foundational expectation of every classroom teacher, period. We can get caught up too easily in state and federal mandates that carry this to an extreme with the “how oftens” and the “let’s standardize all this” filtering out the real issue here. There are effective ways of assessing that enhance and articulate student learning, and there are ways that don’t. That debate isn’t being held here. But to avoid individual assessment because of those and/or other filters that we allow to impact our choices? Inexcusable.
  • Tracy indicated many chorus teachers lack training in assessment and therefore do not use the best assessment practices. This was the foundational reason we formed MAAI 5 years ago. To date, we have provided professional development to over 1,200 arts educators here in Maine, provided by peers in the trenches fighting the same battles as everyone else. Though it is entrenched in research, all of it is foundational and practical so teachers can individualize their work based on their setting and available resources. Maine’s arts educators are running out of excuses on this one.
  • Individual assessment facilitates growth. Katrina alluded to a study in which students who were assessed on sight reading skills for instance showed significant improvement over those who were not assessed. We cannot look at assessment as something that “gets in the way of what I’m trying to do” any longer. Conceptually, curriculum, assessment and instruction must be an integrated entity. When we divide these elements like slices of pie we miss out on the real power of each. Our students benefit when we transparently link them in a thoughtful, sequential and systematic way. Research supports this for every other core subject area, and it supports it for the arts as well.
  • Many teachers justified the lack of individual performance assessments by claiming teachers do not have time to assess each student during class time. Kotora suggested researchers look into teachers’ use of computer, audio, and video technology to assess individual students in chorus. I literally refer to my career as the years I taught before attending the Hartford, Connecticut MENC Eastern Division Conference in February 2007, and the years I’ve taught since. That was when I discovered Smartmusic. I’m not a Smartmusic shill, and I don’t believe it’s the best technology for every situation. Far from it. But through Smartusic I found a way to assess every individual in my chorus. At the time I had 230 singers in a school of 650 with NO way to individually assess them. Technology changed that, and transformed my courses, my curriculum, my instruction and, most importantly, my students learning. Mind you, that was eight and a half years ago. The vast landscape of technology at our fingertips now offers astounding opportunities for individual assessment in the large group setting.
  • We need to listen to our newer colleagues to the profession. Katrina is a great example of this. She prefaces her paper with the statement that she already utilizes individual assessment in her classroom, but she’s not satisfied with her strategies. She already does it but isn’t satisfied! How many times have we as veteran teachers filtered out valuable growth opportunities with a wee small voice on the inside of us that says as a rebuttal, “but I’ve always done it my way and it works?” To satirize the meme that is often used in social media these days, “But I’ve always done it my way and it works”, said no beginning teacher ever. Katrina and her classmate Kaitlin Young, Drew and Ashley Albert, Jen Etter, Jen Nash, Jake Sturdevant. I wrote my own blog post a couple of years ago on this topic (http://goobermusicteachers.com/2013/03/02/nothing-to-learn-from-beginning-teachers/) and feel even stronger about it today than when I wrote it. Inexperience = searching. And perhaps that’s something we can all give them more credit for.

There’s much more in Katrina’s paper and it’s worth the read. Working with data and educational studies can be very dry. But from that work can be mined some essential truths. “Assessment based on curricular objectives is important if music education is to be perceived as a legitimate subject” (Shuler, 1990, as cited in Kotora, 2005, p. 73). Choosing to ignore research, best practices, new ideas and new strategies for music instruction is an option. It is. But doing so will inevitably lead to the demise of our programs and of our profession, and research supports this. The 2015-2016 school year is a perfect opportunity for each of us to move our assessment work forward in whatever capacity is available to us in our own schools. Not the state, not the DOE, not NAfME, not your administrators, not MALI, but your STUDENTS will be the beneficiaries. And that’s why we’re here to begin with, isn’t it?

Fortunately for us Katrina’s paper is available on the Maine Arts Assessment Resources website at http://media.wix.com/ugd/4747f3_fd6b4c29ecbd434cb73884fa7b3be72a.pdf.


Rock Stars!

September 1, 2015

Great stuff happening with Arts educators and Arts education!

Photo on 8-25-15 at 2.44 PM

Sue Barre’s colleagues on the first workshop day: Strings Teacher Ciara Hargrove, Digital Arts Teacher and MALI Teacher Leader and Leadership Team member Suzanne Goulet, Strings Teacher Sam Lyons, and art teacher Dave Matteson

Everyday I hear about the focus and commitment that Maine Arts Educators have about teaching and to their students. The following all happened on the same day. YES, these made my day – I am so proud of the work that Arts educators do for the sake of their PK-12 students! These teachers are all making a difference and carry the sign ROCK STAR! in my book!

  • Sue Barre sent this early one morning… “In the opening school assembly today the Superintendent told everyone to look to the music document for guidance… kinda cool!” CONGRATULATIONS to Sue who teaches music in Waterville Schools and is a Teacher Leader with the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI). In addition, Waterville High School VPA teachers (seen in the photo to the right) established this goal: “We made a VPA goal to have all students in our Waterville High School VPA classes do at least one reflective writing assignment and then share those at a faculty meeting this year.”  Awesome work team!
  • jen - Version 2Jen Nash was on WERU morning show called Arts Alive and was a ROCK STAR! Jen was articulate and represented arts educators across the state…. Jen teaches music at Sebasticook Middle School and is an MALI Teacher Leader.
  • Theresa Cerceo is a MALI Teacher Leader who teaches K-12 Visual Art in Dr. Levesque Elementary School, Wisdom Middle/High School, MSAD 33 (all the way up in the County). Her Logic Model plan for her work as a Teacher Leader this year, involves advocacy work with students. In her own words: “I started working with my students today on advocacy work. I had K – 12 come up with possible blog titles and the high school art club created the, “Student Leaders in the Arts Movement” or S.L.A.M.!  We will have a meeting at the start of every art club meeting (once a week).  We had a great talk about the importance of messaging why the arts are essential. They had a lot of great ideas and really took ownership of the project. We have a board going for all the different activities we will work on. They are excited!” (There will be more information about this in the near future. Theresa is piloting this idea and will gladly share more with you about this in the months to come!)
Students (l to r): Daley Pedersen, grade 11 Elizabeth Raymond, Grade 12, Adam Weyneth, Grade 12, Jasmine DeMoranville, Grade 11, Sarah Harris, Grade 12, Dorothy Harris, Grade 10, Cassandra Boucher, Grade 10, Celine "Ce Ce" Young, grade 12

Students (l to r): Daley Pedersen, grade 11, Elizabeth Raymond, Grade 12, Adam Weyneth, Grade 12, Jasmine DeMoranville, Grade 11, Sarah Harris, Grade 12, Dorothy Harris, Grade 10, Cassandra Boucher, Grade 10, Celine “Ce Ce” Young, grade 12

  • Joshua Bosse is the PK-12 Music Teacher in Madawaska and a new Phase 5 MALI Teacher Leader and put this message on the MALI community wiki: “I would like to take the time to just say that I appreciate what each and every one of you have been doing for MALI and for your school districts. With school already starting for me, I can say that I have already seen a dramatic change in my teaching (for the better). I feel that MALI has done great things for me, and I am more excited than ever to be teaching students what I love most! Again, thank you so much for all that you have done, and I hope you all have a wonderful school year, and that all of your workshops go well! I saw a lot of great plans! I will definitely be keeping in touch throughout the school year, and I am so overjoyed about being able to be part of this wonderful organization!”

When you find yourself asking yourself the hard questions about your chosen career field, know that you are not alone! I suggest that you “get off your island” and attend a MALI event to connect with spirited Teacher Leaders. And, join us at the fall biennial arts conference, Arts Education: The Measure of Success, October 9, Point Lookout Conference Center. Information and registration (early-bird through September 9) is located at http://mainearts.maine.gov/Pages/Education/Biennial-Statewide. MALI resources located at http://www.maineartsassessment.com/.


Intern Story

August 31, 2015

Simon Rollins

Simon Rollins has been an intern in my office this summer at the Maine Arts Commission and kindly took a few minutes to write the following blog post. He provides us the chance to learn more about Arts Administration. Simon is a thoughtful person who graduated from Erskine Academy in 2012. His future is bright!

Please tell the Maine Arts Education blog readers about your educational journey Simon.

DSC_1224_SimonRollins_850x1270              I currently attend the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) where I study Arts Administration. I am often asked, “What exactly does that mean?” The question bothers me. It would not bother me so much if I had a snappy one-sentence response to hand out. But I don’t. Arts Administration is a multifaceted subject for me, and hopefully for other people who study it, as well.

     To ask an engineering student or a biology student the same question seems a little foolish or even inconsiderate. Why, though? “What will that equate to? What is engineering?” The answer is certainly more than just “math.” But it seems, from my personal experience, that “a lot of math” is a great answer for that question. An answer that is welcomed with open arms by the majority of amateur surveyors and second rate life coaches. A narrowed focus is a learning attribute our nation values. Unfortunately, I don’t hold that attribute.

     My education, thus far, has been wide-ranging. I study liberal arts, but the degree I will earn next spring will say “Bachelor of Visual and Performing Arts: Arts Administration.” Or something to that effect.

     For me, that means I have the green light to take the courses I am genuinely interested in and suitable for my style of thinking. And I’ve done exactly that for three years. It’s great. And I’m smarter as a result. Only recently have I begun piecing together the incredible courses I have collected to fashion a degree that summarizes what I’ve done at UMF. To be honest, I don’t think Arts Administration is the final title; it’s my working title.

     Though, with this said, I am in love with the idea of being an arts administrator. During my time here in Augusta, I’ve learned that the Maine Arts Commission (MAC), and other similar organizations, are employed with selfless people who possess a strong desire to serve the public. Working at MAC, in addition to schooling on the subject, has excited the possibility of undertaking future projects to benefit artists with the duel intention of exposing art for its intrinsic value and for the sake of social change.

     I was at a show in a South Portland basement a few weeks ago, listening to local bands I like. Visually scanning the 50 or so other people there, I thought, “Everyone here is genuinely enjoying themselves.” But even if just one person were relishing those moments, it would be worth organizing the musicians to travel far distances, congregate at the same venue, and assemble equipment in a hot, cramped space. That one person is better as a result of having been there, involved with something that was impactful to her on an intricate level. With this sort of example in mind, I’m realizing why I initially wanted to intern at the MAC and study this atypical subject. I want to expose others to what I find captivating.

      I view my major as a focused liberal arts degree. I’m learning concepts that will benefit me throughout my entire life, regardless of their direct applications to my future professions. As I begin to comprehend what post school life might look like, I gather that I will be working in multiple, evolving fields, so to worry too much about what exactly I’m studying at the moment feels like contrived anxiety. However, as mentioned previously, this is not self perpetuated stress. It seems as though everyone I have ever come in contact with is agitated or at least somewhat discouraged that I don’t know my place in higher education. I’m labeled as a bit of a slacker. Which doesn’t offend me in the slightest, but I do worry that others like me (the vast majority of students), feel a pressure to choose and commit to a costly and grueling degree that may end up restricting them to miserable parameters in the future.

     Ending brightly: Studying Arts Administration is currently giving me the freedom to view different avenues of choice by studying both business and art. It is an area of study I’m glad I chose to engage with.



First and Ten Steel Drum Band

August 30, 2015

Check out the message of this video

On Saturday these men are on the Vanderbilt football field and on Sunday afternoon they are attending a steel drum class. The entire band is from the team and the name: The First and Ten Steel Drum Band. They recognize that it takes a lot of practice on the field and off!


Talk about Creativity!

August 29, 2015



Another Student’s Story: Tom Goodwin

August 28, 2015

Tom Goodwin

“Thomas Goodwin grew up in Midcoast Maine. He studied film production at Emerson College and his college thesis film “Hands of the Nocturnal Clock” received accolades at festivals in New England. “Dead of Winter,” his second feature film, is a tribute to the place he grew up. Tom has worked on video and film projects since the age of 11. Growing up with a camera in hand, he captured every story he could. Having returned to his home state and aiding a local museum as they update their digital collection, Tom is excited to be doing what he loves in the place that he holds so close.” “Dead of Winter” Fundraising Campaign on Indiegogo – November 2014

Tom_2In Tom’s own words…
At the age of 11, I wrote a letter to Harrison Ford asking to be his sidekick in the next Indiana Jones film. Sadly, years later, Shia LeBeouf snaked the role from me. Point is, if you asked me at 11 years old what I would do when I grew up, I would have told you I would become a filmmaker. Now 27 years old, my answer hasn’t changed. I have succeeded in some ways, and am still yearning to grow.

I graduated from Medomak Valley High School in 2006, having taken more film classes than the school even offered. I was a accepted to attend Emerson College in Boston, MA for a Bachelor’s degree in Film Production. As part of my schooling, I was fortunate to write, produce, and direct a 20-minute 1920’s gangster film on 35mm film. I found that growing up in Midcoast Maine gave me an edge in securing locations and props in and around my hometown of Warren. As such, most of the film, “Hands of the Nocturnal Clock,” was shot on location around Midcoast Maine. !

HANDS OF THE NOCTURNAL CLOCK – TRAILER (runtime 1 minute, 15 seconds)


I graduated from Emerson College in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts. I stayed in Boston for two more years, teaching Media Arts at Young Achievers, K-8 in Mattapan, MA and a “Teen TV” summer program at English High School in Jamaica Plain, MA.

For my next project, a good friend handed me a feature length screenplay and offered me the chance to direct the film. I accepted, and in 2012 I directed “Humble River.” We had 48 speaking roles and 50 locations between Boston, MA and Orland, ME. Sadly, the Executive Producers of the film were unable to secure festival licenses for much of the music that was chosen for the production, so only a limited number of DVDs are in circulation. That said, we were able to finish the film, and I am able to say that at the age of 24, I had directed a feature length film.

HUMBLE RIVER – TRAILER (runtime 1 minute, 30 seconds)


Tom_1I returned to the Midcoast area in late 2012, and have been here ever since. Upon my return, I crafted the screenplay for “Dead of Winter.”  The screenplay was a chance for me to look at the area where I grew up with a fresh set of eyes. To be able to notice the things that set Maine apart. It is certainly a project about a place, and cannot be transferred to any other locale. It wasn’t until I began a job at the Owls Head Transportation Museum as their in-house videographer in June of 2014 that I was able to see that “Dead of Winter” could actually be produced into a film. While at the transportation museum, where I still work, I have access to creative and curious minds, equipment, flexibility, and support in this feature film endeavor. Beyond that, I am learning even more about my chosen craft every day. My mission has been primarily educational and promotional material for the museum, all housed on the museum’s YouTube channel, which I manage. From concept to distribution, these videos are 100% created by me. See below!

Owls Head Transportation Museum’s Youtube Channel


OHTM’S Museum Story (runtime 2 minutes)


“Dead of Winter” has a tried and true plot; what happens when a number of unlikely character’s lives intersect over a bag full of money? It’s a commonly seen anecdote, and has been used time and again to tell the story of a place. The place itself plays a major character in the film’s plot, the trajectory of the players involved, and the outcome of the story. “Dead of Winter” is an examination of a region much like the films “Fargo,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “Waking Ned Devine” route themselves deeply in the regions where they take place. Having grown up here and having dedicated my life to the art of storytelling, I am in a unique position to make this dream come true. To create this film in my home state, about my home state, and for my home state. Rather than tell you about it, allow me to tell you about it… in a video!!

DEAD of WINTER FUNDRAISING PROMO (runtime 2 minutes, 23 seconds)


DEAD of WINTER teaser #1 (runtime 1 minute, 28 seconds)


DEAD of WINTER teaser #2 (runtime 30 seconds)


Congratulations to Tom who was recently awarded a Maine Arts Commission grant. Tom was a student in my middle school art class many moons ago. It is great to see what he is doing these days.


MLR Guiding Principles

August 27, 2015

Interesting day


Kate, Beth, Amy, Argy

The Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Teacher Leaders, Amy Cousins, Visual Art, Gorham Middle School, Kate Smith, Music, Central School, South Berwick and Beth Lambert, Performing Arts from Carrabec High School joined me today to do work on the Guiding Principles for the Maine Department of Education. It was a wonderful learning opportunity. We had a chance to contribute our ideas to the framework draft. MALI has done work on the topic and included it in the online resources located at http://maairesourcebank.pbworks.com/w/page/82916230/MAAI%20Resource%20Bank. I look forward to sharing the Developmental Frameworks document in the future.

sculpWe met at the beautiful Benjamin F Wentworth Intermediate School in Scarborough. The entrance has a beautiful dichroic glass hanging sculpture created by artist Michelle Gutlove. I hope that you will have a chance to visit the school in the future.

We all know how well the work we do in our visual and performing arts classrooms connects directly with all of the Guiding Principles. I am curious about how many of you are intentionally measuring them? Students will need to demonstrate their understanding of the GP as part of the proficiency-based high school diploma. Please let me know if you are doing this work and/or where your school district is in this process.

Imagine our surprise when driving home we spotted a large animal on a car in the distance. We were so excited to see the cat! And, when we got closer noticed that the car is from Acro-cats. Not sure where they were headed but they made my day! Check them out at http://circuscats.com/.

road catcat




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