Archive for May 13th, 2014


On Today’s News

May 13, 2014

Molly Kate How does this happen?

Tonight on the national news I learned about a high school student named Molly Kate Kestner who wrote and recorded a song that she played on her grandmother’s out of tune piano. She recorded it on her iphone with a broken screen and posted it to YouTube. Suddenly she received a bunch of emails and the YouTube video has been viewed over 6 million times. How does this happen? Amazing. And her voice is amazing as well! (The guitar on the wall is a wonderful asset to the video as well).

You can view Molly Kate performance below..


Another Arts Teacher’s Story: Jen Etter

May 13, 2014

York Middle School music educator

This is the seventh blog post for 2014 and the third phase of the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative of this series sharing arts teachers’ stories. This series contains a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to learn from and about others. I had the pleasure of visiting Jen’s classroom recently, what a treat! It was a wonderful day.

Screen shot 2014-05-10 at 7.29.37 PMJen teaches grades 5-8 music. She directs the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade choruses and 7th and 8th grade general music.  She also assists with beginner band lessons. Jen has been teaching for 7 years in the York Schools.

What do you like best about being a music educator?

My favorite thing about being a music educator is watching students surprise themselves with what they are capable of after working hard to achieve a goal.  This is especially excited when it happens with a student who struggles to find success in other areas.  For me it reaffirms why music education is such an important part of a public school curriculum.

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

1.) Meaningful objectives and assessments tied to those objectives

2.) A passionate teacher who always keeps what is best for students at the forefront

3.) Having the support of the school and community around you including, fellow teachers, administration and parents

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?

Assessment drives my classroom. So much so that I wonder how I could have possibly run my classroom without meaningful assessments as I did a few years back. Assessment is at the cornerstone of what I do as a teacher and I do it constantly. As I sit here answering this question I am smiling. I am smiling because I enjoy assessment so much that often my colleagues tease me about constantly planning my next assessment strategy. I’m sure at first this probably sounds as if I spend a whole lot of time testing my students which sounds really dull, however in my classroom, it is much more informal than that.

When I first started assessing students in my classroom, I realized very quickly that I knew my students better after assessing them. The more I assessed, the more I learned about their strengths and weaknesses and the more I knew about that, the better job I did at tailoring my instruction for all the learners in my classroom. I used to have a pretty good idea about the strengths and weaknesses of my students who loved to sing, because they would “put themselves out there” but there were many that I knew very little about.

My assessments are usually just quick check ins. They are done by asking questions on a 3 minute “exit form” that they submit to me electronically at the end of a class. Or I will randomly ask questions to students that have to do with the essential knowledge I would like them to take away for the day. This kind of questioning allows me the background knowledge I need to tailor my instruction to the needs of the students. Because of this I know constantly what my students are struggling with and what I need to do to help them- either on a large scale of individual level. I also assess students in more formal ways by having them submit recordings to me based on the objectives of our class. I feel that students don’t “slip through the cracks” in my classroom. Students are held accountable for mastery of  our music standards and when they are having trouble with that, I am in a much better position to know what I can do to help them succeed. This has also proved to be a huge factor in student motivation. My students no longer can sit in the back row and go through the motions. They know that it is their responsibility to meet the standards and they will be help accountable for them.

What are the benefits in becoming involved in the arts assessment initiative?

The conversations and the camaraderie!!! The doors that have been opened as a result of being involved in the initiative are unbelievable. I now feel that I have so many contacts and so much support from teachers around the state that I would not have had otherwise. I feel inspired and challenged by these peers every day and it pushes me to try to get better at what I do!

What are you most proud of in your career?

I think I am most proud of the changes I have made in my classroom to make it more student-centered and standards- based. I believe that no one slips through the cracks in my room and I hold every student accountable for their own work. The returns I have seen on this have been amazing. Students rise to the occasion almost every time and seeing the pride that they have in themselves for the work they have done is just amazing.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

Honestly, lately the Common Core. We are fighting an uphill battle against the “CORE” subjects and because of it we are continually losing time and funding.

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstance?

As a district we have worked hard to create graduation requirements for both visual arts and music separately from each other. This change has driven more concrete requirements at the lower levels resulting in programs that are tied to a very academic curriculum but also have enrollment numbers that are through the roof.

Look into your crystal ball:  what advice would you give to teachers?

Approach your classroom with the whole picture in mind. What is best for all students, all staff and the whole school. If you approach situations (especially with administration and other teachers) with the whole school in mind you will be more credible. This in turn will give you more solid footing when it comes to advocating for your own program.

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

Wow! That’s a lot of money! Steel drums for the General Music program, (working on that one even without the $500,000) SmartMusic for all the music students and also save a whole bunch for travel for the ensembles. Students gain so much from being able to travel and perform but also through listening to live performances, I wish we had both more time and more funding for that type of thing.


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