Jim Criswell is the Band and Orchestra Director at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School, a large independent school in Alexandria, Virginia. He currently teaches 7th and 8th grade Advanced Band, as well as high school String Orchestra and Wind Ensemble. ACCLAIM first connected with Jim at NYU Steinhardt’s multimedia summer workshop, the IMPACT conference. Beginning in September, Jim has been using ACCLAIM to offer group and individual feedback to his students, as well as to assign video clips to watch and discuss. ACCLAIM took a moment to ask Jim to expand upon the ways in which he’s incorporating video discussion and assessment in his classrooms.
ACCLAIM: Tell us about your educational background and your classes. What are you teaching currently, and what is the class content?
JC: I earned a BM, MM, and DMA in French Horn performance and then spent several years as a freelance musician and private teacher of horn. Thirteen years ago, I received an opportunity to teach music as a middle school band director in the Arlington County Public School system. During my three years in Arlington I earned my teaching credentials through the University of Virginia. Ten years ago I accepted a position at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School.
In my Band, Orchestra, and Ensemble classes, we work on and strengthen fundamental techniques such as rhythm, intonation, ensemble precision, articulation, dynamics, and musical expression. We also spend part of the time rehearsing (performing) an eclectic range of music, as well as doing creative activities such as improvisation and composing.
ACCLAIM: How do you plan on using ACCLAIM to integrate video within your classroom? How does this correlate with your curriculum?
JC: I am planning to use ACCLAIM in four ways this year. These use cases are designed to encourage individual student development, corporate ensemble development, and creative interaction with the community, and to enable them to think critically about music and performances.
1) I will record, upload, and provide comments on all individual student performance assessments throughout the year. This includes a beginning-of-the-year benchmark assessment (which has already taken place), and an end-of-year assessment to measure technical and musical growth through the year.
2) I will periodically record and upload ensemble rehearsals. Afterwards, students will post comments on elements of musical and visual presentation. They will address one aspect that they thought went well, one aspect that they thought needed improvement (either individually or as a group), and provide an overall rating of the performance on a scale of 1-10, with an explanation. As we practice, I want them to see how their performance of the same piece over a period of time develops.
3) Students will record themselves playing on webcam while demonstrating a technique, as if they were teaching a beginning student.
4) Students will watch professional ensemble performances from YouTube and write critiques. This will allow me to monitor how each student progresses with his/her musical thinking and use of musical terminology.
ACCLAIM: What aspects of using video are helpful to your teaching? How does it expand your capabilities?
JC: I love being able to upload videos immediately so that students can access them at any time that is convenient. ACCLAIM’s commenting feature is a major asset. That the comments are linked to specific times in playback facilitates my ability to provide feedback. ACCLAIM has allowed me to both reinforce and to expand my teaching. With the students’ first individual individual playing assessments, I was able to more carefully review each student’s performance than I could during class time. I could observe their postures and playing positions, and advise them how to modify and correct behaviors. I have already noticed changes in several students.
By reviewing student comments on group ensemble performances I can gauge their facility with musical terminology. I seen that students are often more articulate about their ensemble practice performances when they take the time to think and write about them after class. Their self-assessments in the form of comments enable me to address student questions and to direct my teaching over the next practice session.
ACCLAIM: How have your students reacted to using ACCLAIM?
JC: Students have gravitated to ACCLAIM very intuitively and comfortably. It encourages them to thoughtfully review their performances. In previous years, I filmed performances, and then students came to me individually if they wanted verbal feedback. But most students never took advantage of this. Now students are required to self-evaluate and interact with me about their performances. One student mentioned that he really likes using ACCLAIM because he can absorb and review my comments. Another student (a percussion player) noticed he was dancing to the music as we played through a piece. He commented on how distracting it was and has since made an effort to be more subtle in his movements.
ACCLAIM: How does commenting allow students to better understand course ideas/ improve their work?
JC:Commenting allows me to address students very specifically about their strengths and weaknesses. For them, it resembles a private lesson through video. After I commented on posture and playing positions in my students’ first playing assessments, I saw many changes. Students developed these ideas in their self-evaluations of subsequent ensemble videos I uploaded to ACCLAIM. Students have an elevated sense of awareness – witnessing their own behaviors enables them to internalize my advice and to improve.