Increasing Accountability Efficiently with RML

Oct 04, 2023

By Rob Chilton

Let’s discuss some best practices and time-saving solutions to help you use Readymade Music Literacy (RML) efficiently and effectively on your journey to develop musically literate students.

The Process of Teaching & Learning Simplified

To start, we’ll simplify the process of teaching and learning into three steps.

Using the Readymade Music Literacy (RML) program as our model, let’s relabel the aforementioned steps as the following:

Ever since I began teaching the first iterations of the RML curriculum in 2013, I’ve tried countless ways of completing the lesson, worksheet, and grading elements in search of effectiveness and efficiency.  Here’s what I discovered.

 

Reflections on the Video Lessons

Before there were videos, my weekly live presentations took 30-45 minutes not including the worksheets!  This meant that on a 45-minute bell schedule, the lesson alone might take the entire class.  Now, thankfully, the average length of a RML video lesson is just 15 minutes! 

To get the most out of RML, we recommend that you pick one day a week to show the video lesson and do it at the beginning of class.  My staff and I commonly did Wednesdays or Thursdays, but you can do whatever day works best for you!  Doing it on the same day of the week provides your students with the consistency they desire and something different to look forward to during the week.  I still remember eagerly awaiting the last Friday of each month in 7th grade when my science teacher showed us an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy!  (This was before YouTube or even the internet was around so it was a real treat to watch Bill Nye do his thing!)

Most of your students will look forward to RML lessons, but don’t be discouraged if you have a few opposing voices.  Over time, my staff and I discovered that dissenting students were often the same students that disliked individual accountability.  These students would often ask, “can’t we just play?”  We finally figured out that they preferred playing in the group setting because they could exert less effort and hide their performance in the sound of others.  However, there’s no hiding with RML.  Everyone is accountable to exercise attention during the video lesson and demonstrate their knowledge on a written worksheet!

 

Tips for Completing the Worksheets

We tried nearly every method of having our students complete the worksheets.  We’ve done it in-class, assigned it for homework, uploaded it to our LMS, and even skipped worksheets.  Here’s what we discovered.

The average student values completion over accuracy.  We commonly observed students turning in sloppy work or rushing through assignments with the goal of “getting it done” rather than “getting it right.”  For this reason, we found that students do their best work in-class under the watchful eye of a teacher.

However, we also observed that some students will procrastinate and use every possible second available to complete an assignment.  Sometimes, they wouldn’t even complete it by the time the bell rang!  We discovered that it was important for us to teach our students to use their time wisely and decided to experiment with a digital timer.

 

Increasing Accountability with a Timer

Over the years, I’ve slowly tweaked the worksheets by eliminating difficult questions that slow down completion.  My goal was to get each worksheet down to an approximate 15-minute completion time.  Try a timer and see how it works for you.  There’s something about a ticking clock that makes people work more efficiently.  My staff and I found that a 15-20 minute allotment worked for most of our classes.  However, keep in mind that you don’t have to do the same amount of time for every class!  One year, my clarinet class just needed more time.  I ended up giving them the remainder of the 45-minute class after the lesson to complete their worksheet.  I could have pushed them to work faster, but I would have received incomplete or incorrect work that over time would have resulted in gaps in their learning that would have been nearly impossible to fill.

Like water currents, each class has its own speed.  Some will run fast and loose while others will trickle slowly or even stand still at times.  Finding the right pace for each class is a delicate balance between the teacher, students, curriculum, and available time.  My advice has always been to focus on accuracy over speed when possible.  Don’t be afraid to allow more time for completion if it means getting it right.  A mentor of mine once told me, “if you don’t have time to teach it right now, when will you have time to teach it again?”  This became a defining mantra of my career.

 

What happens when time runs out?

Let’s say you’ve decided to try using a timer. What happens when time runs out?  There must be an action, consequence, or result at the end of the timer or the timer serves no purpose.

Here’s what we did.  As students finished early, we asked our students to assemble their instruments.  Then, once the timer went off, we would allow those that completed their worksheets to independently warm-up and practice aloud for a few minutes followed by volunteer pass-offs.  Those that hadn’t finished the worksheet had to keep working and had the remainder of the class to finish.  The great thing about doing pass-offs after time-up was that it incentivized completion because most everyone wanted to do pass-offs!

 

What happens if a student doesn’t finish the worksheet by the end of class?

This is a tough one and an issue that regular classroom teachers deal with often. For starters, always use your best discretion, especially if a student has an accommodation or reason for not completing the worksheet in a timely manner.  You may need to set-up a tutorial or ask a peer to help them during the next class period. We utilized peer tutoring often.  Sometimes kids teach kids better than adults teach kids.  It also helps you stay focused on the group while the individual still gets the necessary remediation. 

However, you’re facing a bigger issue if they’re not completing the work because they’re getting off-task or refusing to do it.  In this case, we recommend collecting their incomplete work at the end of class so you at least have the sum of their efforts.  In some cases, you may never see that work again if you let them take it home.

Make contact with the parent(s) or guardian(s) when dealing with difficult students. Be advised that any time you contact a parent or guardian with “bad news” that they’ll likely be on the defensive even if they trust you. It’s natural to feel protective of your own children.  For this reason, we preferred phone calls instead of emails because there’s less chance of misinterpretation and a higher chance of a conversation taking place that would culminate in a plan of action without emotions building up on either side while waiting for a response. 

Once you’ve made contact with the parent or guardian, calmly describe the facts and offer two or three solutions to resolve the issue.  Possible solutions could include grading what they’ve completed by the end of the period, assigning them to a lunch detention or similar to finish, or sending the worksheet home to be completed under the observation of an adult.  Giving them a chance to voice their preferred resolutions (when options are present) will often yield faster and more positive results.

 

Our Most Effective Approach to Grading

Our preferred approach to grading was the in-class “everyone gets a 100” method.  This also works well when you combine multiple classes of the same period so you have multiple teachers available to actively monitor and grade.  A summary of the steps are below:

  1. At the start of class, the students watch the video lesson.
  2. After the video lesson, the teacher hands out the worksheet.
  3. While the students work, the teacher(s) walk(s) around the room looking for struggling students or those that are off task.
  4. As students complete their work they bring it up to a teacher for checking.  A teacher looks it over and circles or highlights incorrect answers.  If there are no wrong answers, the assignment is given a 100 and the grade is immediately entered into the gradebook.  If incorrect answers are present, the student is sent back to do corrections and instructed to bring their worksheet back for grading once corrections are completed.

 

Three Reasons We Like the “Everyone Gets a 100” Method

  1. It teaches students that mistakes and corrections are part of the learning process.
  2. As discussed earlier, many students value completion over accuracy. This method teaches them that the work is done when the work is right, not when an answer exists for every problem.
  3. All of the worksheets were graded and all of the grades were entered in-class!

Finally, the “everyone gets a 100" method allows class to become about learning music and not the stress of the grade.  I often reminded my staff that as elective teachers we had to be careful with our grading.  Students could elect not to take our class.  I’m not suggesting that we disingenuously inflate our grades.  Rather, I’m recommending we employ practices that ensure the highest possible grades.

 

Possible Time-Savers

Taking one day per week to teach music literacy separate from instrumental or vocal pedagogy may slow down your processes now, but will it pay-off later!  Still, you may be wondering if there are possible time-saving solutions.  Here are a few suggestions we gathered over the years.

  1. Take a week off when you need it!  In a perfect world, you'd do one lesson a week and get all 36 done by the end of the year.  However, we recommend getting through at least Lesson 25.  If you shoot for 25, then you can take ~11 weeks off throughout the school year.
  2. Remember that you can double up on lessons when you’re going to be absent!  For example, let’s say you're going to be away for three days attending a convention.  You can have your students complete three back-to-back days of RML to catch-up!
  3. Consider skipping the worksheet on occasion and just show the video.  This will still expose them to the material!  Just be cautious.  We recommend you not inform your students ahead of time.  They may be less attentive during the lesson if they know they won’t be assessed via the worksheet.

 

 

There are No Shortcuts and Trusting the Process

We live in a world where “quick fixes” and instant gratification are the norm, but there are no shortcuts with music literacy!  If you’re like me, the hardest thing when I started this music literacy journey in 2013 was just to trust the process and do it regularly despite fears that I was wasting time.

One of my favorite phrases over the years has been “trust the process.”  It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and worry that you’re perpetually behind.  Remember, the time invested now will pay off later!  Keep up the great work!  Until next time, that’s all there is to it!  Peace! ✌️

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About the author:

Rob Chilton is the creator and owner of Readymade Music, LLC and its content. Previously, Chilton was a middle school band director from 2007-2021. His most recent teaching position was the Head Band Director at Killian Middle School in Lewisville, Texas from 2014-2021.

Under his direction, the Killian Honors Band was named the 2018 Texas Music Educators Association CC Honor Band and performed at the annual 2018 TMEA Clinic/Convention. In 2019, the Killian Honors Band was invited to and performed at The Midwest Clinic in Chicago. Additionally, the Killian Honors Band was named a National Winner in the Mark of Excellence National Wind Band Honors Project in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Chilton is a graduate of Southern Methodist University where he had the opportunity to study music education under the tutelage of Lynne Jackson and Brian Merrill. During his years as a middle school band director, Chilton continued his professional growth under the guidance of his primary clinicians, John Benzer and Brian Merrill.

Chilton’s mission for Readymade Music is to promote the overall well-being of music education and support school music teachers by providing solutions to help make teaching music more efficient and inspirational while increasing engagement for 21st century learners.

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