It has been a watershed year in Austin Classical Guitar Education locally, nationally, and internationally. Many things are happening – some faster than we can keep up with! – but there are several things we now know without a doubt:
1) School-based classical guitar programs are developing faster than ever before.
2) Classical guitar in school has a unique and powerful ability to attract large numbers of new and diverse students to the benefits of fine arts engagement.
3) We at ACG have the ability to effectively build and assess rigorous education programs with high teaching standards and consistent results.
I hope you enjoy this summary report of our past-year activities. We would not be here today without the generous support of our patrons, sponsors, and institutional supporters. I hope what you find in this report will make you proud. On behalf of our education team, our board and staff, our hundreds of teachers and thousands of students, thank you so very much.
2013-14 Education Progress Report
Our key objective areas this past year were to Serve, Support and Develop. We wished to increase and enhance our Service in our local school programs, Support teachers locally and abroad with our online student and teacher resources, and Develop our curriculum including elementary units, Braille adaptation, and teacher training.
Serve: Two years ago we provided service in 30 area schools. Last year (2013-14), our service increased to 42 schools, including 9 elementary programs. This year, we began the school year in late August in 50 schools. To meet the growing demand, we added a part-time elementary expert last year, Toby Rodriguez, who is now on our full-time education staff.
Our primary aim is quality education as measured by student performance outcomes. In addition to more than 140 hours per week of onsite support, expanded and enhanced teacher training, free weekly lessons for new teachers, frequent student performance opportunities, and dozens of guest artist performances in schools, our biggest strides toward addressing this concern were in the area of student-teacher assessment. For the past three years, we have run a mock-UIL (University Interscholastic League) large-ensemble performance and sight-reading assessment event. This is the same kind of event that exists for choir, orchestra, and band, wherein programs perform and sight-read in controlled environments for six external judges and then receive scoring and feedback. We have called it “mock-UIL” because UIL has not created, and did not administer, this assessment. Instead, it was created by our staff and administered in collaboration with Austin Independent School District.
We provide extensive support for teachers in the form of training, consultation and teacher resources, and we felt that clear, official assessment was the most important element we could add to promote quality in education across our rapidly growing program.
Austin Independent School District (AISD) was an enthusiastic partner in this development, and we are thrilled to report that, after three years, our petition for this assessment to become an official UIL pilot has been accepted. This enormous development, unprecedented in the state of Texas, paves the way for increased rigor in classical guitar education in Austin and across the state. As classical guitar programs develop faster and faster across the state, we feel an urgent need to promote such rigor in instruction and performance outcomes. 2015 is also the first year that Texas Education Association (TEA) will include guitar as a Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)-supported course statewide. This adoption was made in part thanks to advocacy from Austin principals, who have seen our program successfully engage thousands of diverse students in the performing arts.
- Select students from various ACG programs perform under the direction of ACg Assistant Director of Education Jeremy Osborne at the Guitars Under the Stars Gala, February 2014
Current thriving programs include a new program at KIPP Austin (a charter school), the Travis County Juvenile Justice System, the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and our new Austin Classical Guitar Youth Orchestra.
- Austin Classical Guitar Youth Orchestra, with directors and parents, following their final spring recital, May 2014.
Support: In the past year, our main resource developments have been the addition of an Elementary Curriculum Unit that was successfully used to teach more than 600 Austin 4th and 5th graders in 2013-14, the creation of new and extensive sight-reading materials for our upper curriculum levels, revision of our lower curriculum levels, and addition of over 20 new works and audio recordings to our music library.
We are still in the process of re-launching our GuitarCurriculum.com website on an updated platform which will allow for better administration of the site, contact with users, user feedback and resource contribution, an internal teacher forum, and more.
- ACG Director of Education, Travis Marcum, working with a trainee in our St. Louis Teacher Training session, July 2014
Following the success of our Austin Teacher Training in August 2013, we decided to carry out similar training sessions in three other cities (St. Louis, Atlanta and Houston) in addition to Austin. The results have been remarkable. Below we are including a selection of comments to give a sense of these trainings’ impact. One particularly interesting development was a request from a 2013 Nicaraguan trainee to use our materials and methods to create a national teacher training, Congreso de Guitarra, in Managua. The July 2014 Congreso involved the translation of our Level 1 training materials into Spanish, and reports from the event have been wonderfully positive.
- Edward Grigassy conducts student ensemble in the first Congreso de Guitarra in Managua, Nicaragua, July 2014
FretBuzz.org continues to be a unique showcase for young classical guitar players and writers. We hold regular writing and performance contests, highlight contest winners and outstanding programs, and will continue to integrate this outlet into our service as a way to encourage high quality discourse among young students of guitar.
Develop: Our primary new developments were the creation and revision of our Elementary Curriculum Unit, the creation and acceptance (at the district and state level) of the guidelines and practices for our district assessment events, and the development our Phase 2 training to accommodate returning trainees for our summer 2014 teacher training session.
- A student conductor teaching other trainees at the Austin Teacher Training 2014
More and more university programs are using our GuitarGurriculum.com resources to teach beginning guitar class and (more importantly) to teach guitar pedagogy courses. An area we still need to adequately address is the creation of recommended syllabi for college-level guitar pedagogy courses.
Our Braille adaptation was put on hold in 2013-14 because our key creative individual, Jeremy Coleman, took a music therapy position and became unavailable to continue work with us at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We continued to support the education program there but were unable to continue the core resource development without him (and we turned our resources toward elementary development instead). We are pleased to report, however, that in August 2014, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired hired Mr. Coleman full time as a music instructor, and we have already begun talks to restart our Braille adaption project.
2013-14 saw our first collaboration with Carnegie Hall Outreach in the form of the Lullaby Project, in partnership locally with Any Baby Can. Carnegie Hall developed this program two years ago and, after monitoring our work in juvenile justice, asked if we would be one of two organizations in the US to expand the program outside of New York. In the Lullaby Project, our teaching artists were paired with at-risk mothers (clients of Any Baby Can), and in this collaborative partnership, each mother wrote a lullaby for her baby. The lullabies were then professionally recorded, and each mother then shared her song with family and friends at a final sharing session. The effects of this program have been studied extensively by Wolf-Brown and Carnegie Hall, and more can be found on the Carnegie Hall website. A recording of our first lullabies is available upon request.
Assessment: Our primary goal is to provide quality music instruction as evidenced by consistently high-level student performance outcomes.
Our evaluation focus this year has been to create, in collaboration with AISD, the same evaluation procedures and measures that exist for choir, orchestra, and band. In 2013-14, we generated all process documents for concert and sight-reading assessment events and carried out those events in Austin, with 22 classical guitar programs participating. This evaluation process was then approved by University Interscholastic League (which oversees all Texas interscholastic contest) to be an official UIL pilot event in 2015. Classical guitar concert and sight-reading assessments require six external adjudicators, district-wide participation, video-taped performances, and extensive written and recorded feedback from judges. This information is extremely valuable for program assessment. Judges’ comments from this year’s assessment event are available upon request.
Additional evaluation measures include daily teacher consultations, training participant evaluations, conference participation and scholarly article generation, curriculum subscription trends, student enrollment trends, number of teachers and schools served, and social impact data (letters and testimonials) provided by students.
Conclusion: Our greatest contribution in education is the engagement of thousands of diverse kids, many of whom would not otherwise be involved, in high-quality performing arts study. There is a large and growing body of research, including Austin’s own recent mindPOP study, showing that arts-engaged kids do better scholastically and socially than students not involved in the arts. That we have built a rigorous new for-credit course subject that engages a previously underserved segment of our student population is, we believe, of great significance.
The following November 2013 letter from AISD Fine Arts Director Greg Goodman is a confirmation of the impact and significance of our work in Austin schools:
The number one benefit of the classical guitar education program has been the opportunity to address cultural diversity through a rigorous art form. We have seen increased student, family and community engagement with the particular program. Austin Classical Guitar has done an incredible job of increasing quality and access to a new art form that has allowed a diverse option for our students.
The Austin Classical Guitar program is a strong, innovative, and collaborative partnership between our schools and the staff of Matt Hinsley. We are immensely grateful for the support we have already received in the area of curriculum and teaching strategies. We have seen positive changes in students who have embraced guitar as their means of expression. The partnership has grown dramatically over the past 5 years and has enabled AISD Fine Arts to increase family and community engagement.
Some of the challenges around implementing a classical guitar program have centered on creating a rigorous curriculum and establishing high expectations for teachers and staff. With the assistance of Austin Classical Guitar we have established high expectations for our schools following the framework established by UIL in bands, orchestra, and choir. The staff at Austin Classical guitar has created an incredible curriculum guide and standards for our teachers to follow.
I would encourage fine arts administrators and teachers to embrace this genre and to celebrate this opportunity to meet the needs of students that we typically have overlooked. There is no reason to fear this program but instead an opportunity to help guide and build the expectations of a rich art form that celebrates music in a platform rooted in history.
In addition, the Austin Classical Guitar program supports the two arts-focused initiatives currently happening in AISD: The Kennedy Center Any Given Child partnership and our arts integration Creative Classroom partnership with the MindPOP collaborative. The arts are incredibly important to our district, and we welcome the Austin Classical Guitar program in our schools.
We really believe this program helps to impact student learning in Austin Independent School District by offering opportunities for students of all cultures.
From a programming standpoint we believe our single effort with the greatest impact has been our teacher training sessions, which this year expanded to several cities in the US. Following each training, we asked participants to fill out evaluation forms. One hundred percent of our trainees gave the experience a rating of “excellent”, and here are a few of their comments:
“This seminar has been an absolute revelation for me, and will profoundly change the way I teach, and will be a great benefit for me and my students.”
“Organized, passionate, thoughtful, great communicators. I feel much better about starting my teaching career. This is just what I needed. Loved the emphasis on quality music – great materials, carefully planned, effective curriculum.”
“Every guitar teacher should experience this.”
“One of the best examples of good teaching that I have ever experienced….”
“I have grown so much as a guitarist in the past three days. The patience and expertise of the workshop teachers is so inspiring, and the speakers reaffirm my feeling that I can do this.”
“This is exactly what I needed!”
We are particularly proud this year of our Austin program at Travis High School, under the direction of Susan Rozanc. Travis High is a Title I School, with 87% low-income students and 96% minority enrollment. Travis High was the only school to receive the highest rating possible at our 2013-14 district concert and sight-reading assessment event. Six 2014 graduating seniors earned scholarships to study music in college, and one of these students is the first person in her family to attend college. All six students were received of free individual lessons through Austin Classical Guitar. In a letter we received on November 26th, 2013, Ms. Rozanc wrote:
Austin Classical Guitar and classical guitar education programming has affected me and my students in a profound ways. We have been using GuitarCurriculum.com for just over two years at my school. In that time I have seen this curriculum not only serve as a very solid foundation for musicianship but it had ignited a real love for the instrument and a desire to achieve an extremely high level of musical artistry. I have been a classroom music educator for nineteen years. In that time, I have taught orchestra, choir, band, music theory, and musical theatre. Never in my career have I seen students so on fire for music as I have seen with my students studying classical guitar.
The effect this has had on my students is nothing short of amazing. Students in the program show improved time management skills, increased self-esteem, improved problem solving skills, improved self-discipline, improved classroom discipline, and an overall improvement in all of their academic subjects in order to be eligible to perform with the guitar ensemble. Guitar students tell me that learning classical guitar inspires them to listen to new and different music and it can be a huge help in distracting them from some of the negatives in life. A freshman student, “Josh” has been undergoing chemo-therapy and he states, “Practicing guitar takes my mind off my illness and the discomfort and pain of my chemo.” “Destiny” said, “it actually makes me want to listen and learn in both guitar class and all of my other classes.” Students who would never even considered going to college before are now planning on pursuing a music degree with classical guitar as their primary instrument. During the course of the last two years, I have seen students suffering from depression, bullying, and peer pressure do a 180 degree turn around and become happy, productive students with goals and plans for the future. Students who have difficulty achieving in other subjects often change their whole way of thinking about school while members of the guitar ensemble. It has become ‘cool’ to play classical guitar and I now have a waiting list to enroll in guitar class.
Austin Classical Guitar has been instrumental in assisting me implement the curriculum. I am a wind player by trade, so it has been extremely helpful to have someone who is a guitarist assisting me with learning guitar specific terminology and performances practices. ACG has provided free tickets for my students to attend world-class classical guitar performances and even a few opportunities for students to meet and interview the performers. This in particular has been highly motivating. When students become aware of the sound they are trying to produce it motivates them to practice and to keep that practice consistent. The ACG Youth Orchestra gives my students yet another goal and another way to achieve.
As an educator, I appreciate the feedback I get from ACG instructors. It helps me to be the best educator I can be and to set a positive tone for my classes. This year, for the very first time I can say the I GET to go to work every day. I never HAVE to go to work. Teaching my guitar classes is a privilege and a joy.
Our goals for this coming year include further development of our approach to training (including a path to certification and a teacher trainer program), significant enhancements of GuitarCurriculum.com, and, of course, as much on-the-ground service as we can provide—locally and beyond.
Thank you again for making it all possible. We look forward to sharing our continued progress with our dedicated guitar community.