Program Highlights

Berkeley Music Teachers Deepen Practice Through Inquiry

Program Highlights

On Sunday, March 23, over 700 students in the Berkeley schools, from fifth grade through high school, filled the Community Theater in Berkeley for the Spring Performing Arts Showcase. The inspiring musical development, from charming ten-year-old beginners through highly polished high school performers, is a testament to the extraordinary talent and dedication of the music teachers of the Berkeley Unified School District.

Berkeley music teachers have long worked closely together to offer a rich variety of musical experiences to a broad number of students in Berkeley. This year the Berkeley music teachers have partnered with  Mills Teacher Scholars to enhance their instructional collaboration, with the goal of developing their teaching of musical elements. Once a month, the BUSD music teachers meet in their Mills Teacher Scholars group to look at– and listen to– data to gain insight on how to give each student in the program the experience he or she needs to grow as a musician.

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At a recent Mills Teacher Scholars meeting, Berkeley music teachers work to collaboratively analyze student level data.

At the March Mills Teacher Scholars meeting, Michael Hammond, who teaches jazz ensemble to middle school students, brought a video of his student playing the clarinet.  Colleagues shared insights on what they heard in the video and thought aloud with Michael about how his focal student might develop a deeper sense of rhythm and listening as she hears and plays a jazz standard. Together they worked to develop criteria around what they would want to hear from this student and what inputs the student might need to be able to take the next step in her musical development.

Just last week, at the April inquiry session, strings teacher Mabel Dong brought a video of a middle school student playing the cello, and the group supported her to reflect on what teaching practices are most effective in helping a young musician focus simultaneously on fingering, rhythm, and tempo as she plays. The teachers also shared strategies on how best to use video data to understand individual student learning.

The music department of the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) serves over 3,500 students grades K-12. All students grade 3 – 5 have music classes weekly, once a week in third grade and in grades 4 -5 students have instrumental music twice a week.

The continued excellence of the music program in Berkeley has not gone unnoticed. For the second year, the program has honored by the NAMM Foundation (National Organization of Music Manufacturers) for their outstanding commitment to music education with a Best Communities for Music Education (BCME) dedication.

Berkeley music teachers will be presenting the results of their year-long inquiries at their May inquiry session, on May 14. Below are the topics of teachers’ individual inquiries:

Nancy Boyles  Building students’ memorization skills in order to improve improvisation skills

Roland Brown  Supporting student’s to consistently read and perform given rhythms

Jan Davis  Building students’ practice skills using practice charts

Mabel Dong  Improving students’ ability to play in time on a string instrument

Mary Dougherty  Improving student’s ability to identity string playing techniques

Judy Fendell  Developing students’ ability to play from sheet music

Peter Gidlund  Supporting students’ navigation of fretboard

Michael Hammond  Enhancing students’ understanding of steps to improvisation

Merlyn Katechis  Improving students’ ability to write music

Aimee Lubalin  Improving students’ ability to read, play and write first 8 notes

Madeline Prager  Using music theory to enhance students’ ability to play an instrument

Alison Sawyer  Building students’ ability to improve tone on brass instrument

Steffanie Schaeffer  Developing students’ ability to sight sing using the tools of solfa

Henry Viets  Supporting dyslexic students to read music notation

Karen Wells  Developing students’ ability to  listen to a piece of music and analyze it

Sarah Cline  Improving students’ ability to play a solo

To learn more about the BUSD music program, go to: