Education technology can enrich lessons and engage students in learning, but it can also help teachers with the day-to-day operations of running their classrooms. Although a huge variety of websites and apps exist to manage organizational tasks–such as lesson planning, grading, tracking behavior, and communicating with parents–it can be hard to find products that are suited to music teachers (or other specialists) with unusual schedules and hundreds of students. I’ve found three free apps that have made my life as a music teacher significantly easier. Although they aren’t marketed specifically to specialists, their flexible features make them suited to my needs as an elementary music teacher.
Planning and Grading: Chalk
Desktop & iOS
Chalk is comprised of Planboard for lesson planning and Markboard for grading. These versatile and integrated apps save time when planning and grading, accommodate even unusual specialist class schedules, and conveniently sync between devices. Both Planboard and Markboard are visually clean and appealing, and offer a variety of views and reports to make it easy to quickly see the information that is needed. Improvements and new features continue to be added to both of the Chalk products.
Why It’s Great for Music Classes
• Accommodates Rotation Schedule: One of my biggest challenges in finding a lesson and unit planning tool was finding something that could accommodate my complicated rotating schedule. Having a product that can keep track of and plan lessons and units within that schedule is a huge organizational help.
• Integrates Planning and Grading: Having a planner and gradebook integrated makes it easier to track standards coverage and units. It’s also just handy to have both on one site.
• Provides Multiple Views: Planboard has day, week, month, and unit views that are easy to toggle between. In any view, clicking on a lesson shows all of the details. Markboard also provides a variety of views and reports for individual students, units, and entire classes.
• Customizable Lesson Plan Templates: Planboard makes it possible for teachers to create their own custom lesson plan templates. This is convenient in classes that don’t use a traditional lesson plan format. I’ve created a simple template that I typically use, and a more detailed template that can be used for sub plans or lessons that I share.
• Customizable Grading: Markboard allows for more than just the typical point scoring. Teachers can assess on a binary scale or create their own rubrics. Additionally, comments can be be added to students’ scores for richer and more detailed assessment.
Behavior Management: ClassDojo
Desktop, iOS, Android
ClassDojo is a behavior tracker with which teachers can award or take away points for customized positive and negative behaviors. Additional features include student and parent accounts, teacher and parent messenger, and class pages.
Why It’s Great for Music Classes
• Motivates Positive Behavior: The primary purpose of ClassDojo is to encourage students to engage in positive behaviors. Its point system is basic enough that it’s easy to incorporate ClassDojo into a larger classroom management plan. (For more on how I use ClassDojo points in my classroom management system, see Managing Behavior with Composer Houses.)
• Customizable: The list of behaviors that are assessed, and their point values, can be customized. This is especially useful in elementary specialist classes where default behaviors, such as “No Homework,” might not be relevant. Guiding students to create their own list of class expectations to be used as ClassDojo behaviors makes a great start-of-the-school-year discussion.
• Aids in Teacher Record Keeping: It can be difficult to remember specific behaviors or even to notice trends in behavior when working with hundreds of students. ClassDojo helps me track behavior trends as well as any other information I need to track. For example, I’ve included “Forgot Recorder” as a behavior in my fourth grade classes. I don’t count points for this behavior, but it shows me who is habitually forgetting their instrument.
• Gets Students’ Attention: When students are getting off task, all I have to do is pull up ClassDojo on my board, and they are instantly in their seats and quiet. Students don’t want to miss an opportunity to earn points, and they enjoy looking for their monster avatars.
• Provides Parents with Instant Feedback: Students and parents can set up their own Class Dojo accounts. Students can see the points they’ve earned and customize their monster avatars. Parents can view their children’s points, read comments entered by the teacher, follow the news posted on the Class Story page, and communicate through instant messaging with the teacher. Students LOVE to customize their monsters so they can show them off in class, which motivates parents to set up accounts, too!
Parent Communication: Bloomz
Desktop, iOS, Android, SMS
Bloomz provides a secure platform for sharing class updates with families, communicating directly with parents, coordinating donation and volunteer requests, and scheduling events and conferences. All of these functions can be tremendously useful for specialists trying to keep in touch with the families of hundreds of students.
Why It’s Great for Music Classes
• Asking for Donations: Many parents are happy to support music classes through donations of basic supplies (i.e. pencils and tissues), materials for special projects, props and costumes for shows, or even instruments. With Bloomz, teachers can instantly communicate what they need and when with all connected parents.
• Finding Volunteers: Parent volunteers can be so helpful when preparing for concerts or other special events. Bloomz allows parents to see what help is needed and how many volunteers are needed. And teachers can instantly see who has signed up to help!
• Features Performance/Event Calendar: Teachers can reduce the number of times they have to answer questions like “When’s the spring concert?” by keeping families informed of upcoming performances and events on the Bloomz calendar.
• Facilitates Conference Scheduling: In many schools, classroom teachers schedule conference times with families, but specialists have to be on-call for anyone who wants to stop in. With hundreds of students, in can be stressful to never know who is going to walk in the door for a conference. Bloomz allows teachers to set up conference times that parents can sign up for. Music teacher still might need to be on-call for drop-in conferences, but at least Bloomz allows them to be prepared for those conferences that parents are concerned enough about to schedule in advance.
Finding the right technology-based tools for your purposes can help you to use planning and teaching time more efficiently, connect with families, and build support for your program. These three have helped me to be a better and more organized music teacher!