Young boys singing

Laura Plummer


Where do you teach?

Alton High School in ILMEA District 6

What do you teach?

I teach the Concert and Symphonic orchestras. Concert Orchestra is a string ensemble of about 25 students. Symphonic is the more advanced, auditioned orchestra of about 27-30 students that also performs full orchestral literature. I also direct two extracurricular ensembles: Chamber Strings and the pit orchestra for our annual spring musical. And I'm the district instrumental music coordinator.                   

What is the most satisfying part of your job?

Working with the students over four years you get to see tremendous growth and musical maturity. After 24 years, the kids still amaze me and it's exciting to be a part of that "AH HA!" moment when that difficult bowing or technical challenge is finally overcome. The kids' enthusiasm and dedication for music and their willingness to help with the younger students and with our booster events is infectious.                   

What makes the music program at Alton High School unique?

The music program at Alton H.S. dates back to 1905 and our music booster group, ABOB (Alton Band & Orchestra Builders) is over 60 years old. Before going to U of I, Guy Duker taught at Alton H.S. and started our marching band. We are very blessed to have a tremendous amount of support from our parents, the community and our administrators. The music staff is very close as well. I'm also teaching at my alma mater!

What do students get from the muisc program that they do not get anywhere else in school?

Like other classes, we set high expectations of our students. However, because many of our students are in our programs for four years in groups that take a lot of extra time, we have this family-like support network. We're able to build supportive relationships with our students and their families that is very unique. Through ABOB we are able to award scholarships for private lessons, music camps and to a graduating senior who will major or minor in music. ABOB pays for all repairs of district instruments and we are able to offer high quality district instruments at the high level for students whose parents cannot afford to purchase an instrument.                  

What are the top five reasons students are involved in music at Alton High School?

1. The quality and reputation of our music program.
2. The classes/ensembles offered. Our Juniors and Seniors in our top ensembles earn honors credit. 
3. It takes time to be a member of our top ensembles, but we make it fun and worth the kids' time.
4. The dedication of the staff, and our organization and communication with parents and upcoming students.
5. The financial support of our booster group, which greatly enhances the quality of our program.                                    

How has ILMEA involvement benefitted music education at Alton High School?

For many years now, our choir and orchestra students have been strongly encouraged to participate in our ILMEA District 6 auditions and festival starting in middle school. When those kids enter high school, they are usually eager to continue participating in the ILMEA festivals and All-State ensembles. Our high school music staff always participates in the Illinois Music Education Conference. Each year we come back to our ensembles with renewed energy and wonderful ideas. This years' conference was especially helpful with the very informative sessions on the new Danielson Framework evaluation tool many districts will be using. Many music teachers in our district would like to attend the IMEC, but because of lack of funding, they are unable to go.                   

What are your educational goals for this year?

I want my students to have a better understanding of their posture and bow hold and how it affects everything about their playing. Also to continue to teach critical listening, and through worksheets, help them comprehend counting and rhythm. Overall, I want my students to truly understand the dots and markings on the page and bring their notes to life. I want my second violins, violas, cellos and basses to realize how vital their boring parts are to the entire piece of music.                  

How do you incorporate assessment and standards-based learning in your music curriculum, and how does it benefit your students?

A couple years ago I started using monthly practice forms, incorporating metacognition. As they practice, the students reflect on their playing. The practice form asks how they are fixing a certain technical aspect or bowing and what's working or what's not. Many of the students have never been taught how to practice and this help guides them to more efficient practicing. 

For many years I've done a contest project with my honors students. This year I am piloting the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards: Music Model Cornerstone Assessment for Middle/High School Ensembles, which is very similar to what I've been doing with my contest project. My original premise was to get my students to focus on and evaluate the rehearsal process in preparing for solo and ensemble contest. Not just throw together a couple of rehearsals and play for a judge in a high school classroom. Over the course of six weeks, the students fill out rehearsal evaluation forms (similar to my practice form), record themselves, evaluate their recordings, evaluate each other at a formal recital prior to contest, write a short historical essay on their piece/composer, and do a post-contest evaluation. The students learn a valuable life skill they will use many times in the work place: teamwork and working through sometimes difficult personality conflicts for the good of the entire group.                   

Please share something with new teachers that you have found helpful in your life.

Kids did not choose their family or socio-economic status. Build trust and be encouraging when your students are at their worst. I rarely write referrals. If there's a problem I talk to the kid away from others and that usually solves it. If not, call home. Don't just email. Actually talk to the parent. Start with what's good about their child then ease into the issue. And this old saying which is so very true: Kids don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

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