At Dempsey Middle School, there is a vibrant performing arts program; students can elect to take band, orchestra or chorus. With 300 students in Tracy Cinereski’s choir program alone, she spent a lot of time knee-deep in weekly theory assignments. She admits to feeling “constantly bogged down” trying to keep up with all the grading, which could be up to 10 hours a week.
Enter … Breezin’ Thru
With the rollout of 1-to-1 technology in the form of student Chromebooks, a colleague mentioned Breezin’ Thru Theory. Tracy was instantly drawn to its sequential nature and the automatic grading aspect, which she says, “took away my workload and now I can just drop the marks into my gradebook. Instead of spending my time marking, I spend more time investing in my students.”
And, that time has allowed her to do something extraordinary… it’s allowed her to both propel her many musically gifted kids forward to the higher-level theory work they crave, as well as coach-up the skills of the other talented students.
“It used to be that you would hand out a sheet of theory, and the gifted kids would get it done that class, while the others might take the whole week to get it done. Now the gifted kids can move onto the next week’s work and the kids who are right on target can complete it in the assigned amount of time, so it really allows kids to work independently at their own pace.”
Being able to quickly get at-a-glance data on drill results also means that Tracy can zero-in on the kids who are struggling, giving them more one-to-one time and tutorials to get them up to grade level.
It is so rewarding and cool when a student tells you ‘I never thought I’d like music theory, but I secretly LOVE it!
Tracy organizes her program in a very clever way, ensuring that every Wednesday is theory day.
She says, “I’m able to focus on all the non-instrumental students, who typically are not as strong in terms of reading music. And it is growing my choir! Every year the kids are able to learn music at a more rapid pace and higher level as a result of the theory work we do. ”
Now I can have those intelligent conversations about music theory concepts. It’s helping us to connect the pieces of the puzzle, from theory to performance. When you can combine theory and solfège, your kids are going to sing well.
Tracy’s advanced group, “The Dempsey Singers,” meets after school two days a week. “They work at a high level, and it’s been very meaningful in that rehearsal setting to be able to talk about dissonance, and have them understand what that means,” states Tracy. “It allows us to step off the page, and make it musical so it can be the art we love.”
And the kids have been inspired! In fact, Dempsey Middle School students are on the Breezin’ Thru Drill-ceptional Leaderboard as the #1 school in the East, having completed an incredible 23,540 drills this year, at an average of over 90%. Not only is this exceptional in terms of mastery, but it’s also saved the teachers over 600 hours that would otherwise have been spent marking. Now that’s what you call Breezin’!
Another bonus has been the “pay it forward” effect. Tracy explains, “Sending kids to high school with a very good knowledge of major and minor key signatures, the ability to read notes and a solid music literacy is a huge accomplishment. And, the choir director at the high school says that she’s able to advance the students even further, due to what we are doing at the middle school level.”
So with Tracy’s great work, the musical conversation continues …
Tracy Cinereski, Choir Director
Dempsey Middle School
Delaware City Schools, Ohio
Champions: For The Love Of Music