Grad School Reflections

“Final” Drafts – “Final” Reflection

After spending quite a bit of time (basically every hour or so for a day or two) attempting to figure out what the heck I was supposed to write about for this week’s blog topic, I realized that I’m 99.98% sure that it would make the most sense to reflect on the journey I have embarked upon while creating this instructional design for this course.

The fact that it took me so long to get to it feels like a very fitting place to start. Meaning, I am very amused at how ironic it was for me to struggle to figure out what to write to check off the done box for the week. The irony is of course the fact that this entire process I have been fighting with my desire to do things precisely and correctly the first time, for the first draft.

Now this is not a new phenomenon for me – I’m a self-described Type-A perfectionist with a nice dose of anxiety on the side. (I believe the words my therapist used were, “You live life vividly and intensely, while being unjustifiably unkind to yourself frequently in the process.”) I’ve always fought to submit only my highest quality of work at all times in all circumstances, whatever the cost.

This design project has politely reminded me why this mindset is so counterproductive in the creation process. Too many of these assignments were submitted after long days of sitting and obsessing over whether or not it was what the instructor wanted, or whether or not I was so completely out in left field and creating completely unusable trash. It is stupidly paralyzing to really question everything and anything; I got lost in the minutiae in hopes of solving a problem that has existed in my pedagogical field for decades.

Now that I am close to the end, I realize how thankful I am for having this course and process timed so that I could focus on the little things (in the way that I love and innately experience) while also accomplishing so much. Each week was one step towards the end, but I have come to appreciate the interconnections that are made throughout; analysis – design – implementation – evaluation – review: all exist symbiotically, in a “Circle of Life” system, pun intended. There is no true “final” draft – there is no “final” end. We just reflect and continue on, until we find a better solution or create one.

One small fun side note – I also have begrudgingly embraced the practice of labeling subsequent drafts with numbers, saving each version/draft of each process. Being the perfectionist, I’ve always just saved over my prior work; by no means to I want to keep the “bad” versions! I decided to give it a go, and was pleasantly surprised when I went back to look at the minor changes and improvements over time to see how far I’ve come with instructor and peer feedback. It is definitely something I plan on continuing going forward – I must keep working! (GROWTH MINDSET!)

Grad School Reflections

Method of Loci & Implementation Reflection

For the first part of this week’s reflection, we were asked to try a method of loci visualization exercise to help memorize and retain information. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, basically it is memorization/visualization tool to help retain information by connecting conceptual thinking (like philosophies, practices, etc.) with a tangible real world space to make connections between the conceptual and the concrete reality that you are familiar with.

I have always found these types of exercises to be a bit challenging as my thoughts tend to go full throttle 99.8% of my life. I think there is an added level of struggle if your thinking tends to be anxious (or “run hot” as I describe it), as it feels redundant and not time efficient to just sit and focus only on the information I need to learn. Even getting to the calm zen state is something that only works if someone else is in control of guiding me through it, versus me attempting it on my own (as I’ve had success in breathing/mindfulness activities when led by others).

I like the idea of connecting a place the learner knows well to more conceptual topics I seek to instill in them. I think this would work really well for some of the self regulation skills I’ve sought to incorporate into my teaching as I’ve noticed a huge trend towards panic, fear, and inability to separate “problems” beyond their locus of control from being able to engage into the room.

As far as implementation of my design goes, the biggest change I can foresee making is to treat the overall design less like a stand alone curriculum unit, and more as a stepping stone and introductory for students to explore main concepts before receiving further instruction in the typical rehearsal setting. The deeper I got into things, the more I realized that I fundamentally do not believe that music theory should exist as a stand alone “thing” for beginning ensemble students to check off; instead, beginning students should be familiar with the grade level content to be able to recognize and understand the material in context of the repertoire they are learning for performance. A disconnect occurs if students view theory as this extra thing separate from the music making process; treating it as a way to enhance their music making practices should elicit more engagement and desire to retain the information presented.

Beyond that, I foresee the inevitable argument that there are better ways to teach the material that I have created; this is a topic that has infinite approaches, philosophies, and pedagogical practices so naturally people will take issue with something in the design. However, I do standby that this will be a solution for the problems facing my kiddos in my schools, and within my district. I look forward to the implementation process with real students in the fall (not just the few adult volunteers I had to try it) to figure out what worked, and what didn’t work in a real world, real classroom setting.

Grad School Reflections

Instructional Design – Down the Rabbit Hole

The metaphor “Down the Rabbit Hole” is one that I constantly find myself being reminded of as I ponder and question my experiences as a educational professional, both in my job and post-graduate work.

When Alice first follows the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, she finds herself transported into an unknown world where everything feels a little bit odd and becomes increasingly more and more complex the further she ventures through it.

This metaphor feels appropriate as I reflect on my Instructional Design experience so far for this class. I jumped head first to tackle a huge problem within my field, rewriting music theory curriculum, to better serve the population that my client and myself teach, experience, and are highly aware of their preexisting knowledge and common misconceptions.

I recall that moment when I realized what exactly I had gotten myself into and felt much like Alice when she is having a meltdown among the flowers, lost in the woods. Our last assignment for Week 4, where we were organizing our objectives alongside our learning activities; it was during this process where I realized the scope of what I was hoping to achieve and the amount of work it was going to be to create and organize all of the content I create to allow the learner to find success.

The biggest failure of the curriculum we currently use is that it jumps and bounces all over the place, and often will force the learner to attempt to absorb content separately from the real world scenarios and situations that we elicit to draw forth when we teach in our normal ensemble rehearsals.

I spent quite a bit of time just sitting and trying to piece together what made the most logical sense as far as what order to best present the content. For instance, I was planning on introducing accidentals within the vocabulary section, which was originally the last module out of the four theory specific ones. I had to change the vocabulary module, because I realized that it makes way more sense to introduce accidentals BEFORE discussing key signatures and scales (as I originally intended) because the learner would have no contextual knowledge as to what accidentals do, let alone trying to apply that to key signatures.

This is just one example of the many revisions and reformatting I have experienced in the design process. If anything, it has made me more conscious of how much work goes into creating a design before the designer even begins to develop the materials involved.

Furthermore, I cannot imagine trying to create this design without first being an “expert” in the design I am creating. The content knowledge demanded alone would be extremely difficult for a non-music expert to navigate for any client. I’m already 12+ hours in, and many of those have simple been spent just THINKING.

On a related side note, through this process I found myself going through previous designs I had from my first four years of teaching – it was astonishing to see how much my pedagogical thinking has changed from then to now. If anything, the biggest change in my approach is to really tailor the materials I create to be more friendly to the audience I designing for. My early “first four years” creations very much so utilized the language and assumptions I had become comfortable in during my undergrad, which naturally created a lot of frustrated and bored middle school students. More often than not, time forced me to move on to more pressing matters.

In the meantime, I’ll keep going down the rabbit hole.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


Grad School Reflections

Analysis & Design – Week 3 Reflection

PART 1: What have you learned from the analysis? What are you planning to do with it? Do a little brainstorming about what activities tied to your learning objectives that you might include in the design of your lesson.

The biggest takeaway from the analysis process is that I have taken a vast topic, a huge problem, and narrowed it down into a realistic and more concrete/fleshed out goals and objectives for the design. It has forced me to really weed out and process through what exactly I am seeking to achieve for the client I am creating this content for; it built guidelines and criteria to navigate what success would like for both myself as the designer and for the audience that will work through the end product.

The next step in the process is to begin to create the content to achieve the lesson goals and objective stated in the instructional design document. The system I hope to design exists within the Google Classroom environment, as that is the primary delivery platform utilized by the school district of my client. I envision creating a series of lessons in Google Slides to introduce the content, incorporating interactive work for the lesson to submit for instructor review to clarify any misconceptions or confusion. This could include videos, graphics, sound, and other media to provide scaffolded content for the learner to navigate through. I am considering utilizing Google Forms as an assessment tool, as the data is complied and easily scored automatically, and can generate data for the instructor to view and use to show learning. In addition to these benchmark-like assessments, I would like to create a “final assessment” for the learner that takes the information they have absorbed and then apply it to a real-world example, a piece of repertoire or familiar tune that then asks them to define and demonstrate the skills they hopefully have acquired.

My biggest hesitation moving forward is knowing how much time this is going to take to set it up and do it properly. Luckily, I have now completed my school year and will have time to rest and rejuvenate before tackling this huge project directly.

PART 2: How are analysis and design related for you? Think about it in the context the articles and chapters we have read thus far. How closely should these two pieces of the model connect? How does the Information R/Evolution video affect each of these?

Analysis and design go hand and hand with each other, having a symbiotic relationship when it comes to creating an instructional system. A complete and well-researched analysis should result in a functional and useful design; the analysis informs the designer what they should take into consideration when creating the design.

Analysis is the process in which the designer observes and reflects on what exactly the problem they are seeking to solve; identifying the topic, the audience and the format in which he or she wishes to utilize to solve the problem. The analysis is the initial time in which the designer takes to clarify and state their purpose, and to research the existing “solutions” to either improve or replace it to something that better serves their audience and client.

In contrast, design is the content and the material that the audience will navigate through in order to solve the problem stated in design. The design is a never ending, constantly being revised entity that exists to best assist the learner in achieving the stated lesson goals and objectives. Ideally, the design should be easy to use and navigate for the both the learner and the instructor; never should the design get in the way of allowing the learner to acquire the requested knowledge and skills, nor restrict their ability to demonstrate that their success.

The Information R/Evolution video affects both the analysis and design because we as designers must identify keywords and/or key concepts that our analysis and designs have in common with preexisting content. As online content and distribution rapidly expands, it is necessary to be aware of how your design will be “searched” in the future, and whether or not there are existing designs out there that function better than your proposed solution(s) for your target audience and client. It would also be worth considering whether or not you intend for your design to be proprietary and restricted to only those who pay for it, or if designed for educational purposes, falls under fair use jurisdiction.

Grad School Reflections

Analysis & Design: “99 Problems But A Design Ain’t One”

This week, I was tasked to develop and complete my analysis findings to begin the cumulative adventure towards creating an instructional systems design for a client. In other words, I have begun what I anticipate to be a long journey and never-ending cycle of reflection, implementation, and revision in an effort to create content that will have a positive impact for those navigating through it.

While that might sound like a headache for most, there is something to be said about feeling accomplished and successful as a designer when creating content that provides a solution for a very real problem someone is facing, and does so in a way that is beneficial to both the learners navigating through it and the instructors charged with delivering it.

My initial design project came out of a very real struggle that most music educators face – how on earth am I going to teach music theory and ear training in such a way that benefits my students and can be (hopefully) applied through the repertoire I ask them to navigate daily in rehearsal and demonstrate in performance?

There are thousands of proposed “solutions” to this problem as one quick Google search will tell you; I personally have spent quite a bit of time trying to find the best solution that is most useful to my students with their current ability levels, and honestly, find a way that is most useful and painless method for me to deliver to them. As the old adage goes, “Work smarter, not harder.” I think this definitely applies to instructional design; why would I not take the time to create something, that while extremely time demanding initially, fosters delivering instruction that actually lasts and is retained? Any music teacher can describe the frustration of teaching a theory concept (dotted rhythms, anyone?) and having to re-teach it YET AGAIN when it inevitably comes up three measures later, because the students only understand it conceptually in isolation, if you give the example in just the right way, and lack the ability to apply it when it really matters.

I am incredibly lucky that I work with an amazing team of music educators that seek to create a universal system that allows students to find success within our system, and foster knowledge and lay down the framework to keep kids involved in music through the transition into high school and beyond. My client is my other MS/HS instrumental counterpart, the band director, who thought it was both slightly insane and ambitious to tackle such a big problem, but willing to let me pick his brain and be the “guinea pig” for whatever system I end up with.

(And of course, I get to reap the benefits too as the content will be directly applicable to my MS choir and orchestra instruction as well, in theory. Pun intended.)

The first step in the design process is to really sit down and analysis the information you have available to you – your knowledge of the audience you are targeting, to pick the brain of your client, to unpack the problems with the current delivery system (if there is one), and to really, for lack of a better way of saying it, think. The analysis process is important because it establishes the baseline of what you know and create tangible objectives and targets that you hope to achieve for your client and the audience you are creating for. Without it, at best you might create something that works and allows the learner to achieve the desired outcome(s), but is perhaps not the most efficient or user friendly for those navigating through it. At worst, you’ll create something that fails miserably, is completely useless for the parties involved, and creates such a negative experience for the learner that they are reluctant to try again in the future.

Through the process of compiling my analysis findings this week, I have found that I can confidently say that I have spent a significant amount of time fleshing out my thoughts and ideas as far as how I hope to implement the design. I spent time reflecting on what might be the best delivery, while also taking into considerations the strengths and weaknesses of my target audience to best suite their learning needs. The analysis process is very similar to the standard writing outline process; I have gathered my information and details, in preparation for the real creation process.

I am ready to truly begin.

Grad School Reflections

Personal Learning Theory

Personal Learning Theory

      While completing my master’s program through the University of North Texas, I have been fortunate enough to be exposed to several predominate learning theories in the field of instructional design and education. In the time spent reflecting on which of the more predominate theories (behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism) is best applicable to my current philosophy and practice, I have realized that I believe and utilize aspects of all three in an effort to reach each and every voice in the room. In addition to these theories, I also have a strong focus in striving to meet the social-emotional needs and development of my learners to set them up for the highest level of success.


     Behaviorism focuses on eliciting a specific response from the learner when a situation or stimulus is presented, and then creating further situations or stimuli to elicit the same or similar response (Ertmer, 1993, p.57). This is achieved by consistency from the teacher’s instruction and response to the learner’s action(s), in addition to the designing the classroom environment to facilitate the desired responses (Ertmer, 1993, p.55).

This theory is present within my daily routines and procedures. From the start of the year, I spend each day solidifying the rehearsal routines until it becomes almost automatic. By the end of the year, students know the appropriate responses when asked to warmup, tune, run concert procedure, go into sectionals, and what is expected in the rehearsal process.


      Unlike behaviorism, cognitivism focuses predominately on the learner organizing the information received so it can easily be stored and retrieved when needed (Ertmer, 1993, p. 58). Cognitivism highlights the importance of prior knowledge, and that the instructor’s primary role is to serve as a facilitator to guide them through feedback and by helping establish connections to past stored information while simultaneously alleviating any misconceptions (Ertmer, 1993, p. 58-60).

Cognitivism is fundamental to my learning philosophy given the cognitive need to scaffold instruction within my field of music. So much of music is conceptual; concepts such as dynamics, musicality, intonation, phrasing, etc. must be scaffolded based on the learner’s prior knowledge. It would be obscenely ridiculous to assume that a middle school student could understand what eharmonic spelling is when creating scales without first introducing what a scale is made up of and/or key signatures. I cannot imagine providing sound vocal and instrumental instruction without first scaffolding and organizing the content and pedagogy sequence to best serve the ability of the learners in the room.


      Constructivism focuses on creating meaning from experiences; the content is guided primarily by the learner’s interests, passions and beliefs (Karagiorgi & Symeou, 2005, p. 18). Constructivism takes the content and delivers it through opportunities to allow the learner to “think as an expert user might think” (Ertmer, 1993, p. 64-65). Instead of contriving scenarios and preferred reactions to stimuli, constructivists prefer their learners to develop their own interpretation and derive their own conclusions through the lens of their own perceptions.

This theory is present in my teaching in how I approach selecting repertoire and music for my ensembles. I take into account their preexisting experiences and choose music that they get to interpret and derive their own story and conclusions for what it means to them. This allows them the freedom to create art through their individual and ensemble-wide viewpoints, enriching the overall experience to leave a lasting imprint that sticks with them beyond what a teacher-driven dialogue and lesson.

Social-Emotional Learning

     Last, but not least, social-emotional learning centers on the how learners “understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (CASEL, 2019). There is much research that emphasizes the importance of nurturing the whole child, I strongly believe that students must learn how to interact with others and manage their emotions within the learning environment that I create.

So many of the skills needed to succeed in life and the workplace, center around being able to collaborate and interact with others. Furthermore, much of the research surrounding the mental health issues of our K-12 learners highlights a need to develop and create ways for them to better understand and express the complex emotions and feelings they experience to be able to be present in the room to be successfully set up to acquire the knowledge we put forth. Without these skills, they lack the ability to focus and truly wholeheartedly engage at the level they are more than capable of.


Ertmer, P. (1993). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective [PDF File]. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 50–72. Retrieved from ertmer_p_newby_1993.pdf

Karagirogi, Y., & Symeou, L. (2005). Translating Constructivism into Instructional Design:
Potential and Limitations [PDF File]. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 8(1), 17–27. Retrieved from

What is SEL? (n.d.). Retrieved June 9, 2019, from


Grad School Reflections

Real World Instructional Design

(Note: If you are following me per our Enumclaw instructional cadre experience, the next couple of months will be heavy in content required for my graduate school work. This summer I am enrolled in two classes – Online Design and Pedagogy, and Instructional Systems Design I. Both of which require quite a bit of reflection blogging, so get ready! I will also tag things like this under “Grad School Reflections” so that you can sort and filter as you should so choose.)

This week we were asked to “go out into the real world” and identify and locate two examples of instructional design, and reflect on the purpose, success and lasting impacts of the instructional systems. Instructional design is defined as “a system of learning experiences and materials that results in the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills” (ATD, 2019, p. 1)

Surprisingly enough, I found myself really having to pause to recall examples of instructional design in what would equate in my normal experience of a typical weekend spent out doing chores and unwinding. When the examples that came to mind finally were unearthed, I realized that many of these designed systems are so ingrained in daily routine and expectations that it is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment in which I acquired said skills; these systems were put into place, and never once did I question or try not to follow them.

The first system I identified in my normal real world experiences was standing in line to checkout at Marshalls. There were no humans telling me what to do or where to go in this system; instead there was merely a sign stating “Line begins here” and some strategically placed shelving that created a natural pathway to follow. When getting to the end of the pathway, the opening allowed me to go to a series of cashiers that were lined up in a row in numerical order.

Thinking about it now, the system was quite effective. Not once did I feel confused about where I was supposed to go to pay for my items, and even though I could have easily ignored the people in front of me and head immediately to the nearest cashier, the amount of space allowed to line up would have made that inconvenient for me to even attempt. I very easily could have gotten confused as to which cashier could help me, but each time a cashier was ready, a speaker system announced, “Cashier #__ is ready.” while flashing lights in the sign of the indicated cashier.

The second system I identified was taking my car to be washed at an automatic car wash. Right away it was clear that the system was designed to instruct the users how to successfully wash their vehicle without the aid of any human interaction. This was accomplished through a series of instructions through signage, labeling, and recordings:

  • Painted lines to indicate where vehicles should be located while in line waiting for the person ahead of them
  • A machine that verbalized step by step instructions to assist with payment and when to enter the car wash
  • A lighted sign that indicated the different steps of the car wash and which part of the sequence the car wash was on
  • A lighted sign that instructed the user to pull forward, stop/put the car in neutral, and to back up if they went to far
  • A timer indicating how much time was remaining on the blow dryers as you exited

Overall, this system was highly successful. I managed to wash my car without breaking anything nor irritating the other people in line. There was not one step in the process where I was confused nor needed additional help that was clearly unavailable given it being an automated system.

From these experiences, my biggest takeaways were that I was quite surprised by how easy and straightforward both systems were to follow and acquire the needed information, and that I was able to successfully complete an achieve my goal without frustration, confusion, or concern. If anything, it made me more aware of how many systems that are in place in our daily lives are really just examples of instructional design systems, but because they are so ingrained in our human experiences, we follow and respond as intended with minimal awareness that we are following these systems in the first place.

If anything, this reflection made me more aware of the importance of instructional design both in life and in my classroom. Instructional design exists to enhance the learner’s experience; to increase their ability to acquire the skills we actively encourage them to absorb and retain. It can also alleviate the burden on the instructor to be the primary source in charge of an individual’s learning, instead putting responsibility and ownership back into the hands of the students. If utilized correctly, instructional design can create learning that facilitates an innate response when a situation or scenario arises, beyond the classroom, into the real world.


What is Instructional Design? (2019). Retrieved June 9, 2019, from