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During our last IU day together we decided in how we were going to share our information in our spot light. It was decided that our sharing should be “interactive” to some extent. I was very excited about the idea of it being interactive. I find this Benjamin Franklin quote to be very appropriate to our research this year. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me I learn.” Although, a topic that was brought up during the meeting was a concern that it would be too much and time consuming for the time that we were allocated for the spotlight. While I didn’t feel that this was a major topic at the time, it did give me something to think about. I realized that many times in my classroom I try to cram as much into a 35 minute period as possible and it made me wonder how often we (educators) cause an “overload” due to our time constraints. I then realized that I have noticed this affecting my students in the way that they were not retaining the information that was being presented. I also concluded that so much of the information that I give them is either verbal or written on the board. While some students do remember this most don’t. I then found if I could make my lesson as interactive as possible they did demonstrate better retention. But now the question is where do you draw the line? When is it too much? I believe this to be something that I will continue to search for balance in.

During the project this year I have been focusing on just the older classes (4th and 5th grade) for the most part. To further work on the project I began using the same techniques with some of the younger grades. It was actually my first grade class that surprised me. The class seemed handle the simple patters with the boomwhackers well and picked up each set quickly. I did notice however that they became less successful as the patterns became longer. I was then curious as to if they they would take the knowledge and transfer it to the other instruments. I then took an orff instrument and told the students that they only needed to use the bottom three keys. (In this case they were Do, La and So) One of the students who volunteered to go first was actually able to play the correct pattern in only two tries. I then asked for others. None of them was able to accomplish the task as quickly, but most of them were able to play the pattern. When a student had trouble with the pattern I would then play it on another instrument, ask the student to sing it back to me, just as we had before. After that I would then ask them to sing the pattern as they played. If the pitch matched I would let them continue on, if it didn’t match, would ask them to try another note.

I then began to feel that if the first graders could do this then I should be able to have my older kids use the same process. However, when I actually tried I found a different result. The older kids “want” to be told exactly what to do. It was almost if they were afraid to make a mistake, even though I have always tried to keep my classroom an open and judgment free environment. I then realized that they actually were afraid to make a mistake and felt that if I told them exactly what to do they would not “fail.” It made me realize that if I did not start encouraging the students to use their ear, apply what they know about pitch and how it is related to instrument size and to not be afraid to “make a mistake” at a young age they would have some difficulty with the process as they grow older.

I often go back and  forth as to is there inquiry happening in my classroom. Perhaps I wrestle with what the actual meaning of inquiry is. The term inquiry can be defined as: “a seeking for truth, information, or knowledge.”

In my quest this morning to find what inquiry is google directed me to this site:

The open the article with the quote: “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.” According to workshop author Joe Exline, it is this last part that is essential. “Inquiry implies involvement that leads to understanding. Furthermore, involvement in learning implies possessing skills and attitudes that permit you to seek resolutions to questions and issues while you construct new knowledge.”

I have been working with several of my classes using instruments called boomwhackers, which is a chromatic set of plastic tubes that are each given different color assignments according to pitch. If you would like to “see” exactly what I am talking about you can watch this youtube video. (It is just a random video I have found of random people, but it gives you an idea none the less.

Lately I have noticed in my practice I have been struggling with “Am I using/demonstrating correct teaching methods in my classroom?” I know that teaching music at it’s most basic level consists of a lot of echoing activities. So, I have recently started using the boomwhackers with the primaries (grades K-2) and teaching simple accompaniment patters via echoing.

The older students I have taken the simple melodic patterns and echo sang them during warm up (warm-up consists of echo-clapping/speaking rhythms/sounds, echo-solfege and rhythm reading cards) I then put the patterns on the board either as solfege syllables or as written notation. I then split the students into 4 groups and gave each set of groups a set of boomwhackers. I would only use a few pitches (Do, Re, and Mi) and (Do, So and La) and asked the students to work on performing the pattern that I placed on the board.

I figured that this would be a simple task and then all the problems began. The boomwhackers have pitch labels on them, but I was using movable Do and this was confusing the kids to be told the dark green boomwhacker is Do, but yet it is labeled So and the Orange boomwhacker is La, but it is labeled Re. So you can imagine the confusion from this. So as I modified the lessons I found that I started reviewing the idea “The bigger the instrument  the lower the pitch, the smaller the instrument the higher the pitch.” and then I ask the kids what color is the largest boomwhacher? What is our lowest pitch that we are using,” and of course I would ask  the reverse of that question. However, I felt that by giving them this information was too direct and that I was not allowing them to figure it out for themselves.  With the next group I conducted this lesson with, I gave them time in their groups with the boomwhackers and the original mission. (Play the pattern on the board.) I would only offer to each group the input as to whether they were correct or not. After about 10 minutes I asked them to stop. I had each group hold up their boomwhacker so we could see who was labeling them Do, Re and Mi. We then discussed the idea of size and pitch and then as a class played the pattern on the board.

I have found that so far the last way I have conducted this process is so far the best balance for young students. It gave them time to explore and trouble shoot as a team, but the recap at the end allowed me to see that everyone had a clear understanding of the concept.

On our optional meeting day we brought in pieces for sharing about the work that we did in the classroom. During this day we discussed how to further support what each other are doing. Each member was able to share a project that they we taking on and other group members were able to offer support. As each member spoke about their project I began to think about how each of our individual projects fit together to find our common theme. We discussed that while we are all working toward a common theme/goal we are all in different parts of our “journey.” Each of us offered up suggestions as to how we can further support and continue with our process.

During our open skype meeting we began discussing our line of inquiry. As we began working on how to define/refine our question I realized that we kept using terms such as “inquiry-centered instruction,” teacher-centered instruction,” and “student-centered instruction.” I found that this conversation began a personal  inner dialog/struggle over the terminology. I had the sudden realization as to what these terms began to mean to me. I feel I have been struggling with conducting lesson using inquiry and this issue was leaving me feeling a little lost in the whole process. I found at this moment that perhaps part of the problem what that I did not create an essential question for the students start to solve. I realized that I have been leaving the lesson almost too openended for the age of students I have. I found this part of the conversation to be the most essential to me in as I process through this project.

For my second reading I chose to read “The Three Artistic Processes: Paths to Life Long 21st Century Skills through Music.” I found this article to be extremely helpful  and relevant to my work in my CIG this year. The article discusses taking the subject of music and by using the three artistic processes an educator can have a clear way of  “organizing standards-based music teaching and assessment as well as a vision of the musically educated student. ” The model discusses the three artistic processes being” Comprehensive, Practical and Authentic. Out of these three it is the authentic that peeks my interest the most.

Authentic– The processes are those that real artists use when Creating, Performing and Responding to music and the other arts.”

After reading this statement I realized that I truly wanted to embrace this idea, and then I had to ask my self  “is this something that is happening in my classroom, or is this something that I am working towards?” After reflecting for a while I came to the conclusion that it is something that is happening in my classroom, but it is something that my students and I are trying to make stronger.  I feel that the article really began to hit home when I read this statement:

” The ultimate goal of music education is to empower our students to continue active musical involvement as adults.  Since the ability to carry out the steps in the Three Artistic Processes is what makes a person a musician, the ‘mission’ of every music teacher should be to help all students learn to carry out each of those processes independently.

Conversely,the major reason that so many students set aside their instruments or vocal skills after graduation is because their music instruction has been primarily teacher-centered…”

This is something I have always wanted for my classroom. To not make it about me teaching them, but about them learning. They begin to gradually assume musical responsibility and ownership. I find making my classroom more student-centered and leaning more using inquiry has been somewhat difficult and I now realize that it is because I have not necessarily re-enforced the authentic process with my students on a consistent enough basis. I find it interesting that as a musician this is a process I continuously engage in, but rarely ever encourage my students.

The reading also discusses how the three artistic Processes also encourage 21-century thinking skill including critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. The more I think about this section the more I feel that it relates directly to our inquiry. These skills are something that I find I push my students in constantly. However, I have now generated some new questions that I will reflect about later, based on these skills and how they effect the inquiry process.

So, you ask, what is my problem… my problem is that my students are curious about music… that’s what my problem is. You would think this is not a problem at all, but it really is. I teach elementary music and I have come to the conclusion that my students really want to learn more about music, but there is so much to the topic, I am sometimes not sure where to begin. How do I hand over control of a classroom full of students under the age of 11 and say “Ok. Here we go! What do you want to learn about?” I think we all know how that would end up. I know as a musician that the musical experience is meant to have a connection to those who create it as well is those who are listing to it. I have found that I sometimes struggle to create situations for my students that will allow them to have these personal musical experiences and further more when they are struggling when do I interject and does interject put the “personal” aspect of the piece in danger.

I believe that my CIG group this year has a strong desire in learning how to utilize inquiry in each of our classrooms but we are coming across some uncertain ground. Because most of us teach at the elementary level we are concerned with how to allow the students the ability to seek out the information on their own without chaos breaking into the classroom. Yet, others in our group, who are teaching at the secondary level, are looking further into the question of when does the “teachable moment” take place and when do you stop the student’s inquiry to interject knowledge. Because this entire process is circular, I believe that while the group is dealing with two separate issues the knowledge we each personally gain will be relevant to every member of our group.

I have come to the conclusion that I have never seen a more confused face than that of some of my students last year when I gave them a task that they would work on as a group and they would ask me if something in it was correct and I would respond with “I don’t know. What do you think?” I feel that sometimes in inquiry at the elementary level less is more, especially when they get to the upper grades. The students have become so dependent on a teacher telling them the answer that they don’t want to look for the answers on their own. So, while the student is confused by not receiving the answer when they asked for it, they are learning that it is permissible to seek out the answers for themselves. I know this seems like an odd way to offer support, but I find the sooner they learn the lesson that they are allowed to try different paths to get to their solution the better off they will be. I suppose I am referring to independence from adults and knowing that we are there to help, but the students has to want to grow first.

Challenge is a word that I absolutely love. It is something that I seek personally and professionally for myself on a daily basis and it is something that I push for my students. Frequently as my students are working on pieces I will stop them and ask them to explain to me where they are in their inquiry and process/actions that brought them to that exact moment and then I usually ask them a question that begins with the phrase. “Did you consider…” This usually turns into a moment of realization for the students and they go back project at hand. I would consider the skill of asking knowledgeable questions about a students work a strength that I have and continue to use it to challenge them on their quest.

August 2020

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