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Last week at our CIG meeting we shared where we are with the development of our projects. It was really helpful to hear how things have progressed for each member and to consider how we will present on May 18th. It seems that we all had a vision at the beginning of our project, but there have been some necessary course corrections along the way. The April meeting was definitely one of the most productive, yet.

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Tomorrow will mark a first for members of the junior class at Peters Township High School. More than 375 juniors will be appear to present their graduation projects. Until now all students selected one of the many projects they do during their high school years and it served as their official graduation project. This change in process has created apprehension and frustration for the students. It has also created an evolution in the thinking of the team of collaborators who have guided the implementation of this new process. That team of teachers and administrators should be commended for staying strong against great criticism and they are to be praised for their amazing skills at organizing every detail to bring this experience to this first milestone. The entire HS staff has been preparing the juniors for “Tell Your Story” with mentoring sessions, career fairs, career research and a variety of inquiry opportunities. In January, the staff read essays about the students research and graded them using a rubric. We read in committees of the three. I read twenty-eight essays in two after school meetings. Tomorrow, there will be four teachers on each panel and every K-12 teacher and all administrators in the school district will be evaluating the presentations which are to be 10 to 15 minutes in length. A rubric has been created for the event and presentation skills are strongly emphasized. Being big on performance, I am looking forward to hearing about the career inquiries of the students and I am anxious to see how they demonstrate their independence. I know that there will be students who will experience “performance anxiety.” This experience is about individual inquiry and will be all about independence and practice, my CIG’s topics for this year and from last year! Notes to follow after the event…

Next day-following project presentations: We heard 7 presentations today and they were all good. In regard to independence, the students were all well-prepared and some were well rehearsed while others could have used more practice. All adhered to the requirements as outlined in the rubric. Independence based on the depth of understanding of the research that was conducted was definitely evident in one presentation. This student did not use note cards as prompts and unfortunately the powerpoint aid he had planned to use would not open. So he asked for a copy of the rubric and proceeded to reconstruct his presentation. Though visibly a little bit rattled, he moved forward relating his journey and citing supportive data that met the requirements on the rubric. It is interesting to note that this student is a musician who is also active in theater. He definitely demonstrated poise under pressure…poise that reflected a significant level of independence.

Hard to believe that it is already April! I have been silent from this blog because of the intense schedule of the month of March while preparing for the annual HS musical. We completed three performances of “Legally Blonde, the Musical.” For all of the years I have conducted the show (this was number 28) the decision was always one of collaboration with the drama teacher, the choral/vocal director, the choreographer and the orchestra director. When this show came to the table as an option I “objected” and so did the choral director, but we were both “overruled!” We had numerous concerns ranging from the mature content to technical issues involving the score and the extreme vocal demands.

But collaboration involves compromise…so we compromised! The process began to first make this “PG 21” show “high-school appropriate” and overcome many musical challenges including the need to make it orchestra friendly. It is driven by the three keyboard books, and a guitar, with occasional snippets thrown to the clarinets or violins. We had to hire two pianists and a professional guitar player because none of our students could even begin to deal with technical figures in these books. The orchestration leaves much to be desired as the nature of the music is not artistic, but commercial. The vocal parts were very taxing on the young voices and several rehearsals ended with panic and tears as the students on stage attempted to stretch into the parts. Now that it is over, I have to say that I am very proud of the members of the orchestra for their extreme “professionalism” as they sat night after night while we worked with the cast to reach that bond of common trust where the actors, dancers, singers and orchestra actually feel comfortable, allowing us to achieve that “seamlessness” that engages the audience. I realize that that comfort is actually a degree of independence where there is also adaptability, so that when things go wrong on stage, there is enough of a depth of understanding that there can be recovery. This show was definitely a huge stretch for all, technically demanding and great physical workout for the conductor…only 6 minutes of dialogue in entire two and a half hours. So, now that it is over, I realize that the bond of trust that evolved through rehearsals, created that sense of entrainment that cemented all involved in a common collaboration. We did achieve that seamlessness and the audience (though sometimes a bit surprised by the content) responded to the quality of the students efforts with standing ovations each night.

At this point I think I have come full circle to that first blog entry I wrote about respect and trust. This company experienced success because of the level of respect and the bond of trust that developed throughout the course of staging this extra-curricular activity. The quality of the process and resulting product was experienced was more valuable to the participants than the issues that surrounded the choice of show.

This is an example of a collaborative decision made by 30 members of the Sixth Grade Orchestra. Every year we brainstorm a motto to place on our orchestra tee shirt. This motto was one of 12 suggested by the members of the class. After a series of discussions and votes, there were three remaining choices. In the final voting for this motto. was a unanimous. Then there was brainstorming to come up with the visual representation. The final product was a black tee shirt with turquoise and silver print. The students wear these shirts for their performances and proudly wear them to school on a regular basis. This was SYNERGY at it’s best in a sixth grade classroom!!!
practice.experience.lifebasic

Inquiry based experiences in Orchestra lessons at the elementary level take are taking a different form than the ones at the High School.

Students attend lessons on a six day rotation. At this level a great deal of time is spent establishing form, reading skills and most importantly, practice habits. Our school district is deeply involved in leading students to understand and apply Stephen Covey’s Eight Habits of Highly Effective People.

In grades 4, 5 the focus is on habits 1, 2, and 3: Be Proactive, Begin With the End in Mind and Put First Things First.
When students begin to play in a large ensemble in grade 6, the focus is on group dynamics and habits 4, 5, and 6: Think Win-Win, Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood, and Synergize.

In an effort to increase the INDEPENDENCE of the elementary students I teach, it has been necessary for me to begin to track whether students remember to bring their instrument and book and attend on the correct day due to this new shifting schedule. This had changed previously establishes habits of independence and created as new need.

The nature of inquiry in my high school classroom has taken on a direction that appears to be altering the quality and direction of our musical product. The bi-products of our study have resulted in more expressive performance by all and an increasing motivation for many of the members. This is becoming evident at the High School where we have been focusing on musical imagery. In the Winter Concert we produced visual images that were projected during a work titled The Idylls of Pegasus.

During the second semester we have moved in to a study of the imagery in music by the Russian Five and the Impressionist composers and are exploring works that are nationalistic.

One of the selections we are studying is the Troika from the Lt. Kije Suite. This week the students were asked to post a visual image on the Fiddle File Wiki with an explanation of why it reflects this music. An invitation to view the wiki will be issued upon request. Please make your request via a comment on this post.

Here is a sample post from a sophomore
re: TROIKA Image/Explanation
Wednesday, 4:53 pm
http://www.google.com/imgres?hl=en&gbv=2&biw=1366&bih=643&tbm=isch&tbnid=tGiXfF6Ir9XTSM:&imgrefurl=http://www.dogsled.com/picking-the-right-sled-dogs/&docid=pSBKbhiSmetvNM&imgurl=http://www.dogsled.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/dog_sled_training.jpg&w=454&h=393&ei=8pxOT8OFJKrA0AGFtuTcAg&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=368&vpy=142&dur=1144&hovh=209&hovw=241&tx=142&ty=98&sig=112084466929863869786&page=1&tbnh=138&tbnw=156&start=0&ndsp=18&ved=1t:429,r:1,s:0

The picture I chose is off a dog team pulling a sled. In the ideal picture the dog would have bells on their sides like the reindeer at the end of Polar Express. Also the dogs would be casual jogging threw the snow. This related because all the picking sounds like bells and it has a happy tempo that reminds me of dogs.

If you are interested is seeing additional posts by the students n invitation to view this non-public wiki will be issued upon request. Please make your request via a comment on this post.

Today, we started our work session discussing our progress to date. It seems that some of us are in a stall with the blog. I shared the experience that with my High School Orchestra students, about one third of them are “heavy posters” on or Fiddle File blog. The students who respond to prompts are the ones who have now begun posting topics for discussion.
The wiki is drawing some interesting exchanges. One of the HS freshman posted this last week:

Myelin Sheath

Feb 22, 2012 11:49 am
SK – I’m reading a book right now and it is very interesting. The book is called the Talent Code. It has to do with the statement “you can do whatever you put your mind to”. In the book it is scientifically proven that this quote is true, this all has to do with myelin sheath. The revolution of myelin sheath is built on three simple facts. (1) Every human movement, thought, or feeling is a precisely timed electric signal traveling through a chain of neurons- a circuit of nerve fibers. (2) Myelin is the insulation that wraps these nerve fibers. (3) The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit, and the stronger, faster, and more fluent our movements and thoughts become. This is related to anything we want to become good at and of course… ties into perfect practice. Here is a video of myelin just to give you a slight visual and if you are interested in this subject, check out the book Talent Code.

re: Myelin Sheath
Feb 22, 2012 12:01 pm
ZZ – Very interesting! I thought you make very strong points in your 3 facts. I also strongly agree with you in that practice makes perfect

re: Myelin Sheath
AMC – Feb 22, 2012 6:28 pm
I partly agree with you, but I also partly disagree. I want to change your statement to PERFECT Practice makes Perfect. This is because if you practice the wrong way, then your movements become more fluent, but you are playing the wrong way.

re: Myelin Sheath
TT – Friday, 1:10 pm
“Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown.”

OKAY, OKAY, OKAY: Here is something from my elementary classroom. I cannot really take any credit for this example, because this is from a highly motivated child, but it is a very exciting example from a fifth grade violin student who thinks on a highly creative level.

He came in one day with a duet he had composed at home using a free trial software package from the internet. He titled the piece Serenade of Aqua. It was tonal, cohesive with a definite form and his comprehension of harmony was very good. So we played the duet and I asked him why he gave it this title. He proceeded to tell me that it was part of a book he was writing! He and I performed the piece at the February concert. I interviewed him on video and am working through some technical issues to post the video on this blog or on our classroom wiki. I can provide the link to the wiki, if you indicate your interest via a comment to this blog.

During the holiday I read selected chapters in the book The Mastery Of Music: Ten Pathways to True Artistry by Barry Green. Barry Green teamed up with Timothy Gallway who wrote the Inner Game books and Green’s first book was the Inner Game of Music.

In Chapter 7 of The Mastery, the topic is Concentration: The Spirit of the Zone, there are several quotes I find meaningful to the focus of the Inquiry of the Independents.

1. The brain is the key to the state of peak performance, in music and in life.
2. Green believes that mastering three Inner Game mental concentration skills i.e. being in the zone is as essential as mastering the physical technical skills of playing any instrument.
3. The three challenges to achieving mastery are defining the zone, getting to the zone and staying in the zone.

It seems to me this can be an avenue for me to explore and experiment through observation of students engaged in specific activities through helping them to balance awareness, will and trust in an effort to understand “the zone.”

In my thinking, being “in the zone” is being independent.

We have been encouraged by our administrators to apply H.E.A.T. In our teaching. I will explore whether there can be a convergence between the zone and H.E.A.T.

On another front the Fiddle File wiki has provoked many responses from my students. The discussions are focused around a list of essential questions. I hope to be able to post some of these samples on the Independents wiki as soon as we complete our winter performance next Monday evening.

January 13, 2012

Perhaps there are others who are spinning plates – – -so many plates. There is the usual e-mail, curriculum writing, graduation projects, concerts, concerts, concerts, orchestra rehearsals for the musical and adapting parts to the level of the players, budget meetings, the arts festival, the usual grade book maintenance and lesson plans, and tech-flex sessions to learn more and more technology applications. Right now I am on a technology/curriculum overload.

So then, I created what I think is more of a platter for my students. We have been using a wiki called the Fox Fiddle File. I asked the students to respond on the discussion page to the question “Why do you play your instrument? I included the responses in the December concert program for the audience to see. I continued to post interesting finds from the internet. One of those was the Copenhagen Symphony playing Ravel’s Bolero in the railroad station and another was a list of essential questions for the students to consider. Students responded with some comments that prompted others to respond. Then the students started to post items of interest and topics for discussion.

Spinning this platter has increased the discussion and sharing by the members of the High School Orchestra, who frequently shrink from in-class discussion. As time has progressed the students have begun to post topics of interest. There have been 277 postings to date to the two dozen topics on the discussion page to date.

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