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Last week the members of the M & D CIG met at Trinity High school to finalize the spotlight sharing presentation. We have compiled a video slideshow with various pictures from our classrooms and voice over narrations we recorded at the last IU day. It’s strange to think that this project will be over soon. These people and this process has become such an ingrained part of the school year for me. Over the course of my three years in the program I have gained valuable ideas for new and innovative ways to teach my students as well as a great network of colleagues in the area. I hope to find new ways to work with all of these people and wish them and our faculty members the best in all future endeavors.

Somehow we’ve hit that point of the year where PSSA testing is over, spring break has come and gone and the final countdowns of the year have arrived. Every year we get to that point where the kids (and the teachers) are mentally done. In some ways it seems like that point arrives sooner and sooner each year. I had really been hoping that by following the responses from my students pre-test where they indicated they would be more motivated to practice and participate when given more ownership and leadership in the choices of the group we would avoid that point.  For the Christmas concert, I had insisted the students wear the choir robes. The robes are plain black and have a red and white stole. They just look clean and uniform. You avoid the issue of girls’ skirts being too short or blouses cut too low or the gentleman not having dress shirts. It takes the guesswork out of what to wear for the performance. The kids hate the robes. They feel like they look ridiculous. So we created a compromise. I would be willing to have them wear something else, but they had to create the proposal. In previous years the former director would have tshirts created for the group and they would wear those with ‘nice jeans.’ I thought the kids would jump all over this opportunity. So many of them are artistic and we have access to equipment to screenprint shirts with their design. We set a deadline of the beginning of April for their designs so that if needed we would have time for shirts to be made. The deadline was posted on the board, on my class Edline page, announced multiple times in rehearsal. I really tried to encourage the kids to be creative with this opportunity. The deadline passed and I didn’t have a single proposal. They just seemed apathetic.

As part of our inquiry project our CIG designed a pre-test asking a variety of questions pertaining to students motivation and participation in the arts.

One of the areas that many of my students overwhelmingly responded to was the question about interest in attending outside music/art events. Many specifically mentioned wanting to attend other school or even professional musical productions. It just so happened that one of my friends from home was recently cast in a touring production of Shrek… as Shrek. The tour was coming to WVU and I wrote a request to fund transportation to the event as long as the student would pay or fundraise for the ticket fee. I contacted my friend and arranged an after show meet and greet. I had over thirty students who initially expressed interest in attending. I ordered the tickets for the production and kept having students drop out of the trip because they ‘just decided they didn’t want to.’ I ended up having to reduce the number of tickets to the minimum group rate of $20 and still only had 15 attend. I then had to pay to make up the difference. The group that went had an amazing time and still now months later talk about it (and meeting Luki) on a daily basis.

The frustration comes that the kids beg to get to go and do things, to go on trips, etc. etc. and when the work is done they back out. The band trip is another example. Twice in the last three years the students have expressed an interest in going on a band trip. Some go so far to put in their down payment. Then they back out and the trip is ultimately cancelled because of lack of interest. Then we as a department get questioned as to why we aren’t doing enough activities to promote our discipline.

At the suggestion of one of the other members of my CIG, I opened up the concert programming to the students. I was very nervous about that since so many of them generally only want to sing pop songs. So I decided to open up the programming with some parameters. I preselected a variety of pieces that would fit within different genres I wanted to see represented in the concert. I opened the day by saying that we’d end by taking a vote and the simple majority would win. Any of the choices for each section were appropriate and ones that I would find acceptable. Taking one or two genres a day for about a week, we looked at a small segment of the music and listened to the recordings posted on the publishers website. There were some that I was secretly hoping they would pick and they did not.  Pieces that I never thought they would like that they raved about and request to sing each day. Without a doubt it has changed rehearsals for the better. Obviously not every person likes all of the pieces, but the students are starting to recognize why some of them were chosen and seem to be excited about singing. A certain piece really works on our blend and dynamics, another works on more complicated harmonies and diction. Previous they would get to a phase where they were disinterested in singing or bored with the music. Now, they’re complaining that I’m not there because of festivals or other events such as this and they can’t sing. Hopefully this trend will continue as the rest of the year progresses.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I started this project I was here for the credits. The supplies were also certainly a draw. I will also be the first to admit that I was (and occasionally still am) very frustrated with the inquiry process. I am very much a task to-do list type person- this assignment is due in this format by this day. The concept of having such a free form project seemed almost too daunting. It seemed like we had no direction or idea of what way we wanted to travel. My brain is still wired the same way, but each year I come back I find myself more open to incorporating inquiry ideas into my teaching. I think we have moments of student inquiry in our classes all the time but we just don’t think about it.  In working with my classes this year I am trying to remember the frustrations I felt when posed with the idea of inquiry. My classes this year have not been a part of my previous inquiry projects and are completely unfamiliar with the idea of inquiry.

After completing the pre-evaluation with classes and analyzing the data, I shared the results with the students. I asked them what trends they saw and what kind of ideas they thought could positively change the areas we as a group felt were not up to our standards. This small step at a time process seems to be working well. In addition to the pre-evaluation our CIG created I also created a post- concert evaluation for all the students to complete. We watched a video recording of the concert and for perhaps the first time the students were critically evaluating the performance they had given. We discussed the areas the students felt were most improved since the beginning of the year (diction, phrasing, dynamics etc.) and the areas that they felt were weakest (balance, blend, tone). There were some things the students were very critical of that I felt had actually gone rather well and some that they were very happy with that I felt could have been better. After some guided questioning we tried to come up with why those areas were lacking and what things we could do to improve those areas of weakness. Most overwhelmingly, the area of balance was seen as our biggest weakness. Students immediately noted the multiple class periods of the same performing ensemble. They struggled with how to overcome that issue since the schedule is already set, we aren’t allowed to pull out students for rehearsals and so many have multiple other after school activities. In speaking about this struggle with another teacher at the county festival they suggested recording the separate groups so they can practice hearing the other sections. My goal in the next two weeks is to get the recording of the individual voice part tracks imported into finale so we can run sectionals and link my Q3 to post recordings onto my school webpage for outside practice. I’m contemplating having them make that into a question- will having the voice parts posted online increase the amount of out of class practicing.

(original post 11/2011)

It was somewhat refreshing and yet at the same time slightly terrifying to change CIG groups this year. For the past two years of the AE 2.0 project I was a part of the same CIG with the same people and the same CIG facilitator. There was a sense of familiarity about that. We may have been somewhat dysfunctional but there was a comfort level there. We worked well together. We understood each other. This year while the overall participants have not changed, we restructured the groups. It felt somewhat akin to the first day at a new school. New first impressions, trying to find where within the system you fit in. It was also somewhat difficult since there was no clear leader, no one wanted to assume the role and exclude the ideas of the others. It’s refreshing to discover what other people are doing in their classrooms. It enables us to get new ideas from each other. I really am interested to see how grouping the CIGs by topic of inquiry will impact how the project unfolds. We still have some splits between age groups and discipline areas but all focusing on the same question should ultimately alleviate some of the difficulties we’ve faced in years past. Overall I think I am excited to see how these new relationships grow and what new information we will be able to find.

(originally written 10/2011)

Quote #1

“Problems are the stimulus to thinking… [G]rowth depends upon the presence of difficulty to be overcome by the exercise of intelligence… The problem grows out of the conditions of the experience of intelligence… The problem grows out of the conditions of the experience being had in the present, and that it is within the capacity of students; and secondly, that it is such that it arouses in the learner an active quest for information and for production of new ideas” (Dewey 1938/1997 p79)”

This year has brought about a multitude of changes and problems to overcome. In April our department was restructured. Many music teachers were reassigned within the district through involuntary moves and while no jobs were lost it created a great deal of tension between the department members. Then over the summer due to budget cuts we were faced with the possibility of losing one, two or three of the five members of our departments. It wasn’t until the day before school started that we knew we had a job. That left very little time to prepare for whole new courses and deal with the lack of resources. Starting out the year with new kids, some of whom were still very loyal to the former director, hurt by the move and under the impression that we had forced the administration into making posed many problems. How do I get them to let go of the past practice and become a new ensemble? The first month or so of school felt like a constant struggle. It essentially felt like having to start all over again from the ground up. Rebuilding classroom practice and some type of rapport with these students was a challenge since it wasn’t really a clean separation with the former director. We share classroom space and some other teaching duties. We had some students who have left, we’ve had some who have joined.

My CIG group is focusing on the challenge we face in finding ways to motivate our students. My personal struggle is how to create the classroom I want and teach my students the basic skills they are currently lacking while giving them the reins for student led inquiry. How do I get them to respond to me and best smooth the difficult transition we’ve been given? I know they have the potential to be excellent they currently have no desire to showcase their true talents. What ways can I get them interested in singing music that is not found on the pop chart? .

June 2017
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