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Would like to make my last blog as a kind of reflection of the Arts Educator 2.0 class over the last four years.

This class started for me my first year of employment in the Washington School District, fall of 2008. When I was hired in Washington, I already had a permanent teaching license and 19 years of teaching experience in the state of WV. My Washington School District colleagues, along with myself, were all offered the opportunity to take this new class that our Superintendent had gotten word of from the IU-1 called “Arts Educator 2.0”.

All of the teachers that took this class from all around Washington County had no idea exactly what to expect that first day of Arts Educator 2.0 at the Intermediate Unit -1 until our class professor, Dr. Mara Linaberger stood up in front of us that morning, welcomed us, and proceeded to discuss the purpose and direction that this class would take that year. Little did we all know that four years later, many of us from Year 1 would STILL be here!!!!

This class was all about inquiry in the arts classroom, along with how to incorporate the latest in 21st century technology. The pre-test that we took that morning of our first day of class completely blew me out of the water. Inquiry???? Didn’t know much about that. Critical thinking??? Discussed it, but hadn’t used it a great deal in the classroom yet. So I knew right off the bat that this class was really going to expand my knowledge as an arts teacher.

And this class was more than just a class, it was an experience, too!!! We spent the first hour of each morning with guest artists / dancers / musicians that allowed us to experience art and music in ways that most of us hadn’t had the opportunity to do before!! We had artists, dancers, and musicians that offered our palates a wide variety of artistic expression.

Now this was the first time a class of this caliper had been done, so it constantly had to be re-evaluated and re-examined for it’s effectiveness for all those involved. Were there some glitches?? Of course. Were they worked out? Of course! The class was always evolving throughout the entire four years. Why?? Because the instructors cared enough about us as educators to want to make this class the best and most enriching experience possible. They constantly got input from us about what was working / not working, then the professors would have meetings of their own to find ways to make this fit the wants and needs of us educators. It was a constant work in progress that evolved into a really great four year project!

The first year required that each teacher had to create their own unit plan, as well as a PPDP (which is a “Personal Professional Development Plan”). In the second year, we started with the concept of creating CIG group. CIG is short for “Collaborative Inquiry Group”. This idea was a GREAT new addition to this class because it gave us the opportunity to bounce ideas off of others in the class, and to create a unified CIG project with input from all CIG members. Another bonus of having CIG groups is the friendships and professional relationships we have built by working together. The whole CIG group concept was utilized again in year three and year four.

Technology “toys” – yet another bonus we received for taking this class. How excited we all were to be given a budget and be able to pick and choose any tech stuff that we thought would add to our arts curriculum at our schools. Q3’s, netbooks, flash drives, ipads, ipods, etc. all were purchases we made to help add quality to our personal classroom curriculums. Again, this all was made possible through the efforts of our arts educator professors!!!!

What about tech concepts that we learned about?? Skype-ing, wikispaces, wordpress, NINGs, dropbox, etc., all are examples of technologies that we not only learned about, but we learned to use as well throughout this four-year process.

The main focus, though, was always inquiry – and this made all of us much better thinkers and educators. It made us utilize inquiry in order to not only structure our classroom methods better, but also helped us to help our students to become better thinkers / problem solvers. It also enabled us and our students to improve our abilities at critical thinking.

So, in closing, I wanted to say “thanks”. Thanks for all that I learned in the four years of taking this class, and for helping me to become a better teacher for my students. I hope that the tools that I have been given in this class will help me to always continue to evolve my abilities as an educator – my students deserve the very best I can give them!

For my next inquiry blog, I would like to discuss the whole “star” concept that my colleague, David Dayton, has been using with his 5th and 6th grade band students.

I had been discussing our whole inquiry process with Dave, what our inquiry question was, and what we had hoped to accomplish by the end of this year’s class. Now, Dave and I have been discussing the whole issue of students lack of effort and motivation in our classes for some time now, so really digging into this concept seemed to be the next logical thing to do. Dave has been saying that “maybe if the students reeived some sort of reward it may help” for years. So, we started kicking around some ideas as to what would be an appropriate reward that might get students more motivated to practice their band instruments at home. We discussed extra credit in the gradebook, we discussed special classs privileges, we even discussed a way to give those who practiced a pizza party. None of these really clicked with either one of us. Then Dave said, “what if we just give the students a gold star for every line that they practice in the book; but only if they show by their performance that they have actually worked on it and that they have actually made improvements on it!” This sounded like a great idea to me!!!  So, how was this going to work, anyways??? Dave said, “let me try it with the 5th and 6th grade band students first and see if it works with them. If it does, next year we’ll try it with the 7th and 8th grade band students as well!” So, I asked Dave what exactly would the students have to do in order to earn a star??? He said that each day he was going to allow the students to play certain lines individually for him during class, and again, if they played them well, or could at least demonstrate that they had worked on them and made improvements, that student would be awarded a star. Dave also printed up wallposter-sized charts with all of the students names on them – he printed up a chart with all of his 5th graders names on it, and one with all of his 6th graders names on it. Once he started putting stars on these, students started counting how many stars they had, as well as counting the number of stars that their classmates had earned. Now it had officially become a contest!!! Students became very competitive with each other in seeing who could earn the most stars. So far this concept seems to be getting the students tol practice more outside of the classroom, which in turn is improving their individual playing abilities. Next year, Dave and I will try this with the 7th and 8th grade band students and see if we get the same results!!!

Our M and D CIG group came about within the first Arts Educator 2.0 class. As our group sat there, we began to discuss where we were going to go with our inquiry for this year’s class. We discussed how we all were experiencing the same issues: trying to get students motivated enough to give their best effort in all of our art / music classes. So, we began to kick around ideas of what we could use as our inquiry question, which would then be the focus of our work for the remainder of this class. After much discussion, we came up with our inquiry question:

“How can inquiry strategies be incorporated into music and art classes to improve motivation and effort toward students’ practice habits?”

We then discussed that probably a great place to start with knowing how to improve student motivation was to create a survey / questionaire for all of our students. We could then examine the results and see what would seem to stimulate our students’ efforts / motivation in our classrooms. The survey would begin by getting some basic information from our students, just so that we would know what grade each student was in that completed the survey. Then, we continued the survey.  Some sample questions from our survey were:

– “During the rest of this year in class, I want to learn how to…”

– “I would be more motivated in this class if only…”

– “Do you practice / sketch outside of instruction time?”

– “If yes, how often?”

– “If not at all, why?” (and one more sample question)

– “I would put more effort into practicing / sketching if…”

We all contributed questions to our survey, printed them up at our respective schools, and had each / most of our classes take a day and complete them. The results were very interesting!!!!

One answer that seemed to occur regularly on my surveys had to deal with allowing my chorus students to have a voice in selecting music that they would enjoy. So, when we returned to school after the holidays, I pulled out all of our latest “Hal Leonard” catalogs, grabbed the CD’s out from the inner sleeves, and track by track, the students and I listened to samples of the latest choral arrangements. We would then take a vote by a showing of hands as to which arrangements were the students’ favorites. I would still pick selections from their favorites that I believed to be the best in quality, but the students still were happy that they had a hand in picking music that they would be singing for our spring concerts. It makes it so much more enjoyable in class now that the students are not only not complaining about the music that we are working on, but they are also putting much more effort into the songs since they themselves helped me to select them!

For my CIG Meeting #2 blogpost, I would like to briefly discuss our last meeting at the IU-1 on April 16. I will be honest, I was very apprehensive going into our final meeting that morning. I know that we had our concept of our final project firmly in place, but I still wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to contribute. Plus, I know that 45-minutes had been decided as the amount of time each CIG was going to be allotted for our final project presentation.

So our M and D CIG begins our morning session and begin to start detailing the concept of our “movie”. Other members start discussing what they have collected from their classrooms (i.e., pics, interviews, etc) and it finally starts hitting me what photos I can take to add to our project. I again hear about what the other members of our CIG are doing in their classsrooms, what they are capturing from their students, and about what is working or not working. We decide who is going to be the “go-to” person for our “movie”, and set a deadline date for getting to her all of our contributions for our group project.

We then move onto creating our personal narratives that will be the audio track contributions to our movie. We each take time to sit and write our narratives that basically sum up what we have done / are doing in our classrooms to try and get our students more motivated. We finish our narratives and, one at a time, begin to read our narratives to the group while someone times them. We get through only about two or so of our narratives and they have ended up being anywhere from 4-7 minutes in length…….TOO LONG!!!!! We go back to our written scripts and begin to edit them down to a few minutes because after lunch, we will be recording them for our movie.

After lunch, we go back one at a time to the computer lab to record our narratives. Michael does his recording first, comes back and his time is within a few seconds of what the narrative should be! I did mine second, same thing! Then Marlynn does hers and she’s within seconds as well!!!

All the pieces of this puzzle have begun to fall into place nicely….let’s just hope that on May 18th, our project presentation will go just as well!!!!

Our CIG had a skype session earlier this semester to discuss where we stood with our inquiry process. We went around from member to member to discuss what all we were trying to do within our classrooms to try and help motivate students. Michael discussed how he had started using “band bucks” as a reward for his students that they could use to redeem at the school store. At the time, it seemed to be working well with his students. They were practicing outside of the classroom on their instrument more than they ever had.

I had discussed how my co-worker Dave Dayton and I have discussed our inquiry question, and he had chosen to let 5th and 6th grade band students play lines in their band book for gold stars. As long as the student shows improvement, a gold star is awarded. Then, Dave posts a chart on the wall with a list of all 5th and 6th grade band students’ names and how many stars they have been awarded. Once the chart was posted, the students started counting stars on the charts and a competition with each other had begun. As of now, the gold star system seems to be working.

After we discussed what all we had been trying in our classrooms, we began to discuss what all information we were going to collect to put intro our final project.

This reading is about Anne, who at the middle of her teaching career as a Physical Education Teacher, decides to shift gears and become an 8th grade core subject classroom teacher.

The basis for her entire classroom structure, environment, and motivation was all about utilizing family relations as a meaning-making structure for inquiry.

Her methodology in her “new” core classroom was simply this; by working collaboratively with others, we can not only learn from one another, but we can also learn to respect and appreciate each others ways, knowledge, and experiences.

Sounds great, yet not always the easiest thing to pull off with students. In my opinion, in order for this to work and be an effective classroom method, the structure for how this works needs to be well-defined, as well as constantly monitored and re-inforced. I agree with Anne that we can all learn so very much from one another as long as we are interacting in a proper means of “give and take”. We all need to practice being better listeners and learn how to share information with each other in a way that comes across as “non-condescending” and “non-judgemental”. How hard this is for many of us as adults, and we are trying to get young adults to be able to achieve this “collaborating” task successfully.

In my 7th and 8th grade band, I try to do a “sort of” small group activity with each section. I will allow my clarinets (or my flutes, trumpets, etc.) to go off during a class period and work on the music on their own as a group. I tell them that they are to help each other with notes and rhythms, as well as with correcting fingering problems with notes as well. I don’t want it ever to become a situation where 8th grade band members are telling 7th grade band members what to do, but more of a shared learning experience where the 7th grade band students can learn some musical knowledge from the 8th grade band students, and the 8th grade band students can learn how to help the younger students, as well as become more knowledgable and more understanding of all of the members of their sections’ strengths and weaknesses. It seems to be a productive activity so far because the next day in band all of the band students in that section tend to play their parts much better than they did before they had “section” or “group” collaboration time. After all, bands, choirs, etc. all perform much better together when there is a great deal of “harmony” amongst all members of said groups anyways – and isn’t this one of our main goals to begin with???

I wish, however, that I knew what “co-operative learning” books she (Anne) read from cover to cover to help her establish a structure, along with guidelines to her “collaborative” environment. I’m a big believer in setting parameters and having a detailed outline set before diving into an activity with both feet, so for me, I am sure I would benefit greatly from reading a few “co-operative learning” books cover to cover myself!

Respecting, learning from, and getting to know others outside of our own personal “comfort zone” is not a task any of us go into very open-mindedly. Even as teachers, we tend to “stick” with people in our school who teach our same subject matter, same grade level, or who we have gotten to know by spending time together through various meetings or duty assignments. Hopefully, as educators we can all become better collaborators with each other and be able to share the benefits of this method with all of our students!! Maybe they will even end up being more receptive to “collaborating” and learning from each other as young adults than we are!

Discussion question: What “problems” do you encounter with your students that could stimulate a shared inquiry as an active quest?

Problem??? The heart and soul of our CIG….and it’s one of the biggest issues facing a music teacher today – creating a quality music program in which the students not only show both motivation and determination, but that many students want to be a part of the program. So, what are the characteristics of a quality music program??? Is it measured by how many students are involved in your program, by how fun your class is, or by how well your band / chorus / orchestra performs??? These questions are constantly floating around in the minds of music educators because of one main concept – we are an elective, and students do NOT have to take us as a class!

So, as an instrumental / vocal / music teacher, you are doing a constant “balancing act” in order to keep your program afloat. You have to do your best at creating quality ensembles, while at the same time, not pushing the students TOO hard that they end up quitting the program. You want the students to enjoy creating music in your various ensembles, but you, as the director, also want to give them a musical experience that touches their soul that they want to create again and again. You want them to experience not only the power of quality music, but also the ramifications of a job well done. Some of the students in your program will want to be the very best ensemble that can be created, while many other students just want it to be fun and are just there for the experience.

Now, a “shared inquiry as an active quest”? Bottom line in my mind is this…all of the musical ensembles are the students’; we are just helping to guide the ship’s direction. So, wouldn’t a good starting inquiry question be one that asks the students what they hope to experience while being a member of this musical ensemble? I would also like to pose a question to the students asking them what THEY feel needs to be done to not only improve the quality of said ensembles, but also how to get more students involved. Maybe, if we’re lucky, the students might not only come up with ideas to improve the quality, but may also have some good ideas that will get more students involved…and hopefully, more motivation and determination!!!

June 2017
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