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Last Friday we had our Spotlight Sharing at the IU. It was the final day of a 4 year journey for some. I have been a part of Arts Educator for 3 years. Each year had its unique characteristics and challenges. What I loved especially about this year was the Affinity Grouping that brought each group together that first day back in the Fall. I still remember sharing my statement, not having a notion of where I would fit, and the whole group basically pointing out who else I belonged with. As we sat together and began to formulate our inquiry question for the year, I was struck by our similarities. I felt like I was coming home.

Now our final meeting, as each group presented it was so obvious to me how we ended up in the groups we did. Each group’s approach was so different from ours. Yet, it was it was clear that the individuals within the groups were connected to their inquiry question and bonded in their efforts.

For me in my group, it all came together on our final work day. When we started thinking of our spotlight. It was one of those times that I have found myself in a group when there was no disagreement. Everyone was on the same page. As I reflect on that I realize that each of our CIG meetings and other days together had that same kind of simpatico.

I have a way of looking at the world that seems to aggravate and frustrate some people at times. I am not capable of taking a negative view and sustaining it. If I looked at my students, administrators, parents, and fellow teachers the way many of my colleagues do, I would not be able to get out of bed in the morning. At the risk of sharing too much, I’m sure I was born with this temperament, but childhood tragedy and a lifelong approach to healing from it have also shaped my character. The world can be dangerous and downright deadly. If I allow myself to dwell in a place of negativity I know I will succumb to it and disappear. Finding hope and self-knowledge through the arts has been a sustaining factor for me and drives my teaching practice.

For many years I have felt alone among my colleagues. When I began Arts Educator 3 years ago, I immediately felt more connected. As we were placed in our groups I met some other teachers with whom I felt an affinity. Sometimes our group did  not agree (which is not necessarily a bad thing), but again I was reminded that not everyone shares my life view. Being a part of the Inquiring heARTS has shown me unequivocally that I am not alone. Our teaching style, lessons, age groups and subject matter my be different, but there are at least 4 other people on the planet that see the glass half full through rose colored glasses. There are others who treasure their own heart and those of every other human we come in contact with. There are those who look at each child who enters the classroom as something unique and beautiful, to be appreciated, treasured, and reminded of their exquisiteness.

On March 2 our CIG met at the Uniontown High School to help out with a program taking place.  The Invisible Children program came to present their video Kony 2012. IC has been presenting an assembly at the Uniontown District for the last 5 years. Their non-profit organization raises awareness for the plight of children in Uganda affected by the 20 year war. These children are constantly threatened with kidnap, torture, sexual slavery and being forced into fighting. Each year as the students see the new informational video and hear from the young Ugandans who share their stories in person, they respond with compassion and generosity. This compassion seems to manifest itself through art. This year the young people have planned a 5K run followed by an art and music festival.  Many times students respond n a very emotional way through their art making. These pieces are then part of the festival and may be experienced and purchased by the attendees. I have seen first hand how art making answers the deep seated question “Ok, I see this terrible need on the other side of the world, but what can I do about it.

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.

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.

For the second reading I chose to read “The Creative Music Strategy, A Seven-Step Instructional Model” and was pleased with the content. Not only did I find it helpful and insightful, I was able to relate to and connect with the material being presented. Last year the Yellow CIG designed a unit of collaborate inquiry in which the students would be part of a large scale travelling art project. The students of music teachers in the CIG were charged with composing music to accompany the visual artistic works. To that point in my teaching career I had conducted basic composition lessons with my classes but nothing on the level that we had discussed for the project. As such, I sat down and brainstormed some ideas on how to create a unit that would teach the students about the elements of composition, while insuring that they were able to creatively engage in group composition that could be recorded and used in the project. The list that I came up with was staggeringly similar to the seven steps listed in this essay.

The first step, “Springboard for the Strategy” was the first thing our CIG decided upon. Earth Day became our theme. Step two, “Develop an open-ended musical question” was my first lesson. I spent the period discussing the history of earth day and the elements of composition, and in doing so had the students develop questions to accompany the lesson. Step three, “Large-group brainstorm” was the natural third step. Let the students dig in and give it a try. Doing it on a large scale allowed students to give and receive ideas without the fear of giving an “incorrect answer”. I somewhat skipped step four, “Personal Exploration” because my students created their compositions as a group, not as individuals. Students were placed in smaller groups to allow for additional rhythms and melodies but not to the level of individual students. In that sense, we kind of skipped to step five, “Small-group planned improvisation”. Once the students had created the parts of the composition and agreed upon the form we moved to step six, “Record for Reflection”. And when the project was complete we were able to reflect upon our pieces not only as single entities but as par t of the entire travelling art project.

I enjoyed this article because it not only gave me some new ideas for future composition lessons but it also lent credibility to the lesson I had already planned. This article outlined a much more comprehensive look at creative music making, but the process was very close to the model that I had already created. I really look forward to conducting this lesson again and adding the strategies mentioned in this article that I overlooked the first time.

I wanted to share with my fellow AE these 2 videos made by a group of students in Art 1. These are the responses of this particular group to the inquiry question; How can we re-tell the story of our school?

I would appreciate your feedback, especially any help with editing out the sound noise on the final rap video.

 

Preview of Sunshine video:

http://vimeo.com/33917005

 

THE Sunshine Video:

http://vimeo.com/33917437

 

 

 

I found quote #1 the most relevant to myself at this point. I
actually wrote out a couple other responses but in reviewing what I wrote I
found that my response had more in common with the first quote. What “problems” do you encounter with your
students that could stimulate a shared inquiry as an active quest?

I have an inquiry question that is
growing out of a problem. The problem is one that I see; though I don’t think
that my students would share my view. I believe that my students are
comfortable being complacent.

This year, I asked my students, “What
would happen if I put the sectional learning of parts into your hands? What
else might happen if you were to take over all the managerial parts of putting
together a show/concert?” They said things like, “just tell what you want me to
do or say.” and “Well that’s your job.” My students were, are comfortable
showing up doing their thing and being able to say it was all out of their
control. They like the comfort of down time during rehearsals. You know the time I am talking about, the
unaccountable time when another section is working parts.
So when I sent
each section to computers to work/learn their parts with their group they
grumbled and groaned. BUT… within the first couple minutes they were working
out part issues and learning together, solving problems. I only have 2
computers but I have 2 pianos and another student in each class that plays
piano and plays parts for their section. I now have a 3rd computer
and that means that I can rotate my students through the computers and have
each group perform what they have worked on for me. I can record them for them
to hear or for the class to hear. When we know a section we come together and
sing it as a group. This is allowing us to work on dynamics while they are
learning parts so when we put a section together it feels like it means
something. They have a taste of success doing this but still they are
comfortable with the “old way” and they are used to being not in control and if
something doesn’t go well… “It wasn’t their fault.”

As I have taken my inquiry into my
classroom over the last couple of years, I have asked my students to be
participators in the teaching as well as the learning. They resisted at first
but as they became comfortable with being uncomfortable (the old ways being
used less, and technology being used more) they grow excited about the learning
that is actually happening for themselves and their classmates. However, at the
beginning of the year; I mention turning more control on their learning to them
and they get frustrated, because it is dressed as work. They are afraid of
work, of maybe failing and being accountable. They have forgotten how fun the
journey was/can be.

June 2017
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