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So I am here trying to get my last blog post together and I feel that I have made a lot of progress since my last post, but I have not been able to completely accomplish the project that I set out to do this year.

After my first attempt at getting students to create and edit their own music was not successful, I re-worked my approach and I have had some successes since!  Students researched song that were either written for protest or historical perspective.  The kids picked quite a variety of songs, from Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, Country Artists, Hip Hop Artists and  Whitney Houston.  The themes the kids focused on were racism, teen violence, child abuse, self image and patriotism.

I then charged the students with the task of making a decision about what they believe in or stand for, or to describe an event in their own perspective.  Students worked in groups and all of them were able to poems, phrases, and lyrics to make their statements.  Today, students were working on recording their statements and manipulating the sound files using Audacity.  Most of the groups were able to really contribute and create something, but one group who really had something to say and share “lost” their work and now I am worried that they will not get it recorded before Friday’s meeting…

This had really been a great year and I feel that this has really touched on our question: “How can we help students discover who they are and their connection to the world?”

For my next classroom project, I went with the idea that my students really seemed to enjoy instrumentation. I was inspired over the winter break by the song “Skating” by Vince Guaraldi, which you may know better as the song Snoopy skates to in A Charlie Brown Christmas. I got to thinking how neat it is that a composer can use instruments in a certain way and paint a picture in the listeners mind. And then, bingo! This is something my students could do and I think they would really enjoy!

The way I started the lesson was by talking about how composers sometimes write a piece of music with an idea or theme in mind, example there is tons of music based on themes like holidays, seasons, etc. I then had them listen to “Skating” and asked if they recognized what it was from. Most of my students immediately knew where the song was from, but they had a harder time recalling what part of the movie the song was playing in and what was taking place at that point. After some help they were able to guess, and then I directed them to listen to the music again and describe how the composer used instruments to depict the act of skating. I was very impressed with their response and how they were able to make the connection of the instrumentation to the imagery it suggests. My students seemed really responsive and engaged in the discussion, which was refreshing.

Then I began to describe the project they were going to do. They were to choose their own groups of 3,4 or 5 people and each group would decide on a winter activity that they would create instrumentation to depict. I tried to encourage them to think outside the box when coming up with a winter activity idea. After they had their idea, they were going to create at least four different scenes or things that were going to occur. Next, they would choose instrumentation to depict what is happening in each scene. They did this using an iPad app called Instruments which displays a picture of the instrument, it’s name, how to pronounce the name and a segment of what it sounds like. The students were so involved in doing this, it was amazing! There were a handful of students who were not as interested in the project, but overall the response was great. There were a lot of creative ideas swirling around in regard to what instruments sounded best with the action in the scenes. I was really impressed by how thought-out many of the groups’ ideas were.

I heard an interview on NPR’s Tell Me More,A Memoir Should Be More Than A History Lesson back on February 1, 2012, and one statement seemed to hit at the heart of inquiry.

“Lorene Cary, one of the reasons we’re so glad to talk with you is that you have penned one and you wrote one at a pretty young age. It was about your experience as a student at a New England boarding school, the first group of girls to attend this school and you and I share that experience, oddly enough. So I wanted to ask what made you want to write one?

I wanted to out that experience. You’re talking to me, by the way, just a few months after I’ve been appointed to the School Reform Commission here in Philadelphia and for me, going from public school to a boarding school in New England was an experience of going from an education where, basically, many of my teachers as I was growing up looked at us and tried to figure out what was wrong with us in order to try to fix us and get us better to an experience where all of these people looked at us as if to try very hard to figure out what was special and exquisite about us.”

As I have pondered and inquired on our group’s theme (How can we help students discover who they are and their connection to the world through the arts?). I feel more and more that the arts are invaluable to connect with a child’s heart. As I listened to this interview in  the car I immediately thought of our CIG.

I feel an evolution of our thinking taking place. I think many of us become teachers because we want to “help”. We want to make children’s lives better. There is nothing wrong with that. But, in the beginning, I did look at my students as “broken”. I see now how condescending this is. As I have grown as a teacher through Arts Educator, I naturally began to see how special the students are. Our inquiring hearts theme is a way of trying very hard to identify what is special and exquisite about each child and then reflecting it back to them.

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.

Right now, I am lucky enough to say that this is my 4th year in AE 2.0.  Four years of questions, searching for answers, and trying new stuff!

I say this not because I am bothered by it.  I say it because I feel like I have so many new ideas and flows of thought that I am wondering which direction to go from here.  I am passionate and concerned about teaching students to express and communicate who they are.  I want students to understand that they can contribute to the world in positive and creative ways.

Right now I am considering our group’s question:

How can we help students discover who they are and their connection to the world through the arts?

I am thinking about how I can create a classroom lesson that helps me revise and excel the activities that I have started the last couple of years, and create a new lesson that really addresses this year’s question too.

I am entertaining some ideas using the mp3 players and Audacity to allow students to do some mash-up type mixing, or allowing students to create a piece of music using sounds that they create and edit and mix them!  Right now I am just at the idea phase – but next I will be asking myself – How does this relate to our question? 🙂

I have been teaching about Henri Rousseau and his jungle scenes. Foreground, middle ground, and background are the other focus of this lesson. After I have shown a Powerpoint or Rousseau’s life and work I have students do an imagination exercise:” You have just been dropped off in the middle of the jungle, you look in the distance what do you see behind everything else, is it daylight or nighttime… are there mountains or volcanos… What is in the Background? Now look at what is closer to you, are there fruit trees, vines, or flowers… do you see birds, monkeys? Now look at the things closest to you, are there lions, crocodiles, gorillas… what do you see in the foreground?. After my students open their eyes I tell them to draw what you saw. The results were very different for each student’s sketch looked different even though they heard the same descriptions. I love that we were made to be creative beings 🙂 and its apparent through simple guided imagery

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August 2017
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