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After my students completed their scenes and chose their instruments, I collaborated with our school’s art teacher, and one of my CIG members, on how they would color their scenes. She chose four different art techniques and had them use each one for their scenes. The techniques were pointillism, monochromatic, all primary or all secondary, and abstract. The next step was for the students to attach card onto each scene of the instruments they used in that scene and what they represented.
They were also to create a title for their story.

It was great to see how most of my students worked very diligently on their projects and were independent in making decisions and solving problems on their own. It was also exciting to watch their creativity flow from themselves and not from me. I gave them all a choice on how they wanted to present their work. They could either present it verbally to their classmates or they could write out a story on paper. All of my students wanted to present to their classmates. I think part of this was due to them wanting to avoid writing, but I think more of it was the fact they were proud of their hard work and wanted to show it off.

Their presentations were quite informal, which is what I wanted…I didn’t want them to feel any pressure but to just simply talk and share about what they did. They used the iPads to play each sound in their scenes and explained why they chose those sounds. I then had a my students vote on which group’s project best represented their class for the Arts Ed Day presentation. I explained to them that they shouldn’t pick their own project simply because it’s theirs, but they should choose based on the quality of workmanship placed in the project. I was really impressed to find that the votes seemed to reflect the projects that I would have chosen as well, knowing how much work and effort each group put into their projects. It seemed that their classmates also had that same sense and I think it made people feel a sense of justice and reward for their hard work.

The best things about this project were that the students were able to make their own choices and decisions about how they wanted to portray their work. I enjoyed letting them create an artistic work by using their understanding and interpretations. I think it allowed them the ability to expand their understanding of instruments, their specific timbres, and the way a composer might think when they are forming a piece of music. The greatest set back I came into contact with during this project was timing. Since this was something I never did with a class before, I didn’t have all the details figured out right away. I started with an idea and took it from their….and in some instances that is good, but in this one, it just made the projects last over too long of a period of time. Since I only see the students once a week…and if that depending on holidays, in-services, etc. it made it difficult to complete in a more appropriate time period. However, I think that since I know exactly how the details of the project work, if I do it again, I have a lot more things figured out and I can tweak the details as needed. But I think that’s how our lessons plans should work…they should be mold able and able to evolve and change according to what our students need.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my five years of teaching it’s that you can’t make cookie cutter lessons when there are no cookie cutter people. Few things will work all the time, some most of the time, most will work some of the time, and some will completely fail. I think we often learn most from the ones that dont work lie we thought they would. The goal is not perfection, because you may think you habe “the perfect lesson” and then some snotty kid says “this is boring”…then what? The point is to try and use what works, modify if needed, and scrap what doesn’t. Change is as necessary as consistency….and you can have adaption and evolution amid consistency. I’m a firm believer in needing both. You need creativity and structure, you need imagination and logic, you need the arts AND

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I figured that I should wrap things up with a “this is what I learned” post. My CIG has been examining inquiry strategies that may or may not increase motivation and determination in our classrooms. My strategy involved the implementation of a rewards system for my students. Initially the system was a success. The students wanted the reward (band bucks toward school store purchases) and where willing to work for it. As the weeks progressed, however, I saw less and less motivation to do well on the playing tests. At first I determined that this was not a reliable method of motivating students. But recently, something funny happened. I’m seeing more and more kids in my room in the mornings and an increased motivation to play/perform well. I think that it just may have taken more time than I thought it should. And, during several weeks in which there was a lull in student motivation the students were in the middle of PSSA testing. As a result, I am beginning to believe that a rewards system can be a point of motivation to students. But, it can’t be the only thing. Students have to make a personal connection to their art in order to keep them coming back. Things like a reward for hard practice can help move them in the right direction, but ultimately they have to see the value in what they are doing and want to get better.

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?”

On our final work day at the IU the M and D CIG decided to put our research into a digital story. In 3 minutes or less each member of the group would tell their own part of the story. After the script was complete we each made an audio recording of our own portion. It was decided that Jen Joyce would put the story together and that we would need to send her the pictures or videos we wanted included. This past Thursday we all got together in Sherry Knight’s room at Trinity High School to see the finished project and discuss how we would conduct our presentation the following Friday. We were blown away by what Jen had put together. She really did a great job and had obviously put a lot of time into the project. It is so nice, and has been nice, to work with such creative and smart people. People who take the initiative to get something done and then come through with a product that goes beyond expectations. I feel very fortunate to have worked with the members of my CIG as well as member in years past. Looking forward to Friday!

Right now thinking and planning for the future seems almost impossible.

During the last 9 weeks I almost always am experimenting and trying new lessons to add to my repertoire for the upcoming school year, but because of the economic environment in education it is very difficult to imagine what next year will look like for me and the other arts educators in Pennsylvania.

I want to teach Music to kids.  Our students deserve a comprehensive education.  But in the face of waning budgets and financial constraints, I am aware that I may need to provide other options.

I am usually full of ideas, conversation and other options, but I have allowed politics and the anxiety of what is ahead consume my fervor.

So, here I am deciding on and accepting ideas.  Aware and concerned, but making a decision to be revitalized in this moment.  I guess I am wondering – what are my other options?  Do those options involved taking a test?  Taking some classes?  Stepping outside of my comfort zone?  Maybe all of these?  But I am going to look for them because this morning I felt empowered when I logged in and YAHOO reminded me that I do have them 🙂

Attempt #1 for my student inquiry :

My plan was to introduce kids to the voice recorders and have them make various recordings that they could later edit into pieces.  After some very basic instruction about how to use the recorders, students were able to make a variety of recordings, but I did run into issues.  Students were trying to record very long samples, or they were having difficulty uploading and organizing their samples.  After we were able to get all of the sounds onto the computers and I showed students how to use various filters and editing tools to create their piece of music.  Most of the groups were able to edit and move around sounds within a set form, but none of the groups pieces were really coming together…  I thought about what was going on, and I thought that the challenge was time related because of activities surrounding state testing…  when I realized the real issue was the fact that I had missed critical step in the music making process – I forgot to discuss purpose!  I had assumed that the students would automatically know what they wanted to communicate in their piece…  which didn’t really work.  We lost several class periods to activites and then the quarter changed and the students moved  on to their next class…

So what now?  I stewed about how much of a mess this project turned up to be – and how I felt that I didn’t provide students with closure because we had to basically abandon the projects mid-stream.  A lot of the issues were time related, but now I have had some time to revise, reflex and now I am ready to revisit…  What am I going to change?

Attempt#2 almost ready for lift-off!

Since purpose was such a issue with the last attempt, my plan is to combine this project with the Protest Music unit that I was working on.  I am going to have students research a variety of songs whose purpose was to voice a cause or historical perspective.  Then I am going to ask students to research a cause or historical perspective of their own and create a statement about their cause using a variety of recordings and sound editing techniques…hmmm….  I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

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 have had some interesting developments in my class’s inquiry into student practice and the rewards system. For the first playing test I assigned two short excepts that the students were responsible for being able to play. Both were excerpts that the students had seen before and had been practicing for several weeks. As a result, the scores for the first playing test were overwhelmingly good….which was my plan and hope. All of the students received either a 50 cent band coupon or a 1 dollar coupon, and all students received their weekly star. The students were happy, I was happy, all was well in band land.

The next week things changed….which was my plan and hope. In addition to the rewards system, the students had requested on the pretest that we move more quickly through our weekly playing assignments. They indicated that we were spending too much time on certain pieces (which I did because they were not practicing enough and thusly were not ready to move on). On Thursday I assigned two new pieces in their band books. I spent the entire Monday class rehearsing the pieces and doing my best to make sure the kids understood the rhythms, pitches, and finger positions.

Thursday came (we only have band class twice a week) and I told the students we would be warming up, reviewing the two pieces, and beginning the playing test. “But Mr. Bruno, we’ve only had a week to work on these songs! We can’t play them yet!”  “But,” I told them, “you all said that we needed to move on, and not spend so much time on the same songs.”

After the dust settled on he final playing test only two students had received band coupons and only half of the entire class earned the required points to receive a star on the board. They were crushed.

I explained that the band coupons and the possibility of a party at the end of the year where meant to be REWARDS, not something they would get for showing up and giving it a good try. I told them that I wanted them to all to get the 1 dollar coupon every week, but that they would have to EARN it through practice.  It seemed to be a real wake up call for some of the students. I just hope to see evidence of better practice habits next week.

We all (not so fondly) know the rest of this saying…try, try again! That basically sums up my first attempt at an inquiry based lesson in my music classes for 5th & 6th grade. Overall, it was not a bad experience…just not as incredible as I had thought. Here is my story:

I have been focusing in my classroom on doing more inquiry-based lessons and learning. I started with an idea I gleaned from one of my CIG members, Bethany, that she had used in her music classroom and found to be very successful with her students. The objective was to have students dissect a piece of music…something that the composer had a theme or idea in mind that he/she wanted to get across to their audience. First, students would listen and describe the instrumentation they heard, then describe the different aspects of the music such as tempo, form, dynamics, texture. This formative assessment then led into a more objective approach. Students listened to the same piece of music, but this time respond to the feeling they received from it. Then, they were asked to imagine a scene this music might portray if it was put into a visual art form such as a movie or picture. Bethany also had taken this idea a step further in her class and had her students think of a character for their scene and form groups with other students, combine their ideas/characters and act out their scene to the music.

I loved this idea! I was so excited to introduce this concept in my classes. I decided to start out with the formative/objective assessments of the music and see how the students responded to this. If the response was positive, I would take it to the next step of acting it out. If it was negative, I would go back to the drawing board. I was so thrilled about this lesson, I had every reason to believe it was going to be a huge hit in my mind.

I used a song called “Rodeo” with my 5th and 6th graders. It has a very suggestive castanet part that sounds like horse hooves. And of course, the name pretty much tells all. I didn’t tell the students the title of the song and I had them write their responses down as a way to legitimize their thoughts. I was surprised to find that they were not as “into” the concept as I had thought. They seemed more involved in discovering what instruments were in the piece than imagining their own scene to go with the music! Don’t get me wrong, the were several who gave very creative and well thought responses, but it wasn’t as captivating as I would have expected.

With this, I decided not to continue with the acting out/character portion of the lesson. But now I had some ammo from my students, knowing that they really enjoyed instrumentation. I decided I would try and assemble a lesson around this theme, and make it something they can be creative with and collaborate with others. Something that would involve inquiry, music, and creative thinking.

After much discussion, the class and I came up with two rewards for the proficiency tests. One would reward individual achievement on a weekly basis, and one would reward collective achievement over the remaining weeks in the school year.

For individual achievement I spoke with the president of our parent organization about helping me develop ‘Band Bucks’ that could be redeemed at the school store. Band Bucks come in two amounts, $1.00 and $.50. For the collective achievement I spoke to our principal about organizing a band party the last week of school. We will order pizza and soda and listen to music.

In both cases student achievement will be based on their score on the weekly playing test. I designed a rubric in which students are given points in four categories, 1.) If they have their book and instrument (3points) 2.) Rhythmic accuracy (4 points) 3.) Melodic accuracy (4 points) and 4.) Reasonable tempo (4 points), for a total of 15 possible points. In order to receive a $ 1.00 band buck the student must earn 14-15 points on their playing exam. In order to receive a $ .50 band buck the student must earn 10-13 points. If the student earns fewer points than 10 they are not eligible for a voucher. In addition to earning points for band bucks I am also logging the students’ scores into a weekly ‘star’ poster that I designed. The poster has each student’s name and remaining weeks in the school year. If a student earns at least 8 of the 15 possible points they are given a star for the week. If every student in band is able to collect 10 stars (out of 14 remaining weeks) they will earn the pizza party. However, if even one student comes up short, none of the students will earn the party.

I believe this rewards system holds students both individually and collectively accountable for making sure that they practice on a regular basis. The students accepted the terms of the rewards system and we have begun to implement it. More to come about the results.

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