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At this point in time I find the first quote of Required Reading #1 to be the most relevant in the current context of my classroom and in regards to our CIG question.

Quote #1:  Problems are the stimulus to thinking, overcoming difficulty, and reaching capacity and producing new ideas.

The CIG “The Independents” chose this question:  How does inquiry based experience create independent learners in our discipline?

This quote certainly stimulates many questions and has prompted much personal reflection on my own development as an independent musician and an inventory of the many changes I have witnessed in my years as a teacher.

Reflections on my daily contacts with students are always focused on their evolving independence and how I can move them to a state of independent musicianship.  Assisting students to reach a capacity as independent problem solvers needs a constantly adaptive approach not only to the multiple levels across my schedule as well as within in each of my levels, but also to the wide sweeping changes/opportunities that are currently presenting themselves.

In the High School Orchestra class that I teach there are students who are functional musicians of varying technical levels. In this 9-12 class there are experience levels ranging from beginning players to eight-year members as well as those who have had private instruction outside of class and those who have achieved their current playing level exclusively through class instruction and personal practice. There are students who are “self-starters” and those who need consistent support to manage time.  There are students who “teach” others and those who “teach themselves” through consistent personal practice as well as those who wait for someone to come to them and say let’s practice this together right now.

At the elementary level there are students who never miss a practice session or a lesson and others who never practice but progress and achieve until their “natural abilities” reach a plateau requiring added effort.  The satisfaction fast life-style, heavily laden with video games and instant gratification yields many students dropping an instrument after only eight or ten lessons. After hearing the variety of excuses for dropping over three decades the excuses in the last five years appear to reflect less and less home support and encouragement.  Rather than nurturing commitment to one’s own abilities and achievement, students seem to have been granted permission to jump from one sport to another, and drop their instrument because the have dance and cheerleading five nights a week.  Then when they do not get to play on the field for the three soccer teams they have joined (because their friends are there) they jump to some other activity creating a cycle of “switchitis!”  There appears to be less parental control or intervention as there are more families with two careers, where children spend less time with parents and more time with surrogates and there is definitely more peer influence (even as young as the tender age of 9).

So as I focus on Required Reading #1 and it’s alignment with our CIG question and how this is reflected in my classroom, I am seeking ways to expand the foundations for modifying the process to achieve greater independence with a consideration to expanding the context of musical experience and encouraging students to reflect more deeply.  Since my school district has programs on Character Education and the 8 Habits of Highly Effective Students, I am currently utilizing the first three Covey habits, Be Pro-Active (to support the development of time management skills for scheduling personal practice at all levels); Begin with the End in Mind (by providing more whole part whole listening lessons) and Put First Things First (focusing commitment to one’s own learning). Since instruments just arrived for the beginners these three habits are being set as foundations as I introduce the “where, when, why, what and how” of home practice at the elementary level.  (Hopefully the “who” will remain constant in spite of the “switchitis syndrome.”)

Recently at the High School, using our Fiddle File wiki, I introduced the Covey quote: “Every human has four endowments – self-awareness, conscience, independent will, creative imagination.  These give us the ultimate human freedom…the power to choose, to respond, to change.”  Students are submitting reflections on the quote.  Also in the High School class we are expanding our commitment to Beginning with the End in Mind by utilizing some of the technology items acquired last year to listen with purpose. Today’s students are continuously “plugged in” to earphones, but do they actually listen?

Today at a Professional Development session in our district, we worked with Project Based Learning and how inquiry can create deeper learner. So in closing, quote #1 draws my attention and makes connections to the framework of learning in my school district wit focus on problem solving and expanding the capacity of each student.

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.

September 2020

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