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Peter Max  was inspired by a variety of people in many cultures.   The fifth graders read the Scholastic Arts Magazine celebrating his life and work.  There were truly excited to see what he did and how colorful his work was.The assignment for the next class was to use the style of Peter Max  to create their own piece of work.  Usually I would have lots of questions like “Can I do…….?.”.   My answer was , it is your piece off work, you are in charge.  This year I have tried to generate s’more lessons that increase the student’s own production of new ideas.  This has always been the area where my students are the weakest.   As I walked around the room, the children embraced the creative side of Peter Max.  Stay tuned to see the final outcomes of this lesson.

(originally written 10/2011)

Quote #1

“Problems are the stimulus to thinking… [G]rowth depends upon the presence of difficulty to be overcome by the exercise of intelligence… The problem grows out of the conditions of the experience of intelligence… The problem grows out of the conditions of the experience being had in the present, and that it is within the capacity of students; and secondly, that it is such that it arouses in the learner an active quest for information and for production of new ideas” (Dewey 1938/1997 p79)”

This year has brought about a multitude of changes and problems to overcome. In April our department was restructured. Many music teachers were reassigned within the district through involuntary moves and while no jobs were lost it created a great deal of tension between the department members. Then over the summer due to budget cuts we were faced with the possibility of losing one, two or three of the five members of our departments. It wasn’t until the day before school started that we knew we had a job. That left very little time to prepare for whole new courses and deal with the lack of resources. Starting out the year with new kids, some of whom were still very loyal to the former director, hurt by the move and under the impression that we had forced the administration into making posed many problems. How do I get them to let go of the past practice and become a new ensemble? The first month or so of school felt like a constant struggle. It essentially felt like having to start all over again from the ground up. Rebuilding classroom practice and some type of rapport with these students was a challenge since it wasn’t really a clean separation with the former director. We share classroom space and some other teaching duties. We had some students who have left, we’ve had some who have joined.

My CIG group is focusing on the challenge we face in finding ways to motivate our students. My personal struggle is how to create the classroom I want and teach my students the basic skills they are currently lacking while giving them the reins for student led inquiry. How do I get them to respond to me and best smooth the difficult transition we’ve been given? I know they have the potential to be excellent they currently have no desire to showcase their true talents. What ways can I get them interested in singing music that is not found on the pop chart? .

Quote #4: “Inquiry requires teachers and students alike to take up multiple roles and responsibilities within and across classroom activities.”

 I don’t think you could sum it up much better than that. I feel like this quote speaks to what collaborative inquiry is all about….moving away from the practice of teachers standing in front of a room and spooning out information that the students are expected to regurgitate, and toward a classroom setting in which teachers lead, but the division of power is such that students are able to assume that role when appropriate and promote peer teaching and self learning.

That said I find the goal this year extremely interesting. Taking group inquiry into the classroom is one thing, but giving students the reigns to shape and mold the line of inquiry, even create it themselves, is quite the other. Relinquishing power in this manner, even for the most liberal of teachers, is a bit scary. Then again, I guess it’s the logical next step.

With regard to my particular CIG, the discussion question that I kept coming back to when I read through these ideas was “What ‘problems’ to you encounter with your students that could stimulate a shared inquiry as an active quest?” Our CIG is centered around this question. We want to find out why so many students refuse to practice their craft outside of a classroom setting. We also want to learn their motivation for taking an arts class (to fit in, to create art/music, to get an easy A) and how we can motivate them further.

QUOTE #1 discussion question:

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

 Problem: Motivating the students through the whole inquiry based lesson.

I started a project with my students prior to this reading. The project is to turn a digital self-image into a pixel image. They were given no restrictions to the end size of their project or what medium they would use.

Each student was asked to research pixel art to help stimulate ideas.  They had to measure and re-scale the digital image to the end size to fit their needs.

I had students get very creative with this. Some used hole punch dots, beads, and yarn. I had a few who used more traditional mediums like paint and colored pencils. One project will end up being 5ft by 6ft.

The problem I am having is keeping the students motivated. They were excited about researching and designing the project but quickly lost interest in completing it. Even though they had the hardest part of the project done, they are having problems completing it.

I find this problem with most projects. I am not sure how to keep them motivated long enough to finish the project with the same intensity they started it.

Cory, perhaps we can provide some tech support here?

I have been thinking about the participant’s process of including categories and tags in their posts. Perhaps it would be helpful for us to share some more specifics about this process?

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

My students complain when they recieve a project that they don’t like, because I tell them exactly what to do and what they need to have on their project. Then when I give them a very broad project where they have to come up with their own picture. They complain because they have to think independently and creatively. This year I’m try to balance my directions with inquiry teaching. I’ve been interducing technology. Students have been exited and want to help each other.

As I read the quotes the one I felt I was immediately able to respond to is number six. I was intrigued by the idea of inquiry being described almost as a “life’ by using the words characteristics. Character is not something that is natural for everyone, but is often learned through testing and difficult situations. The definition of characteristic is:
: a distinguishing trait, quality, or property ; is used mainly for people, but when learning is ‘people based’ instead of exam based, it enables the discovery of information. This discovery, if occurring on a regular basis, births in a learner tools such as problem solving skills, and thinking that is greater than a linear perspective.
Even though the process of inquiry is very free at times, most inquiry bases lessons have a question to ask or a problem to solve. As a teacher I find that the characteristic I find used in my teaching is asking questions or having my students respond to questions that they ask themselves. “whats in the foreground?”, what time of day is it in your drawing”, what is the mood of your subject?”. As I prompt my students with a question, their response becomes richer and they seem to have a greater connection to the creative process.

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.

After reading each of the quotes, it took me a while to decide which quote it was that I wanted to respond to…  finally, I rested on quote #5…

The question is “In what ways might inquiry disrupt the traditional idea of teacher as expert and learner as novice?”

When I consider the changes in education over the past 20 years (12yrs teaching, 4yrs teacher training, 4yrs my own HS career),  it is clear that the entire educational system has experienced a dramatic shift.  Now this shift was dramatic for me, because I was personally involved, but I am certain that during the decade before people in my position can say the same thing, and I am certain that a decade from now the same will be said again.  It seems that change is a constant – which is not always good and not always bad.  Right now I am confused by what the “traditional idea” of a teacher is.  I will comment that inquiry challenges a traditional thought where noise is bad, students should stay in their seats, and notes should be quietly taken.  I also believe that inquiry based activities provide students with the opportunity to explore that it is ok to not be perfect, a chance to explore their resources and to find creative answers to problems.

The relationship between me and this quote is that I question “traditional” thought when it comes to technology and availability of information.  I think that there are many activities that I could offer students if they were allowed to use their phones, mp3 players, etc. in my class.  In this time of the availability of  information, I feel like my phone, or other mobile technology could help me provide students with new and changing information, as well as, the tools for students to discover this information on their own.

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

I have noticed over the few years that I have been teaching that students often prefer being told what to do and how to do it without having an original idea or opinion. They want to do what I want them to do. Students have difficulty coming up with their own ideas, answers, techniques, and opinions of art. They will ask me, what do I do next? Is this how you want me to do it? Is this finished? Is this good? Which is fine, of course I am here to guide them and to help them understand, but what inquiry will help them do is break out of that shell and discover these answers. It will make a much more meaningful learning experience and they will have a better understanding of what they are doing, whatever the project may be. The arts are about experimenting and thinking outside of the box, and there is not always a clear-cut answer like the students are seeking.

A good start to this shared inquiry could simply be, What makes our artwork successful? So instead of seeking answers from the teacher, they can discuss ideas and techniques to make successful artwork. They may learn that they share the similar difficulties with a particular assignment and share new ideas of overcoming these difficulties.

February 2020
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