Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Wonder...(feedback welcomed!)

Short post, but some nagging questions that've been on my mind...

How can project-based/student inquiry-based teaching and learning apply to the primary grades (PreK, Kindergarten, First, and Second grades)?

And how do you assess students through self-assessment at this young age? I suppose this depends on your philosophy, but how well can we rely on these students' interests and desires to drive our teaching at this point in their lives?

At what age level do students have the ability to effectively self assess and utilize critical thinking skills? Is there a way to cultivate these dispositions?

I would REALLY appreciate any thoughts people have on this!!!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Significant Seven

In order to develop a curriculum, certain steps need to be taken in order to get myself to the starting point of putting it all together.

"The Significant Seven" serves as a guide to help map out my curricular needs and interests. There are seven areas for reflection that will help to take inventory of my thinking in order to better develop my own curriculum.

Autobiographical Reflection as a Learner

I believe, to some degree, that teachers do incorporate they ways in which they were taught into their own teaching models. Things that affected me as a student include:
  • Practices I liked and enjoyed/wanted to reproduce in my own classroom
  • Practices I swore I would never reproduce in my own classroom
  • Units/concepts/topics of study (either enjoyable or un-enjoyable)
  • What I was taught were "important" things students should know
Drawing on my own experience as a student, I am able to use my experiences as a source of insight by reflecting on:
  • Practices I saw/experienced that were successful
  • Practices that were creative and made students think
  • Practices that did not work
  • Practices that were either relevant/irrelevant to both students and the "real world" at large

Treasured Values as a Teacher:

Beliefs and practices that remain central to my curricular thinking are:
  • Expectations of excellence (excellence as a way of thinking/as an attitude)
  • Expectation of enrichment (teacher providing opportunities for student enrichment through the units of study/curricula)
  • Inclusion (fostering an atmosphere where all students feel welcome and their opinions/ideas valued)
Aspects of my prior teaching I will likely perpetuate, maintain, and deepen as I return to the classroom:
  • Maintain my expectation of excellence
  • Preserve the important of my performing ensembles (but deepen and shift their purpose where the focus becomes collaboration and teamwork, rather than the actual performance itself)
  • Deepen the aspect of inquiry within music activities (use more questions to direct student learning, curiosity, and exploration)

Fresh Perspectives and New Ideas:

Ideas gathered from both my undergraduate and graduate study I use in my teaching:
  • The concept of learning units/spreading learning out over an extended period of time (and revisiting concepts to build new knowledge)
  • Music as a part of culture (both past and present)
  • Performing ensemble importance (specifically for me: chorus)

New ideas that I have incorporated into my thinking about teaching and learning:
  • "Curriculum of Questions" where inquiry (both student- and teacher-centered) serves as the driving force to discover core musical concepts and ideas within the topics of study
  • Music as a comprehensive whole (implementing ALL the National/State Standards v. focusing on your "favorites")
  • Hook Activities at the beginning of projects/units (to inspire motivation, interest, and a "need-to-know" attitude)
"Disposal Site":

Practices, strategies, and beliefs I no longer see fitting for my newly acquired ideas which I feel are ready to be discarded and left behind:
  • Teaching songs for concerts by rote/modeling/direct instruction while students sit in their seats (I believe they aren't truly engaged in the learning process at this point- they aren't given the opportunity to take ownership of what they are learning)
  • The view of the teacher as the only fount of knowledge
  • Teacher as a "dictator"
  • The idea that students are incapable of directing their own learning
  • Totally teacher-led and teacher-controlled activities (i.e. allowing students to take ownership and giving them a chance to lead)
Influencing My Particular Field of Teaching:

In my area of specialization (general music/vocal/choir) I am well-suited and willing to contribute to its needs by:
  • Allowing for student input and interest to drive decision-making in selecting topics of study
  • Collaborating with other teachers to get a feel for interdisciplinary connections that can be made during music
  • Staying connected to fellow music educators and professionals to provide current, up-to-date, relevant topics and learning opportunities to my students
I am able to exert influence upon my professional peers and their ideas by:
  • Collaborating and providing feedback (i.e. through professional networking, through conversation within my department, etc.)
Relating My Work to Music Education at Large:

The relationship between my plans and music education at large includes:
  • My aspiration and continual goal to provide relevant, thought-provoking, current opportunities to students (that deal with music in today's society)
  • The cultivation of dispositions
My ideas will contribute to the profession and the students it serves by:
  • Creating and cultivating opportunities for students that incorporate real-world musical experiences and skills
  • Creating musical activities that highlight current innovations (such as technology) and rely on musical practices that are relevant in today's world
Forging a Focus for this Semester:

This course can serve as an opportunity for me to really concentrate on the truly important aspects already in place in my curriculum as well as reigning in the newly-forged ideas that I have developed as a result. Questions I may want to ask myself in the process are:
  • What have I been doing that has been successful and meaningful to students?
  • What can I do to improve the current practices I have in place?
  • Is there anything that I need to eliminate due to irrelevancy or redundancy?
  • How can I synthesize and form a marriage between my "oldies but goodies" and new ideas?
Some goals, ambitions, and aspirations I would like to adopt during this semester are:
  • Allowing students to indicate topics of interest they would like to pursue (and putting them into practice!)
  • Developing a curriculum that is not only comprehensive, but also leaves room for growth in ways that I could not have predicted (striving for "optimal ambiguity")
  • To weed out topics, activities, and/or practices that are irrelevant or redundant and need discarding
Through these Significant Seven I hope to streamline the development of my curriculum which focuses on topics and projects that are relevant to students' lives and to the current culture around them. I hope to weed out unnecessary practices, topics, and/or activities that do not connect with students, and to listen to what areas of interest they might want to delve further into.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Transforming Past Practices

In the future I do plan to transform some past practices into projects as a result of knowing the potential learning outcomes projects can produce. During the course of this week the project my partner and I have been working on is a composition written by students for their fifth grade moving up ceremony. This project will allow students to focus on the emotions surrounding graduation ceremonies and what types of music is normally used during graduations. The students will collaborate with one another and with students at different schools to create lyrics, a melody, and an accompaniment that captures their own personal emotions surrounding their upcoming graduation. The resulting piece will be performed at their moving up ceremony.

This past year for moving up day I was in a frenzy doing my best to get everything done and have students learn a song to perform for their families and friends at the ceremony. It was rushed, unmusical, and the students resisted learning it during the whole process. As a result the students did not connect with the music and many issues with behavior and student attitudes arose because the students did not feel what they were doing was worthwhile or important. It was very challenging trying to create a sense of motivation in students because they felt so forced to learn the songs for the graduation ceremony.

This next year I plan to implement the project my partner and I created because I feel it will allow students to have a sense of ownership over the piece they create. It will also deal directly with the emotions they are feeling towards graduating and “moving up” into the Middle School and how to express those emotions in a creative way. It will also allow the students to exhibit their work in a very authentic way.

Activities I do in the classroom with students also have the potential to become projects. Fourth graders study the symphonic poem Danse Macabre and create stories to go along with the music. If I were to turn this into a project, I could have students writing poetry based on the themes presented by Camille Saint-Saens in his symphonic poem and then create compositions of their own incorporating themes used in Danse Macabre. These compositions have the potential to be video recorded and shared, and student thought processes have the potential to be recorded in a journal, blog, or tweet.

First graders explore the loud and soft sounds within musical pieces. One of their favorite songs is the “Grizzly Bear” song that involves tip-toeing up to an imaginary bear and singing very softly. They also love the “Piano/Forte Game” that involves hiding an object and clapping softly or loudly as a student seeker gets farther or closer to the hidden object.

Turning these activities into a project for young students could involve more exploration into loud and soft sounds students hear all around them. We could “collect” sounds that are loud and soft with audio recording equipment. These sounds could be put into a “sound bank” and collected throughout the project to see how many sounds we can collect. This project can also serve as the springboard into how other people in other countries say ‘loud’ and ‘soft,’ introducing the terms piano and forte along the way.

The possibilities for turning ordinary classroom activities students enjoy into projects are really endless. They allow students to connect with the activities in ways that are personal and meaningful to them. They also allow the teacher to guide students into challenges and higher-level thinking they may not have normally not encountered without delving further into the concepts of the activities. By using these ideas and discarding past practices that have hindered student growth and learning I believe my students and I will be on a better path to learning and creating.

Some Ideas That Need to be Discarded, Retired, and Left Behind

As an added benefit to my students, there are a few practices I have used that definitely need to be retired and discarded. Each winter and spring select grade levels are required to perform in a choral concert. I had gotten into a routine where students learned their music by rote: I model, they echo, and so the process continued until the students had “learned” the music for the concert. I did not enjoy pounding out notes and I could see on the faces of my students and hear in their voices the discontent they felt when they knew they had to go through the routine of learning the music for the concert.

After delving into the idea of project-based learning, I know there must be a better way to guide students to a successful concert. This practice of always being the model and giving direct instruction does a disservice to my students and to me. It does not allow students to learn musicality or think critically. It does not allow my students to interact with the music or feel any ownership for their performances.

It also does not allow me to show my students that I trust them to make appropriate, musical decisions. It does not allow me to have the optimal rapport with them that they need from a teacher. If I am teaching in such a manner that students get frustrated with or in ways that they do not connect, much more of my time is apt to be spent dealing with discipline issues or apathetic attitudes. As a result students are less likely to want to participate and contribute to both the preparation process and the concert itself.

This past winter, this statement showed true when nearly fifteen fifth grade boys did not show up to our Winter Concert, but went to wrestling practice instead. As a teacher I was infuriated by their decision. However, when reality set in I realized that this situation could have been avoided. If I had created and fostered an environment of ownership, encouragement, and collaboration I feel that the boys who would have chosen wrestling practice over the Winter Concert may have felt a sense of pride in the work they had put in to preparing for the concert and changed their minds about which commitment to honor that night. The turnout of that concert has been a very sobering experience that I am determined to move forward from.

Another current practice I am ready to shed is the way I use rubrics and assess students for grading. Throughout the year I had become convinced that using rubrics to assess students based on the “quality” of their work was the best way to grade my students. However, after many attempts at trying to create the “perfect” rubric my efforts always seemed to fall short of the actual assessment goal. So many of my students fell between the cracks, and I couldn’t necessarily assign a grade of one whole number. Students were falling short of one number but attaining more than the number below it, making the decision of the actual final grade very difficult.

It was also difficult to assess students because there were so many to give grades to and keep track of. It became nearly impossible to say, “Yes, this student puts forth his best work all the time and works as a good team member,” or, “No, this student is not reaching his full potential or being a good team member.” How na├»ve of me to try and assign a grade to students as a teacher with limited knowledge of their abilities and teamwork when the students themselves are the ones that know if they are challenging themselves during the activities.

Phil Greco allowed us to look at the assessment method he uses with his students in the classroom that is a much better method of assessment. It is based on questions students must ask themselves such as “To what extent did I contribute during the presentation?” or “To what extent did your group demonstrate understanding of the ‘big idea’?” Students are asked to think within themselves and answer the questions with a rating of 0 to 5. They are also asked to rationalize why they rated themselves as such and complete short-answer questions based on their culminating experience with the project.

I think utilizing this kind of assessment system is a much more efficient method because it allows students to reflect on the quality of work they put forth as well as how the interacted with one another. It is also a more authentic form of assessment because it provides the teacher with insight into how the students felt about the process, product, and experience of the project or activity.

I plan on utilizing this method of assessment much more often in my classroom setting because I am not only curious what students think about themselves and their growth within the activity, but because I feel that this form of assessment would allow me as the teacher to know my students and how they perceive themselves. Ultimately this change in assessment could prove very beneficial for both my students and myself because it will allow for a much more authentic product.

New Ideas and Influences: Key Concepts from the Boss & Krauss Chapters

People need to believe in what they’re doing. Teachers need to believe the subjects and concepts they teach are worthwhile. Students must feel what they’re learning is valuable and worthy of study. In chapter 4 of the Boss and Krauss text, this theme of believing in the subject matter resonates through the whole chapter (and subsequently throughout the whole book). Whatever the content, teachers must create in students a need to know and explore, which drives exploration into the territory of the project at hand. This idea of “needing to know” and its resulting motivation has influenced my thinking and attitudes toward the subject matter I teach my students.

On page 63 of the Boss and Krauss, Diane McGrath is quoted as saying that, “[a] good project will…be an extended investigation in which students design the subquestions and the ways of trying to answer them because they believe in what they are doing.” This statement captures the essence of what authentic project learning is all about because it places the responsibility on students themselves to get to the heart of the matter.

This will have an impact on me as a teacher and my current practice because my role as a teacher needs to shift in order to accommodate for these new practices and frames of mind. Allowing students to take more authority and ownership over their learning will give me practice in being more flexible. As a teacher who feels most secure in knowing there is some semblance of “control” during class activities, flexibility will change my teaching because it will challenge me to let go. It will also challenge me to trust myself that I have guided my students to the right places where they can now take over and take ownership in their own learning.

Consequently, in also showing my students I have faith in what they’re doing and in their actions, they are more apt to feel a sense of trust within themselves. This trust will ultimately lead to a sense that exploration and curiosity is not only accepted in my classroom, but encouraged. This will also reinforce the goal of getting students to become independent thinkers and musicians.

Another key point Boss and Krauss make is the idea of allowing students to track their own progress and assess themselves. This can be done through a number of mediums, but Boss and Krauss emphasize the use of technology as a means of effectively getting students to track their feelings, ideas, thoughts, successes and points of improvement. In chapter 6, the authors suggest that the use of technology tools such as blogs, surveys, “tweets,” and profiles encourage students to reflect and evaluate the above areas (p. 96).

Journaling has shown to be an effective means by which students evaluate, probe, wonder, and assess their own abilities and actions. By using this same technique through a new technological medium such as blogs, students are able to track and assess the very same things they would using a journal. However, by putting their journal entries online, they now become available to the teacher, the class, and other students around the country or even around the world.

By using the internet and allowing students to become proficient “bloggers” as part of a project this also allows students to gain 21st-century skills that they will be able to build upon and use in the real world. The use of blogs, online journals, “tweets,” or other online journaling resource has influenced my thinking for a number of reasons. I am curious to know what my students have to say as a result of the activities and projects we do. I want to know how my students would assess themselves and what motivates and frustrates them. By having this kind of look into the minds of my students I would be better able to make decisions about where our project has the possibility to go, what questions I need to ask to get them thinking critically, what I can do to challenge them. The information that could be recorded in these journals would be very valuable to both me as a teacher and a guide, and also to the benefit of my students.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

You Never Know Where It Might Lead...

Just finished reading chapter 11 in the Boss & Krauss book. At first I was a little anxious for the chapter to end because it focused so much on what happens after the project, and that's never important, right? However, it made me realize a critical point: traditional teaching does not teach us how to react to our work once the results have come in. I know I definitely have been trained that way, what with so many standardized tests being required in education today. I never thought it was important; the important things were the grade on the test, finishing the performance, getting the score, the number.

I guess what I have realized is that there are so many opportunities beyond the sphere of the end results. What we learned and how we learned what we learned are two synonymously important hemispheres. You never know where it might lead...the "end result" might just be the springboard into something completely unexpected. I'd like to think the possibilities are endless.


So! Lots of headway made since yesterday! Mrs. Kenyon and I have really hashed out a lot of the details for our project. We've got a timeline, rationale, powerpoint presentation, student assessments, and sample student work for our hypothetical implementation of the project. I am so much less overwhelmed!

I've been working on the student assessment sheet for the past hour or so, getting everything looking nice and whatnot! I'll attach a copy of my assessment. I must say, I love the rainbow colors! I'm all about the pizazz!

I'll make this a short post, but know I'm feeling much less submerged in work!