Monday, September 6, 2010

The Calm Before the Storm

The room is clean, the posters are hung, the chairs and instruments arranged neatly around the room and it's quiet. Too quiet. As if the room itself is holding its breath in preparation for the storm of students who will lend their energy to this space tomorrow morning. For this moment, though, I breathe in and imagine the possible:

Students smiling and being genuinely excited about being in the music room again with their friends... that rare moment before the teacher has made demands of them that make the light in their eyes go out. My hope is to feed on that initial excitiement, and dive into the new philosophical ideas that are informing my teaching this year. Specifically, letting go and allowing the students to own more control over the decision making that happens in their learning.

I'm talking about more than the first day and having students help decide on fair rules for the classroom. I'm talking about inquiry-based learning. Asking them, day one, "What do you want to learn?". And instead of filing the answers they write for me on little index cards, putting them in a drawer, and then forgetting about them, I will follow through day after day with more questions:

Based on their interests, we'll discuss what goals they have for their learning. How will they get there? What tools will they need? How can they best demonstrate that learning? What is a fair way to assess their learning? From the first day to the last day, I will be a partner in their learning, exploring the possibilities that co-constructing curriculum can offer.

Even now, I don't know exactly what to expect. I know what I hope for and what I imagine for my students, but what I really look forward to are the surprises along the way. The ideas they come up with that I never would have thought of. The chance to learn something from a student that I didn't know before. Collaborating and feeding off each other's energy and experiencing learning as the exciting, creative activity it is meant to be!

I'm even welcoming of the challenges, frustrations, and disappointments along the way so that I can continue to examine my teaching and their learning processes. To show, through example, that this is a life long pursuit for all of us, teachers and students alike. To slog through the tough times, draw on each others' strengths, use our resources, and move through it towards personal success. And upon reflection, we can all appreciate the satisfaction of a job well done and celebrate a worthwhile and meaningful experience.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Impossible Beauty

As a blogger who is not even two weeks old, I am grappling with the impossibility of how astounded I am every day with what I discover is being done with technology, creativity, ideas, and what it means to learn and to educate. I can't contain the excitement of knowing that this wave of innovation is exponential and I can't wait to get back to school so I can see what my own students will do in this realm as I shift the environment of my classroom and hand the reins to them in this regard. This morning's mindblowing idea that actually exists: asynchronous conducting. Please watch (and share) this astounding and beautiful work by Eric Whitacre:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Inspired Thinking: "Live Binders"

Probably the most exciting and comprehensive compilation I've yet to see of Web 2.0 Resources, beautiful options for students to create multi-media diplays as evidence of their learning, video tutorials for educators on how to use what's available to them, and inspiring examples of student work. Mike Fisher has just made this available in the summer and encourages us to "go ahead and share it so that teachers that are doing summer curriculum work can use it as a starting point for upgrading their curricular practice." Have a look... it's truly stunning.

5 Minutes with Sir Ken Robinson on Standardized Testing

Bonnie Hunt interviews Sir Ken Robinson on the effects of standardized testing, teaching, and intelligence.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sharing the Wealth

Beyond Powerpoint from innovative blogger and author of a new e-book "A New Way to Lecture", Michael Zimmer.

Some fun new ideas for presentations that move beyond basic powerpoint. Fun for teachers and students alike. Re-shared from a new favorite blog, Educational Paradigms.

Open Mic Nights Starting Thursday

Open Mic Nights Starting Thursday

A great chance to get in on the active conversation about making real changes in education! Everyone check this out and tune in for discussion from 7-8pm, if you can! Topics will be directly related to education/shift/technology ideas. Share your thoughts... we ARE the change we wish to see!

Boredom begets Creativity: Work as Play

Just one example of how students are already making music and art on their own time, using the tools they have, without the help from teachers. This particular example was discovered when I came home from school to find my 6th grade son, Cassidy, at the computer fooling around with the animation program, Flip Boom All-Star. He calls it "Morphing Letters", and was 'inspired' by the doodles he was drawing on his scrap paper while waiting for the time to run out during state testing at school that day. It spurred the idea for making this animation, according to him, which he created and added accompanying music from his ipod (music from a favorite video game soundtrack of his from 'Castle Crashers').

Reflecting on this slice of a "day in the life" of a public school 6th grader, I wonder what kind of worthwhile education he experienced that day. Between state testing and creating an animation with a soundtrack, which did he learn more from? Which has staying power? Which experience led to more learning and curiosity about learning? More problem solving? A chance to create and innovate? Which one could he teach someone else how to do with success?

Food for thought for fellow educators... please share your thoughts in the comment section!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fresh Perspectives, New Ideas

Wordle: Fresh Perspectives, New Ideas">

Wordle from my Significant Seven (#3)

The Significant Seven

1. Autobiographical Reflections as a Learner
One of things I appreciated most as a student was doing something new, or that challenged me, required me to solve a problem, use my imagination, or even just seeing or hearing something that got me to the edge of my seat. Whether that translated into practicing stream-of-consciousness writing techniques, meditating for the first time, creating skits with my peers, playing in a Balinese gamelan without the help of written notation or an English-speaking instructor, or going to see live performances of all kinds, these experiences have stayed with me forever. They have both shaped who I am as a person, as well as paved the pathway to my becoming a music educator. There is no doubt that these teachers and experiences have forever changed the way I think about what a classroom can look like and feel like, and how exhilarating and contagiously joyful learning can be. In my own personal way, I strive to weave these kinds of experiences into my own teaching; with humor, open-mindedness, energy, and invitation for the students to “get caught” by the same excitement I felt when learning in these ways.

2. Treasured Values as a Teacher
Although I want my students to leave my classroom knowing and being able to do a multitude of things, both musical and non-musical, one of the biggest ideas I hope they leave with is that “learning is fun”. It is a concept I have worked hard at since day one of becoming a teacher, in the hopes that I change some of their minds about school, learning, and music. Because I value learning that generates inquiry, creates a need to know, engages students’ personal interests and prior knowledge, it is my responsibility to foster an environment that allows this to happen in a way where the students are unafraid to open their minds, share their thoughts, create original ideas, and take imaginative risks. I count myself lucky that music happens to be the subject I am passionate about, because it lends itself so easily to these kinds of dispositions. “After all”, I will say to a new class, “we don’t call it working music… we play music here!”

3. Fresh Perspectives and New Ideas
The art of teaching, for me, has been a continuously evolving one. For the first few years, the changes were fast and furious, eventually settling into a comfortable decade or so of teaching habits. Not that there haven’t been many reflections, adaptations, and new situations for me to learn from along the way, but most of my teaching practice had settled into a nice routine. But in the last year or so, I have made some of the most dramatic (and frankly, frightening) changes of my career.

Inspired by the new perspectives formed from having started my graduate studies, and in particular having studied philosophy, I began to embrace the idea of questions. Particularly, the idea that my students may be able to build an entire curriculum from questions alone. I applied this idea to my high school theory class, by ‘striking a deal’ with them that the class would be built by sharing the plan of what they thought was worth learning. They told me why they signed up for theory class, what they hoped to learn, and what they wanted to explore as musicians. I agreed that their ideas would compose 50% of the content of our class, while I gave them the other 50% of what I called the “nuts and bolts” of music theory (traditional stuff like notation, key signatures, analysis, etc.)

Another dramatic change I’ve adopted this year has been implementing a long-term Comprehensive Musicianship plan with my high school chorus that challenged them to predict, reflect, think like composers, and perform with understanding. Both of these adventures with learning in theory and chorus were able to be observed, studied, and questioned by preservice music education majors at the Crane School of Music, who came for regular visits to my classroom via polycom videoconferencing. It was the use of this technology that was, by far, the furthest from my comfort zone I’ve ever felt while teaching. I had to learn how to teach all over again, analyze and plan and reflect on my practice deeply, and I learned to swallow the pill of public humiliation while not one, but two classrooms of students got to watch the process of a teacher stumble through learning a new technique for the first time and making mistakes.

The happy ending to this small part of my story, however, is that I learned from my mistakes, and (except for the very first week or two) didn’t regret the choice I had made to so publicly share my adventure. And it wasn’t long before I observed significant, worthwhile transformations and innovations happening in my teaching, rewarded by students who came back wanting more, and offered deeper insights than I had previously expected high schoolers to be able to give about their own learning. I’m hooked. And I look forward to including even more room for their ideas, skills, and curiosity by deliberately building in regular use with current digital technologies this year.

4. “Disposal Site”
In considering what changes I will need to make to become a more effective teacher who is in tune with my students’ 21st Century learning needs and interests, I am reminded of a quote by Pablo Picasso:

“Every act of creation, is first an act of destruction.”

We need to keep our garden (educational thinking) weeded if we expect the plants (students) we desire to cultivate (habits of mind) to have room to grow and flourish. So, in the spirit of welcoming new innovations of teaching and learning, I am ready to let go: Of rehearsal techniques that encourage more parroting than individual thought, of rubrics entirely constructed without student imput, of whole-group instruction the majority of the time, and of using so much paper in evaluation when paperless formats may offer not only a more environmentally conscious choice, but may in fact prove to be a more effective assessment tool in tracking the progress of individual students’ processes of learning and thinking musically.

5. Influencing the Music Education Field
As a music educator, I have been particularly influenced by my experiences studying with master musicians from around the world, which in turn led to my interest both in the Orff method and in ethnomusicology. I pursued formal training through the Orff certification program, and became passionate about teaching myself about world music in any way I could. I have since given workshops both in Orff and in drumming in interdisciplinary formats, and to many populations, including college students, community members, and educators of every subject area.

Drawing on these experiences of teaching, learning, collaborating, and reflecting on the feedback from participants will help guide my new plans to incorporate more student-centered teaching and technology. This will give me a unique perspective, both as a teacher and student, to share my journey with multiple groups of educators about becoming an innovative and evolving music educator in the hopes that, by leading by example, they have the courage to explore their own personal journey and join community of change.

6. Relating personal work to music education at large
Problems that we all face in music education today include, perhaps most alarmingly, the waning interest on the part of our students for music that exists in school settings only, and seem to have no relation to their lives outside of school. As stated in the article, “What Are Music Educators Doing and How Well Are We Doing It?” (MEJ, Sept. 2007) by David a. Williams:

“Students can now do more musically at home without us
than they can at school with us.”

A wake up call if I ever heard one. And it’s up to every music teacher in the country to change this perception. No matter what area of music we teach, there is room for student-driven participation and room for more open ended expectations of what music education “should” look like. It is our job to participate in the transformation of educational perspectives as a whole by actively preparing our students, through music, to use 21st Century skills and technologies that encourage and develop a sense of inquiry, collaboration, and innovation.

7. Forging a focus
All of this is perfectly possible, particularly if we model exactly the habits and actions we want our students to adopt. By thinking of teaching as learning, we can educate ourselves how to become comfortable with these new modes of teaching practice. By connecting with the growing numbers of networks and online communities of educators who share our vision, we can gain the support we need to draw on the experience and advice of others. By writing about, sharing, and publishing our own work as we move forward, we become more intelligent educators in our reflection and process. Together, we can bring public education into the 21st Century by becoming advocates and examples of self- directed discovery learning, allowing the space and opportunity for our students to become their best selves.

“All children are artists.
The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
- Pablo Picasso

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Transforming Music Education

Shared from a new colleague I've met online, Andrew Garcia, from his terrific blog: Educational Paradigms I highly recommend checking it out and reading more about this!

"How to reach and inspire tech-savvy kids." March 13, 2009. NYSUT: A Union of Professionals.

"How to reach and inspire tech-savvy kids." March 13, 2009. NYSUT: A Union of Professionals.

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Who knew? Something I never knew could possibly exist is now something I desperately want. Plus... he creates some truly contagious grooves on this, what does he call it? "Bassoforte". Talk about "re-imagining music"! Love it!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Insights on Project Learning & Contemporary Learners

I wonder if contemporary learners’ musical interests and their social-musical involvements are terribly different things to begin with. Or at least, they are integrally related to one another. The fact that today’s students regularly find, make, listen to, share, and create music completely independent of formal instruction is ignored at our own peril, as music educators. Finding ways to use project learning in combination with what are clearly motivating and interesting ways of learning on their own and inviting them into the school atmosphere will allow us to both recreate our roles as music educators by joining our students on an exciting journey into the future while valuing the knowledge and skills they already bring to school and building on them.

Too often, students feel like failures in school because they encounter activities and content that has no relevance to their life, or is presented in such a fragmented manner, that they struggle to make any sense of the information or care about it beyond getting a good grade. Giving students the opportunities to be leaders by honoring their natural skills, talents, and inquiries into the world around them using the newest technology not only makes them feel smart, it makes them smarter. By incorporating project learning and 21st Century practices in our classrooms that include using students and their prior knowledge as valuable resources, we make learning relevant and worthwhile to them. And when observing students in action in these kinds of collaborative environments, you don’t need research reports to tell you that students are clearly capable of teaching each other, and even the teacher, something new.

I would think every educator would welcome such an exciting opportunity to share in learning side by side with their students, and guiding them in the exciting pursuit of new knowledge. I mean, we all went into teaching in some part because we love to learn, right? If this is true, then there is no need to fear iphones, facebook, video games, or any other portal to students being excited about learning. Or even to be open to being perpetual students ourselves.

T.G.I. Pie-Day!

Good Morning and Happy Pie-day to you all! Looking forward to hearing everyone's great plans for the upcoming year... don't forget that we've started a network and we all want to hear how it's going or are here to offer feedback and bounce ideas off of. Don't be strangers, y'all!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Social Bookmarking

I know it's not new... but what a great tool this has been in doing my work this week! I love bookmarking pages at home, but am terrible at remembering how to retrace my steps when at another computer. There are lots of other choices out there, but I went with Diigo.

I'm able to organize my bookmarks by category, which has been great with doing a multi-faceted research project. I recommend it highly.


I love being reminded that kids are smarter than we think, surprise us with new and creative ideas that we never would have thought of ourselves, and keep things fresh and full of humor.

As I dig into the research of seeing what else is out there in terms of honoring kids' minds, ideas, skills, and innate abilities to learn anything they have interest in, I am in love with Musical Futures... a musical initiative in the UK that partners up with kids in building the music curriculum and has this amazing partner website, NUMU, that is an interactive site for participating schools that allow their students to do everything from listen to and upload their own original music, to post blogs, comment on each others' work, and even create and manage their own recording label.

Although I've only listened to a handful of the literally hundreds of tracks posted by these young musicians, I am so moved by listening to the self expression and beautiful musicianship these artists have put out there for the world to hear. Listen to this one... I can't stop!

This actually makes me want to run home and pick up my own guitar! Boy, if this student is motivating a TEACHER to want to go write her own music, I can only imagine the excitement that students will generate for one another!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Transforming Past Practice

The art of teaching, much like the pursuit of being a lifelong musician, is a continuously evolving work in progress. Both fields require time to practice, reflect, problem-solve, listen, create, and re-approach the work in the interest of greater understanding, finesse, and artistry. In pursuing my master’s degree, I have been given ample opportunity and encouragement to examine my own teaching, research learners through the lens of current society and future challenges, and to be brave and honest enough to take new risks and be unafraid to shed what isn’t useful in the way I have taught in the past. In fact, it is a long term goal of mine to someday be teaching future music educators at the college level, so I am motivated to seek out what are truly the best practices and techniques I can use in an ever-changing technological world. And above all, like every teacher, I want to be making a meaningful difference in the lives of students I teach. Not only in finding ways to make the kinds of musical learning they do at school relevant to their lives outside of the school day, but to be active in having a residual effect that will encourage them to become lifelong, independent learners and musicians.

Asking students to participate in the process of designing grading systems and assessments to identify quality work will be one of the newest risks I look forward to taking with my project-based learning practice. It’s not an idea that had occurred to me before, as I have always been the sole designer of rubrics and other types of assessments. After all, I am the resident expert in music, right? But am I the expert on how they might be able to recognize quality work, establish desired learning dispositions, and be able to articulate their own thinking on the process of their learning? What better way to value the power of their minds and the importance of their voice in their journey of learning? I welcome the challenge.

Key Ideas That Have Influenced My Thinking

The book I've been reading (Re-inventing Project Based Learning)has been a great starting point and extremely helpful guide in navigating the way educators are using technology...I find I'm becoming more fluent by the day and am thankful for this opportunity to learn to blog, make a wiki, embed videos, link to websites, create a social bookmarking library,and more.

One thing I had never considered was how useful blogs can be in assessing students’ learning. Writing about their own learning process provides valuable insight to who they are as learners and how I, as the teacher, can more masterfully guide their learning. Especially since I sometimes struggle with giving students in-class time to regularly reflect and think, this provides an ongoing way that students can delve deeper into their own thinking and understanding about music and the process in which they developing as both thinkers and musicians of the 21st century. I have a good feeling that once the use of blogs becomes habitual in my classes, I’ll never turn back. What a great way to provide one-on-one feedback to the students and open up opportunities for self expression or collaboration with others!

And right from the beginning, I was excited about pursuing this path of project-based, student-led teaching because I know how motivating it can be for students to have a say in their education, particularly when it can involve their interests, prior skill, and technological savvy in the classroom. These kinds of personal investments and choices are not only motivating, but meaningful to the students. And ultimately, it leads to learning to love learning.

One of the biggest influences on my thinking this book (and class) has had on my thinking is reimagining what assessment looks like. Again, giving the students choices in how to exhibit evidence of their learning partnered with the use of multiple kinds of technological tools has me excited about the new pathways of learning this will open up, and new kinds of thinking that will form in students and teacher alike!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Discarding the Old, Making Room for the New...

Reflecting on one’s own teaching practice can be either enlightening or humbling. Think I’ll begin with the more humbling act of examining which parts of my teaching were not so much outright failures (as those are easier to recognize and learn from), and instead look closer at what I previously thought were examples of excellence in teaching, but were perhaps hollow when viewed with questions in mind like: “What lasting residue has this experience made in my students’ lives?” and “What musical skills and understanding will they now be able to transfer into their lives as a result?” or even simply “What was the point?”. The uncomfortable answer, I’m finding, is that although I believe I excel at giving students fantastic activities to engage in during the moments they spend in my classroom, I begin to wonder whether those experiences have any lasting impact at all.

Certainly, all teachers imagine and hope that our students will enter the classrooms busting at the seams to ask all kinds of questions and show an edge-of-their-seats engagement in every lesson we teach. We are, after all, each passionate about our own subject areas, or we wouldn’t find ourselves as masters in the field tasked with educating the next generation. However, as sunny a disposition I like to cast on the memories of times with my students, I think that most genuine curiosity and inquisition have remained back in the planning stages of good intentions, and bouncing around in my own head, rather than from the voices of the young musicians in front of me. In truth, I rarely give them the time for deep questioning, dismissing some, giving curt answers to others, but sometimes following the thread of a students’ interest or dilemma within the span of a few moments in the classroom. The exception to this has been when I made room for a new idea, Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance, with a semester-long project I did with my high school chorus students. Because of the hours upon hours of investment I put in with research, planning, questioning, and designing assessments and activities, I built in time for wonderment, inqiry, and created a need to know within my classroom.

In reflecting on this rich experience, which I could write extensively about but won’t do here, I recognize the value of not only investing my time in creating these opportunities for imaging and creating, and therefore, actively questioning with purpose, I resolve to let go of the reins even more this year. I will try to discard the idea that, as the teacher, I am solely in charge of deciding exactly where we will go with our path to learning, and intentionally build in more time for students not only to ask, but for me to listen and redirect their musical education in a way that addresses their need to know and cultivate their natural curiosity.

Adapting Excellence

One of the best pieces of advice I received from my mentor, Sheryn Malm, when student teaching was: "Don't reinvent the wheel." She was a master Orff teacher and was so much of the reason I experienced success early in my career teaching classroom music. She was a big believer in sharing the wealth, and although she came up with plenty of impressive lessons and techniques herself, much of what she did was learned from others... and she encouraged me to do the same, without any guilt of thinking of it as 'stealing' an idea. She ingrained in my mind that all good teachers have taken their ideas from's a communal art.

So, in the spirit of keeping that wheel rolling, rather than inventing it from scratch, I am adapting some exciting contemporary ideas from "Musical Futures" for use in my high school guitar class. Specifically, the ideas of 'aural copying' and 'friendship groups'.

(Modelling Aural Learning...)

This video shows teachers modeling riffs from a given song that they have recorded for the students, but I will let students try to pull out these excerpts on their own, as my students are older (and some with prior guitar experience and skills). Also, I will do some modeling and large group jam sessions in the beginning of the year to give them skills in learning by rote. And I will rotate between the groups to offer help, if needed, but would like my students to do more of the deconstructing and problem solving on their own.

21st Century Skills

As the culminating part of this project, we are expected to present it as if talking to a board of education. There is certainly a fear factor present with revolutionary ideas that look so radically different from traditional teaching, so being able to "sell it" is a critical point. I think a winning strategy is tied in with many schools' mission statements about making our students ready to function and contribute in an ever-changing technological world. So, in thinking about 21st Century skills that all students need, I came across this framework on a website called "Partnership for 21st Century Skills" that could be helpful when talking about any subject using technology (traditional or not).

Getting Started

Just starting to get the first seeds of an idea for my high school guitar class this upcoming year. I'm inspired by the kinds of teaching going on in England through "Musical Futures".

I especially like the real-world paradigm of having students think about how some of their favorite musicians learn music. (It certainly isn't from sightreading standard notation... or even any notation at all). In fact... this is a reminder to myself to get the ebook copy of the book "How Popular Musicians Learn" by Lucy Green (foreword by Robert Fripp.... who I was also thinking of borrowing ideas from with the idea of a 'guitar orchestra' and the style in which he composes and creates music).

Creating friendship groups in the classroom is another idea I am attracted to from "Musical Futures", as this comes closest to how people in the real world teach and create songs on guitar and other popular instruments... by sitting around with groups of friends and working it out together, all the while demonstrating dispositions of learning:
  1. Persistence
  2. Listening to Others with Understanding and Empathy
  3. Striving for Accuracy and Precision
  4. Creating, Imagining, and Innovating
  5. Thinking Interdependently
  6. Learning Continuously
It is my hope that by starting with a project like this, where students discover how to learn/create songs on guitar in their groups, that it will spark new ideas and lead to future projects based on their natural inquiries and curiosity based on this initial experience.


Simply have to share some truly great work done by one of my best friends and inspirational teachers, Kate Craw. You simply must read about the impact she has on the kids she works with Real world, real problems, beautiful production... truly jaw dropping work.

The Heart of Teaching: Cultures Collide as "The King and I" comes to the Bronx

The Heart of Teaching: Becoming a King

On Stage and Off: Art Makes Leaders

Building a Community

Already excited to see how rich the opportunites will be today... just added links to some of the other great minds in my Project Based Learning class. Today will be our first chance to start sharing ideas and get to the business of making plans that will allow students to take an active role in their own learning in a way that will (hopefully) inspire and motivate them. I am really looking forward to sharing this process with like-minded teachers that recognize the value in looking forward with the state of music education and respecting the knowledge and skills that kids already bring with them. They are not "empty vessels" which wait to be filled with our all-powerful "knowledge and content". In fact, if we take the time to listen to them, we just may learn something ourselves. Can't wait to have this meeting of the minds!

Monday, July 5, 2010

And So It Begins

Well, we all have to start somewhere. And so I sit at the bottom of the blogging learning curve, with no where to go but up. High hopes and idealistic visions, to be sure... but I'll start with simplicity. For now, I'll celebrate the small success of having created my very first blog. I'm tracking the process of delving into a new educational adventure in my second summer of grad school at Crane. The start of Project Based Learning and planning for another exciting year of challenging myself as a music educator. This is the first in a series of journal-entry type posts that will document my own process of learning during the creation of my first collaborative project unit for this class. I look forward to reflecting on the journey, and can't wait to see where things go from here... now back to the book!