In The Midst Of The Struggle

photo credit

Today I was talking with a student about a piece that she is working on in a colleague's class. It's a killer...fast, technical, and really exciting for both the performer and the listener. You could tell that she really wants to get it right, and she was frustrated that she doesn't have it mastered yet.

"It's such a struggle" she said.

"Yeah" I said, "but the things that are really worth knowing are uncovered in the midst of the struggle."

"I had a feeling you were going to say something like that" she said with a smile.

But it's true. It's not only about a great performance, it's what you learn about yourself and the music along the way, especially when it's a struggle. Those are the discoveries that mean the most.

Help your students to embrace the struggle. That's where the good stuff resides.

Sharing Your Way To Great Teaching: BDs Are (Virtually) Connected

 

Once upon a time there were a few ways you could improve your teaching in a meaningful way:

  • Go to graduate school
  • Attend a convention
  • Read an article or book

Within the last year, a fourth option came into being:

  • Engage in meaningful dialogue with the entire profession, any time of day, 24/7/365

Um, come again?

Truth be told, the Band Directors Group on Facebook does not encapsulate the entire profession. But given the rate of enrollment and the fact that the group now numbers more than 7,000... the thought isn't as crazy as it might have sounded twelve months ago. It's pretty exciting to think we could all be in one "place." But even if not, we already have the critical mass needed to benefit our profession in some exciting ways.

More importantly, members are starting to realize the best way to become a great teacher: By sharing what you know with others. You give away what you have learned, and you get far more in return. Some examples:

  • Members are uploading their custom lessons, hand outs, policy documents, rubrics, assessments and more to a centralized File Repository, free for everyone to use and adapt.
  • Retired teachers are offering hundreds of years of proven approaches and repertoire suggestions.
  • Current teachers are putting their heads together to come up with solid solutions to unique problems shared by other members, including recruitment/retention and administrator conflicts.
  • Targeted Professional Learning Communities (PLC) have formed in order to formulate common assessments and share data...even performing some repertoire in common.
  • Discussions are being tagged and catalogued for searching...over 1,100 so far...all by volunteers.

Pretty powerful stuff, and we're only just getting started. And all this without any outside influence from the industry. By teachers, for teachers.

Which students deserve a great music teacher? You know the answer...every student deserves a great music teacher. If you haven't joined us yet, stuff your ego in a drawer somewhere and get yourself over to Facebook. We'll be there, ready to brainstorm with you. By sharing what you know, all of our students get a better teacher, which is exactly what they deserve.

P.S. Orchestra and Choir teachers are have figured out the power of online professional development via Facebook as well. And for those looking for all-inclusive venture, check out http://musicpln.org.

Yong Zhao » Blog Archive » The Grass Is Greener: Learning from Other Countries

The Grass Is Greener: Learning from Other Countries

18 September 2011 24 No Comment

(A version of this post is published in Teachers College Record under Handan Xuebu: What We Can and Should Learn from Other Countries)

In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.

–Mark Twain

American policy makers and pundits are in love with some foreign education systems and are working hard to bring their policies and practices home. Others have national standards and a uniform curriculum, so should America (Chester E. Finn, Julian, & Petrilli, 2006). Students in China and India spend more time in schools, so should American children (Obama, 2009). Other countries use national exams to sort students, so should America (Tucker, 2011). Teachers in other countries receive more training in content, so should teachers in America (Tucker, 2011). “Teachers in Singapore are appraised annually” and “our current evaluation system is fundamentally broken,” so America must fix teacher evaluation and hold them accountable for raising student test scores (Duncan, 2010).

The infatuation with foreign education systems is fueled by a simple and compelling message loudly broadcast by political leaders, business tycoons, and think-tank-backed researchers: every element of American education is broken, obsolete, and in crisis (Gates, 2005) (Beck, 2009) (StudentsFirst.org, 2011), and other countries have got it all right. America’s decentralized local control system has said to be chaotic, incoherent, discriminating, and wasteful whereas others with a centralized system that ensures consistency, efficiency, and equity. American teachers are complacent, unmotivated, and ill-prepared, while teachers in other countries are of “higher cognitive ability” (Auguste, Kihn, & Miller, 2010), better prepared (Tucker, 2011), and held to more rigorous accountability standards. Curriculum and textbooks in other countries are structured and written. Students in other countries work harder. And parents in other countries care more about their children’s education.

In short, the argument goes, to save America, to retain America’s preeminence in the world, to ensure America’s global competitiveness, we must dismantle America’s education system and import policies and practices from other countries.

Some degree of hyperbole is understandable when a strong message needs to be sent, but the actual policy and practice proposals put forward do indeed show that America is aggressively replacing its education traditions with foreign imports. Before we complete the journey to greener pastures, it is prudent to ask a few questions that hopefully can stimulate some second thoughts about this migration.

Is the Grass Greener on the Side of the Ocean?

Don't miss this new blog post from Yong Zhoa (click the "via" link)

Standardized Students, Silenced Teachers: The Un-American Education Agenda | Dailycensored.com

We should not be pursuing standardization since we have a century of evidence that it doesn’t work—and logic shows that standard doesn’t match our ideals as a free people—but we should be pursuing challenging opportunities for every child, which in no way stops us from creating a universal public education system that honors and embraces diverse paths to adulthood and autonomy for all children who enter the doorways of our schools.

Privileged adults of this world live diverse and autonomous lives outside of school. The current education reform movement appears more concerned with securing the diverse lives of those privileged than acknowledging the right to an autonomous and diverse life for all children in a society claiming to be free.

Standardization is dehumanizing–and ultimately un-American.

All music teachers should read this article by Paul Thomas and wake up to what is happening today in the continued march towards a federally-controlled education system. High stakes testing and "common-core" is (not so) slowly but surely stripping our schools of essential opportunities for students to flourish as individuals. Administrators will continue to be pressured to produce better test scores, and if you think those tests are ever going to include the arts...guess again.

Your teaching is perfect...for the results you are getting

"My teaching is perfectly designed for the learning results I'm currently getting."

Sort of makes you think about what needs to happen if you want to increase student learning, doesn't it?

Oftentimes we don't think *we* need to change anything about our teaching....students just need to pay attention and work harder.

The quote is adapted from a leadership/organizational quote by Tom Northup: "All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they’re now getting"

Knowing What Students Know: A Free Executive Summary on Classroom (read "Ensemble") Assessment

This is a very intersting summary from:

Committee on the Foundations of Assessment, James W. Pellegrino, Naomi Chudowsky, and Robert Glaser, editors, Board on Testing and Assessment, Center for Education, National Research Council (2001)

A few very interesting excerpts:

With the movement over the past two decades toward setting challenging academic standards and measuring students’ progress in meeting those standards, educational assessment is playing a greater role in decision making than ever before. In turn, education stakeholders are questioning whether current large-scale assessment practices are yielding the most useful kinds of information for informing and improving education. Meanwhile, classroom assessments, which have the potential to enhance instruction and learning, are not being used to their fullest potential. 

Students will learn more if instruction and assessment are integrally related. In the classroom, providing students with information about particular qualities of their work and about what they can do to improve is crucial for maximizing learning. It is in the context of classroom assessment that theories of cognition and learning can be particularly helpful by providing a picture of intermediary states of student understanding on the pathway from novice to competent performer in a subject domain

For classroom or large-scale assessment to be effective, students must understand and share the goals for learning. Students learn more when they understand (and even participate in developing) the criteria by which their work will be evaluated, and when they engage in peer and self-assessment during which they apply those criteria. These practices develop students’ metacognitive abilities, which, as emphasized above, are necessary for effective learning. 

Note this particular recommendation:

Recommendation 11: The balance of mandates and resources should be shifted from an emphasis on external forms of assessment to an increased emphasis on classroom formative assessment designed to assist learning

See the associated book here. PDF version (380+ pages) can be downloaded free if you create an account there.

What Is Cooperative Learning? Ever Been In A Rehearsal Or Performance?

What is Cooperative Learning?

Cooperative learning involves more than students working together on a lab or field project. It requires teachers to structure cooperative interdependence among the students. These structures involve five key elements which can be implemented in a variety of ways. There are also different types of cooperative groups appropriate for different situations.

More than Just Working in Groups

Five key elements differentiate cooperative learning from simply putting students into groups to learn (Johnson et al., 2006).

  1. Positive Interdependence: You'll know when you've succeeded in structuring positive interdependence when students perceive that they "sink or swim together." This can be achieved through mutual goals, division of labor, dividing materials, roles, and by making part of each student's grade dependent on the performance of the rest of the group. Group members must believe that each person's efforts benefit not only him- or herself, but all group members as well.
GEO 110 students discuss their findings in the field

 

  • Individual Accountability: The essence of individual accountability in cooperative learning is "students learn together, but perform alone." This ensures that no one can "hitch-hike" on the work of others. A lesson's goals must be clear enough that students are able to measure whether (a) the group is successful in achieving them, and (b) individual members are successful in achieving them as well.
  •  

  • Face-to-Face (Promotive) Interaction: Important cognitive activities and interpersonal dynamics only occur when students promote each other's learning. This includes oral explanations of how to solve problems, discussing the nature of the concepts being learned, and connecting present learning with past knowledge. It is through face-to-face, promotive interaction that members become personally committed to each other as well as to their mutual goals.
  •  

  • Interpersonal and Small Group Social Skills: In cooperative learning groups, students learn academic subject matter (taskwork) and also interpersonal and small group skills (teamwork). Thus, a group must know how to provide effective leadership, decision-making, trust-building, communication, and conflict management. Given the complexity of these skills, teachers can encourage much higher performance by teaching cooperative skill components within cooperative lessons. As students develop these skills, later group projects will probably run more smoothly and efficiently than early ones.
  •  

  • Group Processing: After completing their task, students must be given time and procedures for analyzing how well their learning groups are functioning and how well social skills are being employed. Group processing involves both taskwork and teamwork, with an eye to improving it on the next project.
  • In this excerpt from the Carleton College (MN) Science Department music ensemble teachers should notice some descriptors that are eerily familiar, in fact these "new" ideas seem positively traditional to many of us. The advantage we have is that ensemble classes are cooperative structures that rely upon "positive interdependence." Our students don't get "put" into groups, our class is a group...every day, all year long. When our students are rehearsing, they are engaged in a non-verbal musical disscussion that is demonstrating... while at the same time... refining what students know about their own musicianship and the composition that is being brought to fruition. Sophisticated? You'd better believe it.

    Cooperative Learning (CL) is sometimes poorly implemented in other classes (ask your students sometimes about their "group projects") but for us it's the very essence of bringing ensemble music to fruition. Ensemble courses require the contribution of every individual in every moment of the period in order for everyone to learn. Our students present group projects throughout the year. These group performances are every bit as authentic (often more so) than Power Points and reports that are created by short-term groups in other types of courses.

    Now, before we all start bragging that we have CL "down pat" we are not off the hook by a long shot. For one thing I would wager a guess that most of our students (mine included) don't even realize that our ensemble is a cooperative learning vehicle. We simply never take the time to talk about it. And another of our major shortcomings as music teachers is the failure to guarantee that ensemble learning is measured and intentional. Keeping the goals and assessments of any group project a secret is a mistake no matter what course is implementing CL. Running a tune over and over while hoping the students will figure out how to magically make it better (or worse yet...dictating their every move) is not what this is all about. No, winning is not sufficient evidence that students understand the essence of a composition, nor is merely showing up for class every day with your instrument.

    Let's start rethinking how we explain, design, and yes assess within our music courses so we can take full advantage of (and our students can get full credit for) the power of authentic cooperative learning in music ensemble courses. We have a lot of work to do, both in improving the learning in our students and educating our colleagues and administrators. People who believe interdependent learning can't take place without words or a pencil and paper have a lot to learn about the way music works, and the true scope of cooperative learning. It's our job to teach them, and each other.

    P.S. College methods profs, we need your help in championing this reality...not falling prey to the outdated argument that "playing" in band, choir, or orchestra is simplistic participation which cannot be assessed, graded, or valued in any way. Help us start to reframe this misinterpretation and let's build a rigorous, relevant and meaningful ensemble curriculum together.

    Look it's really simple: A course is not an activity

    Recently I've been very disheartened by some stories I've been hearing about concert band courses being lumped in with clubs and sports teams when it comes to eligibility mandates, fees, and other policies. Granted, there are many school-sponsored music groups that are bonified clubs (instruction takes place soley before/after school and is not part of a course) but all it takes is a little time to study the structure of any particular music program to see that there is almost always a mixture of courses and clubs. Blanketing club policies over an entire department may be convenient and even appear consistent at some level, but the behavior is averse to learning outcomes when certain guaranteed essential learnings are rendered optional...namely by subjecting students who register for a music course to an eligibility policy designed for extra-curricular clubs and athletics.

    Ensemble courses are built on the premise of interdependent learning. In fact in my opinion ensemble courses are the most authentic cooperative/social learning environment, even though those educational movements are presented as novel. Ensemble students literally rely upon each other second by second in the problem solving and creative processes of building and bringing music to fruition. No bench players here...every student is involved in simultaneously learning while shaping the music. Complicit in each learning cycle are culminating public performances, and typically these performances take place outside of the school day. These performances are "co-curricular" assignments meaning they are (a) required and (b) taking place outside of the scheduled meeting time for the daily course. Public performance opportunities are the only way for students to gain the authentic understanding of what it means to be a public ensemble performer...having your peers rely upon your contribution "live" as the music is presented to the listeners. Co-curricular assignments are not unique to music performance courses, but they are certainly more regular because they are germane to the music performance learning cycle.

    It is this last factor that ends up becoming a point of confusion for school boards, administrators, and governing organizations who tend to think that anything happening outside of the traditional school day transforms a class into an extra-curricular club. It only takes a little logic to see how this is wholly wrong in the case of performance courses. Calling a course fee for musicians an "activity fee" or asking the band director to "bring the band to play for us on Friday" further blurs the understanding of co-curricular versus extra-curricular. Imposing eligibility requirements on music courses is clearly misplaced. In what other course offering do students get temporarily removed for doing poorly in another course? Think about that. Eligibility policies were instituted to make sure students prioritize their schoolwork. By making concert performances an optional part of the curriculum... an activity unto itself...we are saying that the learning does not continue there, that performances are not a capstone of a learning-and-teaching cycle. Music teachers know this is patently not the case and most folks within the educational community will realize it as well if they take the time to think it through.

    It is incumbant upon every teacher and music organization to work towards educating all stakeholders about the interdependent nature of ensemble courses and the ways their co-curricluar components relate directly to curricular outcomes. In ensemble courses we are teaching music through performance. Preventing students from meeting course requirements not only impacts the individual but alters the learning outcome for all students in the course, and not for the better. A course is not an activity.

    Afterword:

    From one of my comments below regarding how to reverse this trend...

    "For starters, authentic curriculum development that clearly demonstrates that both rehearsals and performances are essential components of the learning process, because ensembles are in fact vehicles of "positive interdependence." When we are of the unfortunate mindset that nothing can be measured in these situations (the misapplied stance that "you can't grade participation") then we have placed ourselves into a questionable situation whereby our rehearsals and concerts quite literally have no value. Cooperative learning research is clearly showing that you can... in fact, must... assess throughout the process. And remember that "assess" does not always mean "graded" (though at times it certainly can be). But do we? Where is our evidence?


    We can say that rehearsals/performances can't provide individual assessment, and we can say it is too difficult or takes too much time, but the bottom line is that if the proof of learning lies in the assessments (and that is where the profession is clearly headed), and we only have assessments from individual playing tests and such, then we havelittle if any proof of learning when it comes to the students' role within the ensemble. The next logical question of course is, then why is it a class at all? What are they learning in there?

    We know that many students and directors continually assess (especially formatively) but we have to get a lot better at intentionally describing and building it into our curricula so it is intentional and aimed squarely at the standard of students becoming a self-sufficent ensemble musician (playing alone and with others, a varied repertoire). Then it will become clear(er) that you cannot pick and choose parts of the curriculum and still achieve the standard.

    We all have a lot of work to do, including myself. Competition applied to courses is definitely a problem, something I have always tried to avoid to best of my abilities while looking for the best performance opportunities for students."

    Reading Music: News for Music Educators, May 25, 2011

    Click the link below to view the online version of this eBook, or scroll down for eReader downloads.

    http://www.zinepal.com/ebook/teaching-music/86762

    Articles and blog posts from around the web that are part of my daily reading as a music educator.

    STORIES IN THIS EBOOK

    * The Long-Term Cost Of Cuts To Arts Education  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/SzLjy

    * Going To Work: Students Experience A Glimpse Into Professional Performing  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/Ssgjs

    * Inadequate Indoctrination (or, a practical instance demonstrating why scales matter)  (elissamilne)
     http://dlvr.it/SpGKJ

    * Crisis Management - What To Do When Your School Board Proposes To Cut Your 
    Music Program  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/SkZj6

    * Fundraising For Non-Profit And Scholastic Organizations Using Social Media  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/Scp3x

    * Save Our Schools: Immediate Action Needed In Pennsylvania  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/SVN09

    * Quote Of The Day: Churchill "The Most Important Thing About Education Is Appetite"  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/SNzhz

    * Helpful Resources for Horn Playing and Teaching  (Kyle Freesen)
     http://dlvr.it/SNDr4

    * eXe learning  (Phil)
     http://dlvr.it/SN2sq

    * The Chase Is On! Support Music Education Organizations In The Facebook Chase Community Giving  (Thomas J. West)
     http:/
    /dlvr.it/SG33G

    * Another Pennsylvania Music Ed Program In Jeopardy: McGuffey School District  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/SBBhJ

    * Quote Of The Day: Anonymous "Failure To Plan On Your Part Does Not Constitute An Emergency On My Part"  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/S3rCF

    * Music Practice Tip: The Devil Is In The Transitions  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/Rw2lV

    * Great Performances - Paul Simon Fan Performs Duncan  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/RqRmm

    * SoundTree Keyboard Lab Curriculum by Alfred  (Barbara Freedman)
     http://dlvr.it/RjwqB

    * A Common Beginner Band Problem: Improper Articulation  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/Rj7Qz
    0A* Those Who Can Teach - Those Who Cannot Pass Laws About Teaching  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/RbVVt

    * Great Performances - Mariinsky Clarinet Club Plays Frackenpohl's Licorice Licks  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/RTgwP

    * I'm A Band Director Group On Facebook - A Dynamic Community  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/RPgPl

    * Wow! The National Jukebox is Amazing!
     http://dlvr.it/RPBxt

    * 16 Ways to Make Yourself Unfireable - Yahoo! Finance
     http://dlvr.it/RNqYd

    * Monetizing A Music Education Blog  (Thomas J. West)
     http://dlvr.it/RGWLF

    * Want to Build the Home-School Connection? There's an App for That!
     http://dlvr.it/RBRsk

    *2
    0Top Tips for Transcribing Music
     http://dlvr.it/RBPM6

    * ODE - 2011 Best Communities for <b>Music Education</b>
     http://dlvr.it/R9JRX


    Creativity, Compliance, and Conformity

    Let me begin with the following line of thinking:

    Success at the highest levels of any profession requires creativity...finding new and better ways to do something. And if that's true, empowering creativity should be of the utmost importance in education.

    Make sense? Think about any profession, and within that profession think about the person who is considered the most successful of all time. In nearly every case I'm willing to bet the person's creativity is what distiguished them.

    But not only is creativity undervalued in schools, in my opinion schooling is actually hostile towards it. If you do a little research on the successful person you were thinking about earlier, I'll bet they either: Didn't perform well in school; didn't finish high school/college; or at the very least their true interests had to be developed away from school altogether. Am I right? Can you think of anyone at the very top of their field who raves about their time in school and credits their education for their success?

    To be sure, there are many people who contribute to society in positive ways, and in no small way due to their education. Furthermore we can agree there are many (far too many) unsuccessful people who never completed school. So by and large we know that dropping out of school is not a viable choice. But when we look at the very best of the best, It seems clear to me that our education system was an annoyance to those folks, if not actually at odds with their goals. That just doesn't seem right, does it?

    The thing that strikes me about our education system is how it is so heavily structured around compliance and conformity. We are so busy trying to get kids to do "what they're supposed to do" and act the same way that we forget that this exactly the type of thing that dimishshes the chance of anything truly special happening...in school.

    So if you are a teacher, what are you doing to foster each student's creativity? If you are a music teacher, are your students involved in bringing music to fruition, or are they just taking orders? If you are an administrator, are you too worried about conformity to spend some time empowering tomorrow's leaders and innovators?

    I'm not an expert on this by any means, it's just something that has been on my mind. I'll close with one more little irony. Isn't it true that school should be the place where the best tools and methods for learning are employed? Now think about the way schools are fretting about/supressing smart phones and Web 2.0 in our buildings. Where are kids having the richest learning experience today? If you aren't sure, ask them, they'll tell you...it isn't at school.

    Newsflash: The train is pulling out of the station, but we're still talking to the students about how to behave when (if) they board it. All aboard folks, all aboard.