"The free play of art is the result of mastery. " --Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art

"Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them." --Ladybird Johnson

"...a well-trained ear, a well-trained intelligence, a well-trained heart, and a well-trained hand...." --Zoltan Kodaly


What is the true goal?

Hey J,

I heard a snippet of news on the radio this morning.  Apparently, our state government is seriously considering correlating teacher salaries with student test scores.

If  national test scores alone, out of context, are the sole determinant factor in salary assignment, it could quickly affect who would teach in schools where students are already struggling with impediments to learning.

 Aside from any personal economic realities on the part of educators,  most classrooms have a stock of  high quality materials that have been paid for by the teachers themselves (and not reimbursed: I know, personally, at least 3 teachers who spend around $1500 annually, on classroom supplies).  Not as easy to do, if the base salary is reduced at the onset.

I find it difficult to believe that such an obviously punitive action could have arisen from anything other than a sense of desperation.   There are so many factors which influence how students learn-- nutrition, sleep patterns, prenatal development, home environments and nurturing, teachers and school social climates, TV, social media--the list seems endless.

 Small wonder that we are all grappling with the enormity of how to truly help children to learn and to succeed.

Well, J, for what it's worth: I've been teaching for more than twenty years.  Seems to me that small class sizes and active, experience-based learning is where it's at.

And, by the way, as you know--- test scores do not reflect anyone's true learning---or the work that's been put into teaching.

Want to have a clearer view of that, J?  Look through a portfolio of student work.

  Or look at our portfolios--as educators, our portfolios are walking around us and talking with us, each day.

 We're working in their lives--for the whole child, not just for their test scores.  Working to help safeguard their  sense of wonder about life, their courage and their curiosity. Working to strengthen both  their skills and their joy in learning .  Working--in the words of Zoltan Kodaly--to 'instill a thirst ... which will last a lifetime": a lifetime of learning.

I'm thinking that's newsworthy.

More, later.

What enchants you?

Hey J,

Found a great idea over on Dudecraft:  tiny 'record album' gift tags that are easy to make.                     
(www.dudecraft.com ---look in the search box under 'Mini LP Record Gift Tags") 

Love how it looks; the tiny size is enticing.  In fact, I find working with miniatures enchanting, all around.

In this instance, I'm planning to have my students create their own albums--- listening to several music selections while they create the miniature albums.  They'll choose a favorite piece and write it up as album notes. And draw the album covers (while listening to the tunes again).

 Then, we'll shrink their work on the copier, incorporate the notes on the templates (that are also available on the website) and--there we are!--they've created their own 'My Faves" album.  (Thanks to Paul Overton, from whose website the whole idea originated.)

The kids were so excited, and eager to get going on the project.  They listened with far more care than usual, and discussed the music with lots of detail.  Yay...

We're also going to create tiny 'Musical Treasure Boxes'---from white pastry boxes (purchased in bulk at a local restaurant supply store).  Each child will decorate his/her own box, and create 'locks' from ribbons and buttons.

We'll fill them with their tiny Music Journals (little, half or quarter-size booklets about rhythm or melody or listening or composition or just plain thoughts about music), and---of course--the various album miniatures they create.

And whatever else we can think of, that has to do with music and dance.

"How did all of this come about?",  I'll bet you're asking.

Well.  A few days ago, I was leaving a local grocery store when a Mom stopped me and asked, "Were you the Music teacher at our school, years ago?"
"Yes, actually, I was."
"See, Ryan? I told you I recognized her voice."  This, to the (very tall) teenager at her side.
"Ryan? First Grade Ryan, with the big eyes? Last time I saw you, you were hardly as tall as my knee.  Not 'little' Ryan anymore, I guess."
Ryan smiled and looked slightly embarrassed.  When I asked him if he were still involved with music or the arts, he said no, but he liked to sing.

Then he said, "But I remember you.  Well, I don't remember much at all about you, actually.  Or what we did in class. But I do remember your imaginary friend, Harold, and your Jack & Mary stories.  Those were fun."
After we smiled at each other and parted ways, I started to think about my Elementary years.

In truth, J, what I remember was pretty much what Ryan remembered: the stories.  The projects.  The plays.  and---of course, for me--the concerts.

So now it's making me look at what I'm teaching and ask, "How can I make mastering this skill, learning this knowledge, seriously fun for my students?  What form can this take, so that kids find it fascinating--so that they invest themselves in it, and--in consequence--will retain the knowledge, the skills, the memory---and the joy?"

Now there's a question that the kid in me finds endlessly fascinating.  How about you?

More, later.


In praise of amateurs

Hey J,

We rang the bells at the mall tonight, for Salvation Army.

Rang the bells, for real:  a motley crew of adults and children, playing winter holiday tunes on pitched hand bells.

None of us is a professional bell ringer.

Only one of us is professionally trained in music.

The sound was nowhere near as polished as a concert performance or even as the (dreadful) piped-in music crowding the mall air.

Was it fun?  Oh, yeah.

Did we learn how to work together as an ensemble?  Yep.

Was it satisfying, musically, to hear the tunes emerge from chaos into recognizable form?  Yup.

I think, sometimes, we all worry too much about being perfect at everything.  Worry about having to be the best before giving things a go.   Worry so much we sometimes end up not even trying, at all.

Tonight was a brisk reminder to me:  sometimes, it's just plain fun to be an amateur.

more, later.



Check it out!

Hey J,

Found some great information on these websites  (among, probably, millions--but who has the time to look up millions?) about great ideas in education.

The first one is about a movement to include hours spent outside as part of each regular school day, for Kindergarteners. This article gives details about how it's done within the Waldorf school system:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/nyregion/30forest.html.   Interesting--and timely.

The second is a website which is loaded with information about arts and education:
http://www.americansforthearts.org/news/national_arts_news/default.asp.    Seems as though they cover a wide range of news, from arts funding  (see the article on the site, about a moveable FEAST (Funding Emerging Art with Sustainable Tactics)--helping to fund artists through events which use sustainable agriculture, local decision-making, and a fun social outing)  to ways families can encourage artistic learning in children's lives, to the ways in which  our arts-supporting President highlights and encourages the arts nation-wide.

Now if we could only find more time in the day to learn even more!

More, later.