Monday, February 27, 2017

The Problem of the Evolving Classroom

The Problem of the Evolving Classroom

There are so many layers and levels to where this blog post comes from.  First off, it’s the first post in far too long. There has been so much that has happened in these past several months/years and so many things that I feel like I want to jump into and share but….  I will start with Friday. After being out of the classroom for eleven days attending the California All State Music Education Conference (CASMEC) followed by our Ski Week vacation that I took in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon I decided to pick up a book I had probably purchased at last year’s conference (or around that time) called “Common Core: Re-Imagining the Music Rehearsal and Classroom. Standards, curriculum, assessment, and instruction by Paul and Ann Kimpton, published by GIA.

I don’t know why when I came home from a vacation I felt so inspired to pick up a professional book of all things with such an exciting title on the final evening of my vacation but I did. And I finished the book today. Its only 130+ pages, big print, and lots of diagrams, but still for someone like me who never seems to ever have enough time, reading a book of any kind all the way through, is a big deal.

So I read the entire book and it resonated. Not so much the need for the Common Core Standards to be the driving force in classroom or that I feel this push to make sure that I get in line with the standards. In fact, back when this book was written in 2014 the Core Arts Standards had not been finished and only just passed legislation this year to begin the process of revising our state standards. The concept of re-imagining the music rehearsal and classroom honestly is what held me through the entire book. I realized that I have been literally re-imagining my classroom in my minds’ eye. Many of us do this all of the time. I feel like I have been doing it for years and while I move closer I feel like I am still so far. And that distance away from having the music classroom I want to have has left me frustrated and stuck in many aspects of my teaching. I feel like I am not where I want to be.  

I would be the first to tell you I haven’t loved my classroom for a while. Not my physical classroom. It sure needs to be bigger but its re-modeled and I’m comfortable there. It’s fine. I love my students. I loved teaching. I have loved many of our performances, trips and experiences. When it has come to my curriculum, assessment, student independence, and accountability I have wanted more. I have been sitting on the edge of burn out for many years and I keep thinking and trying to find better and more efficient ways to do things. I have been on a journey the last few years that has included a lot of self-reflection both inside and outside of the classroom. I think the best teachers and people do this reflection on a regular basis. 

There are many things that resonated with me in this book but it’s the overall concept that our classroom and schools are evolving and we have to adapt to make sure that we are providing the education that our students, our parent community, and our school want and crave. If we don’t adapt and evolve we may find ourselves obsolete or like me…feeling stuck.  There is so much truth in this as we have to recruit and retain students as well as advocate for funding for our programs and also change to the ever popular block schedule.

I don’t have a problem with block schedule. In some of ways it’s the best thing that’s happened to me. It is so much easier for me to teacher 3-4 classes per day instead of racing through teaching six ensembles. The hardest thing about block schedule is that you don’t see your students every day which puts more accountability back on the student to make sure that there is “focused daily independent practice” outside the music classroom. It became apparent that when we moved to block schedule while it is fantastic to have more time to warm up and not feel so rushed in rehearsal we still didn’t meet every day and so there was an importance on the outside of class time to review music and actually practice. Something my students have struggled with creating a routine for.

In this new schedule one of the drawbacks to not meeting daily is that there is more importance placed on independent student learning outside of the classroom.

After speaking to other teachers and reflecting on my classroom this school year I realized that the concept of homework was really more “outside of class activities” and that those activities needed to be geared towards encouraging independent and focused practicing on fundamentals and the band music. Rehearsal reflections, graphic organizers, goal setting exercises, playing tests, and practice record type activities would need to be implemented to hold students more accountable and help them organize and record their independent practicing, reflection, and musical practice.

Ultimately in many ways that is what this exactly what this book is about. Block schedule ultimately was my catalyst for change because it forced our situation in our band program to be different. I could not, nor do I want to be, the one who is solely responsible for the quality of our musical product. I want my students to work on their fundamentals and concert music outside of class but I also want to teach my students relevant concepts and strategies that can apply to many aspects of their life as a student and citizen.

One of the quotes that resonated with me in the forward of the book was “Current and future music educators will need to adapt their teaching philosophies, strategies, rehearsals, music selection processes, assessment practices, and grading procedures to justify one of the most important subjects a human can study-music!” (pg.9) It was how I had been feeling about my classroom and my rehearsals-they had to change. And they are changing. Many of the things I had been trying in my classroom fit into these categories. I am changing my philosophy on what I think is important for my students to learn in their music education. Everything was impacted by our change to block schedule, my need to not over work, and our after school program schedule.

The forward of the book discusses things that I want for my students. I want my students to make connections between their music study and their everyday lives and future careers. I want my students to be able to apply higher-level musical concepts independently. I want to find ways to make my performance based music classes connected to my students’ everyday life. I want to find ways for my students to be engaged and held accountable to demonstrate, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create content and skills learned in meaningful, self-directed ways.

I do want my classroom to be in line with Common Core and 21st Century Skills because I do want my classes to be in line with current education trends and other classrooms on our campus. I honestly don’t think it’s that big of a stretch to align the connections between our music classroom practices and these standards. My big take away from this book ultimately is that our schools and classrooms are changing and we have to be ready for that. I couldn’t avoid the fact that our school was moving to block schedule. It was a better schedule for me personally so now as the teacher I am tasked with setting up a curriculum that will work within this schedule to set my students up for the best success possible. This book was an inspiring read about ways that we might be able to set up our lessons and units of study to meet these changes head on and ultimately make more meaningful and independent music education experiences with our students.

What next? Well I am going to be dedicating a series on my blog through this journey of re-imagining my classroom as we move to into the three weeks of rehearsal leading to our Concert Band festival season. I hope you check in and join me on this adventure of discovery and application as I pull many of the suggestions from the book into practice as I re-imagine my music classroom.

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