I love data. Really, I do. I find it incredibly valuable to look at data and interpret the story of what the numbers and facts represent. Data tell us so much about what a student is doing at a specific time, what is happening in a room or a school, and how students, teachers, administrators, and families are operating as a system. I love digging in deep and sifting through the massive amounts of collected data to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
A big component of data these days comes from standardised testing. There are many who thumb their noses at such assessments, rightfully arguing that not all students learn the same way or at the same rate, therefore testing them all the same way does not accurately tell us the whole picture. And I agree, especially with that last part: standardised tests should never be used to determine the whole picture. However, they do give us useful data about part of the picture and we can use that part of the picture to understand how some of the other components are working. Data drives instructional decisions and help us know what we need to do to help our students be successful.
But there are some things in a school setting that can’t be measured by hard data. There are some things that simply cannot be adequately measured, categorised, and tagged. I got a brief glimpse of this today as I went with my class, along with the other fourth grade class and both fifth grade classes, to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts to see and listen to a performance of by Black Violin. This performance was a part of the Krannert Center’s amazing Youth Series, which allows young people the opportunity to watch fantastic performances in a world-class facility for a very low cost. Black Violin, for those who have never heard of them, here’s a video that provides a great explanation of what they do:
For about an hour, our students got to listen to a performance that energised and excited them. I saw students standing up, clapping, singing along, cheering, and full of a pure joy that will never be captured by a standardised test.
And that’s okay. In fact, that is more than okay. It is wonderful! The thing I love most about taking my students to Youth Series performances is that I am able to see a completely different side to my students than I will never get to see in the classroom. The message that Kev and Wil shared is that we should be willing to break out of our boxes, defy stereotypes, and do the unexpected. Watching these two guys on the stage with their violins, playing a synthesis of classical music and hip-hop, is all about breaking stereotypes!
Thank you, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and Black Violin, for making it possible!
Each year our school has a special assembly to celebrate the life and accomplishments of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I don’t know how long this tradition has gone on, but I know it has been many, many years. This year’s assembly kind of snuck up on us, in part because of the two “cold days” we had right after winter break, which is when we usually plan and organise the assembly.
However, we were still able to put together a great program, in large part due to the Herculean efforts of our visual arts teacher and one of our dance/drama/music teachers. Different classes put together presentations, including songs, videos, and poetry recitals. The first graders sang a song about being peacemakers. One of the third grade classes shared a video about ways that they can make Dr. King’s dream a reality. A fifth grade class presented a video of students reading excerpts of poems by Langston Hughes. The other fifth grade class did a song. One of the fourth grade classes (not mine) did an animation based on a poem about Dr. King. (My class was going to do an animation to a song by the Beatles but we simply ran out of time.)
The entire assembly was led by the handsome engagement director guy from the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, who has been a long-time friend to Wiley Elementary School and has become a part of our school family over the years. Families were invited to attend and join in group singing while celebrating the work of a man who dedicated his life to ending racial inequality and fighting for justice. Our society still has a long way to go before we truly achieve the dream that Dr. King shared, but I truly believe we are doing better than we were in the past. This weekend, take some time to reflect on not just what Dr. King did, but also the other men and women who struggled to bring about civil rights for all people.
Practically since the day my students first got to use their Chromebooks in my class this year, there has been a constant request coming from them: wanting to listen to music while doing independent work. For several weeks now, I have held firm against it, but I didn’t have a particular reason why.
The question came up yet again yesterday and I decided to really look into the subject. The first thing I did was turn to the power of social networking, specifically, Twitter. There are teachers from across the nation that I can reach out to with questions and thoughts and requests for feedback and it usually comes within a few hours, if not minutes. I have learned the power of using #edchat when trying to get input, and using a modified form, such as #edtechedchat when looking for people who can help with a specific question. So I quickly posted the question and got some replies right way! (The person I had tagged in the initial post is an administrator I met while at a conference in Chicago before Thanksgiving. His district has done a lot with using Chromebooks and 1:1 technology, so I knew he’d be a good person to ask!)
Then I started looking online for research to support the practice and found several news articles, blog posts, and academic research summaries that supported the practice. So I decided to do what I’ve been doing all year long: I took a chance.
I told my class about the process (because I always want them to understand why we are doing the things we do) and I made this point about monitoring their behviour: one of our classroom expectations, and indeed a district-wide expectation, is for students (and staff) to be responsible. If I truly expect my students to be responsible, that means that I am expecting them to monitor their own behaviour and use the technology and resources we have correctly. I told them that I wouldn’t go around unplugging headphones to try to “catch” them doing the wrong thing; instead, I would trust that they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. (Of course, I would notice what was on their screens as I was moving around the room and helping with questions or offering suggestions as they worked, so it isn’t as if I am leaving them to use technology unsupervised!) I also made sure that they understood that listening to music was only something they could do during independent work time.
The class was excited to try this out. They knew that they had to make good choices in order to maintain this new privilege and they wanted it! So I gave them a few minutes to get situated and then made sure everyone was working. While that happened, Ms. Schultz and I were able to work with individual students, and the students were quiet and focused on their work!
Perhaps one of the greatest things to happen was when a student came to me with her Chromebook and a piece of writing that she felt she had finished. I started to look over it and then realised that I could pull it up on my computer (since all of my students’ writing is shared with me) and work with her on the revising process. We conferenced together, looking at her writing, discussing word choice, moving some parts around, cutting out repetitive phrases, and correcting for spelling, capitalisation, and punctuation, all while maintaining her unique voice. It was exactly what I have wanted to have happen during our Writers’ Workshop time!
I am so excited to do this again tomorrow and to do more conferences with students as they finish their writing and prepare to publish! I haven’t collected any data yet to measure productivity, but I do know from anecdotal observations that students were working, they were focused, and they were allowing others to do the same. That’s counts as improved productivity in my book!
We have a new music teacher in our building. She and I have done some collaborating on classroom management strategies and using boosters to keep my class on track with following expectations. Through a series of semi-coincidences, it turns out that her husband and I are both playing trumpet in a holiday orchestra this year. So when she invited him to come to her music classes today to share the trumpet with the students, she invited me to visit during my students’ scheduled time.
I started playing the trumpet when I was 10 years old, way back in the fifth grade. I started playing for two reasons:
- Two of my oldest brothers had played the trumpet and so my family had ready access to one. (Two other brothers were percussionists and my other older brother played the saxophone.)
- My best friend was going to play trumpet, too, because his grandfather was a trumpet player.
And those are really the only reasons why I started playing. Of my five older brothers, only the oldest, who played trumpet, and the younger of the percussionists kept playing through high school. As far as I know, though, none of my brothers continued with their instruments beyond that, unlike me. I started in fifth grade and continued all the way through my junior year of college. I had to stop then because my class schedule and student teaching prevented me from playing in university concert bands. Then I was invited to join a community wind ensemble at Parkland College by two good buddies of mine. I performed with the Parkland Wind Ensemble for several years but had to quit after getting hired at Wiley and simply not being able to devote the time needed to rehearsals. However, I was able to join a summer community band through the St. Joseph (Illinois) Community Arts Resources program. So I have found a way to continue playing the trumpet.
It was fun sharing some of my skills with the students in my class. While the guest performer is a far better trumpet player than me (he is studying trumpet performance at the university), I consider myself to be a competent ensemble performer. I was able to demonstrate for the class the effect different mutes have on the sound of a trumpet and the difference in sound between a traditional Bb trumpet and an orchestral C trumpet. The music teacher’s husband also brought in his piccolo trumpet, which he calls the baby of the trumpet family. He talked to the students about valves, mouthpieces, timbre, and embouchure (although I don’t think he actually used that last term).
Thanks to our music teacher for inviting me to be a part of her class today! It was a nice way to wrap up our short two-day week. I hope all of my fellow American readers have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!