I’ve written about field trips to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts many times over the past seven years that I have been teaching at Wiley. They are some of my favourite trips to take with students, most likely because they are short bus rides and they expose students to an amazing world-class performance space that is right in their own neighbourhood. Today the two fourth grade classes at Wiley got to go to the Krannert Center for the second time this school year, this time to attend the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra‘s youth concert. When we arrived, a student noticed a bus from Effingham and wondered aloud why someone would come so far. I explained that not every community has a place like the Krannert Center and reminded the students who were listening how fortunate we are to have a space so close and so accessible. (I said this then and write this now while still acknowledging that ticket prices for general admission are often well beyond what my students’ families can afford, especially if they want to take the whole family. This is something that I wish the Krannert Center Board of Directors would consider changing.)
During today’s performance, the students not only got to listen to movements from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, movements from Georges Brizet’s Carmen Overture, and a complete piece by CUSO’s current Composer-in-Residence Stacy Garrop, but they also got to learn about music composition and orchestration as Music Director Stephen Alltop explained concepts such as melody, colour (or timbre), and harmony.
Later in the afternoon, I had my students write letters to the C-U Symphony Orchestra, thanking them for the performance and sharing their favourite parts. I was impressed with the number of students who recognised some of the melodies, the knowledge of different musical instruments, and the personal connections many made. (One student shared that she loved the Peer Gynt Suite because that is the music her mom uses to wake her up each morning.)
I was so proud of all of our fourth graders! They were a model audience, listening intently at the right times, clapping at the end of pieces, responding when asked to, and ignoring the distractions of classes around them that were not quite so well behaved. A huge shout-out to our music teacher, Mrs. V, who arranged this, and the parents who were able to come and help us out!
[NOTE: Neither video is of the C-U Symphony Orchestra, but I wanted videos with the music in case students’ parents saw this and wanted to talk to the children about the music they heard today.]
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!