Monday, December 14, 2009

Beethoven's Birthday - a December Holiday

Yes, in my family, it seems that Beethoven's birthday is its own little holiday. No, we do not have a party or exchange gifts, but we do remember that on December 16th a most magnificent man, one who changed music forever, was born.

My grandfather was, to say the least, a fan of Beethoven's music and life. He celebrated the man's life and found in him a genius with such a life's story. It is this love and appreciation for music that was passed down to my mother, uncle and, of course to me!

Now, as a teacher, I use Beethoven's birthday to celebrate the holiday season in a new way. All month we learn about the man and listen to his music. On his birth week, I do a thematic learning approach and try to fit in all things Beethoven in our lessons: from penmanship practice using Beethoven quotes and developing our understanding about fact and opinion using short articles about his life in reading groups to practicing our math using Beethoven-based word problems.

Each year, my classes enjoy this extra attention to a man whose music they know and love. This year I have a class of very interested students who even want to have a mini recital of Beethoven's music. A handful of students will play excerpts of pieces they know on a variety of instruments. What a fun way to end our 2009 year! I can't wait.

I never would have imagined that a long, forgotten birthday would have had such potential to keep my students focused and excited all the way to the holiday break. But that seems to be what is happening. I love it!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Results of the Teacher Survey in Arts Integration

I have conducted a survey in my school district on arts integration and have discovered that there is a real interest in it! I invited all elementary teachers to participate and as of this blog date, 31 have completed the survey. At this point, I can account for the results as only a "dipstick" of the attitudes and practices of the arts in our district.

There are some roadblocks, however... the top two being time (71%) and curriculum demands (61%), followed by money (45%).

My colleagues, I am proud to say, see and understand the importance of the arts. The vast majority of the participants considering the arts, in general important (85%) and each individual art form questioned (visual, movement/dance, music, poetry, drama, storytelling, technology/media), was also seen as important by the majority. At the top of the list was music (79%), visual arts (72%) and poetry (76%). No art form was seen as unimportant and the only ones that were even considered as "somewhat unimportant" were movement/dance, drama and technology/media all ranging at a mere 3-4% in that category. All other percentages to be accounted for were in the "somewhat important" category.

As for integration, my colleagues who participated in the survey again showed their belief in at least some arts integration by reporting that a majority conduct all of the arts (except drama) on a weekly or daily basis. However, the percentages are not astounding: Visual Arts (48% weekly), movement/dance (27% weekly), music (45% daily), poetry (31% weekly), drama (24% monthly), storytelling (35% weekly), technology/media (41% weekly).

My colleagues are also interested in professional development opportunities in the arts! The majority were interested in opportunities in all art forms, but the highest percentages were for visual arts and music (76%) and poetry (72%). The other options were "no interest" or "not sure". A couple of participants took the time to comment that the reason for indicating that they were disinterested in these opportunities was TIME - either because of other curriculum demands or personal obligations outside of school.

When asked, "If you were given time to collaborate more this other teachers in the area of arts integration, would you?" The majority replied YES (72%), the rest said Maybe and no one said no! (There is opportunity here!!!)

Please note that this survey time frame is not over and once I have more completed surveys, I will update the information.

Also,along with surveying classroom, special ed, and reading teachers, I conducted a separate survey for arts teachers and specialists. These results will be reported in a separate blog...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

TIC - A New Beginning

This may ramble a little - just need to get some thoughts out...

For a leadership class I am currently enrolled in, I am to assess the environment I hope to change. Right now, I am in the middle of doing some reading and developing a survey. This is not easy. I feel like I have one chance to do this initial assessment well. Survey Monkey is the avenue I think I will take in terms of the platform for the assessment. I'm hoping that is the most user friendly for my colleagues. The questions are in arts integration and I plan to survey ALL teachers: classroom, arts, special ed and specialists.

My ultimate goal has been and continues to be focused on the teachers - what they need to develop their craft and feel comfortable in the arts as they teach. The long term goal is to reach out to teachers and to implement some sort of teacher-friendly program/professional development opportunities to do this. Something that is accessible, meaningful and, most importantly practical to the teachers.

I know that so many teachers see the value in arts education and integration, but the pressures being put on us is immense and it is hard to stray away from the basics. However, I believe that there is a way. There are places in our country who have seen such success in arts integration. It is my hope to shed light on this and to help empower teachers who want to integrate TO integrate.

I've been taking small, what I thought were unrelated steps, but the momentum has kicked in in the past few months. With the beginning of The Inspired Classroom's online social network , many teachers have found a place to chat on various arts infused topics in education as well as find a community of like-minded educators.

We also started TEACHER FIELD TRIPS where teacher get together to do various cultural and arts infused activities. (The first one, going dancing, was such FUN!)

I continue to present at conferences and teach workshops in arts and music integration. This is a topic that teachers are into and once they hear the possibilities, they are convinced that there is a place for it in their classrooms!

There are many other possibilities with this too: Professional Learning Communities centered around arts integration, additional publications, community involvement and outreach, the use of artists in residence.

This is truly beginning to take shape and become something more than I anticipated 10 years ago when I started to write down the first sentences of what became my book on my once new computer.

My final note before I finish - "WE" I need a we in this now. I cannot do this alone. I am quickly realizing that the potential to this work is much greater than I am and in order to continue I need the ideas, support and community that other educators and interested persons can bring to the table.

And so, this fall has brought on a new beginning to Yeogirl Press and The Inspired Classroom. It is exciting, stimulating, overwhelming and nerve racking all at once. I guess that's a good sign of what is to come!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Teacher Field Trips

This month, the The Inspired Classroom will be officially starting two new ways to get in touch with teachers - newsletters and field trips!

The first newsletter is set to be sent out on Thursday 11/5. It will be a short intro to TIC (The Inspired Classroom) and hopefully will spark interest and help the network ( gain more membership. Anyone who is interested in submitting articles, both short and long, are encouraged to email submissions to

Our first ever Teacher Field Trip will be held on 11/13. We will be going out dancing in Boston and we already have some interested teachers! The way I figure, in order for us teachers to be inspired, we need to get inspired and part of that is to feed our own creativity.

This is only the beginning, though! In the future TIC hopes to organize field trips to the symphone, to local poetry slams, museums, ropes courses - you name it! If we don't take care of our own creative sides, how can we do that for our students??

Needless to say I am excited! This is the beginning of a new page for TIC. So, help spread the word, get online, share your ideas, get inspired and be inspiring! That's what it is all about!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

21st Century Skills

I've been hearing a lot about 21st century skills! They are all over education, being talked about in the biz world and there was an panel at the AEP (Arts Education Partnership) Forum this past month in Cambridge that talked about these skills and how THE ARTS can play a part in their development in children.

This is a big topic and a way for the arts to be promoted in the schools. Although the skills themselves are not directly associated with the arts, the are embedded in the arts and arts education.

In future blogs I would like to talk more about this and also put this topic in the forum, but for now, here is some basic info on 21st century skills:
Learning and Innovation Skills

* Creativity and Innovation
* Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
* Communication and Collaboration

Information, Media and Technology Skills

* Information Literacy
* Media Literacy
* ICT Literacy

Life and Career Skills
for much more informative and elaborate information, visit

As I mentioned above, these skills can certainly be taught through the arts. This idea of workforce preparedness and people's ability to think critically plays a huge part in this as well.

There is so much to this...more is sure to come.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

response to "Learning to Take Risks, by Taking Risks on Art"

Thank you for sharing this story. It is a true testament to arts education and the values of all arts-infused learning. As a teacher, I hope I inspire my students to develop these skills that are intrinsic to the arts. Not just in arts education, but in arts integration is this possible.

These are the stories and experiences people need to hear in order to trust the arts as being at the core of education. Please continue to share!
See blog:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Being a Creative Teacher is OK! - a lesson in Main Idea

Scripted Teaching - yuck! But is it part of our everyday teaching routine. Our reading and math series are so planned out, that it is rare that I make an actual lesson plan. The editors have given objectives, procedures, warm up activities, enrichment ideas, projects, games, material lists, materials and extra practice, to name a few. Sure I tweak the lessons to fit the needs of my students, but do I dare stray from the book?

Well, YES sometimes I do. In fact, it happened this week and I am so glad I did!

The topic was main idea in the reading series we use and I decided to call on an old favorite of mine - bringing in a guest teacher, "MI". This character (that I become) talks funny, acts funny and gets the point across. MI talks about what he wants to talk about and then asks the kids to come up with reasons why he said what he said. For example, if MI says "Dogs are cute!" One student may give a reason (a supporting detail SD): They tilt their head when they look at you. Then that student comes up and holds up (supports) MI's arm. This goes on a couple more times until the other arm and a leg is being supported by the details for the main idea. There is more to this lesson, but in short:

The kids love it and always ask for more, "When is MI coming back??"

The arts - in this case, drama - bring ideas alive, give life to lessons and help students to gain a deeper understanding of a concept. I can guarantee that these kids will remember MI for years!

Better than a worksheet, huh??

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

So many assessments!

I just attended a workshop about assessments and in particular, we looked at the results of our state's high stakes testing (MCAS). We scanned, compared, looked at the challenges and weaknesses of our students in terms of what is tested and then our principal asked us to create a list of other ways we can show growth in our students aside from the MCAS.

So we broke up into groups and created a list - a list of ALL the other assessments we have and do with our students each year to help us show the growth in our students from year to year. All the while I sat with a burning question: what about the non-paper and pencil, non-timed, non-quantified assessments.???

Finally, one woman spoke up. She asked if we could put authentic assessments up on our list. (YES!) And then we spoke for the last 5 minutes about the true growth we see each day in our students: when they speak in front of the class for the first time, get excited about learning, dance joyfully, write a great story, participate in class. When are THESE things going to "count" as a true means of assessment?

I guess it could start with us - the teachers. We can't hold these stories in, but must share them and in doing so express the importance they carry. It's not about the score, it's about the whole child!

Monday, October 12, 2009

New Discussion Group

Let's start to build community using a new discussion forum we just started. Please, check it out by clicking the link on the website: or by using this URL: . There are a couple of discussions started in the forum tab. Please try it out and add your insights, thought and stories!

Monday, October 5, 2009

In Response to Mae Jemison talk on

Mae Jemison spoke on about connecting and teaching the arts and sciences together.

Thank you for this message. It is necessary that this is widespread and understood. Arts are connected to all disciplines and need to be integrated, infused into all aspects of our education system. Our system is flawed and based in the wrong century.

Too many teachers want to be creative and to integrate disciplines to show the interconnectivity they posses. However, the pressures posed on we teachers prevents this from happening in its true form. All too often, we find ourselves preparing our students for the next high stakes test, when in fact, we need to teach like Muses – Inspiring our students in the Arts and Sciences!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

AEP Forum - An Urgent Message

After attending the two day forum in Cambridge, MA hosted by AEP (Arts Education Partnership), it is evident that there is an urgency to bring arts education and integration into the forefront of our education system. Now is the time to get inspired and be inspiring to your students.

It is through the arts that students can learn such 21st Century Skills as innovation, creativity, determination and initiative: skills that will be necessary , not just beneficial, for our children to compete in the workforce.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Linking Music to Reading

I had the first day of school professional development days this past week and it continued to amaze me how much reading and music are linked! They are innately very similar processes and it's not just in their appreciation and skill, but in the developmental continuum.

In appreciation and skill:
The parallels between reading and music listening are many. For a full description of this, you can view my article on my website entitled Listen Like You Read. In a nutshell, the things we do before, during and after reading and listening are a basis of this similarity. Before: learning about the author or composer, genre, background of the piece; During: enjoying by listening or reading repetitively; After: Interpreting what you read or listen to, responding to it, reflecting upon it.

In developmental continuum:
Listeners, just as readers continue to grow in their skills as they practice them. The most basic of these is in stamina: beginning readers read in small sections, small words, learn sight words, learn phonics. So is true with music. Beginning listeners should not be expected to listen to a long or complex piece of music, especially if it is one you are using to further their education.

On a side note: it is no wonder why young listeners do not appreciate or even desire to listen to Bach and Beethoven. It is often too much for many young ears to handle as Shakespear may be. There may be some sections that are appealing, but such a piece as a whole is just too much.

In providing listening experiences for our children, there are many things to take into consideration.

More to come...

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Music-Literacy Connection

When you think of music, do you think of literacy? Chances are you do not. But the two disciplines have a lot in common and we teachers can take advantage of these similarities to help our students become motivated learners. Over the next few blogs, I would like to explore these ideas and see where it takes us...

Let's first consider music listening with reading. A while back, I wrote an article entitled "Listen Like you Read" and in it I explored the parallels of reading and active listening to music. For example, when someone reads, there are things they do before, during and after the experience. In fact when we teach reading, our lessons are structured around this format.

The same applies to listening to music. Before you listen, you must know some background about the genre, composer or piece. While you listen, you are concentrating on the experience by becoming familiar with the music as you listen to it many times. After you listen, you interpret what you have just experienced by making judgments about the music.

Knowing the background of the music we listen to can be beneficial. We can learn about the composer, the time in which he/she lived or the style of the piece. Learning about and playing some of the instruments that are used can also provide students with some good vocabulary to use later as well as using vocabulary words learned in music class.

As soon as we begin to read a story we are experiencing it. The same goes for listening. The more we listen to a piece of music, the more we remember main themes, hear the detailed layers of the instruments, anticipate familiar or favorite parts and even pick up on new surprises. Listening to good music has the same effect as reading a good story: we want to listen over and over to continue enjoying the experience.

After we have experienced a piece, we are open to interpretation. We think about and
discuss what the piece means to us, making judgments about it, the instruments and even the composer. It is in this stage that integration takes place. Your objective for your students will determine what activity your students may do after they listen. You may want them to write, draw, create something, or practice their speaking skills. The sky is the limit.

There are other parallels to reading and listening to music. Take read alouds. They are used to share experiences, model good reading strategies and build community. The same is with music. When you share listening experiences with your students you are doing something special with your class.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Teach like a Muse

Muses are the nine goddesses that inspire us in the arts and sciences. Yes, I know that they are not real...but the idea that they exist in our mind or our world is quite fascinating to me.

I love the word inspire. It is so enlightening and ever since I started using it in my work with the arts, it has come to mean so much. To be inspiring is to be like a muse and so I sit here and ponder the use of the muse in education. Join me, if you will...

We are getting into this trap of forgetting what is at the core of education - inspiring students. What does it mean to inspire? Without looking up the word, this is my brainstorm: share, guide, question, stretch, challenge
All verbs and all verbs that connect us to true inquisition and learning.

My friend and colleague gave me a sticky pad with a saying on it for my b'day, "Teachers desire to inspire." We do! But maybe we forget about that part sometimes. And how can we not??? We are constantly asked to teach from the books we are given, the material that is tested and in a way that is the new rage. When we don't feel inspired, how can we inspire those we teach? How many teachers are sick of getting the new pedagogy when they know that with a simple change in administration or at least 3-5 quick years, things will change.

What doesn't change though is our love for teaching, our growth as an educator, our loves and passions that we want to share with our students. We may not get much time to do this, but that needs to change. Don't you think???

We need to be muses. For our sake, for our students' sakes and for our future's sake.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pulling away from art to come back to it

One idea I keep coming back to in my mind from reading Dewey is this.

Actually, let me back up. My prob is that I keep thinking that Dewey is defining all experiences as art and it is confusing me. Does that mean that walking down the street is art if you have had an esthetic experience?

NO! I don't think so.

By way of discussions I have realized my problem. I am trying too hard to figure out what art is according to experience. I need forget about or at least de-emphasize the word art and emphasize the word experience. When people have an esthetic experience it can then lead to art making.

I wonder now, about how so many people are intimidated by art in various forms: visual, musical, poetic, dramatic, that in story, etc. I guess that is why I previously offered the idea of introducing the skill of recognizing experiences to my students and drawing their attention to those that stand out as esthetic.

Be de-emphasizing the art, and bringing their attention to the experience, you can then show them (whomever that may be: students, peers, children, adults) how the emotion brought forth by esthetic experiences can lead us to making great art that is personal and real and worthy of making!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dewey's Art as Experience

I am reading this as part of a course I am taking and I've come across some interesting revelations in reading it, pondering it and discussing it with my teacher.

Experiences - they occur all the time, in fact, according to John Dewey life is a string of continuous experiences. He does however differentiate between two types of experiences: esthetic and anesthetic. An anesthetic experience is what our lives are mostly made of – the norms of our life: day to day duties that do not have a significant beginning or end. We are not so much concerned with these experiences in our lives. They are things such as waking up, commuting to work, doing the dishes, going for a walk. We seem to drift from one thing to the next.

An esthetic experience, however, is very different. It is a “wholehearted action” that “moves by its own urge to fulfillment.” (p46) There is an initiation and an end, after which you know you have just had an experience worthy of being label esthetic. It is this “esthetic quality that rounds out an experience into completeness and unity (and causes us to be) emotional.” (p48)

It is necessary to also apply these learnings to education and in particular my classroom. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring to light the fact that our lives are but an abundance of experiences to our students/children? By explaining and discussing this with them, they can start to recognize and share when they have an esthetic experience and further understand what it means to become emotional (in a more complex manner) and work towards artfulness.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Process

During these time of such high-stakes testing, we need to explore new and innovative ways to make sure the arts does not get beaten back, but brought to the forefront.
Who is going to be the first to have the guts to try it? Not just we teachers in the classrooms, but administrators and politicians. I've heard from so many admins who truly believe in the value of arts' ed. They applaud it, encourage it but there is road block to why the arts continues to take second stage...

The problem – high stakes testing, the need for immediate results, more and more of the curriculum being tested

But the arts don’t give immediate results. Actually, that is the point of it. Therein lies the beauty of arts education: preparation, hard work, creation, sharing and fulfillment – a process by which fully capable individuals and team players are made.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More on the Journey

Our students and children are on a journey and we are their teachers, their guides. It is our job to expose them to all that life has to offer.

So here is my ramble...

There was once a time when people gathered around a piano and sang and they weren't afraid to sing, weren't intimidated by song. This is something of the past. Our society has moved on from this. (Unfortunate?? That opinion is up to you) But regardless, in this day and age, it is even more important for all of us, myself included to remember that as life passes us by, we need to remember what is at our fiber. The arts do help us to do this, help us to pause and remember what is beautiful. Sometimes, I look at a bee doing his work in a flower in awe (like the other day) or listen to the layers of a piece of pop music and wonder about how they all melt together so well.

What a shame it is for those who cannot spare the moment to appreciate the world around them. Or even worse, for those who don't even realize there is something there for them to appreciate.

I guess that is one reason why I am so passionate about building a generation that, even with Twitter's briefness and life's to do lists, we can still stop every once in a while and enjoy our journey...the process...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Thought for the Day

Here is my thought...

As teachers, we must create a journey for students to find the joy in the arts, for them to want to know more. To dance, move, reflect, create and personalize what it is that makes them tick.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Values of the Arts

The values are many, but the commitment these day seems so large - most importantly time away from areas in the curriculum which will be tested. I understand. I live this each day in my own classroom, but it is a calling to which we must find the courage – to infuse our students with art – all of it – in order to develop a society of well rounded, fully capable individuals and team players.

Let’s ponder for a moment the hidden curriculum found in arts and arts education:

Determination, value of practice, cooperation, communication, independent work, stick-to-itiveness, sense of self, pride, sense of community, culture

This is not a new platform – that of the hidden values of education, but one that does seem to be brushed aside. They get that from athletics, in school, at home. But in the arts the experiences are real too and cannot be substituted. They are their own experience and who are we to deny that from our children.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Get a community started

There are so many people out there that really do believe in arts education and the values it has on students and people of all ages. I come across these people all the time: at my school, at workshops, online, across the country and down the street.

Music and the arts are being fed to our children when they are babies, toddlers, in preschool and as they grow older and older, their arts education (including exploration and appreciation) gets less and less. We understand what this type of creative expression does for our children's (and our) happiness, balance and sense of self.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a public community for that to happen? A community where people anywhere and any age could share ideas, work together and help bring arts education and integration into the forefront? I would LOVE to see that happen.

If you are interested in being part of one, join The Inspired Classroom group on facebook:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Coffee Dilemma

Coffee - I love it and many of my friends, colleagues and family members do to. In fact, it seems like we may be addicted. And yet, I, even though I drink so much of it, seem to never have enough energy to get done what I would like to get done.

The Coffee Dilemma!

As I go through my day, tired and in need of a boost, I don't give my body what it really needs - a quick power nap, a small rest, water... Instead, I head for another cup of coffee.

Do I really think the more I drink the more awake and productive I become?

It seems as though education over the past years has also become a victim to the Coffee Dilemma! The only difference is that they are not feeding our schools more coffee. They keep feeding our kids more and more of the material that is being tested (specifically math and reading) at the expense of other core subjects... Why? Because that is what is tested!

Are math and reading important? Of course! I am a firm believer in the traditional 3 Rs. Students need balance, though. That's for another blog.

So, if feeding our kids more and more and more of the tested material is the "Coffee", then what is the "Water"? You guessed it...the ARTS!

Who is going to do it? Who is going to be the first one to step in, take that jump and say let's try less of this and more of this? Who's going to have the guts to see it through long enough to see results?

The studies have been done, the results say it loud and clear: the arts help students achieve! And yes, that also includes achieving higher test scores. For more info on studies, visit

It could start with us...we are here right now - interested teachers and parents, caring for the education of our children to become better people, more intelligent people, more well-rounded people.

Coffee? I may start my increased water intake tomorrow and see what happens...

(For now, I'll stop this rant. Blogging is still new to me. I guess I'm testing the waters...)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Getting Started with Music Integration

The first thing you want to do in your classroom is to show your students and fellow teachers that music is important to you and that you value its presence in your classroom. To make this happen is very simple. Make a music center in your room. This is something that can be done quickly and is very effective. For example, if you simply make a small center sign and put a couple of music related materials in it, you have made a statement that you value music whether it be for complex content or exploration.

What can go into a music center? ANYTHING musical. Here are some ideas of thing you may have around your house, can borrow from a friend or music teacher or purchase, if you are so inclined:
~small musical instruments
~books about music
~story books that center around music
~staff paper and pencils
~keyboards (with headphones)
~tape recorder
~small radio
~musical toys (even baby or toddler toys work)

So - don't hesitate! Kids love music and they will gravitate to a music center as a means to be creative and explore! For more on this topic, see the Music Integration Articles button on the left.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Another Return?

It is always in the back of my mind to work on the website and get ideas out, but time gets away from me... As I look at what is here, I am a bit embarrassed. Especially when I think that I had more posts (with comments) that I accidentally deleted. So, for anyone who is reading, please send me a note or email and let me know if there is something you would like to hear about. I am open to your thoughts which will in turn motivate me to keep the website fresh.

That's all for now... more to come!