Friday, March 26, 2010
But it is also true that you don’t have to justify everything you do by attaching a standard or strand to it. In fact, just last week, my principal emailed the staff saying this would be a good time of year to take some time and revisit those community building experiences. Sharing experiences and building community can and should be done just to be done. It creates that safe learning environment you want in your room and with your students. It allows students to share their work, ideas and plans more openly with you. And building community is a skill our students will need for the rest of their lives.
One year, I had a second grade class who truly loved our daily listening time during snack. We listened, reflected and shared every day. Students talked about the music freely and after a while, even spoke about it in their free time to one another.
“I liked your idea about how Beethoven must have really felt sad and angry at the same time when he composed that piece of music,” I heard a girl say to another one day at recess. It was then that I had that “great teacher feeling”. What I was doing was working! Those students were connecting on a new level. They felt comfortable talking with one another even outside of our Active Listening time in class.
That year I also got a great compliment about my class during field day. “Your kids work really well together,” said a parent volunteer in charge of one of the stations. “They have great communication and really look around to see what and who is where.” That made me beam!
Of course this hasn’t happened every year and I probably can’t attribute all that great teamwork to actively listening to music each day. BUT I know that those times, those experiences we shared were real and they surely contributed to a sense of community.
So, as I finish this series for the month, what have I learned? Here is a list:
• Take the time to create experiences.
• Start early in the year.
• Continue throughout the year.
• Be spontaneous sometimes.
• Keep in mind the life skills that are being taught!
What I have discovered and rediscovered is that the biggest part of building community is in creating experiences with your students. When I stop and take time and really DO something with my class, the benefits are nearly immediate. We smile together, laugh together, realize things together but mostly we share – share a common experience with one another. It’s a beautiful thing…
Just yesterday, I was able to share a great experience with my class as we continued to write our Erosion Blues. There I was playing the piano as groups of students came by and started singing the lyrics they had written. As I looked up, I saw the rest of my class singing along, tapping their feet, moving and dancing - PURE JOY! Wow! That will be a memory for all of us.
I know a second grade teacher who is not afraid to bring her students outside during the school day. No worries about not sticking closely to the plan for the day, because she knows how much her students will get out of an outside experience. This is not a teacher who one would call aloof, her feet are firmly set and she is very serious about education. The thing is that she is certain that her students will benefit from a common experience and from that experience she shapes ways for her students to learn. They learn about nature and about the value of getting inspired by something. Oftentimes their experiences are what prompt them to write - to really write from the heart and gut.
When we have a true experience, then we can really learn more about ourselves and others. And that’s one thing that can really help build community!
Thursday, March 25, 2010
This month, our focus is on patience and, quite honestly I wasn't sure what to get them. I came across some toy Slinkies that I had bought a few weeks back and figured I could use them even though I wasn't sure how to tie it in with patience.
First, I decided to make them wait for it. I didn't give it to them until later in the month, and then I thought it would make a cute gift to give on their first day of MCAS, our high stakes test.
I put one slinky on each desk as I prepared the room for the day. The kids were so excited to see them! "Slinky!" they exclaimed as they ripped them out of the plastic. It wasn't long before they discovered that these (cheap) toys didn't work right away... you had to pry them apart to make them slink. Another bonus for having them during our patience month!
Before I asked the students to put the Slinkies in their desks, we talked a little bit about the plastic toys and I worked in additional links to patience.
"These Slinkies are here to remind us to be patient during this testing process. Be patient with me as I read instructions, be patient with others around you and most importantly, be patient with yourselves as you work and write. We are in no rush!"
Then it was time to get up and stretch before we began. We all stood, many students with their Slinkies, and stretched. After sitting back down, I reviewed with the students how to stretch at their seats and when they feel overwhelmed to do a small stretch break before getting back to work.
As I looked around the room, I saw so many kids stretching their Slinkies. So I said, "Be like your Slinky today. Stretch when you need to, and then put yourself back together and smile."
Many of them stretched their Slinky, compressed it and smiled at the smiley face printed on the toy. It was cute and it made me smile.
"See, you can learn a lot from a Slinky," I said, "Now put them in your desk where you know they will be and let's begin!"
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
I do agree with these types of tests. That is, I do agree that students need to be proficient in these skills. However, the approach and the stress on these scores, I do not, but that’s another blog, another day. These tests are a reality for me and teachers across the country and it is during this time that we need to get into high gear as teachers and help our students balance themselves and their minds with some time for fresh air and creativity.
This is also a great time to build community in my classroom. Not only are we “in this together” as we prepare for and take the test, but the activities I choose to do when not testing this week can be crucial to community building.
One activity I will be doing is having students move before testing, during breaks and after testing. And by moving I mean having the students do a combination of aerobics, sports drills, dance and Tae Bo moves I’ve learned along the way. This is fun for me too! I get to do everything from “high knees” to plies in the classroom with my students. It gets our blood pumping and helps us to refocus. (BTW – a tip I’ve learned is to have students move their limbs across their bodies for the best “brain wake up”.)
In the afternoons this week, I will also be working with my class to compose some music! We will be writing the Erosion Blues as a culminating project for our unit on land and water. Integrating with our music teacher has helped prepare the kids for this composition experience.
We already began yesterday morning by taking time to listen to some blues music together, discovering how blues lyrics are written (A,A,B) and starting to write our lyrics to fit the form. The kids are excited about this, especially at the idea that we will (hopefully) have a completed song to record by the end of the week…maybe even with instruments!
Taking this time throughout the week to work on things collaboratively will help us to balance out the severity of the test and more importantly, will help us to bond as we create something new together.
For more about the blues project, visit Composing in the Classroom.
Friday, March 19, 2010
The evening began with an hour of featured poets reciting their original poems. There they stood, poets of all ages and backgrounds sharing their experiences with us - unhinged, unrated, truthful and full of life. They spoke of love and pain, emotion and faith. And all this was recited to the backdrop of live, improvisational music. The poets asked for a certain feel and the musicians started to play, laying out the landscape on which the lyrics of the poems rested.
The second hour was open mic and those who felt it, signed up to recite a poem with or without the band. I, knowing I would regret it if I didn’t, decided to put my name down before I lost my nerve. Ayanna Gallant, the hostess of the night (and guest blogger on TIC) introduced the readers one by one and they got up to read.
One poet was a former student of mine who gave an emotional poem about a tragic childhood experience. And in the end of the poem we heard her be at peace. It was beautiful and poetic, it sucked me in to her experience and emotional past. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought how poetry must have been a healing agent for her and how fortunate for me to have been able to witness this beautiful young lady share this part of her with all of us.
A couple of poets later, it was my turn. Once introduced, I got up to the mic, asking the band leader, Larry Simon to play something rhythmic and sultry with lots of drums. He instructed the rest of the band and the music started to play…
It was like magic how my words melted together with the music. We complimented each other with each nuance of melody and lyric. The words poured out my mouth like satin and I was entranced in the moment created by the sounds all around me.
It was a great experience and I’m glad it was captured on video, or at least you can hear the audio.
Later, as I listened to the performance and remembered the experience, it got me thinking.
Why don’t we do things like this more often? Be creative, share our experiences and build community through these art forms in true, raw, and meaningful ways? For me, reading my poem was pure enjoyment, a thrill, but for others it can be a way to get a message out, to tell a story or act as therapy for their soul.
Why don't we ask students to do this more - write from their experiences, from the gut!?
Another teacher near us had some of his high school students there. Two were being featured that night. HE allows for this in his classroom. He inspires his students to write gutsy poetry that means something real for them in their lives.
We need to do more of this for our children and for ourselves. I am thankful for these field trips. They have helped me to stay inspired in my own teaching so that I can inspire my students!
Next month is jazz and poetry month. What a great excuse to use to try out some poetry writing with my students.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
It’s a simple concept, really: to listen to music each day with your students. It can be ANY music: classical, jazz, rock, music you love! When you take the time to listen to music together as a group many things can happen.
- You share an experience together.
- You can discuss your opinions about the music.
- You can share your interpretations of the music.
- It can open students eyes to how we are different. (And that's ok!)
- You can move together.
- You can make memories together.
- It can open the door for great discussions.
My class listens to music every day during snack time since that is a time we have consistently each day. After we listen, we discuss our ideas, thoughts and interpretations of the music.
If any of your students are hard of hearing, invite them to put their hands on the speakers you are using. The vibrations will stimulate their senses in a similar way that the music stimulates our ears.
The kids get so much out of this! Not only do they enjoy taking a break from the norm and simply listening to music, but they love having the opportunity to share their own opinions about something and having it be accepted as valid. It's not that this can't happen in at other times, but when we take time especially for it, it becomes a special part of the day (for my students AND for me).
Just the other day, we were listening to music by Chopin and when asked what they thought of as they listened, student had so many different interpretations. One student though the piece sounded sad, while another thought it represented love, and still another thought it was joy. They all thought this about the same piece. And when they heard the opinions of others in the class, it was obvious that some of the students were in the midst of an “a-ha” moment: “People really CAN have different opinions about the same thing.” It led itself perfectly to a small discussion about different people’s perspective and how our opinions can be shaped by who we are and the experiences we have had.
This type of learning is so vital to our education and it helps to build community as it allows students see and accept people’s differences.
Listening to music with your class is simple and takes little prep work. Do it a few times a year or every day. You will surely build community in your class if you do.
For more information about sharing listening experiences with your students, check out this article and this resource book.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Well, yes, I could ask them to write the “testing blues”, but that would be the wrong way to focus their energy! Instead, we will write the Erosion Blues as a culminating activity to our unit on Land and Water.
COLLABORATION – My fourth graders will already have a basic understanding of the blues from what they learn in their music class. They learn and play the 12 bar blues. In fact when I wrote this form on the board yesterday, they clearly remembered it and were ready for a refresher. This kind of integrated project is one that I always strive to implement – one that is true to the integrity of the art form and to the curriculum I am teaching. It also provides a time for real collaboration between myself and the music teacher. She has given them a basis of knowledge in the structure of the blues and I’m going to bring other content to the table. Together, the students will synthesize two important areas of study.
CREATIVITY WITHIN A STRUCTURE – The blues has a relatively easy form for writing lyrics: AAB. For each verse there are three lines of lyrics. The first line is (A), then (A) repeats itself, and the last line is different (B). Once students know this basic form, they can really get creative. I will assign a group of students a specific topic in erosion (water erosion, ice erosion, wind erosion, other vocab terms to use) and let them compose.
COMMUNITY – This type of project, where students create together will surely add to the sense of community. With each verse, students will be collaborating as they show what they know about erosion. The part I am looking forward to is hearing how it will all come out in the end. Each group will perform their verse, creating one unified song through the structure of the blues. And for some added greatness, some students will be able to play the 12 bar blues on Orff instruments from the music room.
This musical experience of composing a piece of music is something I’ve been looking forward to doing with my students. (This year I have a particularly musical class.) It is my hope that I’ll be able to post a performance online. More to come!
Saturday, March 13, 2010
There were a couple of themes we seemed to keep returning to: Process, Play and Balance.
In PROCESS, we discussed the importance of stressing the process by which we accomplish things and not just the product. I am reminded of how this does not happen in things such as “on-demand” writing like in much high stakes testing. When my students are asked to write a narrative they must do it in a matter of hours independently. There is no inspiration except for a worded prompt, no time to chat about your ideas before planning a story and no time to walk away from your draft before expecting to edit and revise it. What a shame! The writing process is taken out of the equation.
In art, process is important. When I was in grad school we learned to “Trust the Process” as McNiff’s title states. How pertinent it is to work through things, reflect, and revise in order to come out with quality work.
For more, see this collection of articles about “The Process”.
PLAY also came up quite a bit. Unfortunately, it was the lack of play that was mostly discussed. When that time is not there, the places in our brains that thrive on discovery, experimentation and play start to lose their vitality.
I am sad at the fact that as students get older, the less time they have to play. They need it. We need it. We need that time to create new things, work with new materials and discover new ways of doing things.
In terms of BALANCE, we all seemed to agree that we need balance in all things, including curriculum. It’s like the whole language/phonics based language debate – there needs to be balance. So is true in our teaching and integration of the arts. Our students need the basics (the 3 Rs), but they also need the creative. Our job is to teach with that balance, but we need the autonomy in our classrooms to be able to provide that for our students.
For more on balance, see the article “T.R.I.C.ing Kids”
I am so glad that I am now meeting and collaborating with other teachers in my district that share my views on the importance of the arts. There are more out there and it is my hope that this group will grow in the years to come. For now, this community is just what I need to continue my work as a professional.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
It’s all about experiences – building experiences, sharing experiences, reflecting on them and learning from them. With music, you can create these experiences by playing, creating and listening to music.
This blog, I would like to focus on how I encourage my fourth grade students to play music in the classroom. Playing music might include singing, playing instruments, chanting and doing finger plays. We are all naturally drawn to play music. Sometimes there may be nervousness to it or an anxiety to it, but there is a desire. Some ways you I try to include playing into my teaching are:
Start each day with a Patriotic song
Sing your way through the day
Sing transitions from one activity to the next
Play or sing some eye openers or motivators to gives students breaks in their day
Take out the instruments and play with your students
Have students play using body percussion: clapping, slapping, stomping, etc.
To build community through playing music, I love to bring out the percussion instruments and play in a drum circle! [caption id="attachment_298" align="center" width="300" caption="Some of my former 2nd grade students play percussion instruments together!"][/caption] The first time I did this this year, my students’ eyes widened. After discussing instrument protocol and other necessary things, instruments were in students hands and we started playing. I started with an ostinato and soon students found their own voice through the instruments. The shy girl shook her egg, and the boisterous boy clanged his cymbals, the normally soft spoken little lady was giggling as she swirled her maracas. It was a beautiful thing! And I had given them a change to be individualistic, creative and collaborative all at once.
Sure we made a lot of noise (we actually went into a different part of the school to do this) and sure a teacher walked by, peeked in and, noticing I wasn’t the music teacher, gave me a perplexed look (to which I shouted, “Come join us! I know you want to!”), but we weren’t just having fun – we were building community!
I would like to say that I have kept my promise to myself that I would do this every week, but that is not the case, sadly. BUT I try. We have done it maybe once a month. Even so, it has helped us as a class to focus on ourselves for a period of time, to PLAY, to get our creative juices flowing and to connect with one another. It is truly a wonderful thing!!
Next blog - Musical Experiences - Creating Music!
Undoubtedly, there are students that make a connection with the music or composers that we listen to, be it Beethoven for his power and popularity or jazz for its emotional drive. Sometimes students make connections with the music they are exposed to in other parts in their life. And sometimes parent-musicians come out of the woodwork.
That's what happened yesterday when one of my 4th grade boys came to me upon arrival and showed me several piano books his mother shared with him the night before from when she took lessons. He was excited to fan through the books: Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, a collection of Rachmaninoff and Chopin's Nocturnes. I, catching his enthusiasm, looked with him for a moment, opening a page in the book of Chopin's works looking for a familiar theme to sing with an operatic air. The kids laughed.
But it wasn't until later that day, when the kids were cleaning up from snack that I saw the coolest thing: 4th grade boys excited about Chopin's scores.
“Dude look at these notes. There’s notes on top of other notes. There’s big ones and little ones and this thing… I mean, how do you PLAY that?” Flipping through the pages of a Chopin book of Nocturnes, one boy exclaimed to another and then another one stopped by his desk. I stopped and stared at the scene and smiled... This was awesome! Pure delight, pure amazement!
Then, as if playing air guitar, the boy who brought in the books started followed the notes with his fingers singing the runs of notes.
(That's when I whipped out my camera!) This was truly a day I was proud to be a teacher!
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
March is Music in Our Schools month. So let’s focus a couple of blogs on it! It is not an accident that we chose “community” as the focus for this month either, because music is a very powerful community builder!
Years ago, I came across this wonderful quote:
“No art form creates community as quickly as music.” ~Bobbie McFerrin
I whole heartedly agree. I’ve seen it happen so many times with people of all ages. I’ve been part of the community and played a role in helping to lead a community into creation.
A few years ago, I entered into a master’s degree program in Arts and Learning, where the cohort had already completed two courses. So, I was the newbie. Fortunately for me, the cohort’s next class was in music. Regardless, I was nervous about walking into a situation where others were already acquainted with one another. BUT then we were given instruments and asked to introduce ourselves to one another by playing in turn around the circle. I sang out through my drum and when I was done, all those once strange faces looked back at me with wide grins and an air of acceptance.
A little later we were all invited to play as a drum/percussion circle and after the ostinato began we all joined in: playing to the rhythm, finding our instrument’s place in the piece, getting our groove on and playing as one. And then the most magical thing happened. After quite some time, we all just finished – together. I don’t know what it was, or what causes this to happen, but we, as ONE without communicating with anything else but our instruments and expressions, knew the piece was over and finished it off. It had been our first time working and playing as a group; our first shared experience. From that moment on, I knew I was part of one amazing community – built through music!
Another example of this is from my very recent past – this past Saturday when I was conducting a workshop entitled “Building Creativity, Character and Community Through Music.” We discussed various ways to do this including listening. I took these ladies through the process of having an Active Listening experience using Chopin’s Prelude in A Major, Opus 28 No.7. That 48 seconds of beauty so inspired this group of teachers! They came up with the most wonderful images, stories and poems that they shared. It was in this sharing that we built an immediate community. As we listened, we shared a common experience, and as we shared our interpretations and the poetry inspired by the piece, we built bonds that would otherwise not be explored in a short 3 hour education workshop. (Check out their wonderful poetry here!)
I’d like to think I create these types of opportunities for my students in my classroom too. We listen to music, create music and play music together! Yes, I get them to make some noise and I even get a couple of odd glances from time to time. But I am fortunate to work in a place where community building and arts integration is smiled upon more often than not. This is such an important part of our students’ education, and I wouldn’t dream of leaving it out of my teaching.
Next blog – Ways to integrate music community building in your teaching. Due out Thursday, 3/11.
Monday, March 8, 2010
This is a special collection of poems composed by workshop participants at the TIC Workshop “Building Creativity, Community and Character Through Music” on Saturday 3/6.
These were inspired by Chopin's Prelude in A Major, Op. 28 No.7
Tip Tip Tip Tip Toe
Climb up up up High
Slide down down down Low
The Pink Slippers
tip toes and down
quick – slow, moving around.
Breathe in – hold
then let it go.
End with peace
before you kneel.
in a lyrical way.
I capture the prize
but it is bittersweet.
I must release it and
The loss still haunts.
Finally, filled with love and wealth.
Our two lives joining as one.
How romantic life really is
Waltzing at the Shoals
Quiet voices – Seagull’s cries
1, 2, 3, 4
Morning chill to the air
1, 2, 3, 4
Freedom of pressure
1, 2, 3, 4
living for the moment
1, 2, 3, 4
Smells of coffee + breakfast
1, 2, 3, 4
Swirling in firm arms
1, 2, 3, 4
Waltzing at the Shoals
Light and soft
finished but not
Holding on / letting go
Saturday, March 6, 2010
One very effective way to build community in the classroom is through the arts. You may be an arts teacher or a general ed teacher, a special ed teacher, a musician, an arist or not. It doesn’t matter! If you have a group of students in your room then using the arts to build that safe learning environment can be a powerful tool.
Think about it. If you move with your students, create artwork with them, play or listen to music with them then you are sharing experiences that are special and bonding. As you do and make art together more and more, students will become more trusting of you and their peers and, in turn share more of themselves personally and academically.
When a group, no matter how small or large, creates something and reflects on it, they begin to share pieces of themselves. That process is powerful and if done over time, can be bonding as well. You may start with something as simple as sharing and reflecting on the process students went through to complete a visual art project in science. Or you may decide to listen to music together as you prepare for you day. Yes, your artful community attempts can be connected directly to the curriculum, but they don’t always have to be!
Here is a visual art community activity you might try:
Objective: to create a piece of community art as a group of learners where each person is both valued for their individuality and as part of the whole.
Large piece of paper, about 12 feet long.
Tons of coloring materials including crayons, markers, cray-pas, and colored pencils
- Lay out the large piece of paper on the floor or long table.
- Have students kneel or stand around it and place their two hands on the part of the paper that is in front of them. This is their space to use.
- With a black marker, have students draw a border around the large piece of paper in turn. Students draw a piece of the border on the paper that is in front of them and pass the marker to the next person to continue the border until the whole large paper has one continuous boarder.
- Note – Everyone’s border will be a different design. It does not need to be a straight line. They might do waves or jagged points, etc.
- Tell students that they will now color in their section of the paper how ever they desire using any of the materials you have provided. Their sections will over lap a bit and should “blend” into those of the peers around them. They must color inside the border.
- Once everyone is done, step back and admire your work!
Prompts to give:
- What do you notice about this artwork we have made?
- Talk about the movement/color/shapes in the piece.
- What makes it unique?
- Each person, in turn, give one word (or phrase) about this artwork/the process/the experience.
- Move to another place around our artwork and look at it from a different perspective.
- What else do you notice?
Start to discuss COMMUNITY:
- We are all part of a community.
- We all bring ourselves to this class and each one of us is unique just as each of our pieces in this large piece of art is unique.
- We all fit together.
- Sometimes you need to walk to a different place and look at things from another person’s perspective.
- We will hang this artwork up to remember what we did today and remember that we are a community that works together in this classroom.
There are ways to connect this activity to your curriculum (math, ELA) and you can even take this activity further by discussing it more and adding to it. But I’m going to save that for another blog…
Next blog – Community Built Through Music! due out Tues 3/9
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Why is it important to create a sense of community in your classroom? Easy – it helps with everything, all year. When students feel like they are part of a community, they are more apt to participate in activities, contribute to discussions and work hard. They take pride in what they do, because they feel as if what they do matters. Taking the time to build community helps to create a safe learning environment for both you and your students.
Whether you see your students all day, every day or once a week, this can be a challenge, but it’s possible (and important!). I know teachers that use teambuilding activities at the beginning of the year to help create community. Others assign projects where groups of students poll the class and post the results. Regardless of how, it shouldn’t be overlooked.
What kinds of things do you do to build community in your room?
What are the effects of that work you do?
Please share by commenting below.
Next blog – due out Sat. 3/6 – Building Community Through the Arts (will include an activity to try!)
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
I’ve talked to many teachers about this topic and we all seem to agree that students not only need to feel like they belong to a community in their classrooms, but in their schools and in their town communities as well. (Not to mention teachers need to feel a belonging to a community.) Community can be a very large topic and this month we will focus on ways we teachers create community within our own classrooms. In months to come, we will look at other ways “community” plays a part in our profession.
Team building activities, ice breakers and other games are ways in which we can start to build community with our students. But, other ways to build a trusting community is through shared experiences within your own curriculum. The arts can play a large role in this too. I can’t wait to blog about this topic and I encourage you to add comments, ideas and insights.
Monday, March 1, 2010
I am so honored that you are following me online. The list is growing and that is very exciting! I want to mention to you especially that my new website has relaunched and I would encourage you to visit and add comments there.
Honestly, I am at a crossroads and am unsure as to whether I should continue to blog here or blog exclusively on my new WordPress website. YOUR comments are what drive me to stay here and add my blogs here as well as on the website. I just don't want any visitors to miss your valuable comments.
So...what do you think?