The Importance of Music Education

One Teacher’s Views on the Advocacy of Music in the Schools

Here are partial transcripts, excerpts, and commentary about this blogger’s perspectives on the value and benefits of music education, paraphrased from the program The Edge, produced by the Peters Township High School On-Air Talent class: Episode No. 45, “The Importance of Music Education,”https://archive.org/details/The_Edge_-_Episode_45_-_The_Importance_of_Music_Education

 

The Edge Episode 45

 

music-1781579_1280_GDJOver the years, I have been a strong advocate of equal-access to music and the arts as an essential part the education of all children. This blog will give me an opportunity to put a lot of my thoughts in one place. I am aware that there are many people “out there” who offer the premise that studying music makes you successful in other areas, and you will see that this assumption is well-supported. However, I am not a brain scientist. I cannot confirm research that seems to point to a direct correlation that “the music itself makes us smarter.” It could be that students who are attracted to and become proficient in the arts are somehow uniquely “wired,” have a greater work ethic, or are better intellectually “equipped” to become successful engineers, doctors, lawyers, educators, scientists – you name the career – and enjoy life-long happiness and self-realization. So many of those music-in-our-schools-month fliers say “music is basic,” “music is math,” “music is reading,” “music is science,” etc. and they are right! So, it’s not wrong to bring it up. But we should be fully aware that the primary goal of an education in the arts is for the development of creative self-expression.

In short: music for music’s sake.

When revising our Fine and Performing Arts mission and goals of music education for Middle States accreditation, the music and art teachers in my district centered on several primary goals. Probably the most important one was “to promote the skills of creative self-expression by using music, art, dance, and/or drama as vehicles for defining the students’ self-identity, learning concepts, communicating thoughts and feelings, and exploring mankind’s musical heritage in order to gain a broad cultural and historical perspective.” This statement was written many years ago… prior to the advent of Internet and social media, but perhaps it is even more relevant today!

However, there’s plenty of room here to provide you a wide spectrum of rationale and research from multiple vantage points.

It was my joy to be interviewed by host Sam D’Addieco, a junior percussion player in my South Hills Junior Orchestra. This link takes you to a 30-minute Vimeo recorded in the Peters Township Community Television studio on May 6, 2019. Although this was his assignment for a media class, it really prompted me to do some additional introspection about “what I think I think.” These were some of the issues we discussed… by no means verbatim, but, after all, this is my website. Now I can say what I really meant…

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Initial Questions and Responses

  1. Why did you choose to become a music educator? Music teaching is the greatest job in the world. Every day you deal with the inspirational subject matter of music, and then share it with students who want to be in your class! What could be any better? We guide students towards finding their personal identities, innate artistic and expressive potentials, and successes in making music.
  2. What inspired you to become a music educator in the first place? Were you always going to be a music teacher? I was one of those “goobers” who wanted to “live” in the music room… if I could, participating in band and orchestra eight periods a day! But, up to my Freshman year, I was going to be a doctor or surgeon, thinking that the field of medicine, “saving people’s lives” would be the most exalted career. That is until my Special Biology teacher gave each of us a needle, alcohol swipe, and blood type testing strip, and I found out I was too squeamish to poke myself. What did I really want to do with my life? Share my love of music!
  3. How did you get started in music? Before grade school, my mother signed me up for piano lessons, and I practiced on our Howard baby grand (Baldwin brand) at home reveling in its big, beautiful tone. At school in California, I started out on the snare drum. My piano teacher also introduced me to the violin in the summer between fifth and sixth grade. After that, every new band director I had when I moved to different school districts in Western Pennsylvania switched me to a “what was needed for the band” instrument (baritone then tuba), and my private string teacher moved me to the viola, probably due to the length of my fingers, which eventually became my “major” in college.
  4. Did you have any mentors that helped you along the way? I was blessed with many outstanding music educators, school directors, conductors of local community orchestras, and private instructors. Probablymusic-students-246844_1920_musikschule the one who had the greatest influence on my going into a career of music teaching was Eugene Reichenfeld, who I saw the last period of every day in Orchestra at Penn Hills HS, at least once a week in a private lesson and rehearsals of the Wilkinsburg Civic Symphony on Thursday nights, and over the three summers at the Kennerdell Music and Arts Festival in Venango County. What a role model! Partially blind and losing his hearing, Mr. Reichenfeld played violin, cello, and guitar, and taught uninterrupted until three weeks before he died at the ripe old age of 103!
  5. Any regrets? Absolutely not! My classmates in college dubbed me “mister music ed.” But some of my well-meaning supporters saw other skills in me and tried to talk me into other pursuits. From my senior year in high school to four of five years enrolled in Carnegie-Mellon University, my string professor George Grossman prepared me for employment as a professional musician, even to consider auditioning for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I said, I want to teach students! My CMU music department chair Robert Page and Fine Arts Dean Akram Midani in 1977 urged me to look into enrolling in Harvard summer arts management courses. Again: I want to teach students! Believe-it-or-not, even my own dad encouraged me to rethink my plans. After attending my first Edgewood Elementary 4th grade musical production (1979), he marveled about how much time I devoted  to making music… 6-7 days a week including evenings! He asked me what were my earnings. We compared my first-year salary of $8200 vs. his position as manager in the nuclear division of Westinghouse Company (move the decimal point to the right – nearly $82,000 annual compensation). He suggested a partnership. “Why don’t you join with me, form a company together, and become entrepreneurs, and with a little luck and your obvious work ethic, we could both make a million dollars in a few years.”
  6. conductor-4189841_1280_GordonJohnsonDid your father ever realize why you chose music? In December 1986, Dad came to my choral/orchestra department production of Scrooge, involving over 250 students at my second career assignment, Upper St. Clair High School. After the closing curtain, he came up to me and asked, “Did you do all of this yourself? I answered, “Well, I had a lot of help. I did prepare the students on the dialogue parts in the script, the leads’ solos, chorus harmonies, and orchestra accompaniment, but I needed a drama specialist for coaching the actors and a choreographer for the dances. And yes, I am also the show’s producer, responsible for the printing of the program and tickets, finding people to assist in sewing the costumes, building the sets, running the stage tech, and applying the make-up.” After a short pause, he said something I will never forget: “Wow! This was incredible! You really made a difference to so many of your students’ lives.” He was proud of me, and finally expressed it! (It was a good thing too… he died suddenly of a heart attack exactly two years later when I was in the middle of staging USCHS’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.)

 

Statistics in Support of Music Education

What is the purpose of music in schools? Why is it important to take a creative arts elective throughout your middle to high school education?

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Okay, we can start with the huge body of research published just about everywhere that indicates “music makes you smarter.” Here are just a few examples and sample supportive documentation. (Please take the time to peruse these links!)

Other skills:

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More attitudes:

Several more general links, additional literature that supports the inclusion of music in the school curriculum:

 

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Learning Styles and “Intelligences”

Ever felt like you were a square peg trying to fit in a round hole? Now, lets dive into the concept that “music is a means to learning.”

Intelligence is often defined as our intellectual potential; something we are born with, something that can be measured, and a capacity that is difficult to change. In recent years, however, other views of intelligence have emerged. Also, more research has been applied to learning styles and preferences… all to promote better success in education.

“Many of us are familiar with three general categories in which people learn: visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners. Beyond these three general categories, many theories of and approaches toward human potential have been developed.”

— North Illinois University: https://www.niu.edu/facdev/_pdf/guide/learning/howard_gardner_theory_multiple_intelligences.pdf

In 1983, the theory of “multiple intelligences” was formed by Dr. Howard Gardner, Professor Education at Harvard University, and widely read in his initial book offering Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Supported by Thomas Armstrong (books such as Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom), “the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited.” Instead, Dr. Gardner proposed nine different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults (the first one is my favorite):

  • choral-3871734_1280_gustavorezendeMusical (sound smart)
  • Naturalist (nature smart)
  • Logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart)
  • Existential (life smart)
  • Interpersonal (people smart)
  • Bodily-kinesthetic (body smart)
  • Linguistic (word smart)
  • Intra-personal (self smart)
  • Spatial (picture smart)

“Dr. Gardner says that our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We esteem the highly articulate or logical people of our culture. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live. Unfortunately, many children who have these gifts don’t receive much reinforcement for them in school. Many of these kids, in fact, end up being labeled “learning disabled,” “ADD (attention deficit disorder,” or simply underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren’t addressed by a heavily linguistic or logical-mathematical classroom.”

— American Institute for Learning and Human Development: http://www.institute4learning.com/resources/articles/multiple-intelligences/

saxophone-3246650_1920_congerdesignTransforming the way schools should be run, the multiple intelligences theory suggests that teachers be trained to present their lessons in a wide variety of ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, field trips, inner reflection, and much more. This approach truly “customizes the learning” and provides eight or more potential pathways to learning.

“If a teacher is having difficulty reaching a student in the more traditional linguistic or logical ways of instruction, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests several other ways in which the material might be presented to facilitate effective learning.”

— Thomas Armstrong: http://www.institute4learning.com/resources/articles/multiple-intelligences/

“While a person might be particularly strong in a specific area, such as musical intelligence, he or she most likely possesses a range of abilities. For example, an individual might be strong in verbal, musical, and naturalistic intelligence.”

— Kendra Cherry: https://www.verywellmind.com/gardners-theory-of-multiple-intelligences-2795161

The bottom line? We need music in the schools for a variety of reasons, not the least to systemically and intentionally provide avenues of learning for “music smart” kids as well as to share resources that all teachers across the disciplines may use to enrich their lessons, differentiate the instruction, and “reach” their students.

 

Ever Heard of the Four C’s?

How about defending the rationale that “music makes connections, within us and from the world around us?” Easy!

Music and art courses offer great rigor in developing 21st Century learning skills:

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Released by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2010), the best resource I found when this movement made the headlines was this P21 Arts Skills Map. It was developed to “illustrate the intersection between 21st Century Skills and the Arts. The maps will enable educators, administrators and policymakers to gain concrete examples of how 21st Century Skills can be integrated into core subjects.” With so much more detail, this document provides skill definitions, core subject interactions, outcomes and examples:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • stones-451329_1920_dweedon1Innovation
  • Information Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • Information, Communication, and Technology Literacy
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Self-Direction
  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Productivity and Accountability
  • Leadership and Responsibility
  • Interdisciplinary Themes

“The music classroom is a perfect place to teach critical thinking and problem solving,” says MENC [now NAfME] member Donna Zawatski. Instead of giving students the answers, she asks questions that will clarify the process and lead to better solutions from the students. “Students will define the problem, come up with solutions based on their previous experience, create, and then reflect on what they’ve created,” she says.

— Donna Zawatski, “4C + 1C = 1TGMT,” Illinois Music Educator, Volume 71, No. 3.

 

Creativity is Number One!

One of my favorite educational gurus, probably an expert on creativity in the schools, is Sir Ken Robinson. His most viewed Ted-Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (18 million+) should be required of all pre-service teachers. A great story-teller with a wonderfully dry English sense of humor, Robinson tells a narrative about a child who was not “behaving” very well in school… “coloring outside the lines” and fidgeting in class. According to the primary teacher, she was distracting the other students, and was hard to “contain” and keep her sitting in her seat.

At the insistence of school staff, the parents took the little girl to a psychiatrist. He did a battery of tests on her to find out why she was so “antsy” and… The counselor’s analysis? He said to her parents: “Your child is not sick. She is a dancer. She likes to express herself in movement. Take her to a school that emphasizes dancing.”

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A “quick-from-the-hip” diagnosis might have resulted in prescribing drugs in order to “calm her down” and make her “fit in” better with the traditional school setting.

The rest of the story? The incident he was talking about described the childhood of the super-successful multi-millionaire English ballerina and choreographer of Cats and Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, the late Gillian Lynne.

Creativity is probably the single most essential learning skill… and I have devoted a whole section of my website on the subject, starting with “Creativity in Education” to numerous blogs here.

 

Flexible Thinking, Adaptability, and Problem Solving

In the interview, I asked the question, “What is 1 + 1 + 1?” What I meant to elicit was, “Besides the obvious response of 3, how many different answers can you find to solve this math problem?”

  • 111
  • 11 (in binary)
  • 1 (draw it in the air, one vertical line and two horizontal lines making the Roman numeral I)

Living in the real world (as well as learning the arts), there are very few “one-right answers!” Unlike other subject areas and pursuits, music fosters abstract decision-making in situations where there are no standard answers, analysis of and response to nonverbal communication, and adaptations and respect of divergent styles and methods for personal expression and thinking.

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The arts foster divergent thinking (the ability to consciously generate new ideas that branch out to many possible solutions for a given problem) as well as convergent thinking (the ability to correctly hone in to a single correct solution to a problem).  According to Professor Curtis Bonk on his insightful “Best of Bob” – Instructional Strategies for Thinking, Collaboration, and Motivation” website, “In creativity, convergent thinking often requires taking a novel approach to the problem, seeing the problem from a different perspective, or making a unique association  between parts of the problem.”

“Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.”

— Proverb quoted by Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly

 

Are You of the “Right Mind?”

First, take the Left-Brain/Right-Brain test at the “Best of Bob” website above.

RThe 60s work of Nobel Peace Prize scientist Dr. Roger Sperry pointed to different sections of the brain being used for unique functions of the mind. Accordingly, the left brain is supposed to be more verbal, analytical, and orderly than the right brain. It’s sometimes called the digital brain. It’s better at things like reading, writing, and computations. In contrast, the right brain is purported to be more visual and intuitive. It’s sometimes referred to as the analog brain. It has a more creative and less organized way of thinking.

However, portions of his research, especially about brain hemisphere dominance have been disputed.

“Magnetic resonance imaging of 1,000 people revealed that the human brain doesn’t actually favor one side over the other. The networks on one side aren’t generally stronger than the networks on the other side.”

“The two hemispheres are tied together by bundles of nerve fibers, creating an information highway. Although the two sides function differently, they work together and complement each other. You don’t use only one side of your brain at a time.”

“Whether you’re performing a logical or creative function, you’re receiving input from both sides of your brain. For example, the left brain is credited with language, but the right brain helps you understand context and tone. The left brain handles mathematical equations, but right brain helps out with comparisons and rough estimates.”

Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/left-brain-vs-right-brain

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Here is what I believe. Parts of what we do in music, like interpretation, expressiveness, phrasing, aesthetic sensitivity, and perception of man’s creations around us, etc. involve imagination and intuition, and are more holistic, intuitive – I will call it “right” brained.

In his book A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World, Daniel Pink, formerly a lawyer and the speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore, forecast that most future careers throughout the world will involve the learning skills normally attributed to the right side of the brain – innovation, invention, ingenuity, adaptability, critical thinking and problem-solving, etc., not jobs that are dominated by predetermined or routine actions, instructions, scripting (e.g. tasks that can be done by robots, Legal Zoom for simple wills, or 1-800 tech help hotlines).

I recommend looking into Pink’s books and his “Discussion Guide for Educators.”

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Finally, with so many memories swimming around in my mind, I was asked by Sam what I thought was the greatest achievement of my career (or perhaps he meant what single student did I “inspire” to greatness?).  I replied that there were far too many to count, those blessed “AH HA” moments when a musician, singer, actor, or dancer goes for his dream and realizes his potential… “I made it!” Sometimes they don’t believe in themselves, are afraid to try, and the teacher has to nudge or encourage them. But, once it happens, you can see the sparkle in their eyes! And, even in retirement, they never let you forget their accomplishment(s) and the difference you made in their lives!

Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with the following statements regarding music’s role in everything from self-esteem development to building “symphonic” relationships and connections between seemingly unrelated or dissociated items or events – “putting the pieces of the puzzle together!”

“To be able to play a musical instrument (increasingly well), to be able to express oneself musically, to become friends with others making the same accomplishments, to reach musical goals and achievements — these things help people feel good about themselves. That has lasting value as it relates to nearly all other things in their lives, according to the music educators.”

The Herald Paladium, September 10, 2000

Music also boosts creativity and the ability to see the relationships between seemingly unrelated things—enhancing all learning. Children who have studied music develop faster socially, mentally, and even physically.

Woodwind Brasswind: “How Music Study Relates to Nearly Every School Discipline”

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Simply put, making music in school and life-long learning as adults are FUN! It nurtures our inner voice, feelings, and self-worth. We enjoy the social interactions of participation in an ensemble. Literally, we explore our artistic “souls” and embrace the beauty within and around us. A career of 40+ years of directing orchestras, both in formalized classes and community/youth groups, has been the most inspirational and life-satisfying of pursuits… something I hope I can do for many more years until I reach Moses’ age!

PKF

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com:

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Reference Letters: What To Do?

Reprinted from “A View from the Podium” (Upper St. Clair High School, 2015) for current South Hills Junior Orchestra members and other students seeking recommendation letters from their music teachers.

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If you are requesting a letter of recommendation from any teaching staff member, administrator, minister, coach, or activity sponsor for college entrance, scholarships, awards, or job placement, please follow the instructions of your school counselor AND review/complete the steps below.

Do you have an updated “me-file” on your computer’s desktop? Maintain a bulleted list of accomplishments with dates. Scan archives of awards, programs, commendations, special honors, and significant assessments. This will become the basis for the creation of résumés or portfolios, and background for your college or employment essays.

In person, ask the teacher from whom you want the letter if he/she is willing to do this. This should be an adult in whom you have a great deal of trust and with whom you have had frequent contact. If you have any doubt or misgivings like “Does this professional like me?” or “Will he/she give me a fair rating?” – then you should ask someone else. If you are a current member of SHJO, anyone asking Mr. Fox should have no fear. He will tell you immediately if there is any problem in writing a positive letter.

In my opinion, if you choose the right person to do your letter, you can sign-off your rights to see it before submission to the institution. A student checking “yes” to waiving his/her access to/examination of the reference may look better to the evaluator. Although not required, some may send you a copy of it for your files. That is my standard practice.

Know your deadlines. BY WHEN do you need the reference letters or common app teacher recommendations?

seriestoshare-logo-01As a courtesy to the writer (and modeling good preparation on your part), give at least two to three weeks’ notice (more is better). Remember: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on the teacher’s part.” It would also be polite to “gently remind” the staff member about the final deadline of the recommendation (at least one weekend’s notice). For SHJO, one Saturday ahead of the final deadline would be ideal.

Unless it is an online application or digital reference, the individual requesting the recommendation should provide in advance a pre-stamped self-addressed envelope to be signed, sealed, and mailed directly to any school or organization.

To facilitate “anecdotal references” and confirm accurate data/details, email a mini-résumé of your achievements, particularly those things that can be mentioned in the letter. Try to complete as many of these as possible:

  1. When did you first begin your musical (or other academic specialty) study? When did you join SHJO or other music group?
  2. What classes, ensembles, and/or productions have you participated at school?
  3. What music or academic leadership positions have you served (give specific dates)?
  4. What are your outside activities?
  5. What have you done as community service?
  6. How are you unique? Describe yourself in three to five words.
  7. What qualities or strengths have you exhibited that the staff member, from working with you, could corroborate in the letter?
  8. Can you remember any funny or significant class or rehearsal anecdote that demonstrated growth in your musical technique, expressiveness, student leadership, “team” or ensemble building, or the 21st Century learning skills of creativity, communications, critical thinking, collaboration, and global understanding?
  9. What is your planned major or minor in college, and how did your association with the staff member (his/her classes or activities) help you gain the experience, insight, or confidence to go into this field?

Good luck! PKF  Revised 3/18/19

hi-res logo 2018

The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of Reference Letters: What to Do?

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulfox.blog/foxs-firesides/.

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fireside” by pixeldust

 

If I Were a School Superintendent…

Creativity” Would JoinLiteracy” and “Logic” as the Top Three Educational Priorities

 

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“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.” – Yo-Yo Ma

One of the advantages of teaching and learning in the state of Pennsylvania is that many aspects of specific curriculum and instruction is under local control. We do not have a precocious-432664_1920unified county or state system. “Big Brother” does not dictate all aspects of what is taught.

Of course, the immediate disclaimer is that the local school boards cannot decide everything. You would hear complaints from superintendents about the many federal and state mandates (often unfunded). In addition, I would add my voice against the politics and obsessive focus on standardized testing, coursework with the sole goal of achieving high scores, and the hysterical single-mindedness on providing learning experiences to develop convergent thinking (as opposed to divergent thinking), recently made even worse by the Common (and much more limited) Core movement and curriculum. In some places, this has caused a significant de-emphasis (and in some cases elimination) of the arts, a strategy that fails to meet the needs of “The Whole Child” nor nurtures the development of the 21st Century skills of creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

However, in my experience as a teacher and Curriculum Leader, each individual school district has some autonomy and can devise their own mission/vision and educational plan. This can include the customization and individualization of their academic programs with a new, comprehensive, and actively engaging curriculum, taking into account the special computer-monitor-tablet-and-mobile-1241520needs of a very diversified clientele.

I saw this in action when teachers and administrators designed the K-12 Technology Curriculum at Upper St. Clair School District. Care was taken to include elements of creativity (not originally placed in the first draft). After several revisions, the curriculum committee was proud to publish the competency target “I can apply creative thinking to the creation of original works using technology” under the Grades K-12 strand Creativity and Innovation. Perhaps small steps towards our goal, but for a big purpose!

As Daniel Pink points out, we have already moved away from the total reliance and dominance of the Agricultural Age and Industrial Age, and now even the Information Age that superseded them. One of my favorite quotes from his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the World is, “The era of ‘left brain’ dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which ‘right brain’ qualities – inventiveness, empathy, meaning – predominate.” Referring to the Conceptual Age (creators and empathizes) as the current fourth stage, students need to acquire the tools cornet-593661_1920for success in today’s higher education and jobs. Sure, we want our children to excel at reading, writing, understanding and solving math problems, but now more than ever, we need to place higher priority and greater amounts of time and resources to the goal of teaching students to create and express themselves, and to learn originality, inventiveness, personal innovation, initiative, self-direction, flexibility, adaptability, openness to new and diverse perspectives, and ambiguity.

So, with my “thinking cap on” and the unbridled enthusiasm and freedom to fantasize the creation of a “perfect school,” here are eight ideas from a retired music teacher imagining he accepted the position as “superintendent for a year.” (No one has ever dared to give me this kind of “power!” Besides, I would spend too much money!)

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” – Albert Einstein

1. Staff training

mark-589858_1920My first act as superintendent would be the planning and institution of several new teacher in-service programs.

ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) has recently released a new online course based on the readings and ideas from Patti Drapeau’s book Sparking Student Creativity: Practical Ways to Promote Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving. Six professional development modules will teach integration of creativity into content to meet and extend curriculum standards. ASCD promises that the participants will use a “creativity road map” to plan instruction, and develop strategies to enhance creative tasks and assess creativity lessons:

  • Module 1: Intentional Creativity
  • Module 2: Practical Creativity
  • Module 3: Creativity and Standards
  • Module 4: Creativity and Imagination
  • Module 5: Innovation and Creative Problem Solving
  • Module 6: Creativity and Assessment

For the opening day keynote speaker, barring having the necessary funding (reputed to be unbelievably high) to bring in creativity-in-education expert Sir Ken Robinson, I would invite Daniel Pink to address the staff and share the importance of designing curriculum and instruction around his six “senses” or aptitudes:

  • Design – Moving beyond function to engage the sense.
  • Story – Narrative added to concepts, products, and services – not just argument. Best of the six senses.
  • Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus).
  • Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
  • Play – Bringing humor and light-hardheartedness to education, business, consumer products, and… life, in general.
  • kids-1093758_1920Meaning – the purpose is the journey, giving more meaning to life from inside yourself.

Sponsoring future workshops (spring semester) on what I call “the meat and potatoes” of teaching more creatively and teaching creativity, we would be inspired to have Dr. Curtis Bonk (Indiana University of Bloomington) unpack many of his pedagogical strategies with hands-on breakout sessions for the teachers exploring (his terms) brainstorming and reverse brainstorming, metaphoric thinking, checkerboarding, wet inking/free writing, simulations, semantic webbing or mapping, role playing, etc. (See http://www.indiana.edu/~bobweb/cv_hand.html).

“We are the facilitators of our own creative evolution.” – Bill Hicks

2. Staffing

usctaglineTaking a page from the leadership philosophy of the current superintendent (Dr. Patrick O’Toole) for the Upper St. Clair School District, my former employer, I would install new administrative positions that foster creative self-expression and educational innovation. Our “customization” tagline (logo to the right) is ambitious, unique for most public schools, and articulates the USC organization’s core functions, culture and mission. However, I believe it needed the intentional assignment of extra managerial manpower and flexible foresight in staffing in order to fulfill the school district mission statement: “Developing lifelong learners and responsible citizens for a global society is the mission of the Upper St. Clair School District, served by a responsive and innovative staff who in partnership with the community provides learning experiences that nurture the uniqueness of each child and promotes happiness and success.”

Copying from Dr. O’Toole’s HR playbook, for my imaginary school district in the first year, I would hire a new Supervisor of Customized and Online Learning and an Associate Principal of Program Planning and Innovation, and have both of them report directly to me (the superintendent) every month.

“I believe this passionately: that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.” – Sir Ken Robinson

3. Improving the climate for risk-taking

risk-884117_1280Sir Ken Robinson says the studies show the longer students stay in school the less creative they become. It is all about the willingness to accept risk, instead of seeking conformity or the “one right answer.” We need to venture out from our “comfort zone,” be different, try new ideas or angles, and even fail miserably once in awhile along the way.

Peter Dewitt wrote an interesting blog on the climate of school risk-taking from the perspective of a principal:  http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/2012/10/does_your_school_culture_encourage_risk-taking_or_rule_following.html.

I also recommend reading the article “The Keys to Inquiry (Section II): Big Messages to Communicate Around Learning from Experience” by Tina Grotzer (Harvard Graduate School of Education):  http://hea-www.harvard.edu/ECT/Inquiry/inquiry2text.html.

idea-1020343_1920In our society, at times we do value risk taking. Steven E. Landsburg, author of Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life says that the reason we pay CEOs so much money (in the millions plus stock options and golden parachutes) is to provide enough security for the company executive to take more chances and find new ways to make even more money. Quoted from his book:

“Why are executive salaries so high? Remember that stockholders want executives to take more risks. One way to encourage a person to take risks is to make him wealthy. Other things being equal, multimillionaires are a lot mellower about losing their jobs than people who are worried about how to put their children through college. If you want your corporate president to be receptive to the rocket-powered running shoe project, you need to encourage that kind of mellowness. A high salary helps a lot in that direction.”

caveman-159359_1280Speaking of balancing “risk and rules,” just how creative are YOU? Have you heard about Chindogu, the Japanese concept that combines ingenuity and inventiveness with the absurb? (See http://www.weirdworm.com/10-bizarre-japanese-inventions/.) Created by amateur inventor Kenji Kawakami in the 1980s, “…a chindogu must be both useless and useful at the same time” and have a real purpose (other than making people laugh) but “also be completely unusable.” According to weirdworm.com, “A real prototype of the invention must be made for it to be called chindogu. Unfortunately, the rules also state that chindogu are not to be sold. Once used for commercial gain, the artifact would no longer be chindogu, but a commercially viable product. Chindogu are also not to be patented, but are instead to be considered a gift to the world. Fortunately, many chindogu have been sold, albeit as novelty items, but they are rarely patented.”

“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” – Erich Fromm

4. Generating a daily/weekly lesson target of divergent thinking

think-975605_1920To improve the instruction, both in learning creativity and more creative teaching, let’s move towards practicing more divergent thinking. Teachers would be asked to post in front of their class the “innovative idea of the week” or “creative target for the day.”

Monthly faculty meetings would offer the chance to share some of these “aha” moments and new teaching/learning techniques. This also means we will make a concerted effort to share the creative work of our students. Regarding the education profession, whoever said, “It’s not the sage on the stage, but the guide on the side,” was absolutely right!

My best example of approaching a problem “outside the box” is the nine-dot-puzzle and puzzle solutions. How about a math lesson that asks how many different ways a student could solve the problem 1 + 1 + 1 = , or how to justify these answers: 3 (the sum, the obvious response), 11 (binary), 1 (drawing the Roman Numeral I in three strokes)? Additional examples for teachers of all subjects is about “inventions” and comes from TeacherVision: https://www.teachervision.com/inventions/teacher-resources/6636.html.

“But the person who scored well on an SAT will not necessarily be the best doctor or the best lawyer or the best businessman. These tests do not measure character, leadership, creativity, and perseverance.” – William Julius Wilson

5. Adjusting for balance

We have to re-examine our historic emphasis on summative assessments and final grades vs. providing meaningful feedback using formative assessments. Personally, I have never learned a thing or improved my knowledge or skill from a standardized test. Alternative in-giving-we-receive-1241576assessments, often called authentic, comprehensive, or performance assessments, are usually designed by the teacher to gauge students’ understanding of material. Examples of these measurements are open-ended questions, written compositions, oral presentations, projects, experiments, and portfolios of student work.

I believe that assessment for learning (formative) is preferable and should occur more often than assessment of learning (summative). Yes, we need both, and must print something on the report card. But, classroom activities should model our lives outside… fostering all of the words with “self” prefixes: self-motivation towards self-discovery for self-improvement and self-sufficiency. Creativity is all about “life long learning.”

“Art in the classroom not only spurs creativity, it also inspires learning.” – Mickey Hart

6. Requiring daily instruction in the arts for every student regardless of grade level

school-1063561_1920Day one, there would be more rigorous high school graduation requirements of four years of music or art courses for every student enrolled at the high school. Yes, that would mean hiring a few more teachers… but the payoffs would be instantly evident and promote exponential growth in the creative quotient of every student!

You cannot expect a true understanding of the artistic process without creating your own original work in art or music. Some students try to go through four years of high school, four or more years in a college or university, and another 2-4 years in postgraduate courses, never experiencing a single “goosebump” moment in personal self-expression.

In addition, I was also amazed to find so many building principals and curriculum supervisors who themselves have never completed a single hands-on arts course in high school or college.

Really, this is as silly as not expecting every educator to be computer literate, having advance reading and writing skills, or capable of doing math (grading exams), etc.

clay-1220105_1920Every administrator and teacher in my buildings would be expected to “practice what we preach” and develop their own artistry by participating in an instrumental ensemble, chorus, classes in painting or drawing, pottery or jewelry making, sewing, woodworking, acting, dancing, etc. Sure, as “the boss,” I would even allow some of this during school time. Can you imagine the positive effect it would have on the ensemble programs in all buildings if the teachers, principals, and other school staff also explored singing, playing in the band or orchestra, or performing on stage in the musicals?

“Art is permitted to survive only if it renounces the right to be different, and integrates itself into the omnipotent realm of the profane.” – Theodor Adorno

7. Expanding arts integration in all classes and disciplines

My hypothetical school district would embrace the definition of “arts integration” from the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) Program: “Arts Integration is an APPROACH to TEACHING in which students construct and demonstrate UNDERSTANDING through an ART FORM. Students engage in a CREATIVE PROCESS, which CONNECTS an art form and another subject area and meets EVOLVING OBJECTIVES in both.”

woman-1172718_1920According to CETA, “This approach to teaching is grounded in the belief that learning is actively built, experiential, evolving, collaborative, problem-solving, and reflective. These beliefs are aligned with current research about the nature of learning and with the Constructivist learning theory.” CETA outlined the following “best practices” of this theory that align with arts integration:

  • Drawing on students prior knowledge;
  • Providing active hands-on learning with authentic problems for students to solve in divergent ways;
  • Arranging opportunities for students to learn from each other to enrich their understandings;
  • Engaging students in reflection about what they learned, how they learned it, and what it means to them;
  • Using student assessment of their own and peers’ work as part of the learning experience;
  • Providing opportunities for students to revise and improve their work and
  • Building a positive classroom environment where students are encouraged and supported to take risks, explore possibilities, and where a social, cooperative learning community is created and nurtured.

“The arts, quite simply, nourish the soul. They sustain, comfort, inspire. There is nothing like that exquisite moment when you first discover the beauty of connecting with others in celebration of larger ideals and shared wisdom.” – Gordon Gee

8. Bringing creativity to the Common Core

school-1063552_1920A lot more (ahem) innovative research is needed to merge both creativity and the Common Core (and other so-called “new” educational initiatives when they inevitably come down the pike). Below are a few additional resources. In my “administration,” it would be common practice to share these at faculty and staff meetings… and look for more ways to intentional bring creativity skill instruction to the forefront.

TEACHHUB.com “Creativity Within the Common Core State Standards” http://www.teachhub.com/creativity-within-common-core-state-standards

Just ASK “Creativity and the Common Core” www.justaskpublications.com/just-ask-resource-center/e-newsletters/mccca/creativity-and-the-common-core/

The Arts Education Collaborative has the best bibliography exploring the Common Core and the Arts (http://www.aep-arts.org/resources-2/common-core-and-the-arts/):

Special Report on Education 2012: Arts Education at the Core (December 2013) – A report based on the findings of the Theatre Communications Group’s 2012 Education Survey discussing the impact of Common Core on arts education.

Art and the Common Core (February 2013) – A PowerPoint presentation from an Education Week webinar about arts integration within the Common Core, featuring Susan M. Riley and Lynne Munson, and moderated by Erik Robelen.

The Arts and the Common Core (December 2012) – A report prepared by the College Board monument-1027560_1920for NCASS on connections between the CCSS and the Next Generation Arts Standards.

Use Arts Integration to Enhance Common Core (November 2012) – This post by Susan Riley from Edutopia’s Education Trends blog discusses arts integration as a means to enhance the Common Core.

Guiding Principles for the Arts: Grades K-12 – Developed by David Coleman, this is a discussion on the ways in which arts education intersects with the Common Core areas.

The Arts and the Common Core Curriculum Mapping Project – A guide utilizing the arts in a Common Core curriculum.

Creativity, Critical Thinking, and the New Common Core State Standards (March 2012) – A symposium co-hosted by the Los Angeles Unified School District Arts Education Branch and the Museum of Contemporary Art, bringing together school leaders, teachers, and educators from arts organizations to discuss the impact of the Common Core on their work.

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” – John Steinbeck

My aforementioned school superintendent, a definite arts advocate who “puts his money where his mouth is” in the funding and staffing of an excellent Fine and Performing Arts program at Upper St. Clair, would probably laugh me out of his office for these zany ideas. With the possible exception of a new start-up charter or cyber school or private institution, it is unlikely any elected School Board would ever have the courage to support a total creativity-based curriculum. At least, my wild imagination and arts perspective may have started you thinking on a few improvements that can be considered instead of the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all schooling. Please stay tuned for more “lessons on creativity,” revisit my past blogs on creativity in education, and feel free to comment on anything!

PKF

inspiration-951843_1920

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

 

Retirement = Deferred Gratification

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams

One Music Teacher Retiree’s Soapbox: “I Paid My Dues – Now It’s Time to Reap the Rewards!”

that-s-lame-bad-and-or-stupi-1537799I write these blogs to “get things off my chest.” Fair warning! Unlike other articles on this site, I may project a little negative attitude in this piece, griping in response to what I consider is unfair public opinion.

One thing you discover very quickly during your career and in retirement, when you’re socializing at a party of mixed company, it is never a good idea to bring up the subject of teacher pay and benefits. 

You want to start an argument? In particular, discuss teacher pensions. Jealousy? Disrespect? Certainly not gratitude or understanding!

There’s a view out there that school employees are “public servants” (or should I say “slaves?”) deserving lower salaries, especially considering the fact that their compensation and fringes are funded almost entirely by taxes. “Don’t raise my taxes!” Possibly this is a translation of another unspoken sentiment: “You should not be making more than me!”

in-giving-we-receive-1241576While on this rant, I would also like to complain that I am tired of hearing how teachers only work nine months a year. Someone’s math is really bad when you look at the calendar. Most schools in Pennsylvania start by the fourth week in August for teacher in-service days (definitely before Labor Day) and end by the second week in June, depending on how many snow days or vacation breaks are scheduled in the school year. Closer to ten months?

Anyway, the real point is that I know very few educational professionals who do not constantly bring work home nights and over weekends, and spend their summer months researching, retraining, retooling, and finding new ways to reach their students for the coming term.

my-mad-teacher-1254564There will always be criticism and negative comments about the value of our teachers. Part of this is due to the fact we have all been there. Everyone knows a “bad teacher” who modeled laziness, incompetency, or neglect of duty. You may have had one of these “rotten apples,” or perhaps were forced to endure an educator or coach who demonstrated “abuse of power.”

That being said, I was mystified that some of our greatest parent critics were also the same people who made the most of demands on the educator. It seems crazy that these parents who cried out “no more teacher raises” are the ones who asked me for a last-minute recommendation for their college applicant, extra practices for or rides to/from music festivals, or requested a detailed analysis and recommendations for improvement when their son or daughter didn’t achieve what they wanted at an audition.

So, while these pet peeves are fresh on my mind, I would like to share a retrospective – the benefits and drawbacks of our profession – and why, in balance, I believe music teaching is still one of the most honorable, personally satisfying, and valuable of life’s pursuits!

Public School Music – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

  1. Music education is a “calling,” not just a career. Another definition (applicable to all teaching subjects) is a professional “practice!” Like doctors and lawyers, we marching-band-1440110-1“practice” our job, applying different techniques to each unique situation, focusing on the needs of our “charges,” constantly re-assessing ourselves, retraining and updating our skills, and solving problems.
  2. Most music teachers agree that the profession demands a 24/7 schedule (at least, it feels like it!!)… and yes, that means most Saturdays and many Sundays, not to mention numerous afternoons and evenings after the classes are dismissed. Even when we are not at school, we think about our next lesson/unit, select new music, look for ways to inspire new knowledge and self-expression in our students, prepare the scores or instructional aides, and practice the accompaniments.
  3. For the HS music teacher, what are the five seasons of the year? (1) Fall Festival Auditions/Fall Play/Marching Band, (2) Winter Festivals/Concerts, (3) School Musical/All-States, (4) Spring Concerts/Adjudication Trips, and (5) Summer Camps/Curriculum Writing/Reading Workshops/Professional Development.
  4. I have absolutely no regrets. Having said this, make no mistake about it… the sacrifices were many! We had no time to start a family of our own. Since my wife (also a music teacher) and I were never at home, it would have been considered animal cruelty to purchase a dog. We enjoyed few summer vacations, and those trips we did take had to be short in duration… scheduled around string camp, summer conferences, and marching band rehearsals.
  5. singer-1414613No one goes into education to make a lot of money. With the same level of post-graduate work, nearly every other entry-level job or even being self-employed will fetch much more compensation.This is why it has been hard finding math and science teachers in some localities. They would have to accept major pay-cuts declining jobs in engineering, chemistry, computer science, and the technology industry as opposed to becoming a first-year teacher.
  6. The pay? You have to consider the salaries spanning over 30-40 years! In those early years in public school education (when I started), if you had a family with kids, you were eligible for food stamps. I suppose one should compare the usual range of corporate compensations (much higher) during those active years of employment vs. teacher pensions (higher) during retirement. Does it really equalize in the end?
  7. Compared to other proprietary consultants with highly specialized skills, many music teachers provide free or very-low-cost extra services, uncompensated on-the-spot lessons, etc. I remember on one occasion, a computerized lighting board service technician was able to charge my school district more than $1000 to come from Ohio to fix our controller… as opposed to “Johnny” randomly dropping in to see me after-school for some help in learning to play “a lick” for the concert.
  8. concert-1435286At least, we are doing something we love, and we can take “the joy of making music” to the grave!
  9. Music educators often sponsor fundraisers for their programs (tickets, sales, etc.), and also pour back a lot of their own finances into the extra-curricular activities of their classes/ensembles. I was seldom reimbursed for everything I contributed, although one year, my tax accountant allowed me a $2300 deduction in pizza “gifts” made to my after-school programs!
  10. Musical directors, how much do you dole out? I recall there were always significant out-of-pocket expenses for props, scenery pieces, costumes, etc.
  11. Music education professionals spend time and resources advocating for their programs (indeed even their own music students’ existence). Music and the arts are the first subjects to be cut during school budget crises. Unlike our English or math colleagues, instrumental teachers must recruit for and retain participants in their classes. A significant drop in band or orchestra enrollment is the fastest way to compel the school district to furlough the last-hired music staff member.
  12. Worse yet, it was always demoralizing when a parent came to me to pull his/her child from the ensemble. More often than not, the “quitter” is a musician showing i-myself-1515970great potential and one for whom you have spent much time and effort helping. It was always a crushing blow to hear “Johnny wants to give up playing,” “he is bored,” or “now we will try something new like (ahem) intramural tiddly-winks.” Parents/guardians conceded that it was hard to “make him practice.” My initial  response (if I have the guts to say it, but by then, it was usually too late): “Who is in charge here? Do you make your kids brush their teeth or do their math homework?”
  13. Being a music teacher at a student-centered pro-arts school district in Western Pennsylvania was incredibly satisfying and inspirational. I was one of the lucky ones. At Upper St. Clair School District where I taught for 33 years, the emphasis is/was on “customized learning” and “The Whole Child.” I received all of the administrative help and community support anyone could ask. I was encouraged to take risks, build the string and drama programs, direct countless concerts, plays, musicals, and other lessons in creativity and self-expression, and seek new avenues of professional development.
  14. I also have no regrets in retiring… I knew it was time to turn over a new chapter in my life, recapturing the freedom to try new directions in the journey of retirement.
  15. usctaglineI was relieved that, during a time of state and local budget crunches (when many school districts were not filling retired staff positions), my administration and school directors were true to their mission statement: “Developing lifelong learners and responsible citizens for a global society is the mission of the Upper St. Clair School District, served by a responsive and innovative staff who in partnership with the community provides learning experiences that nurture the uniqueness of each child and promote happiness and success.” When I retired, they hired excellent replacements for all of my former positions: Secondary Orchestra/String Teacher, Grades 1-12 Performing Arts Curriculum Leader, and Spring Musical/Fall Play Director/Producer.
  16. The benefits of retirement are wonderful. Yes, my wife and I enjoy a comfortable public school pension and, although it is now a “fixed income” that will never go up, we really do not have any financial worries… at this point.
  17. With our health and future secured, the “earlier then industry-standard” retirement allows us to do whatever we want… fill and fulfill “bucket lists!”
  18. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow we can “catch-up” on travel, pets, hobbies, volunteer work, gardening, home improvements, and revisiting our “creativity roots” which got us started in the first place towards a career in music and education.
  19. There is still a lot of joy running into appreciative former students and their parents at shopping centers or the grocery store. Our former “music stars” represent the kids we never had, and seeing them move on successfully to raise their own batch of musicians, singers, composers, conductors, or music teachers, literally moves me to tears. There is nothing better than being a music teacher and feeling appreciated!

Why Would Anyone Become a Music Educator?

My father could not understand why all three of his children ended up in music. When he visited my first 4th grade musical production in the spring of 1979 (Edgewood School District, now Woodland Hills), he asked me, “Why in the world would you choose to make your life’s work as a teacher?” Comparing our salaries (the difference of a decimal point – $8,000 for a teacher vs. $80,000 for a nuclear engineer) and the hectic 24/7 nature of my work, he pointed out that if I would go into business with him, as partners we could each make so much more than even he was earning as a manager at Westinghouse.

Although he briefly complimented my performance, he made these remarks after the show, and it burst my bubble. It hurt. I mustered a response like, “Thanks dad for coming, but you should know I always wanted to be a music teacher… to bring to others the incredible joy of making music.”

ColePorterThere is nothing worse than feeling that your father does not approve of who you are or what you want to do with the rest of your life. Of course, I am not alone in having this kind of parental disapproval. American composer and songwriter Cole Porter (who wrote Anything Goes) experienced a similar problem. At the insistence of his rich maternal grandfather for whom he was named after, he entered Yale University and then the Harvard Law School to become a lawyer. However, his true love was music. While at Yale (and secretively from his family), he wrote 300 songs and the words and music to six full-length student shows. Eventually he switched to studying harmony and counterpoint with the Harvard music faculty… the rest is history!

However, my story gets better. When my father attended my Upper St. Clair High School winter production of Scrooge (1982) involving nearly 200 choral students and the orchestra, he began to understand and accept a new perspective – what has become for me “the calling” of music education, theater, and creative collaboration with students. I sat him in the front row, while I conducted the pit orchestra literally feet from him. It was an “Upper St. Clair production” – the beginnings of what we do today – very high levels of artistry and professionalism and strong community support.

After the performance, my dad totally redeemed himself. He asked me, “You did all of this?” He praise me, said it was the greatest thing he had ever seen, and told me how proud he was of me. That was the last time he ever saw one of my shows… he died suddenly of a heart attack two years later almost on the day of my next choral musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

concert-1435286Why choose education? Well, the status of a teacher in some cultures is at the pinnacle of the society’s most cherished and respected. In fact, in some Asian countries, tradition dictates that the eldest rules the entire family, and is often considered a master teacher. The career of a teacher is on the top of the spectrum. The merchant is at the bottom. This is exactly the opposite for today’s Western countries… a worship of wealth, stockbrokers, millionaires, “things,” etc. (Of course, it should be mentioned that, using this analogy, Asian musicians are also at the bottom… considered to be nearly useless in lower socioeconomic agrarian societies.)

A wide-body of research proves that the arts help develop 21st Century learning skills, especially success in creative self-expression, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and communications. We know practitioners of the Performing Arts find meaning and discover their talents and interests, and being involved in music and art brings out the appreciation of the beauty in our lives.

Although, now I’m retired, I was once there… and helped to make this happen!

For more articles on retirement by Paul K. Fox, go to https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/category/retirement-resources/.

retirement-life-1385597-1

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

 

The “Alphabet Soup” of Educational Acronyms

“Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo da Vinci

pmeaArticle submitted for future publication in PMEA News – the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association

foxpaws_logo

Preparing for an employment interview? Looking for that first job or interested in transferring to a new school district?

How well do you know current trends, key “buzz words,” and jargon in education? Even though no music teacher would have trouble identifying the meaning of our own abbreviations like D.C. al Coda or GM (G Major or General Music), administrators would expect that you know relevant and evolving general education terms, such as the following:

  • The Common Core
  • Customization and Differentiation of Instruction
  • The Four Cs – Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical Thinking (21st Century Learning Skills)
  • Flipped Classrooms and Blended Schools
  • HOTS – Higher Order Thinking Skills and DOK – Depth of Knowledge
  • Assessments – Diagnostic, Formative, Summative, Authentic
  • PDE (Pennsylvania Department of Education) SAS (Standards Aligned Systems) Portal
  • UBD (Understanding By Design) Curriculum Development with EU (Enduring Understandings) and EQ (Essential Questions)

Keeping up with the formation of new acronyms is quite a challenge… something you will have to do throughout your entire career. Get started by looking up any of these with which you feel unfamiliar. You can never predict when one of these will pop-up at a job interview!

Just for the fun and the challenge of it, try taking this crossword puzzle. For a printable copy of this article, full-size puzzle grid, clues, the answers and definitions, click on the link at the bottom of the page. Enjoy! PKF

 puzgrid1

Across

1. A multi-tier approach to the early identification, intervention, and support of students with learning and behavioral needs.
3. Statements summarizing important ideas and core processes that are central to a discipline and have lasting value beyond the classroom – what students should understand – not just know or do.
4. A web-based resource for districts/schools to communicate performance results to various constituencies and assist districts and schools in aligning and focusing resources for continuous improvement.
7. A psychiatric disorder in which there are significant problems of attention hyperactivity or acting impulsively that are not age-appropriate.
8. Standards-based, criterion-referenced assessment used to measure a student’s attainment of the academic standards in reading, writing, math, and science.
10. Staff or programs to facilitate the acquisition of English language skills of students whose native or first language is not English.
11. Framework of study in science, technology, engineering, arts, in mathematics, bridging the gap between business and educational goals, and blending of science, the arts, and creativity in school.
13. A comprehensive, researched-based resource identifying six elements for improvement of student achievement developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
15. Developed by Norman L. Webb, the complexity or depth of understanding required to answer or explain an assessment-related item.

Down

2. A customized statement of a child’s present level of performance, annual educational goals, modifications, accommodations, and special education supports and services to meet these goals.
5. A statistical analysis of Pennsylvania state assessments of growth and achievement data, allowing educators to make data-informed instructional decisions to promote student progress.
6. Using a backwards-design focus on the outcomes in order to design curriculum units, a tool utilize for educational planning in “Teaching for Understanding,” advocated by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins.
8. An extended learning opportunity such as a grade-level teaching team or a school committee form to foster collaborative learning among colleagues in order to improve student achievement.
9. Statewide nonprofit organization of over 4500 members, dedicated to promoting the musical development of all Pennsylvania residents, your number one professional development resource.
12. Inquiries focusing on the key concepts in the curriculum, the big ideas and core content, provoking deep thought, lively discussion, and new understanding as well as more questions.
14. A process to document a measure of educator effectiveness based on student achievement of content standards developed for Pennsylvania’s new Educator Effectiveness System.

Click here: Alphabet Soup Educational Acronyms puzzle with answers

Terms used in alphabetical order

ADHD…………. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A psychiatric disorder in which there are significant problems of attention, hyperactivity, or acting impulsively that are not age-appropriate.

DOK……………. Depth of Knowledge: Developed by Norman L. Webb, the complexity or depth of understanding required to answer or explain an assessment related item.

EQ………………. Essential Questions (UBD): Inquiries focusing on the key concepts in the curriculum, the big ideas and core content, provoking deep thought, lively discussion, and new understanding as well as more questions.

ESL……………… English as a Second Language: Staff or programs to facilitate the acquisition of English language skills of students whose native or first language is not English.

EU………………. Enduring Understandings (UBD): Statements summarizing important ideas and core processes that are central to a discipline and have lasting value beyond the classroom—what students should understand—not just know or do.

IEP………………. Individualized Education Program: A customized statement of a child’s present level of performance, annual educational goals, modifications, accommodations, and special education supports and services to meet these goals.

PLC…………….. Professional Learning Communities: An extended learning opportunity such as a grade-level teaching team or a school committee formed to foster collaborative learning among colleagues in order to improve student achievement.

PMEA………….. Pennsylvania Music Educators Association: Statewide nonprofit organization of over 4,500 members, dedicated to promoting the musical development of all PA residents – your number one professional development resource.

PSSA…………… Pennsylvania System of School Assessment: Standards-based, criterion-referenced assessment used to measure a student’s attainment of the academic standards while also determining the degree to which school programs enable students to attain proficiency.

PVAAS………… Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System: A statistical analysis of PA state assessments of growth and achievement data, allowing educators to make data-informed instructional decisions to promote student progress.

RTI……………… Response to Intervention: A multi-tier approach to the early identification, intervention, and support of students with learning and behavioral needs.

SAS…………….. Standards Aligned Systems: A comprehensive, researched-based resource identifying six elements for improvement of student achievement developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

SLO…………….. Student Learning Objectives: A process to document a measure of educator effectiveness based on student achievement of content standards developed for Pennsylvania’s new Educator Effectiveness System.

SPP……………… School Performance Profile: A web-based resource for districts/schools to communicate performance results to various constituencies and assist districts and schools in aligning and focusing resources for continuous improvement.

STEAM……….. Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics: Framework of study in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, bridging the gap between business and educational goals, and blending of science, the arts, and creativity in school.

UBD   Understanding By Design: Using a backwards-design focus on the outcomes in order to design curriculum units, a tool utilized for educational planning in “teaching for understanding” advocated by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins.

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Creative Teaching & Teaching Creativity – Part II – Definitions and Rationale

“I think the single most potent school reform goal would be to place the highest priority on individual creative engagement, and to shape schooling to develop the habits of mind that constitute creative engagement.” – Eric Booth

Warm-up/Review/Refresh

How many rectangles do you see below?

rectangles

What is your initial response? If you said sixteen or seventeen, sorry! You are not even close! The real number is more than 50! (See the exact answer at the end of the article.)

According to Robina Shaheen in her article “Creativity and Education” (Creative Education, Volume 1, No. 3, 2010), interest in creativity historically goes back to Plato’s age and is found in the Greek, Judaic, Christian, and Muslim traditions. She said that a sudden “frenzied” emphasis for the renewal of inventiveness and creativeness in schools (especially in the sciences) came about with the launch of “Sputnik 1” satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957. The supposed failure of engineers from Europe, USA, and other Western countries was attributed to their lack of creativity, which led to the adoption of the National Defense Education Act to accept the concept as important for “prosperity…survival of society.” Since then, there have been several additional “waves of creativity” in education.

From numerous educational visionaries, we have more recently heard the essential need for 21st Century learning skills, including creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communications, and yet our political focus continues to be on high-stakes standardized testing and the ‘common core’ (and very limiting) subjects.

Definitions of Creativity

Numerous scholars, scientists, and educational leaders have provided their perspective on the meaning of creativity:

  • Creativity is defined as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others (from Human Motivation, 3rd ed., by Robert E. Franken)
  • Creative refers to novel products of value, as in “The airplane was a creative invention.” Creative also refers to the person who produces the work, as in, “Picasso was creative.” Creativity, then, refers both to the capacity to produce such works, as in “How can we foster our employees’ creativity?” and to the activity of generating such products, as in “Creativity requires hard work”(from Creativity – Beyond the Myth of Genius by Robert W. Weisberg).
  • Creativity is generating new ideas and concepts, or making connections between ideas where none previously existed (from SmartStorming by Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer).
  • Creativity is the ability to find new solutions to a problem or new modes of expression; thus it brings into existence something new to the individual and to the culture (from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Dr. Betty Edwards).

Creativity According to Sir Ken

“Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.”

“Think of creativity as applied imagination.”

The above quotes are from Sir Ken Robinson, internationally recognized leader in the development of education and creativity, famous for his 2006 and 2010 talks at the prestigious TED Conference, estimated to have been seen by more than 200 million people.

Sir Ken Robinson champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity, and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence. He has been known to say, “We are educating people out of their creativity,” and “Creativity is now as important in education as literacy, and we should teach it with the same status.”

Sir Ken embraces the written works of Howard Gardner (Multiple Intelligences), Robert Steinberg’s three intelligences (analytical, creative, and practical), and Robert Cooper’s “heart brain” and “gut brain.” His own “three features of intelligence” are that they are “diverse, dynamic, and distinctive.”

Through his numerous lectures and online videos, Sir Ken has tried to dispel a few myths on creativity:

  1. Only a few people are really creative. “Everybody has tremendous creative capacities.”
  2. Creativity is for the arts only. “Creativity is a function of everything we do. Education for creativity is about the whole curriculum, not just part of it.”
  3. Creativity is just about letting yourself go. “No, creativity is a disciplined process that requires skill, knowledge, and control, as well as imagination and inspiration.”

In a recent TEDTALKS video on YouTube, he defines three principles crucial for the human mind to flourish, but seem to be currently contradicted by the culture of education:

  • Diversity vs. conformity
  • Curiosity vs. compliance
  • Creativity vs. standardization

See http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley.html for one of his lectures. If you like his presentations, you will love Sir Ken’s two books: Out of Our Mind – Learning to Be Creative, and The Element – How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.

Eric Booth’s Creative Habits of Mind

Eric Booth, a teacher at the Kennedy Center, Stanford University, New York University and the Lincoln Center Institute, and founding editor of the Teaching Artist Journal, maintains that the arts are more than subject matter and disciplines. They serve as modes of cognition that are necessary for every content area and for success in life.

Centering on the essential skills of brainstorming, divergent thinking, metaphoric thinking, flexible thinking, multisensory engagement, and empathy, the following “habits of mind” according to Eric Booth, are key processes, actions, and attitudes activated when we invest ourselves in the flow of creating:

  1. Generating multiple ideas/solutions
  2. Sustaining an inner atmosphere of exploration
  3. Using one’s own voice
  4. Trusting one’s own judgments
  5. Formulating good questions and problems
  6. Improvising
  7. Finding humor
  8. Crafting
  9. Making choices based on a variety of criteria
  10. Inquiring skillfully
  11. Persisting
  12. Self-assessing
  13. Reflecting metacognitively
  14. Thinking analogically
  15. Willingly suspending disbelief
  16. Observing intentionally
  17. Going back and forth between parts & wholes
  18. Trying on multiple points of view
  19. Working with others
  20. Tapping & following intrinsic motivation

He concludes with advocating for the arts and more inquiry-based learning in the schools (quoting Booth):

The “artistic process” encompasses:

  • Asking great questions and identifying good problems
  • Experimenting, while carefully attending to results
  • Cultivating a productive relationship with failure
  • Anticipating challenges and generating imaginative solutions
  • Tolerating uncertainty (even taking pleasure in ambiguity)
  • Engaging in appropriate risk-taking
  • Being resilient
  • Focusing on quality and excellence
  • Self-assessing eagerly & naturally
  • Infusing ongoing reflection into the work at hand
  • Enjoying the process and getting personal satisfaction out of it
  • Connecting to others through an expression of who you really are

Pink’s Points

To round out this provocative philosophy of teaching creativity and creative processes for their own sake, we have the highly entertaining Daniel Pink, author of three best-sellers: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and To Sell Is Human: the Surprising Truth About Moving Others

Daniel Pink talks about his first book on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhKLSTBSgwI

Pink’s core argument in A Whole New Mind… is that “the era of ‘left brain’ dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which ‘right brain’ qualities – inventiveness, empathy, meaning – predominate.”

Tagged as “Pink’s six senses,” he proposes the following new “aptitudes” or abilities that individuals and organizations must master in an outsourced, automated age – and should become fundamental to updating our curriculum, enduring understandings (“big ideas”), essential questions, unit planning, and lesson learning targets:

  • Design
  • Story
  • Symphony
  • Empathy
  • Play
  • Meaning

Roger von Oech

Finally, a very appropriate example of defining creative thinking as “changing contexts” is described by Roger von Oech in his book Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative:

In 1792, the musicians of Franz Joseph Haydn’s orchestra were mad because the Duke had promised them a vacation, but continually had postponed it. They asked Haydn to talk to the Duke about getting some time off. Haydn thought about it, decided to let the music do the talking, and wrote the “Farewell Symphony.” The performance began with a full orchestra, but as the piece goes along, it is scored to need fewer instruments. As each musician finished his part, he blew out his candle, and left the stage. They did this, one by one, until the stage was empty. The Duke got the message and gave them a vacation.

Von Oech concludes with stating that this example illustrates “the creative mind power to transform one thing into another. By changing perspective and playing with our knowledge, we can make the ordinary extraordinary.”

More to come… Care to join the debate?

[Answer to the 4 by 4 rectangles’ puzzle at the top of the page: Remember, a rectangle can be two columns by one row or three rows by one column, etc. The total number is 100!]

Segments of this and other articles on my blog are reprinted from PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association. To see more writings or the complete three-part series on creativity, please go to the following:

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Creative Teaching and Teaching Creativity – Part I – How Creative Are You?

“Creativity is putting your imagination to work, and it’s produced the most extraordinary results in human culture.” – Sir Ken Robinson

The following series of excerpts were originally published in a three-part series for PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association. To read the articles in their entirety, please visit my blog page “Creativity in Education – Are We Ready for a New Paradigm Shift?” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/creativity-in-education-are-we-ready-for-a-new-paradigm-shift/. I have taken the liberty to extract, condense, and even add to this material.

Introduction

Before the Common Core movement came “crashing down on us” commanding an exhaustive redesign of our curriculum and new high-stakes standardized testing, perhaps the more promising and innovative “buzz” was a recommendation to adopt 21st Century learning skill initiatives. Companies, businesses, and governments – the employers of the vast majority of the future work force – did not want their employees to settle for an education based on a “regurgitation of facts and figures,” but to demonstrate mastery of the work-related skills of communications and collaboration, and the thinking skills of critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) group, in order for the United States to be able to “compete in a global society,” a refocus is essential on learning the skills of personal innovation. Advocating for 21st century readiness of every student, P21 emphasizes education in the best practices of creativity, originality, divergent thinking, flexibility and adaptability, communication, personal initiative and self-direction, and leadership and responsibility, among other themes including collaboration, global awareness, financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy, health and wellness awareness, and technology.

How Creative Are You?

Take this quick test, and try to think “outside the box.” This puzzle, first introduced to many of us by Michael Kumer at an early PMEA Summer Leadership Conference, instructs you to link all nine dots using four or fewer straight lines without lifting the pen, and without tracing the same line more than once. Can you solve this using four lines? For advanced visionaries, how about completing it with only three lines? Believe it or not, a super-creative person may be able to find a way to solve this problem with ONE line! (Answers at the end of this article.)

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Numerous measurements have been proposed to evaluate a person’s creativity potential. Check out several of these:

Mind Tools’ questionnaire at http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/creativity-quiz.htm illustrates a model for the “highly creative” personality.

How many of these terms describe YOU?

  • Willingness to take risks
  • Perseverance, drive, commitment to task
  • Curiosity
  • Openness, open-mindedness
  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • Broad interests
  • Valuing originality
  • Intuition, being perceptive
  • Embracing the need to find solutions to problems
  • Being internally occupied, withdrawn, needing privacy
  • Awareness of own creativeness
  • Sense of humor
  • Being attracted by complexity and novelty

Feel free to share your perspective!

Respond to this blog. Be as creative as you want!

(More to come….)

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

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