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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In conclusion, 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

Creativity in Education… More Updates

It’s been awhile since I have ventured back into searches for “creativity in education” with blogging on the philosophy and practice of creative learning and creative teaching, two of the most essential needs (and deficiencies) in public school education.

After being inspired by the likes of Sir Ken Robinson (especially from his TedTalks), Ronald A. Beghetto and James C. Kaufman, Curtis Bonk, Eric Booth, Susan M. Brookhart, Susan Engel, Daniel Pink, Robert J. Sternberg and Wendy M. Williams, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, Roger von Oechand, Peter Webster, and many others, I periodically try to fulfill my ongoing mission of spreading the importance of fostering creativity in education, and finding research (and hands-on) material on the related subjects of innovation, inventiveness, curiosity, flexibility, adaptability, critical thinking, artistry, and self-expression.

Here is the latest installment of newly found resources for your perusal.

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Creativity at Work

Linda Naiman, the founder of Creativity at Work, an international consortium of creativity and innovation experts, design thinkers, and arts-based learning practitioners, offers “trainings and workshops to help leaders and their teams develop the creativity, innovation and leadership capabilities required to adapt to change, stay competitive, improve business performance, and make a positive difference in the world. Clients include Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, educational institutions and government organizations.”

From a Creativity at Work blog, Seven Habits of Highly Creative People,  the following points are outlined in homage to Stephen Covey (Oct 24, 1932 – July 16, 2012):

  1. Prepare the ground
  2. Plant seeds for creativity
  3. Live in the question
  4. Feed your brain
  5. Experiment and explore
  6. Replenish your creative stock
  7. Play like a child: the secret to liberating your creativity

 

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The Creativity Crisis

I don’t know how I missed this… Bo Bronson and Ashley Merryman wrote an education article, The Creativity Crisis, for Newsweek, posted on their website on July 10, 2010. Selected excerpts:

Back in 1958, Ted Schwarzrock was an 8-year-old third grader when he became one of the “Torrance kids,” a group of nearly 400 Minneapolis children who completed a series of creativity tasks newly designed by professor E. Paul Torrance. Schwarzrock still vividly remembers the moment when a psychologist handed him a fire truck and asked, “How could you improve this toy to make it better and more fun to play with?” He recalls the psychologist being excited by his answers. In fact, the psychologist’s session notes indicate Schwarzrock rattled off 25 improvements, such as adding a removable ladder and springs to the wheels. That wasn’t the only time he impressed the scholars, who judged Schwarzrock to have “unusual visual perspective” and ‘an ability to synthesize diverse elements into meaningful products.”

Today, Schwarzrock is independently wealthy—he founded and sold three medical-products companies and was a partner in three more. His innovations in health care have been wide ranging, from a portable respiratory oxygen device to skin-absorbing anti-inflammatories to insights into how bacteria become antibiotic-resistant. His latest project could bring down the cost of spine-surgery implants 50 percent. “As a child, I never had an identity as a ‘creative person,’ ” Schwarzrock recalls. “But now that I know, it helps explain a lot of what I felt and went through.”

Creativity has always been prized in American society, but it’s never really been understood. While our creativity scores decline unchecked, the current national strategy for creativity consists of little more than praying for a Greek muse to drop by our houses. The problems we face now, and in the future, simply demand that we do more than just hope for inspiration to strike. Fortunately, the science can help: we know the steps to lead that elusive muse right to our doors.

Newsweek: Bo Bronson and Ashley Merryman

 

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Not to be outdone by Newsweek, TIME published a compilation The Science of Creativity – a series of articles divided into four large chapters:

  1. The Creative Animal
  2. The Creative Mind
  3. Creativity in Action
  4. Creativity at Any Age

The essays, penned by a myriad of authors, are eclectic and intriguing, many of which have appeared in past issues of TIME magazine:

  • The Science of CreativityIntroduction: Striving for the New
  • This Is Your Brain on Creativity
  • Learning from Leonardo
  • Under the Hood
  • Are Neurotics More Creative?
  • A Fine Madness
  • The Power of Sleep
  • Inside the Creative Space
  • Seven Secrets to Unleashing Creativity
  • Pushing Your Envelope
  • Does Screen Time Stunt Kids’ Creativity?
  • You’re Never Too Old
  • When Schools Get Creative
  • How Parents Can Excite and Inspire
  • Eureka Moments
  • The Last Word

Creativity is one of the most human of qualities. But what is creativity, and what makes us creative? The Science of Creativity takes a look at both the science and the art of this world-changing trait—how we define it, how we measure it and what encourages it. With insights from the editors of TIME, this new Special Edition features thought-provoking articles on the meaning of creativity, its part in human history and its role in our future. 

Amazon review of TIME special edition

 

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Creativity in Orchestra

A recent NAfME article was written specifically for orchestral players and their music directors. Even after more than 43 years of conducting orchestras, I would have to admit that helping my instrumentalists to become more creative musicians has always been a challenge. In the Music Educators Journal, Volume 105, Number 3, March 2019, “Integrating Creative Practices into the Orchestra Classroom,” author Leon Park seeks to explore the realm of the “less traditional” in rationale, goals, and techniques to build the capacity of his students’ imagination, innovation, and creativity.

My primary objective as a high school orchestra educator is to help students develop and refine their perpetual and technical acuities as orchestra musicians – from understanding and applying proper instrument-playing technique in functional music theory as they relate to repertoire to reading and translating music notation with accuracy and confidence to interpreting musical compositions with an understanding of the composer’s intent and a sensitive sensitivity toward performing in an expressive manner.

The daily regime of helping my students of achieve these objectives is an extraordinarily enriching yet time-consuming endeavor. As such, I find that opportunities to engage students in experiences that reach beyond the purview of traditional orchestra musicianship – such as improvisation, songwriting, remixing, soundscape in, recording, and looping – are rare.

— Leo Park

After providing a list of hardware, devices, web apps, software, and iOS apps, Park proposes a series of exercises and other creative practices:

  • MEJDrone Improvisation
  • Circle Stringing
  • Soundscapes
  • Melodizing over Chords
  • Recontextualization
  • Songwriting

He also shares a video playlist of creative approaches, primarily string players engaging in creative music-making.

If you currently teach instrumental music, I recommend you read this piece. (You must be a member of the National Association of Music Education for access to its periodical Music Educators Journal.)

Creativity should be at the heart of all the affective areas of the curriculum. Its context is imagination, origination, and invention; but it goes beyond that to include interpretation and personalized imitation. Characteristically it calls upon preference and decision to a greater extent than other modes of thought. It is especially important as “a way of coming to know” through independent, innovative responses to ideas into means of expression.

— John Paynter in Sound and Structure

 

Educational Commission of the States

ECS_Vertical_Tag_1300pxIn a more recent release of EdNote (July 2018), How School Leaders Can Inspire Daily Creativity makes a good case that, “As building-level leaders, school principals play a key role in ensuring every student has access to high-quality and equitable arts learning as part of a well-rounded education,” citing numerous supportive sources:

The article concluded with the following salient statements:

From identifying the arts in a school’s budget to supporting student performances and gallery displays, principals can engage parents and the school community in the school’s educational goals.

While our [administrators’] daily routines may feel less inspired than other activities, it is through innovative ideas and acts of self-expression that shape everyday life as we know it. The arts can provide students with these same opportunities, setting them up for success in school, work and life.

EdNote: Cassandra Quille

 

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The Conversation

Check out What Creativity Really Is – and Why Schools Need It  by Liane Gabora from The Conversation.

Associate Professor of Psychology and Creative Studies, University of British Columbia, Gabora explores “the creative process” in studies from the Interdisciplinary Creativity Research Group.

She examines sorting out these apparently antipodal/opposing concepts:

  • The Conversationinventors vs. imitators
  • creators vs. conformers
  • innovation vs. over-stimulation
  • devaluation of creative personality attributes such as risk taking, impulsivity and independence vs. focus on the reproduction of knowledge and obedience at school

She shares three insightful suggestions on cultivating creativity in the classroom:

  1. “Focus less on the reproduction of information and more on critical thinking and problem solving.”
  2. “Curate activities that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries…”
  3. “Pose questions and challenges, and follow up with opportunities for solitude and reflection.”

 

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Additional Links

A couple more “finds” for your reading pleasure:

Hopefully, readers/followers of this website will send in their own “gems” on creativity. Please feel free to comment and share your own references… so we can collaborate on and re-energize this dialogue.

If you have not had the opportunity to read my past blog-posts on creativity, please take a moment and examine these:

Now go out there and… teach, learn, and be creative!

PKF

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com:

 

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

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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

 

Lessons in Creativity (Part V)

Samples of “Creativity” in Education Journals

In the continuation of this “calling” — my life’s mission on spreading the importance of fostering creativity in education, and finding research (and hands-on) material on the related subjects of innovation, inventiveness, curiosity, flexibility, adaptability, critical thinking, artistry, and self-expression — here is a library of more resources.

The lists below by no means serve as an inclusive or comprehensive bibliography! Some of these articles and authors have been cited before in my past blog-posts. Speaking of which, if you have not read them, take a moment and examine these:

So, what are you waiting for? Click and go! Get out there and peruse this “content” to your heart’s “content!”

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What Started it All…

When I began this blog on creative teaching and learning four years ago, I was initially inspired by the February 2013 issue of ASCD Educational Leadership. I am amazed to find that today many of these articles remain “unlocked” and available via the Internet, although I do not know how long they will remain “free” to nonmembers. (See links below.) Anyone who is interested in further study of imaginative approaches to make learning more interesting and effective (“teaching creatively”) and strategies of teaching that are intended to develop students’ creative thinking or behavior (“teaching for creativity”) should purchase the entire journal or become a subscriber/member of ASCD: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb13/vol70/num05/toc.aspx.

 

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Creativity in Music Education from NAfME

Just when I thought I have seen everything, the March 2017 issue of MEJ (Music Educators Journal) arrived in my mailbox. What a joy! The articles on creativity and music education are listed below. Become a member of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) to receive full access to this journal.

The best introduction and summary to this series is provided by Katherine Strand (first reference below). She poses the challenge, “Ask yourself how you and your students can be more creative in both the classroom and your own lives.”

  • MEJ March 2017: Introduction – Looking Forward to a Creative Future by Katherine Strand
  • MEJ March 2017: Learning to Be Creatively Expressive Performers by Katherine Strand and Brenda Brenner
  • MEJ March 2017: The Neuroscience of Improvisation by Andrew T. Landau and Charles T. Limb
  • MEJ March 2017: Music Listening is Creative by John Kratis Brenner
  • MEJ March 2017: Developing Musical Creativity Reflective and Collaborative Practices by Lisa M. Gruenhagen Brenner
  • MEJ March 2017: Developing Musical Creativity through Improvisation in the Large Performance Classroom by Martin Norgaar

“In the hubbub of everyday teaching, we sometimes forget that each time we look at a child, we are actually looking at the child in the moment as well as the future young adult, the middle-aged working professional, the parent, the grandparent, and the retiree. But that is our job – to see the child as he or she is and also consider what this young person could be and what possible future awaits him or her…

“But what should we pin our hopes on, and what are the positive choices that those who graduate from our schools may have when they leave our music programs? As British author Kenneth Robinson, an international advisor on education in the arts, stated in a 2006 TED talk, we cannot know what futures our students will face, but we do know that they may find a variety of professions and many livelihoods. We hope some of our students will become professional musicians, but realistically, only a small percentage will follow this path. Given that fact, we need to consider how our impact on our students can be broadened – how we may help them reach the best possible futures for themselves.”

— Katherine Strand, Associate Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Education Department in the Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington

 

 

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Other Contributions from Educational Journals

Finally, I wanted to include a few of these older releases, still very relevant and thought-provoking.

  • Kappan November 2013 Visual Thinking Strategies = Critical and Creative Thinking by Mary Moeller, Kay Cutler, Dave Fiedler, and Lisa Weier
  • Kappan September 2012 Flunking Innovation and Creativity by Yong Zhao
  • Kappan October 2010 Learning to Be Creative
  • Kappan June 2002 Test Scores, Creativity, and Global Competitiveness by Gerald W. Bracey
  • MEJ May 1990: Creative Thinking in Music by Peter Webster (2 articles)
  • MEJ May 1990: What is Creativity? What is it Not? by Alfred Balkin
  • MEJ May 1990: Structuring the Music Curriculum for Creative Learning by John Kratis
  • MEJ May 1990: Strategies for Fostering Creative Thinking by Janet L. S. Moore
  • MEJ May 1990: Crosscultural Perspectives of Musical Creativity by Patricia Shehan Campbell
  • MEJ May 1990: Tools and Environments for Musical Creativity by Lyle Davidson

Do you have any “favorite” articles about the pursuit of creativity in the schools? Please feel free to share your recommendations by writing a comment to this blog. Thanks!

PKF

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© 2017 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from FreeImages.com: “The Artist” by Oskar Mellemsether, “Clarinet” by Karl-Erik Bennion, “An Artist” by Alfonso Romero, “Dancer” by Wendy Cain, and “Violin” by Pedro Simao

ESSA, PDE, and Lessons in Creativity IV

Advocate the Arts and Creativity by Providing Feedback to Your State’s Education Department

“With this bill [ESSA], we reaffirm that fundamentally American ideal—that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live, deserves the chance to make of their lives what they will.” — President Barack Obama

In the constantly changing climate of “educational reform,” the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed by President Obama in December 2015 is the latest “flavor” of educational law to come down from Congress, serving as the re-authorization opmeaf the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Each state must now develop and adopt their own “plan” of ESSA implementation. For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is considering some very broad topics for inclusion in its state plan, and is currently asking for feedback from the general public on the following (source – Pennsylvania Music Educators Association – PMEA –  http://www.pmea.net/specialty-areas/advocacy/):

Assessments

  • Can we reduce the amount of time students spent on statewide PSSA testing (grades 3-8)?
  • Is it feasible to test students at multiple times across the school year instead of only once?
  • Can we eliminate double testing for middle school Algebra I students? (Would need to add advance math test in high school for those students.)

Accountability – Measures

  • Future Ready PA Index – a proposed tool to measure school success
  • Increased weight on growth in test scores  versus point-in-time achievement
  • Local options for additional assessments
  • Career ready indicators and meaningful post-secondary student engagement
  • More holistic measures of student success
  • Measures of both inputs (i.e., course offerings) and outcomes (achievement scores)

essaAccountability – Interventions

  • Tailored to local context and school based needs assessment.
  • Intervention for lowest performing schools to include BOTH academic and holistic strategies
  • Level of state intervention to be responsive to student progress over time.

Educator Preparation and Evaluation

  • What are the best strategies to ensure effective, diverse educators and school leaders for all students?
  • What changes in teacher preparation do we need to consider to improve the readiness of new teachers?
  • How to promote alternative pathways to teacher certification?

Mark Despokatis, Chair of the PMEA Council for the Advancement of Music Education, says that music teachers and parents “don’t have to respond to every suggestion, but please feel free to respond to those on which you can provide opinions and feedback.” Comments should be shared directly with the PDE at RA-edESSA@pa.gov. Also, PMEA members should submit their feedback to PMEA via email to Mark Despotakis at mark.despotakis@progrmusic.com.

PDE has provided a PowerPoint presentation about the public listening tour and with a little more background on the above listed suggestions on their website at http://www.education.pa.gov/Pages/tour.aspx#tab-1.

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This blog-series on “creativity and education” maintains the position that a focus on the development of self-expression and artistry in the schools should be at the top of the critical “big four list” for satisfying  “the real purpose of education” – personal discovery, self-improvement, and developing the building blocks for success and happiness in life:

  • Creativity
  • Literacy
  • Logic
  • Global understanding

“Talk is cheap! Educational research, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills movement, and other leading-edge groups, company managers, HR Directors, and the general employee job market have known for a long time what is best for kids and the economy… in a nutshell, the need for more exploration, teaching, and mastery of student creativity, including inquisitiveness, ingenuity, inventiveness, flexibility of thought, and inquiry-based learning! In this era standardized testing, the Common Core revolution, and relentless “teaching to the test,” are we embracing the best practices of “whole child” learning? True customization, individualization, and personalization of education dictate a change in emphasis from not relying purely on lesson targets and assessments of simple objective, one-answer-only, convergent thinking, but moving towards the more complex (and richly meaningful) higher-order, multiple-pathway, divergent thinking – greatly valued skills of analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing.” — Paul K. Fox in “Creativity in Education” https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/creativity-in-education/

Here is your next installment of research and resources on rationale and application of helping our students become more creative. However, do not be shy in vocally expressing your own views and support of the arts to your state legislators and and governor. For the future of education, this is probably the most important role a music advocate can play!

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Google’s Most Cited Sources for Creative Teaching and Learning

  • Creativity in Education edited by Anna Craft, Bob Jeffrey, and Mike Leibling (Continuum 2007)
  • Creativity and Education by Robina Shaheen (Scientific Research 2010) http://file.scirp.org/Html/3369.html
  • Creativity and Education by Hugh Lytton (Routledge 1971/2012)

“Throughout the world, national governments are reorganizing their education systems to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. One of the priorities is promoting creativity and innovation. In the new global economies, the capacity to generate and implement new ideas is vital to economic competitiveness. But education has more than economic purposes: it must enable people to adapt positively to rapid social change and to have lives with meaning and purpose at a time when established cultural values are being challenged on many fronts.” — Ken Robinson in the Preface of Creativity in Education

Creativity in Education provides insightful essays by Margaret A. Boden, Ken Gale, Laura Haringman, Susan Humphries, Dame Tamsyn Imison, Mathilda Marie Joubert, Jenny Leach, Bill Lucas, Bethan Marshall, Kevin McCarthy, Susan Rowe, Leslie Safran, and Peter Woods. The book is divided into two general sections and thirteen chapters:

Part One: Creativity and Individual Empowerment

  • The Art of Creative Teaching
  • Creative Teaching, Teaching Creativity, and Creative Learning
  • Little “c” Creativity
  • Creative Literacy
  • Creativity as “Mindful” Learning: A Case from Learner-Based Education

Part Two: Creativity and Pedagogy

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  • Creativity and Knowledge
  • Teacher Education within Post-Compulsory Education and Training: A Call for a Creative Approach
  • Creating Danger: The Place of the Arts in Education Policy
  • Poised at the Edge: Spirituality and Creativity in Religious Education
  • Creative Leadership” Innovative Practices in a Secondary School
  • Effective Teaching and Learning: The Role of the Creative Parent-Teacher
  • Creating a Climate for Learning at Coombes Infant and Nursery School
  • A Hundred Possibilities: Creativity, Community, and ICT

Although conceived more than ten years ago, this set of comprehensive articles are a “must read.” As Sir Ken Robinson endorsed, these contributions provide arguments that “educating for creativity is a rigorous process based on knowledge and skill; that creativity is not confined to particular activities or people; that creativity flourishes under certain conditions and, in this sense, can be taught.”

Creativity and Education comes to us via Scientific Research Open Access of “Creative Education” 2010, Vol. 1, No. 3. Robina Shaheen shares interesting research focused in her three sections of her paper:

  • The Link Between Creativity and Education
  • Changing Role of Education
  • The Inclusion of Creativity Within Education

She cites numerous authorities in support of the essential rationale for promoting  creativity in schools.

“Fostering creativity in education is intended to address many concerns. As a summary, this includes dealing with ambiguous problems, coping with the fast changing world and facing an uncertain future ( Parkhurst, 1999). Perhaps the most dominant current argument for policy is the economic one. The role of creativity in the economy is being seen as crucial (Burnard, 2006) to assist nations for attaining higher employment, economic achievement (Davies, 2002) and to cope with increased competition. It is for this reason that creativity cannot be “ignored or suppressed through schooling” (Pool e, 1980) or its development be left to chance and mythology” (NESTA, 2002). It is predominantly for this reason that there is a call for its inclusion in education as a fundamental life skill” (Craft, 1999) which needs to be developed to prepare future generations (Parkhurst, 1999) so that they can survive as well as thrive in the twentyfirst century” (Parkhurst, 2006). Developing children’s creativity during their years in education is the start of building human capitalupon which, according to Adam Smith and successive commentators, depends the “wealth of nations (Walberg, 1988).” — Robina Shaheen

child-laptop-1243096Shaheen discloses the new focus of the Foundation Stage Curriculum and National Curriculum for schools in England, with the aim that the school should “enable pupils to think creatively and critically, to solve problems and to make a difference for the better. It should give them the opportunity to become creative, innovative, and enterprising.” The key points on the National Curriculum website are:

  • What is creativity?
  • Why is creativity important?
  • How can you spot creativity?
  • How can teachers promote creativity?
  • How can heads and managers promote creativity?

She concludes that there has been a recent upsurge in “creativity and education” in most European, American, Australian, and East Asian countries, as reflected in their policy documents. She cites the example of what UNESCO now proposes should be taught to Asian students:

  • Rather than “learning how to learn” – “learning how to learn critically”
  • Rather than “learning how to do” – “learning how to do creatively”
  • Rather than “learning how to work together” – “learning how to work constructively”
  • Rather than “learning how to be” – “learning how to be wise.”

Another excellent reading, the book Creativity and Education rounds off the third most cited online reference on this subject.

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Author Hugh Lytton (1921-2002) was a distinguished scholar in the field of developmental psychology. His table of contents displays an amazing wealth of thought-provoking material:

  1. The creative process
    • Imagination and intuition
    • Creative moments
    • The poet’s inspiration
    • The scientist’s insight
  2. “Convergent” and “divergent” thinking, or how intelligent is a creative and how creative is an intelligent person?
    • Origins of intelligence tests
    • Mechanics of intelligence tests
    • Theory of intellect
    • “Intelligence” and “creativity”
    • Do “creativity tests” measure creativity
  3. What are creative people like?
    • Creative men
    • Young creatives
    • Madness and genius
  4. dancing-1240581Nurturing creativity
    • Home background
    • Pre-school education
    • Developing productive thinking
  5. The creative child at school
    • Is education biased against creativity?
    • Teachers’ and pupils’ attitudes
    • Achievements
    • A propitious school climate
    • Teaching for creativity
    • Specialization in arts or science
  6. Retrospect

Although a little pricey, the book is currently available for purchase on Amazon, which provides the following description.

“The author provides a lucid account of creativity and its educational context. He discusses the creative process, the character of different kinds of creativity, creative people, developing creativity, and the creative child at school, to give his readers an understanding of the issues that home or school have to face in fostering a creative, non-habit-bound child. The book should be particularly welcome to all concerned with education in view of the present stress on child-centerd education and on the development of individual children’s abilities, especially their powers of original thought and search to the full.” — Amazon re: Creativity and Education by Hugh Lytton

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Politically, very little is in the forefront on nurturing creativity in education. Our legislators, administrators, and curriculum revisionists continue to be more concerned about standardized tests, the Common Core, and the “basics” of math, reading, and writing. Most states (PA included) do not embrace the recently revised and released National Core Arts Standards, for which “creating” has three major essential targets:

  • Anchor Standard #1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work
  • Anchor Standard #2: Organize artistic ideas and work
  • Anchor Standard #3: Refine and complete artistic work

As stated in the first “lessons in creativity,” we should all venture out on our own expedition… to find additional strategies to implement teaching and learning creativity. As you can see, there is a lot of material to review, at least on the rationale of creativity in education, if not the “how to” of bringing it into the classroom. Happy hunting!

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

Picture credits: Photographers Collwyn Cleveland, Cienpies Design, Nevvit Dilmen, Shamseer Sureash Kumar, John Nyberg, Gerrit Prenger, Jeff Vergara and cover photo artist Cecilia Johansson at http://www.freeimages.com