Life Hacks for Musicians

The Laws of Practicing & More Tips on Preparing Music

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Many of the early South Hills Junior Orchestra “Fox’s Firesides” are about developing new techniques to solve musical problems, dispelling the myth that all you need to do is put in the time. Is there any truth in “practice makes perfect?” Not really. It is more critical that all instrumentalists set-up a regular schedule for focused practice, limiting all distractions, defining and working on goals, and then the truer adage can be modeled: “perfect practice develops perfect playing.”

Perhaps since January is the first month of The New Year, this would be a good time to review the different practice techniques we have already published at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/, especially #1, #4, and #8.

Here are a few more ideas, “borrowed” from my former place of employment – the Upper St. Clair School District Performing Arts Department.

 

THE LAWS OF PRACTICING

The 24-Hour Law – It takes 24 hours for yesterday’s lesson to be learned.

The Perfect Attendance Law – Practicing a little every day always beats cramming.

The Three Musketeers Law – Never practice without a metronome, tuner, or recording device to hear how you sound.

The “Elephant in the Room” Law – One must “face the music,” specifically, the musical passage with which they are struggling the most.

The Sloth Law – When in doubt, play it slower.

 

LIFE HACKS (Practice Edition)

Sloth Hack – Playing slower, to the point that it is impossible to mess up.

Jaws Hack – Slur a passage with which you are struggling.

seriestoshare-logo-01Karaoke Hack – Play the passage in conjunction with your favorite recording of the piece.

Time Trial Hack – Put a timer on for a few minutes and see how much you can accomplish in a short amount of time.

Drop the Bass Hack – If a passage is too high, play it down an octave.

Cheat Code Hack – Simplify a rhythm if you are struggling to learn it.

Here are several additional websites with excellent “hack” recommendations for developing better practice skills, but don’t forget to ask your school music director and private teacher for more advice!

 

Keep up your commitment to and PRACTICE towards real self-improvement, creative self-expression, making beautiful music, and participating in your school and community bands and orchestras!

PKF

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 LIFE HACKS for Musicians

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fireplace” by judenicholson

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

How Retirement Has Changed Me

Part I: One retiree’s quest for learning technology, science, and history

Freedom! “Living the dream” in post-employment life has opened so many new avenues of exploration, allowing me to embrace many things I have always wanted to try. Released from the 24/7 nature of running a music program, classes and/or ensembles (even at rest, your mind is still “back at work” thinking about your next lesson or concert selection – and we all know how much time we spent on extra-curricular activities and professional development), you must now find your own intellectual stimulation, replenish your “curiosity quotient,” rekindle your creative self-expression, and re-invent yourself. laptop-1242490

Gone are the days that my laptop computer was used mostly for taking daily homeroom and class attendance, updating the student data in MMS or the grade-book program, and reading school emails and directives from administration. Thank god, those forms of “technology” are “retired” (probably permanently for me).

Following my own advice from this series of blogs on retirement resources, I have had no trouble “finding purpose, structure, and community,” emphasized by Ernie Zeliniski as key components in his bestselling book, How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. However, keeping track of the schedule (since it is ever-changing) can be a challenge! Our numerous appointments, lunch dates, babysitting chores, volunteer hours, and medical checkups now land at more unpredictable dates. Happily, the iPhone calendar app, which is linked to my wife’s devices, too, calendar-series-2-1192572is the most essential “tech tool” to maintain your “now busier than ever” daily/weekly plan.

It should be mentioned, if you are a fan of Google gmail, there is also an excellent Google Calendar, as well as a place for contacts, documents, and photos stored safely “in the cloud.”

Updates and Passwords

Retirement provides me more time to literally “figure out technology.” Although I would never claim to have much skill as a nerd (nor would I ever try to seek employment as a member of the highly esteemed Geek Squad), I am finally taking the necessary steps to update my software more regularly, download revised apps, and even go as falinux-login-1497422r as changing my passwords. Everyone knows, with hackers lurking around every corner of the Internet, you are supposed to do two things: have a different password for each application, and from time to time, change these passwords. They should not be something someone else could guess, like “1234” or your phone number or the nickname “foxy” for me. A “good” password should utilize numbers, capitalized letters and small-case, and special characters like $, &, or underline. Using a password manager program like Last Pass (my favorite, and it also comes with a “free version”), you can generate totally random characters for any password and maintain a secure “password vault” under one “master password.” For password manager reviews, check out PC Magazine: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp.

Media Moments

When I was teaching, after a long day of classes and rehearsals, the purpose of the television was to put me to sleep when I got home. Of course, that has not changed much. I hate television. There are very few programs in which I am interested. However, I finally got around to discovering what Amazon Prime and Netflix offer. Crazy old Trekkies like me can now can view every episode of the original Star Trek series in chronological order. When my wife revisits her fixation on the new Gilmoreleo-logo Girls three-part movie or The Crown (Netflix), all I have to do is go into another room, fire up my computer’s browser, and check out the latest video podcast of “Leo the Tech Guy” (techguylabs.com) or any number of the playlists of Ted Talks (these about music caught my notice):

silent-serviceOne of my hobbies furthest from a career in music education has to do with collecting and reading books about World War II, particularly U.S. Navy, submarines and surface fleet. One of my fellow hospital volunteer escorts, a veteran of the Vietnam war, turned me on to the free classic online episodes of T.V. series The Silent Service, for example the 25-minute 1957 broadcast of  SS Tinosa Story #8310 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1nESHgqAnY) archived by Persicope Film LLC.

Almost anything can be found on the Internet. Archived in YouTube, do you remember that old science film your elementary teacher may have shown called  “Hemo the Magnificant” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08QDu2pGtkc? Although the content is out-dated, I can’t help being a little nostalgic in sharing the entire “Bell Lab Telephone” series:

  1. Our Mr. Sun (1956)
  2. Hemo the Magnificent (1957)
  3. The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays (1957)
  4. The Unchained Goddess(1958)bell-lab
  5. Gateways to the Mind (1958)
  6. The Alphabet Conspiracy (1959)
  7. Thread of Life (1960)
  8. About Time (1962)
  9. The Restless Sea (1964)

The Rise of “Siri” and other Personal Assistants

My new girlfriend Siri has become a constant trip partner, not just for using turn-by-turn directions (often needed since my wife would tell you I can get lost in my closet), but to open up opportunities for brainstorming and sound out new ideas for my  writing. Whenever I am “on hold” sitting in a doctor or dentist office, doing family shopping at the mall, or even waiting for traffic at an accident or during rush hour, my hands-free blue-tooth connection allows me to “babble” my thoughts into an app called Evernote, which provides (not always accurate) transcripts that can be downloaded from any of my devices including my computer. Later on, I can use the text as a basis for an article’s outline or to add to my “honey-do” list. However, just remember, you should not use this “tech technique” while driving… the distraction of turning Siri on and off or viewing your last entry does not allow for safe/alert driving!

echoPowered by artificial intelligence, other voice-activated virtual assistants and knowledge navigators including products like Google Home and Amazon Echo (with a different “girlfriend” named “Alexa”) are flooding the market. This should be no surprise… the 21st Century seems to be developing many new inventions of super-automation, not so far from the female-voiced computer interface on the USS Enterprise (Star Trek) that could control everything. Soon you may take a ride from Uber in a driver-less car or “program” the autopilot on your pure-electric Tesla. Do you foresee the time when you will accept your Amazon merchandise or pizza being delivered from the air? What were those drone-operated lights we saw in the background of Lady Gaga’s halftime performance at the 2017 Super Bowl… possible future special effects for HS musicals and marching band shows?

My generation of teachers who entered the profession had no experience or training in microcomputers, tablets, smartphones, smart watches or other devices, or virtual reality headsets. (They weren’t invented yet!) Throughout the advent of technological “innovations,” many of us felt like we were “technology immigrants” trying to catch-up! It was easier for those “technology natives” born after 1980 since they grew up with the Internet. Change is inevitable, and we are all life-long learners. So it almost goes without saying: You can teach an old dog new tricks… even retired music teachers and other baby-boomer retirees how to grasp the fundamentals and benefits of technology, media, and online learning.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

(First four photo credits: Ned Horton, Jean Scheijen, Maxime Perron Caissy, and Joshua Davis at FreeImages.com)

PMEA in Retirement – What’s in it for Me?

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PA Music Teacher Retirees – Renew Your Membership!

On behalf of the 375+ retired members of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (not to mention the nearly 4000 regular and collegiate members), let me congratulate and welcome you to retirement!

chorus-515897_1920This will sound like an advertisement (it is)… for retaining one’s professionalism, keeping involved albeit less active in the profession, supporting the future of music education, and on occasion lending a hand to PMEA throughout retirement! In return, the association will provide you opportunities to record and post your career accomplishments and position assignments (past and in the future), network with your friends and colleagues retired or still “in the trenches,” and nurture your personal quest for creative self-expression and artistry… everything from guest conducting or adjudicating ensembles to writing for PMEA publications or presenting sessions at the conferences. It is all about YOU!

When (now) Immediate Past President Dennis Emert appointed me to the position of State Retired Member Coordinator four years ago, I had no idea what I could offer… except to serve as a “cheerleader” and represent the best interests of our music teacher retirees. This blog-post is to acquaint you with the rich assortment of resources PMEA offers to its retired members, and examples of our retirees’ news, views, and rationale for continuing their participation in PMEA… even take a peek at sample Retired Member Network eNEWS issues and articles in PMEA News. That’s what’s in it for you!

grandfather-on-the-porch-1398795Research indicates that people either LOVE retirement or HATE it, and their journey to the blessed “golden years” can have many ups and downs, especially for type-A, peak-performing individuals who (used to) spend large amounts of time and personally identified with “the job…” like many music educators. Since retiring myself from the Upper St. Clair School District in June 2013, my goal has been to help others enjoy this life-changing passage, cope with life-style changes/altered expectations, and find creative new ways to self-reinvent and thrive. Objectives for retired members in 2016-18 are:

  • Continuation and expansion of PMEA Retired Members’ projects started in 2015-16, including the Retiree Resource Registry (R3), PA community band, orchestra, chorus and theater group listings, opportunities to volunteer at conferences, sessions on “how to retire,” etc.
  • Exploration of new and unique ways to inform, motivate, engage, and activate PMEA retired members, to enhance their feelings of value, purpose, and being “needed and useful” in support of PMEA and the music education profession: “The mission of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association is to advance comprehensive and innovative music education for all teachers and students through quality teaching, rigorous learning, and meaningful music engagement.”
  • Improvement in data tracking of retired members’ membership status and contact information in order to “keep connected”
  • Publication of news, awards, appointments, and successes of retired members
  • Promotion of additional tools for a smooth transition to happy retirement

Your first stop for retirement resources should be the PMEA website (look under the top menu “Focus Areas”), where we post recent editions of past issues of the digital newsletter Retired Members Network eNEWS, relevant articles in PMEA News, etc. Take a moment and “surf the net” at http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/.

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There’s so much you can do now that you are retired! Now that you have “more freedom” to seek out purposeful and “fun” activities in education (but only the things you WANT to do!), ask yourself: “How you can rekindle your expressiveness?”

  • Why did you go into music and education in the first place?
  • What have you always wanted to play… sing… compose… conduct… record… create?
  • Have you thought about learning a new instrument, skill, or musical style?
  • When will you complete your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and have it performed?
  • When are you going to publish your songs, sonatas, warm-ups, methods, essays on pedagogy, musical plays, halftime shows… or personal memoirs?
  • What is your next article, book, method, composition, drum-line feature, etc.?
  • When are you going to join a community band, orchestra, chorus or theater group?

Or, if you would like to “give back” to the profession, “stimulate your brain,” and develop more association leadership, you can jump in to PMEA and explore any of the following:

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  • Run for local or state PMEA office or council position
  • Serve as presiding chair or member of the PMEA planning or listening committees for the conference
  • Participate as guest lecturer or panel discussion member at a conference, workshop, or college methods program
  • Judge local/state adjudication festivals
  • Help plan or manage a local PMEA festival or workshop
  • Accompany, coach, or guest conduct festivals or school/community groups
  • Assist the local music teacher in private teaching, piano playing, marching band charting, sectional coaching, set-up of music technology, instrument repair, etc.
  • Write for PMEA or NAfME

r3_logoAre you still willing to “lend a hand” on PMEA projects or share your expertise and provide a free (but priceless) consultant service to new/transferred PMEA members and officers? We constantly update and publish a Retiree Resource Registry https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Retired-Resource-Registry-update-02-12-18.pdf and R3 Help Index https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/R3-Help-Index-021218.pdf on the website. This project is a “win-win” as it also allows the retired member a place to archive all of his/her achievements, awards, past and current assignments, interests, and hobbies. To join this prestigious roster of “who’s-who of past music teaching leaders in PA,” please go to https://pmea.wufoo.com/forms/pmea-retiree-resource-survey/ or the PMEA website to complete the R3 sign-up survey.

Do you know it only takes $30 to join as a PMEA Retired Member ($65 for joint membership to NAfME and receipt of their publications as well!). What a deal! The membership form is at http://www.pmea.net/membership-information/.

Lancaster MarriottIn addition, retired member registration at the annual PMEA Spring Conference is… (drum-roll, please!) ONLY $10 early-bird! Our next spring conference will be held on April 19-21, 2018 at the Lancaster Marriott & Convention Center. Music teacher retirees get to enjoy some social time to “swap stories” with a FREE breakfast on Friday, April 20. In addition, we are looking for volunteers to help man the PMEA Info Booth… of course, “retired members to the rescue!” Invitations and more details will go out to current members next month, but check out this section on the PMEA website for more information about the conference: http://www.pmea.net/pmea-annual-in-service-conference/.

In case you are interested, a past PMEA summer conference session on retirement is posted on the retired members’ section. Feel free to download the workshop’s slides (https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Retirement-Planning-Its-Not-About-the-Money.pdf) and the recently revised handout https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/ultimate-retiree-resource-guide-111717.pdf, the latter probably the most comprehensive “reading list” ever published for music teacher retirees.

PaulFox_LogoAs a part of reflection and sharing of positive strategies for “Crossing the Rubicon” to a happy, healthy, and meaningful retirement, I have assembled a super-site of every website, article, book, publication, etc. of post-employment “gurus” that I could find. Visit the top menu link “For-Retirees” and come back often for updates.

Finally, since January 2017, we have published numerous retired member columns in the state journal PMEA News (access to current PMEA members is available at https://www.pmea.net/resources/pmea-news/):

  • “Pet Ownership and Retirement” (Fall 2016)
  • “Act Well Your Part; There the Honor Lies” (Winter 2016)
  • “Tips for Music Teachers Who Are Retired, Retiring, or Soon-to-Retire” (Spring 2017)
  • “What Are You Going to Be When You Grow Up?” (Summer 2017)
  • “The Vocabulary of Retirement and Leisure” (Fall 2017)
  • “Sailing Through a Proverbial Sea of Self-Help Books on Retirement” (Winter 2017)

Also, as a teaser, check out the archived PMEA Retired Member Network eNEWS editions… probably alone worth the discounted membership fee? (But, if you have the time and desire, perhaps you can submit better jokes and stories to “editor” Fox?): https://www.pmea.net/retired-member-network-enews-archive/.

Enjoy retirement… you have earned it! However, don’t forget the THREE BASIC NEEDS that work fulfills and which are essential to retirement, according to Ernie Zelinski, the best-selling author of How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free:

  1. Purpose
  2. Community
  3. Structure

Let PMEA Retired Membership help you on the way to self-fulfillment as you take the journey towards “living your dream and finding joy in your life!”

PKF

© 2016 and 2017 Paul K. Fox

(Photo credits: FreeImages.com)

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Happy Thanksgiving, Newbies!

“I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.” — Plato

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Things for Which Prospective Music Teachers and Students Majoring in Music Education Should Be Thankful… and on Which to Reflect Over This Holiday Season!

Music educators and those training for this honorable career have many reasons to feel blessed. This Thanksgiving 2016 blog is another one of my “pep talks” and an ongoing goal to share resources for pre-service professional development. Lets begin with a classic “top-ten” list — the fruits and cornerstones of our profession:

  1. prospective-music-student-1440071-1Music is one of life’s greatest treasures!
  2. You will always have your music. Your future employment is also your hobby, and even after 35 or more years, you will inclined to continue your music throughout the “golden years” of retirement.
  3. There are so many ways you can make a difference in the lives of children with music. Whether it is singing, playing an instrument, composing, listening, feeling, or moving in response to music, music fills a basic need!
  4. Although music is an excellent vehicle for developing 21st Century learning skills (the four C’s of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication), participating in music for music’s sake is paramount. To find true meaning and personal artistry, you cannot review the arts without “doing” (or creating) the arts.
  5. parade-band-1421028Your joy of creative self-expression and “making music” will sustain you through almost anything… and will transfer to your students’ success in life.
  6. In many settings of school music courses and extra-curricular activities, your students make a conscious effort to choose you and the study of music in order to spend as much time together. “They may have to take math and English, but they also want their daily dose of music!”
  7. Newcomers to this field, you do not have to be right or perfect all the time in class. During your student teaching and early years on the job, if you are enthusiastic, dedicated, and respectful of the feelings of your students, youkids-singing-christmas-songs-1438089r mistakes (and there will be many) will be forgiven. Besides, there are usually no “single right answers” in music and art – only opportunities for divergent and flexible thinking, adaptability, and personal expression.
  8. You’ll never forget your students… and when you bump into them after graduation, they will remind you all about “those good times!” Don’t be surprised when they tell you were the best part of their education.
  9. Your band, orchestra, and/or choral director back home (school district and university) are rooting for you… and want you to succeed. If you have questions, go see them. They would appreciate you asking for their advice.unwritten-solo-2-1314639
  10. Good news! Help is on the way! On this blog-site, there is a single link to all of the articles, handouts, PowerPoint slides, etc., everything from branding yourself to a review of the interview questions you will need to answer at job screenings. To help you market your professionalism, develop a philosophy of music education, learn the basics of networking, dive into making a business card, professional website or e-portfolio, or practice taking interviews, go to the link above or https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/becoming-a-music-educator/.

Why Music? Why Do You Want to Become  a Music Educator?

It never hurts to embrace and share the excellent voices of our music education advocates. Check out these interesting online sources:

Ten Goals for the Holiday Break

After you finish your fall semester finals, juries, concerts, writing assignments, and other projects, you may have several weeks before you have to return to full-time classes at the university. Besides catching up on your sleep and visiting your family and friends, how many of these enrichment activities can you accomplish?

  1. Share your gifts. Play your instrument, accompany concert-1435286someone else, or sing solos at a local nursing home or senior center.
  2. Sit in with a church or community choir, band, or orchestra. Just ask the conductor if you could participate in a few rehearsals over your break.
  3. Learn something new about music… a different instrument, recent releases in sheet music or recordings, unique composer/arranger in your major area, music education article from a professional journal, innovative music software or interactive online programs (often free trials are available to future teachers), etc. For example, have you perused SmartMusic and MusicFirst?
  4. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpend a lot of time sight-reading… especially on the piano. To take your ear-training training a step further, pull out your old folk-song sight-reading series  or Hindemith’s Elementary Training for Musicians and practice musicianship exercises.
  5. To improve your score reading, take a choral arrangement and play the individual vocal parts at sight (soprano + bass, alto + tenor, soprano + tenor + bass, etc.). Or, perform on the piano 2-4 parts of a string quartet score.
  6. Volunteer to assist coaching a sectional or large ensemble at your local public school.
  7. Attend as many local concerts as you can: school, amateur adult, and professional.
  8. Compose or arrange a short holiday, folk, or classical song for unusual instrumentation (e.g. flute, viola, baritone sax, and tuba). Who knows? Someday you may have to conduct an ensemble with such unique membership.flute-player-1567317
  9. Record video/audio excerpts of your major instrument/voice for placement on your professional website. Begin preparations on or update your e-portfolio.
  10. Read all of the “marketing professionalism” articles on this blog-site. Take notes or print the things to which you want to refer back. Make a list of the possible interview questions, and put yourself through several “mock job screenings” (alone or with one or more college buddies) with you answering these randomized questions in front of a camera. Assess your performance. During your”free time” over the holiday break, assemble your “personal stories” – anecdotes revealing your skills, personality traits, teaching experiences, and accomplishments that could be shared at future employment interviews. Most important article on this subject? Look at thanksgiving-turkey-1521430https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2016/02/27/interview-questions-revisited/.

Best wishes for a healthy, peaceful and fulfilling holiday. Please enjoy lots of turkey with your loved ones, but if you can, “catch up” on your long term preparation for becoming a music educator. Make every day count over the recess. Reflect on why you are becoming a music educator, and be grateful for the multitude of benefits! Finally, never forget your own creative roots… make time for music every day!

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

Photos are licensed by FreeImages.com (all rights reserved)

More Lessons in Creativity

Your daily experiences should all be about curiosity, divergent thinking, creative self-expression, and life-long learning!

 

What did you think of my May blog-post “Lessons in Creativity” (part 1) on this subject? Did you review the sample opportunities to stimulate your brain, build your artistic sensitivity, and nurture your expressive soul… resources like the following?

If you have not read the first article in this series, please go back to https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/lessons-in-creativity/. For a survey of all blogs on this subject, click on the link (to the right) “Creativity and Education.”

preschool-class-activities2-2-1251386My “soapbox” in this forum has always been that we need to do things in education  intentionally – in the classrooms, written/posted weekly lesson targets, and curriculum. In school, we have spent an inordinate amount of time developing convergent thinking, a.k.a. one-answer-only principles/laws/inarguable facts.What is needed is MORE divergent thinking – multiple solutions or pathways to the resolution of a problem, open-ended “out-of-the-box” proposals – generating fresh views and novel solutions. Best practices in education would be a combination of both convergent and divergent thinking techniques – the ultimate role of our profession – mastery of the essential 21st century learning skill of critical thinking.

Here and in future blogs, “the plan” is to offer more ideas on becoming more creative – improving self-awareness, experimentation, and enjoyment of inventiveness, innovation, and flexibility/adaptability – openness to new and diverse perspectives.

This is a good place to post your opinions and perspective. Thanks for responding with comments to this blog series.

And now, the next bi-monthly installment of research, resources, and my own ramblings to consider….

Cultivating Curiosity

Cultivating Curiosity book - 1I stumbled on a free ASCD webinar for July 28, 2016 that will “detail ways to foster student curiosity through novelty and play; questioning and critical thinking; and experimenting and problem solving.” Based on Dr. Wendy Ostroff’s book, Cultivating Curiosity in K–12 Classrooms: How to Promote and Sustain Deep Learning, the online session will dive into the concept of a structured, student-centered environment that allows for openness and surprise, where inquiry guides authentic learning. “When a classroom is grounded in curiosity, teachers have the unique opportunity to mine students’ deepest held wonder, making their engagement natural and effortless and allowing them to fully open up to learning.” For more information on the workshop, go to http://ascd.org/professional-development/webinars.aspx.

The book Cultivating Curiosity in K-12 Classrooms itself is an excellent find. Dr. Wendy Ostroff defines her rationale in support of curiosity as critical to student success in school:

  • Curiosity jump-starts and sustains intrinsic motivation, allowing deep learning to happen with ease.
  • Curiosity releases dopamine, which not only brings pleasure, but also improves observation and memory.
  • Curious people exhibit enhanced cognitive skills.

The chapters layout a plan to foster student curiosity through exploration, novelty, and play; questioning and critical thinking; and experimenting and problem solving.

 The Artist’s Way

The Artist WayThe “power” of journal writing and brainstorming is so essential to the creative process. Author and educator Julia Cameron has written a series of books on the subject of “unblocking your inner artist.” The Artist’s Way, the title of one of her international best-sellers, has been transformed into a movement of artists helping other artists, a program she says is “used in hospitals, prisons, universities, human potential centers, and often among therapist doctors aids groups in battered woman’s programs, not to mention fine art studios, theological programs, and music conservatories.”

Her lessons included two fundamental tools, morning pages and artist date. Morning pages are three pages of daily longhand writing, strictly free stream-of-consciousness, a.k.a. “brain drain,” absent from any form of censorship or (as she calls it) “logic brain.” Her other tool, artist date, is “a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness…” quality time spent alone with your “creative child.” For painters, 3D artists, writers, photographers, musicians, singers, and actors, I heartily recommend her tutorials The Artist’s Way and for retirees It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond.

More Best of Bonk!

The World is Open bookOne of my “heroes” on the subject of instructional strategies in creativity, critical thinking, motivation, and collaboration is Professor Curtis J. Bonk, Indiana University (Bloomington) School of Education and author of The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. His course materials and creativity exercises are amazing, and he has been very generous in sharing the slide presentations of his classes. If you have not already done so, you should peruse his “Best of Bonk” website at http://www.indiana.edu/~bobweb/r546/index.html (click on the creativity module), and find out the meaning of these terms:

  • Six hats
  • KWL
  • Reverse brainstorming
  • Checkerboarding
  • Wet ink
  • Second best answer
  • Pruning the tree
  • Fish bowl

If these intrigue you, take a gander at Dr. Bonk’s blog TravelinEdMan where he reflects on his speaking experiences around the world, and posts articles, recommended reading lists, links to other bloggers/sites, etc. at http://travelinedman.blogspot.com/.

He also shared his book, 100+ Activities for Motivating and Retaining Learners Online, available as a free download from http://tec-variety.com/freestuff.php.

Two Ideas for Music Teachers

cornet-593661_1920For school music directors, I would suggest to offer a weekly “create a warm-up” opportunity run by student conductors. Many well-intentioned “school maestros” are guilty of setting up the rigid format of a “benevolent dictatorship” (“my way or the highway”) and not allowing the individual participants to share any input in running practices or interpreting the music. For the first five minutes of the rehearsal, ask student volunteers to choose the articulation or key of a scale, and even create a drill from the challenging rhythmic motives introduced by the music in the folder. Variations on tempo and dynamics can be lead by the student leaders.

My mother had an elementary lesson of free association, “rapid writing” in response to looking at a large picture posted in the front of the classroom. Although probably not as valued by her unimaginative principal (to be fair, this was in the 60s, and phonetics drill was preferable over creative writing), her concept is much like the nonjudgmental practice of brainstorming… “do not stop to edit or evaluate what comes out of your head” and “there are no wrong answers or interpretations.” Save any proofreading and assessment of merit, categorizing, prioritizing, spellchecking, and fixing punctuation or grammar for later drafts. This artistic process can be adapted for singers or instrumentalists. Take two minutes out of a practice, post a giant photograph of just about any scene, and have the musicians express their feelings via random improvisations, communicating “on the spot” what they see, feel, and think about from their observation of the picture. Encourage the communication of their “views” using contrasts of the various musical elements: major/minor tonality, tempo, rhythms, articulations, dynamics, phrasing, etc.

Until next time…

clay-1220105_1920As quoted on the back cover of the Cultivating Curiosity in K-12 Classrooms, “We learn by engaging and exploring, asking questions and testing out answers. Yet our classrooms are not always places where such curiosity is encouraged and supported.” As important as literacy and logic, how can we nurture creativity in the schools? For this forum, can you share your thoughts on additional lessons in creativity?

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

Other Blogs on Creativity in Education at This Site

Lessons in Creativity

 

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Sharing the thoughts of others on inspiring innovation, ingenuity, divergent thinking, and creative self-expression in the schools is my lifelong mission. I place this perspective 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

wondering-1434779-1

Even though I am now retired, my “mind energizing” routine every morning is to take several moments to “surf the net,” looking for interesting articles on the subject of cultivating creativity in education. A typical online journey might include “waking up” with the following progression (but, this is NOT a fixed script, since this is all about becoming more self-aware and practicing  the skills of inventiveness, personal initiative, and flexibility – openness to new and diverse perspectives).

  1. Visit https://curiosity.com/ and “sit a spell.” Read several mind-expanding articles.
  2. Connect with other professionals with Edutopia.com. Today I  “found” several interesting sections to satisfy my thirst for discussions on infusing the arts in education:
  3. If you have not explored the National Creativity Network website, go to http://nationalcreativitynetwork.org/blog/.
  4. woman-1172718_1920Randomly check out what’s happening in the arts’ scene on the World Wide Web:
  5. Troll for new ideas and sites with a general (and ever-changing Google search). Several results of “lessons in creativity” are shared below.

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As a non-casual observer of most traditional instruction in the schools, I note that teachers are generally very well trained at facilitating in their classes the “left-brain” attributes of speech, language, writing, linear and sequential thinking, understanding of symbols, and logical progression. They focus more on the final product – not the process, laws and rules – not ambiguity, convergent (one-answer-only) thinking – not open-ended questioning, and summative – not formative assessments. Of course, mastery of reading comprehension, writing skills, vocabulary, and understanding of mathematical expressions are essential for a “good education,” but to make the learning authentic and personalized, the habits of creative self-expression, adaptability, self-direction, and intrinsic motivation are equal in importance. And, to the main point of my thesis, this “equality” should not be relegated to the high school students’ enrollment in an “optional” arts elective or two!

Throughout my research in nurturing one’s creative inner self and nourishing more of the “right brain” attributes (divergent and holistic thinking, spontaneity, intuition, artistic expression, etc.) into every day life, these five terms/concepts keep coming up:

  • daydreaming-1568518Curiosity
  • Daydreams or fantasies
  • Focus
  • Play
  • Risk-taking

To glean a new perspective for prioritizing “originality” in school and in life, let’s peruse a few online expert’s “lessons in creativity.” (The following just lists the lessons; you need take the time to read the authors’ entire articles to gain full understanding.)

9 Illuminating Lessons on Creativity

by Margarita Tarakovsky (World of Psychology) http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/04/14/9-illuminating-lessons-on-creativity/

  1. Creativity is about showing up.
  2. learn-2-1237605Creativity is about getting curious.
  3. Creativity is limitless.
  4. Focus on the process, not the product.
  5. Being creative does not mean being skilled.
  6. Forget perfection, and find the “magic threshold.”
  7. Creativity is full of surprises.
  8. Creativity is full of ups and downs.
  9. Everyone is creative.

18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently

by Carolyn Gregoire (The Huffington Post) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/04/creativity-habits_n_4859769.html

  1. They daydream.
  2. They observe everything.
  3. They work the hours that work for them.
  4. They take time for solitude.
  5. They turn life’s obstacles around.
  6. They seek out new experiences.
  7. They “fail up.”
  8. They ask the big questions.
  9. They people-watch.
  10. ideas-1439573They take risks.
  11. They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.
  12. They follow their true passions.
  13. They get out of their own heads.
  14. They lose track of time.
  15. They surround themselves with beauty.
  16. They connect the dots.
  17. They constantly shake things up.
  18. They make time for mindfulness.

5 Lessons on Creativity from Former Disney Imagineer

by Jonha Revesencio (The Huffington Post) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonha-revesencio/creativity_b_5350605.html

  1. In order to be great, you need to get started.
  2. Focus on what you do best.
  3. Add value. Don’t just criticize.
  4. See things differently.
  5. Stay curious.

education-548105_1920As soon as I posted these wonderful resources, several new ones popped up. Also, please look up the following:

These is just a gourmet sampling of what’s out there. You should venture out on your own expedition… 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. That’s the next step… fodder for future articles. Happy hunting!

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PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

Other Blogs on Creativity in Education at This Site

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Sing Your Heart Out… Now and in Retirement

pmeaReprinted from the Spring 2016 issue of PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.

 

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Isn’t the Internet a wonderful place to validate something you have always known? After only a brief Google search, the research seems overwhelming! Here are my top five reasons all of us should participate in a choir… throughout our adult lives!

  1. Singing promotes a healthy immune system.

lungs-39980_1280If you’ve ever been in a choir, you’ve probably been told that the proper way to sing is from your belly.

The idea is to use your diaphragm – the large muscle that separates your chest and abdominal cavities – to push air out through your vocal cords.

Using your diaphragm to sing is a good way to promote a healthy lymphatic system, which in turn promotes a healthy immune system.

Dr. Ben Kim at http://drbenkim.com/articles-singing-for-health.htm.

  1. Singing soothes the savage beast… and makes you feel better!

relax-1183452_1920As the popularity of group singing grows, science has been hard at work trying to explain why it has such a calming yet energizing effect on people. What researchers are beginning to discover is that singing is like an infusion of the perfect tranquilizer, the kind that both soothes your nerves and elevates your spirits.

Group singing is cheaper than therapy, healthier than drinking, and certainly more fun than working out.  It is the one thing in life where feeling better is pretty much guaranteed.

Stacy Horn at http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/16/singing-changes-your-brain/

  1. Don’t you want to live longer? Singing is “heart healthy!”

aorta-151145_1280Regular exercising of the vocal cords can even prolong life, according to research done by leading vocal coach and singer Helen Astrid, from The Helen Astrid Singing Academy in London. “It’s a great way to keep in shape because you are exercising your lungs and heart.”

Singing… helps you live longer according to the findings of a joint Harvard and Yale study, which showed that choral singing increased the life expectancy of the population of New Haven, Connecticut. The report concluded that this was because singing promoted both a healthy heart and an enhanced mental state.

Heart Research UK at http://heartresearch.org.uk/fundraising/singing-good-you

  1. Think “karaoke!” Singing builds “connections” with each other and social confidence.

singer-84874_1920Colette Hiller, director of Sing The Nation, is convinced that singing builds social confidence by helping individuals connect to each other, and to their environment. “Think of a football stadium with everyone singing,” she says. “There’s an excitement, you feel part of it, singing bonds people and always has done. There’s a ‘goosebumpy’ feeling of connection.”

Chorus America, an organization of singing groups in the United States of America, conducted a survey a few years ago, and found that more people in the U.S. and Canada take part in choral singing more than in any other performing art, since they feel that singing in a chorus builds social confidence. Nikki Slade, who runs The Priory, a chanting and voice-work class, believes that the benefits of singing are linked to the primacy and power of the human voice – and that it is our basic instinct to use it. “People are naturally free and expressive,” she says, “but it’s something that has been lost on a day-to-day basis.” Singing can help restore that lost connection.

http://www.shankarmahadevanacademy.com/community/articles/view/6/

  1. Singing reduces stress and pain, and benefits “senior citizens” especially well.

stress-1277561_1920Studies have linked singing with a lower heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and reduced stress, according to Patricia Preston-Roberts, a board-certified music therapist in New York City. She uses song to help patients who suffer from a variety of psychological and physiological conditions.

“Some people who have been traumatized often want to leave the physical body, and using the voice helps ground them to their bodies,” Preston-Roberts says. “Singing also seems to block a lot of the neural pathways that pain travels through.”

Singing, particularly in a chorus, seems to benefit the elderly particularly well. As part of a three-year study examining how singing affects the health of those 55 and older, a Senior Singers Chorale was formed by the Levine School of Music in Washington, D.C.

choir-305535_1280The seniors involved in the chorale (as well as seniors involved in two separate arts groups involving writing and painting) showed significant health improvements compared to those in the control groups. Specifically, the arts groups reported an average of:

  • 30 fewer doctor visits
  • Fewer eyesight problems
  • Less incidence of depression
  • Less need for medication
  • Fewer falls and other injuries

The seniors themselves also noticed health improvements, said Jeanne Kelly, director of the Levine School of Music, Arlington Campus, who led the choral group. The seniors reported:

  • Feeling better both in daily life and while singing
  • Their everyday voice quality was better
  • The tone of their speaking voice did not seem to age as much
  • Easier breathing
  • Better posture

http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/06/06/07/how_singing_improves_your_health_even_if_other_people_shouldnt_hear_you_singing.htm

female-1299085_1280Okay, besides that crack about “elderly” in that last article (we’re not “old,” yet!), the evidence seems conclusive! For our general health, feelings of well-being, improved social connections, and “just having fun,” we should all be motivated TODAY to go out and find a community choir and start singing regularly in a group. Enough said?

Similar to the “nearly comprehensive” instrumental ensemble listing published by PMEA retired members in the Fall 2015 issue of PMEA News, check out the recently released directory of Pennsylvania community choruses.  Sorted by ensemble’s name and also by location, these files of PA community bands/orchestras and choirs will be updated (new groups added) from time to time, and new revisions will be posted online under “focus areas” and “retired members” of the PMEA website: http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/. (If you have any corrections or additions, please send them to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.)

choir-783666_1920For both the instrumental and choral groups, we are most thankful to the contributions of our “dream team” of PMEA researchers and editors (as of April 13, 2016): Jan Burkett, Craig Cannon, Jo Cauffman, Deborah Confredo, Susan Dieffenbach, Timothy Ellison, Paul Fox, Joshua Gibson, Rosemary Haber, Estelle Hartranft, Betty Hintenlang, Ada Jean Hoffman, Thomas Kittinger, Chuck Neidhardt, Sarah Riggenbach, Ron Rometo, Joanne Rutkowski, Marie Weber, Lee Wesner, and Terri Winger-Wittreich. We are especially grateful to the efforts of Director of Member Engagement Joshua Gibson who located the counties and e-mail addresses in the choir directory.

Now, what are you waiting for? Go out and… sing!

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

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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

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© 2016 Paul K. Fox