Wednesday, February 24, 2010

REED 502 Reflection #2: Reading Strategies Review

[EDIT: Note: Both unordered and ordered list tags result in "invisible" bullets/numbers when posts publish. I will need to go back in and edit the template by hand until I find a fix or a work-around. For the time being, I am using tildes (~) as placeholders for my missing bullets.]

As I was familiarizing myself with Reading Strategies for the Content Areas (Beers & Howell, 2003), I was able to identify some potential strengths and weaknesses in my approach to teaching reading in my classroom. The authors identify eight key areas in which independent readers excel.

"Independent readers..."

  • ~ have strategies to use when encountering new words.
  • ~ connect new knowledge to existing knowledge to make personal meaning.
  • ~ think ahead to what might be coming in the reading.
  • ~ continually evaluate their own understanding of what they have read.
  • ~ create images of what they are reading.
  • ~ periodically summarize what they have read and learned.
  • ~ use textual cues, visuals, and text organization to increase their understanding.
  • ~ have a plan for how to approach the reading task.
(Beers & Howell, 2003, p. 20-25).

I frequently ask questions and prompt students to make connections between new material and their own lives. The emotional content of unfamiliar music can be difficult to grasp, especially if the text is in a language other than students' own, or when there is no text at all. Asking questions for clarification also allows students to evaluate their understanding. Often, I will ask students to generate their own questions about a given culture or piece of music prior to learning about it in class. Many of my class projects also include a visual element, so that students can translate what they have learned into a variety of forms. To that end, I include not only written assignments, but music composition, lyric-writing, and visual arts. I keep a large, rolling bin full of donated composition notebooks, and I encourage students to write in them at least once weekly. Sometimes the journal entries are informal, anonymous, and personal. Other times, I ask specific questions for reflection on a given topic based on prior learning experiences. I also use a variety of graphic organizers to display information during each unit.

I have been getting better at reinforcing key terms through means other than rote memorization, but I am interested in developing new strategies to approach music vocabulary. Focusing on the word structures through graphic organizers and anticipatory activities could help students to figure out some of the terms on their own, without excessive prompting. I would also like to provide a wider variety of blank graphic organizer sheets for students to arrange key information for each unit. Student input is important to me, so perhaps I can consider asking students to design their own graphic organizers after they have used several exemplars in preparatory exercises. I find that in music, being able to anticipate the path ahead is probably the most important aspect of reading. Ideally, students should be able to anticipate the end of a musical phrase or a written/spoken sentence. This is the foundation for all musical improvisation, sight-reading, etc. If a student can apply language skills to the concept of music, he/she might improve in both areas concurrently. The one area that will help us to reach this end result is the planning stage. Again, I hope to provide students with the means to develop their own reading plans that can apply to either language or music symbolism. It will be necessary to reinforce all of the key concepts through brief, intensely focused activities surrounding basic concepts. Then, we can start to identify common structures/patterns, and apply them to a whole piece or reading activity. For my purposes, front-loading an activity or unit with vocabulary and goals might assist students with future activities. I would also like to provide more structure and focus to teacher and student-generated visuals, in order to increase motivation. I see a lot of copies, in my future!


Beers, S., Howell, L. (2003). Reading Strategies for the Content Areas. Alexandria:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Reflections on Teaching #1: for REED 502

Why I Decided To Teach

I have reasons for teaching that are both passionate and practical. My love of music is no secret, and I have my mother to thank, for being my first teacher. Before I was born, she sold her twelve-string guitar and bought a Baldwin upright piano. Every day, we would sit and play Spinning Song together. I took piano lessons for a year, in first grade, but I quit as the school year ended. I was not a fan of my private teacher. She was old, her house smelled funny, and she constantly yelled at me for failing to "keep my pinky down" during practice. (I still joke that I only went to recitals to read the Shel Silverstein books on her coffee table, and for the free food.) I loved my elementary school music teachers, though. I started playing piano again in middle school, teaching myself using all of the sheet music I could find in our house. Later, after an injury, I learned that I was born without certain tendons in my hands, which explained my early difficulties with the piano. I continued to sing and play saxophone through my college years, and each teacher I had encouraged me to take on greater challenges. Music became a love, a discipline, a passion. I have been very fortunate, considering what music has given to me. That passion had to start somewhere, and I wanted to share it with others. Practically speaking, teaching music also provides a stable salary and benefits to support what I love to do.

Teaching Philosophy

My past experiences have greatly influenced my teaching philosophy. I believe very strongly in honesty, patience, and acceptance. Being a musician is about learning how to take failure and success together, and care for both of them like a child. Skill development is only a part of the process, albeit an extremely important one. I am an avid (rabid?) proponent of sequential pedagogy and Brain-Targeted Teaching. Music and teaching must also be meaningful, for both my students and myself. Dialogue is important. I am frequently irreverent and silly, but I can also be quite strict. My standard motto is "I will do anything if it gets you to learn," and I share this with students on their first day in my class. I like to meet students where they are, and then challenge them to learn/do/listen to MORE. Diversified instruction, multi-cultural education, and exposure to all kinds of music are part and parcel of my class. Technology is also extremely important to me, and I try to incorporate it into my class when I am able to do so, and when it suits the material.

Why Baltimore?

After I graduated from college, I originally intended to teach in the Pittsburgh area or attend graduate school. Due to an unexpected financial loss and a lack of open positions in the area, I started looking elsewhere for teaching positions. I approached my former advisor, who suggested that I contact Baltimore City's Director of Fine Arts. I forwarded my résumé to her, and received a phone call two days later. Four days later, I had been hired by my current school. In just under two weeks, I had quit my restaurant job in Pittsburgh, moved to Baltimore, and started training. Originally, I only intended to remain in Baltimore for a year or two, but here I am, half-way through year five!

My Current Situation

Teaching in Baltimore has been eye-opening, in many ways. I didn't think that I would enjoy teaching middle school students, because I found greater enjoyment teaching other grade levels during my practicum. I feel as if I have really grown into my position. I have fun everyday. I laugh, sing, dance, and get paid to do those things. There is a mutual respect and admiration that exists in my classroom, and it is easy to go to work each day, knowing that I will never be bored with what I do. I have been able to see my students grow as people and as musicians...more and more each year. I have also realized that, despite all of the above, this is not the ideal situation, for me. My boyfriend of nine years still lives in Pittsburgh, and we have now spent over half of our relationship in different states. We frequently discuss our future together, but it will be a tricky path to follow. I have wanted to attend graduate school to study musicology for years; I have been interested in pursuing my Ph.D since high school. There are some considerable risks involved: I will initially take a huge pay cut, it is more difficult than ever to find and secure tenable positions in the humanities, and it could require drastic re-location. That said, every time I attend a conference or dip into some personal research, it confirms my desire for this challenge. Case in point: this past November, I attended the American Musicology Society's annual conference in Philadelphia. While there, I met the husband of a musicologist, who asked me if it was my first AMS conference. When I told him that it was my third in five years, he replied with, "What, and you're not a musicologist yet?" No, I'm not a musicologist...yet.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

It's the Final Countdown!

Yesterday marked my last real day of summer break. School doesn't start until August 24th, but preparations have already begun. I will be moving over the next few weeks, and in addition to the usual push at the beginning of the year, I will also be preparing to take the GRE in October. I will need to take a few classes for re-certification as well, so I have an extremely full plate.

That said, in all likelihood, this will be my last year in Baltimore, so I want to make it a positive experience for everyone involved. I already have a plan in mind for the spring concert and a few choice units/guiding questions for each grade level. I'm going to try to post to this blog at least once a week, which will be much easier now that I will be quitting my second job during the year. I think that I'm looking forward to that more than anything else at the moment, because I get to make it happen so very soon.

Keep your eyes open for exciting things!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Arts, Smarts, Schmarts

I worry/fear on a weekly/daily basis that my Job is rendering me dumber by the minute. I find myself searching for free moments to recapture lost and somewhat useless information--lost due to lack of use, and useless due to a profound inability to find more than a handful of students who have had any kind of sequential training. The fact that many of my sixth-graders arrive to my class with second-grade skills is maddening, not to mention that I often feel like I'm preparing them for nothing. There are THREE city high schools with active choir programs: Douglass, City, and Western. A fair number of students from my middle school will attend these schools, but most of the city's students will not. Thankfully, I know of three students who have gone on to study music in high school, so there are some rewards.

This week's cover story for the City Paper is called Bankrupting the Arts. The Opera has already filed for bankruptcy. The Senator Theater, in operation since 1939, recently closed its doors. In the rush to delay the foreclosure and auction process, the owners have ceased screenings at their other theater, The Rotunda, while they reorganize. The only movie house that doesn't seem to be threatened is The Charles. I personally attended a school board meeting, along with dozens of other fine arts teachers, to protest the exclusion of the Fine Arts Coordinator position from the budget. We were fed a lot of crap...told that the exclusion was "an oversight," and that "the function of the position will be preserved." In other words, in CEO Alonso's words, someone will be "wearing many hats." That's short for, "thank you for your opinions, but you're screwed." By the way, the City Paper comes out on Wednesdays. As of this evening, the only on-line commentary on the linked story is: "

"Good. Why should my tax dollars go toward pushing the aesthetics of bygone European royalty on the populace?"

Beyond all of this, I've been silent...more so than usual. I have no love of or flair with words, because I'm tired of hearing myself talk. I come home and drown out the day with noise or oblivion, when I could be seeking solace in the music I love, but my lack of contact with it makes me ill. It's sad that students respond readily to character themes from movies and television, but laugh when I explain how students younger than they are were shot and killed in Soweto for singing a protest song...a song about freedom.

My "dream job"--in light of my former observations--is not only highly unlikely, but highly improbable. I find myself returning in memory to months-old, job-related AMS posts concerning the dire state of higher education in the humanities, and then comparing it to the abysmal black hole of despair that threatens Baltimore. I wonder, even if I do manage to land a collegiate position in the distant future, will I even have any students to teach?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Almost there....

I'm nearing the end of week one, with only one day left to go until a long and well-deserved weekend. That said, that one day promises to be a lengthy one. I still feel perfectly exposed, awkward, and fumbling during my team teaching. The annoying little voice in the back of my head frequently repeats the notion that my co-teacher is a better educator than I am. It's not debilitating or paralyzing, but it is a little nerve-wracking. I try to let it roll off of my back, though, chalking up my insecurities to beginning-of-the-year exhaustion and a fuzzy future. I want to fall back into a routine too quickly. I'm training myself to nap again, which is not an easy thing to do. I want to fix everything all at once.

Today was really interesting, though. While teaching the art portions of class, students were enthusiastic and quiet--for the most part. They were involved and engaged, and they had some lovely cooperative efforts. Halfway through our seventh grade classes, as we transitioned to music, I noticed a distinct shift in mood and tone. I had to smile, because the moment that we mentioned music, over half of the class immediately began moving, tapping feet and fingers and pencils. I had to rethink my expectations about noise and participation. The class got louder, individual personalities began to pop out as students strayed from directions and intended results, here and there.... It's difficult to avoid frustration, when students aren't used to cooperative performance, but perhaps that is simply a symptom of potential. I'll have to keep exploring interesting ways to foster individuality, while stressing cooperative learning and performance. I'll have to adapt some of my attention-getting techniques to reflect common rehearsal practices. I'm excited, because I have been ready for something to challenge my thinking and my methods for far too long. (I can't wait to start playing games and bringing the percussion instruments into the mix. They always help students to listen to one another.)

One of the seventh grade classes really had me on the edge of my seat, because they have been the first group to make real connections between art and music. (The arts-integrated curriculum is already taking shape, making a difference in the first week!) When asked the question, "What is art?" one student responded with, "the visual music of the world." From there, students started suggesting that dance, music, film, plays, etc. were all art, even when the original intention was to introduce and explore visual art, on its own. Thus far, all of the other classes have still been separating the two disciplines into distinctly different chunks. Tomorrow, the lines should blur even further, as we start to discuss parallels between the elements of art and music. We'll be exploring the idea of color and value through beat and rhythm. The comparisons aren't exact, so we'll have to play around a bit. For example, value is an easy one: how much color, versus how long a note lasts in time and space. Color is a bit trickier. In visual art, one can add white or black to change the value of the original color. In music, tone color/timbre refers to the individual sound of a voice or instrument, something that distinguishes that sound from another one. I am interested in looking at references to noise colors, because they borrow ideas from the optical spectrum and apply them to the frequency of sound waves. (Oh WikiPedia, how I love you! Let me count the ways! I was able to hunt down a handful of .ogg files on sound color, so you know I'm bringing those babies into the classroom, tomorrow.) On a side note, I suspect that much of my enthusiasm for this is also a deep and unfulfilled desire for academic research. This will be fun in the classroom, but my, how I want to dig myself a deep, deep hole in which to wallow in these ideas. This little taste is not nearly enough to satisfy my rampant curiosity.

Well, I stop here for the evening, or risk certain death at the hands of tomorrow's 23-hour work schedule. No, that is not a typo. In all likelihood, I will get home at about 3:30 A.M. on Satuday. Hooray for long weekends...and kittens.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Trial by Fire

Day Three: I am still diligent, still sleepy, and still motivated. I am still in the awkward stages of academic beginnings...just beyond the scripted introductions, on the cusp of something both tenuous and incredibly strong. In a few, short days, the experimental, arts-integrated team teaching is already having an effect on me. It is even more necessary to adapt teaching styles, because now, I have to bounce everything off of my co-teacher, as well as my students. Class sizes range from a reasonable sixteen students in one eighth grade section, to a whopping thirty seven students in one sixth grade class. I have a hundred and fifty children, several other teachers, and five different curricula to consider. My IEPs are due by tomorrow, and my budget requests are due by Friday. Admittedly, this is all a bit overwhelming. It's really difficult to spread oneself so thin, to worry about the practicalities of life whilst trying to cram all of the early madness into a few, short days.

I spent some time reading through the student questionaires this afternoon, and I'm glad that I asked more questions, this year. Some of the answers made me smile, some of them surprised me, and some of them broke my heart. Teaching is a lovely profession, but a difficult one for someone who is a bit insecure. I often wonder how many students I am able to reach, and how many I miss. I was really surprised at several eighth-graders who requested my class again, this year. Many of them were outcasts. Many of them struggled in my class--and truthfully, I got a few who selected my class as their first choice, when I was convinced that they hated me or hated music in previous years. I really only got one extremely negative response. I wish that I could make everyone love my subject area, that I could uplift every one of my students, and that they would all feel more valued and successful at the end of each semester.

For now, I am optimistic. Team teaching will make me more aware of myself and my students' needs. With any luck, this year will be the most successful one yet.
Day Two: I felt a lot more confident, today. I was able to use my planning time to the fullest, and I still had time left over to get some extra work done. I got some minor practice time in, my room is still clean, and my new classes were receptive and fun. That said, it's only Day Two.

I am feeling a bit rebellious. I'm not being particularly kind to myself, concerning sleep. (Obviously, it's 1:15 A.M....) I've been so used to working nights, and I want my body to adjust NOW. I just need to be a bit more diligent about getting myself on a schedule, and try not to worry too much about being tired or a bit grumpy. At the beginning of the year, these things are to be expected. Still, I'd like to learn how to nap again. It practically saved me during student teaching, all those years ago, but I haven't quite gotten the knack for it in my professional life. I need to be particularly nice to myself this year, considering all that I am trying to do with my classes and with my life.

I have a lot more to discuss tomorrow, but for now, I think I should follow my own advice and go to bed, finally.