Saturday, October 31, 2009

Time and Integration

As a classroom teacher, I am always balancing time -- what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and how long it all takes. Frequently my own timeline does not correspond with the students' timeline. It takes them longer or they finished faster than I anticipated. How often am I right "on the money"? When I consider different learners and learning styles and how I might differentiate instruction, time is a big variable.

I ask myself if the time spent was worth the benefit received. Or I might ask if there is a more efficient way to get from Start to Finish.

In the case of Arts Integration... how much time does one spend on each piece? Should it be equal? - Art Lesson - Content Lesson (i.e. Science, Social Studies) - Literacy Lesson -
Is the equation equal or one greater than the other for the greatest student success? If I spend 60 minutes each on art, content and literacy will the product from each be equal? If I spend 90 minutes on content lessons along 90 minutes on an art lesson and student art production and 90 minutes of language arts lessons and student writing workshops will that yield a better content understanding, an awesome art product and an equally amazing writing product than say the 60 minutes did? It really isn't always about minutes when it comes to students learning. Sometimes the going back and forth in a revision and editing mode (in either art or writing) may take pieces of days for our students. Will more time on an art product make it possible to spend less time on a writing product? Will less time on an art product require more time on a writing product? I believe that certain choices in each area will yield the greatest results.

Integration is a way to combine learning in more than one area, yet it still all has to be carefully crafted and then managed in the general classroom.

There is so much to teach and time is my challenge!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A View from Outside

I have a graduate student who has arrived from China this Fall. I decided to bring her to our Fall professional development meeting as an observer. I was really interested in her view of the process and focus of the group. I of course think we're doing some very interesting and important things and that our group of teachers is outstanding- but does it come across?
Here is what she wrote in response:

It is a precious experience to attend such an eye-opening meeting. When I entered into the meeting room, what caught my eyes were teachers’ engaging in communicating and learning from each other, so earnestly and openly. It is the curriculum for the following several months. Music and arts teachers from two schools came here, worked together, and absorbed new ideas to improve the instructional efficiency. There are two amazing samples showing how to teach music and arts. For music, there are seven hollow beams which were equal to the seven music scales. Then seven kids each holds one beam standing for one music scale. To make music these kids should concentrate on his or her own role as well as working together with other kids harmoniously. It conveys the sense of cooperation, practice and deep impression of music. Brilliant! For the arts, two diverse oil paintings are presented. Kids are given these questions from simple to complex step by step, “what do you see?”, “where are they?”, “what are they doing?”, “why do you think so?” . These kids learn to read arts, from the paintings’ appearance to their essence, from outside to inside, from the gradual developing process. Since they’ve just gained the knowledge about the community, of course, their explanation and imagination about the two paintings has lots to do with community, which is accordance with the theory of schema. One of the kids was such a genius in answering these questions that it raised my concern about what family background he is from, and what he has learned. Would this ground be a backup reason for his outstanding performance? In all, these two examples are really vivid and explicit ways of instruction. Apart from the two examples, teacher Pat has presented us the previous achievement by giving an example about how a cute and smart boy understands the community. By putting kids directly into the real world is such a good idea. They can see and touch the statue of George Washington by themselves when hearing the legendary stories; they can feel the hot whether by standing in the sunshine during the hot summer day. Lost in the thought that kids in my country could also have such an experience, I wonder what would it be like? I am still curious about other kids’ situation and comprehension, which may be unnecessary or futile. The main topic for the next few months is life cycle-- to inform children the basic knowledge about animals, environment, cooperation and skills for how to survive in the wild nature. What I can see is an integration composed by arts and reading, intertwined into each other. Almost everything is perfect and indeed it helps to promote students’ motivation in study and easy students’ development in literacy. I had tried to find the difference between this and my country’s education, which emphasize more on science. Eighteen out of twenty classes were science classes in my high school, and those two arts classes were for those students who cannot go though science class. People had slightly prejudice over arts, considering it of a little practical use and low payback investment. The phenomenon also exist my friend’s country, Chad, Russia, developing countries. Developing country needs to consider the economic factors more for advancing. Still, there is a long way to go before educational systems learn from each other. And yet, what I see is a whole world of arts and reading, almost no science (I even ask Jean why, which is kind of silly of me). Is that because this is the meeting about arts and literacy? I think kids here begin their study about science a little late. Arts and literacy should be considered to be an integral body, and if science is in parallel with arts and literacy’s tempo, then arts, literacy and science would be a better integration too, or interdisciplinary integration. I believe the two hemispheres of the brain need balanced development for uncovering potentials of kids. The end of education here comes out to be the best around the world now, but that does not mean that it has no space to improve. I remember that my high school teacher has said that once a kid is very good at English and math, he probably will be qualified for university. This has been a belief of mine during these years, and I would tell every parent the “truth”. English and math is really opposite and hard discipline in my country. Math classes involve a lot basic knowledge such as probability, geometry, functions, and calculus. And English is a totally different language system. If we believe that “it is too early” or expect children to learn “when they need to”, we may miss the optimal period. Of course, we should not push them and we do not want to. Maybe we just need to think about it, and that is all. Well, in short, it is such a meaningful experience for me. It is like I incidentally fall into a circle full of great ideas.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mike on Ken Robinson

I teach an undergraduate literacy methods block for Elementary teachers and in it my students are asked to reflect weekly on hat weeks readings and their classroom observations. I do allow them occasionally to deviate if they find a topic that is particularly appealing to them.
About a week ago Mike wrote this piece in response to a Ken Robinson piece (I am publishing this with his explicit permission):

"I'd like to take this opportunity to depart from the traditional format of the blogs and comment on something else. A friend of mine recently showed me this link:

In the video, Ken Robinson talks about the nature of our education system. He says that our educational system is far too linear. We start kids off in elementary school preparing them for middle and high school where we then prepare kids for college. All of this is designed so that the kids end up getting a degree and can thereby be successful in the world. Robinson argues that it was a great idea back when college degrees were comparatively rare to high school diplomas, but today, we have a higher percentage of people going on to get their degrees than ever before. As such, a bachelor's degree is not what it used to be. So if everyone has a degree, what more can we do with education to keep improving? Robinson's answer is creativity. He says that we need to teach kids to embrace creativity rather than cut our arts and music programs from the school's curriculum.

I like what Robinson had to say, but I think he overlooked some key aspects of education. Yes, more and more people are going on to get their degrees in post-secondary education. And yes, it would be really smart to teach those graduates to be more creative and well rounded. But what about the students we have to specifically tailor our instruction around? Special needs students present some of the greatest challenges to us as teachers. I feel like Robinson completely glossed over this very substantial, important group of people. It's naive to think that our current education system is great if not for it's lack of emphasis on creativity. Yes, we're sending more kids off to college than ever, but we still have a lot of work to do with educating every one of our students. Belmont, especially, has driven this point home for me"

Mike's comments contextualize what many teachers are thinking, namely that before we attend to creativity there is a lot of other work to be done. I wholeheartedly agree with Mike that we are not yet great at teaching all children what they need to be full citizens. On the other hand there seem to be an underlying assumption that creativity is the cherry, like higher order thinking or comprehension instruction something that comes after skills.

This is the danger that talks about the big C can lead to- the fact that teachers, administrators and parents worry about regular everyday capabilities and rightly so. The little dancer from Robinson'sstory would be a heartwarming story if she grew up to be a world class dancer- but we all know the chances are slim. We need a Ken Robinson who follows up and says and look how we can use her dancing to enhance her learning so she feels empowered to learn and we to teach through it- so she can be successful in everything she chooses to be engaged in.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The big C the big I and Diversity

We had a grant meeting in DC last week for currently funded AEMDD and AEPD grants (alphabet soup and a mouthful). It was great being back in a room that included so many people who are facing similar challenges, concerns and joys. The fairly large group spent the better part of the day working in small groups which was a very productive choice. The ability to talk to each other and further our understanding and action was exceptional.
On the positive side we really could be moving forward in our agenda and the ways we integrate the work we do. At the same time I think that lurking under the surface are some meaningful differences. These are differences that we danced around at the meeting but may actually reveal fairly significant divisions in approach.
In my mind it is the big C (creativity) and big I (Integration) groups. I am a big I person- for me it is all about integration. I do not mean that I do not care about creativity, nor that I do not think pure learning in the arts is not important. Instead it is simply not what I do. I support learning in the arts in schools (kids in drama and instrumental music) and need be will fight for it- but when I write, think and teach it is all about integration.
Hopefully we will come out of this year with a conference and possibly publications that will openly discuss some of these approaches and generate some new (or old) insights and ideas for research, advocacy, and most importantly educational practice!