Sunday, December 11, 2016

In Their Words #1: Ownership

How often do we ask students for feedback?  Not often enough, I'd guess!  A few days ago, I asked students for feedback on my class and teaching.  It was pretty simple - the two questions I asked were:

1. What is something you really like about _____'s teaching?
2. What is one thing you think _____ could do to be a better teacher or help you more?

Every time I do something like this, I know it's good, but it also is scary.  It's a vulnerable place to be in, asking students for feedback on your practice!  And the kids are honest.  They tell you what they are thinking.  I did this anonymously, because I wanted to really get to their thoughts.  They had some amazing responses that sparked a lot of thinking about teaching and education in general.  This sparked the idea for a series of blog posts about what I learned from their responses!

"I really love how _____ lets us be our own teachers at times and is not always trying to control every aspect of our learning."

"I really like how _____ lets us pick out own seats, and trusts us on our own"

These two statements struck me as profound because they point out just how often students do not feel like they are in control of their own learning.  I know that I, as a teacher, am guilty of trying to make everything in the classroom go exactly as I planned it, without accounting for the 30 other people in the room who might have different needs.

Now, I'm not arguing for chaos or freedom without responsibility - boundaries need to be set and students need to be taught how to take ownership appropriately.  But what if we gave students a bigger stake in their learning?  What if we trusted them more?  What if we let them learn and discover instead of just "getting through" our lessons?

Students, especially as they get older, value independence.  They value feeling trusted by the adults in their lives.  They value the chance to have a say in their own learning.  So let's honor and acknowledge that in the work we do in the classroom!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Party Time! (The Day After the Concert)

You've worked hard, you've put all of the details together, and you've given a great concert!  If you are anything like me, this leaves you wiped out the next day.  What to do in your classes?  Celebrate, of course!  This is my system for class parties that keeps it fun, somewhat educational, and not too crazy.

Before the party day, I have students sign up to bring food.  This is pretty simple - I tell them that if they bring food, we will have food at our party, and if not, we won't.  I provide napkins, plates, & cups.  They provide everything else.  I try to get relatively balanced sign-ups in four categories:
Savory snacks
Healthy snacks
Sometimes kids forget to bring their food.  Usually, only about 2/3 of the kids sign up to bring something.  That's fine, then we just have less food at our party.  It doesn't bother me too much, and it doesn't kill them to have one less tub of cookies to choose from.  I don't really contact parents or do any kind of a formal sign up for this - just an informal request to the students in class to bring something.

When they first come in, I have them all put their food in one area of the room.  Then, we watch the video of their portion of the concert and fill out a concert reflection.  I change up the questions I ask, but I always have them reflect on what went well and what could be improved with their musical performance and their behavior, and what they noticed/enjoyed as an audience member.  I always enjoy hearing their responses - it reminds me of when I first felt that power of performing music in a group and the thrill of playing for an audience!

This reflection is their ticket to get food.  As they are working on their concert reflections, I set up the food in a line (trying to group like items together and put the healthy food first to encourage them to eat it).  After they finish their reflections, we go over the rules - mainly, if they make a mess, they have to clean it up.  We have a drinking fountain and sink in our room, so I tell them that drinks can only be poured over the drinking fountain/sink!  I let students who brought food/drinks go through the line first.  Next is students who did not contribute food/drinks to the party.

While they are getting food (and for the rest of class), I take requests to play videos - videos of other groups' performance or fun YouTube videos.  Ground rules are that they have to be school-appropriate (I check them first) and they have to have something to do with our instruments.  Piano Guys, Lindsey Stirling, and TwoCellos are some of our favorites.  We usually have 20-30 minutes of these videos during class.  Oh yeah, and I keep the lights off while we are watching - it helps keep the mood calm.

I stop class about 5 minutes early and have students clean everything up, throw it all away, and pick up all of their food (if there is any left over).

What I love about this routine is that:
1) Students are reflecting on their performance.
2) We get to celebrate!  Students really feel like they have a fun day after all of their hard work!
3) It is not that much work for me (because, honestly, after the concert, I'm pretty fried and I need a day to recover).
4) Even the fun videos have some educational value snuck in there - they are great motivators for the students to see what they can do as they improve on their instrument!

After this, we get back to our usual routine, but it is important to take a day to look at how far we've come, celebrate, and enjoy spending time together!

Concert Day (as told by Bitmojis)

3:30am - What time is it? My alarm hasn't gone off yet. Oh well, I'm wide awake. So much to do! So much excitement! Why don't I read for awhile to try to stay calm, I've got to save some energy for tonight.

5:00am - Okay, it's really time to get going now. Get ready, dress nice, do my hair. Did I remember to pack everything? Let's check one more time. Eat a good breakfast, you will need fuel for the day.

6:45am - Arrive at school. Start packing everything to bring to the high school (concert venue). Where's my packing list? Extra strings, extra music, tape, paper, programs, glow sticks, markers, attendance sheets. The rest will be packed after we use it in class. Charge the video camera! My principal finds me and says, "15 hours!" Yep.

7:30am - Leadership team meeting. Great to get my mind off of the concert for a bit. Find someone who is willing to videotape the concert.

8:35am - 1st period. Our room setup is completely different today. Oh well, good practice for when things will feel different tonight. Tuning. Final reminders. Did I remember to cover everything? Play-through. Practice with the guest conductor one more time. Finding the delicate balance between tweaking things but not overloading students with too much to remember tonight - cramming never works well!

9:32am - 2nd period. Lots of tuning. Final reminders again: concert dress, where and when to show up, where to put cases, concert order, how to behave in the audience, what to do when you first walk on stage, check your stand height, make sure you have enough room to bow, we are guests in the building so don't mess with their stuff, don't forget your music! Dress rehearsal - what are the one or two things to focus on in every song?

10:27am - 3rd period. Combining my 6th grade classes = twice as many students as usual! And, just for good measure, a new student, with today being her first day. We'll get her set up on Monday, there's no way I can do that today. Tuning takes a long time, and then we have to find our seats. Another teacher comes in to have a conversation, but I really don't have time today. More reminders, more run-throughs of songs. Getting used to hearing a group with all of the parts. Try it a few times to practice playing all together. We are set! So much nervous energy and excitement!

11:30am - Head to my next school. No concert for them tonight, just regular class. Hard to focus on what they are doing with everything running through my brain, but we make it. It's snowing now!

1:15pm - Back to my first school with a little prep time. Eat lunch. Pack baton, scores, seating charts, newly charged video camera, three extra bows for students, and everything else. Respond to the deluge of emails with last-minute questions about the concert from parents. Make final copies of music. Write & print out my concert script, the things I need to remember to say. Play piano with another music teacher to de-stress a little. The fact that I woke up at 3:30 is starting to hit me - I'm hitting an afternoon wall of tiredness!

2:50pm - Last class of the day! They don't have a concert either, but I was able to get my assistant to teach today so I could save a little brainpower. I get to walk around and check in with individual students while she leads the main class. This is great! I don't do this often enough. I'm getting a lot of good information, and getting a personal touch with some kids.

3:38pm - School's out! Hope & pray that my students remember to pick up their instruments. Grab a case for a cello player. Another student says that his cello is missing. Run around the building trying to find it, and realize that a younger student had grabbed the wrong instrument and taken it back to her classroom. Finally find the cello there, but the case is now broken. I'll have to call home later. For now, let's MacGyver it so he can take it home and to the concert. Okay, one emergency solved. And no instruments are left in the orchestra room! Hallelujah!

4:30pm - Half an hour to relax, eat, and make any final preparations for the concert. Read my book, drink lots of water to preserve my voice, and try to relax.

5:00pm - Time to go to the concert venue! Can I carry everything in one trip? Yes! Find my way to an unlocked door and get in to put my stuff down. Fine a friend to open the auditorium and start setting up. Reserved signs on seats for students, video camera, programs & flyers out front, clean off the stage, attendance sheets out, podium and chairs and stands beginning to be set up. I'd better go change before the kids arrive.

6:00pm - One more rehearsal for my Chamber group. The stage isn't quite set yet, but good thing I have lots of helpers! We get chairs & stands out, and then tune. Lots of tuning. A former student asks if I want help, and the answer is of course! Rehearse, it sounds pretty good! Now I see the high school orchestra teacher (our host). She helps tune as well, then gets lights and sound set. "Ms. Yeh, can you put fingertapes on my cello?" Not now, it's too late - use your ear to listen to where your fingers go!

6:30pm - Here are the rest of the kids! Energy, excitement, nervousness, all stuffed into 115 bodies in one room. Tune, sign in, get a glow stick for your bow (6th grade). Remind them to not touch anything that does not belong to them. Warm-up and pep talk. 8th grade small group who is playing in the lobby, go ahead. There's my principal - she gives them a pep talk! My assistant principal comes, I show him how to work the camera. It's time! 7th & 8th graders, go out to the audience and take your seats. 6th graders, head onto the stage.

7:00pm - Showtime! I'm in a zone once we get here. The music flows, just like we've practiced so many times. We hit that note in tune! We stayed together during that section! Bits and pieces are off, but so many more things are going well! Go kids go! The music is easy. I hate talking to the audience - I'll stand in front of kids all day, but a group of adults is more intimidating. The best advice I've ever received runs through my brain: the parents just want to see you interact with their kids and their kids having fun with you. THAT'S what it's about. Talking has gotten easier as I've been teaching longer and I realize I don't have to be some crazy formal emcee, I can just be myself! Audience behavior is good. Transitions are going very well. Yes!

8:00pm - We're done! What a great show! High-five and congratulate as many kids as possible, say hi to their parents and families, and start cleaning up. Don't forget anything! Find my admin, and thank them for their support. Most people have cleared out by now. Finish cleaning - picked up an extra bow and lots of sheet music - oh well. Lights off, sound off, auditorium sweep completed, band room is clean, everything is packed up. Debrief the concert a bit with my friend, the high school orchestra teacher. Head out into the freezing cold and drive home.

9:00pm - Home. Exhausted but still running on adrenaline. Read, watch TV, try to calm down. Put in concert grades and upload the concert video - might as well be productive. Trying to force myself to go to bed, but I am so pumped up!

11:30pm - Finally feeling tired enough to CRASH!
20 hour day: CHECK!