Monthly Archives: November 2016

REFLECTION: The Reflective Educators Guide to Classroom Research

The segment we were given to read from the book Developing a Research Plan was an excellent chapter– one that I wish we’d been given a lot earlier in the course (or at least, earlier in the field study). It has tons of great ideas for HOW to conduct data collection. I took a lot of notes in the columns, and also took issue with a few pieces of the article.

In particular in music class, where I am literally unable to pick up a pencil for the duration of a lesson, collecting meaningful data has been a difficult task. In class I am almost always leading in instrumental playing or in singing. Taking out a pencil to jot notes (even on Post-It pads as suggested by the article) would not only ruin the artistic integrity of my lessons, but it would also lead a lot of kids to “shut down” as they would be singing and playing with no direction.

Thus, unlike Alpert’s suggestion that “daily classroom activity” naturally generates a “paper trail” (101), the music classroom often doesn’t. I would suggest this might be similar to a shop classroom or a physical education environment where students “do” more often than they have work written down.

With this said, in the past, I’ve often used audio to inform my upcoming lessons, and even maintain a full “audio library” of students’ work on my website at www.lucastds.com. Students can download songs there for listening. This audio library contains both finished and slightly incomplete recordings from the past seven years of my teaching career, but it represents a very small fraction of the amount of audio I actually take in my classroom. I usually use my iPhone to record at least three classes a day, usually with students playing incomplete fragments of songs. Most of these clips are later deleted — but I use them to inform future teaching of the students (to remind me of where corrections can be made). I often have students self-evaluate their own performances by listening to audio as well.

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However, as the article points out, I’ve often had lots of issues with keeping “audio data” on students. The two difficulties the article points to are that students are “afraid to talk if they thought they were being recorded” (95), particularly because they think their voices “sounded dumb” and that audio recording tends to capture “more than we needed to capture.” (95)

I often have piles of recordings that I both need to throw away and yet I want to keep them, thinking that somehow they may give me a further insight.

Additionally, in a music context I often have quite the opposite problem that the author has. While I, too, have students who don’t want to be recorded, I also have students who want to be THE LOUDEST and the MOST NOTICEABLE on a recording. These students, instead of singing, shout loudly above the voices of their classmates and hope to be “heard” on the recording.

I had some success in quelling this desire in some of my louder students this week when I compared singing as a group to mixing paint.

“Imagine you are mixing paint,” I said to them. “You want to make the colour pink. So you take the red and the white and mix them together. You get a nice pink colour. But sometimes,” I continued, “you don’t quite mix the paint and there are blobs of red sticking out. They aren’t nice to look at. That’s what happens when we are trying to sing as a group and all we can hear is one person shouting.”

In music, I have found audio data collection to be extraordinarily useful. However, this year, I’ve gone one step further in doing a lot of video recording– a passion that was ignited by Carlo and my joint inquiry project last term. This year, however, my video inquiry has actually focused on recording students to better and more accurately grade and evaluate their instrumental playing. Evaluating children’s playing is always hard to do because they often need to follow a leader (me) in order to play at all — and when I stop playing in order to record them, their playing suffers greatly.

One of the difficulties Alpert et al. touch on with technology is the “cool” factor inherent in using new technology. They note a program for iPads that “filled quickly and has an enormous waitlist.” The program is full of excited teachers who, no doubt, hope the iPads will be fun new gadgets to play with. I often find that while technology can enhance the classroom it can also be a disruptive aspect. It’s nice to just play for the pure joy instead of being distracted by being on camera, but perhaps constant surveillance is a new reality that kids are used to nowadays. My two year old probably has had 4000 photos of her taken in the first 750 days of her life.

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When it comes to paper-driven data, I was very excited by Alpert et al.’s example of focus groups. This is a method I often use in my class, and I particularly liked the questions included by Ramirez (105). The categories “Reasons Why I Like”, “Reasons why I don’t Like” and “Ideas or Suggestions” is something I already use — in fact my students did a sheet with these headings last week — however, it was a useful reminder.

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Perhaps my favourite section of the article was a piece of text I will quote at length:

“Departing from your original data collection plan is a natural part of the inquiry process. If you find as your inquiry unfolds that forms of data collection you employed need to be adjusted — adjust accordingly! If you find as your inquiry unfolds that different forms of data collection you hadn’t planned on using may be insightful to your wondering — use them! Just keep track of the decisions you make as an inquirer along the way, as articulating changes in course can also be an important piece of what you are learning.”

I feel that my Field Study project has changed quite a bit from where it first began. A lot of what I was thinking about during the summer washed away as an area of interest when the school year got underway, and, what I did with my students changed to match my new areas of inquiry. I will speak with Don more about this journey over the course of the next few days, but now sleep is calling.

==END REFLECTION==

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Old Friends (E-Postcard #4)

HEADPHONES

Tonight I worked on report cards for three hours and listened to the new A Tribe Called Quest album “We got it from here: Thank U 4 Your Service.”

I was about to putter off to bed, but this week has me so completely overburdened with work that I decided I might as well pluck another assignment off my sagging bookshelf and make a go of it. I hopped on over to JSTOR and logged in to look for some academia to bring to my meeting with my mentor on Monday.

In University, JSTOR was my best friend. I spent hours combing the database while writing my 90-page undergraduate honours thesis in fourth year, which to this day is the most rigorous assignment I’ve ever undertaken. The bibliography alone was some twenty pages long.

That familiar calligraphic logo — the capital J on a burgundy and gold shield — brought me back thirteen years to another time in my life. A time when I had no facial hair, was some thirty pounds lighter and had no life experience. Before I knew it I was plunged four pages into an article that had nothing to do with anything I’m studying but was super-interesting to me.

The article, in case your wondering, was this one:

Degé, Franziska et al. “Music Lessons and Intelligence: A Relation Mediated by Executive Functions.” Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 29, no. 2, 2011, pp. 195–201. www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/mp.2011.29.2.195.

In it, the authors wonder whether music lessons CAUSE students to be more intelligent, or whether their interest in music is caused by a per-existing intelligence.

The article connected with me on a very deep level in that it spoke directly into the experience I have in my music class on a daily basis… especially when playing music for children to listen to.

[At this point, this blog post was interrupted as my baby cried. I'm currently holding her somewhat fussy little body, after defrosting milk and post-midnight-bottle feed, dictating the remainder of this post via voice to text].

Back on topic now, regarding the journal article I mentioned above.

It’s the sort of peer reviewed article but I’ve been missing for quite some time. remembering University when the arguments of Foucault, Marx, Adam Smith, The Roots etc. were first being lit in my young mind.

My notes from class back then would be written by hand in three columns of extremely small blue printing– maybe similar to type size 10, in BIC pen. I’d always wanted to be a cartoonist, so my printing is very neat. Interspersed among the block caps print would be cartoon bubbles and other things to help my visual brain remember.

I can still recall in great detail many of the books I read back then. In fact, on Saturday night I even quoted from memory one of the books I read in those years (it was about medieval dinner party habits, if you’re wondering).

I can’t help in some ways feeling disappointed at the person I’ve become. I’m not sure if I just take in information differently these days, or if I just interact with it differently. Or maybe it’s just that the wisdom of age prevents me from getting quite *so* excited about every silly new idea I hear. It’s just that, where my notes used to burst with academic inquiry and wonder, they now burst with inward reflection and — well, not necessarily negativity but certainly questions.

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I mean, my notes from last class resemble more a tattoo than notes from a university course. And perhaps that’s the reason why I’m handing in all my e-postcards at once. Part of me wonders if in a university program it would be more helpful to make students reflect on readings and inquiries rather than just my any random “aha” moment that might pop into our heads. Part of me is bothered by the idea that writing ten postcards (rather than, say, five) is somehow “too difficult” or “too much work” for something that is supposed to be a Graduate program. For goodness’ sake, I’ve written a friggin’ thesis. If I can’t write a haiku for class and choose a picture to go with it, then what good am I to myself as a person of any sort of academic integrity?

Disconnect (E-Postcard 3)

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PART ONE
On Halloween, my wife and I had a baby. It’s been seven days since the baby was born, and I took the week off of work. Off of everything, actually. I hardly checked my email. We hardly left the house. It was like a vacation… or rather — staycation. Getting to know my little kid was awesome. It was a reminder of how amazing unplugging can feel.

During my absence, there was no TOC to cover my class. I suppose there was a shortage in the district. The first day it bothered me, but I learned to forget about it after that. “Everyone has my back,” I told myself. “Things are being taken care of. My role is being covered somehow. And in the end, my students won’t remember in June that I missed a week of school in October.”

Unfortunately, one of the things I unplugged from was also this course. I have no idea what is going on. We had a day off last week on Halloween, which doesn’t make things any easier to keep track of. Do we have homework for tomorrow? I don’t know. Was I supposed to read something? I don’t know.

Much like my absence from work, the fact that I can’t answer these questions bothers me. I’ve been helping my wife recover from the birth and looking after the toddler. This is the first time I’ve turned my computer on in a week. I spent the last half-hour responding to emails from family and friends that were five to six days old congratulating us on the birth. Now I’m reflecting on how much I wish to reconnect to school.

As I said… I am bothered (professionally) by having taken a week off and falling behind in my work. But much like what happened in my classroom last week, I will catch up. Six months from now, I won’t remember that I missed any time at all.

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PART TWO

Since writing the above, I logged into Canvas and clicked through to the modules and read the course syllabus. I would like to add to my reflection a big thanks to Paula for keeping the website so organized. In a course that occurs off-campus once a week with colleagues from across the district, it’s understandably easy for things to start feeling a little out-of-space/out-of-place. As foreign as Canvas was when the course first started, to me, it became part of the fabric of the community we knit. One frustration that keeps popping up to me this term is that we aren’t using it anymore. I find that I am less inclined to read my classmate’s E-Postcards because they end up drifting into the endless spew of junk that clutters up my inbox. In previous semesters, we were forced to read and respond to at least one e-Postcard. I ended up reading and responding to one e-Postcard, and usually checking out a few more just to get ideas/get thinking/and ask my coworkers at Second Street in particular, what their postcards were about.

This term, without that central place to see them all, I’ve become less inclined to be participatory with the e-Postcards. Interestingly, I noticed the topic for this week was “Exploring Space: How the environment performs us.”

Given my previous Reggio focus with the physical environment, I thought it worth noting how interesting it was that the change in online environment (even a slight change like the move from Canvas to my email box) affected so greatly how much I felt inclined to interact with my classmates and with the learning material. As Patricia Tarr notes of the physical space of the successful classroom, “There is attention to design and placement of objects to provide visual and meaningful context.”*1

Canvas is a platform that is able to provide context for the e-Postcards. My cluttered and confused email inbox — full of baby congratulations and spam and updates of replies to my latest twitter posts and messages to renew my Norton Anti-virus before it expires in five days — is not. Email inboxes are simply a messy teacher desk. Not the appropriate vessel for attracting attention to things like e-Postcards.

I used to login to Canvas multiple times a week because I had to. And now, despite logging into my email everyday (and even on my phone), I feel less motivated to click emails that say “E-Postcard” in the subject line because they become buried among all the clutter in my box. Such a minor change (and such a major impact).

FOOTNOTES:
p. 35 / Tarr, Patricia, Art Education, Vol. 54, No. 3, Early Childhood & Interdisciplinary Challenge (May, 2001), pp. 33-39