Honouring Hunger (E-Postcard 2)


In class the other day, I took the time to look up and read the chapter assigned in the syllabus. Doesn’t seem like a big accomplishment, but with school starting up, a toddler at home, a house renovation underway and a very pregnant wife, looking up notes and reading the textbook was actually quite an accomplishment for the week.

I showed up and the classroom was set up exactly as described in the textbook. Our professor was there, with costumes on hand just as described. It seemed immediately to me that we would be acting out the scenario described in the textbook.

I humourously mentioned to my colleagues a tidbit of knowledge that I had devoured while quickly consuming the textbook. The professor shot a glance at me and said “well now you’ve ruined it.” Ruined it? I spoiled some great secret? Weren’t we all supposed to have read the book? It’s not like I read ahead or cheated somehow. I figured people were supposed to put work into the course rather than put their head down low and sneak by unnoticed.

This week I won’t be reading the chapter.

Thoughts on The Road Less Traveled (E-Postcard 1)


We cheerfully exalt ourselves all too frequently for taking the road less traveled. Often it seems that “individualism” is the number one most popular self-descriptor these in modern day North America. We grow beards, get tattoos, even remodel our houses (often exactly the same as every one else around us) — all in an effort to somehow be more “individual” than every other bearded and tattooed person living in an identical house to ours.

We all want to be mountain men and ladies, off in the wilderness somewhere, chopping wood and smelling the fresh air alone. Well… as long as people can see us doing it on the internet. So we have a generation like this one, where people make videos of themselves “giving up their phone” only to say, in the description of the video:

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/alexandrami…
TWITTER: https://twitter.com/_alexmiotto
YOUNOW: https://www.younow.com/_alexmiotto
TUMBLR: http://alexmiotto.tumblr.com/
PINTEREST: https://www.pinterest.com/alexmiotto/

Which only proves that this person doesn’t actually want to give up their phone. They want to be followed by more anonymous people.

In this most individual of times ever, we live in a society devoid of real community. A pill-popping place full of people battling depression. People who feel alone but are more connected than ever to everyone around them.

Last week was the Terry Fox assembly at our school. Among the slick video presentations and excited urging to raise more money so pies could be thrown in teacher’s faces, our Community Coordinator came up and very simply spoke about how she went to high school with Terry’s family and remembers watching his race on TV every night as a kid.

The student population sat enraptured for seven minutes as she spoke. Not a single kid seemed unaffected. It was a reminder that despite all the technology we have today, human connection and the spellbinding word matters so much more than forging your own path. Forging your own path is nothing without the wisdom of our elders, a connection to our shared history and humanity.

Ancient wisdom is ancient due to this connection, and it is wisdom because real lessons are learned by listening to the lives and stories of others. Why we would choose to forgo listening for the sake of pretending to be pioneers is beyond me.

Self-Learning in a traditional discipline

- page 54 Loris Malaguzzi, “Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins.”

“We need to produce situations in which children learn by themselves, in which children can take advantage of their own knowledge and resources autonomously, and in which we guarantee the intervention of the adult as little as possible.”

From the moment a conductor steps onto the stage and his lead player stands up, they have a vision about what the pieces being performed that night will sound like. The conductor raises their baton and the players respond. And while there is a relationship formed on the stage through performance — one might even say a mutual push and pull, co-creating relationship — the role of the conductor is definitely as the head of their orchestra.

But what of Malaguzzi’s call to let children be the authors and use their own knowledge and resources autonomously? How do I integrate that philosophy into a skill-based field (music) which is so based on the idea of the master musician and his apprentice (the learner).

The master-instrumentalist and his apprentice is a key theme running throughout music. The generations of music learning from one another: Louis Armstrong passing the baton to Miles Davis. Miles Davis passing the baton (or, actually, not wanting to pass it) to Wynton Marsalis. And all of these musicians in turn learning from master musicians one-on-one.

This is a community of learning, but (especially in more classical music like choir or the orchestra), the sense is always that there is a master and an apprentice.

As such, there IS an objective truth, one Parker Palmer is reluctant to acknowledge when he talks about the “myth” of the objective truth. There is only one “correct” way to play a trombone… other ways do not produce a good sound. There may be many things you can do with that trombone after you’ve learned the skill, from using your skills on the brass instrument to modify conch shells (a la Steve Turre) to extending the instrument to a modern computer-based loop vehicle like Christopher Bill — but all these people
were taught how to play the instrument in an objective fashion by a “master player” at some point. I’m not sure what the use of trying it a different way is.


Certainly there are some aspects of music that MUST be taught outside this model, that are by nature democratic. Improvisation is a good example. But there are also many aspects of music that don’t lend themselves to this, such as singing together as a choir or the vision of how a piece should sound.

Learning Stories


I was intrigued today by the idea of learning stories. I do a lot of multimedia in my room — photos of students and video and audio recordings as well. It made me wonder: What are some ways I can use learning stories in a music class? What are some ways I can have students create their OWN Learning Stories?? Cool concept all around.

It left me with a lot of questions… Should I as the teacher do all the writing or should students participate in the process? Is there a way to use journaling in a music class environment?

Unfortunately, a lot of these questions led me down the following path: Do all of these techniques bring students too far away from the “feeling” environment of music? Do we want to pull kids away from playing music and feeling that emotional reaction to it in order to have them write about the experience when writing might be something they struggle with? Or should these activities be purely for the teacher to do? If I am doing them for myself, what relationship should these stories have to the children? Are they for them to enjoy purely for the sake of enjoyment or are they related to assessment in some way?

My class is often an outlet *away* from other activities and I do what I can to help kids avoid feeling “marked” or “scrutinized” as often as possible.

I do this because in traditional schooling, there’s this feeling that everything always needs to be written down or recorded to be validated… As if the learning isn’t learning unless it is on a poster or laminated. But is that the case?

Especially in a music class where the learning is meant to be experienced and felt… how do we record feelings in a way that keeps them authentic?

These are all areas I’m struggling with.


While I understand that learning stories aren’t meant to be used as assessment pieces, I wonder (especially within the context of the other reading in class today), what the point is of going to all the work to take meticulous notes on students if we are not using these notes to, in some way, assess them.

In my subject area, in particular, almost none of my “letter grades” rely on “marked assignments” or “tests”. Almost every time of assessment I use is note-taking and video-taking, which looks very similar to the learning stories you were showing today. So how can I *not* get confused between the two.

Additionally, I struggle with what Judith T. M. Gulikers, Theo J. Bastiaens and Paul A. Kirschner call “construct validity” (p. 68)… does the assessment measure what it is supposed to measure? Am I measuring students on their ability to play guitar, or work in groups, when I put them in groups to play music? Music is such an authentic subject that I worry that by focusing on the creation of learning stories, or pushing my documentation/assessment of the process too much into the forefront, that the authenticity taking place will be lessened.

In an extremely short journal article I came across while writing this reflection, Amy Rowland speaks about the role of journaling in “gym” classes. She is responding to student complainants who say, “You want me to write a paper in gym class?” (p.59). This is how I often feel when asking students to write things in music class. However, while Rowland argues that journaling and goal-setting are important in physical education, I would argue that they actually detract from the experience. I’d bet a million dollars that Miles Davis never journaled about becoming a great trumpet player. Sidney Crosby didn’t sit down for goal-setting sessions on how to be a great hockey player. They just did.

At some point, we have to let people who excel at music or shop or sports or being in nature excel at these things and stop pulling them out of the authentic experience to make them fill in paperwork.

Gulikers, Judith T. M., Bastiaens Theo J., and Kirschner Paul A. “A Five-Dimensional Framework for Authentic Assessment.” Educational Technology Research and Development 52, no. 3 (2004): 67-86. http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/stable/30220391.

Rowland, Amy. “Not Just “Gym” Anymore: The Role of Journaling in Physical Education Courses.” The Clearing House 81, no. 2 (2007): 59-60. http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/stable/30189956.

21st Century Skills

21st Century Skills
Problem Based Learning: the foundation for 21st Century Skills
By John Barell

Reflections & Notes:

-John Barrel contends that problems today are more complex than they have ever been. I would argue that this is false… that the key difference between the problems humanity faces today and the problems we faced thousands of years ago is that today we have the ability to end the world and all human and animal life, whereas the choices made by cavemen of the past or even the societies of the 1800s did not have that particular feature.

- Rather than focusing on individual problems (like 45+72), PBL looks at larger issues such as “How should we design the school playground?” or “How can we protect the neighbourhood stream?”
- Barrel says that we must design problems that are “so complex, messy and intriguing enough that they do not lend themselves to a right or wrong answer approach.” p. 178

- Real world problems
- Choices about content
- High-level objectives
- Small group collaboration
- Feedback throughout
- Ability to revise findings
- Engagement in planning/self-reflection
- Opportunities for pre-, formative, & summative assessment
- Clear structure
- Teachers and students share decision-making

“There are no rules here. There are very high expectations.”
Are very high expectations not in themselves ‘rules’? What have we, as a society, got against rules. Many rules (wear your seatbelt, stop at a red light) are exceedingly useful.

Regarding the problem scenario, this scenario illustrates the problems we have creating valid questions. The project introduces students to “Africa” by asking them to pretend to be an African nation taking out a loan from the World Bank. But what about introducing students to the problems of such loans? With the problematic nature of the relationship between such nations and institutions like the World Bank itself? These are pieces of knowledge that students can’t always self-research. Both approaches (PBL & traditional teaching) provide important aspects of learning.

On an aesthetic note, KWHLAQ is a horrible acronym.

PAGES 185-187
EXCELLENT EXAMPLES outlined by the author for units within a school

How Quickly

How quickly
we think ourselves capable.

A rocky inlet beach
no waves to lap the wet sand
damp from morning rain

A small boy
jeans rolled up
and holding a branch,
says he is fishing
as he dips it in a puddle.

His sister
Cradled in her young mother’s arms
Wearing blue-striped pants
bald head
no shoes
cherub cheeks.

She sees her brother,
almost three,
dip his feet into the sea

Me too!
she thinks

And before her mother blinks
she breaks free
sits up
curled fingers breaking the wet sand
towards knowing.

I Have No Spirit Animal

Eagle Symbol

I remember as a child, one of my teachers asked the class to make a medicine wheel and a dream catcher. The dream catcher was built out of Popsicle sticks, with yarn wrapped around them tightly and beads and feathers hanging from the device.

I remember mine had a red yarn centre and I was very proud to bring it home. When my mother saw it, she was horrified and threw it away.

Fast forward.

Five years ago, as a teacher, I attended a meeting of music teachers wherein we voted to stop using the Salvation Army Church for choir festivals because Muslim students were refusing to enter the building due to religious beliefs. Despite the old brick church having far richer and superior acoustics to the newer (drier and more ideal for theatre than choir) venue that replaced it– the Michael J Fox theatre — we conceded that those with differing beliefs ought to be respected. It is uncomfortable to walk into a house of worship if you are irreligious or of a different religion. And even though personally, I think exposure to other belief systems is important, I do value that choice and think including everyone is important. This, we voted to move choir festival even though holding it in a Christian Church affected only one or two children in the district per year.

Often through my life, I’ve conceded things in my belief system in order to fit in. As a child, I participated in a lot of activities just because others were.

But now I tend to be of the belief that, within the context of a society that believes in “expressing our true selves” and “telling our own story”, I’m sushi luring myself if I participate in everything.

I don’t have a spirit animal and personally I think the idea of having one is not only unnecessary but also counter to everything I stand for. I value a connection to nature, and I understand how teaching children about a connection to it is important. But I think that, if a spirit animal is the only way to do it, we are valuing one set of beliefs over many others in a disrespectful way.

Personally, if my daughter was asked to choose a spirit animal, I would send her back to school with a note saying that the activity was not appropriate, for the same reason that I don’t participate in prayers of other belief systems, or close my eyes to worship nature in general.

Saying, “shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God,” may sound incredibly close-minded to many. But this narrative has as much right to be heard as any other.

Of Chocolate (and opportunity)

Summer Session: Day 1

Of Chocolate (and opportunity)

Don played the video of Amy Singh‘s TedX talk in Prague today, and I suppose it was meant to be inspirational. Look at how an Inquiry project turned into not only a lifetime journey of learning but also amazing opportunities for one amazing young lady.

On one hand, the video did completely prove Ron Berger’s thesis true, that “The apathy, disconnection, or lack of self-esteem that causes students to disengage in school—to stop caring—is not inherent. It is learned behavior.” (Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools Through Student-Engaged Assessment)

This young lady had a goal, and since she found no good reason to stop doing it, she kept going.

However, I don’t want to be a Negative Nancy, but my mind went other places when watching that video. This young woman obviously had a lot of opportunity at her fingertips. She had a parent or adult willing to take her to an Arboretum to look at a cocoa tree. She had a parent or adult willing to sacrifice cooking tools to a chocolate making experiment. She had the money on hand to enter her creation in a chocolate competition and create a chocolate bar label.

And I can’t shake the feeling that, even if I had this passion, the most I would have had access to as a nine-year-old (and oldest of five siblings on a limited income) was cardboard, pencil crayons and my imagination. My parents would not have had the ability to drive me to a museum to view something (or pay the entrance fee). I could not have sacrificed kitchen tools (we didn’t even have a BBQ). And I certainly couldn’t have traveled to Africa to research my interest in child labour (I never took vacations).

I drew the conclusion that while apathy is surely learned, some people have good reasons for learning it. There is a glass lid that is often put on a spark and how far you can take it. That lid extinguishes the flame pretty quickly.