Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sweet Plantain Visit Glacier Valley

Mrs. Vreeland's 1st grade class proudly stands with members of Sweet Plantain
Sweet Plantain, a string quartet that blends classical, jazz and Latin styles, visited Juneau as part of their Alaskan tour.  While here, they gladly accepted an invitation to perform at Glacier Valley Elementary School before hopping on a plane to their next stop.  This dynamic quartet supports music education in their hometown of New York City where they started a string ensemble program for a school in South Bronx. They designed curricula "to empower the students through musical forms representative of their community's cultural heritage, while at the same time exposing them to classic Western forms.  Sound familiar?  Yes, one of the members of this quartet is a product of Venezuela's El Sistema.

After performing for the entire student body, the quartet attended an impromptu performance by Mrs.Vreeland's 1st grade violin class in the music room.  There we had a chance to ask the members questions and personally thank them for such an inspirational performance.  But it was Sweet Plantain who thanked us for inspiring them.  One member explained that in NYC cuts had been made to an instrumental program that he'd been involved with for years.   Seeing a program like JAMM gave him hope.

Thank you, Sweet Plantain, for showing your commitment to music education wherever you travel.  Thank you, Juneau Arts and Humanities Council for sponsoring them and making a performance at Glacier Valley possible.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

JAMM Takes the Next Big Step: After-School Hours

JAMM after-school club:  1st graders drum with buckets and tubanos
JAMM has been an in-school model until now.  Thanks to Alaska ICE and Rasmuson Cultural Collaborations grants, first graders also can attend an after-school club, once a week for 2 hours beginning in October.  8-% of our first graders are enrolled, ready for general music instruction, violin lessons and bucket band!

First grade is a transition year, gradually moving its programming from an in-school model to after-school.  Kindergartners have violin class during school hours and 2nd graders will hold class after-school when JAMM expands to 2nd grade next year.

A general music curriculum is part of JAMM's after-school club

This transition has intention.  Its purpose is to maintain quality of instruction, consistent school culture, behavioral expectations, and developmentally appropriate practice (recognizing that these little ones get tired!)

It's also a transition year for JAMM's teaching model:
  • All 1st grade violin classes replace in-school general music time.  This was a tough decision, but it was the only option for JAMM to ensure that all 1st graders received at least two years of a solid foundation in string pedagogy.  This is one reason why the after-school club has a general music component. 
  • 1st grade teacher do not attend these violin sessions because it's their prep time.  Instead, they've each schedule an additional 30 minutes during the week for their class to come to the music room and "show and tell" what they've been doing in violin.  This way music and classroom teachers can continue to build connections across the curriculum.
  • The classroom teachers' absence allow the music teacher and teaching artist to command the classroom on their own before moving into daily after-school hours when their management skills will be most tested.
    Diane Barnett, who has been assisting in both kindergarten and 1st grade violin classes and Amy Bibb, a recent MAT music graduate, will lead JAMM club.  They are both indispensable to the program and JAMM is fortunate to have them!  As the school music teacher, I will also be there to support and help maintain consistency between in-school and after-school expectations.

    Amy Bib leads the 1st graders in a warm-up activity before drumming

    Thank you, Association of Alaska School Boards, Rasmuson Foundation and the Alaska State Council on the Arts for helping JAMM take its next big step. Here is a short video clip of Abreu Fellow, Julie Davis, leading the club in a partnering activity to help students isolate one skill at a time:  bowing or fingering.  Thank you, Julie, for sharing so many technique games with our students!

    Friday, October 7, 2011

    My Wish for El Sistema-inspired Programs: Collaboration

    Rebecca Levi and Levi Comstock team-teaching at CLCS
    Last week I shared my experiences working with the El Sistema Boston staff at Conservatory Lab Charter School and how powerful collaboration can be.  Collaboration works.  It's why all JAMM classes are team-taught.

    If I could wish anything for a new initiative, it would be a team-teaching model, especially in those critical start-up years.  Here's why:
    • Your weakness may be the other teacher's strength.  Together you create better lessons, while learning from one another.
    • Together you build common language, consistent school culture and expectations.  Students need to know the boundaries.  If rules and expectations change each time students move to a new classroom, they'll spend their time trying to figure out the rules by testing them, instead of focusing on the music. This is often the cause of misbehavior.  Team-teaching helps cut down on this chance of inconsistency among staff.
    • You are willing to take risks and try new strategies when you have support from another colleague.
    • You hold each other accountable for the success of the lesson by planning ahead together and establishing your roles.
    • You can reflect on lesson delivery more thoroughly when you have the benefit of two different perspectives.
    • You can have eyes in the back of your head! Your colleague can catch what you may have missed.
    • You can attend to misbehavior without having to disrupt the flow of the class.  Your colleague can often prevent the issue by proximity and by attending to it early on. 
    • You are modeling teamwork for your students, an important skill for them to see adults doing. 
    I'd like to thank the Glacier Valley and JAMM staff for investing in a team-teaching model.  It takes trust, but no one teacher has all of the answers.  By reaching out to colleagues and community members for inspiration and expertise, collaborative teaching will not only enliven and diversify instruction, but also remind you that you are never alone.

    Mrs. Peters' class benefits from three teachers:  Mrs. Peters, Mr. Xia & Miss Heagy
    Nikki Shorts and Brandon Brack at YOLA at HOLA, where team-teaching is part of its culture

    Saturday, October 1, 2011

    Meeting the Abreu Fellows Class of 2011

    Meeting the Abreu Fellows Class of 2011 at Longy School of Music
    While back east for a Teacher of the Year event in Princeton and NYC, I had the honor of traveling to Boston to meet and provide teacher training for the 2011 class of Abreu Fellows. I did a similar training for the class of 2010.  In four short days, I shared some of the most useful practices gathered over 17 years of teaching, modeled them in classrooms at the Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS) for the fellows to observe and debriefed afterward, focusing on what worked (and what didn't), why and how will this inform us for planning tomorrow's lesson.

    In particular, I'd like to thank Levi Comstock, a strings teacher at  CLCS for welcoming me into his classroom last year where I observed, team-taught and gave feedback.  I visited his classroom again this year, as well as other El Sistema Boston staff at CLCS.  Levi's attitude is one that makes for a great teacher.  I saw this same open attitude modeled in nucleos throughout Venezuela.  Feedback given one day was incorporated into practice the next.  Levi did the same thing.

    For example, last year Levi found it challenging to keep the attention of his students while explaining bow divisions.  When we debriefed afterward, I shared some brain-compatible strategies and Waldorf principles that had worked for me.

    One in particular is the use of story.  In Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Eric Jensen describes factors that engage the mind: emotion, movement, relevance, novelty and pattern.  A story contains all of them and makes for a very effective teaching strategy. As an example of using story to teach something technical or abstract, I shared with Levi my Fox story.

    In pure Venezuelan style, Levi incorporated this feedback into his lesson the next day and created an incredible lesson. Here's the proof!  Just watch the kids as Levi sings a song he composed, "All Aboard the Bow Express."

     We both came away from the experience better teachers.  Levi blogged about the lesson to share with others.  Thank you, Levi.

    There is a growing demand for trained teachers to teach in El Sistema initiatives all over the the country,  all whom face a daunting task:  manage a large group of young children with instruments in their hands, during after-school hours.  This training in partnership with CLCS, New England Conservatory and Longy School of Music gave the Abreu Fellows a chance to see theory put into practice.

    I'd like to thank Erik Holgrem, Director of the Abreu Fellows program, for inviting me to work with the Abreu Fellow classes these past two years.  Through his leadership, teacher training is becoming an important component of the Abreu Fellows program.   Thank you, Rebecca Levi, David Malek, and the entire CLCS staff for allowing your program to act as a lab where staff are encouraged to take risks and test new ideas in a safe and supportive environment.