Guitar 2 really took a turn the past week and a half. Students really enjoyed working in SoundTrap while they mixed the most recent album. As they were working in SoundTrap, many of them asked if we could do a project where they could create their own music. Why not? Music is music and guitar is one vehicle through which we create music.
Here's the cool thing about SoundTrap: it's cloud based, which means it is accessible on any device. There is even a SoundTrap app, so the students could access their songs via their mobile devices. It works on Macs AND PCs. Super cool.
I thought it would be fun if the students created a South High Soundscape, where recorded sounds from our school found their way into their songs. We listened to to versions of Soundscapes: Steve Reich's "Different Trains" and "City of God's Son" While these might push the envelope of a "soundscape" I thought they might provide two contrasting styles.
What the students put together is uniquely them and intriguing. When I asked them what they enjoyed about the project they replied that they enjoyed creating their own music (even if using pre-established loops), that everyone's creation was different, and there was freedom. Although-that freedom was met with a bit of anxiety at the beginning of the project because there was just SO MUCH for available for the students to work with.
Below is the project description along with some of the songs (students gave me permission to use their work.) Some students, like Diego who wrote "Doors" were very thoughtful in their approach. Diego shared that each section starts with a door sound that he recorded. He indicated that doors open and close to different sections of a school and therefore each time you hear the door in his composition, there is a new and different sounding piece. Woah...that's deep, man. (Also, this is Diego's first time being in a music class).
Please enjoy and please feel free to use this assignment in your own classroom. I believe this kind of music experience can work with ANY grade in ANY setting!
I LOVE making research posters. For some reason I find that this is one of the few ways I can create something visually appealing and I find satisfaction in creating posters. Call me crazy, but sometimes it is a nice change of pace.
I also love research poster sessions. I love chatting with researchers, hearing what they are working on and having meaningful conversations about research. So, why not create a research poster session for the Music In America crew? However, I felt the need to amp it up a bit and create an interactive poster session. Obviously the students (or researchers) would be interacting with other students, but why just stop at a poster? Why not have the poster linked to a website they also created?! WHHAAAA?! So that is exactly what we did.
The posters and websites varied in terms of completeness and "tidiness". However, I can say with authority that all the QR codes and tinyurls DID work (whew....). But just to be on the safe side, we had computers with the websites up and ready to go in case the sound files and videos did not work on the variety of phones that student have (or don't have). For many of these students, creating a website is an entirely new venture for them. In fact, many of them are just learning how to use computers altogether.
I coordinated with the media center and a couple classes came up and chatted with the researchers, explored the websites and asked some really great questions. They thought it was cool that they created websites as well as the codes to link the posters to the websites.
Today I asked the students about what, if anything, should I change about it (they are pretty honest with me). All of them said they enjoyed the project, the ability to go further on a topic that interested them, but what they can work on as students is time management. So, I figure that is success.
Here are links to some of the websites. We used Google sites which, for the most part, are pretty user-friendly. But, like most things technological, there are always glitches.
Social Effects on Music
Transgender Figures in Music
Perhaps it is my own selfish desires to relive my teenage years (really? who REALLY wants to go through that mess??). But yesterday, something incredible happened in the "Music in America: Hip Hop, Rock, and Beyond" (M.I.A) class that I facilitate. But to put things in context, allow me to back up a bit...
Last year I envisioned a class that focused less on learning how to play an instrument and performing/creating and more about the discussion of music and how society and music are extremely intertwined. Not every student has a interest in learning instruments, OR, they are music junkies and love just talking about music. I wanted to facilitate a class that would appeal to these students. I considered the student population that I work with and how I might be able to address these varied interests, so I created this class. (The title is not mine....that was the "teaching and learning" department). Anyhoo...this semester has been very interesting for a variety of reasons. About half the class signed up to be in the class and has been incredibly engaged with discussions, projects, readings....etc. The other half of the class was "put" in the the class to "fill spots" and because "they needed a place to go". In other words, we don't have enough electives during this particular hour for students. SO, that has been challenging at times. At the beginning of the semester I had to advocate for several students because they were absolutely Level 1 ELL students, meaning they had no English skills. This class was completely inappropriate for them, BUT I got them into guitar and we are happily strumming along together. Some students still struggle with the readings as they are still learning the language, and they aren't able to "read between the lines" in terms of the lyrical content, but that is ok. They are working on their language skills and that is important too. I have learned how to adapt reading guides and create EL tests that require more basic skills versus critical thinking skills.
So, at times it has been frustrating and I have, on several occasions, found myself lamenting about the seeming "divide" between engaged and non-engaged students to my colleagues. My office-mate and choir colleague offered some words that have resonated with me and have helped me negotiate this feeling of failure. She suggested that so often we are concerned with incorporating students' cultures into our classroom that we miss that we are also teaching about our own culture as well, AND THAT THIS IS OK!!! This is especially ok with music. Students who are new to our country are trying to figure out what it means to be a teen in this world and there are new phrases and new sounds and what better way to experience that through music? Now...that is not to say that I have not utilized their expertise on Somali music or Ecuadorian music. I am not familiar with their music, so they have certainly educated us in the ways in which music is used in their cultures and what it means to them as young men and women. But to what my colleague was saying, even if the students were not "actively participating" in the experience doesn't mean they weren't gaining something from it The learning might just look different.
So, on to yesterday. We have been working our way through this "Seattle Sound" unit and of course we studied Nirvana. Guitar is an important part of this music and in American culture, so why not learn how to play a tune? I broke the class up into three groups. I worked with students who had never played guitar (and for some, never had touched an instrument before) and taught them a simple bass line. There are some students who were comfortable and well-versed in power chords/barre chords and they worked with the other students. It was amazing. Karen Howard, from the University of St. Thomas was in my classroom observing and caught it all on video. I told her before hand "I have no idea how this is going to go. It could be awesome or it could completely flop." It was beyond my wildest imagination. Seriously. Watch the whole thing. This was 100% unplanned. To quote a student: "We aren't supposed to do this in school, but we just did."
It's been a while. I started this post on March 2nd. Something must have happened that day or week to cause me to pause and consider my role as an educator. What is the role of music education in students' lives? What is the role of music education in MY life? Recently it has been so much bigger than the content that we are often so concerned with "passing on" to the students with whom we work. These students have taught me A LOT this year. I have grown more in the past two years as an educator as a result of the experiences that the students have brought into the classroom. It has been a humbling, and truly rewarding experience.
There is a student who is a selective mute who was in guitar last year and last spring, but needs to fulfill credits in other classes. He regularly checks in with me to show me some of he music that he is writing and it is inspiring. This is all music he has created, without any help from me. I suppose the one thing that I did do was create a space for him to feel comfortable, without the need to talk. It causes me to pause what it means to choose to not speak, for whatever reason, and find communication only through written word, music, and visual arts.
A student came to me at the beginning of second semester to thank me for teaching her guitar. She came to class very reserved, careful to speak in front of her peers. However, she performed solo guitar and singing at the school talent show. She share with me had it not been for my class, the encouragement, I provided, as well as a space to create and be ok with mistakes, that she never would have tried out for the talent show. That was amazing to me.
What is the role of music in our lives? How are we encouraging students to bring their music in the classrooms and share with us their culture? How are we embracing this to the fullest, by putting away our preconceived notions of what music education *should* be versus what it *could* be.
In my hip hop/rock/whatever class we are working through a unit on Grunge music. OF COURSE we are going to be learning about Nirvana. Guitar is a super important part of music, so why not try it out for a few days?? I suck at bar chords, but I have students who are great at it, so why not pass over the role of 'teacher" or facilitator to the students? That's the plan and they are looking forward to sharing their understanding of guitar with students who may have never played an instrument before. I think it will be fun. Twenty-five acoustic guitars rocking out to "Smells Like Teen Spirit"? Why not?!
And why not? Really, What is the worse thing that could happen? We sound crappy? Well, that is ok. We learn from the experience? Even better? Perhaps some kiddos think, "hey, this is neat, I want to learn more guitar". #whatifmusiced
What does this phrase mean to you? As we approach, or have started, a new school year, how might you consider this phrase when working with your students. In our own school, our students participated in rallies, sit-ins, and marches-during and outside of school. This summer, our neighboring community, St. Paul public schools, lost a member of their support staff to what has been best understood as racially charged violence. Our students at South are a very diverse group, whereas our teaching staff is not. However, what is wonderful about the teaching staff at South is that we recognize this disparity and we are doing the best we can to bring these conversations to the forefront of what is going on in the classroom. Some people might say that this is anti-racism education, which, in itself, is a much more in-depth pedagogy than just talking about differences.
Next week, students are coming into our school. Some of them may be returning to South, some may be brand new to South and our culture here, some may be brand new to this country and don't speak a lick of English. It is our job as educators to embrace these differences and encourage student's to use their voice, their experiences and backgrounds in the classrooms. Dare I say, sometimes the content is less important than the experiences of building relationships with our students.
There are a few of us that are working on getting this phrase made into poster and underneath having "South Teachers for Racial Equity" added. Many of our students have felt silenced or discriminated against because of their cultural or perceived racial identity, and we want them to know that we do see them, we do hear them, and we believe IN them. What would happen if we adopted this mentality in all of education.
I just completed my oral exams for my written comprehensives this past Friday down at ASU. I have found that this part of the journey is different for each school. I am thankful that my professors allowed me to write my own questions, so there weren't any surprises. Each test (there are three of them) is timed-four hours of writing. They were extremely intense, but I learned SO much from the overall experience. I have learned that I found some new pedagogy interests as well as research interests. Additionally, I have learned via Friday's exam, that I need to start thinking more deeply about what I am reading and interrogate my own beliefs, what has been written and what could be written. There were times when I thought I understood certain concepts and ideas, and I think I do understand concepts (read: hegemonic norm) but it's now time to start digging further.
In preparing for these tests I kept going back to several books. I have found that sometimes we don't read books cover to cover!!! Gasp! In fact, there is no way that I could have survived if I would have read these cover to cover, but I definitely read a good chunk of them and have found them invaluable resources in my research and in my thoughts about teaching. You are not reading a literature review here, not even a summary of these books, but just my two-cents.
The Oxford Handbook of Social Justice in Music Education is in my mind, probably one of the most important books to have been published recently in music education. It brings together some of the top thinkers in music education, as well as non-music educator thinkers and confronts social justice issues head on. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is teaching K-12 or higher education.
Randal Allsup's 2016 book Remixing the Classroom: Toward and Open Philosophy of Music Education is a beautiful book. I first became acutely aware of how much I appreciated Allsup's philosophy on learning and teaching in his 2015 MEJ article "Our Both/And Movement" (another recommended read). This book continues that conversation, but also suggests that we are not preparing teachers to teach in an evolving classroom. I'm not done with this book quite yet, but am looking forward to continuing the journey.
Drs. Vicki Lind and Constance McKoy published this book early 2016 and it is a gold mine of information. It presents the historical elements of culturally responsive teaching and provides rich pedagogical implications as well as realistic applications of culturally responsive teaching in music classrooms. I am excited to continue reading this as well as the school year kicks off.