Monday, November 24, 2014

How Bad Educational Policies Demoralize Teachers

How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers

Adapted from John Rosales Feb. 2012 article in "NEA Today"

Bad Ed policies created with the good intention of improving instruction and learning are resulting in demoralized teachers. Rigid educational reforms are removing the joy and value from the art of teaching.Teachers today are suffering from a high level of frustration and and a feeling of hopelessness. Too many dedicated and talented individuals are being driven out of the profession.

The rewards of teaching are embedded in the work of teaching. They go beyond the questions surrounding student achievement and include finding ways to connect meaningfully with our students and using our teaching talent to improve the lives of others. When the most important work of teaching is forced to change without any evidence such change is for the better, teachers question the value of their work and too often become demoralized.

Research done by Doris Santoro, shows that it is not one single event or policy that leads to demoralization, but a compilation of mandates that change the character of a teachers work. Education policies that demand scripted lessons, mandate curriculum content regardless of students' academic needs and learning style and require high stakes testing make teachers feel they are complicit in doing more harm than good for their students. 

Demoralization is not a personal problem. It can not be avoided individually.  Demoralization indicates a problem within the profession. It is the work of education that has changed not the failure of individual teachers. We must all identify, challenge, resist and impede those policies that do not  improve instruction and substantially improve the lives of our students.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Listen and Learn: The Key to Effective Secondary General Music Instruction

Listen and Learn: The Key to Effective Secondary General Music Instruction

by George Ober and Joe Pergola
Teaching secondary general music can be one of the most challenging and one of the most rewarding courses for music teachers. The multitude of requests for guidance regarding curriculum and learning goals on social media teacher sites demonstrates widespread concern about teaching this subject. There is no question that secondary general music instruction instills significant discomfort in teachers who are assigned a full schedule or just a single section.
Issues in Secondary General Music Education
**Why do so many secondary music educators feel insecure when asked to teach general music? Perhaps it’s the amount of preparation necessary to teach a music course to predominately non-performing music students! Maybe it’s the lack of a unified sequential curriculum! Possibly it’s question of which materials will be useful! Maybe it’s the fear of disciplinary issues due to a lack of confidence in the lessons being taught! Whatever the reason, music educators desperately need resources and a research based curriculum designed specifically for today’s secondary general music student.
Learning Goals for Secondary Education
It’s important to ask ourselves the following question. What are the essential skills and knowledge that all students should learn. For some educators the primary goal is to have students perform on instruments such as recorder, guitar, percussion and electronic keyboard? In other programs the most important skillI is for all students to know how to read and write traditional musical notation? From a humanities perspective the primary goal may be to understand music history?
However, since the vast majority of students required to take secondary general music are not members of a school performing group, the most important goal must be the development of “listening skills”.
The Importance of Aural Skills
We live in a world where MTV, VH1 and YouTube have replaced aural acuity with visual imagery, the need to increase our students ability to better appreciate music by developing listening skills is essential. We need to help our students develop the aural skills necessary to perceive the expressive qualities inherent in various musical styles.
Instructional Sequence
This can be accomplished by having students understand and recognize the basic elements of music such as beat, tempo, dynamics, rhythm, instrumentation and form. The development of independent listening skills for each basic element provides the building blocks for the ability to a) hear, b)describe and c) identify the qualities inherent in music of varying style. By incorporating these basic skills into an instructional design, can help all our students cultivate the skills needed to demonstrate an aesthetic response to music.Initially, the basic elements of music should be described and discussed in non-technical terms, supported by various learning activities involving description, creation and performance all in conjunction with appropriate listening examples.
Gradually, connections to proper terminology and musical symbols should be used to describe, analyze and assess listening examples.
Instructional Activities
Students need to internalize beat and tempo. With repeated listening activities, students can learn to maintain a steady pulse in varying tempos by clapping or tapping.
The ability to recognize and identify various dynamic levels including crescendo and decrescendo is a listening skill all students can develop.
With developmental practice students can learn to audiate and perform notated basic rhythm problems.
Have students learn to compose four (4) measure rhythm patterns.
Using simple song form, (Intro, Verse, Chorus, Bridge) students can develop the listening skills necessary to graph song form.
True knowledge of the basic elements of music is exemplified by aural recognition and oral description. In other words, students must be able to recognize each element in isolation and in relationship to other elements present in the music. Students must be able to describe the function served by each element and how it is connected to the style being performed.
Each individual teacher must choose the best material suited for the level and age of their students. All styles of music should be employed; classical, jazz, rock etc. Emphasis should be placed on current popular styles because success in introducing students to new musical concepts is considerably easier when the student is dealing with familiar music. Plus, when students see that “their music” is accepted by the teacher, they are more receptive to listening and learning about other styles of music. Secondary general music teachers must stay open-minded and up to date with the ever changing styles of popular music.
It is time secondary general music develops a curriculum design and effective pedagogy that builds the listening skills necessary for students to better appreciate the expressive qualities inherent in all styles of music.

Endless Solutions for Educational Reform

Endless Solutions for Educational Reform

By Joseph T. Pergola

Successful teaching used to be measured by the ability of a teacher to connect subject matter to the lives of children in meaningful ways. Good teaching inspired students to improve academically and socially. Improvement in student achievement was a result of artful teaching. Now successful teaching has become the art of adapting and implementing the newest and latest solutions for educational reform. First we were assured academic success if everyone taught the National Standards. No sooner the National Standards were adopted, they morphed into the more cumbersome State Standards.Then along came No Child Left Behind. A unfair punitive solution to lagging academic achievement. Only politicians or education pundits could come up with such a plan for improving student success on a national level. All children, regardless of their ability or disability, regardless of their native language or reading level are required to take the same tests and expected to perform at the same benchmark level. Who thought of this? Certainly no one with any experience teaching or any knowledge of child development. What happened to differentiated learning and modifying teaching strategies? Remember learning these skills as essential to good teaching?
Now we have a new educational reform plan. Welcome to Race to the Top! Another great educational reform plan that requires states to compete for funds to improve education. This plan is a disincentive for true meaningful efforts to improve academic success. Basically, schools with poor student achievement but an excellent improvement plan score highest in the race for money. This implies that their improvement plan is solely contingent on money. I contend that if they can not improve their poor academic standing without more money, they are incompetent educational leaders. How much does it cost to implement a better discipline program, teacher professional development, curriculum revision, parent out-reach, homework assistance, academic intervention etc. etc. etc.
Let's not forget the by-product of Race To The Top. The reorganized, revised, regurgitated standards now called Common Core! If we all agree on a common core curriculum, if we pre-assess our students knowledge of curriculum content and if we teach to prepare students for testing of subject matter in the common core curriculum, we can be fully assured of educational success. We have been told what to teach and how to teach. We have been directed to continually assess and test.
We have been told what our students should know and how well our students should perform. We have been told a lot of things, but no one has told me how adoption and implementation of National Standards, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top or Common Core will guarantee learning or inspire students to take responsibility for their own success.

Assessment: The Pathway to Improved Professional Performance

The Pathway to Improved Professional Performance
by Joe Pergola

Thankfully, the education profession is once again focusing on the importance of “assessment”. The first big push for embedded assessment accompanied the introduction of the National Standards which called for the systematic assessment of student learning. The newest education initiatives such as Common Core, Annual Professional Performance Reviews and others designed to improve student learning, have once again brought assessment front and center as a critical element in the teaching/learning process. It’s time to re-examine portfolio assessment in light of today’s push for evidence of learning. 
Comprehensive assessment is the most significant factor in the pursuit for better student learning. Improved learning is totally dependent on successful teaching and successful teaching is dependent on improved teacher instruction! Successful teachers continually evaluate the teaching and learning process. They determine the learning level of their students and refine their instruction for greater success. Improved student learning is an out-growth of information necessary to judge student understanding, measure student progress and examine student thought processes. Teachers who are successful question what they can do differently, what new materials they can use and what new instructional approach they can take for improved results. In other words, successful teachers assess learning because assessment improves instruction. 
Successful teachers continually evaluate the teaching and learning process. They determine the learning level of their students and refine their instruction for greater success. Improved student learning is an out-growth of information necessary to judge student understanding, measure student progress and examine student thought processes. Teachers who are successful question what they can do differently, what new materials can they use and what new instructional approach they can take for improved results.

How Children Really Learn

How Children Really Learn

Adapted from original article
by Alison Gopnik - NY Times
So here is the big question, if children can master skills and knowledge not taught in schools; why do they often have a hard time learning in school? Why can children master difficult technology but struggle with standardized tests following long term intensive teaching? One can only conclude that schools do not teach the same way students learn.
Students learn best when they can explore the world and interact with expert adults. Call it "guided discovery" ! Children learn by observing adults, trying themselves and receiving positive corrective feedback. Teachers need to carefully analyze what their students can do and know before encouraging them to the next level of learning.
This may sound like the same old progressive pedagogy, but it is actually the most natural and successful teaching method. Imagine if a baseball or football coach taught his players the same way most teachers teach science. Students would be expected to memorize the rules, receive lectures about proper play and read about the history of the sport. A select few would be permitted to reproduce famous plays of the past, but nobody would actually get to play in a game until they passed a standardized final exam and graduated.
What is expected in most schools is a very different learning process. A process often referred to as "routinized learning". Something learned is routinized until it is second nature, so student can recite or perform effortlessly and quickly. Routinized learning is more about perfecting mindless procedures. This can be valuable and necessary in order to develop certain skills, but even ball players who repeat an action over and over again to gain greater accuracy need to strategize and be flexible. Musicians who must practice, practice, practice for better accuracy need to understand style and genre in order to communicate in an expressive musical manner.
Children learn best when we apply the correct balance of "guided discovery" and "routinized learning" to the desired learning.