Passion, Learning, & Technology

I realized this week I am a very passionate person. When I care about something or someone, I care about them deeply and for a long time. For a long time, my main intrinsically motivated passions have been music, learning, and technology. I explore these in the video below.

I was so happy to find a public domain version Tchaikovsky’s Garland Waltz from his Sleeping Beauty ballet to pair with this piece. My passion for music has been a continual driving force in my life, but my passion for learning ebbs and flows. One of my questions to focus on after this class will be “How can I keep my curiosity for learning consistent instead of relying on my intrinsic motivation?”

“The main premise of appreciative inquiry is that positive questions, focusing on strengths and assets, tend to yield more effective results than negative questions focusing on problems or deficits,” Warren Berger shares in A More Beautiful Question. I phrased my question above in a positive manner so hopefully I can use my strengths to create consistent motivation (whether intrinsic or extrinsic) to learn. If I see myself as a learner, my students and I can grow together, fostering a positive learning environment for all of us.

References:

Berger, Warren. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. [Kindle]. http://a.co/fZPVPuf

Wicked Problems Are Never Solved

When I chose to focus on the religious exemptions from general music classes as my Wicked Problem, I knew from the start it would be difficult. Religion is a touchy subject, and honestly I did not know much about the two religions that were affected the most by music being a part of school. Much of my research time was spent learning about Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and how music programs around the world interacted with these faiths.

To learn about Jehovah’s Witness students, I found an article from NAfME titled
Welcoming a Jehovah’s Witness into the Band Room about a secondary band teacher and student who worked together to solve any issues that arose from the curriculum. One of the biggest takeaways for me was that the teacher starts with “Before the school year began, I sat down with Alice and her mother” (Weidner, 2017). It is important to have this discussion with both the student and the parents to get the dialogue started and have a clear picture of what is and is not allowed. This article gave me the basis for both of my Possible Solutions. Meeting with families is important to discuss the actual contents of the course led to my idea of the after-school forum. Finding alternative assignments for Alice led to my idea of an online individualized curriculum.

The last time I learned about Islam before this project was 13 years ago in a World History class my freshman year of high school. This time, with a focus, I found Islam really interesting to learn about. An article titled Music and Islam by Ackfeldt and Otterbeck and clarified Muslim understanding of music for me. Music has long been challenged as a part of the Islamic faith, according to Ackfeldt and Otterbeck: “The words “lahwa-l-hadith” (often translated as idle tales), in connection with those telling tales leading people away from the path of Allah, were very early on interpreted as referring to music,” (Ackfeldt & Otterbeck, 2012). Depending on which Islamic theologians you follow there are many different stances on music, which you can see below in this chart.

Fig. 1
Fig. 1 from Music and Islam by Ackfeldt and Otterbeck (2012).

Although we do not sing any sensuous music in elementary music classes, improvisation and serious metered songs are a necessary part of the curriculum. These items that are in the controversial zone show that while some Muslim families will be okay with the elementary music curriculum, there are many that will want their students removed from elementary music.

Muslim girls at Istiqlal Mosque Jakarta. Photo by Henrik Hansson (2006)

As someone who has considered themselves a musician since I was four, hearing that my students cannot participate in music at all is hard. Music can bring so much joy, love, understanding, and faith to a person’s life and to remove almost all of it seems harsh. I found comfort in Sana, an Islamic Religious Education teacher in a Muslim school in Sweden who uses music to teach about Islam. In an article titled Teaching Islam with music by Jenny Berglund, Sana discusses how she talks about music with the families, works with religious leaders in her area, and because of her faith and background her work is mostly accepted (2008). It is possible for Muslim students to experience music, but it needs to be within their parameters.

My Wicked Problem is still unsolved for now, as I do not have the power at my buildings to implement these ideas yet. I plan on suggesting the forum idea to my schools that are impacted most by students being pulled from music classes. Hopefully this can be done at the beginning of the next school year to set all of our students up for success in elementary music.

References:

Berglund, Jenny. (2008 May 29). Teaching Islam with music. Ethnography and Education. 3, 161-175. https://doi-org.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/10.1080/17457820802062409

Hansson, Henrik. (2006 February 26). Muslim girls at Istiqlal Mosque Jakarta [image]. Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Muslim_girls_at_Istiqlal_Mosque_jakarta.png

Otterbeck, J. & Ackfeldt, A. (2012). Music and Islam. Contemporary Islam. 6, 227-233. https://doi-org.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/10.1007/s11562-012-0220-0

Weidner, Brian. (2017 August 18). Welcoming a Jehovah’s Witness Into the Band Room. Retrieved from: https://nafme.org/welcoming-a-jehovahs-witness-into-the-bandroom/

Preliminary Findings

I have written surveys for work before, but writing one like this to find out information that I was genuinely interested in was a new experience. I sent out my survey last week to the music faculty of my district, along with sharing it on Twitter. Although I have not received many responses as of today (April 14, 2019), there will be more responses when my colleagues and I return from spring break.

I already knew my district was diverse but my survey question on “What religions do your students’ families practice?” reminded me how amazing it is to teach such a varied population. Kent School District is the 11th most diverse district in the country, according to Niche. With my responses so far, this is the religious breakdown of our student population:

Responses to “Please select any religions practiced by families enrolled your school.” Graph by author, 2019

Sikh is not an option I listed in the survey, but two educators listed it in the “Other” category. I created my religion list options from Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study, with the intent being to cover the most common religions in the United States. Including an “other” option was still important because of the nature of the survey, especially if students who practice an unlisted religion did not participate in musical activities.

Pie chart of grade level taught by educators who filled out the survey. Chart by the author, 2019

I also took some time to look at the demographic results of the music educators who have completed the survey. Five people are elementary teachers, with one middle school and one high school teacher. Music is a required subject for elementary schools in Washington state so I assumed this issue would affect elementary teachers more often than secondary teachers. It was encouraging to find out this is an issue that music educators face K-12. The two secondary educators also would allow students to sit out of any activities that were against their religious beliefs, but give a “No credit” for their grade for that assignment. There is also a wide range of experience in the people surveyed, from second year teachers to faculty who have been teaching for 33 years. I think this will be valuable at how I look at the educators’ responses to “What is your policy when a student or parent says there is a religious exemption for a musical activity? (This can be your personal policy or the school/district policy)”.

That question yielded some interesting results! Only one educator mentioned that they had a district policy, the others explained what they do to accommodate their students. Two educators mentioned parent involvement or discussion of removing the students from an activity. One of the responses the educator said, “The student/s do not participate. Usually there is a heads up from the student or parent.” Is this the most productive thing the student can be doing? How often is this happening? If I had the time to interview individual educators about their situations, I would love to look into this further.

On the other hand, the district policy was very clear. The answer given said “District policy allows them to be exempt from music with permission from the principal. A letter with the reason must be given to the principal. This information must also be given to the music teacher and homeroom teacher to come up with an alternative placement. Then, the student will receive an “N” for “Not Assessed” for music, with the description included with the grade.” I think this is one solution to our larger question, which I laid out in my blog post Deciding on Only One Wicked Problem.

I am hoping for more ideas and options as more educators fill out the survey this week to develop a solution that will work not only for me, but for other educators in the same predicament.

References:

Luft, Lindsay. (2019, April 7). Deciding on Only One Wicked Problem. Retrieved from https://lindsayluft.com/2019/04/07/deciding-on-only-one-wicked-problem/

Niche. (2019). 2019 Most Diverse School Districts in America – Niche [search results]. Retrieved from https://www.niche.com/k12/search/most-diverse-school-districts/

Pew Research Center. (n.d.). Religion in America: U.S. Religious Data, Demographics, and Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/

Deciding on Only One Wicked Problem

According to John C. Camillus, “A wicked problem has innumerable causes, is tough to describe, and doesn’t have a right answer,” (Harvard Business Review, 2008). There are plenty of them in the world, and many in education alone. When I completed my
quickfire activity I discussed in my blog post Asking Questions, I was left with several questions about the music program in my district (Luft, 2019). Most are problems that are actively being discussed, but one did not. Specifically, how do we best support students with religious exemptions to music and/or musical activities?

Students performing Jingle Bells in December 2018. Photo by the author.

I have various students who have told me they cannot perform music or dance for various religious reasons, and I know I am not the only music educator who experiences this. At one building, if the student’s guardians send in a letter stating music is against their beliefs, the student is sent to the library for the 80 minutes a week the rest of their class is in music. Is this the best policy?

This week I created a survey to hear from music educators from around the country to hear what they do in similar scenarios. I am hopeful that if I am able to gather information from various areas I can get a better picture of how this affects music programs and find solutions that may best serve all students.

References:

Camillus, John C. (2008, May). Strategy as a Wicked Problem. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2008/05/strategy-as-a-wicked-problem

Luft, Lindsay. (2019, March 24). Asking Questions. Retrieved from: https://lindsayluft.com/2019/03/24/asking-questions/

Sketching Out a Video

This week I made a sketchnote style video to explain my thought process around the questions I brainstormed and discussed last week in my post Asking Questions.

Brainstorm Organization sketchnote style video, created by the author. (2019)

This was my first sketchnote video! The hardest problem for me was figuring out my tripod without actually owning one. The first iteration only included my recycling bin and webcam. The problem was that the picture was tilted and my Post-its were very curly. This meant I needed to find a more straight top-down approach. I stared at the monstrosity on my kitchen table for a day or two. In the end I asked for advice from a friend who has streamed building figurines on Twitch how he made his setup, and how I might be able to replicate it at home. My second attempt after his advice added a cardboard arm to add more table space instead of just recycling bin, but the webcam was too heavy to stay on its own. I finally got there on my third iteration with a combination of books, cardboard, tape, webcam, and a recycling bin. I will be the first to admit that it looks a little ridiculous.

Photo of Sketchnote video camera setup post-filming. Photo property of the author.

I think getting a chance to watch my thinking process was incredibly valuable. It gave me time to act on a quote from Robert Burton in Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question, “It can be useful to step back and inquire, Why did I come up with that question?” (p. 92, 201X). Taking the time to organize my thinking and review my questions again spawned more questions.

References:

Berger, Warren. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. [Kindle]. http://a.co/fZPVPuf

Luft, Lindsay. (2019, March 31). Brainstorm Organization [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQy8QpSYonQ&feature=youtu.be

Asking Questions

This week I was able to take some time to read A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. It was intriguing to read about how much progress has happened because of simple and sometimes naïve questions. Working with my kindergarten students, I get a healthy dose of questions all the time, but also more sarcastic questions from my older students such as “Why are we doing this?” “Why do I need to do this?” “Why is this important?”

With my sixth graders I took these questions to heart to look at my own practice. In my district, if students are in sixth grade general music, it is likely the last music class they will take. Upon realizing this, I knew I needed to change the way I looked at the class. My focus question that I decided upon is “What do I want society to know about music so they can hold a musical conversation intelligently?” My classroom has since shifted from learning classical instruments and music history to understanding genres, how to create music in today’s world, and understanding form. Hopefully my students will be able to confidently explain why they do or do not like a song that they heard other than saying “it’s bad” or “it’s dope”.

Not only did I recently question my sixth grade practice, but as a district we are looking to reorganize our music program. We just had our first music all-staff meeting in 10 years on January 31 to discuss what we could change. When I was asked to think of questions about my practice this week in a quickfire activity, the questions came to mind quickly. If you aren’t familiar with quickfire challenges, check out this blog post by Leigh Graves Wolf (2009).

21 Post-its with various questions about music programs in my district. Photo by the author.

I ask a lot of questions in my head, but I do not always take the time to get them answered, especially when it comes to my schools. Sometimes it’s the unfortunate nature of working at three buildings that I simply do not have the time to find the right people to help me with the questions. However for this quickfire activity, this is something we have been currently doing as a district so I had a lot of questions ready. I even added a few more after my five minutes were up!

After reading the first couple chapters of A More Beautiful Question, I feel like this is a process our director of music is currently going through. Warren Berger (2014) focuses on a sequence of Why/What If/How that I think is very important (p. 32). Our music director started his position in December 2018. So far he has done an amazing job asking “Why” questions about our processes, procedures, and policies to find out why our program works (or doesn’t work) the way that it does. The “What ifs” starting coming out at that first all-staff meeting. Hopefully, over the next few months and years we start seeing “the final, and critical How stage of inquiry–when you’ve asked all the Whys and considered the What Ifs . . . and must now figure out, How do I actually get this done?” (Berger, 2014, p.36). In our case I hope it’s more of a “we” since it is a group of 70 educators.

One of the parts of A More Beautiful Question that really stood out to me so far was the basic formula: “Q (questioning) + A (action) = I (innovation). On the other hand, Q – A = P (philosophy).” (Berger, 2014, p. 31). I started to wonder about how much of the questioning I do in my professional and personal life turns into innovation, or is just philosophy. If I can change something in my professional life after a question, I will, like I did in the earlier sixth grade general music example. Interestingly if it is a personal question, I tend to be sluggish and do not act on the question. It seems my next question may be “Why do I react quickly to self-questions in professional circumstances, but sometimes do not act at all on self-questions in a personal circumstance?”

References:

Berger, Warren. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. [Kindle]. http://a.co/fZPVPuf

Graves Wolf, Leigh. (2009). Quickfires Explained [blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.leighgraveswolf.com/2009/08/19/quickfires-explained

Assistive Tech for Kindergarten Music

This year I have become an expert in teaching kindergarten music. 16 hours a week is way more than I ever wanted. With this I have been able to dig deeper into my students’ needs. One I focused on this week was a student with childhood apraxia of speech. I wasn’t really sure what it was so I looked up the definition first! The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association says this:


To speak, messages need to go from your brain to your mouth. These messages tell the muscles how and when to move to make sounds. If your child has apraxia of speech, the messages do not get through correctly. Your child might not be able to move his lips or tongue to the right place to say sounds, even though his muscles are not weak. Sometimes, he might not be able to say much at all.

ASHA Childhood Apraxia of Speech page (ASHA)

This helped me get an idea of how they could participate in the future, and how technology might help them with the singing part while they are still learning to make sounds. So I found PIXELSYNTH as a way they may be able to participate in the melodic portions of class. I made a short screencast to demonstrate how it works.

Video of PIXELSYNTH by me, March 2019

I love how easy it is to use, and how its functionality would work on a tablet. It does require a lot of setup prior to class by me in the settings since this student is learning to read. As they get older this could be transitioned to a keyboard as they learn to read music. I plan on talking to their paraeducator to see if this is something we can set up for the rest of the year. Fingers crossed!

References:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/Childhood-Apraxia-of-Speech/