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wasting a little time in happy way today, and a lot of time in an ominous way tomorrow

Today is Ms. Presley's birthday. (She is turning 30.) She is wearing a brightly colored spring dress which draws lots of compliments as we walk through the hallways, but she gets even more attention for the occasion of her birthday. One teacher bought her a gluten-free cake from a fancy bakery; a student (I think) brought her a box of 4 cupcakes from another fancy bakery (no SuperFresh cupcakes from these people, apparently!) which are not gluten-free so Ms. Presley offers them to me to take home. (I am appreciative, but then as I am leaving I realize I forgot them and wasn't sure if it would be polite to go back and bother her for them, so I don't. I hope she found someone else to take them.) Meanwhile, both sections of fifth-graders sing happy birthday when they enter the room, apparently people also sang to her at lunch, and near the end of the first section Mr. Baker comes by to accompany students on the piano singing to her again (he didn't know they already had sang, of course.) One section of fifth grade brought a card that everyone signed. I like that teacher's birthdays are taken as seriously (maybe more) than children's here; it suggests that colleagues pay attention to one another and care about each other.

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winding down, and an activity I think went well

Today was my last music-reading mini-course of the semester, and it was certainly mini, with two of four students present. I wonder if the two that didn't show even knew it was the last class. I'll email them later. Although it was a little rushed, I taught just about everything I needed to teach in this mini-course. They didn't learn all their intervals, and although I suggested they work on the last few on their own, I'm pretty confident that they will not. One said that he is going to start taking piano lessons again, though, and I think my class will be useful for that. If I had known, I might have focused less on skills that would be useful mainly for singers (namely, intervals.) This was my most reliable student, having missed only one class. I feel like they all did pretty well; none stuck out as especially quick but I'm sure they could all pick up music theory again should be wish to pursue it further. The people who missed classes will have missed some other relatively important concepts; I could schedule a make-up, I guess. But the concepts are quick and simple; and frankly they probably know enough by now to be able to learn the music that was assigned in chorale.

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field notes exceprts thinking more about classroom management


Today only 1 student shows up. He was absent last week and is eager for a private lesson to help him catch up. We review and learn to identify scales. Due to lack of time, the other students in the class will not learn this; it's not essential to identify harmonic and melodic minor scales but it's nice. One student who was absent has missed three weeks in a row, she told me in an email she has been off-campus on weekends due to a combination of family emergencies and other commitments. She says she is practicing on her own so next week we'll see. I emailed the choral director to let him know, but he didn't seem upset. I think it was a mistake to schedule Sunday afternoon class, although it sounded like a good idea at the time.

(Fourth Grade)

...I lead a somewhat complex activity in which the students broke into groups of four and “composed” a rhythm of 8 measures in 4/4 time then performed it. Some groups really took it a great level by adding movements to their performances. Overall, there was a huge range in how long it took groups to write. I tried to hurry some groups along, which didn't really work. I didn't have a back-up for when students finished writing. There were a few times I struggled to get their attention. Ms. Presley urged me to be more “alpha” and to be sure to get them quiet rather than trying to talk over them. This also came up during the “performances”; some were not very good listeners.

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A Pennsylvania School Board Member's view on public education

This seems much worse than, say, any of Cathie Black's comments. Is it easier for rural school administrators than urban to get away with tone-deaf comments, is it matter of school-board versus superindentent/chancellor, or Democratic region versus Republican, or something else?

"On March 8, former South Carolina GOP head Todd Kincannon tweeted, "There is nothing more brain rotting than public schools. God, I pity the proletariat for having to send their inferior crotchfruit to them."

Stolz responded by tweeting, "As a school board director, I wish I could disagree. As a sentient being, I cannot."

Of course, while I doubt anyone on the SRC in Philly refers to public school students as "inferior crotchfruit," they too are (with 1 exception) not parents, teachers, or students, so I do think it may be fair to question some of their commitment to public education, even as--like Stoltz--they are responsible for it. Which is all the more reason that even if some of the school closings were justified, it's very hard to trust this group of leaders, and bothersome when individuals (like one of the people on the panel in our class seemed to) suggest frustration that students/communities can't just accept that the leaders are doing what is right for everyone.

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Three Key Themes from this week's fieldwork

1. not being confident in the content even when you are an "expert"

I draw mountains and hills on the board, and direct the students to follow with their voices as we outline the shape of the mountains. They do this easily. Next we sing “Boom-di-a-da” as a round. I teach the students this line by line, then we sing it together, then we break it into a round. The students mostly already know the song and learn it more easily than I or Ms. Presley expected; apparently their teacher last year taught it to them (although one word was different in my version, which they are quick to point out- “fountains” instead of “flowers”.)

The only problem in this activity is that I was focusing carefully on myself and my own teaching; thus when Ms. Presley asked me how I thought the students were sounding and how they could improve, I came up blank. Truthfully they were doing pretty good.

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why might students be less excited in the class with better teaching?

Today I was in Mr. Takeler's Looking At Wind Instruments 4th/5th grade classes, in which a professional flutist and a professional trumpeter (both have played in the Opera Company of Philadelphia among other ensembles) gave students their first lesson in flute and trumpet. Students split and half and either stayed in the Band room with Ms. Rock to play trumpet or went upstairs with Mr. Terrible to play flute, then switched. I saw two sections of each.

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trying to apply elementary school music pedagogy to college-student intro music reading teaching

3/24: Music-reading class

Today only three students showed up, but there were notable improvements over my previous class. In advance, I planned a skeleton lesson plan, which helped me stay on track. I can continue to work on clarity, but my instructions were generally quicker and I never apologized.

We started writing our “names in music” (assigning the letters A-G in our names to the letters in the alphabet.) Then I meant to play our “name piece” on the piano at the end but I just remember now that I forgot. I asked the two students who are more confident to treble clef to write in bass clef; it slowed them down but I hope it was good practice.

Next I showed what rests look like on the chalkboard; I did this in a simple, traditional-education way.

But next we did a new activity; rhythmic dictation the way the students do it at Boatley (but here with more complicated rhythms.) The first rhythm students did easily. The second was much trickier, especially because I messed up the Kodaly syllables a little. A student took initiative in asking me to break it down beat by beat. This is lucky; I doubt an elementary school student would have asked me to do this and they would have missed out on a good strategy for me to help them to complete the rhythm. The third rhythm is a little easier.

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A "bad apple" story

Before class, Ms. Presley said “we have a special friend in this class.” Michael's home-life is terrible (she didn't get more detailed then that) and he is new this year. He is the only one in the school not allowed to leave the classroom to use the bathroom, and he has been known to leave and not come back. (I wonder when he uses the bathroom.) He will say he is sick, but he isn't really sick. At the beginning of the year, the faculty tried being really nice to him, but didn't make any progress in his behavior. Now they are trying being really tough on him, and Ms. Presley wanted to give me a heads-up that I might see “tough love.”

During a lot of the class, Michael is being silly but the other students call him out on it, telling him to stop doing something every couple minutes. At one point, a student says to another “stop being the teacher” which is good advice, but Michael does in fact seem to be on a different, lower, level of power than the rest of the class somehow. Eventually he crawls over to the corner of the room. Ms. Presley directs him to come back to the circle with everyone else. He says something like “I'm trying to live an isolated existence from society” using similarly philosophical words. He comes back to the circle for a minute and repeats his dedication to isolation from society to another student.

“That's nice,” the other student says. He crawls away again and is called back.

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coming in late at a disadvantage

12:40-1:25 Fifth Grade


Ms. Presley warns me before that this particular fifth grade class can be challenging. Like with all of her classes, she likes doing lots of quick 5-7 minute activities each class; it keeps students attentive and allows her to cover lots of ground.

There are about 15 students; about an equal number male-appearing and female-appearing. Two appear to be Black; the rest appear to be white but a couple others could be people of color. One girl, who is black, looks high-school aged. I will refer to her here as Sydney. Ms. Presley introduces me as Mr. Safran and asks if anyone wants to tell me anything about themselves or Shipley. “It's a school,” says one person. No one else adds any detail.

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field notes: first impressions and thoughts on dialogue between teachers in my placement

I finally started by placement today at a private school not far from the college campus of this course, to be called The Boatley School. I will be with the lower school's music teacher to known as Ms. Presley, who is in her first year teaching here after some work at public schools. (She says that Boatley students are uniquely comfortable speaking up and asking questions compared to her past teaching experience, which she says can be good and bad. I hypothesize may be a socio-economic class issue.) I feel grateful that a new teacher was willing to take on a student to do fieldwork in her class, although she seems to prefer I mainly observe at first. She will also try to arrange for me to visit the band director and the middle/upper school music teacher a couple times each for a period or two. Because the school runs on a rotating schedule, I will see different students every week, which will make it a challenge for me to get to know them. That said, I think it will be interesting as a contrast to past field placements in music.

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