Slava! performed by an Elementary Band? Sure! Why not?

Just wanted to share this AMAZING video of an elementary band in Japan performing Leonard Bernstein’s Slava! Enjoy!

Ironically, this YouTube video directly relates to an online class that I just started through Wilkes University and Discovery Ed. I will post about that later. Anyway, I had my wife listen to the audio of this video first before seeing who was performing. Then, we she came into the room and saw who was performing the work, she was as flabbergasted as I was.

I have just begun reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind for my graduate class. In the first chapter, he writes about left brain versus right brain thinking and how our educational system has traditionally catered to the left – the logical, language-centered, essentially more “academic” side of our brain, all the while more or less ignoring our more right-brained compassionate, artistic, emotional side. This video is a direct correlation to that.

My wife says, “What’s wrong with this country that we don’t focus enough on the arts?” As Daniel Pink would point out, it is largely in part due to education being based on preparing a workforce to participate in the Industrial Revolution where artistic and creative thinking were not as valued. Somehow, folks in other countries have at least figured out that the arts are a vital part of their school’s curriculum.

I could go on and on about the effects of high stakes testing, and how I believe our educational system is skewed, etc. but many other folks have written much more eloquently on the subject than I ever could. I would like to leave you though with this talk given by Sir Ken Robinson in 2006 for TED Talks.

Where did the summer go?

I can’t believe that I haven’t posted anything since the end of the school year! Well, the school year ended up great, and I’m actually very excited for the school year to begin. Maybe even more excited than I have been in a while!

I just finished up attending a 2 day ed tech conference at a local school. It was the first one, and it was a great success. We had sessions on Wikis, podcasting, Web 2.0, and I even gave a presentation on blogging. It was a wonderful first year, and I am looking forward to attending future events.

We have some major changes coming to my music program this year, which is very exciting. First, my senior high band will be rehearsing all together in one period every day of the week. In the previous 5 years, they rehearsed in 2 separate periods, and only 2 days a week, since we shared the students with the choir program during the same period. I really think the group will now be able to play music at a level that is up to their potential. They are very talented, but we just didn’t ever have the time to prepare anything more challenging than a grade 3 level piece.

Another change to our band program is that we are going with only 5th and 6th grade participation in band, instead of 4th, 5th, and 6th. This will allow me to see the elementary band students 2 days a week…once in a small group with like instruments, and once in a large group “band” rehearsal. This is very exciting! We will actually be able to perform complete arrangements at our concerts, instead of silly 8-measure exercises out of the book!

Finally, we a receiving new marching band uniforms this year! After 3 years of asking, they were finally ordered last spring, and should be here in time for our first game, which is at home. I can’t wait to make our traditional march to the stadium in those brand new uniforms!!

So, things are shaping up to be a great year! Band camp begins on Monday! Just don’t ask me if I have finished writing my drill charts yet! 🙂

Grading & Elementary Band

In my district, my 4-6 elementary band students receive a grade for band on their report card.  Even though this is my 5th year of teaching, each year I have struggled with how to grade these students.  For the majority of this time, I have relied simply on a participation grade.  That is, if they show up with all of their materials, they receive the full credit of 10 points.  Let me first state that I do not wish to grade students on their abilities, as all students are at differing levels. However, over the past few years, I have realized some things about the elementary band program.

Students do not take elementary band seriously enough.  – Now, before you accuse me of making elementary band too rigorous and serious, let me assure you that my main goal is for the kids to enjoy being there.  If they didn’t have fun, I would have no students.  But, at the same time, I think the students need to begin taking some responsibility for band – after all, it is a class, and they do get graded for it.  I think keeping the band time enjoyable is all a matter of the teacher’s state of mind. I have found that my elementary students do not practice, and for most of them, the only time they take their instrument out of the case is when they come to their weekly band lesson. I have found that this is greatly affecting not only the ability of the elementary band, but it is also affecting the students’ progress at the middle school level.

With all of these thoughts swirling in my mind for the last few weeks, my student teacher and I have come up with a new grading policy for the elementary band students that is based half on participation (similar to how they were graded before) and half on their assignment, or what I’ve been calling it – “homework.”  The participation grade is broken down into 10 points – 2 for attendance, 2 for bringing an instrument, 2 for bringing their book and pencil, 2 for getting their practice journal filled out and signed by a parent (more on this later), and 2 for behavior and attitude.  The other 10 points is based on their ability to play the assigned excercises or song(s). Of course, this grade is based on their improvement, and not just ability.  As other veteran music teachers know, it is very easy to tell if a student has practiced or not, and that is how I base the grade.

The other thing that I have resolved to do this year is to communicate better with elementary parents.  At the end of the first 9 weeks, I sent out an individual progress report to each student’s home, indicating the student’s current grade, and where their strengths and weaknesses were.  So far, I have already had great response, as I can see students are now practicing and some have even improved their behavior.  Imagine that! Some students have even commented about receiving the progress reports, and a few parents that I talked to really liked receiving them.  One teacher friend even suggested to make the process easier that I could have the students’ teachers put them in with the report cards when they get sent home, instead of mailing them.

So, other elementary teachers out there…what are your thoughts?

My Elementary Numbers Epiphany!

If you read this blog or my twitter very often, then you know that I have been recently stuggling with my elementary numbers.  If not, you can read about it here.  Anyway, to make a long story short, my elementary numbers have been declining since hitting a high point of 137 students in 2006-2007.  After looking at the list of those students from 06-07, I realized that only 10% of those 137 are still playing.  So, for about 2 weeks, I have been searching for an answer to this predicament.

Last week, I had an epiphany. You know those moments when the clouds part, and the sun breaks through, and you hear Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus?  This was one of those moments.  During a break in my classes, I thought I would stop by and observe a little of our new choir director’s 8th grade rehearsal.  I made my way to the back of the class and had a seat.  At the time, the students were singing some silly nursery-rhyme-type song.  When they knew the words, the director taught the students another verse with different lyrics and a different melody line.  Then, they sang that a few times until they knew it.  Finally, the director split the group into two, and they sang the two different parts together.

As I was looking at the students throughout the room, I had two startling revelations: 1. The students were smiling and laughing, and having fun.  2. They were learning an introductory lesson about harmony.  They were learning important concepts, and they didn’t even know it!!  Then and there, I knew that this was the solution to my elementary woes!

I have never considered myself to have the right personality for elementary students.  Don’t get me wrong, I like those students a whole lot, and I really enjoy working with them.  But, I just don’t have the energetic-type personality that works best with this age group.  So, I realized that the reason that students were not staying in the program was that band was not FUN!  Students (especially at the elementary level) need to enjoy being in band.  Unlike older students, they do not yet play in band simply for the aesthetic experience of playing music.  They want to play because their friends are there, and they get out of class, etc.  So, I realized that I needed to make band an activity that they really wanted to participate in.

So, my new mantra is “What will keep the kids coming back?”  My elementary band students should be looking forward to their band time each week.  I want them to not be able to wait until that time.  It should be better than recess for them.  They should want to be there as much as possible.  I think if I approach elementary band this way, it will keep them coming back.  Then, the students will “talk it up.”  I can hear it now – “Oh man, we had so much fun in band today.”, etc.  That’s what will build the program.  I also think I need to promote things like our band trips in high school and how much fun the students have at the football games.  This gets the elementary students thinking long-term.

So, veteran elementary teachers, I am looking for input.  I need ideas.  What fun things do you do in your classes that gets them coming back for more?  For those of you that remember Short Circuit, in the words of Number 5, “Input, more input!”