Friday, October 31, 2014

Year 5: Week 9 – Assessment #1

Assessment along with instruction and curriculum create the trifecta, the “braid” as one of my graduate school professors referred to, which is teaching. If any of these three factors are misaligned or don’t support the other factors, than truly effective teaching cannot happen.

If you have a fantastic curriculum, but do a poor job with instruction your assessments tools will suffer. If you have amazing instruction skills and great materials to teach but your assessment tools are poorly developed, it undercuts all of the other work you do in the classroom.

In order for these things to be truly aligned teachers need to think very carefully about all three of these aspects as they plan and teach.  If one of these factors is too weak, if one ends up leading the other too far too strongly, learning suffers.

This is the case when a teacher is given an outline to a standardized test and he or she feels pressured to “teach to the test.” This ends up creating an imbalance forcing curriculum and instruction aside that can rob students of meaningful learning experiences.

Music teachers can sometimes get away with focusing less attention on assessment. Our subject is not included in standardized testing and often doing things like playing tests can be cumbersome, but in my view point, this is no more challenging than grading a stack of essays.

This week I gave my band kids there first formal assessment of the year. We decided early on in our planning that we wanted to align these major assessments across band and choir. While they were different there was similarities between the quizzes, which we felt reflected the different musical disciplines.

I assess my students every day. Sometimes it’s informal, listening to them warm-up and often it’s formal through Smart Music. This quiz we did last week was a written quiz, which assessed their knowledge of certain musical concepts but also evaluated their ability to translate their thoughts into words.

Whenever you ask a student to put a pen to paper you are assessing the student's writing ability. Teachers have to be very careful that they aren’t intentionally assessing things that may not be relevant to the class. If I truly wanted to just focus on their musical knowledge, for many students, short answer essays would hinder their ability to demonstrate that knowledge.

The reason that I was comfortable with this quiz assessing their writing skills is that it teaches me a lot about our students. There are some kids who play really well but struggle with putting their into writing. For that student it’s critical that I balance this student’s writing with his or her playing. Also, I find that some students who aren’t the strongest musicians write really well about music. This gives me an important insight to their minds and what they are getting out of class.

As I grade these quizzes I’m modifying future lessons and instructional techniques. Every assessment is an important reminder of not only my student’s learning but my own teaching. If every student gets the same question wrong, it’s probably my fault for not utilizing effective instruction techniques.

The other important thing about having formal quizzes and tests in music class is that it legitimizes the class as not just an activity in the eyes of the students, parents and other teachers in the building. While this is not a central reason to give a quiz, it is an important one to consider.

You’ve got to keep that braid strong. It’s a constant struggle to make sure curriculum, instruction and assessment are balanced in our teaching. When we think deeply about what we do, when we dive deep into the meaning of our curriculum, the depth of our instruction and the effectiveness of our assessments, we address students’ whole experience as a learner and a student.

Within this trifecta, we find truly great teaching. In this way we make learning feel organic and relevant and most importantly personally meaningful to our studends.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Shopping at Michael's

- Michael's is the worst. I would have an easier time finding finger paints if I went to O'Hare airport and asked the person at the United ticket counter for help than asking the worker at Michael's.

- You know the best part of shopping at Michael's? Do you? Because I have no idea. Everything about that place is horrible. Like

- Shopping at Michael's is like re-watching Rocky V. You figure it can't be as bad as you remember, but it ends up being worse than you could possibly imagine.

- Do you know what makes me feel nostalgic about the time I ate a Gyro and got food poisoning? Shopping at Michael's.

-If shopping at Michael's was a girl group it would be All Saints. "Never Ever"

-One time I tried to watch Caligula. That was kind of like shopping at Michael's.

-Shopping at Michael's made me yearn to watch Starlight Express.

 -Some people actually enjoy shopping at Michael's and some people actually enjoy listening to Nickelback.

-If shopping at Michael's was a boy band it would be LFO.

 -Shopping at Michael's gives you the same warm feeling you get when reach into a bag and touch a banana that you left there weeks ago.

-Watching an Al Snow match sounds like more fun than shopping at Michael's.

 -Shopping at Michael's is like trying to defend Mase as a good rapper. There's no point.

-Shopping at Michael's is like my new leaf blower. It both sucks AND blows.

-There are some things in life that everyone should try at least once. Shopping at Michael's isn't one of them.

-If shopping at Michael's was a cologne it would be called "Shame & Regret." It would smell of cloves and 8th grade boys, with a hint of star anise.

-Shopping at Michael's is as satisfying as eating a poorly prepared Hot Pocket.

-If George Lucas made changes to Michael's it would actually make the shopping experience better.

-Shopping at Michael's is like dressing up as the Marvel Super Hero Speedball for Halloween. It's confusing and embarrassing.

-Star Trek V: The Final Frontier makes more sense and has more charm than shopping at Michael's.

-Do you know what makes Carrie Underwood as Maria seem like a good idea by comparison?

-Shopping at Michael's. Hate-watching? Try hate-shopping.

-Billy Joe Armstrong wrote "American Idiot" about himself after he chose to go shop at Michael's.

-Do you know what's the worst part of shopping at Michael's?
Shopping at Michael's.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Parenthood: Week 74 - Missing Ollie

I thought that leaving Ollie and coming to work this fall would be easier than last fall.

I was wrong.

Last fall when I returned to work Ollie was about five months old. We were still getting the hang of the parenting thing and after spending all summer at home, I wasn’t sure how I was going to fare being away from my family.

It was bad. I missed Ollie a lot but more than that I worried about Ollie and Diana. It’s not that I didn’t trust Diana but Ollie was such a little baby at that time and I didn’t want to leave Diana without the support I had providing all summer. I got through it. I learned how to refocus on work when I was at school and I learned to embrace the pangs of missing Ollie as a reminder of how much I loved my little guy.

It’s one year later. Ollie is a toddler. Diana and I have been through many more situations with our little guy: plane flights, long drives, nights alone with Ollie and even shopping trips to Michael’s. I was blessed to have time at home with my little guy but I figured going to work would be easier this time around.

It wasn’t.

I actually worry about Ollie less this time around. He’s much stronger and he can advocate for himself better. The problem is that with every month he becomes more expressive and while it melts my heard to heart him call me “da, doo” (his way of saying daddy), it almost breaks my heart when Diana tells me that he calls for me when I’m not home.

It’s hard because many days, I leave before Ollie wakes up and I don’t get to say good morning to him. In the same way that my day didn’t feel like it really started in college, until I met up with Diana in the dining hall for lunch my day doesn’t feel like it has really started until I see Ollie. Not seeing him in the morning makes me miss him even more.

While I can compartmentalize at work better than I have in the past, my family is almost always close to the front of my mind. Every day it’s a struggle trying to decide how long to stay work knowing that there’s work to be done but that I want to get home to see my Ollie-bear.

When I get home after work sometimes Ollie is happy to see me, but other times he’s upset for some reason. It’s like he gets a wave of emotion realizing that he has missed me all day long and when I pick him up he pushes me away. Usually after a little time, he gets over it and eagerly tells me about his day.

The fact that Ollie misses me makes me want to be home with him even more. This makes my feelings of missing him even more intense. At the same time, the fact that he wants to be with me as much as I want to be with him makes me feel love.  Knowing we both want to be together means that we are truly there for each other.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Year 5: Week 8 – "That's Racist"

I was sitting in the back of the classroom as one of my colleagues was leading a review session. While one of the students went up to the board to draw a diagram of the lungs and the diaphragm, one boy jokingly called the drawing “racist.” Another boy next to him repeated the joke while a different boy a couple seats down joined in their laughter.

As the seventh graders left the classroom, I asked these boys to hang back for a second because I needed to talk to them. Here’s what I had to say:
This is one of those things where I talk and you listen and maybe, hopefully you will apologize when I’m done. It is never okay to joke about racism. People have died because of racism. Not just people like Martin Luther King Jr. forty years ago, but people last year. People have died and continue to die because of racism.

People you know in your lives, teachers in their school and friends of yours face racism. Racism hurts and scars. It’s one of the biggest problems in our society.

To joke about racism is to say that the suffering that people feel every day because of racism is not important, that their pain is not real. That is not insensitive and offensive.

You live in a world that is less racist than times past. You enjoy the sacrifices that people have made fighting racism, every single day. You cannot make a light of this and turn one of the most important issues in American history into a joke.

Here’s another thing: Racism is serious. If I joke that one of the other teachers at Parker is being racist, they would be investigated seriously. Even if they find out that I was just making a joke. The investigation would damage their career and my job would be in jeopardy. 
Make fun of something else about each other. Mock how the sports team they like is bad, talk about how they dress funny, pick something else. I get that you make jokes about each other sometime. That’s fine, that’s part of being a man.

Don’t ever make a joke about something being racist ever again. It’s offensive to me as an Asian-American, the people in history who died because of racism and your friends who identify as being a person of color.
People your age have died because of racism. There’s nothing funny about that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

Parenthood: Week 73 – The Lonesome Man

I barely noticed him when I walked into the dining room.

The entry to the restaurant led into a small foyer. To the right was the bar and up ahead was the dining room. We were late to a birthday dinner for Diana’s grandfather.  We spotted Diana's family in the back corner of the dining room and walked over quickly so that we could get Ollie settled down and get him something to eat. That’s probably why I didn’t notice The Lonesome Man at the small table sitting alone to the left of the entrance to the dining room.

Ollie was delighted to see his great-grandparents, his grandmother and all of his great aunts and uncles. However, it was pass his usual dinnertime and was Ollie starting to get fussy. We started getting him fed and ordered something off of the children’s menu quickly.

As I settled down I first noticed The Lonesome Man. He was a large man, in his 60’s or 70’s. He sat leaning far back in his chair glaring around the room with a look of disgust and disappointment chiseled into his face. I though it was a bit odd the way he seemed to be looking so angry but I didn’t pay it much mind.

After Ollie ate a couple pieces of bread, he started whining a little bit. He needed a change of diaper so I carried him out of the dining room.  I caught in the corner of my eye, The Lonesome Man glaring at me.  My focus was on Ollie so I brushed it off  and took care of his diaper.  This put Ollie in a much better mood and I helped him walk back into the dining room.

As we entered the dining room Diana’s mom came up and asked if she could play with Ollie so I could get something to eat. I thanked her for the offer and left Ollie toddling around with his grandmother.  I sat back down at the table and watched Ollie fall on his butt, like all toddlers do. His grandmother crouched down to help him and at this point I saw The Lonesome Man, lean over and say something nasty to her. She quickly lifted Ollie up and carried him into the foyer away from his anger.

Now I was getting mad.

Then The Lonesome Man started complaining, first to a waitress that came by, then to two other waitresses and finally to the manager. I was out of earshot but I could see him making gestures like a crawling baby, motioning over to our table, the floor and over to the foyer. He spit as he talked angrily fuming over the Ollie.

As I watched him complain I became furious.  I wanted to get up in his face and yell at him.

No, Ollie wasn't being a perfectly quiet toddler, but this wasn’t a super-fancy restaurant. It was at the level of Olive Garden. There bar was making plenty of noise that was leaking into the dining room and the dining room itself was pretty lively. I get that not everyone loves babies but to spray such venom and animosity towards my mother-in-law and my son was repugnant.

The waitstaff and the manager understood this because no matter how much the Lonesome Man complained they never once came up to tell us to quiet down or to control Ollie.

I told Diana about what was going on and she mentioned it to everyone at the table. After a couple sarcastic jokes about how we were such horrible parents, one of her uncles told us, “if you need to leave because Ollie is tired that’s fine, but don’t leave because of that man.”

This comment helped center me and Diana’s calmness helped me to start thinking more logically. She told me that she was sympathetic for The Lonesome Man sitting by himself all alone in a restaurant full of families. Diana was right, there was something depressing about the Lonesome Man, but that wasn’t an excuse for him to be so hateful toward my son. I was not going to start a fight with this guy, but there was no way I was going to take Diana’s aunt's advice to simply ignore him.

It was time for us to go.  Ollie was fading fast. We packed up all of his stuff. I carried him around so he could say goodbye to all of his family and giggle as he received goodbye kisses and hugs. As Ollie said goodbye, I glanced over my shoulder and I could see The Lonesome Man staring angrily at me.

There was no way to avoid this man as we walked out.  I wasn’t going to ignore him. The Lonesome Man didn’t deserve the courtesy of my tolerance.

Something had to be said.

I held Ollie in my arms and started toward the exit with Diana next to me. As we approached the Lonesome Man, sitting at his little table, I met his spiteful eyes with a gracious smile.  Then with a voice dripping with sarcasm like an annoyed waiter inviting someone to eat a tainted dish, I told The Lonesome Man, “I hope you enjoy your dinner.”

Diana and I giggled to ourselves as we walked into the parking lot.  We were proud that we made it to the dinner and got to celebrate Ollie's great-grandfather's birthday.  As I drove away with my wonderful wife and my beautiful boy, we left behind The Lonesome Man, sitting alone at his little table with only his bitterness to keep him company.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Year 5: Week 7 – Teaching What You Love

One of the reasons that we decided to hire our DJ for our wedding was because he told us that he plays music that he doesn’t like.

His general approach was that during cocktail hour he wanders around, gets an idea of the demographic and the vibe of the guest and starts creating a playlist from those observations and the songs that we suggested. Then during the dancing part of the reception he starts putting on music. If the song doesn’t get people on their feet within a verse and a chorus, he will switch songs. There is no part of the process of deciding what to play where his personal preference for music comes into play.

Teachers have a similar process that they go through. Especially with music and English teachers, we study pieces of art in our classes. Often we get to choose literature and music that we like but this should not be the primary way that we make decisions on what we include in our curriculum.

Sometimes teachers become engaged in “vanity projects.” This is when a teacher chooses to read a book or teach a piece of music because they get personal pleasure out of experiencing the piece of art that to other people is clearly inappropriate for their students. For example, making a group of third graders struggle through Hamlet or having a 6th grade beginner band play an entire Beethoven Symphony. “Vanity projects,” are the opposite of being student-centered.

Artistic people who are teachers need to be mindful that they are not looking to their teaching experiences for their own personal artistic fulfillment. That’s not what teaching is about. Now, it’s great if once in a while your students create great art and you get artistic fulfillment from that but that should be an extra bonus, not the purpose of the teaching.

Of course, we shouldn’t only teach songs we don’t like. That would make our jobs miserable, but it’s part of the gig. I’m really sick of hearing “Hot Cross Buns,” on the recorder or a beginning band instrument. However the song is pedagogically sound and the kids like it, so I suffer through it.

There are times that what we are passionate about lines up with what works from an educational standpoint. For example, I do “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day,” one of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs with my fifth graders. I get to share my passion with my students and do a song that teachers them important musical skills and concepts that are part of my curriculum.

Like my students, some songs that I don't like initially often grow on me.  Sometimes its because of the positive experiences I have with my students that I learn to love a song.

Keep an eye on your audience.  Be that DJ and see what really helps your students learn.  There is far more satisfaction in bringing music to your kids that you don't like that they learn from than pushing a song upon them that you love that they do not connect with. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

Parenthood: Week 72 – Super-cute

Last week Ollie was being super-cute.

The other day we taught him the baby sign-language gesture for “read.” He picked up this sign in under an hour and during our family story-time he made this gesture as soon as we finished a book. Did we repeat certain books multiple times? Yes. Did story time last far longer than planned? Yes. But it was just so cute.

Ollie’s ability to walk has really taken off this past week. At the beginning of the week he could walk but only if he had something to pull up on. Now he can go from sitting to standing all by himself, though half the time he falls back on his butt.  It’s incredibly cute.

During the short window of time when he couldn’t get up by himself he would reach his hand up and grab my finger to pull him up. After a couple steps he would full and then look back and reach out for my finger. He didn’t really put a lot of weight on my finger; he just squeezed it to make sure I was there. Yeah that was pretty darn cute.

Ollie thinks its hilarious to put things on his head. We were outside in a playground and there was a layer of leaves on top of the woodchips. After swishing them around. He started picking them up and dropping them on the top of his head. Ollie thought that this was the funniest thing he had ever done. The leaves ended up going down his jacket and into his onesie. Even though this led to a minor-melt down because he was upset that there were leaves in his shirt, the time he was sprinkling them over his head was hilariously cute.

It wasn’t the first time that Ollie had eaten food from Chipotle but it was the first time I had gotten him the kids meal. I ordered him a chicken quesadillas. He didn’t really know what to do with it so I ripped off a small piece. Once he tried it and liked it, he wanted to rest of the quesadilla. Instead of taking small bites like when he eats a piece of toast, he balled it up and shoved into his mouth. The whole thing didn’t fit into his mouth but he managed to take bites and somehow that ball of cheeses and tortillas disappeared in one of the cutest ways possible.

I brought Ollie upstairs to hang out with Diana. He walked over to his bin of toys and books and brought over the Belly Button Book. He sat down with the book and proceeded to try to find his own belly button. Because he was wearing a onesie that snapped between his legs he couldn’t find it. He was very concerned as he poked himself trying to find his little “bee bo.” So I lifted up my shirt.  Ollie smiled up and me crawled over and giggled as he poked at my belly button. Seriously this boy is super-cute.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Year 5: Week 6 – Week In Review

There wasn’t a lot of playing music during 8th grade band class, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. We joked around, watch some international speed-walking competitions, discussed how the past couple weeks had gone and then finally got around to actually playing our instruments. Was it the most productive class musically? No, but if simply creating great music was my mission I wouldn’t be teaching middle school band.

My instinct was to get mad when my 3rd graders giggled at the off-key, shrill recording of a Native American octogenarian singing a chant. I felt it was important for them to hear an authentic recording of this chant and while it wasn’t a good example of singing technique, it was an important representation of this culture. Before we listening to this recording I told them that some of them might feel like giggling and that was ok, but they needed to stifle themselves and I would be asking them why the were laughing.

Some of my student did smile a giggle while listening to the singing, so we talked as a class why someone might laugh at this recording. They had very honest reasons: her accent sounded funny, it was unfamiliar, the words sounded silly, and I didn’t understand what she was saying. I validated their reasons and talked about how sometimes when I’m uncomfortable, I giggle, but its important to move past that. The second time we listened to the recording, no one was laughing and they dived deep into the chant learning the words and the melody and captured the mood of the music.

The beginning of the school year 6th grade music is crazy. We voice test students and have them try to play all of the band instruments. After this process the students choose between band and choir. After that the band students need to rent instruments and then we begin teaching the kids how to actually play the instrument . . . kind of. Last week was spent teaching the kids how to open their cases right side up and how to put their instruments together. This week we finally got to producing a great tone and learning couple notes.

Susan wasn’t doing anything wrong on the clarinet, but she felt like she was a failure. While all of the other clarinet players were getting a nice low dark tone, she kept playing the higher octave of the instrument. My first three suggestions didn’t work, but after one crazy idea, a metaphor that barely made sense, she produced a beautiful rich dark tone. Susan wasn’t sure how great her sound was but I think she got the idea when I jumped out of the chair and jumped in joy.

A spent almost all of my prep time responding to one parent’s email. Is this any way to balance my time between the families of the almost two hundred students that I teach? Yes. Being fair doesn’t mean that every family gets the same thing from me every day. We give to our parents according to what they need and sometimes one parent needs more time than others.

The best part of bringing Ollie to school for our annual County Fair was when he met the 8th grade girls. As we approached the 8th grade atrium, I helped Ollie stand up on the ramp leading up to the where the 8th graders were gathered. One of the girls recognized Ollie from pictures I had shared, announced “OMG!! It’s LITTLE TANG!!!” Then a group of about twenty girls rushed towards Ollie. They all stopped about two feet away from Ollie creating an arc around him, and kneeled and crouched down to greet him. As they smiled at him, and reached out to him, he stood laughing in delight at the attention.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

Parenthood: Week 71 - Unpacking Your Chidlhood

One of the common exercises that is done in diversity work is for a person to examine their own journey in the field of diversity. This requires the person to ask themselves questions and come to terms with their own feelings is an open and authentic way. This is not an easy thing to do and sometimes it can take a lot of strength. However, this is one of most important steps because everything a persons says or does related to diversity work is influenced, whether the person knows it or not by feelings and experiences from the past.

The same goes with parenting.

Parents make all kinds of choices about parenting every single day. There’s many different influences that help us parenting, from the doctor to the random blogger. We rationalize our decisions by trying to base them on sound advise but the reality is that much of the time, we go with paths that we feel more comfortable with and then find the person, research, author, or random person on the street to back up and help us rationalize our decisions.

Our choices are also informed by how we feel about our own childhood, how our parents raised us and how we think our parents raised us. All of these things, swirl around in our subconscious and come bubbling up when we least expect it and have a far stronger influence on the choices we make as parents than any of us would like to believe.

We as parents have to unpack our own childhood and ask ourselves a lot of tough questions so that we can get to the root of our own feelings about being a parent and the decisions that we are making.

What if you tell yourself that you use disposable diapers because of the time it saves when in reality the reason you are doing this is because cloth diapers remind you of the times your parents forced you to change your younger siblings diapers?

Unpacking our childhood experiences may not change any of the choices we make but it will make it more clear what insecurities, feelings, fears and hopes are influencing you as a parent.

You’ve got to dig deep and it’s really hard. There are some parts of my childhood I like thinking about and other parts I’ve left behind. It’s probably the later, which keeps me up at night when I can’t make a decisions about something related to Ollie.

We aren’t destined to become our parents when we have kids. But we are destined to try to capture the best parts of our own childhood for our children and steer them away from the moments we’d rather forget. This is not a bad thing, but we have to be careful. What was glorious for us, may not interest our children and what once felt so scaring, may not be so bad through the eyes of the next generation.

Kid’s force us to look back at our own childhood. Don’t fight this, stay with it. Have tough conversations with your parents and siblings, figure out what worked and what did it. Don’t always try to rationalize your parenting instincts with other people’s words, look within and try to find that reasoning in your own experience as a child.

Once you understand this and accept your childhood then you can let go of it when you need to make decisions about your own child. Only by finding those fears and insecurities, looking at them and getting to their core, can you then put them aside.

There’s a lot of things that are hard about being a parent. Being forced to reexamine your own childhood is one of the hardest things. This process may be rough. Under further examination the good things may not seem so great, and the bad things, well, you might realize, really weren’t that bad.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Year 5: Week 5 – The Honeymoon

This year I had my first honeymoon.

There’s this idea I’ve heard about ever since I started teaching about the “honeymoon period.” It’s this theory that kids are really well behaved and easy to teach during the first couple weeks of school and then they become a terror.

Why would this occur? There’s a couple theories. Some kids are simply scared of their teacher and this makes them straighten up. This fear eventually wears out and the kids start pushing the boundaries. Older students often give a teacher a chance, but once they see that the teacher doesn’t have their stuff together, they will dive right in and let the teacher have it.

In the past, I didn't experience a honeymoon period. If a class is going to be difficult, they usually start out difficult with me. This has led to having some pretty challenging starts to the school year. .

This year was different.

I was simply amazed with how smoothly this one class ran. They had great discussions, really dove into the activities without hesitation and worked together well. And then last week happened. It’s not that they were all that poorly behaved. They were actually quite typically with how much they interrupted each other and how many of them would talk out of turn.  That part of this change wasn’t that surprising. It was just simply shocking how quickly they made this change.

Probably what happened is that the class was giving me a chance, which I appreciate, but then at some point they decided to start acting real. .

I prefer what I experienced in earlier years, with not having a honeymoon period. I guess it’s nice to have a softer start of the year with a group of kids but I would much rather start the year with the kids pushing boundaries immediately.

Maybe the reason I haven't had honeymoon periods in the past is because I'm not a intimidating teacher at all and I'm pretty real with my kids from day 1.  I don't try to put on a front that I am more serious than I actually am.  I don't do the whole "don't smile until November," thing.  It's just not me and feels disingenuous.

I guess my honeymoon was nice, but the trip away wasn’t worth the rough landing back into reality.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014