Finals…are they really necessary?

Finals…

Why do we have finals? 

Traditionally, a final is given to students as a way to “Show what they know”. Basically, you give a huge test that is usually multiple choice as a way to get students to show their understanding.

When I think of multiple choice tests, especially those used for finals, I think of the concept of memorization and as I put it…regurgitation.  None of which actually shows knowledge of the concepts supposedly learned but rather how well a student can memorize and recall the information.  I personally despise this kind of testing but I realize that since it is one of the easiest forms of testing to create, it is used more often than others.  I would prefer a test that is applicable to the content taught and adheres to the abilities of the students.

This is especially true in the arts.  In choir, we have already had our real final…aka…the concert.  This was truly the final and it was almost two weeks ago.  The process used in getting the students to that final is what is tested. But the students show what they learned in a live performance that is authentic and I think, should count as their final.

So, what do you do when your school mandates a final as a way to encourage attendance during the last week of school?

I did it this way…

Being that I am currently working on my Technology Endorsement, I wanted to incorporate something that would fit both worlds..the world of technology and the world of music.  I am really lucky that one of my student’s mother is in the technology class with me and was willing to help me out.

She showed me this really cool website that allows you to create your own or modify someone else’s Digital Breakout.   Currently the site is only working in Beta form but is extremely easy to use and the should you have an issue as I did today, you get a quick response time.

What is a Breakout?  What about a Digital Breakout?

Check out the links I provided under Breakout and Digital Breakout for more details but basically,

A Breakout is:

The Breakout EDU kit allows for the facilitation of games where players use teamwork and critical thinking to solve a series of challenging puzzles in order to open the locked box. Games are available for all ages and content areas.

and a Digital Breakout is:

Welcome to Breakout EDU Digital. The same game principles from the main Games page apply to these games, but there is no physical component other than an Internet connected device (preferably a laptop/Chromebook/desktop computer.)

The website I used for mine is deck.toys.  Again, this site is in Beta form but I chose it because I felt it was easier for me for this particular final.  The Digital Breakout from above it perfectly wonderful and I even got a chance to use it during one of our technology classes.  I do have to say that my team got finished first:)

For my class Breakout, I didn’t want just another process of memorization being use.  So, I was really grateful that for my first effort, I found a template that I could use as is.  It fit my purposes, in that my students would have to work together (skills used daily in choir), they would do cross-curricular activities (tasks that are often found in choir, sometimes unbeknownst to the students though), and they would be watching/listening/reading music (Wow! another skill taught in choir).

Most of the students have liked the final so far. (our classes are not very long so it will take two days to give them processing time and time to deal with typical technological challenges we face on a regular basis) Although a few have stressed themselves out a bit because it is something new and out of the ordinary.

What blew me away? I even had two or three ask why we weren’t just having a traditional final!  I stared at them in a look that probably resembled the scream mask.  I asked them if they really believed they would prefer a huge number of questions over something they could do together.

Their response?

It’s what they knew.

Oh…the horror!  The shame.

It proved to me once again that often in education all we are doing is asking kids to memorize and regurgitate.  How does that help them prepare for their future?

Sure, the breakout was new.

Sure, it was stressful because the answers weren’t easily found.

You had to look for the clues imbedded in the structure of the site.  You had to work together.

I think at the end of tomorrow, the students will have suggestions for how to make it better.  They may even want to create one for next year’s groups or at least have a say in the musical subject matter.  I have no idea.  We will see.

All I can say is that sure we’ve had problems but overall I think it’s a success.

I can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow. . .

How do we finish strong?

How do we finish strong when we are exhausted and overwhelmed? 

I took a break from blog writing right after our Final Concert for a couple of reasons.

One, I was simply exhausted after writing every day while keeping up with my students and preparing for our end of year concert.  I give so much to the experience that I always feel the thrill of the ride but also the let down after it’s all over.  The added stress of deciding to write every day just added to that feeling.

Two, the HUGE decision I had made previously, mentioned in another blog post, had to be reevaluated and eventually changed because of circumstances that were out of my control.  This left me feeling completely and totally overwhelmed.

So…I took a break.

I knew this could be a problem, but I needed it.  I thought it would only be a day or two.  It clearly turned into this lengthy period of time… 1 1/2 weeks! YIKES!

At first, the break was welcomed and almost a relief.  Then, it seemed to become almost a demand that I not write.  But that also led to me not wanting to prepare lessons for my students.  I still had two weeks left of school!  I couldn’t afford to let that happen.

So…how to do you finish strong when you don’t want to do anything?  When you just need to relax and forget everything so you can regenerate?

Well, I don’t know about you, but for me it’s comes back to my upbringing.  It means “pulling up your bootstraps” and persevering . It means taking each day as it comes and just focusing on doing your best.  Your best for yourself, for your family and if you are a teacher like me, for your students.

I made it through the last 1-1/2 weeks by putting my focus on what I could do rather than what I had no control over.  I focused on having fun with my students, preparing them for the “final” that takes place tomorrow, and just enjoying my time with my own children.

One of “having fun” moments with my students was playing a musical game based on “telephone” using rhythms.  It is both frustrating and hilarious for all participants.

One of the “having fun” moments with my own children was going on a hike today.  We enjoyed the short but steep hike, the view at the top, and the quick descent followed by some good food. It was very restful and rejuvenating in a kind of strange way.

The preparation for the final was enjoyable for me albeit not so much for my students.  However, they will see the benefits tomorrow. So will you if you read tomorrow’s post:)

 

Final Concert of the Year

Final Concert…

Whew what an amazing ride!

If interested, check out our Concert Slide show.  I used this in place of all talking/introducing of the numbers.  It was such a sweet process!  I loved not having to talk:), not having to write a script, that my stage crew put it together using Google Slides.  It was a great first effort for producing a sweet concert.

The students stepped up and showed the audience what they had learned, practiced and perfected.  I was so impressed with their drive and endurance. It was hard doing something so different from what they were used to.  Usually, we just have them stand in sections on seven connected risers with very little movement albeit animation in the face.  This time, it was all get out!  They not only did a variety of choreography, they did it while NOT being in their sections.

As I’ve mentioned before, our auditorium scenario makes it necessary to have two concerts.  So, our first concert was the beginning choirs and they were just awesome!  Of course, there were little mistakes.  No concert goes without them.  What makes it awesome is working through them and making the overall picture an amazing experience for the audience.

The second concert was the Intermediate and Advanced choirs. Boy did they step it up!  Their effort was miraculous and just so impressive.  No matter what was thrown at them, they made it through with flying colors.

I also think I’ve said this before, but the students have asked me repeatedly to sing for them or with them.  Tonight, I sang with the advanced group.

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We sang Seasons of Love from Rent.  This song means a lot to me.  I have a lot of friends that I have lost over the years and whether you like the musical itself or not doesn’t really matter.  The text that is within this piece should give everyone pause.  The question of “How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?” is something we should all ask when deciding how we treat each other.

The students in this particular group have really come to understand what it means to be a family, what it means to treat each other with respect and dignity, and what it means to protect others.  Why wouldn’t I sing this song with them?  

As we started the song with a complete blackout and spotlight, and gradually added colored light as students joined me on stage, the joy of singing with my students was something I had never experienced before.  Their smiles, their excitement and their obvious joy was contagious and wonderful.  I hope someday to be able to have the privilege of doing it again!

Then they did something I never expected.  They wouldn’t just let me say thank you to the audience for coming and enjoying the show, they took the mic.  These wonderful students shared their thoughts with the audience about how they felt about the class, the year and even me.  They presented me with two bouquets of flowers, candy, a candy poster and even my favorite soda (DP) signed by all of the students.

No one could ask for anything more!

Dress Rehearsals…preparation for the Finale

Dress Rehearsals.

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Dress Rehearsals are useful in a lot of ways.

In choir, I use them in a few ways.

One way I use them is to “walk through” the program so students know where they need to be and when they need to be there.  To “walk through” literally means to go through the motions of the program without doing any singing.  This especially helpful for new students or “beginning choirs” because although we practice all of this in class, nothing is solid until students get a chance to do the “walk through”.

Another way I use them is to “run the program”.  This is different in that the students involved go through the entire program by not just going through the motions but also singing all of their pieces. For me, this would be ideal because students would get a complete practice with all groups involved.  It is also advantageous at my school because this gives the different groups a chance to hear each other for the first time and sometimes the only time. This is because our auditorium is situated in a way that makes it necessary that we have two concerts.  By having two concerts, one concert group of singers doesn’t get to hear the other group because we don’t have enough space for all of the performers and their guests.

I can also use dress rehearsals as just a final rehearsal meaning we practice only a specific group’s number.  I use this one for our yearly “Mentor piece”. For the mentor piece, students get to choose an adult they consider a musical mentor and sing with them on a group piece.  My students love this opportunity as they get to choose who they sing with and often get a chance to sing with someone they have always wanted to sing with but hadn’t had time or the situation to do so. The mentors love it because they are often the parents of the student(s) and have been a huge motivation for their students being in choir in the first place.  The mentors also love it because most have missed the performing opportunities they once enjoyed as a member of a school choir.

The theatre and the opera use dress rehearsals in a much more elaborate way but they still accomplish basically the same thing.  Each possibility gets the student ready for the finale.

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Teachers of most subjects call a finale the “final”.  Meaning the end results of the hard work of learning.  These teachers usually hand them a written test that may include multiple choice, true/false, short answer or even essay questions all geared to get a student to “show what they know” in that subject.

The thing I like about the performing arts is that our “final” is built into what we do.  Students HAVE to know the material or the “show” is a FLOP!  It is also really easy to grade these “finals”.  The students either know it or they don’t.  There’s not an enormous amount of in-between.  However, I never just grade a student on what I see.  I ask each student to evaluate their performance on specific criteria we have been working on for that quarter.  I take everything the student writes into consideration when giving a grade.  I like this approach because students not only become empowered in their performance, they also learn more and share more as they progress from quarter to quarter.

Dress Rehearsals…preparation for the Finale!

2 Days…Still much to do

2 Days…

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The concert is in 2 days. 

As always, there is still much to do.

Today was the second day in our school auditorium to get more comfortable with the practiced staging and the layout of the stage.

It was the first day each class got to practice their songs in the context of the entire concert. They got to hear the accompaniment of the other pieces so they knew what song came before they had to go to the stage to perform their number.

This concert is more elaborate than I have taken on in the past.  We add choreography to one concert every year.  However, this is the first concert in which I have altered the layout of the risers and added other props to help with visual aspect of the choreography.

We also added a slideshow behind the singers to add to the visual effect. The stage crew has been working on the slideshow for a number of weeks now despite only meeting two times each week.  So far, it looks really good! It still needs a little bit more work and so a few of the students are currently working on the Google Slides.

Today was the first day I got to work with my stage crew this week.  Our normal time had been removed because of testing.  We got a chance to help set up the stage after having moved it to accommodate another teacher.  We also got to put our brand new gels on the stage lights and work on the sound system.

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I love being the stage crew advisor! The students and I work completely in tandem.  Sometimes they know more and sometimes I do.  But no matter what we have had to work together to make everything mesh so well.  They worked so hard today doing what they have been trained to do! So well that the district media specialist that was fixing our hanging mics commented to me about how impressed he was that the students took ownership of the equipment. He talked about how they worked together, how they made decisions about which colors to put on which stage light and he even noticed the students had organized our equipment room so items could be stored correctly and easily found.  How awesome is that?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love being a choir teacher just as much for similar reasons.  However, only 15 students are allowed to be on the stage crew each year.  That means they have to really know what they are doing, they have to be able to work well with others and they have to truly become a team that can rely on each other.

It also means I have to have my part ready for them.  I can’t just expect them to do it al by  themselves.  I had to prepare them.  I had to be willing to learn from others that knew more than I did.  Sometimes that meant the two amazing guys on the crew that had more experience with this newer equipment than I did.  That meant that I had to teach them the equipment they didn’t know.

Image result for tinkerThat also meant I had to be okay letting them “figure” things out.  Those two were willing to “tinker” with our equipment to learn all the nuances so we could see what the possibilities were.  They were always safe with the equipment and only used it in ways that they knew wouldn’t damage anything but it was truly amazing to see how they were able to do things the so-called “experts” at the district knew how to do.

 

Mother’s Day Surprise

Mother’s Day Surprise.

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I have been a mother for a number of years now and have had very few surprises happen on Mother’s Day.  Yesterday, I received two.

First surprise?

My children put together a small basket of treats for me.  They bought them without help or input from me.  My children had saved some money for this purpose. They managed to keep me out of the loop and even presented it to me when I least expected it…Hence the surprise.  It completely sweet and unprecedented. They knew exactly what treats I liked and it made me feel completely and totally appreciated.

Second surprise?

Image result for remindI use the Remind app to communicate with my students and their parents. They get weekly reminders of upcoming due dates, activities or concerts. Both parents and students have been known to use it to ask questions of myself and even occasionally message their peers.  However, yesterday it was used in such a sweet manner that I don’t think I will ever forget it.

One of my 7th grade students decided to use the remind app to send me a message.  He said “Hi, Mrs. Hunter”. Then he send another one.  He said “Happy Mother’s Day”.  How often do you get that private message from a student?  He wasn’t out to show others what he had done and glorify his actions.  He just wanted to send a message that showed his appreciation.

I didn’t respond to his message.  Students know I don’t reply to messages on Sunday as I tell them it’s the one day I take off for myself and my children.

However, when I saw him going to our class today, I told him thank you.  He just smiled and said you’re welcome.

I can’t say that being a middle school teacher always brings a lot of monetary rewards or even a lot of thank you’s. But I am very grateful for those small heartfelt ones and will always cherish them.

I believe it is for those moments that keep us going.  They keep us pushing towards our own excellence which in turn helps us serve our students’ needs.

How can Exhaustion result in Gratitude?

Today was the Garage Sale.  

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For the past week, my children and I have worked diligently to prepare for the sale. We made decisions about what stays and what goes resulting in a lot of sorting, purging and boxing up.

Thursday and Friday evening, we had help moving the large items to the garage so it would be easier to put things out today for the sale. It was really fun to watch the way the men moved items they thought were light only to realize they needed help.  It was fun to hear their banter when things didn’t quite go the way they wanted them to.

After Thursday, my children and I were sore. Although I couldn’t sleep right away.  Partly because I needed to write this blog and partly because I was too wired.  My mind just wouldn’t shut off!

After Friday, we were exhausted.  Yet we knew we would have another day to work just as hard, if not harder.  And…we wouldn’t have my sons help.  One son would be at work and the other would be at a mechanics competition taking pictures of his team members and the other contestants.

So Saturday came, and the crew arrived to help.  I was still tired but I knew I had to get to work anyway.

The last of the large items were taken out and we starting setting items out for sale.  Cars began driving by prior to us being ready but the crew took over and made it happen.

My job?  Stay out of the pricing and just keep looking at what we had to determine if there was anything else that needed to go out.

When three o’clock came around, we had sold about 1/2 of the items and had packed the rest back into the garage.  I went off to my appointment and the crew went off to theirs.

Now that I am home, I feel total exhaustion but total gratitude.

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Gratitude for a number of blessings:  The help of old and new friends, donations that came in both in items to sell as well as monetary donations, the number of items that sold, and the help of my children.

 

We have been through a lot but they have grown so much and they have helped so much. All of us are in complete exhaustion but the gratitude flows. We will still need to have another sale next week but the number of great items is still plenty and I believe we can move the rest just as well.

The gratitude I feel completely makes up for the lack of energy, the legs that throb, the knees that want to buckle, in other words…exhaustion.

Four School Days and Counting

Today marked 4 school days until our concert.

It always amazes me that no matter how many times I mention the details like the date, the time, etc. when we get to this point, shock is all I see:)

It’s as though REALITY hit them HARD.  We go over the when and where of our concerts weeks and sometimes months before the event, even if only once or twice each week for first while. However, until that ONE WEEK mark comes, the reality of needing to be prepared doesn’t fully translate.

That’s why I love it when we get to this point!

The good thing about that quick reminder is that students want to get to work right away.  And that’s a good thing…it means they are more engaged, it means more will get accomplished, it means students will remember their choreography easier, and it means the short amount of time we have on Fridays (30 minute classes) is well spent.  

Students that have given their all at every rehearsal feel pretty confident about where they are in the process.

Students that might not have given their all now realize they can’t afford not to and still be prepared as well as be part of the team.

The rare student that hasn’t given any effort now feels separate from the team and flounders until they have figured out the routine.

It’s harder on that rare student than any other.

My favorite part?

All of us, but especially the students, rally around that individual and help them out because they understand that the reason for the lack of effort tends to stem from insecurity, worry and even frustration not belligerence or defiance.

They create what is essentially a SUPPORT CIRCLE.

What is a support circle? Well, I pretty described it above.

But let me give you another example.

In one of my choirs, we have a student who is very sick.  We don’t truly know what’s going on but the choir itself is so connected and like a true team that the students miss that student tremendously.

So they decided to do something.  One of the students creates some large posters that said WE MISS YOU! to show how much they miss that student. Then they took a photo with the whole class holding the posters.  The student that made the posters will be sharing the photos with the individual that is now studying at home.

The student will more than likely miss our concert although I know the effort is being made to at least attend.  But a support circle has been created nonetheless. Aren’t students awesome when they realize their great power?

4 School days and counting.

Decluttering and Simplicity

 

Simplicity is a good thing. 

 

 

Today at school, simplicity was the name of the game.

  1. Get needed information to the students as quickly as possible.
  2. Work on needed skills.
  3. Practice multiple times to gain confidence.

Students and most adults have very short attention spans.  So it paramount to getting instructions out to the students as quickly as possible.  Though it is also necessary to realize although the instructions can be quick, in middle school students will still have a lot of questions. So patience is also in order.

As we marked today as one week until our concert, we needed to practice. The skills that were most in need were specific places of choreography within a piece and/or being able to sing while doing choreography.

Therefore, we practiced many times.  I even warned the students their “favorite word” was going to be AGAIN.

Today at home, simplicity also came in handy.  It came in the form of many volunteers showing up to help in the moving of large items to another location in preparation of the yard sale this weekend.

I knew I had a lot of stuff but boy did I really see it today!

This leads me to the next part of today’s rant, oh I mean blog:)

Decluttering

“Decluttering does not mean getting rid of everything you own, it merely means taking away that which you really don’t want / need or use anymore.

There are so many advantages to decluttering, that it’s a great way to give yourself and your home a boost every so often.”

This quote makes me smile. Why? Well, because I am decluttering in a way that will purge so much from my life.  And yet, I have seen it in its fullness so many times before.

I grew up being raised by my grandparents.  My grandmother purged, now called decluttering, often.  I remember when I was fourteen, just after my father had passed away finding myself as the only beneficiary.  Of course, my grandparents couldn’t take all of the furniture my father had.  We didn’t have the space.  Homes where I lived were smaller than many are today. I was asked to select a piece or two to bring back with me.

I remember wanting my father’s water-bed.  It was a king size bed with beautiful wooden slats in canopy that made one feel at peace and at home.  It bounced when I sat on it and when I laid down.  I already had a full-size bed at my grandparents home so I really didn’t need a bed.  However, I really wanted it.  I was effectively told no.  Not because they didn’t want me to have my father’s things but because my room simply couldn’t fit a king sized bed! Yet, I persisted.  Eventually, my grandmother sold the bed to someone else.  I don’t even know who.  Since this was no longer an option, although I pouted about it for quite a long time, I ended up choosing my father’s stereo and stereo cabinet.

You know, that cabinet has been with me since that day.  The stereo has long been gone but the cabinet remains.  It is sturdy and strong.  It is made of hardwood. It is simplistic in structure and design. It treasures things behind the glass doors that has value. It is everything that symbolizes who my father was.

Today, I began a serious process of decluttering my life and working towards simplicity.

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The picture at the beginning of today’s post is the bed I have started dismantling and will sell at the yard sale.  It is just one item of many that will be sold. But my father’s cabinet will remain with us.  It will continue to stand for someone who showed me that despite whatever obstacles or challenges I may face, I can be simplistic and treasure things I value.  I can be sturdy and strong just like that cabinet and my father.

 

Empowerment…the key to understanding

Today, I took another day off.  No…another window didn’t break.

Unfortunately, it was stress of another kind.

At first, I didn’t want to take time off.

After all, we have a concert next week!

Although the majority of the choreography has been taught and just needs the refinement, I still didn’t want to stay home.

So I waited.  

And waited.

And waited.  

Finally, I realized I wasn’t going to be any good to my students with the frame of mind I was in and it didn’t look like it was going to get any better.  The stress I was experiencing was building because I was trying to figure out how to go teach 30 minutes away from my home and still be at home when the window guy was going to be there, coupled with the added stress of a family situation that seemed to be constantly compounding was too much to handle.

Yet, I didn’t see as though anything would come of me staying home.

Boy was I wrong. 

I got some very needed rest.  It took quite a while for me to get to sleep last night but I finally slept soundly.  I still woke up at the same time but I was able to read for a bit, talk to my children and get in a quick nap.

I was able to work side by side with my daughter going through different rooms to see what items we could get rid of this Saturday.

When we were beginning to wane.  I took a quick break and sat down at my computer for a moment.

A neighbor had messaged me asking if I needed any help.

I don’t know about you but I am TERRIBLE at letting others help me! But it truly humbling to have someone know you need help without being asked.

I was raised to be self-sufficient even if I didn’t feel like it.

This time, something within me told me to take the help.

WOW!  What a powerhouse my friend is.  She helped us so much.  I was able to go through things quietly making correct decisions while she packed items that had already been decided upon.  It was simply amazing.  We got through almost three rooms in less than two hours!  I told you she was a powerhouse!

What’s the point of this?

The point for me was…I was schooled today on empowerment.  

As a teacher, I work in my mind constantly trying to come up with additional ways to help my students become empowered.  I teach and release responsibility so they can “show what they know” in their own way, in their own time.

Today, my friend taught me what it was to help someone in a way that truly empowered another.

Today, I feel stronger, more confident, more motivated and I feel as though I could help someone else in the same way thus proving what I learned today.

I can only hope I use what I learned today, effectively in my classroom.  I know my students would gain so much from the experience.