Friday, August 7, 2015

What did YOU learn today?

"Dear Journal. You know we have a challenging relationship. I want to be better about documenting things that occur each day; however, sometimes my days make me forget about my commitment to you."

Does anyone else feel this way? I bought a really nice Moleskine journal to motivate me to take a few moments each day to reflect, but I do not always get around to it. When I do make the time, I enjoy going back to relive experiences and memories. I want a record of experiences to learn from and remember.

Since it was clear to me that longer, expository journaling clearly was not my thing, I turned to some journaling research and found some examples of non-traditional methods. One of these is sure to strike your fancy.  It is because of this that I created a simple version for school using Google Forms. In my Outlook reminders, I have an alarm set for 3:30pm each day. In this alarm is a link to click on taking me to this ...

It is the proverbial mom and dad question; however, as I teach students each day I do not always reflect on the ways in which I HAVE LEARNED that day. There are hundreds of opportunities to try educational theories and ideas in class, but not always a mechanism to record them. Similarly, pivotal events should be documented as well as long-term initiatives that are chipped away at each day.

Jot down a sentence, paragraph or something longer about how teaching changed you that day.

I hope you will take a few moments to create this framework for yourself. You will enjoy reading back through your career.

So ... take the challenge to professionally journal, by asking yourself ...

What did YOU learn today?

For your consideration,
Kevin Dengel

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What Ohio's State-Level Data Scrubbing Got Right

What Ohio’s State-Level Data-Scrubbing Got Right

David Hansen (former School Choice and Charter School Advocate for the Ohio Department of Education) did something amazingly bold before his resignation. Really. We should not approve of his actions, nor elevate him to rock star status while lauding his infamous accomplishment, but we should use this as a moment to reflect on the past, present, and future of education in Ohio.

Now, like me, you might not agree or approve of (1) state officials willfully breaking the law (e.g., Ohio Revised Code, including Ethics Violations), (2) manipulating data to elevate the rating of a particular type of school with which you have a special interest, (3) using said [adjusted] data to improve the scores of online charter schools whose owners happen to be major political donors in Ohio in order to receive state perks, (4) the conflict of interest in manipulating this data with your wife being chief of staff for the current Presidential-hopeful Governor, nor a sundry of other happenstances; however, you can agree that the education system is much more dynamic than a single letter (e.g., A-F) or numeric (e.g., 0-100%) can fully capture. Joe Bower has been advocating for changes in classroom grading practices due to this very issue. No matter how dynamic and multi-faceted the Ohio Department of Education’s NEW Report Card (which happens to funnel everything into an A-F grade) is expected to be it will never capture the reality occurring each day in our schools.

Admittedly, this story has blown up in the past few days and more details are likely to surface, with Ohio House and Senate Democrats demanding State Superintendent Dr. Richard Ross’ resignation. The unfortunate element is that this news is not surprising to me. As an educator in Ohio, our state has been told countless times by the media how terrible education is in this country and how bad public school teachers are at closing the achievement gap. Indeed, the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) was rolled out when teachers were Public Enemy #1 with the purpose of exposing and removing all the “bad teachers.” Understandably, many educators throughout the state saw this as punitive - no matter how much the ODE tried to spin it as encouraging professional growth.  

Charter schools have been touted as the solution to the failures of America's education system. We are fed misleading or false information by politicians who potentially have financial gain in the charter (among others) school reform movement. School choice advocates use this as the reason for increased vouchers so that students are not trapped in low-performing schools. The problem arises when the schools being advocated for have WORSE data than this student’s previous school. But, that all goes away when you decide to ignore data that makes something look bad!

One thing that consistently presents challenges to students’ learning (known as the “Achievement Gap”) is socioeconomic status and home-life scenarios. I have friends that teach in inner city schools: their stories represent a completely different home-life than my suburban students. This topic, however, is rarely included in conversations on school reform. After all, it is far easier to blame the teacher and school than the homes and communities that populate said school and district - a far bigger voter-base. In fact, Ohio is trying a new Performance-based reward system that is sure to benefit wealthier districts while (essentially) punishing low-income areas with historically lower scores. Dr. Ross recognizes this, but still "kinda likes" the plan. (...this should work out well...)

Consequently, one element that has been shown to close this achievement gap is a strong music education curriculumSee the work of Dr. Nina Kraus at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University. But I digress on that topic, for this post. This is something I advocated for at both the November 2014 and December 2014 State Board of Education meetings, during the "Ohio 5 of 8" discussion.

The beauty of David Hansen’s premeditated decision to break state law by willfully excluding CRITICAL data that is REQUIRED in the reporting of all other public schools is the following: “He [Hansen] said he wanted to look at other, stronger schools instead, because online struggles "mask" successes elsewhere” (The Plain Dealer, July 15). Exactly, Mr. Hansen! You are proof positive that the state report card masks so much of the successes occurring throughout Ohio’s other schools and are inaccurate and incomplete representations of our education system.

Your decision to withhold Fs illustrated what the education community has been saying for many years: there is more to school accountability and student learning than test scoresParticularly, when Ohio already has a messy history with testing companies and the possibility of politics tainting the education of students. Tests, though, are an easy metric to monitor - and there is a lot to be made off of them.

I am (strangely) grateful for Mr. Hansen’s illegal decision to stick his neck out and prove to the Ohio legislature and Ohio Department of Education that the present school accountability structure is deeply flawed and does not accurately reflect the successes occurring throughout the state in many schools.  

Diane Ravitch is right in referencing Campbell’s law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson is also right in tweeting.

Except it could read: "When ODE officials cheat on state report card data it’s because our political system values the grade of these schools (perhaps) more than students’ learning.”

For your consideration,
Kevin Dengel

If you are not fully up to speed on this situation, I would recommend reading the following stories of the past week.

Bill Bush and Charlie Boss, The Columbus Dispatch (July 17, 2015)

Bill Boss, The Columbus Dispatch (July 18, 2015)

Andrew Welsh-Huggins (AP) appearing in the Akron Beacon Journal (July 18, 2015)

Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post (July 19, 2015)

Plunderbund (July 19, 2015)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Thoughts on Vibrato

For a few years, I have experimented with various strategies and techniques to introduce and develop students' vibrato. On the whole, I feel vibrato is taught too late in string sequencing. The one element that most interferes with students' success is a sub-par shoulder rest. When the shoulder rest is not adequate, the left hand/arm becomes a kickstand more than a functional mechanism for musicality. My students with foam shoulder rests (for example) are least effective in both learning and executing a quality vibrato. Consequently, the mobility necessary for vibrato is locked. Walking around one day helping a student who said, "I just cannot get this!" I slightly elevated their scroll so it was disengaged from the left hand. Suddenly this student was miraculously able to do a fantastic vibrato motion. Illustrating for students the importance of a quality shoulder rest is vital! 

We teach students block hand shape to develop muscle memory and fingerboard geography; however, this develops two habits that can be difficult to reverse. The first is the adhesion of the index finger to the neck of the instrument (particularly for violin and viola) that makes vibrato next to impossible. The second is the difficulty associated with keeping multiple fingers down during a vibrato-ed pitch. Most frequently, the index finger is disengaged from the neck and elevated like one is pointing toward the sky. It would seem most effective to codify the mental map of the fingerboard (through the Ionian pentacle on each string) during the first year and teach chromatic alterations and the use of single-fingers during the second year. Disengage the index finger! 

Variable speed within the vibrato motion is important, to meet the demands of the music. The standard practice using a metronome to assist in "metering" the motion and increasing speed is a great tool; however, it feels sooooooooooo dull. Throw some Richard Simmons on YouTube for a more entertaining tempo reference - the kids love it. True Story: I have had an entire class of well-respecting students clear the stands and chairs to join in the motions for at least 5 minutes. It was a proud moment in my teaching career. 

Another idea is to increase vibrato speed through a crescendo. This trains the hand (and brain) that long notes are not "dying" notes but "thriving" notes. Playing long tones (whole notes) at 60BPM provides a chance to develop "vibrato gears" to shift between. From this you can develop a common language for students to assign vibrato intensity to (1) each piece, (2) sections throughout the piece, and (3) individual notes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Standards: Sure! But Which Ones?!

My colleague and I are working to overhaul the 6-12 Course of Study for the orchestra department. With revisions to Ohio's State Standards (2012) and National Core Arts Standards (2014) an update is critical. The existing Course of Study, developed 12-15 years ago is not current, and best-practices have changed with regard to standards and assessment. Additionally, there was no (1) teacher, (2) student, (3) parent, nor (4) administrator friendly version that could be used "in the trenches."

We find ourselves overwhelmed with Standards. Particularly in their perceived incompatibility with each other. Do we use the American String Teachers Association (ASTA) Curriculum? Do we use the 2012 Ohio Department of Education Music Standards? Do we use the NEW National Core Arts Standards? Do we combine them all? How do we do that?! Do we model our curriculum after another model district? ... or do we become the model district? 

After attending a professional development conference, we decided to ditch them all - for the time being anyway. Why?

1. We found the ASTA curriculum, while excellent, to be very cumbersome. 
2. We found the ODE Music Standards to be off the mark, and lacking specificity for orchestra.
3. We found the National Core Arts Standards to also lack necessary specificity, though this was intentional for the breadth of ensembles under the umbrella category of "Traditional and Emerging." 

As a result, we are developing a composition- and skills-based curriculum. The rationale is that by using this approach we establish the (1) process-orientation of the National Core Arts Standards, (2) the specificity aimed by the ODE standards, while making the means through which we achieve our desired end a (3) string-specific curriculum. 

Stay tuned for more!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reflections from IMEA (2015)

On February 16 & 17, I had the privilege of presenting at the Indiana Music Education Association's annual Professional Development Conference. This convention was held in Ft. Wayne, and provided an opportunity to learn from and meet some great educators. My session was entitled 'The Power of Story: Enhancing Your Program,' and summarized some of the efforts, principles and frameworks that have helped increase the Gahanna Orchestra Department's participation levels by 116% and elevate the average retention rate to 78% in six years. There was time at the end where attendees shared their own successes.

I was fortunate to attend two sessions by Bob Phillips, one of the foremost string educators in the country. While the information on the provided handouts were familiar ideas, I knew that the real gems would be when he shared his experiences and impromptu recollection of pedagogical tips and tricks used throughout the years. The margins on my copies are filled to the brim with ideas and actionable steps to implement in GJPS.

At his session about the Double Bass, I was fortunate to meet David Murray (Professor of Double Bass at Butler University). David is a former student of Gary Karr. THE GARY KARR. His musicianship, performance history and curriculum vitae are equally impressive! After a great lunch with both he and Soo Han (in addition to some of his current and former colleagues), we are planning for David to visit Gahanna Lincoln H.S.!

Many thanks to the GJPS Administration for providing coverage on Friday, February 16th while I traveled and presented. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Reflections from the State Board of Education (Nov/Dec 2014)

For the past two months (November/December), I had the privilege of attending the Ohio State Board of Education meetings to provide testimony on behalf of Ohio's students.

In the 1980's, language in the Operating Standards mandated that schools in the state hire 5 of 8 full time positions; including: counselor, library media specialist, school nurse, visiting teacher, social worker and elementary art, music and physical education. This came to be known as the Ohio 5 of 8 Rule ("Rule") and the individuals staffed for these positions were defined as "Educational Service Personnel" ("ESP"). At the time, there was a funding formula that (basically) incentivized districts to provide these services. With the redaction of that funding formula, the Rule has been without enforcement for a number of years. Additionally, with an increased demand for local control in the political arena, districts throughout the state (to my understanding) have advocated for a language change to this rule. Such a language change would allow the flexibility to provide services to schools/districts through partnerships with local and county entities. For example, board members shared the following scenario: "If a school, particularly a small one, is across the street from a county hospital, should they not have the flexibility to cost-share?"

Below you will find (1)(2) my testimonies, advocating for language change within the Rule to place music, art and physical education alongside other core academic content areas, (3) the amended language, which I feel is an improvement to the previous language, (4) my emails to Ron Rudduck, chair of the Operating Standards committee, following a phone conversation, and (5) my email to Debra Terhar, president (at the time) of the SBOE.

This conversation is just beginning. Zip code should not determine Arts programming, no more than Math and Science. Per my December testimony, the most fundamental language change that needs to occur is the inclusion of "elementary music, art and physical education" into a listing of credentialed staff and explicitly name it alongside other content areas.

Many thanks to Tim Katz (Executive Director of the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education), Michael Collins (SBOE) and Ron Rudduck (SBOE) for their work and collaboration to develop the amended language.

I am deeply grateful to the Gahanna Jefferson Public School's Administration and Board for their support, for allowing me to advocate for what is best for Ohio's students.

(1) November SBOE Testimony
(2) December SBOE Testimony 
(3) Amended Language (via OAAE Statement)
(4) Email to Mr. Rudduck

Mr. RudduckThank you for the opportunity to speak with you the other day. The new language has much strength and provides more flexibility (local control) for districts, with regard to "social services" (e.g., nurses, social workers, counselors, etc.). While we are both in agreement that the protection of core academic content areas (e.g., music, art, and physical education) is a larger discussion, I do believe the SBOE can provide the necessary guidance without creating an unfunded mandate or relinquishing local control. 
This afternoon, I was considering what could be added to the K-12 Operating Standards that met the current agenda: (1) not creating unfunded mandates, and (2) providing local control. The italicized language below, I feel, is a step in the right direction to (1) provide a guideline for districts, (2) acknowledge the academic nature and value of these curricular areas [though the classroom environments are different from other content], (3) explicitly state what many on the State Board have expressed,  and (4) support neuroscience and current research in this arena. 
The language also supports the amended Rule 01 and 05.  "Lifelong participation in the Fine Arts and Physical Education provide innumerable cognitive and noncognitive benefits. It is an expectation by the Department of Education and the State Board of Education that curricular courses (with approved state and national standards) in music, art and physical education be provided at each level of education (Pre-K-12) to all Ohio’s students."

Please let me know your thoughts.

All the best,Kevin Dengel 

(5) Email to President Terhar: 

Mrs. Terhar,
It was wonderful speaking with you following Monday’s SBOE meeting. I appreciate the new language and the efforts by the Board and Tim Katz, because I believe it helps move this discussion in a productive direction. There are many elements in the amended language that appear stronger; however, I still do not understand why core curricular content areas (e.g., music, art and PE) are on the the list of ESP.  I shared with you the situation with middle school art in my own district, and while you said “they should be ashamed,” it did not protect this subject area when a financial decision was on the table. Music, Art and PE should NOT be included as ESP at any level, because it undermines the Ohio Graduation Requirements and the value system (seemingly) of many members of the SBOE. For example, when Tim Katz shared information about reduction/elimination of art(s) curriculum, you spoke up about protocols/systems in place for the (1) reduction of funding, (2) revocation of superintendent’s/principal’s licensure, etc. for these districts.
It would seem that you, and others, rightfully value Arts education in schools. If the Board is encouraging formal disciplinary action against these offending districts, principals and superintendents, then it would stand to reason that music, art and PE are too valuable to make optional and should thereby be codified into language.
There is still an opportunity to provide local control for the staff presented in (B) and (C) of Rule 01; however, music, art and PE should not be on this list - again, because they are core academic content areas of high-value. Both the previous and amended language do not protect these K-12 curricular areas from budgetary cuts, as evident in the 50+ schools OAAE has identified via ODE EMIS data. 
I would implore you and the Board to look at the language in both the ORC and the Operating Standards to see what could be done to ensure that all students in Ohio have opportunities for music, art and PE throughout grades K-12.Districts do not get an option to make Math (another core subject, like Music) available to its students. As I stated in my November testimony: the Operating Standards are a value system, and students of Ohio deserve to see music, art and PE alongside their other core academic subject areas in language and law. I plan on contacting the Ohio legislature, per your suggestion. I would love to speak with you further about this.
Lastly, hearing about your son's success in music was awesome! Music clearly had (and continues to have) an impact on his life - and yours. I would love to hear a recording of one of his performances! My address is at the footer of my December testimony, and I would welcome a CD via mail or MP3 via email.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Remind: Uses, Fears and the Future

Remind (formerly Remind101) has been gaining tremendous popularity in the past year - and for good reason. This platform is a must for faculty, teams, and large groups. Since first joining, the free service has continually made it easier for parents and students to sign up for "classes" and receive timely information.

Last autumn, I took the Gahanna Lincoln H.S. Orchestra to Chicago and we used Remind to communicate with students while on the buses, in the hotel and walking with chaperones downtown. This was invaluable tool to maintain a flow of time-sensitive information to the students. It also kept parents at home abreast of happenings while their students were away.

One of the many benefits of Remind is that students become "informants" to their peers who may not own a phone with text messaging features. This has improved accountability in various ways in my classes. In fact, if I happen to forget about my "Week at a Glance" reminder (sent on Sundays) I hear about it the next day from students. "Where was the text, Mr. Dengel?" What started as a courtesy, in some ways, has become an expectation. As more parents and students gain familiarity with this tool and an increased number of teachers begin utilizing this service in their communications, I do have a concern.

As educators, we must be cognizant not to become overzealous with Remind. Sending only the most vital information at appropriate times is critical: otherwise, this tool becomes a thorn in individuals' sides. Imagine for a moment that a student has seven teachers and one coach using Remind. If these teachers send one text each day during the work week (a bad idea in itself), the information housed within these 40 weekly messages would lose the attention and follow-through they deserve. Although students can receive hundreds of texts each day from their friends, receiving Reminds from teachers do not garnish the same appeal.

Be judicious in your Remind-ing, and be sure to also use other viable social networks to communicate.

While I am on that point: Facebook is dead to our students. Few use it. Too many "old people" have crashed the party. It's just not cool anymore. On the other hand, parents love it! Twitter is in the process of dying. Too many adults and teachers are using it for professional development and connecting with brands. Fellow "Old people," congrats! We've infiltrated another social media platform! Students have moved on to Instagram and others.

If we've learned anything, tech-interfaces change quickly. Indeed, a few years ago I thought texting was pointless. Just call someone for heaven's sake! Now students have "phone anxiety." It's true. And adults use it as a primary means to communicate with their busy children, students - and spouses. The question now is ... what is the future of Remind? How long will texting be around? What other interfaces are out there, and/or being developed? What would that even look like?