Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Asking "What if?" to Change a Culture: I Double-Dog Dare You!

I swear to you on a stack of dictionaries, I have not been watching Tony Robbins' videos.  Honest.  I really haven't. But I had one of those experiences. I was sitting at my table reading Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools by Ron Ritchart.  I know, I know.  It isn't "light reading," but I needed to finish it as our building is on the path to becoming a Cultures of Thinking School, and I was one of the organizers for our back-to-school professional development.  Ritchart defines culture as the reenactment of a common story.  In order for change to occur, the story people tell and believe must change.  So here's the "A-HA!" 

Using this metaphor, think about your own personal story from the past about school/education.  We all have them.  Especially us, as we're teachers. That didn't happen on accident.  Now, think of your current story about school/education.  We educators live this every day, and that story changes from teacher to teacher and is dependent on the country, the state, the community, the building, the students we teach, and the colleagues with whom we work.  Finally...and this was the BIG a-ha for me...Think about the future story of school/education.  Ask this question: WHAT IF?

Ritchart even says, "No yeah-buts" are allowed.  Give yourself permission to just dream for a minute.  So I did.  Here are some of my "What ifs."

  • What if my students wrote for real-world reasons and not just for prompts or assignments?
  • What if every Friday, we threw out the curriculum and maintained our focus on the standards using STEM projects and arts integration?
  • What if I brought in engineers, writers, poets, artists, and scientists from our community to supplement the curriculum?
  • What if my students had more control over their learning?
  • What if my students were excited about homework and projects that required more from them?
  • What if metacognition, creativity, and the application of knowledge were valued more than the rote learning of knowledge itself?
  • What if my students could identify where they fall on a THINKING continuum?
So, what's the big deal?  Asking what if was liberating and exciting.  On a personal level, I could see how far-reaching this strategy could be for me...

  • What if I ate five fruits and vegetables every day?
  • What if I took off the weight I put on when I quit smoking?
  • What if I started running again?
  • What if I found one thing to do every day that I identified as fun?
  • What if I stopped working every night at 8 p.m. instead of midnight?
Applying this strategy to my personal life helped me peel through the layers of...pardon the expression, CRAP.  It helped me identify what I really valued in my life.  It helped me also identify old and current stories that don't work for me anymore.  What's that saying? Something like, "If you continue to do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten."  I think that's true.  Looking at my personal what-ifs, my past and current stories fit the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Now, imagine doing this as a whole staff. This exercise has the potential to establish a common vision, define significance, and liberate us from guilt and unnecessary practices.  It's not easy to do at first.  The "yeah-buts" do get in the way.  But I have to ask, "What if we committed to three what-ifs for the course of the school year?"  I can't help but think that having that kind of laser focus could change the entire culture of a classroom community, of a school community.  In a week, I will be asking my staff to complete this exercise, individually, with a partner, and then again in a small group. I can't wait to hear their stories.  I can't wait to talk about developing a thinking culture in our school community.  I can't wait to redefine our community values.

Something else happened when I completed this exercise. I felt a renewed sense of hope and purpose.  In our current educational climate in the United States, hope is often elusive, if not downright impossible at times.  Ask yourself, "What if...?" I dare you. I double-dog dare you!  If you do, please share in the comments below!

If you're interested in trying this strategy out yourself, click the picture below for a downloadable version. It's free!

You might also be interested in Making Thinking Visible materials, if this post "grabbed" you. Click below!


Creating a Life With Arts Integration: Movement, Part 3

There I was, in my Dalcroze Eurhythmics class at Central Michigan University. What is "Dalcroze Eurhythmics," you ask? It's a method of learning music through movement, and I wasn't "getting it."  As a future educator, and music educator, I needed to "get it."  But my professor, an elfin little man who I would swear to this day wore shoes that had turned-up toes, was trying to get me to dip and sway across the classroom floor.  I had a performance background.  I had played in countless recitals, solo & ensemble festivals, high school musicals, and public speaking gigs, but in this class I often wished the institutional-tiled floor would open up and swallow me whole.  UNTIL...

The Epiphany

Elf-man invited a guest to our class...a tall African-American man with a booming voice and kind eyes that crinkled when he smiled. He smiled a lot.  He was a poetry slam champion. He began by performing "A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes.  As he spoke, his body moved to show anger, disgust, and defeat.  It was as if I was vicariously living Hughes' words through our guest's performance.  Before I could bolt for the door, he had us on our feet, standing in a circle around him. We began to move to experience "Danse Africaine" also by Langston Hughes.

Danse Africaine

The low beating of the tom-toms,
The slow beating of the tom-toms,
Low . . . slow
Slow . . . low —
Stirs your blood.
A night-veiled girl
Whirls softly into a
Circle of light.
Whirls softly . . . slowly,
Like a wisp of smoke around the fire —
And the tom-toms beat,
And the tom-toms beat,
And the low beating of the tom-toms
Stirs your blood.

I had never experienced spoken word like this before.  It was musical. It was intense.  And, it was incredibly moving.  I left Elf-man's class that day with two questions pirouetting in my mind: What if my future students could experience words this way and what impact would it have on them?

Flash Forward

Ten years later, I am in my fourth grade classroom.  We have been reading poetry. Not Shel Silverstein. Not Jack Prelutsky. But Carl Sandburg.  Eloise Greenfield. e.e cummings. Langston Hughes.  Muscles carry memories as electrifying as the synapses.  I stood them up.  I showed them the tom-toms.  How do we move here?  How should we move there? Why? Why? Why? How does he feel here?  Why did he write this? What do you think?  

We began to do CLOSE reads on poems.  We read each poem three times, each time delving deeper into meaning.  Our first read was to experience the overall poem.  In our second read, we focused on words and phrases that leaped out to us as especially vivid or meaningful.  Our third read, we asked ourselves, if that vivid word or phrase was danced, how would I dance it? How would I move? What meaning do I want to show?  

The Outcome

This turned into a huge investigation.  I conducted an action research into the use of poetry in classrooms using the arts.  Measuring explicit and implicit meaning-making on Qualitative Reading Inventories, I investigated the impact of adding music, movement, or visual arts to  students' reading comprehension of poetry. Including movement had a significant impact on everyone, but especially on my special education and English Language Learner students.  On my post measurement using the QRI, their implicit responses rocketed.

What else happened?  Well, my students choreographed several poems, including some of their own. They performed these for the school and their parents.  It was fun...wildly fun.  But even better, they identified themselves as writers, as poets.  They began to critique each other's writing. They even began to talk about novel scenes and chapters in terms of movement.  I noticed they were visualizing more about whatever they were reading.  Our worlds changed.  

It Doesn't Have to Be Hard

I'm not your "Elf-Man."  Don't run. Don't wish for the floor to swallow you up like last night's dinner. Adding movement to your classroom practice doesn't have to be hard, or as "big" as the example I wrote about above.  What IS a big deal, is that you incorporate it in some way in your classroom. Research shows that it is one of the most powerful ways to teach. Check this freebie out. It's a list of 20 ways to integrate movement into your classroom instruction. Click the picture below.

If you're interested in "diving deeply" into text like I described above, then these might be for you!

Until next time, my friends, 

P.S.  This is the third part in my arts integration series of posts.  Check out the others by clicking "arts integration" above!