Friday, July 11, 2008

Inspired Teaching Institute Day 5: Getting the rhythm

All of the music that accompanies the Inspired Teaching Institute has already been carefully selected, but I would like to propose another song for this unofficial soundtrack: “Three-Four Vs. Six-Eight Four-Four Ways,” performed by Max Roach and the Legendary Hassan.

It’s characterized by portions in varying meters, or the basic rhythm that notes are played over. From a waltz-like three-four time (ONE two three, ONE two three) to the straight-forward four-four time of a march (ONE two three four, ONE two three four). The composition and its name illustrate what teachers do all day—change gears.

It’s almost unbelievable how many different factors a teacher must be cognizant of at any given moment. Hours of intensive preparation only take one so far. One Institute participant shared that an administrator at her middle school believes teachers need to be able to scan a room and in ten seconds assess students’ moods and possible situations—who is happy, who didn’t get enough sleep, who was just dumped in the hallway, and who’s texting under a desk? Ten seconds would be quite a challenge, I imagine, but however long it takes to develop and utilize, this skill could determine how a teacher would pose the same basic question to, say, the one who was dumped versus the one who is texting. And if there’s any hope of proceeding toward the objectives of a lesson, it all needs to flow like music.

In the song, the sections in different meters play out with a strange synergy. They sound distinct but not oppositional. On the contrary, they make the whole piece more interesting.

Now, I’ve written a song or two in my day, and composing is hard enough in one time signature. Why would I go out of my way to compose or even improvise in three different meters in a single piece? For some of the same reasons, I suppose, that teachers at the Institute may have decided to participate in this professional development opportunity: to take one’s craft to a higher level, infusing it with a new element of interest.

All of the my new ideas catalyzed by this experience are beginning to reveal their own pattern with a call to action. In step three of Inspired Teaching’s Five-Step Process, we explore the connections between one’s philosophy of teaching and one’s classroom practice. This weekend we will grapple with questions that will allow us to strengthen this relationship and make our classrooms truly inspiring. Fortunately, we have at least are five more days of the Institute and many practicum sessions left to support each other along the way.

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