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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bennifits of Drumming: Connecting to Your Inner Pluse

Edited from on-line contirbutors

There's more to drumming than you know!
Drumming has physiological effects. It increases heart rate and blood flow just like an aerobic exercise. The process of drumming engages both the linear, (rational left brain) and the creative, (intuitive right brain). The two brain hemispheres often emanate different wave frequencies.

Drumming is like a deep meditation. It brings you into synchronization, which is a state of consciousness. Drumming links humans to the vibrations of the earth by slowing the brain waves to around 8 cycles per second, the exact frequency of the earth. Drumming heals the human energy field, so if your intention is for some healing while you drum, it will.

Improved IQ scores can now officially be added to the ever growing list of benefits from playing drums. A recent study shows that playing the drums or other percussion instruments actually improves IQ scores of children.

While previous studies have hinted that musical training improves a child's literacy and math skills, this is the first time that a study has shown that one's intelligence level can be improved by drumming.

"Playing the drums makes the brain think in a way that very few activities can," said Pat Brown, International Drum Month chairman and Percussion Marketing Council co-executive director. "Being able to understand musical notes and dissect how rhythms work and go together is a very complicated thought process. The most recent study shows that being constantly exposed to this type of brain activity can actually improve one's IQ level."

According to the study by E. Glenn Shallenberg at the University of Toronto, IQ test scores of 6 year old children significantly improved after receiving drum lessons. Shallenberg recruited a group of 144 six (6) year olds and separated them into 4 groups: those receiving drum lessons, voice lessons, drama lessons and no lessons. Children receiving the drum lessons showed significant improvement in their IQ tests, gaining an average of 7 IQ points. Meanwhile, children receiving voice lessons increased 6 points, those receiving drama lessons increased 5 points and children receiving no lessons improved 4 points. In his article in Psychological Science, Shallenberg concluded that musical training, in particular, was responsible for the extra IQ points.

Among the other benefits of playing the drums are improved musical coordination and brain activity; physical therapy, and stress relief; improved social skills such as team work, self esteem and discipline and improved abstract thought processes. The benefits of drumming are just one of the many things the PMC is confident that participants will get out of drumming.

As drumming continues to remain one of the fastest growing segments within the musical instrument industry, the various benefits of drumming and percussion are increasing in visibility and validity. Brown said that in addition to serving as a creative and artistic outlet, drumming is also now gaining recognition among researchers and scientists when it comes to serving as a therapeutic tool. "We all know that percussion is a great outlet for letting off steam and exhibiting creative energy. Recent studies, however, have shown that percussion, and drumming in particular, can boost the immune system, which goes a long way towards reducing stress and improving one's health. This is important information and as International Drum Month approaches, we're pleased to be able to share it."

A USA Today article titled "The Rhythm of Life" noted a study led by neurologist Barry Bittman of the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Meadville, Pennsylvania. The study found that patients who took part in group drumming, or drum circles, experienced increased levels of disease fighting immune system cells, also known as natural killer cells. In an industry sponsored study Bittman tested the blood chemistry of 111 healthy people in a series of experiments. Bittman says participants in all groups experienced a drop in Cortisol, an indicator of stress but only the group of active drummers had a significant increase in natural killer cells.

As an explanation, Bittman attributes this difference to the stress reducing benefits of self expression, camaraderie and rhythmic drumming. Sound waves have a profound effect on body cells. As an example, contemporary medical practices such as ultrasound, used for healing scar tissue and reducing inflammation, actually help the immune system produce more disease fighting cells. Thus, drumming or percussion activities can boost the immune system.

Drum therapy is an ancient approach that uses rhythm to promote healing and self-expression. From the Shamans of Mongolia to the Minianka healers of West Africa, therapeutic rhythm techniques have been used for thousands of years to create and maintain physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Current research is now verifying the therapeutic effects of ancient rhythm techniques. Recent research reviews indicate that drumming accelerates physical healing, boosts the immune system and produces feelings of well-being, a release of emotional trauma, and reintegration of self.

Other studies have demonstrated the calming, focusing, and healing effects of drumming on Alzheimer's patients, autistic children, emotionally disturbed teens, recovering addicts, trauma patients, and prison and homeless populations. Study results demonstrate that drumming is a valuable treatment for stress, fatigue, anxiety, hypertension, asthma, chronic pain, arthritis, mental illness, migraines, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, paralysis, emotional disorders, and a wide range of physical disabilities.

Drumming reduces tension, anxiety, and stress
Drumming induces deep relaxation, lowers blood pressure, and reduces stress. Stress, according to current medical research, contributes to nearly all disease and is a primary cause of such life-threatening illnesses as heart attacks, strokes, and immune system breakdowns. A recent study found that a program of group drumming helped reduce stress and employee turnover in the long-term care industry and might help other high-stress occupations as well.

Drumming helps control chronic pain
Chronic pain has a progressively draining effect on the quality of life. Researchers suggest that drumming serves as a distraction from pain and grief. Moreover, drumming promotes the production of endorphins and endogenous opiates, the bodies own morphine-like painkillers, and can thereby help in the control of pain.

Drumming produces deeper self-awareness by inducing synchronous brain activity
Research has demonstrated that the physical transmission of rhythmic energy to the brain synchronizes the two cerebral hemispheres. When the logical left hemisphere and the intuitive right hemisphere begin to pulsate in harmony the inner guidance of intuitive knowing can then flow unimpeded into conscious awareness. The ability to access unconscious information through symbols and imagery facilitates psychological integration and a reintegration of self.

Drumming also synchronizes the frontal and lower areas of the brain, integrating nonverbal information from lower brain structures into the frontal cortex, producing “feelings of insight, understanding, integration, certainty, conviction, and truth, which surpass ordinary understandings and tend to persist long after the experience, often providing foundational insights for religious and cultural traditions.”

Drumming accesses the entire brain
The reason rhythm is such a powerful tool is that it permeates the entire brain. Vision for example is in one part of the brain, speech another, but drumming accesses the whole brain. The sound of drumming generates dynamic neuronal connections in all parts of the brain even where there is significant damage or impairment such as in Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). According to Michael Thaut, director of Colorado State University's Center for Biomedical Research in Music, “Rhythmic cues can help retrain the brain after a stroke or other neurological impairment, as with Parkinson's patients...” The more connections that can be made within the brain, the more integrated our experiences become.

Drumming induces natural altered states of consciousness
Rhythmic drumming induces altered states, which have a wide range of therapeutic applications. A recent study by Barry Quinn, Ph.D. demonstrates that even a brief drumming session can double alpha brain wave activity, dramatically reducing stress. The brain changes from Beta waves (focused concentration and activity) to Alpha waves (calm and relaxed), producing feelings of euphoria and well-being.

Alpha activity is associated with meditation, shamanic trance, and integrative modes of consciousness. This ease of induction contrasts significantly with the long periods of isolation and practice required by most meditative disciplines before inducing significant effects. Rhythmic stimulation is a simple yet effective technique for affecting states of mind.

Drumming creates a sense of connectedness with self and others.
In a society in which traditional family and community-based systems of support have become increasingly fragmented, drumming circles provide a sense of connectedness with others and interpersonal support. A drum circle provides an opportunity to connect with your own spirit at a deeper level, and also to connect with a group of other like minded people.

Group drumming alleviates self-centeredness, isolation, and alienation.
Music educator Ed Mikenas finds that drumming provides “an authentic experience of unity and physiological synchronicity. If we put people together who are out of sync with themselves (i.e., diseased, addicted) and help them experience the phenomenon of entrainment, it is possible for them to feel with and through others what it is like to be synchronous in a state of preverbal connectedness.”

Drumming helps us to experience being in resonance with the natural rhythms of life.
Rhythm and resonance order the natural world. Dissonance and disharmony arise only when we limit our capacity to resonate totally and completely with the rhythms of life. The origin of the word rhythm is Greek meaning “to flow.” We can learn “to flow” with the rhythms of life by simply learning to feel the beat, pulse, or groove while drumming. It is a way of bringing the essential self into accord with the flow of a dynamic, interrelated universe, helping us feel connected rather than isolated and estranged.

Drumming provides a secular approach to accessing a higher power.
Shamanic drumming directly supports the introduction of spiritual factors found significant in the healing process. Drumming and Shamanic activities produce a sense of connectedness and community, integrating body, mind and spirit. According to a recent study, “Shamanic activities bring people efficiently and directly into immediate encounters with spiritual forces, focusing the client on the whole body and integrating healing at physical and spiritual levels. This process allows them to connect with the power of the universe, to externalize their own knowledge, and to internalize their answers; it also enhances their sense of empowerment and responsibility. These experiences are healing, bringing the restorative powers of nature to clinical settings.” Drumming releases negative feelings, blockages, and emotional trauma

Drumming can help people express and address emotional issues. Unexpressed feelings and emotions can form energy blockages. The physical stimulation of drumming removes blockages and produces emotional release. Sound vibrations resonate through every cell in the body, stimulating the release of negative cellular memories. “Drumming emphasizes self-expression, teaches how to rebuild emotional health, and addresses issues of violence and conflict through expression and integration of emotions,” says Music educator Ed Mikenas. Drumming can also address the needs of addicted populations by helping them learn to deal with their emotions in a therapeutic way without the use of drugs.

Drumming places one in the present moment.
Drumming helps alleviate stress that is created from hanging on to the past or worrying about the future. When one plays a drum, one is placed squarely in the here and now. One of the paradoxes of rhythm is that it has both the capacity to move your awareness out of your body into realms beyond time and space, and to ground you firmly in the present moment.

Drumming provides a medium for individual self-realization.
Drumming helps reconnect us to our core, enhancing our sense of empowerment and stimulating our creative expression. “The advantage of participating in a drumming group is that you develop an auditory feedback loop within yourself and among group members—a channel for self-expression and positive feedback—that is pre-verbal, emotion-based, and sound-mediated.”

Each person in a drum circle is expressing themselves through his or her drum and listening to the other drums at the same time. “Everyone is speaking, everyone is heard, and each person’s sound is an essential part of the whole.” 10 Each person can drum out their feelings without saying a word, without having to reveal their issues. Group drumming complements traditional talk therapy methods. It provides a means of exploring and developing the inner self. It serves as a vehicle for personal transformation, consciousness expansion, and community building. The primitive drumming circle is emerging as a significant therapeutic tool in the modern technological age.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Arts-Based Learning and Creativity: A School Transformation Model

The death of school reform

I have personally stopped talking about school reform: It’s crazy to reform a broken model. (“If you want different results you need to do different stuff…”). The “school reform” proponents/opponents and their literature overuses the term “reform” to the point where it has acquired several meanings in various venues. I prefer to use the phrase school transformation which better captures the objective of all “reform” issues in public education. With these ideas in mind, I now officially declare the school reform movement obsolete and all further discussions about the subject are to focus on school transformation. Whew…I feel better already!

Meaningful and effective change only happens when all the stakeholders have ownership in the processes and expected outcomes. External “top-down” education change initiatives too often define their impact in terms of “pockets of success” rather than full scale transformation. Empowering the stakeholders (“internal change initiatives”) to engage their personal interests and “passions” into the change process facilitates the creative energy needed to build the capacity for sustaining change initiatives. “Finding one’s element” as Sir Ken Robinson writes is an energizing combination of skills and interest and when nurtured within an organization, can bring the highest level (Bloom’s Taxonomy) of lasting impact to bear on the outcomes of the organization wishing transformation.

School reform has traditionally addressed three broad areas: Assessment, Curriculum and Pedagogy. It is time to start talking about pedagogy. Pedagogy is teacher and student centered – not organizational – and will lead to sustainable transformation where external reform models have failed to transform our schools. School reformers and policy makers can lump most reform measures and their sustainability efforts into one basic concept: Keep the pressure on long enough by forcing people to do something will modify their behavior. This behavior modification approach to sustainability, of course, is subject to all the limitations of behavior modifications itself. Sustaining school reform (transformation) would seem to require a different approach – one that instead of “keeping the pressure on” involves harnessing the power educators have to do what they value…nurturing the learning environment that promotes their element. In the end we are no longer talking about school reform because the folks at the center, teachers and students, have transformed the ownership of the change outcomes from external sources to an internal power of transformation.

A schooling transformational process and framework

Effective schooling transformation relies of systemic empowerment within the process. The Helianthus perspective defines a six-strand framework:
1. Central Administration/BOE Leadership – developing support mechanisms/policies
2. Programs/Building Leadership – modifying current resources to enable transformation
3. Curriculum/Pedagogy – developing collaborative constructionist instructional practices
4. Clinical Supervision – support through constructive observation/action research
5. Student Skills – building collaborative learning environments based on trust
6. Parental/Community Partnerships – enabling effective partnerships and place-based resources

The determination of support needed in these areas must be based on a strategic plan developed by all the local stakeholders, making the amount and direction of intervention unique to each school and district. The Arts-Based and Creativity perspectives of the model provides the cohesion and impetus for stakeholder ownership and is articulated in the six essential elements and expectations proven during the thirteen year history of the A+ School movement (Noblit, Corbett, Wilson and McKinney - 2009):

First – students need an increased exposure to the arts (music, drama, visual arts, and dance) both with specialists and in their regular classroom.

Second – schools must foster two-way arts integration: Pedagogical strategies to infuse the arts into the core curriculum and the core curriculum into the arts. The two-way arts integration instructional strategies provide opportunities for students and teachers to encounter the central ideas of the curriculum more frequently and diversely, increasing the chance for all to master content at a deeper meaning.

Third – teachers must tap students’ multiple intelligences. The idea is to attract students into the learning process that typically have been unengaged. This concept places a great emphasis on project-based activities.

Fourth – schools need to adopt an integrated, thematic approach to the major ideas in the curriculum. Thematic units present opportunities to connect arts instruction to that in other disciplines.

Fifth – schools must increase stakeholder driven professional collaboration. Arts-based learning and integration present a vision of teaching and learning quite different from that currently in place at most schools. This idea requires the elimination of the “isolation models” of 20th century classrooms and development of planning, team work and professional development.

Sixth – schools must strengthen their relationships with parents and the greater community at large. To create a rich arts-based learning environment, schools will need more resources than they typically posses – both artistic and otherwise. Schools can find additional support by drawing on the talents and resources of parents and community institutions, including area cultural resources, local colleges and university and the media.

On the topic of professional development, a new teacher-centered growth model centering on collaborative development of classroom and school-wide units is mandatory. Arts-based pedagogical perspectives will challenge typical views of teacher growth in professional education environments. These views are reflected in the writings of V. Richardson (1994):

The concept of teaching underlying these projects (units and modules) rejects the dominant notion among many educators and policy makers that the teacher is a recipient and consumer of research and practice. Rather, the teacher is seen as one who mediates ideas and constructs meaning and knowledge and acts upon them.

From a transformational perspective, where teachers revisit current instructional strategies, teacher professional growth is now also linked to larger change efforts such a democratic schooling, school reorganization and to viewing teachers as potential leaders (WV Policy 5300) and activists. In fact, the teacher-leader model must be the driving force in sustaining transformation in our schools. Schooling transformation happens first at the point of impact – the classroom. Supporting teacher-led transformational change in the classroom is the core component of effective sustainability and will hasten the indelible impact on the culture of the school. Powering this component is the value-added efficacy sense of “self-element” – where teachers, bringing their passion and interests into the learning arena through Arts-Based Learning and Creativity enable and facilitate effective 21st century learning every day for ALL students at every developmental age through graduation day and beyond.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Edited by Bob Dunkerley

As the needs for schools and businesses to increase productivity in the 21st century become more apparent, I have been thinking about the common denominators within this shared quest and how one system can support the other. The obvious common denominators are people. The humanistic qualities that fire the eternal flames, leading individuals towards their interests, passions – their “niche” are paramount for developing effective engagement within schooling as well as business. As Sir Ken Robinson says: "I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our concept of the richness in human capacity."

The path to success used to be simpler. Information was scarce. It was a big deal to own an Encyclopedia Britannica in your home. You went to school and tried to learn as much as you could. If you worked hard, made good grades, and stuffed a lot of information into your brain then you were on your way. The Internet and the global economy have shaken this all up. Now, anyone with access to a computer can go to Google™ and find out any information or fact in a matter of seconds – no degree required. Outsourcing began with manufacturing jobs, now it is rapidly expanding to the service sector. Even traditionally “safe” jobs like law and accounting are being outsourced to reduce costs. If your job can be done cheaper and faster overseas, you are in jeopardy. Today, it is not about having access to information; it is what you do with it that counts.

Anyone in business knows that competition in the marketplace has become brutal. You don’t just compete with local businesses; you also have a whole new array of competitors online seeking to take that customer from you. For the bold, this spells opportunity. For the timid, this becomes tragic. For the business owner and employee alike, there is a critical need to become indispensable to stay in the game. Author Seth Godin in his new book Linchpin, uses the title to describe the need to become irreplaceable. Godin argues that we are all artists, and that to become indispensable, we need to change our paradigm to view our work as our landscape to be artists.

The Artistic Business

In order to evaluate this argument, we first need to reframe our thinking about art and business. Traditionally, we think of artists as being painters, sculptors, and musicians who are supported in their artistic endeavors by the business community. However, these lines are becoming blurred. Businesses are realizing that they need to be creative in order to be successful in today’s economy. Author Dan Pink in his book A Whole New Mind, makes the case that we are in a new age which he calls the Conceptual Age that will be ruled by artistry, empathy, and emotion versus the left brain, linear, analytic skills required for the Information Age. The Harvard Business Review (Feb. 2004) noted that “Businesses are realizing that the only way to differentiate their goods and services in today’s overstocked, materially abundant marketplace is to make their offerings transcendent, physically beautiful and emotionally appealing.” Apple® and its IPod are an obvious example of this trend. Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs is hailed as a visionary business artist.
You can summarize this new paradigm of business by stating that we should view ourselves as artists and our work as our art. Our employer or customers are our audience, and we learn from our competitors as teachers. Does this mean that we need to bring our paintbrush to work? No, it does mean that we should be creative, passionate, and personal about our jobs. Think of when you were last “Wowed” by great service. It was probably by someone who treated their work as their art and over-delivered. Most people give a day’s effort for a day’s pay. Artists over-deliver. They give the gift of themselves each day. Which one do you think makes for a happier employee? What kind of employee would you rather have in your organization?

Businesses of all sizes are getting this. Numerous Fortune 500 companies including American Express, AT&T, IBM, and Coca-Cola are using the arts for training purposes. These companies have realized that art is a catalyst for deeper inquiry into solving business issues. Art based learning includes leadership and team development, strategic planning, values creation, meetings and think tanks, and brand development.

Barriers to the Artistic Work Place

Unfortunately, the process for unlocking our “inner artist” is easier said than done. Remember, we are not training our children to be artists. We are still training them in industrial schools for a prior Industrial Age. We used to need workers who could simply follow the rules and punch the clock. Our school systems are designed to train exactly that type of worker. While some of those jobs remain, they are becoming scarce and are undervalued economically in the marketplace. In addition, our own fears prevent us from being artists. We don’t want to expose ourselves to criticism or negative feedback. We want to conform versus standing out from the crowd. For some reason, our brains seem to be hardwired for survival and mediocrity versus greatness. The journey begins by reframing our mindset and realizing that we are all people who have tremendous talent that we can offer each and every day in big and small ways in our daily work.
The Opportunity for Greatness

As employers, we need to create environments that foster creativity and passion. In order to become indispensable to our customers, our organizations must be comprised of indispensable employees. While this makes us nervous as employers, it is becoming a necessary reality. We need to seek out and cultivate people who are willing to bring their full abilities and energy to work. In this environment, we have the ability to truly build great organizations where people enjoy their work and provide outstanding service to customers. We spend too much of our lives at work for it to be a sterile, unfulfilling place. Work ought to be a place where we give the best of ourselves and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Having worked in education for 34 in West Virginia gives me insight into the naturally creative and passionate nature of my colleagues, students and fellow musicians…. “richness in human capacity”. This insight gives me great hope that if we also unlock this creative potential in our workplaces we will then be leaders, and not followers, in the global worlds of business and education of the new Conceptual Age.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A School Levy Equals Tax: Response

Sure enough, taxes will go up with a special levy tax, but this is a tax we must impose on ourselves for the benefit of our children and for the very reasons why some say we cannot afford to do so…lack of jobs.

Like it or not, the economy of the 21st century is changing. The good paying industrial-based jobs that supported us during the 19th and 20th centuries are transitioning to more efficient systems, using less people who must have specialized training and advanced learning skills to succeed. With fewer industrial jobs, future employment opportunities providing good paying jobs require heightened thinking and problems solving skills in technological areas. Every job will see drastic changes and new jobs will be created. Statistics say that 75% of the jobs for which this year’s kindergarten students will apply have not yet been invented. Think about that for a minute. To ensure our children’s future we must be willing to make the hard choices now (even if it may be a hardship) to provide our educators with the necessary tools to prepare our children for this reality. We must be willing to go beyond what the state can provide.

The Randolph County BOE has “tightened its belt” since 1988 to the point where there are no more notches to use. We have raised an entire generation of Randolph County children, many without the benefits of enrichment and accelerated learning opportunities provided to all when levy funds are available. An OK education is no longer good enough. Who, more than our children, deserve the best? Do we leave a secure future only to those outside Randolph County?

The proposed equation (Levy=Tax) needs to be completed: Levy = tax = 21st century education. The economic development that accompanies a high quality education can no longer be substituted with the status quo.

Friday, July 30, 2010

"Five Minds of the Future": A 21st Century Learning Connection

The connection between Gardner's "Five Minds" (emboldened below) and the qualities voters indicated they want from our public schools (survey: Public Opinion Strategies and Peter D. Hart Research Strategies) is profound. I have crated domains of these minds and aligned the schooling characteristics voters determined 21st Century Learning in public schools should embrace.

1. "The Disciplined Mind" / How well schools do now**
% of voters prioritizing these learning outcomes*

• Reading Comprehension – 75%* / 10%**
• Computer and technology skills – 71% / 25%
• Written communication – 58% / 5%
• Math (Algebra, Trigonometry., Geometry) – 48% /13%
• Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) – 38% /7%

2. "The Synthesizing Mind" / How well schools do now
• Critical thinking and problem solving skills – 69% / 6%
• Team work and collaboration – 57% / 9%
• Oral communication skills – 56% / 6%
• Media literacy – 42% / 6%

3. "The Creating Mind" / How well schools do now
• Leadership – 44% / 6%
• Creativity and innovation – 43% / 5%

4. "The Reflective Mind" / How well schools do now
• Lifelong learning and self-direction – 50% / 5%
• Global awareness – 42% / 6%

5. The Ethical Mind/ How well schools do now

• Ethics and social responsibility – 62% / 5%

* - Percentage of voters who listed this learning skill as priority 9 or 10 on a survey ten point scale
** -
Percentage of voters who listed current school effectiveness in teaching this skill as a 9 or 10 on a survey ten point scale

Gardner' Five Minds work (grounded in multiple-intelligence theory) says...

• Individuals without one or more disciplines will not be able to succeed at any demanding workplace and will be restricted to menial tasks.

• Individuals without synthesizing capabilities will be overwhelmed by information and unable to make judicious decisions about personal or professional matters.

• Individuals without creative capacities will be replaced by computers and will drive away those who do have the creative spark.

• Individuals without respect will not be worthy of respect by others and will poison the workplace and the commons.

• Individuals without ethics will yield a world devoid of decent workers and responsible citizens.

Schooling models that embrace Arts-Based Learning and Creativity ( are more likely to address the Five Minds outcomes than reform measures attempting to repair a permanently disabled education model. A transformational systemic revolution empowering a collective capacity (Michael Fullen) is essential for developing effective learning environments in the 21st century.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

21st century visions of public schooling.

What 21st century classroom student qualities will define success? To take their place in the knowledge economy, actively interfaced as empowered members of the creative class, students must have an "artistic" vision of the learning processes and the innovative outcomes possible. The self-discipline and emotion maturity needed to have efficacious perseverance in their skills and abilities are essential components for success. Simply being able to perform tasks in a compliant manner is not enough. Finding new solutions to existing conditions is what will drive the 21st century economy. Creativity is individual, innovation is collaborative. Schooling must nurture the natural creative skills in all children, thus enhancing cognitive and emotional skills needed for success in the 21st century.

What does a 21st century learning environment look like? Students and teachers are working in small groups within a large open area consisting of lab/project tables, smart boards and data projectors with laptops and hand-held computing devices all around. There is a constant buzz of activity and as each group reaches a point where they need to expand, redefine, discuss or share, instant collaborative action teams assemble - working briefly - then moving on.

To the casual observer or untrained eye the scene may look chaotic at times but every student and every teacher are actively engaged with a sense of urgency in all with an intrinsic motivation that continues the learning process day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A new schooling model is needed now!

The Arts bring so much more to the learning environment than an enhanced skill or ability but a sense of “connoisseurship” (Elliot Eisner) as well as the work ethic of a “discipline”. These are valuable commodities in today’s innovation-driven business climate. Artists also work collaboratively in the production/presentation of their work: orchestras, dancers, actors, set designers, costumers, writers, composers, choreographers – a musical.

Vijay Govindarajon from the Tuck Business Schools stated that “innovation is a collaborative function, creativity is individual.” So now, more than ever we need creative students emerging from our schools but Sir Ken Robinson tells us that today’s schooling environments are “uneducating” the curious nature in children by focusing on national policy of standards-based core curriculum where student compliance is more valued than creativity. Both Govindarajon and Robinson agree that for a learning environment to effectively nurture innovation and creativity a tolerance for error must be allowed. Again, developing this type of learning environment seems impossible as long as education policy dictates compliance. A new schooling model is needed, now!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The never ending "Race to the Top" not WV's solution to education reform.

“On your mark, get set….STOP.” Oops, let’s start again. And so it goes with the new education initiative from the “Ed.Gov.”, Race “To The Top”. Forty states apply and only two are awarded bucks? This is some kind of new race. (?) The reality is that it’s not just a race; it is an effort to improve our country’s educational systems with our tax money as the prize. Let’s review: American tax payers send the”Feds” their bucks to do good stuff for the country; the “Feds” use our money as a reward for doing what they say needs done to improve education in our state; if states do not comply…no “mega bucks”. I’m receiving a bad vibe on this one, Arne. (Duncan, Secretary of Education.)

As an educator with 34 years in the public schools, now in the private sector, I always believed that local folks knew best how to address the needs of their children. The teachers and principals with support from the parents, local businesses and legislators work very hard in West Virginia to provide the very best education possible for our children. Yes, education needs reform, but forcing state/local policies and laws to be crafted to support an educational vision based on “Federal” perspectives deludes the significant connections and ownership with stakeholders necessary to ensure effective and sustained reform.

West Virginia educators have been re-tooling the learning models and processes since the advent of No Child Left Behind. (2001) We have 21st Century Learning CSO’s and best practices as well as a new policy on the leadership characteristics needed to guide our state’s educational system in the global economy. A sense of urgency is now created by new financial enticements to meet expectations for education excellence from the “Feds”. The West Virginia Department of Education has already invested much time and valuable human resources developing their “RTTT” application and in my opinion did a fine job doing so. The document itself stands as a testimony of initiatives developed over the past years and a vision for continued reform. I believe our West Virginia educators know better how to educate our children than bureaucrats from Washington. (I’ve read the reader notes from our application…no big “aha’s” here.) Do we need “bold moves”? Yes! But, we need to do so using the insight of West Virginians in a manner that we can embrace, not as a “knee-jerk” reaction to the possible acquisition of “mega bucks” from the Feds.

Are all our students’ learning achievements and outcomes where we want them to be? Far from it! Is there concern from our citizenry about this situation? You bet there is! Should we work together to craft and implement the process to achieve excellence in education in West Virginia? Absolutely! It’s what West Virginians have always done. So, why do we need the “Feds”? Oh…I remember, they have the “mega bucks”. My opinion: Think well about what West Virginians will give up chasing the “dollars of change”. Money doesn’t make change in education, people do. Changing West Virginia education laws and policies based on a federal schooling model may not serve the needs of our state. With the current learning environment changing at exponential rates, local flexibility and dynamic response are valued commodities that could be dealt away in a never-ending “Race To The Top”.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Arts-Based Assessment:The Total Picture

Arts-Based Assessment: The Total Picture

There is a huge assumption and major disconnect in the active engagement of student centered formative assessment and how students show they are smart.

Schools need to engage in qualitative assessments to truly “know their students”. Electronic and web-based assessments only quantifies student achievement as (at best) – a portion of the “student picture”. Formative assessment should not only inform instruction but also allow students to show how they are smart as well as how smart they are. Failing to engage in arts-based assessment as a component of a “balanced” assessment process is a major error in the form of a missed opportunity.

By using the Arts to reflect on the “emotional level of learning” (according to Piaget: “Where learning is forever.”) teachers can gain an insight into the true level of understanding reached by their students. Write a poem, draw a picture, stage an acting scene, design a costume, write a song, create a sound collage, visual collage, video collage, oral history, sculpting, installation art, photography, pod cast, PowerPoint, web site, etc., etc., etc!

Bob's thoughts on Education

Excellence in schools can not be attained through the implementation of mandated policies. Policy only defines minimum expectations in a rush toward mediocrity. Excellence is an outcome driven by an individual’s ethics: an ethos of achievement. No amount of worldly accouterments can provide the impetus for an individual to strive for excellence in any endeavor. That “fire” must be lit from within.


Becoming an educated person should be the outcome of learning. Too many times learning is more about being compliant than truly elevating ones cognitive skills to a level of an educated individual. The more a person learns about something, the more they find out how much they do not know: the life-long-learner emerges. With achievement on high stakes testing as the only goal, the process often removes the opportunities to embrace the richer learning elements of education.

Public Education

The charge we have been given in West Virginia and America is to educate all to a level of mastery in the core subjects: NCLB. Teachers and administrators can not achieve this goal by themselves in isolation. We need to empower all the stakeholders: teachers, students, parents, and community members as active partners, creating a framework of support and shared vision to sustain the efforts to fulfill our charge.

Bias to Action

From August to November for the past 15 years I have spent nearly every Saturday observing high school marching bands as a professional adjudicator. After the show I talk to their instructors about the achievement and level of excellence their students demonstrated that day and discuss strategies for improving their performance effectiveness.

Bob Dunkerley