Friday, April 30, 2010

Did You Know?

For those who wonder, "Why should we change the way we educate our students? Isn't what we're doing now working well enough?"

I first shared this awesome video on artistew, where I serve as an arts-in-education contributor. I write under the penname Imagination, Unstifled. I'm usually published every week or so, so check it out! :)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Government Works Better When DIALOGUE is Involved

Dear David Patterson,

Today, I have a big thumbs up AND a big thumbs down for you. We'll do the negative first, so we can end on a positive note. Sooo.... a 40% cut to the New York State Council on the Arts' local funding (grants)? REALLY? Per capita, that reduces the arts spending from $2.48 to $0.77. This drops us below the national average of $0.90 per capita arts spending. THIS IS NEW YORK! When you think of art, what state comes to mind first? WE DO. And if these cuts go through, we'll be spending less than average on arts for our citizens. In addition to the inevitable closure of several small cultural institutions across the state who DEPEND on that money, and the loss of arts opportunities for schools and communities, when it comes down to it, cutting that funding is also cutting JOBS. Tell Governor Patterson, Lt. Governor Ravitch and your Upper and Lower Chamber Representatives that you're NOT OK with this drastic cut by clicking here (I've posted similar advocacy links before- it takes TWO minutes to have your voice heard)!

And now, for the positive. Your new Straight Talk, Straight Answers Blog is a pretty darn good idea, Governor. Really- why didn't this exist before? This tool allows New Yorker tax payers to voice their concerns and discontents with the way their tax dollars are spent, ask questions and receive answers from the Governor's office, and brainstorm solutions to our crippling deficit. If you care about NY and how Albany spends your tax dollars, I would HIGHLY recommend checking out this site.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Arts credited for academic strides in Jefferson Parish Schools

Arts credited for academic strides in Jefferson Parish schools

By Jenny Hurwitz, The Times-Picayune

April 26, 2010, 8:00PM
arts-west-bank-teacher.JPGArtist educator Kendra M. Harris reviews a lesson linking the history of the Moors with modern-day history and the influence on current music and dance during the Cultural Crossroads Arts Program at Westbank Community School in Marrero. The program, which brings artist educators to work with at-risk students, was founded by and is administered through the Jefferson Parish Arts Society .

Standing before a small group of middle school students at Westbank Community School in Marrero, Kendra Harris demonstrated the first steps of an African courtship dance, shifting her bare feet back and forth across the floor.

"Your hip is leading you, but your body is pushing you over there," said Harris, who wore a traditional Senegalese dress and a blue gele, or scarf, wrapped around her head. "It's kind of flirty, right?"

Her students cautiously followed her movements, gradually picking up speed as they became less self-conscious. Harris told them that this dance was known as the Yankadi and had originated in Mali as a courting ritual that brought men and women together, back in the day when "there weren't clubs like there are now."

"They danced together under the moonlight," she said.

Harris, a transdisciplinarian and art educator, has come to the school as part of the Jefferson Performing Arts Society's Cultural Crossroadsprogram, which uses art to connect with students and help them improve in subjects like reading, writing, math and science.
arts=west-bank-drum.JPGSeventh-grader David Laieke plays the djembe drum in class during the Cultural Crossroads Art Program at Westbank Community School in Marrero.
At Westbank Community, an alternative school for middle school students who have been expelled, officials believe that an expansion of the program this year is partly responsible for a recent bump in reading scores, measured throughout the year as part of the district's interval testing, according to Karel Sloane-Boekbinder, director of the program. Officials also found a marked improvement in behavior among those students who participated in the program.

According to data supplied by the district, seventh- and eighth-graders saw moderate to significant gains in their reading scores earlier this year, a jump that coincided with an extended, two-month arts program.

The extended artist-in-residency program, which cost $5,000, was funded through Capital One Bank, Sloane-Boekbinder said.

While the arts program has been supplementing the school's curriculum for nearly a decade, Sloane-Boekbinder said the Capital One grant made it possible to lengthen the stints of each artist's residency beyond the typical length of one or two weeks.

"If we can keep the artists longer, the impact is greater," she said.
arts-west-bank-map.JPGArtist-educator Kendra M. Harris reviews a map of Africa with students.
Sloane-Boekbinder said the district is also looking to expand the arts program next year beyond the parish's alternative schools to include Paul Solis Elementary in Gretna, McDonogh 26 Elementary in Gretna and Norbert Rillieux Elementary in Waggaman. The schools were selected, in part, because of their slipping test scores and at-risk student population, although Sloane-Boekbinder stressed that she is hesitant to use the label "at-risk."

"If they can be shown a different approach, they're poised for achievement," she said. "If we can connect and inspire them by using art, they're going to catapult."

Back in their African dance class, students waved their arms, swayed their hips and rapped on African drums. But they also learned elements of African history, including the significance of the Berlin Conference; the influence of the Moors of Northern Africa; and where Mali and Morocco are located on the map.

Part-way through the lesson, seventh-grader David Laieke asked if he'd be allowed to come back to African dance class next week. He said he loves it because it gives him a chance to practice his drumming.

"I used to do African dance when I was little, so it inspires me to do that," he said. "It's fun. And it keeps me out of trouble. When I'm occupied with something I don't get in trouble." 

Jenny Hurwitz can be reached at or 504.826.3784.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My good pal Inga recently passed on an awesome opportunity that I'd love to share with you! Cosmetic Dentistry & Associates (the company Inga's mom works) is doing something pretty amazing for both you and humanity. Dr. Auster is participating in a program called: "Smile for Life" and it will last until June 30, 2010. Basically, they are doing free $300 dollar teeth whitening treatments using their top of the line stuff and all they're asking in return is a $100 contribution, 100% of which is donated to charities (including People to People foodband in Rockland, several children's hospitals including St. Jude's and dentistry for impoverished kids internationally). As spokespersons for the Children's Miracle Network, I urge you to take part in this program.

Click today on the “Make An Appointment” button on right of their website! Or, if you have additional questions, call the office at 845-364-0400. Ask for Dr. Peter Auster.

We'll Bring the Art To You

Browsing the NY Times this AM, I came across this article by Tamar Lewin, about museums and cultural organizations bringing their programming to schools when the cost to bus students, pay for lunch and admission and extra staff to take them off campus deters schools from visiting the museums themselves.

Museums Take Their Lessons to the Schools

SUTTON, Mass. — Sitting in the dark, knees crossed, looking up at the stars projected on the planetarium dome, the fourth-grade class might have been on a field trip to the Museum of Science in Boston.
Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times
Brooke Annis, center, a fourth grader in Sutton, Mass., inside a traveling planetarium.
Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times
Nicholas Culross, a kindergartner at the Simonian Center for Early Learning, walked in a dinosaur’s footprints during a traveling lesson from Christina Moscat.
But instead, they were having what Katie Slivensky, an educator from the museum, calls a “backwards field trip” in a portable, inflatable planetarium set up for the morning in the old gym at Sutton High School — a 50-minute lesson on the stars, moon and planets, tied to state learning standards for physical science, earth and space.
Over the last few years, many schools have eliminated or cut back on museum trips, partly because of tight budgets that make it hard to pay for a bus and museum admission, and partly because of the growing emphasis on “seat time” to cover all the material on state tests.
To make up for the decline in visits, many museums are taking their lessons to the classroom, through traveling programs, videoconferencing or computer-based lessons that use their collections as a teaching tool.
“Even if they can’t come to the museum, we can bring the excitement of science to the school,” said Ms. Slivensky, one of seven traveling educators at the Boston museum.
At the Museum of Science, where school visits have dropped about 30 percent since 2007, demand for the 14 school travel programs — from the $280 “Animal Adaptations” to the $445 “Cryogenics’ — is booming.
Annette Sawyer, director of education and enrichment programs, said the museum would do almost 1,000 travel programs next year, 400 more than four years ago.
On a sunny spring morning, the Sutton schools, about an hour from Boston, have brought in both the planetarium program and, for the kindergarten, “Dig Into Dinosaurs.”
“It’s $275 a bus, and we’d need three buses for a grade level,” said Michael Breault, the principal. “We pay for field trips and special assemblies from a magazine fund-raiser at the beginning of the year, and this year, we didn’t sell as many magazines.”
And museum admission costs $7.50 a head.
Money is not the only issue. Mr. Breault’s school recently adopted standards-based report cards, rating children on dozens of standards like “recognizes properties of polygons.”
Given the pressures to meet those standards, teachers said, the travel program’s efficiency is appealing.
“With a trip, there’s all the planning, the buses, the permission slips,” said Erin Fitzgerald, a fourth-grade teacher. “It’s hard to be gone a whole day. We have a lot of things to get through to get them ready to go into fifth grade, and there’s never enough time.”
Ms. Sawyer said her museum is “agnostic by design” about the relative merits of bringing students to the museum or taking the museum to students.
“Of course there’s a question about whether the travel programs cannibalize museum attendance,” she said. “But I don’t think so.”
Still, travel programs cannot replicate the excitement of the Museum of Science, where students visiting the theater of electricity scream loudly when they hear the bangs and see the artificial lightning snaking through the air.
In New York, both the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of Natural History reported a dip in school visits, and a spokesman for the natural-history museum said it was concentrating more on teacher development, including printed and online materials that could be used in the classroom.
Even as they pour their energies into taking museum resources to the classroom, some museum educators worry about how the shift might affect long-term attendance.
“It’s such a conundrum to advocate as strongly as possible for the magic of the real thing, but also create greater access using the Web, hoping we aren’t dissuading people from feeling the urgency of coming to see the real thing,” said Dana Baldwin, education director at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, where school visits dropped more than 40 percent from 2007 to last year.
While it is difficult for art museums to take their wares on the road, her museum has developed handbooks, online materials and posters for in-class lessons. But, she admits, something is lost in the process.
Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times
Kindergartners on a make-believe archaeological dig.
“The experience of looking at art or posters in the classroom is so far removed from looking at art on a field trip to a museum,” Ms. Baldwin said.
At the Charleston Museum in South Carolina, Stephanie Thomas, the education coordinator, said educators began taking their programs to schools when gas prices went up. The mummy stays put, but the traveling educators have plenty of portable artifacts.
“We do a class on ancient Egyptian life, with a boys’ outfit and a girls’ outfit to put on, pieces of papyrus, a copy of the Rosetta stone, and some things that have been de-accessioned or are not in great shape, or come from someone’s grandparents’ attic, but we don’t know the provenance,” Ms. Thomas said. “We have an Egyptian headrest that’s chipped, but the kids don’t care that it’s chipped.”
The emphasis on specific learning standards for each grade, and No Child Left Behindassessments, has brought a fundamental shift in thinking about museum education.
“It used to be a given, like mom and apple pie, to take classes to the museum for enrichment, or as a reward for good behavior, in the spring,” said Ted Lind, deputy director of education at the Newark Museum, which had 84,000 student visits last year, down from 101,000 in 2005. “Now that there’s so much more pressure on time in the classroom, and learning standards, it’s all about how it will help students learn the curriculum. ”
No wonder, then, that for many students, the experience of wandering around a museum, exploring at will, has given way to formal lessons. In the Sutton gym, Ms. Slivensky began with basics. Star-watchers, she said, need to know time and direction. So which way is north?
“It’s up,” volunteered a tiny voice.
But are places north of Massachusetts, like Vermont, straight up in the air, Ms. Slivensky asked?
While the fourth graders discussed the night sky, the kindergartners passed around fossils, as Christina Moscat, the museum educator, asked them to guess what they were.
“I think this was a knee,” said Damian Weber.
Ms. Moscat identified the fossils, to much giggling. “You guys were touching dinosaur poop,” she said. “Only it’s not poop anymore, it’s stone. We call it coprolite, and it tells us what the dinosaur ate.”
Of 19 children in the class, only 7 had visited the museum.
“In this program, they get more focus on what paleontologists actually do,” Ms. Moscat said. “But they miss the wow factor of actually seeing that huge Triceratops skeleton.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it," - Henry David Thoreau

Wow. It's been a crazy past few weeks, and it's about to get crazier! I'm in finals for school, finishing up projects (due at the end of this week), and then I have an independent study to take in the May Term, and then I'M DONE WITH SCHOOL! (Until I start applying to grad schools in the fall...) It's also been a busy few weeks at work- the kids I work with are preparing for their culminating events in June, lesson plans are being rearranged, choreography is being re-worked, and I've found that the attention span of children has an inverse relationship to the temperature outside (and the temperature has been rising, so their focus has been DROPPING- I can't blame them- I like being outside too)!

Things have also been wonderfully busy with my Miss Greater NYC schedule! Last weekend, I had the opportunity to partner with NY Care's Art Explorers in Chinatown's Columbus Park Pavilion. They run a FANTASTIC free kids' arts program for anyone who's interested in stopping by. Above is a photo of myself with some of the other volunteers and our artwork from the day (volunteers can make art, too)! There will be another free arts session this Saturday, 5/1, from 2:30-4p in the Pavilion on the corner of Baxter and Bayard in Chinatown if you're interested! We'll be making Mother's Day inspired crafts! 

Located in the heart of Chinatown, the Columbus Park Pavilion serves as foundation to organize and strengthen the community.  This neighborhood center offers a wide-range of free activities to the public.  From outdoor events such as live Chinese music and movies-in-the-park to indoor programs such as Art Therapy, Mama & Me, and of course Art Explorers, the center appeals to children, teenagers and adults of all ages.

In the Art Explorers program at Columbus Park, kids from around the city visit the center and work with the volunteers on various arts and crafts.  Each themed-session generally revolves around a season or holiday.  Standard art projects can range from basic crafts (painting, coloring, beading) to more creative activities (origami, masks, puppets) or to special sessions (Easter eggdying, Tie Dye t-shirts, etc.). 

Later that day, I had a meeting with my dear friend and Mind the Art Entertainment president, Christian DeGre, and we continued to hash out details for our upcoming Shakespeare program, which will meld performing arts with the NYS ELA standards to be implemented in public high schools in NYC. I. CAN'T. WAIT.

That same day, I had an interview with Joe Antol about my experiences with pageants and preparations for the Tough Mudder race on May 2nd. The Tough Mudder folks were very excited to have a Miss America hopeful competing in their endurance race, and have sent some press my way- it's been great to chip away at the pageant stigma while discussing how I stay healthy, and how I'm getting strong for the upcoming race (using kettlebells with my AMAZING fitness sponsor- Ellen Stein- below is a photo from one of our workouts)!

I intern and train with Community Word Project in their Teaching Artist Training Internship Program, and I was honored to volunteer at their 10th Annual Benefit this past Tuesday. The event was held at the National Arts Club  (if you've not ever been inside this building, then you're missing out. Think Addams family home meets the Louvre meets a catacomb meets five star restaurant). The National Arts Club was kind enough to donate their amazing space, so all the proceeds went directly to CWP's programming. The evening was magical- students from several sites (including mine- go PS 27!!!) came and performed pieces they'd created with Community Word Project, the performance area was decorated with murals created during residencies, and there was an impressive silent art auction. It was also great to catch up with some of my friends that I hadn't seen since our training sessions ended a few months ago!

Paperwork for Miss NY was due this past week (OY), and I'm overjoyed to say that I've satisfactorily completed everything except for turning in my transcript (so HURRY UP, SUNY ESC...). Friday evening, Claire, Cassie and I hopped in a van with our director, Rene, and his friend Casey, and we headed up to Albany for workshop! After a few early snags (trouble with car rental, difficulty on 17 in Jersey, a little off-roading in our minivan and both mine and Claire's phones dying) we made it to Albany! After a brief visit with my sister, Kieren and her roommate, Amy, we hit the hay, and were up early the next AM for a full day of workshop! It was great to see so many familiar faces, and to meet all the new contestants. Congratulations to the Miss NY board for a smooth and well organized day. 

Before I headed back to NYC, I did a photoshoot with my friend Monica from MoDezinz and her friend Danielle from D Leguire Photography. My mom had given Monica some cool vintage clothing that we had no use for, and we spent the AM at my Aunt & Uncle's house in Amsterdam shooting outdoors! It was great to meet Danielle and see Monica again and to spend the AM with my mom (who took photos of the photographers photographing me), but it was also very special because I grew up playing in the field, pond and woods on my Aunt & Uncle's property, and it was such a trip down memory lane! I even dragged everyone into the woods to find "Mermaid Rock" (my sisters know what I'm talking about)- it was still there!
The lone forsythia bush near the pond.... AMAZING color!

An awesome 1950's wedding gown someone had given my mom years ago...

Oh, Hey, 80's prom dress...

A lot of exciting things are coming up this week! Thursday is the Emerging Leaders in Arts Education Meeting. Saturday I'm appearing at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden's Cherry Blossom Festival Grand Opening, and then Sunday I run the TOUGH MUDDER! AHHHHHHH!!! I'll keep you posted! 

Thursday, April 22, 2010


NYC PAGEANTS in association with the 


“The 2010 Mr. Empire State Pageant” Will Be Held at the Spoon Theater
NEW YORK, N.Y., - April 1, 2010 – NYC Pageants in association with the Miss New York Organization announced today that the “2010 Mr. Empire State Pageant” will be held on Sunday, June13th (8 P.M.) at the Spoon Theater (38 West 38th Street) in Midtown Manhattan.

 General Admission tickets are $18, which can be purchased in advanced by calling 212-579-0528 or visiting (plus a $1.25 service charge.) Tickets, if available, may also be purchased at the box office, which opens one hour prior to performance. Cash only. A percentage of the proceeds from the pageant will be donated to the Children’s Miracle Network and to the NYC Contestant Preparation Fund.

Fifteen handsome young men from all over New York will compete for the prestigious title and help raised money for the Children’s Miracle Network In true Beauty Pageant style, these handsome young men square off in talent, eveningwear, on stage question and the ever-popular lifestyle and fitness in a swimsuit competition. The winner will receive over $1000.00 in cash and prizes.

A private VIP cocktail reception will be held one hour prior to the pageant. We invite you to mix and mingle with the contestants. A limited number of VIP tickets can be purchased for $30.00 (plus $1.25 service charge). To purchase VIP tickets please call 212-579-0528 or visit Reservations strongly suggestions.

Children’s Miracle Network is a non-profit organization that raises funds for more than 170 children’s hospitals. Countless individuals, organizations and media partners unite with Children’s Miracle Network hospitals to help sick and injured kids in local communities. Donations to Children’s Miracle Network create miracles by funding medical care, research and education that saves and improves the lives of 17 million children each year.

The Miss America Organization is one of the nation's leading achievement programs and the world's largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women. Last year, the Miss America Organization and its state and local organizations made available more than $45 million in cash and scholarship assistance. This assistance is not just for the handful of young women who become Miss America, but is available to the over 12,000 young women who compete in the state and local competitions as well.

Rich in history and social significance, the Miss America Organization is a not-for-profit organization that has maintained a tradition for many decades of empowering young women to achieve their personal and professional goals, while providing a forum in which to express their opinions, talent and intelligence. Scholarships have been the cornerstone of the Miss America program since 1945 when Bess Myerson was the first Miss America to receive a scholarship from the Organization.

Participating in the Miss America system not only helps pay for college and prepare for a career--it also provides an opportunity to gain additional life experience, working on issues of importance to society, enhancing your personal and professional skills and developing your performance-related and other talents.

NYC Pageants is the proud producer of The Miss Southeast/Miss Liberty/Miss Greater NYC pageants a local preliminary to Miss New York. The Miss New York Pageant is a franchised Miss America state pageant. Our educational scholarships are awarded through our 501(c)3 non-profit foundation. The Miss America Organization is one of the nation's leading achievement programs and the world's largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women. Last year, the Miss America Organization and its state and local organizations made available more than $45 million in cash and scholarship assistance. At last year’s pageant The Miss New York Organization awarded more than $21,000 in scholarships to the young women of New York pursuing their dreams of higher education.

So the Arts are... Where?

You may have heard some murmuring about the Common Core Standards for K-12 education. In a nutshell, actions are being taken to develop a set of core standards to be implemented across the country, meaning that, to an extent, a high school diploma from ANY state means that you've met the same set of standards that graduates in every state must meet. A draft has been developed and is open for public content. Check it out here. Notice anything missing?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Teaching Shakespeare: The Interview Series- Part 2

The next interview in this series is one I did with Aaron Flynn, one of the directors I worked with in high school. Aaron was one of the reasons I pursued a career in acting- he's from the same town I grew up in, and he had moved to NYC to study at AMDA (something not many people from Ft. Plain, NY, do...), and returned to upstate NY with all of his knowledge and passion for theatre, which he shared with myself and the other students involved in his theatre program. Many of the questions in this interview are similar to the ones I asked Dr. Corey Abate, but Aaron's background in Shakespeare is quite different than Corey's, so the same question yields different responses. Enjoy!


Please describe your background with Shakespeare, and with education.
Every student studies Shakespeare in high school. My 10th grade English Teacher created an elective class that was entirely based on Shakespeare’s works. My senior year of high school my drama teacher obtained a lucrative arts grant from NYS. The condition of the grant was that we conduct a performance for the student body. That year we produced Romeo and Juliet. After graduating I moved to NYC, attended and graduated from A.M.D.A.
After graduating from A.M.D.A., one of the many jobs I took to supplement my income ‘in between’ acting jobs was with the National Shakespeare Company as a workshop presenter. As a presenter I went to public schools where I presented demonstrations of Shakespeare’s works. I would bring scenes and materials from Shakespeare’s plays and rehearse them and even in some occasions, perform them. 
Over the past 12 years I have taught workshops on preparing for and acting with Shakespeare. I have stayed involved with youth theater by directing various children’s productions for high school drama clubs and community theater groups. 

At what age do you think it's appropriate to introduce Shakespeare to students?
Shakespeare can be introduced to children of any age. Depending on how it is edited and presented even younger children can enjoy it. There are elements that are entertaining. Love and romance, sword fights, large historical battles and moments of comedy that usually can bridge the gap created by the language of the text. Middle school aged children seem to be able to engage with the content and the text. Prior to fifth or sixth grade I have found a need to alter the next to make it less ‘wordy’.

What about Shakespearean study do you think causes resistance in high school aged students?
Lack of knowledge involving the content can cause resistance in high school aged students. The dramatic nature of the text makes even reading it in a class room setting a vulnerable experience. In a time in their life when ridicule from a peer is feared more than failing a test, this can be stressful to students. I have found that speaking to the context of the story is a good way to incite interest. Talking about the love story, or the sword fight, the great battle or a treasonous mystery and suspense can get kids interested. 

Are there practical/ administrative challenges that exist when teaching Shakespeare to high schoolers or producing Shakespeare's plays? 
The time period in which Shakespeare wrote his works required that he often took opportunities to ‘recap’ the story. His plays are often long and can be shorted. Some actors and directors view this as sacrilege but it is often necessary. The text can be another concern. It can be too intimidating or strange for an actor to deal with. Iambic Pentameter can feel awkward and distracting to someone who has never worked with it before. If I were to produce a Shakespearean play for a high school I would be inclined to give myself a longer rehearsal period.

What are your thoughts on plot-driven Shakespeare (with shortened and translated text) vs. a full-text-and-language-driven approach for high school students?
In my opinion the goal is to expand a students’ knowledge. The repetition that is often found in Shakespeare’s plays can be trimmed. However, the words themselves are written for a reason and they breathe life into the text. To rearrange them is to create something that in fact, is not Shakespeare and thereby loses its meaning. You can trim the length, but the words are off limits.

Do you think certain Shakespearean plays are better suited for high school students? Less suited? Which ones, and why?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is great for middles school but a little too youthful and ‘fun’ for high school students. Because of the tension, conflict and combat the histories usually have a strong appeal. Henry V and Richard III are usually very popular but heavy with male rolls, which can be a casting challenge in high school. The ‘Tragedies’ are well known and seem to have the widest appeal to a general audience. Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Othello contain romance, treason, big dramatic monologues and a body count. This can usually draw in students who believe that Shakespeare is ‘corny’ or ‘hokey’. As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, and Taming of the Shrew have rolls for boys and girls and often are the best choices for high schools. 

Could you share some "best practices" you've encountered when presenting Shakespeare to young people?
If you are teaching or conducting Shakespeare I find that it is always a good idea to ‘show them how.’ Young actors tend to put the text on a pedestal and admire it a little too much. If you can show them how to just ‘speak it’ without over dramatizing it that is always valuable. It gives you credibility and gives them a gage to begin with. 
Shakespeare’s work is also loaded with very funny moments. Using the comedy to break the ice and have fun is a great way to get everyone involved. 

Do you think experiences with Shakespeare provide benefits unique to this playwright? If so, what?
Working with Shakespeare provides actors and directors with great examples of how important an author’s words can be. I once had an acting teacher who said that if you didn’t write the play then you have no business changing the lines. You need to be ‘dead letter perfect’ in your memorization. This is crucial with Shakespeare. The language and the words are the most important aspect of the work. Vocal production and speech are needed to achieve any type of truth in the performance. The words, the physical sounds and speech are the vehicle. How you chose to subtext your performance is what will drive it. To become comfortable with Shakespeare will benefit any playwright or director or actor because it is one of the hardest things any of us can do. To work against our instincts and allow the words to paint the picture is a task that becomes difficult as we attempt to ‘create’. Understanding and being comfortable with Shakespeare can provide a great foundation for any artist in theater. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Thousand Moms

I came across A Thousand Moms while sifting through Pepsi Refresh Grant proposals (for which I will soon be applying- stay tuned), and passed the info on to Claire ("The go to gal for all things gay"- Ma Buff- I wish I could take credit for that quote). Their mission is of incredible importance, and I'd like to share it with you here as well.

A Thousand Moms is an established 501(c)3 non-profit that works to "help our communities in New York State organize, educate, and mobilize in order that we may meet the emotional, developmental, and social needs of youth in our child welfare systems who may be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, or Questioning their sexual identity so they may reach their full potential." They're currently in the running for a $50,000 grant to help them improve the experience of LGBT kids in the foster care system. So vote. It's free. And quick. And worth it.

Defining Differentiated Education

-from Edutopia

Defining Differentiated Education

by Rebecca Alber

When I lesson plan with teachers, out of earshot from their fellow teachers and their principals, I can't tell you how often I'm asked, "what exactly does it look like?" when it comes to differentiated instruction.
In the education world, differentiated instruction is talked a lot about as a policy or as a solution, but rarely do educators get opportunities to roll up their sleeves and talk about what it looks like in practice.
The definition begins with this: Equal education is not all students getting the same, but all students getting what they need. Approaching all learners the same academically doesn't work. We have to start where each child is in his learning process in order to authentically meet his academic needs and help him grow. With a classroom full of children at different stages of learning, this certainly sounds overwhelming, I know. So I'd like to suggest a place to begin and provide some examples.

Start with the Student

If a child in your class is really struggling with reading, writing, organization, time management, social skills or all of the above, the first step is to find out as much as you can about her educational history and anything else. This includes learning about her interests, cultural background, learning style, and something about her home life (The youngest? Foster care? Single parent home?)
The fact is we are mainstreaming a larger number of our students to general education classes, who, 15 years ago, may have instead been assigned to a special education class. That's good news in so many ways but makes a teacher's job more challenging. This is also one of the reasons why differentiated instruction has become such a hot topic.
Several years ago, in one of the general education language arts class I was teaching, 8 of the 34 students enrolled had an Individualized Education Program(IEP). (It is required that all teachers provide accommodations and modifications to assignments and instruction for a student with an IEP.) Speaking of overwhelmed. I definitely was, to say the least.
So, I learned. I spent many of my conference periods combing through student files. It's amazing what you can discover about a child from doing this. For instance, I had a student with perplexing behaviors then I learned he suffered from schizophrenia. How did I find out? Looking at his file. I was a much better teacher for him after gaining this information. Of course, he had an IEP, and someone should have told me in the beginning of the year, but we all know how things -- and children -- fall through the cracks of large public schools in enormous school districts.

A Classroom Example

Making an assignment, task, or objective different for one student than the rest of the class is meeting that child where they are in their learning journey. It's okay, you don't have to feel bad or feel as if you are being unfair, or lowering the bar. You are the child's teacher and you spend enough time with her to understand what she needs. And remember, equality is about meeting the needs of the individual.
Here's an example from my teaching:
It's a high school language arts class, and students are reading a novel. The daily objective is practicing inference and application of this skill. They are writing a brief essay predicting what the character Crooks from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men might do next. They must pull textual evidence from the book to support their predictions and claims.
But Diana is seated over there, frustrated. She is struggling with the concept of inference, partly because she is reading below her grade level. Knowing this about her reading abilities, and other challenges indicated on her IEP, do I expect her to stay the course, or do I admit that success for her with this assignment as it stands is not likely? I decide to give Diana the task of listing five adjectives to describe the character Crooks. She has to find one quote from the character in the book to prove one or more of the words she has chosen. There are similarities to these two assignments, but different enough to ensure a higher probability of success -- and learning -- for her.

A Matter of Fairness

Differentiated instruction for Diana, and for other struggling students, may mean providing a handout with sentence starters or a graphic organizer to help them construct meaning. It may mean providing extra time to complete an assignment, giving directions again, reducing the length of an assignment, or offering alternate assignments or projects altogether. You can also provide struggling students with leveled text -- less difficult reading that contains the same content.
(For more differentiated instruction ideas and examples from the classroom,check out this Edutopia group discussion on the topic.)
Do I pre-plan variations of an assignment? Not always, but when I know my struggling students and their challenges well enough to predict road bumps ahead for them, I'm ready.
One way to be ready? Create file folders filled with various graphic organizers, visual aides, and sentence starters for different types of thinking (cause and effect, chronological, compare and contrast, to name a few). You can quickly pull out one of these in a pinch. If a student finishes a differentiated assignment with time left, then assess if it was too easy, and add a step. If a differentiated assignment is too difficult, break down the directions even more, give them one-on-one time with you, or remove a step.
I've heard teachers suggest that making an assignment less difficult for one student is not fair to the others. But I ask: Is it a matter of what is fair, or what is right?
What are ways you differentiate instruction for the grade level and content you teach? We look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Well Rounded Curriculum- From the Mouth of Arne Duncan

Read this. Yes, I know it's long, but the problem it addresses is complicated, so the length is justified. Grab a cup of coffee, put on some smooth jazz, do a few stretches, and settle in. 

The Well-Rounded Curriculum
Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks at the Arts Education Partnership National Forum

April 9, 2010
If there is a message that I hope you will take away from today's conference it is this: The arts can no longer be treated as a frill. As First Lady Michelle Obama has said, "the arts are not just a nice thing to have or do if there is free time or if one can afford it... Paintings and poetry, music and design... they all define who we are as a people."

All of you know the history all too well. For decades, arts education has been treated as though it was the novice teacher at school, the last hired and first fired when times get tough. But President Obama, the First Lady, and I reject the notion that the arts, history, foreign languages, geography, and civics are ornamental offerings that can or should be cut from schools during a fiscal crunch. The truth is that, in the information age, a well-rounded curriculum is not a luxury but a necessity.

I am not going to sugarcoat the tough choices that many districts are facing this year. State and local school budgets are absolutely strained across the country. Many of you are fighting lonely battles to preserve funding for arts education. There is no getting around that fact--and I applaud your commitment to fully educating America's children by engaging them in the arts.

At the same time, in challenge lies opportunity. As Rahm Emanuel has said, "you never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Now-- as we move forward with reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act--is the time to rethink and strengthen arts education. And I ask you to help build the national case for the importance of a well-rounded curriculum--not just in the arts but in the humanities writ large.

The question of what constitutes an educated person has been taken up by the great thinkers in every society. Yet few of those leading lights have concluded that a well-educated person need only learn math, science, and read in their native tongue. As James Leach, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities recently put it, a society that fails to study history, refuses to learn from literature, and denies the lessons of philosophy "imprisons [its] thoughts in the here and now." A well-educated student, in other words, is exposed to a well-rounded curriculum. It is the making of connections, conveyed by a rich core curriculum, which ultimately empowers students to develop convictions and reach their full academic and social potential.

The study of history and civics helps provide that sense of time beyond the here and now. The study of geography and culture helps build a sense of space and place. And the study of drama, dance, music, and visual arts helps students explore realities and ideas that cannot be summarized simply or even expressed in words or numbers.
That complexity forces students to grapple with and resolve questions that will not have a single, correct, fill-in-the-bubble solution.

In America, education has long served a special role: It has been the great equalizer. From Thomas Jefferson on, America's leaders have recognized that public education and the study of the liberal arts were essential to creating an informed citizenry that could vote and participate in civil society. In 1784, years before the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia and only weeks after the war with the British had ended, George Washington sat down to write a letter to a bookseller.

But Washington did not recount the recent triumph over the British. He asked for books instead, because, he wrote, "to encourage literature and the arts is a duty which every good citizen owes to his country."
In America, we do not reserve arts education for privileged students or the elite. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds, students who are English language learners, and students with disabilities often do not get the enrichment experiences of affluent students anywhere except at school. President Obama recalls that when he was a child "you always had an art teacher and a music teacher. Even in the poorest school districts, everyone had access to music and other arts."

Today, sadly, that is no longer the case. And that is one reason why I believe education is the civil rights issue of our generation--and why arts education remains so critical to leveling the playing field of opportunity. Robert Maynard Hutchins, the former president of the University of Chicago, put it well when he said that "the best education for the best is the best education for all."

I learned that lesson firsthand from my father, who was a psychology professor at the University of Chicago and a banjo player. He cared deeply about promoting student growth. But he was even more committed to a dual mission for teachers--to not just educate students but to help prepare them for a lifetime of learning. You might say he was an amateur arts educator of sorts because he worked for many years as the faculty representative for the university's annual folk music festival.

Attending the folk festival every year growing up, my brother, sister, and I listened to the blues and bluegrass, African drummers and mariachi music, Chilean, Russian, and Ukrainian bands, Celtic music and gospel. We were exposed not just to music from across the globe, but, through music, the vastness and extraordinary diversity of the world itself.

I must confess that my father--at least in my case--failed to pass on his musical talents. Even so, I did flail away for several years on the drums in the middle school band. I learned some good lessons in the process--despite my forgettable performance.

The fact is that most students who take the arts are not going to be professional musicians, painters, dancers, or actors. Yet every student who plays in a band, acts in a play, dances in a company, or sings in the chorus can benefit from the experience in amazing ways.

Through the arts, students can learn teamwork and practice collaborative learning with their peers. They develop skills and judgment they didn't know they had--whether it is drumming in time or acquiring the knowledge to differentiate between Pavarotti and the tenor in the choir loft at the Sunday service.

No matter what the color of our skin or beliefs, "all of us can draw lessons from the works of history" says President Obama. "All of us can be moved by a symphony, all of us can be moved by a soprano's voice or a film's 
score." Art, that is, has a universal appeal because it speaks, as the President points out, to a shared yearning "for truth and for beauty, for connection and the simple pleasure of a good story."

Now, I spent much of last year on a Listening and Learning Tour that took me to more than 35 states. And I heard quite a few stories. I spoke with thousands of students, parents, and teachers.

And almost everywhere I went, I heard people express concern that the curriculum has narrowed, especially in schools that serve disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged students.

There is no doubt that math, reading, writing, and science are vital core components of a good education in today's global economy. But so is the study of history, foreign languages, civics, and the arts. And it is precisely because a broad and deep grounding in the arts and humanities is so vital that we must be perpetually vigilant that public schools, from pre-K through twelfth grade, do not narrow the curriculum.

The case for a well-rounded curriculum begins with a disappointing reality: Many schools today are falling far short of providing an engaging, content-rich curriculum. Instead, students are often saddled with boring textbooks, dummied-down to the lowest common denominator. It is no wonder that much of today's curriculum fails to spark student curiosity or stimulate a love of learning. As Ernest Boyer pointed out years ago, "Many kids drop out of school because no one ever noticed that they dropped in."

Yet we know from research that access to a challenging high school curriculum has a greater impact on whether a student will earn a four-year college degree than his or her high school test scores, class rank, or grades. And we know that low-income students are less likely to have access to these accelerated learning opportunities and college-level coursework than their peers.

One impact of the content-lite curriculum is that many Americans are appallingly ignorant of our nation's origins.
You will perhaps not be surprised to hear that a recent public opinion survey by the American Revolution Center found that more than 80 percent of Americans know Michael Jackson sang "Beat It" and "Billie Jean." By contrast, a majority of Americans believe the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, or the War of 1812 occurred before the Declaration of Independence.

Less than half of Americans today know that Valley Forge, the iconic site of George Washington's winter encampment with the Continental Army, is in Pennsylvania.

In the coming debate over ESEA reauthorization, I believe that arts education can help build the case for the importance of a well-rounded, content-rich curriculum in at least three ways.

First, the arts significantly boost student achievement, reduce discipline problems, and increase the odds that students will go on to graduate from college. Second, arts education is essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical to young Americans competing in a global economy. And last, but not least, the arts are valuable for their own sake, and they empower students to create and appreciate aesthetic works.
As the First Lady sums up, she and the president both believe "strongly that arts education is essential for building innovative thinkers who will be our nation's leaders for tomorrow."

It is not surprising that visual arts instruction improves reading readiness, or that learning to play the piano or to master musical notation helps students to master math. Reading, math, and writing require students to understand and use symbols--and so does assembling shapes and colors in a portrait or using musical notes to learn fractions.
Is it any surprise then to learn of the large impact that arts education has on student achievement and attainment, especially among disadvantaged students?

Low-income students who play in the orchestra or band are more than twice as likely to perform at the highest levels in math as peers who do not play music. In James Catterall's well-known longitudinal study, Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art, low-income students at arts-rich high schools were more than twice as likely to earn a B.A. as low-income students at arts-poor high schools.

English language learners at arts-rich high schools were also far more likely than their peers at arts-poor high schools to go on to college.

In the annals of education research, these are big effects--and ones we would like to see more schools replicate.
Fortunately, numerous schools are beginning to take these lessons to scale. Last year, I had the privilege of visiting an early learning facility, the Educare Center in Oklahoma City, which is home to one of the 60 schools in Oklahoma's A+ Schools network.

Oklahoma's A+ school-network nurtures creativity in every student--and a recent evaluation shows not just that the program increases student achievement but boosts attendance and decreases discipline problems as well.
When I took over as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools in 2001, a survey by the Chicago Community Trust showed that one in seven elementary schools in the city did not provide a single class of arts instruction a week. Fifteen elementary schools, with 7,300 children, provided no arts instruction at all.

Through CAPE, the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education, we brought local artists and teachers into the schools to partner up on integrating arts curriculum with academic subjects. And follow-up studies showed that students at the CAPE schools performed better on standardized assessment than students who attended schools that did not integrate arts and academics.

I have been especially fortunate to witness the power of integrated curriculum firsthand with our son and daughter, who are now in kindergarten and second grade respectively in a Virginia public school. Their school has a science focus.

But it is an extraordinary music teacher, Joe Puzzo, who is the absolute rock star with the students. He writes and teaches songs to the kids about science. Mr. Puzzo has got third graders singing about gravity, sedimentation, rocks, and the planets. Students sing, clap, and dance about solids, liquids and gases. What a fun way to learn.
When Columbus Day or Martin Luther King Day come around, Mr. Puzzo sits down and writes songs for the students about Christopher Columbus and Martin Luther King. Years later, when students sit down to take their SATs, they report humming Mr. Puzzo's songs to recall historical and scientific content.

As a side note, I will confess that our son and daughter have instructed us, in no uncertain terms, that we are to bid high in the auction this year to win an afternoon with Mr. Puzzo.

Now, you all have heard that advanced STEM courses will be essential to workers who want to compete in the global economy.

Those claims are true. STEM courses develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills in math and science, they spur innovation, and they enhance self-direction. But as Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, has pointed out, good arts education accomplishes many of the same ends.

The fact is that high-quality arts and humanities instruction are almost uniquely suited to stimulate imagination, creativity, and the ability to find adaptive solutions. Creativity, as Sandra Ruppert, AEP's Director notes, is a "precursor to innovation and the cornerstone of entrepreneurship."

Put another way, knowledge--without imagination--is not good enough for students in today's fluid job market. "Imagination is more important than knowledge," Albert Einstein once reminded us, because "knowledge is limited whereas imagination embraces the entire world."

It is no coincidence that Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist and author ofThe World is Flat, predicts that "the school, the state, the country that empowers, nurtures, [and] enables imagination among its students" is going to be the winner in the rapidly-evolving global economy of the twenty-first century.

Now, what can the federal government do to support high-quality arts education and a well-rounded curriculum? Let me answer that question by telling you first what we cannot do. We will not endorse or sanction any specific curricula--and the Department is in fact appropriately prohibited by law from endorsing or sanctioning curricula.
The department will, however, continue to fund research studies on the effectiveness of curricula as it has in the past. And it will continue to require districts to ensure that schools receiving federal funds through Title I or in school turnarounds are using evidence-based instructional programs aligned with academic standards.

We are currently in the midst of conducting the first large-scale survey of school principals, music teachers, and visual arts specialists in ten years.

I want to underscore that our proposal to reauthorize ESEA goes much further than existing law in supporting a well-balanced curriculum. Our ESEA proposal will allow states to incorporate assessments of subjects beyond English language arts and math in their accountability systems. And we plan to invest in the development of better assessments, so schools and teachers don't feel pressured to teach to low-quality, standardized tests.

I will be the first to tell you the department has not always been seen as a proponent of a well-balanced education.
The truth is that when I was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, I did not welcome a call from the nice man or woman at the U.S. Department of Education. But that reluctance stemmed from the fact that the department has historically been a compliance machine, rather than an engine of innovation.

I want to flip that. And as many of you know, our budget and ESEA proposals would flip that historical relationship for arts educators.

We have proposed to take the $40 million for arts education that now goes to directed grants and a couple of small competitions with an array of applications and requirements, and replace it with a much bigger, competitive pool of $265 million to strengthen the teaching of arts, foreign languages, civics and government, and other subjects.
Existing arts education programs have worthy goals. But they have resulted in fragmented funding at the federal, state, and local level.

Under our new ESEA proposal, high-need districts, and states and non-profits in partnership with high-need districts, would be eligible to apply for the grants, which place a priority on cross-subject learning but don't mandate it. At the same time, we would increase access and funding for college-level, dual credit, and other accelerated courses in high-need schools to support not only a well-rounded, but a rigorous curriculum.
Two of our new and most innovative programs--Investing in Innovation or i3, and Promise Neighborhoods, loosely modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone's comprehensive community-based organization—have the potential to support effective arts education programs and partnerships as well.

I don't think arts education should ever be relegated to taking place only in after-school hours. But arts educators can provide high-quality instruction in after-school and extended day programs that is especially critical for low-income students.

In fact, we anticipate that place-based Promise Neighborhood programs in low-income communities may include high-quality arts instruction. Research suggests that arts education not only boosts academic outcomes, but that neighborhood-based arts and cultural activities can build stronger cities and communities.

I recognize that our plans to shift to competitive funding for arts education may make some arts providers nervous, even if they can potentially compete for significantly more funding than in the past. Change can be unsettling.

But I urge arts educators to have the confidence of their convictions to compete and demonstrate the value of their disciplines on student outcomes.

The operative phrases here are "outcomes" and "high-quality" arts instruction. Just as in every other core subject, 
some arts instruction is top-rate, some is mediocre.

I am pleased that the arts community, for more than 15 years, has pioneered the development of voluntary standards in dance, drama, music, and the visual arts.

Forty-nine states now have established content and/or performance standards outlining what students should know and be able to do in one or more art form. Many districts, including Chicago, now not only articulate arts standards, but also spell out a sequential series of courses aligned with state standards.

So, arts education is making real progress toward defining quality and demonstrating outcomes, but challenges remain. A number of states have taken steps to develop rigorous arts assessments. Unfortunately, those assessments have faced setbacks and funding cutbacks in recent years.

Too many schools still fail to offer a standards-based course of study in all four arts disciplines. We all know that unacceptable disparities in arts education between low-income and affluent districts continue to persist.

Despite these challenges, and the tough budgetary climate, arts education must not just survive but thrive. A well-balanced curriculum is simply too vital to our students and our national character to let the teaching of the arts and humanities erode.

In 1963, shortly before he was assassinated, President Kennedy spoke about the importance of poetry at the groundbreaking for the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College where Frost had taught. And here is what Kennedy said: "Our national strength matters," he declared, "but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much."

Robert Frost's poetry, in Kennedy's eyes, reminded us of the limitations of power. Power might lead man toward arrogance, but "poetry reminds him of his limitations." When power narrows the areas of man's concern, Kennedy said, "poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses." It was art, Kennedy concluded, that "establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our

I thank all of you for your tireless commitment to supporting arts education. And I urge you to continue the fight to provide all of our children with a well-rounded and rigorous education. Let the arts, as President Kennedy said, establish the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.