Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Education: Is It Worth It?

Yesterday I wrote three essays to fulfill the requirements for a scholarship application from Capella University. The first essay topic asked me to describe how my studies will make an impact in my life and the lives of others around you. Since the question spoke of the future, I found I had to think of the question in terms of the present because my studies at Capella University have already made an impact in my life and the lives of others around me.

One of the major benefits of studying psychology is that it contributes to my creative work. My studies act as a catalyst, encouraging me to think new ideas, which ultimately change my world. The process of becoming an Educational Psychologist whose emphasis is the Arts and Music is allowing me to cross disciplines and encapsulate my work into a meaningful profession that helps others because it utilizes my experiences as a composer/playwright & artist educator in new and innovative ways.

This is evident in a project I have recently designed and submitted to the American Composers Forum's McKnight Visiting Composer Fellowship called "Learning to Lullaby". Through musical composition, performance and recording, this project is designed to assist first-time mothers (primarily pregnant teens who are at-risk and at-risk mothers) in developing responsive parenting techniques that will help their babies bond to them.

Through the composition of original lullabies, composition of Orff-inspired arrangements of traditional lullabies, as well as education of basic musical concepts, mothers will learn how to interact with their babies through music. This program could be implemented in prenatal care classes offered through Planned Parenthood, the March of Dimes, public schools, or hospitals. By combining my knowledge learned from Lifespan Development, Cognitive Psychology and Learning Theories together with my expertise as a composer/playwright & artist educator, I am able to design and eventually implement a program that could have positive impact on a population that needs help. Without my studies at Capella University, I may never have recognized the needs of this population or thought of a way to help them.

Another one of my ideas is to explore ways of incorporating the music teaching method of "Masterclass" into a format that will help novice teachers in general education classrooms. In classical music "Masterclass" is a common experience that publicly demonstrates master teaching in a highly theatrical way. Through observation, it promotes learning at a very high level and advances a teacher's knowledge about teaching. By translating the principles of this teaching medium into a general teaching format, it will provide novice teachers an opportunity to observe teaching knowledge in application so they understand and know how to perform well as teachers entering the workforce for the first time. Because of my education, I have an opportunity to research and write a dissertation, so my doctoral studies provide me with rich resources and the knowledge to do this.

These are only two of my ideas since I began my studies last August; I have many others. What's important for me is to put these ideas into action. Without action and application, knowledge means very little and is only valuable in and of itself. For me, the fun is drawing ideas together and making them live. The study of psychology is feeding this life purpose as it transforms my life. This makes my education "worth it" because it gives me a powerful voice and resources to accomplish my goals.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Is Musical Theater Valuable?

In considering the whole picture of education, educational psychology, and observing the Arts’ place in an educational context, it appears our culture and the powers that be do not place value on the Arts. This is easily supported by the plethora of press surrounding the proposed budget cuts, the publication of proposed budgets, and the amount of commentary generated in the backlash of the announcements (Hale, J, 2011).

From this evidence, it is obvious that our society does not recognize the untapped power the Arts have to transform a failing education system. And while an “educated” America is the supreme goal of the United States, the irony is that test scores reveal the lowering of intellect.

Based on the earlier discussion of creativity, it would seem that the lowering of intellect (knowing and understanding)—what is “prized” by American society, is directly affected by the critical thinking levels to which students are being taught.

Since Sternberg (2009) states that intelligence is linked to culture, and knowing and understanding is the American standard, then this would suggest that students will never “go beyond” those levels. They will instead seek to rise to them, thus developing the mindset that they must memorize and only understand the knowledge.

What this means is that more and more knowing and comprehending will be accumulated, and those learners will only achieve a thinking level at the second level within Bloom’s Taxonomy. They will not know what to do with the knowledge, how to analyze a problem and apply the knowing, evaluate their application of knowledge or create new information or solutions. It makes the world of education and the picture of future learning look very bleak.

There is no doubt that knowing and comprehending are valuable, but these abilities become far more valuable when they are used in higher levels of thinking. The analogy of “not seeing the trees for the forest” is helpful to illustrate my point because knowing and understanding is analogous to knowing about one “tree”, not “trees”, and completely missing the “forest”. Knowing and comprehending break down the parts of the whole, and the education and curriculum that exists now does not provide opportunities for learners to experience the whole, unless there is arts-based instruction, or students experience one-on-one or group lesson experiences that are found in music, visual art, dance and acting.

Putting on a high school musical teaches the highest levels of critical thinking with a gestalt, hands-on learning experience. It teaches many lessons across many disciplines from many perspectives through its process. Just in the area of the Arts alone, a musical production will encompass music (the songs with lyrics and band parts), dance, and drama (the interpreted, spoken words). The creative teams will access knowledge of the visual arts through the design of sets, props, costumes. In larger auditoriums or facilities, the design of lights and sound access technology.

In creating the gestalt experience of a musical, students break down every note and every word of the musical. It is a necessary process because the musical only exists theoretically in a vocal/piano score and must be learned at a knowing and comprehending level in order to produce it. The participants must derive an interpretation from the creator’s words and music through analysis, and put all of the pieces together into a live production (application). In other words, all of the “parts, nuts and bolts” can be understood completely because the directions have been given to them in a script, which has been interpreted through the collaboration between the director and musical director and applied into a performance. This in itself is a valuable learning experience crossing all disciplines within the Arts because the learning happens through a community, and this community is guided by the wisdom of people, the director and the musical director who have had previous theater experiences.

When doing any musical, the story itself can be considered part of the gestalt learning experience too. Depending on the musical, the subjects can range from the stories about World War II, such as Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” (IBDB,2011) or “Cabaret” by Kander & Ebb (IBDB, 2011), to “Once on This Island” by Ahrens & Flaherty (IBDB, 2011), a Haitian folk tale that explores the clashes between class systems through a tragic love story. Because students are playing roles from different time periods and different countries, they are connecting physically to another time period and those cultures through their imaginations, language and music.

Use of mathematics is also important for the set designer and set crew, who must work with scaled models and floor plans to design and build set pieces from an artist’s renderings and build a believable world in which the play will live. Outside of the creative domains, Math must be used to figure out break even points, percentages of audience attendance in order to design a ticket price, advertise and market the show. Budgets become extremely important. Rights and royalties from the use of intellectual property are figured from specific industry formulas, which teach business practices and economic forces. Even the sciences can be involved in a musical production when there is a need to understand a natural phenomenon referenced within a score, or an unfamiliar object is mentioned, such as the “betel nuts” that the character, Bloody Mary, chewed in “South Pacific”.

These simplified summaries of a musical play in production demonstrate the completeness of higher levels of thinking because a musical show is broken down into its basic elements from its abstract and theoretical form, and assembled (if it is its premiere) or reassembled into a gestalt experience for an audience to see and hear.

What the musical does for a society is provide experiences in which their knowing and understanding can be applied. The act of putting on a show both motivates and builds a community of people who work together to achieve a common goal. When the show comes together in a live performance, the audience adds an additional element of a shared experience and an evaluation process begins as audiences judge the construction of the story/play, the performers and the experience. Their reaction to the experience creates another language which communicates a consensus of thoughts to the performers. This language is embodied in their laughter, applause, and silence or booing. The observers are exposed to a play’s topic, stimulated by the way the story is told, and they live an aesthetic experience through their own visual interpretation.

To my knowledge, there are no other professions or learning environments that can accomplish as much as the dramatic arts do ... and musical theater has the greatest potential of all.


Hale, J. (2011). Arts & cultural council calls for state budget parity. Retrieved from http://artsrochester.org/Arts%20&%20Cultural%20Council%20Calls%20for%20State%20Budget%20Parity.pdf

IBDB. (2011). Cabaret. Retrieved from http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=3348

IBDB. (2011). Once upon this island. Retrieved from http://ibdb.com/production.php?id=4617

IBDB. (2011). South pacific. Retrieved from http://ibdb.com/show.php?id=8197

Sternberg, R. J. (2009). Cognitive psychology (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. ISBN 9780495506294.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsically motivated people engage in an activity simply because they like it. They are, in my opinion, “life-long learners” or understand joy in doing. They learn or do a task because the reward *is* the task, or the process of the task itself. Extrinsic rewards diminish the joy. According to Schunk (2008), intrinsic motivation can be undermined by an extrinsic reward because it thwarts the enjoyment of pursuing the intrinsically interesting activity (p. 502).

A good example might be when a volunteer is handed a paycheck. For an illustration, consider a story about a person who wants to be kind and proceeds to cut the front lawn of a neighbor who cannot. The person who cannot “insists” on paying the person for the service. For the person who has cut the grass, taking the money somehow "insults" the original intent (the joy of being kind and thoughtful), and this will most likely decrease that person's desire to repeat the action. It makes it awkward between the neighbors.

From college instructors’ perspectives, Lei (2010) examined both the benefits and drawbacks of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. In his paper, he created a comprehensive list of the pros and cons of each. When comparing the two types, it is obvious that intrinsic motivation would be a preferred type of motivation for a student to have in a college environment because it relates positively to learning and achievement.

Students who are intrinsically motivated do not depend on tangible rewards; they enjoy learning and exhibit high levels of competence and self-efficacy. Some of the more salient characteristics of intrinsically motivated students show that they are seldom anxious or depressed, and that they are not negatively stressed or frustrated in their studies. Usually they are cognitively engaged in their learning tasks, desire to truly understand the subject, and genuinely experience pleasure in their learning.

The drawbacks of intrinsic motivation seem a bit convoluted, when applied to college learning situations. Course deadlines and social demands would circumvent many of them, such as not having enough time to enjoy other favorite activities, or working with no completion deadline. People who are intrinsically motivated sometimes lose track of times and space when working on a task and can completely ignore authorities, but these drawback seem inconsequential when weighed against the benefits.

Extrinsically motivated students are inversely related to intrinsically motivated students. In other words the cons overwhelm the pros. However, extrinsic motivation is not all “bad”. While they focuses on tangible rewards, a few of the major benefits of extrinsic motivation include the social reasons to learn and high performance goals that can be set and achieved, or even a tangible reward such as an honor or an award. I know I won't mind when I receive my Tony Award.

However, the drawbacks of extrinsic rewards in motivation far outweigh the benefits because extrinsically motivated students will exert only minimal effort to complete a task, may stop an activity without the reinforcement and may see learning for the grade as more important than learning for the knowledge. As a result, they often have low self-esteem, low self-actualization, and show signs of high anxiety and depression as well as high stress and frustration with their learning.

When I examine my own use of motivation and motivational tools, I seem to take from both sides. For example, often I motivate myself as a composer by using composition or playwriting competitions (Opportunities, 2011) as incentives—not because my goal is to win the competition (although I do enjoy winning), but because it will give me a composition project I will enjoy completing.

What this means is that the competition (the extrinsic motivation) combines with my desire to compose a work (intrinsic motivation) and gives me a deadline to complete the composition or play . Once I am in the process of composing the music, I get into the “flow” of the creativity, lose track of time, and enjoy myself as I create a musical work. When I win a composition or playwriting competition, I recognize the value of this too, because I know that honors and awards in my profession serve to develop my reputation as a composer and a playwright. This is motivating and often opens new opportunities for me within my profession. What this all means to me is that there can be a healthy balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and to have that balance optimizes the possibility for joyful learning or work experiences.


Lei, S. A. (2010). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: Evaluating benefits and drawbacks from college instructors' perspectives. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 37(2), 153-160. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Schunk, D. H. (2008). Learning theories: An educational perspective (5th ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall. ISBN: 9780132435659.

Opportunities. (2011). American Composers Forum. Retrieved from http://www.composersforum.org/opportunities.cfm

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What is Reasoning?

Reasoning has been defined as process where a person draws conclusions based on evidence or principles (Sternberg, 2009). Seen as opposing processes, there are two types: deductive and inductive. Deductive reasoning starts with generalizations; its conclusions are reached as new knowledge is produced by applying knowledge directly to what is already known. Inductive reason relies on the ability to gradually build up an understanding of how something works.

When I think of deductive reasoning, it is the removal of extraneous, inconsequential knowledge and application of new facts and figures to understand something. It seems to be the observation of the consequences instead of the inner workings of a problem. Inductive reasoning seems to be the building of a case and moves from facts into something that can be generalized. It works through the problem and arrives at a conclusion based on the inner workings of the problem.

When trying to understand the distinction between the two methods, nakedscience.org provides examples that draw distinctions between the two types, but also admits that the differences in these types of reasoning are not always clear. However, my daughter tells me that deductive reasoning "aims at certainty, and inductive reasoning aims at probability." Of all the references, hers seems to be the most succinct.

One of the best experiences of inductive reasoning I ever experienced occurred during my Master’s degree when I was asked. “Why are there only 15 (Bach) two-part inventions?” My teacher, Cary Lewis, took me through the process of inductive reasoning by helping me gather information through the observations of music history (i.e. when these pieces were written, why, etc.) In the course of gathering the information, the assimilation enabled me to derive an answer.

Bach was only able to write 15 two-part inventions because well-tempered tuning of musical instruments had not come into existence at the time he composed them. Prior to well-tempered tuning, only 15 major and minor keys existed in Western harmony due to the tuning system of the 18th century. After well-tempered tuning developed, the key signatures expanded to 24, and Bach wrote two books of preludes and fugues called the "Well-Tempered Clavier" to demonstrate the versatility of this new tuning system. The answer to the question was induced through the examination of the history, and could be inferred when carefully considering the information and putting it all together into a probability.

When thinking of deductive reasoning, I think of Sherlock Holmes and his ability to derive answers from his application of knowledge to a problem. This type of reasoning always seems to take the form of “If …. then … but … then that means ….” For example, the other morning, I found a chocolate chip cookie on top of the stove. My daughter had baked cookies the night before and left four of them on the counter to cool so she could take them to school the next day. When I cut the light on in the kitchen, it seemed odd that one of the four cookies were not in the same place. Next, I asked my daughter if she had left a cookie on top of the stove, she replied “No.”, so I could determine that if she had not put it there, then that would mean that something else had. I was able to reason that I had a mouse under the stove and when I removed the drawer, I found evidence of a mouse.

Deductive reasoning arrives at an answer by starting from the top and working its way down to the answer. It seeks to be “certain”. (I am certain I need to get a mousetrap.)

When reading (Sternberg, 2009) the section on alternative reasoning, it appears that there is an alternative kind of reasoning, which is a complementary system that combines association and rules-based systems to determine an outcome. The two systems are conceptualized “within a connectionist framework” (p. 522) and referred to as a connectionist model of reasoning. When trying to find concrete examples of this type of reasoning, the text gravitated to concepts from neuroscience to explain it. (This was horrendously difficult to understand.) However, I think this model is only another name for “creativity”, because when placed in this context, creativity can be described as a type of reasoning that involves both association and rules.

An example might be how I derived an advertising strategy for a yoga program at a local church where I work. Working within the rules and knowledge of Tibetan prayer flags and connecting this imagery with the mission of the program (association), I was able to arrive at a solution that would solve the problem (Jacobs, 2011).

Reasoning, in my opinion, is one of the more difficult topics to disucss because it is a process that a human being constantly navigates. We deduce, we induce, and we draw associations. We can be right or we can be wrong—no matter how we think—because right and wrong is relative to a person’s perception. What I think is more important is that a person maintains and cultivates the ability to reason and never loses the ability to think an independent thought.


Cary Lewis. (n.d.) The Lanier Trio. Retrieved from http://www.laniertrio.org/biopage.htm

Deductive versus inductive reasoning. (n.d.) Nakedscience.org. Retrieved http://www.nakedscience.org/mrg/Deductive%20and%20Inductive%20Reasoning.htm

Jacobs, A. (2011). Signs of the Spirit. @ peace with yoga blogspot. Retrieved from http://peacechurchyoga.blogspot.com/

Sternberg, R. J. (2009). Cognitive psychology (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. ISBN 9780495506294.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thinking at a Higher Level

Science has proved and continues to prove that arts-based instruction requires the highest level of cognitive ability. Using Bloom's Taxonomy as a reference, our education system today only asks students to achieve lower to mid- levels of thinking by requiring students to think at comprehensive or analysis levels. It then assesses learning through standardized tests, which can only test to mid-levels of cognitive ability.

Arts-based instruction, not only requires knowledge, and comprehension levels, but analysis, application, evaluation and then the ability to create--all six levels of cognitive ability. The ability to create is the highest form of cognitive thought.

One of the problems in education today is that scientists do not know how to study creativity because science has no way to measure it. They cannot measure it because there are no theories to create a test--although cognitive load theory is making headway--Instead, education systems get stuck with how much a student comprehends and can analyze --which results in a society that promotes lesser cognitive ability.

Most people cannot think beyond an analysis level; most people do not know how to create. This is evident in the comments posted on the internet and in reaction to proposed budget cuts for the Arts ... they haven't learned to think at a higher level where they can recognize the value of what arts-based instruction does for education in developing higher levels of cognitive ability.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What is Creativity?

Creativity can be loosely defined “as the process of producing something … original and worthwhile” (Sternberg, p. 468). However, I think creativity begins long before the process of “producing something” because the production of something is the by-product and physical manifestation of human thought processes. The creativity/production of something is often inspired by a problem or a need, so the creativity/production of something is often the answer to a problem, a resolution of a conflict, or it fulfills a person’s need to express a thought, a feeling or to make something known to others.

A creative person is someone who takes his or her knowledge and manipulates it. It is a person’s possession of knowledge and the manipulation of it that feeds the creator, so there is also a symbiotic relationship or process involved. Creators have dialogs within themselves, and these internal dialogs fuel the creative process. Also, creativity is collaborative. In my opinion, there is nothing “original”. Every creative endeavor is empirically built on previous creativity and creators use rational thought to create more.

One of the most important aspects of creativity is its beginning. For me, it begins with the ability to watch my thoughts (metacognition). When I watch what I am thinking, I am aware of my inspiration. Usually, inspiration comes from a divergent thought. If I judge the divergent thought to be worthwhile, I will become passionate about it and act upon it--applying my knowledge to bring the thought into three-dimensional reality. In essence, inspiration is the first step that begins a process of creativity.

According to Sternberg (2009), creative individuals are highly motivated, non-conforming, deeply believe in the value of their work, take risks, possess extensive knowledge about their subject, have profound commitment to their projects, take care in what they will focus their creative attention upon, and use both insight and divergent thinking in the process of creating. From my experience, this is a “bull’s eye” description and can be documented in a ten-year journey that resulted in a major work called “Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDCIE, A Musical” (Baker & Jacobs, 2010).

The creation of this musical theater piece was inspired by the thought of adapting Jane Austen’s novel by the same name. Collaborating with my writing partner, we were highly motivated to create a musical that we wanted to see. Our goal was to inspire others to pick up a Jane Austen novel and read it. Through the process of writing this musical, we became Jane Austen scholars and now possess extensive knowledge about her life and works. We were profoundly committed to the project and took great care in our focus upon it. Through its Broadway option, the work transformed from a 3 ½ hour operetta to a 2 ½ hour Broadway show. This transformation was only possible by the great risks we took.

For me, the connection between creativity and emotions if that creative endeavors are the by-product of journeys inward. What this means is that as an artist, I examine myself as I create. These emotional reactions are what spark and fuel the energy needed to create the by-product or that "something original and worthwhile".

What I believe is that everyone has the capacity to create great things. A person only needs to be aware of what he or she thinks, be inspired by that thought, and then passionate about it because the passion is what fuels the action to make the creativity a reality. Creativity is a human process and everyone has that capacity.


Baker, L. W. & Jacobs, A. (2010). Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, A Musical. Retrieved from www.pride-prejudice-musical.com

Sternberg, R. J. (2009). Cognitive psychology (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. ISBN 9780495506294.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

This Is My Country

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to hear a truly wonderful concert in Eastman Theater in Rochester, New York. It was a "Prism" concert featuring 28 choirs in the Rochester area who performed throughout the great Kodak Hall. In the audience, there were almost 3,000 people, listening to the different sounds and styles of wonderful singing groups.

At the end of the concert, all of us were invited to sing "This Is My Country". For me, this was the most moving part of the experience of being there, and thrilling to rehearse this refrain:

This is my country! Land of my birth!
This is my country! Grandest on Earth!
I pledge thee my allegiance, America, the bold,
For this is my country! To have and to hold.

Composed in the 1940s, the song and lyrics were written by Al Jacobs and Don Raye. Even 50 years after they were penned, they have the power to move me and 3,000 people in Kodak Hall. What an extraordinary experience!!! To feel myself unite and connect with that many people with my voice!!!

What would our world be like if we could unite like this throughout the world to bring peace, joy, love and hope to everyone? It is a powerful thought ... and can be envisioned when voices unite in a love for their nation and each other.

Here are the complete lyrics ...

What diff'rence if I hail from North or South
Or from the East or West?
My heart is filled with love for all of these.
I only know I swell with pride and deep within my breast
I thrill to see Old Glory paint the breeze.

With hand upon heart I thank the Lord For this my native land,
For all I love is here within her gates.
My sould is rooted deeply in the soil on which I stand,
For these are mine own United States.

This is my country! Land of my choice!
This is my country! Hear my proud voice!
I pledge thee my allegiance, America, the bold,
For this is my country! To have and to hold.