The TALONS Guitar

In its natural habitat

All the places we have been: TALONS Guitar Photoset on Flickr. There’s also some pics posted by others under the tag, TalonsGuitar.

Originally posted on the Introduction to Guitar blog, as a response to the Tell the Story of Your Guitar assignment.  I’ve added it here so that it can be included as a Digital Storytelling post for this week’s #ETMOOC study

It’s fitting that two of the TALONS alumni that originally gave me the guitar pictured above are actually in Introduction to Guitar this semester. I’m glad that they’ll get to see some of the story of the TALONS guitar that they might not have been privy to in the last two and a half years of its life here in a post that hopefully gives you here an idea of some of the power of musical instruments as totems of community, of place and of the people that connect them to us.

Clayton was actually the (or, a) prior owner of this guitar as his classmates neared the end of grade nine, and were plotting a year-end present pour moi, he volunteered it as a possible canvas that Immy could adorn with some personal and TALONS-related icons and symbols in paints and felt-tipped markers. A group of about ten or fifteen of the grade nine cohort showed up on a day near the end of June in my office to present the guitar to me, and if I recall, in my gushing surprise, I said something like, “Ohmigod, you wonderful, wonderful children.”

guitar yoga "strumming lotus"

Which they are. Which they were.

Since then the guitar has accompanied me and the ensuing TALONS classes everywhere; it is my and our “travel guitar.” Even if the action is a bit high, and it doesn’t hold its tuning perfectly, it is too pretty to only live indoors. And its story is too good to not introduce it to new people.

One of the first ventures the guitar got to take was back east and into Algonquin Park, at the inaugural Unplug’d Educational Summit. In feeling particularly blessed to be invited along to Unplug’d, where so many of my educational idols were going to be collected, I was proud to bring the class’ guitar to the event, as it has been through my working relationships with TALONS learners these last few years that any of these people would have ever heard of me. Sitting on the dock at the lake, singing Tragically Hip songs in the back of a canoe, and getting to lead a campfire singalong with forty educational leaders from across Canada was a supremely memorable experience, and one that the TALONS guitar played no small part in. 

I mean, this picture is was on the Unplug’d website banner:

Guitar canoeing

Somewhere out there on the lake, it was becoming clear that what GNA Garcia had tweeted to me upon seeing a picture of the guitar was true:

The gift of a musical instrument is actually a gift to all of the people that will ever hear it. 


Conversation and Song

What a thing to contemplate: that these objects are conduits for community, and connections between people. I started thinking – although I was only just starting – about what it meant to be someone who wielded one of these instruments, and how musicians can be vessels of sorts as well.

But more on that later… this is about the guitar, not me.

Since then, I’m happy to report, the guitar has made it on plenty of TALONS trips – into the woods on the Sunshine Coast, to Squamish, Hicks Lake – and on a host of my own adventures – family vacations to Vancouver Island, camping on Galiano. It’s the guitar that seems to deserve to be taken on adventures, and played outside, and to acquire more stories.

In its way it is its own entity: a magical and powerful object, and one I’m grateful to have encountered, and to keep encountering, every time I pick it up or hear it played.

Thanks Clayton and Immy for introducing us!

[Photo credits starting at the top: In its natural habitat, by Me; Dr. Alec @courosa Couros playing the guitar by @GiuliaForsythe; Canoe Strumming by @GiuliaForsythe (she was also paddling the canoe); Conservation & Song by @Aforgrave.]

Shared Solitudes

Looking upTonight you reigned in triumph, and I hope that you each savour what this experience has revealed of the possibility you hold within yourselves. You will know success in this life for what tonight has taught you about the personal nature of success, the irrationality of fear and the necessity of friendship. Do not despair that you only get to experience the tonight’s of life but once apiece. They are only tests to give you strength for the examinations you will be soon be free to embark upon under your own steam. We owe it to the present moment, and to our present selves, to live as the sum of our experiences, and with tonight you mark certainly that you possess the raw material to write your own life’s work of eminence. I stand in awe at your strength and determination to courageously explore, discover and express your unique voices in this world.

A Letter to my Students, on a Night they were Alive

I talked the other night, at the conclusion of this year’s Night of the Notables, about our relationship with the dark. I alluded to our recent practice of Night Solos, and how they put us in touch with an elemental piece of ourselves that comes with an immersion in a solitary unknown. It seemed a natural connection to make after watching the same group of TALONS become transformed on a stage they shared in fluid harmony that transported and transfixed an audience made of the class’ extended family community.

Deep seatsParents, friends, alumni, administrators and school board trustees, a scattering of internet radio listeners from across the continent, and graduates of a program that has roots in our district back to the mid 1970s – all gathered to indulge and rally around spectacle that this year’s cohort inevitably finds to represent their admiration and investigation of a kindred spirit, someone who “left a ding in the universe.”

In many ways, this has always been the story of Night of the Notables. But this year has seen the TALONS program run with two full grade nine/ten cohorts totaling 56 learners. In the seven years since I attended the first incarnation of the district gifted program’s as a new teacher who gave one of my future colleagues my TOC card, we’ve all come a long way through this week, where the gallery walk and “cocktail” hour was barely enough time to scratch the surface of each of the TALONS interactive and illuminating learning centers, and the grade tens were briskly off to the theater for the presentation of speeches.

Deadmau5A traditional rite of passage for the grade tens, this year saw the formally individual podium speeches transformed into two half-hour series of interwoven monologues, each presented in the characters of their eminent people.

The unknown isn’t as mysterious as we might think,” I borrowed from Stephanie‘s address as astronaut Roberta Bondar before continuing on about sitting alone in the dark.

“If we’re all sitting in the dark alone, we can explore and discover that unknown – which is all that any real learning is – just like we can give speeches, and create something new and magical and precious and ours, if we are supported by each other, all sitting in our own dark.”

Clint's Acceptance SpeechThe people on stage the other night were able to do it because everyone in the audience was up there with them, whether they were sitting in the dark as peers, or mentors, alumni, parents, and whether they did their sitting five years ago, or will years from now.

Thank you for being here to share this evening with us.

“That which you create,” Jonathan Toews wrote in his Notable address in 2010, speaking as IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, “Is yours to rejoice in.”

Indeed."That which you create is yours to rejoice in."Check out the TALONS Flickr set of Night of the Notables here.

Why Learning Outside Matters

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Having spent already more than five days this September immersed in the outdoors with separate TALONS groups on Fall Retreats in Howe Sound and Sasquatch Provincial Park, I have been thinking lately of the importance that learning in the outdoors plays in a 21st century education. Opportunities for relevant, authentic learning experiences in the outdoors are able to powerfully combat the disconnect with the natural world that is arguably at the heart of many challenges facing future generations, and which much classroom learning is ill-fitted to provide today’s learners. Outdoor education is specifically poised to provide experiential lessons in:"What we haven't done yet, is have a dance party." - Owl

  • Realizing that we are a community.
  • Experiencing our place in the (local) natural world.
  • Learning self-reliance and accountability.
  • Living in the moment.

As one of the pillars of the TALONS Program and Betts Autonomous Learner Model, the Fall Retreat is constructed from the ground up out of opportunities for group development and community-building, self-discovery, and authentic experiences involving teamwork, problem solving and personal reflection for each member of the community. With trust that time spent establishing group and individual goals and roles in the community pay dividends in learning later in the academic semester, TALONS learners traditionally spend September forming committees to deal with the various elements of trip-planning and implementation joining the program’s new grade nines with grade ten mentors, committee chairpersons, and project managers who consult with teacher-facilitators in bringing the trip to fruition. While fulfilling the class obligation to the Ministry‘s Leadership 11 IRP, the Retreat orients TALONS learners within the ethos of the program and establishes the introductory norms of the new peer group while immersing them in relevant example of real-world goal setting that culminates through the trip’s three days.

Dinner Retreat Shopping

As with many other TALONS undertakings, a glimpse into a Retreat or Adventure Trip meal provides a window into the value of student-centered learning, as learners consult previous years’ menus and shopping lists to decide on final recipes and supplies, arrange for shopping trips to Costco, cookies parties at home and schedules for food prep & delivery once we’re in the field, all before the trip even begins. Trip food needs to be accounted for within the class’ budget (provided to parents by the student-run Finance & Forms Committee), and accompanied by a list of requisite cooking materials (facilitated by the often-sprawling Equipment Committee).

_ALB6055Once on the trip itself, involved committees are responsible for the scheduling, preparation, delivery, and cleanup of the meal, which can involve any combination of volunteer-forces the class chooses to muster up. The incentive of natural consequences (We don’t cook, we don’t eat. We don’t eat (or clean up), we don’t have a campfire.) powers the need for collaboration and communication from start to finish, and fosters relationships and trust within the class community. Bread is only broken once everyone has been served, and it is customary that a few words of wisdom or thanks are shared before the meal commences, and the din of conversation engulfs everyone and everything.

Weather

DSC02264On the west coast, the idea of rain in September is something of an inevitability to the extent that the advent of sunshine on a September Retreat is akin to winning a meteorological lottery of sorts. Survival – or at the very least, comfort – in British Columbia’s natural elements depends on an ability to prepare and share a stable shelter with one’s fellow travellers. Whether in the form of maintaining a fire in the wood-stove for the drying of constantly sodden clothing, or the 4am gusts of wind and rain that find friends arguing with half-hitch knots and headlamps in the middle of the night, the ordeal of an adventure in the woods is an omnipresent demand to see opportunity in crisis, and the glass as half-full (or, more appropriately, overflowing).

The forests of the west are green and snow-capped as a result of the winter winds that buffet our coasts with rain that allow the salmon to swim home, and to deny the necessary beauty of the rain is to deny this place we call home. There are, as my friend Andy Forgrave reminds me, “Two kinds of weather: memorable, and forgettable,” and the rain that seems to find us every year on at least one of our trips is at times of either sort.

“There is also that little-mentioned third category,” Andy adds, however. “Dry.”

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Games

The Albatross LungeWithout the distractions of iPods and text messages, Facebook or television, it never fails to amaze me how quickly TALONS and other teens assemble into naturally occurring orbs of conversation, laughter and friendly competition that (for Dean Shareski) coalesce on beaches, in forests, and on water. With a fire roaring in the wood stove, and voices echoing in the second-growth cedar and hemlock, a group passes more than an hour dissecting the intricacies of a riddle. The same woods are freckled with games of Camouflage, and Ninja. Russian card games. Twenty-five person rings of Stella Ella Ola.

These songs and games are generally learned in elementary, or middle school, and are the stuff of our children’s learning rituals of play – they exist in every corner of the world, and in many cases (I’m sure) mimic one another. That they spring up in BC’s forests, or in hotel lobbies in Cuba, places where we might find ourselves pining for a sense of identity or home, shouldn’t surprise at all. We often think of our culture as being made up of the songs we sing, and the stories we tell; but it is startling to realize that our repertoire of games and riddles is a shared story as well.

Hiking

Looking out on the Salish SeaIn the years that I have been with TALONS, we have hiked on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in the forests of the Lower Mainland, North Shore, and Fraser Valley, as well as across peaks in the Gulf Islands. We have covered urban and rural terrain, wilderness and back countries with go-gear, water bottles and enjoyed countless hours of meandering conversations and Ninja-breaks along the trails and pathways of our provincial and regional parks in rain, sunshine, and fog, wandering for hours only to arrive in campsite we left that morning. Bonds are formed on these walks that are cyclical odes to the journey being important above the destination, and the company we keep mattering much more than what we might be doing with it.

Sometimes, it is enough just to walk.

Night Solos

_ALB6107“How much of our fear of the dark stretches back to our evolved relationship with so many years spent living in the dark?” Mr. Albright asks me during one of our hikes around Hick’s Lake this weekend. The night before, we had marched the class out into the forest surrounding the campsite to participate in a “Night Solo,” where each member of the class sought out a solitary space at a distance (from the teachers’ lantern) of their own choosing. And with lights out we sat in inky silence for more than ten minutes, listening to rain pelting the upper canopy of forest. Our hiking conversation that following day had shifted to human beings’ relationship with fire (learned relatively late in our development as the species homo sapiens sapiens, or, to interpret the Latin, the Wise One).

“If you can imagine what it would have been like to be a human, or one of our earlier ancestors who lived in a world that didn’t yet know fire,” I told the class before we went out into the woods on the evening following the hike. “What you feel as an instinctual rejection of the dark is part of that history, and our story as people. Listen to it. Be with it.”

We walked out into the woods and within minutes were greeted in our silences by the persistent hooting of an owl presiding over the camp for the duration of our solo. Scattered across the forest floor, in a blackness that enveloped all but the distant moon shining off the lake below, the owl rang its voice across the treetops, cradling us all. When I called out finally for the solo to end, seconds swelled and stretched in silence as no one wanted the moment to be gone.

Our ambition as TALONS facilitators is often to nurture these individual worlds, where everything needed for survival, or even thriving, is brought along in backpacks and the people assembled in a given place. Enjoying the peace of sitting in the woods at night alone, a serenity connected to the most basic of human fears of loneliness, made possible in the company of trusted peers. If a more apt metaphor for the autonomy that TALONS espouses exists, I’d love to hear it.

Temperature Reading

Toward the end of every evening around a TALONS campfire, once the songs have all been sung, and our solitudes have been confirmed in the surrounding forests, it is a nightly tradition that the group concludes its evening by offering each member of the class the opportunity to offer a rating for the day accompanied by a brief reflection on the day’s events. Time for laughter, learning, or the airing of grievances, I have seen and witnessed moments of the most awesome honesty and collective triumph in these circular conversations, as each day adjourns with an affirmation of the wisdom that we all might:

Look well on today, for in its brief course lie all the variation and realities of your life – the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendor of beauty. For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow a vision. But today well-lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope. 1

  1. M. Wylie Blanchet’s The Curve of Time

TALONS Class Blogging 2011 – 2012

Linked from the TALONS Blogging page on this site.

TALONS (PM) 2011-2012 As a personal professional development and learning tool, I began this blog during the spring of 2009 as a means of connecting to the web and the world in the most personalized manner possible. After experimenting with Twitter, Delicious, and an English Department blog at work, having my own blog seemed the natural course of things.

Two years ago I brought the TALONS class into the fray. A two-year program for gifted high school learners in our district, our class tackles English, Socials, Science, Math, Leadership and Planning curricula, augmented with experiential service learning projects, cultural events, and outdoor adventures in the local school community, and beyond..

At the best of times, it can be trying (for students, but also the program’s two teachers) to stay on top of the class’ varied passions, interests and Ministry mandated topics. But with blogs, I began to think as our online communication took shape over the summer and ensuing school year, each student (and again, teachers) presented, recorded, and reflected upon their individual learning, in addition to supporting one another in a fluid and ongoing narrative built around the topics of wide-reaching curiosity, as well as the course material.

TALONS teachers have long held as their goal to dissolve the lines between our diverse subjects as often as possible – supporting essay theses with biological arguments, using math analogies during the study of history, and many other as-yet-undiscovered connections – and are continually astounded by the depth and individuality in the class’ blogging.

For two years this blog served a living record, and synthesizer of TALONS student blogging, but has since seen these responsibilities delegated to the  class blog, Defying Normality, its Flickr account, Youtube Channel and subject-based wikispaces:

Some of the memorable learning experiences shared on this blog during the 2009 – 2010 school years are:

The RSS Feed to follow this year’s TALONS Learners’ blogs can be viewed, and subscribed to here, as can the class’ comment feed. Our individual bloggers this year are:

TALONS Facilitators

Grade Tens

Grade Nines

Two things I'm going to enjoy this summer

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And each hopefully for many years to come: my back yard, and a new guitar (third hand 1), decorated as a gift given to me today by the 2010-2011 Talons class. As I told them upon opening the case the guitar arrived in, “You wonderful, beautiful children 2!”

For the infinite number of times that I – and no doubt many present, past and future Talons – will strum the new guitar and think of you, a thousand (plus a few) thank yous for this incredible gift of music and artistry.

Thank you as well for what was an adventurous and landmark year of Talons learning that I’m looking forward to seeing play out in Greatest Hits throughout the summer on Defying Normality, and in the future momentum of a program each of you has had a profound hand in shaping.

Enjoy your rest, families and friends this summer.

  1. At least!
  2. For the record, I know that you dislike being thought of as children, but perhaps in an unconscious way the gift (and being so moved by it, truly) reinforces our Adult/Child relationship and resulted in the unfavourable word-choice

Vote for finalists in the Write Gleneagle's Anthem Contest

Watch the video above to hear the songs & match them with their composers below:

You can listen, and download each of the songs on Gleneagle Music’s SoundCloud page: