This is the time of year where I start seeing posts on social media about what to do after the concert, what to do during testing, and even, what to do when your students aren’t allowed to play because of noise during testing! So, whether any of these scenarios resonate with you, or if you are looking for something different to try, here are five ideas that will motivate learners, tap into creativity, and help you move towards a more learner-centered environment.
Reflecting is an invaluable tool that we do not use enough – with our students or as teachers – but the fact is, it’s essential for a learner-centered environment. If reflecting is not already a part of your routine, following a concert or performance is a great time to try it. Students should reflect not only on their performance but also on their preparations leading up to it and how it will impact their future learning. This process of “thinking about thinking” is known as metacognition. It allows students to take their learning to the next level.
If your students are new to reflection, you might want to begin with sentence starters to as guidance. “I was good at_____.” “Next time I might_____.” “I still struggle with______.” You could also try providing students with graphic organizers such as a PMI chart: Plus, Minus, and Interesting. Students are instructed to fill in items for each category. Remember – when reflecting, the process is as important as the product.
“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” John Dewey
For many teachers, especially those with ensembles, the majority of our rehearsal time is teacher directed. After a concert is a great time to try giving students the opportunity to stand in front of the ensemble. I have had students conduct our performance pieces, run warm-ups, teach new skills, or introduce lines from the method book. And they love it! Students should get the opportunity to have their voices heard, and allowing them time in front of the ensemble gives them a new appreciation for how an ensemble works outside of their sections.
The Makerspace movement has been finding its way into classrooms around the world, but how many music teachers have tried it? A Makerspace project is an excellent choice for a day when playing instruments is not an option. For those that are new to the Makerspace concept, it is primarily intended for students to create, invent, and learn. Some Makerspaces are very involved, including things like 3D printers, electronics, and computer software. Others are more simple and contain found objects and art supplies, such as cardboard tubes, rubber bands, string, etc. This was the type I created for my students for a Makerspace Instrument Challenge. Their task was to create an instrument that could produce a sound. They were given 5 minutes to look at the materials and plan their instruments, 1 minute to “shop” for materials, and 10 minutes to create. I enjoyed watching the students work, and their creativity was evident throughout the project. Here are the project details, feel free to make a copy: Makerspace Instrument Challenge. I guarantee you will love the results! Pair this with an exploration of sound or instruments families to make it more cohesive unit.
I love having students work on composition projects. Composing is an essential part of being a musician. It’s also another way to build creativity and give students ownership of their music making. There are many different ways to do this. Here’s an example of a composition project for beginning and intermediate string players: Kimble Strings: Composition. This year I took my composition project another direction and incorporated a Design Thinking strategy, the LAUNCH Cycle, by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani. The finished products had some similarities to previous years, but using the LAUNCH Cycle, students started the process with empathy and conclude by receiving peer feedback and making revisions based on that feedback. It is definitely something I will try again. This document explains the details of the project: Music Composition Project – Using the LAUNCH Cycle.
“Genius Hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom.” A.J. Juliani
To be completely honest, I have not tried this yet. But I plan on it soon – right after my concert! Genius Hour is an opportunity for students to work on something that interests them. Something they are passionate about, or something they wonder. In music, especially ensembles, students are usually working on music chosen by the director. With a genius hour project that is not the case. The students get to pick what they learn, research, and create. How can this work in music? With a little imagination and some planning. While this is probably the most complicated idea here, I think it could also be one of the most rewarding. Amy Rever, a middle school band director, has tried it with her students on more than one occasion and has great things to say on her blog, The Noisy Room Down the Hall. I think if you are ready to try something big, this is the perfect challenge!
I’d love to hear if you have done any of these things with your students, or if you decide to take the plunge and try one let me know how it goes! Don’t be afraid to try something new. Give the students choice, encourage them to be creative and take risks of their own! The results are worth it.