I started the school year with several goals and changes I wanted to make in my music program. One of them was to incorporate a student-directed, or Genius Hour, type project. I had heard about Genius Hour several years ago, but it wasn’t until I read Amy Rever’s blog, The Noisy Room Down the Hall, that I believed it was possible in music! Amy is now in year three doing Genius Hour with her middle school band students and it’s quite inspiring. Essentially, Genius Hour is an opportunity for students to work on something that interests them, that they are passionate about, or that they want to learn. In school, students are often limited to content the teacher (or standards) dictate. But with Genius Hour, students get to choose their path. If you are not familiar with Genius Hour, I highly recommend John Spencer’s video, “What is Genius Hour?” It provides an excellent introduction.
Initially, I planned to have 5th-grade students (second-year players) come up with and carry out their own performance opportunity. They would pick the venue or event, choose and prepare the music, and do the performance. In the end, I decided not to go this route. After observing the students this year it didn’t feel right, and I didn’t know how I would manage that type of project for 96 students. So instead I decided to keep it more open-ended and let students design their own projects. I introduced the project we are calling “Mozart Minutes” to the students by first showing another one of John Spencer’s video, “You Get to Have Your Own Genius Hour.” I told students they would have the opportunity to create their own projects – learn whatever they wanted to learn or do whatever they wanted to do – as long as it related to music. We spent time in class brainstorming, and I asked students to come up with a list of ideas using Lee Araoz’s framework, “Four Pathways to Genius.” From there, students were asked to narrow down their list to one great idea. The pathways were more helpful to some students than others. Many didn’t understand that the pathways were to help them come up with ideas and that their final plan did not have to incorporate all four categories! I will need to explain that better in the future.
The students have been given four weeks to work on their projects during band and orchestra lessons (30-minutes each) plus 10-minutes each Friday during chorus to reflect on the week’s progress. They have also had some time to work during vocal music, and of course at home, if they choose. As you would expect, some students have been more successful than others. Some of the projects have been very creative though! Here is a sample of some of their ideas:
- Composing a song
- Learning to play new songs
- Researching the history of an instrument or composer
- Learning about how instruments are made
- Creating background music for video games
- Creating a talk-show about musicians
- Building an instrument
- Making tutorial videos to help younger students
I enjoy watching students and their various approaches. For example, some of the composers start with their instruments, while others begin with paper and pencil. Some are digging into research and creating Google Slideshows, while others are drawing or hand-writing what they learn. A few students have reached out (with my help) to various experts, and some even got responses!
The idea of a Genius Hour in music fits into something I’ve become quite passionate about, and that is empowering music students. Genius Hour fits almost all of the essential qualities! Students have voice and choice, they get to ask questions, they are creating, and they own the learning process. Isn’t this what we want for our students? Next week we will have a gallery walk showcase for students to share what they learned or created. I am very excited to report back the results!
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