In my last blog post, Focus on What We Can Do, I discussed how during distance learning we cannot try to replicate everything we did in our classrooms. It’s not the same and we can’t try to make it that way. Instead, by focusing on what we can do now, there are numerous ways we can empower students so they still have meaningful musical experiences.
Providing opportunities for voice and choice is one of the most basic ways to empower students (and personalize learning) in the music room. When students feel they have a voice in their musical journey and can make choices for themselves, they can take ownership of their learning.
While we have found many ways to give students voice and choice in a variety of music classrooms, our new existence of distance learning provides some challenges. I still believe voice and choice is possible and is something we should strive for.
Student voice refers to giving students the opportunity to share their thoughts, opinions, and musicality. They also have a voice in their learning journey. When students have a choice, they not only choose between pre-determined options but also create their own options for learning experiences. Taking these concepts of voice and choice into distance learning helps engage and empower our music students.
Students Share Their Voices
Giving students the opportunity to share their voices may be even more important now considering how isolated many of us feel! As music teachers, we can give students the chance to discuss the music they are playing, listening to, and creating. Not only does this provide ownership of the learning, but it also provides opportunities for students to use musical terminology. Most LMS (Learning Management Systems) have discussion board features perfect for this. If you don’t have access to a discussion board, other easy tools like Padlet and Google Docs can also do the trick.
Reflection and Goal Setting
Reflection is another way for students to share their voices, and it opens the door for personal goal setting. Many teachers, myself included, are having students submit video tests instead of in-person assessments. Encourage students to watch and reflect on their videos. They should take notice of areas they did well and areas for improvement, again using musical vocabulary. From there, students should set a goal to work towards, either continuing to refine the original skill or moving on to something new and more challenging.
For example, my middle school band students were working on the chromatic scale. After submitting their first assessment, students had to watch and reflect on their videos, then set a goal to improve upon their first submission. The goal could be to improve note accuracy, range, tempo, or the articulation pattern. By giving students a voice in this process, they had more ownership over the final product.
Flipgrid is my favorite tool for having students share their voices. It’s a video response platform where students create and respond to teacher-provided prompts. All students can share their voices with classmates (and you!) which also helps them connect with each other. See my recent post about Maintaining Community When Teaching Virtually to learn more about how to do this.
Choices in Repertoire
In Virginia, our schools are closed for the rest of the year. Continuing to work only on concert band music makes little sense since there will be no opportunities for us to play it together in the foreseeable future. Practicing the 3rd clarinet part to a concert band piece can only get so interesting! Instead, this is the perfect opportunity for students to have a choice in the music they will practice. Finding solos, popular music, movie soundtracks and other well-known pieces for students to choose from – music the students will be excited about learning – not only gives them ownership over their music making but also increases the chances they will pick up the instruments outside of the classroom!
Smart Music is offering free subscriptions to any schools affected by COVID-19. This can be a great resource for offering students choice. Another website I use is One Size Fits All Band Book, which has a variety of music for band students. I know there are many other resources available, and the students usually have no problem finding music on their own as well! Personally, I’m not being very picky about the music my students want to learn. I want them to have choices so the music is meaningful to them and they are more likely to be interested in practicing it.
Other Choices in Distance Learning
- Musical Choices: Assign students a chorale or other melody to learn that has no written expressive elements. Encourage students to make the melody more musical by making their own tempo, dynamics, articulation, and other stylistic choices. If you have synchronous learning opportunities, students could perform their melodies for each other. If not, have students submit and share videos (maybe using Flipgrid?) of their melodic creations.
- Skills Assessment: Give students a choice in how to show mastery of skills. If students are learning about tempo markings, they could play a melody of their choosing at various tempos, explaining which tempo they used each time. If students don’t have instruments available, they could create something (a video, graphic, game, etc.) to demonstrate they understand the tempo terms.
In our new reality of distance learning, giving students a voice and choice could be the difference between participating and not participating. At least in my school, students aren’t being graded and there is little holding them accountable for this time when they are learning at home. If the students feel their voices matter and that what they are learning is meaningful, they are more likely to take part.
We, the music teachers, know the power of what we do. We know how important it is for students to keep making music regularly. It’s good for them in more ways than we can count! Help the students see this too. Allow them to share their voices and make musical choices. It will be meaningful to them and help keep the music alive.