by Jenny L. Neff, Ed.D.
Many educators have started the school year feeling refreshed and excited to create new learning opportunities for their students. Along with this comes the chance to upgrade how things have been done in the past in designing better lessons and musical experiences.
What new tools will you bring to the planning process? How can you ensure students have meaningful musical experiences as part of their music education? Perhaps your district has a new focus area that is required in your lesson plans? How will you meet these requirements and still maintain meaningful music experiences for your students?
Keep the Big Picture
No matter what the content area, our goal as educators is to engage students in meaningful learning. By this time of the year, the room is set-up, classroom management areas have been addressed, students are following classroom procedures and routines, and we are starting to dig into the content. This is when the fun begins, right? This is when we get to “do what we love, and love what we do” - inspire kids through music.
While you might refer to a checklist of requirements found in a teacher evaluation rubric when planning your rehearsals and classes, it’s also important to keep the big picture in mind and remember that lessons without musical meaning are pointless to students. If we ask students to dedicate time and effort to something without meaning, they will quickly find it is not worth the investment. Their lives are busy, and at times even overscheduled, so how they spend their time and the satisfaction they get for the time invested can become a factor in whether they continue in our programs.
Purpose and Value
Have you ever had a student ask, “why are we doing this” or “does this count”? They are questioning the purpose and value of what they are being asked to do. Many times, we as teachers know the value and purpose of what we are teaching but it is equally important to communicate this to our students. If our lessons and rehearsals engage students, rather than simply occupy them, the purpose and value become evident to the learners. However, if students don’t fully understand the “why”, then what we are doing can be viewed as a waste of time. This can also start a downward spiral of poor student engagement, leading to behavior problems, increased transition times, and a lack of interest in the program.
The way students view the purpose of what they are doing can also impact their mindset when faced with adversity. Figure 1.1 shows two paths of thought and the resulting outcomes when students face adversity.
Figure 1.1 Examples of Adversity (Mindset Scholars Network, 2016)
Determining whether or not students have grasped the material is an important part of evaluating what they have learned. This feedback is informative for educators in planning future instruction. My teaching experiences at various grade levels over the past 24 years have shown me that no matter the age of the students, they continue to seek approval and feedback from their teacher/director. They may show it in unique ways (especially throughout adolescence), but it is still important to them. Assessment feedback also answers the question “how am I doing?” and can help guide students toward future success.
Did You Bring the P.I.E.?
A phrase I use almost daily in my teaching and share with new teachers is, “Where is the P.I.E.?” It stands for purposeful, intentional, and explicit. When going through professional development on using critical and creative thinking skills in a previous district, I found this to make a huge difference in the classroom. When planning for instruction and teaching students, it is important to make sure you bring the P.I.E. to each lesson and rehearsal.
The importance of purpose was described earlier, but the other parts of the P.I.E. are also important. What is your intention when designing a lesson or planning a rehearsal? What do you want the students to learn? How will you know they have accomplished this? Have you mapped out a sequential path that guides them to success? Are you preparing them to succeed through these steps or jumping in with no student background knowledge? Is your pacing appropriate? Do you share the information with students in an intentional way? Many times students are frustrated when learning a new skill. The way we sequence skills and spiral our instruction as educators is essential to their success. They are able to take small steps along the way in meeting the goal. By communicating these steps in an intentional way, students can achieve the goal and feel a sense of accomplishment.
So what about the “E” in P.I.E.? Do you describe the task at hand in an explicit manner? After you explain something to students, do they understand the what, why, and how? When expectations are made clear to students, they are better able to carry out the task and transition to different tasks in a seamless manner. When they understand the process, they can replicate this in other scenarios or content areas.
For example, I often ask my students to go through the process components from the National Core Music Standards as part of their practice log. They select a piece to practice, analyze what specifically they are going to practice (e.g., specific measure numbers, movement), analyze/interpret specific skills in the section (e.g., accidentals, slurs/ties, note names, rhythms, etc.), and rehearse the section using specific practice strategies. By asking students reflective questions after a few practice sessions, they are able to understand the process they followed. This metacognitive approach reinforces explicit steps taken to help students understand the process and create higher quality music experiences.
As the year continues, keep these big ideas in mind:
· What is the purpose and value of what you and your students are doing?
· Bring the P.I.E. to your classroom or rehearsal.
These ideas put into action will not only help students better understand their role in, and the process of, meaningful music making, but also help them continue these life-long skills beyond their time in the classroom. The process can, in turn, bring more clarity and purpose to your role as educator.
Mindset Scholars Network (2016). Learning mindsets. Retrieved at http://mindsetscholarsnetwork.org/learning-mindsets/purpose-relevance/
National Association for Music Education (2014). Core music standards: A guide to orchestrating success for students, schools, and society. Reston, VA: NAfME
Do not reprint without permission of the author.
Jenny L. Neff, Ed.D., teaches instrumental music at Bala Cynwyd Middle School in the Lower Merion School District. She is also the Eastern Division Representative for the NAfME Council for Band. Her upcoming presentations include: Engaging Students Through Deeper Content Connections at the PMEA District 11 In-service Conference in November; and Using Composer Skype Sessions to Make Meaningful Connections, with Scott Watson at NAfME Eastern Division Conference in April.