Voice and Choice in Music Class:
How I Increased Voice and Choice in My Music Classes, and Why I’ll Never Look Back
By NAfME Member Theresa Ducassoux
“Voice and Choice” is a term frequently used when discussing today’s classroom. To a music teacher, it might seem like a silly phrase; we hear student voices all the time! Why do we need to increase that? But when used in the general education setting, the term takes on a different meaning.
What is Voice and Choice?
According to Holly Clark, an educational strategist, student voice relates to, “Hearing from all students in the class . . . Students’ ability to understand how they learn best . . . Students demonstrate what they learn in a way that interests them and taps into their strengths.” Student choice is what it sounds like: giving students choices in their educational experience. This has a lot of value in the music classroom, and I have seen many positive changes as a result of consciously increasing student voice and choice.
What It Looks Like in Instrumental Lessons
The biggest change I have made to promote voice and choice is in my 5th grade instrumental (band and orchestra) lesson structure. I see my second-year players weekly for group lessons. In the past, we would spend the 30 minutes working together on whatever skills or repertoire I felt necessary for that day. Now, I might teach a short mini-lesson or work with individuals, but students primarily practice independently. Students are given a set of learning targets (i.e., skills) to work through at their own pace, then have a choice in how they show mastery of each target. Students submit recordings via their iPads to me for assessment. They are still working through the required curriculum, but appreciate having a choice in what music to practice and take more ownership of the process. Around the holidays many chose to work on holiday music and used that to show mastery. It works for me! They are practicing, and that’s what is important. (To read more about how I incorporate Personalized Learning in my instrumental music classes, check out this blog post.)
Student choice is what it sounds like: giving students choices in their educational experience.
During most lessons, students also have the choice to work alone or with a partner. I’ll be honest; this concept scared me at first! Would the students fool around? Sometimes, yes. But those students are the same ones who likely would be off task if I were leading a traditional lesson too.
What I have seen is very encouraging: empathy. Students helping students, and students teaching students. This is something powerful! Learning is social; kids and adults alike need to be able to talk about our thinking and reflect on our playing. Some students recognize they are more productive when working alone, so they might choose that option. But each week students have the opportunity to make the decision for themselves, based on what they need that day.
What It Looks Like in Ensemble Rehearsals
I have also begun to incorporate student voice and choice in ensemble rehearsals. One example is having a pair of students lead warm-ups. They are responsible for choosing what skills to incorporate and rehearse the group as long as desired. During this time, I will take my own instrument into the ensemble and play along, choosing a different section to join each week. Allowing students, even in 5th grade, the opportunity to stand in front of the ensemble gives them an appreciation for how the ensemble works and also encourages them to listen and focus on instrument groups other than their own.
A Useful Tool
One tool I use frequently to promote student voice is Flipgrid. Flipgrid is a video response platform that allows every child to share his or her voice. I have had students use Flipgrid to create how-to videos to demonstrate skills on their instruments, submit assessment videos, record verbal concert reflections, and share holiday music with other schools around the country.
Allowing students, even in 5th grade, the opportunity to stand in front of the ensemble gives them an appreciation for how the ensemble works and also encourages them to listen and focus on instrument groups other than their own.
This March Flipgrid is hosting a “Music Explorer Series” to celebrate Music In Our Schools Month®! Through video, students will have the opportunity to hear from various professionals with careers in the music industry (aka, “Explorers”), discuss what kind of music they like to listen to and play, discuss why music is important, and even share their own music-making. While the students love talking about music and making videos, I am most excited for when they make music! All students who take part in the Explorer Series can “Take the Stage” and perform a piece of music solo or in a small ensemble.
Giving students this global audience makes the experience even more authentic. By having students share their voices and hear from others around the world they will all connect through music! If you would like more information about the Flipgrid Explorer Series, check out the “Flipgrid Explorer Series: Music.” Also, see this blog post to learn more about how I use Flipgrid in my music classes.
[My students] are in charge of their own learning. By doing this, they are cultivating what we all hope will become a lifelong love of music.
I Will Never Look Back
My classes are definitely on a non-traditional journey right now, but everything my students have gained makes it completely worth it. The students still learn all the necessary skills for young musicians; they perform in concerts and meet the curriculum standards. But they are also gaining skills to become independent learners and musicians. They are learning to make choices and understand that their voices do matter. They are in charge of their own learning. By doing this, they are cultivating what we all hope will become a lifelong love of music.
About the author:
NAfME member Theresa Ducassoux is currently a 4th-5th grade band and orchestra director in Arlington, Virginia. She spent the first 13 years of her career teaching music in a variety of settings in Southeast Pennsylvania. Theresa has earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Penn State University and a master’s degree in instrumental conducting from West Chester University. She is also a Google for Education Certified Trainer. She frequently incorporates technology into her teaching as a way to enhance and personalize student learning. Theresa blogs at www.offthebeatenpathinmusic.com and can be found on Twitter, @TDucassoux.
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