Challenging, Frustrating, Depressing Encouraging, Disappointing, Intriguing.
These are the words I frequently use to describe what it is like teaching high school vocal music during the pandemic. It has become quite evident in the last ten months that The Pre COVID traditional educational model is becoming outdated and may no longer be adequate for post-COVID instruction.
It became extremely clear last March that the reason many of my students struggled with their studies was because all their learning experiences are based upon the institutionalized aspects of public education. Without the school building, bells, personnel, and the social-emotional support of their peers and teachers, most students lack the skills they need to learn independently. This deficiency of teaching self-regulation in our classrooms reinforced my determination to search for ways to help my students become musically autonomous and achieve independence in their musical and general studies.
Understanding by Design – UbD
One excellent resource I discovered this past year was Wiggins and McTighe’s (2005) work and their book Understanding by Design (UbD). It is an outstanding resource and a must-read for both novice and seasoned music educators alike.
In Understanding by Design, Wiggins and McTighe present the Backward Design framework. This framework encourages educators to construct their curriculum and instruction “Backwards” by Identifying student learning outcomes or enduring understandings first. Once learning outcomes are identified, teachers then Determine the appropriate skills and assessment and lastly Plan the specific course content and essential learning objectives.
Not knowing what this year would bring, I was determined to research applicable instructional models and create musical experiences to promote and develop my student’s Self-Directed and Self-Regulated learning. Looking back at my teaching last spring and reviewing relevant research, I implemented the backward design framework and created the Individual Ensemble Musicianship (IEM) Project
The Individual Ensemble Musicianship (IEM) Project
Experience has taught me that the most successful choirs always contain outstanding musicians who bring and share their individual musical skills and talents with the ensemble. The IEM Project aims to develop each students’ musical knowledge and skills, thereby promoting metacognition and individual autonomy, with the purpose and intent of transferring these skills to the ensemble, creating choral autonomy.
Individual and choral autonomy is achieved when educators place the responsibility of learning and achieving on the students and the ensemble – not themselves. The IEM Project provides music students with individual and group experiences in the following four areas: planning and goal identification, documenting and monitoring progress, assessing and reassessing skills, and adjusting and modifying best practices for future learning.
Individual Ensemble Musicianship Project Overview
Stage 1, Planning and Goal Identification – Supporting Research Self – Directed Learning – SEL
At the beginning of the project, students complete a Google Form and choose an area of interest. Skill and subject topics vary and range from learning piano, a vocal solo, or guitar; to studying theory and composition. Once students finalize their musical interest and can state their specific area of study, they are grouped into subject cohorts such as Guitar, Piano, and Sight-Reading.
Stage 2, Documenting and Monitoring Progress – Supporting Research Experiential Learning Theory – ELT In stage two, students complete a weekly Google Doc (journal) and annotate their experiences and progress. Many IEM assignments ask students to actively discover, use, and apply technology as a tool to help them learn and grow.
IEM Learning Activities
List and copy two YouTube video links that can help you reach your IEM goal.
List and copy two Google Search links for PDF’s that could help you reach your IEM goal.
Find two Music Dictionary, Encyclopedia, or cohort-specific links that may help you.
List and link two Apps that may be helpful to you as you work on your IEM Sprints.
Ask two high school music students to be your IEM Vygotsky’s, and two for your choir Vygotsky’s. Discuss your IEM project with one of your IEM Vygotsky’s and list two of their suggestions.
Record yourself playing/performing/explaining your IEM project and list two self-observations.
Stage 3, Assessing and Reassessing Skills – Supporting Research Self-Regulated Learning – SRL
I have found step three to be the most challenging for students. I’m afraid they are so conditioned to rely on school staff for direction that they believe it is OUR job to regulate and control their learning. Because of this mindset, I created several assessment activities where students must learn and support each other by providing periodical performances and updates through Flipgrid. For one assignment, each choir member was asked to respond to four of their peer videos and offer suggestions for improvement. I am incredibly pleased with this activity’s results, for it has fostered an encouraging and supportive learning environment for all my virtual ensembles.
Flipgrid Student Responses (12/6/2020)
“It sounds great! I am working on incorporating both hands as well…it’s a challenge for sure. I am trying to take it slow, as this is my first time ever playing the piano- but I am enjoying it. Good luck!”
“Great Job Bryan! You sound great. While I am not learning Ukulele (I am playing piano), I can still relate to your modifications. I have noticed that if I slow things down (like YouTube videos or whatever we are using), it can help out a lot. Great Job!”
“Way to go Katie! Nice to see that you’re still working hard even when you’re virtual. Also like the journal idea, makes me think of a workout journal I would use for keeping track of running/exercise.”
“Nice job! I would suggest choosing a few chords you know well and that go together, then just pick a strumming pattern and play those chords over and over again with that pattern. It helped me a lot!”
“ZOE THIS IS SOOOO GOOD!!!! UR VOICE IS SO PRETTY”
Stage 4, Adjusting and Modifying Best Practices – Supporting Research Cognitive Coaching
As I work through the IEM project with my students, I’ve come to really enjoy stage four and our weekly check-ins. Many of my students just want to do the assignment, plug-in the answers, wait for the feedback/grade, and move on. Not going to happen.
Sometimes I get blank stares when I ask a student, “How did what you did last week compare with what you planned? Or “What did you do (or not do) that produced this result”? The ability to become autonomous and adjust and modify one’s own best practices can be taught by focusing on the mental process of learning and reflection, not through remediation. It takes some time, but soon students learn that uncertainties and frustrations are not a cause for panic or alarm, and they come to realize that they have the power and ability to adapt and modify their learning.
Student Responses – What are you starting to learn about yourself?
“I am learning that if I stay motivated and keep persevering, I can learn new skills. I have stayed dedicated to playing the piano and I am noticing a lot of progress.”
“When I practice, I learn better in the evening, so I should start working more in the evening to make sure I’m doing my best.”
“I have realized that though I may not be the BEST guitar player, playing the guitar keeps me motivated and interested in music. I have realized that even when I listen to music, I have started picking up on the key changes and have become more musically aware”.
Conclusion: Promoting Student and Ensemble Autonomy
How do you teach individual and choral autonomy in the virtual high school classroom? It is not easy. For me, it is challenging, rewarding, frustrating, depressing, intriguing, disappointing, and at the same time encouraging.
Teaching musical autonomy, like playing an instrument or singing in a choir, needs to be practiced, understood, and ultimately owned by the students. Understanding by Design and the Backward Design Framework challenges educators to look beyond instructional challenges and help our students succeed by teaching them the skills needed to foster individual and choral autonomy in the classroom.
“I am learning how to self teach myself things.”
Bill, MHS class of 2023
Ackles, Brian O., 2018. Agile Development Instructional Framework (ADIF): A New Strategy for Student-Centered Music Education. Choral Journal, September 2018. Vol. 59, No. 2.
Wiggins, Grant P., and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2008.
Grow, Gerald O. (1991/1996). “Teaching Learners to be Self-Directed.” Adult Education Quarterly, 41 (3), 125-149. Expanded version available online at: <http://www.longleaf.net>.
Zelenak, Michael S. “Developing Self-Efficacy to Improve Music Achievement.” Music Educators Journal 107, no. 2 (2020): 42-50. doi:10.1177/0027432120950812.
Zimmerman, B. J. (2013). From cognitive modeling to self-regulation: A social cognitive career path. Educational Psychologist, 48(3), 135–147. https://doi.org/10.1080/00461520.2013.794676
Postlude – IEM Assignment Prompting Questions:
Stage 1, Planning
What is your Ultimate Outcome or musical goal?
Is anything confusing?
What will you do first?
Stage 2, Monitoring
Why did I get this answer wrong?
Should I ask for extra help?
What went well?
Stage 3, Reassessing
Can you apply this learning in a different context?
What are you starting to learn about yourself?
What suggestion or advice do you give others in your IEM Cohort?
Stage 4, Adjusting
What did not go well?
How can you do better next time?
Can you explain what you learned?