Sing the song Happy Birthday in La based minor using solfège and hand signs.
Count sing America (My county ‘Tis of Thee) retrograde.
Create a piggyback rap to help the choir memorize key signatures.
Perform a four-part round using Kodaly hand signs for the ascending and descending chromatic scale.
Recently, a member of ACDA posted the following question on the American Choral Directors Association Facebook page: “HELP. I just had my first choir rehearsal. It’s 8 quiet kids, and 2 refused to sing. What do I do?!”
This question really hit home for me because I’ve been there, and I am there once again due to COVID and a year of virtual and hybrid choral music. The responses from our colleagues to this question were intriguing. As you can imagine, there were suggestions about possible repertoire choices and adding movement. But the overwhelming responses focused on team building and building relationships. Here are a few of the responses:
- “Start them out getting to know one another and feeling safe in the environment.”
- “Build trust and relationships.”
- “I started using Kagan class building and team building structures in my class this year.”
- “Team building and music games! Remember, you are using music to teach children.”
- “Accept them for where they are, build trust, give sincere praise.”
- “Lots of ice breakers and relationship building first!”
- “Relationship building. Laugh together.”
- “If there is any possible way for you to bring singer peers to sing with and “show the ropes” of what singing is and can be.”
- “Let them do things that are loud, crazy, fast, and fun.”
The question becomes how. How do you incorporate these suggestions in a way that is musically productive and educationally sound? The answer to my question came from my sister-in-law.
GISH, The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt
GISH stands for The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt. It is a weeklong virtual international competitive scavenger hunt that challenges and empowers players to push their creative boundaries, apply and modify conceptual constructs, and share their gifts and skills with others. Participants select challenges found on the official GISH Hunt List, complete the challenge to the best of their ability, and submit pictures and videos as evidence of their accomplishments. The Rules and Regulations and GISH Commandments help guide and encourage the participants as they compete individually in teams for the grand prize and bragging rights.
Here is an example of a GISH submission created by my sister-in-law this summer. She chose Item #56 for 84 points. This Hunt item description reads as follows: “2021 has been fun, but we are tired of being quarantined in this dimension and miss traveling the space-time continuum. Throw on your goggles and show us you, taking off in your state-of-the-art Victorian-era space-time machine. It’s eco-friendly, so it runs on steam, punk”.
As my sister-in-law excitingly explained GISH to me and shared past Hunts, my mind raced as I began thinking about how I might modify the GISH structure and philosophy for the music classroom. I realized that a musical scavenger hunt didn’t accurately describe what I had in mind, but rather a Skills Quest was more of an accurate description.
ADIF Skills Quest
I first started creating the Skills Quest by adapting several relevant instructional approaches to ensure the Skills Quest was educationally structured and musically sound. These mainly consisted of the collaborative-based philosophy of the Agile Development Instructional Framework (ADIF), Nilson’s (2010) Outcomes-Centered Course Design, Wiggins & McTighe’s (2008) Understanding by Design and Backward Design, and Fink’s (2013) Six Categories of Learning.
Through this research and modeling after the GISH structure, I created the Skills Quest Overview, Quest Commandments, A Quest Rubric, Skills Quest Terms, Quest Ground Rules, and the most essential Skills Quest Items list for this project. Below is the Skills Quest Overview and a few examples of the handouts I developed for my students.
Skills Quest Overview
What are we going to do?
We will form sectional (SATB) sprint teams and go on a Musical Skills Quest. Each Quest team will earn points by selecting, creating, and performing short musical activities.
Why are we doing Musical Skills Quests?
These quick (5-10 minute) in-class musical challenges will help us build relationships, develop teamwork, strengthen self-confidence, and assess the choir’s musical and collaborative abilities.
How to Sprint Musical Skills Quest
- Each Quest team will compete against other teams by performing items from the Musical Skills Quest List (see attached).
- Each item on the Quest Challenge list is assigned the following base points: Easy – 10 points, Medium – 25 points, and Difficult – 50 points.
- Once a Quest Team completes a Musical Skills Item, they will perform for other Quest Teams.
- Official Quest judges will confirm earned points for each submitted item.
- A Quest Rubric will be completed after each challenge, but it will not be graded.
- Team point ranking will be announced at the end of each 10-week marking period.
- Quest judges may award additional points to teams whose performance possesses extra creative elements such as incorporating movement, harmony, props, or explaining a specific musical concept presented in the Quest.
Skills Quest Items List
Skills Quest Rubric
The Quest Rubric is a formative assessment tool for the students – It is not to be graded.
I know that many of you may be thinking that you cannot give up valuable rehearsal time for a “game.” A Skills Quest is flexible and can be modified to fit the time constraints we all experience throughout the year.
I can assure you; the Quest challenges contain a wide variety of difficulty levels and have both conceptual depth and musical complexity. The problem is that if we do not teach our music students how to actively sing, think, and learn independently, they will expect us to do it for them! Here is a quick Quest challenge item for you and your ensembles:
Using fixed Do, sing, and solfege with hand signs an E flat ascending and descending major scale.
- How much time did it take for you and your students to accomplish this item?
- What resources did you use or need?
- What are the foundational and mediating conceptual skills needed to accomplish this challenge?
- How does this tie into preparing for a Holiday Concert this semester?
TLDR – How to Build a Healthy Challenging Learning Environment
The prime directive for my first few weeks of school and my consistent theme throughout the school year is to provide my students with meaningful opportunities to sing, think, enjoy, and collaborate musically. The ADIF Skills Quest accomplishes this goal through (1) creating a healthy and challenging learning environment, (2) assessing the choirs and individual musical skills, and (3) evaluating the students’ ability to sing together and collaborate.
We must learn to empower our music students to actively and mindfully sing, think, and learn music on their own. If we fail, then the ownership of understanding and the successes of the ensemble will be ours – not theirs.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men [sic]to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea”.
Attributed to Antoine de Saint
ADIF Sprint Quest Terms
All activities, rehearsal strategies, and projects developed through applying the Agile Development Instructional Framework and Skills Quests are research-based. They contain elements of the following teaching models and instructional theories: Self-Regulated Learning, Self-Directed-Learning, Experiential Learning Theory, Understanding by Design, Cognitive Coaching, and the Universal Design for Learning.
ADIF Sprints/Quest – A short student-directed rehearsal that can last from five minutes to a class period.
Sprint Group or Quest Teams – A student-run group whose membership can range from a small mixed SATB ensemble, SATB choir sections, or a full choir.
Quick Sprint/Mini Quest – A short three-to-five-minute student-directed small group rehearsal.
Quick Sprint – A quick thirty-second to one-minute self-rehearsal. Students must practice out loud.
Give-Way Groups – When a specific Quest Group is performing for the class, other Quest groups called Give-Way Groups must yield and give their total attention to the performance.
Production Blocking – These are unplanned events, situations, or group behavior that can stall or stop the progress of a Quest.
Subject Matter Expert (SME) – All choir members are given the title of SME. Each student is supported and encouraged to contribute their individual musical and non-musical skills and abilities to the Quest Group.
Scrum Master – This Quest Group member can be a volunteer, chosen by the director, or selected by the group. This student may act as a facilitator, lead the group, or help keep the group on task and focused.
Timebox – A specific agreed-upon time during which the Quest Group rehearses and works towards their goal.
Sprint Retrospective – After each Quest, group members answer the following three questions and completes the Quest Rubric:
1. What went well during the Quest?
2. What did not go well during the Quest?
3. What can we do better next time?
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.
Fink, L. Dee. Creating Significant Learning Experiences, Revised and Updated: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013.
Simon, Herbert A. “The Architecture of Complexity.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 106.6 (1962): 467-482.
Nilson, Linda B. Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. Jossey-Bass, 2010.
Wiggins, Grant P., and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2008.