Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Authentic, Meaningful & Messy Learning in Music

Our music teacher brought a problem of practice to our PLC the other day.

The task at hand was for students to learn a small piece of music, then get creative with it and recompose a piece by making a few changes to it. The rhythm for the piece was set for them in order to help keep some kind of structure to their work. The instruments they would use would be the class set of glockenspiels and xylophones.

This task bought a problem to the music room. It was messy learning!

You can imagine the noise in the music room when the whole class was practicing and testing their creative composition out. Once this learning task was up and running, the teacher was worried about trying to keep up with all of her students and know where each one was at within the task. She was worried about making sure each one was on task and engaged in their learning.

Here are some of her questions:
How could she ensure that each student was where they were supposed to be in the task? 
How could she ensure that each student was on task?   
How could she monitor and give feedback to every student? 
This task was messy! Were the students actually learning anything? Or was it too crazy and noisy for anyone to hear and learn anything?
Was this task just too noisy and messy for the teacher? Or were the students feeling the same way?
Here is my thinking on this task: 

This is AWESOME learning in music! I don't think it could get much more authentic than this other than each student doing the same thing but in a recording studio and taking away all the noise. In a classroom situation, what else could you do with music? I guess you could have all students doing the same thing, or not have them making any noise. That wouldn't be very authentic then, would it?

I think meaningful and authentic learning, especially in music, will often be (if not always) messy. For this particular task, I think the teacher would feel a lot more comfortable with where her students are at through a slightly different approach creating success criteria, managing the task, and also through intentionally planned feedback loops. 

In our PLC we talked about the need to co-create the criteria at the beginning of the task so all students have a say in what it looks like to be successful. This will enable them to be clear on what is expected and also allow them to track their own learning and take more ownership on what they are trying to do throughout the task.

We also talked about another key to this kind learning might be in the way the teacher manages the learning. I think this goes for messy learning of any kind. The teacher needs to keep pulling the students back in to refocus them and also to give them a chance to share and reflect on what they are currently working on. This strategy would also help refocus those students who might struggle to keep up or get off task with all the noise and busyness of the classroom.

Another important aspect of this task would be intentionally planning multiple opportunities for students to get feedback on their work. These feedback loops might involve themselves, peer and teacher feedback. The feedback would also be given based on the criteria that was created at the beginning of the task.

I think this learning task was awesomely authentic! With a few tweaks to the way it is planned, I think the learning will become more clear and the teacher will also feel more comfortable with what is happening in the 'messy music classroom'.

We hope to try this together sometime soon to test some of our ideas and see if it makes a difference to how the students work, what they learn and what the teacher learns about the learning.

What do you think? Do you have any other ideas? 

Monday, 3 November 2014

What are Feedback Loops?

Today I was chatting to someone on our staff about feedback loops and what good feedback looks like.

One of the questions we came up with was 'if you are focusing on giving feedback all the time, how do you manage it?'. How do you make sure you are reaching all students in your class? ~ From what I've seen, most of the videos and examples I've seen of inquiry projects have been group work projects and therefore were easier to manage the feedback. I'm wondering if this how you make it easier to manage the feedback process, through group work? What do you do when it involves students doing independent tasks? How can we make the feedback process rigorous and well managed when students are working by themselves?

My colleague was also concerned that if she is so focused on giving feedback, she feels like she is not  able to provide her students with the same level of support. My thinking to this is that the feedback and support go hand in hand and that you're providing valuable support by giving feedback. I think there is a misconception out there on what feedback actually looks like. To me, it is dialogue (written or spoken) that helps move that student forward in their learning. The feedback might be direct or indirect communication through the form of 1-1 discussions, group discussions, assessment and success criteria (rubrics and checklists etc). Feedback can not only be given by the teachers, but peers and parents can be included in the feedback loops as well.

Finally, does anyone reading this have access to examples/exemplars or what good feedback looks like? Teachers like concrete examples to help them develop new things in the classroom. It would be great to share some examples.