Friday, April 21, 2017

Year 7: Week 30 – Longer Chunks of Time

A couple months ago, I started noticing something with my 3rd graders. Almost every single activity I did, I ended before the students were done with the activity. Many of the music teaching method books and a lot of the teacher education out there recommends that you put three or four different activities or songs in one lesson. In general, I’ve followed this for the past couple years.

There is a feeling of accomplishment from the students and the teacher when you get through a lesson that has multiple activities. I would commend my students for keeping it together so that we could keep the flow of the lesson going. However, I started noticing that so much of the focus of the class was on transitions. It seemed like more and more, students were just getting into a project as I started talking to them about transitioning them to the next activity.

A lot of educational writing and research is recommending giving students longer periods of times on one activity in shorter range of time as opposed to splitting up the same amount of time over many classes. For example, instead of doing 20 minutes once a week in music class on recorder over four weeks (assuming music class meets twice a week for 40 minutes), you do two classes in one week where you do nothing but recorder.

There’s a lot to think about here. Certain skills need to be working on for short periods of time over longer unit of time to develop. For example, singing technique needs to be developed in short chunks of time over a time. You can’t sing for 40 minutes straight in one class and get as much benefit as doing 10 minutes of singing over four classes with younger students. However, there are other things like writing compositions, or turning a storybook into a musical, which my 3rd graders are currently doing, which kids can work on for an extended period of time effectively.

I’ve giving my 3rd graders entire classes to work on their storybook musical project, and they have worked the entire class length productively and effectively with no sign of needing something else to do to vary the class and keep their interest. I’ve planned on stopping the class to do a different activity, and asked the students what they wanted to do, and they all wanted to keep working. So I let them.

It’s important that students learn how to transition between activities and work on a variety of skills in music class, but I also think that we need to let students take deep dives into projects. I did this for my 5th graders recorder project earlier this year as well, when they chose a solo and worked on it individually preparing for a mini-concert. It’s kind of scary and unnerving to give away that control and let students have an entire class to do one thing. It’s uncomfortable, but like this storybook musical project, my 5th graders got into their recorder solos and worked for the entirety of those classes.

Focusing more on larger units is tricky to balance with consistent skill building, but I think it’s worth struggling with and trying to figure out. Longer periods of time give kids the opportunity to go deeper while stretching other students who aren’t used to longer chunks of time to think differently.

As a teacher the biggest change is that when students have a longer period of time to work, my teaching is more focused on their interests and their learning and less focused on teaching them how to transition. Here’s the interesting thing: When students have one activity they are doing in class, they are only doing two transitions, one to set-up and one to put things away. These transitions without the same amount of preparation and directions have been phenomenally better then the transitions that happen when they are multiple activities in a class. I’m not sure why, but I think they transition better, because they are more settled with the feeling of having gotten a solid amount of work done. They aren’t fighting the transition as much, wanting to do more work.

Longer chunks of time may not be the right for your students, but it might be worth trying. It hasn’t always been a success, but when it is, the students really benefit.

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