Planning, scoping, sequencing
Last week I presented a Teaching Artist professional learning seminar on planning, scoping and sequencing a new music project. Teaching artists frequently work in partnership with a classroom or specialist teacher, so planning tends to be collaborative. However, teachers and artists often approach project planning in different ways. I drew upon my own experiences and talked about:
The importance of learning as much as you can about the class
This includes what are they working on in class, but also some of the additional goals of the classroom. At the Melbourne English Language School (where I’ve worked as a teaching artist since 2005), these goals often include things like social skills, rules of personal hygiene or some of the cultural practices of school in Australia (like being able to line up before entering the classroom). These non-arts, non-music goals and themes can often provide fertile ground for a music or creative arts project.
The many ways to your intended goal
The more input students have in a creative project, the more ownership they will feel towards it and the more engaged they will be by the process. I encouraged my colleagues to listen out for offers and suggestions that could take the project off into a new or unexpected direction. Sometimes these offers are made in jest, or with great sarcasm – this is often a protection on the part of the child and it’s important to look beyond it to the idea being expressed. Sometimes, suggestions will be unconscious, occurring when the child is daydreaming, or retreating into their own head for a moment, but with an instrument in their hands. Tapping fingers can provide insights into a child’s previous musical experiences, knowledge and culture. It’s important to leave space in the classroom environment for these offers to slip into, as well as space in the evolving creative work.
Communicating with your teaching partner
There are often points in a creative project where work is emerging but you, the artist, are not clear exactly where it is going to go, or how it will all fit together. This happens to me in many projects and I’ve learned that it is part of my process, so it doesn’t worry me. However, teachers have very different planning and reporting obligations to teaching artists, and work that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere specific can create concern for teachers who want to know there is a sequence and plan underpinning everything.
I think that each one of us – teachers and teaching artists alike – has a different tolerance of ‘risk’ or unknowns in a creative project. It’s therefore important to keep lines of communication open. Teaching artists may need to talk through those parts of their process that are more open-ended, or where you have simply opened up an experience to the students in order to see what material emerges in their response, but you are confident that it will yield something important for the project outcome.
What does this look like in practice?
In tandem with my consideration of these different points in the planning and sequencing process, I described a 10-week project that I’d led in 2008 (I chose it because I’d documented it particularly thoroughly). I shared my notebook from that project with my teaching artist colleagues (complete with all my random musings, sketches, shorthand music notations, and margin doodles) pointing out those days where material had been developed and locked in, those days where things went off in a different direction, and when I’d developed material without knowing how it would ultimately be used in the performance. We ended by watching a video of the project’s final performance, so that we could see what had resulted from the lessons that were detailed in the notebook.
When I was first asked to lead this session, I was a bit hesitant. I often think my approach is quite freeform, and trying to anticipate exactly what will happen throughout the term feels very counter-intuitive. But once I started to dig into it, I could see there were key steps that I take in developing each project, and a number of golden, guiding values that inform all the choices I make. When you start to write these down, a plan and a sequence definitely emerges!