Archive for the ‘lesson plans’ Tag

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!

Back in Melbourne, back to school

Ah… home from four months in East Timor. I’m back in my flat, and back at work, reconnecting with friends, family, colleagues and workplaces, and putting plans for the year in place.

The day after getting home I did two days of workshops at ArtPlay, as part of the MSO ArtPlay Ensemble year-long program of activities. These workshops were focused on “express composing”, where a group of children creates a new piece of music in an hour, and performs it to their parents at the end of that hour.

We had so much fun! We asked each group to invent a story of some kind – a tale that had a beginning, a middle and an ending. We divided into three groups and everyone went away to create music for their assigned section. At the end of the hour we performed the music in order, from the beginning section, to the middle section, to the end section.

Some of the stories were wildly inventive:

Beginning: People are in a shopping mall, wandering around, doing their shopping. Suddenly an alarm sounds. Panic ensues. It is a cyclone warning.

Middle: People stampede the exits. The cyclone approaches [this story was written in the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi in northern Australia]. Suddenly a gigantic platypus lands on the roof of the shopping mall. [Be truthful. None of us saw that offer coming, did we?]

Ending: It’s Bob, the Gargantuan Platypus, here to save the day. He picks himself up from the roof of the shopping mall and flings himself at the cyclone, squashing it completely.

The following week I started a new year at the Melbourne English Language School, my fifth year as an artist-in-residence there. The idea is to create music projects with each class that support their English language and literacy development in some way. (More info about this school here).

Planning with the class teachers is an essential part of this. First, I met with the three primary teachers, in order to discuss the kinds of themes and project work they had planned for their classes this term. We also talked about different students in their class – who has been there a few terms and is preparing to make the transition to mainstream school; who is new or recently arrived; what languages are spoken in the class; and how the class works together as a group.

All three primary classes have the broad theme of “food” this term. They will be talking about healthy eating, and doing some cooking in the classroom. In Lower Primary, I liked the teacher’s description of the categories of food they are learning – ‘every day’ food, ‘sometimes’ food and ‘never at school’ food. I can imagine building a simple, repetitive song out of these phrases, with different foods being promoted as belonging to one category or another.

The teacher of the Middle Primary class is keen for them to build up their oral language skills. I find a good way to do this is to develop rhythmic phrases from the syllables of words and sentences, and get the children to repeat these over and over, as a way of memorising and internalising the rhythms. We started with this idea in our first class and developed two lists of five food words each (pushing our rhythmic phrases into 5/4, which I love). We developed body percussion patterns for these phrases in our first lesson; in time, we will transfer the rhythms to instruments and develop melodic lines for them on tuned percussion.

In Upper Primary the students have also started their unit of work by discussing ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods. On the day that I was there, ‘pizza’ was under discussion. Is pizza healthy or unhealthy? I have a feeling that with this class, they will start to categorise their foods in more sophisticated ways, considering how the food is grown or prepared. I can imagine our composing work growing from these discussions. Perhaps we will develop different modes (in ‘dark’ or ‘light’ moods) for each category of food, and develop songs and instrumental music around these ideas?

Other projects that are in the planning pipeline are with Pelican Primary School (my pet name for a school I teach in regularly). Pelican’s school renovations have only just finished and it will be a few more weeks before instruments will be out of storage and the music room will be ready.

I’ll also be working with the Australian National Academy of Music again this year, and met this week with the senior artistic team to start fleshing out the kinds of projects we want to offer the students this year. After their much-talked-about participation in my work in East Timor in January, hopefully similar work in other challenging environments can be part of the 2011 program.

Meanwhile, my chikungunya virus is still kicking around in my system and giving me all sorts of joint stiffness and pain, so I’m also making the rounds of doctors and other health professionals. It’s a very exotic souvenir from Timor Leste to bring home with me, but on the bad days, it’s pretty painful and I hope to find if not a cure then a reliable way to manage it.