If all has gone well up to this point, your students have followed well-practiced routines to enter your room and show you that they are ready to get to work, your room is arranged in a way that contributes to a good learning environment, and you have explained, demonstrated, modeled, and built value for the task they are going to perform that day. When you model the task, it is often helpful to create a visualization of what they will be doing. This is a description of the specific actions they will take, and may even include a time practicing an action if it is new to them. You might say something like this: “in a moment, the first person in each row will walk to the counter and get enough music paper for everyone in their row. You will pass the papers down your row, taking one for yourself and passing the rest along. You will take out a pencil and begin copy the melody from the board onto your papers. When you are finished you will raise your hand. When you see someone else raise their hand, trade papers with them and check each others’ work. Then you will return your papers and give me a thumbs up to tell me you are finished.” Wait about 30 seconds to allow what you have said to be rehearsed in their minds and for anyone to ask a clarifying question, and then say “go” to release them from listening to you to beginning the task. You have done all this in the first 5 or so minutes of class, and you are now arriving at that time when students should begin their task.
Now the students will be interacting with the task, not with you. You want them to work independently, to work out problems on their own, and even to struggle a little as they figure things out. Only after they have given it an extended and sincere effort and have been unable to continue should you offer to help them. Students will rise to a challenge if it is within their ability. We do our students no favors when we quickly jump in to save them from any anxiety to solve their problems for them.
Because students’ learning styles differ, and because a class of students will always include individuals who are at different levels of proficiency, not every student will or should be expected to interact with the task the same way. In the example of copying a melody from the board, some students will do this with little or no difficulty. Others will struggle and still not copy notes and rhythms accurately. We teachers have a tendency to assume that what is difficult for us is difficult for our students, and what is easy for us is easy for our students, but this simply is not always the case. It is more likely that our highest achieving students are doing well in our class partly because they have a learning style that matches how we most naturally tend to teach. But all students must be given the same opportunities to learn and succeed, so we must design tasks that allow students to choose how they will interact with the task. There are four options: aural, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic. For tactile learners, I should have a table with oversized music paper and round manipulative disks and bars that a tactile learner can pick up and place on the staff to copy the melody on the board. For aural learners, I should sing the melody, perhaps in solfege, and have the student write down what he or she hears. For the kinesthetic learner, I should allow him or her to step through the melody, placing their body in different locations for different pitches, and stepping with appropriate durations of time between steps to convey the rhythm, and then writing down what they have stepped. Only the visual learners will likely prefer to simply copy the melody they see on the board onto their paper.
Any intervention you have with students during the task, especially during the early parts of the task, will be to encourage and focus students, not to tutor them. Students who know if they wait you out will get some or all of the task done for them by the teacher are not likely to try to accomplish much, and are not likely to learn much from a task with which they only minimally interacted. You should ask students questions that, when they answer them, will lead them to discover, analyze, classify, personalize, hypothesize, reorder, synthesize, and/or evaluate. These are higher order thinking behaviors that students will not utilize if they are simply completing steps in a procedure without knowing why, and without taking time to examine each step and the results it produces when completed. In their copied melody, students might discover that it is a familiar tune, or similar to one they know in certain ways. Those certain ways are discovered when they analyze the melody, possibly including classifying the note durations. They might hypothesize why the composer used those rhythms in consideration of an expressive intent, and they might evaluate the melody and propose revisions that make the tune more enjoyable for them, thereby personalizing the music.
The last part of the students’ interaction with the task is to receive and process feedback you give them. Your feedback must be supportive, entirely intended to move the students forward in proficiency. This is not the time for summative evaluation where a grade is given. The feedback you are giving here will be part of learning that is still ongoing. It is important that time be allotted for the giving of supportive feedback, so that each student knows how they are doing, what their successes are, and what still needs to be done, improved, or revised. If you see your class only once or twice a week, by the time they see you again, they will not be ready to receive feedback because they will have lost the momentum and awareness of what they just did. Be sure to make the task short enough so that it does not go all the way to the end of the class meeting, and so that there is time to give supportive feedback.
The supportive feedback reflects the philosophy that errors or incorrect answers are used as a learning opportunity. If students have this attitude, then they will not be afraid to make mistakes, and will eagerly go over their mistakes to turn them into a success. When you give a student feedback, give him or her wait time to process what you have said, connect it to their work, and formulate an image of how the correction will look. Use questioning to assist students in doing this after they have had time to consider the feedback on their own. Your questions then should be relevant, clear, purposeful, and productive. Do not bring new criteria or unfamiliar concepts or material into the feedback, even if the work is outstanding and the student is ready to go on to something else. Allow the student to reflect on the high quality of their work, and why you consider it to be so well done, so that the student will be able to reproduce the quality, knowing exactly what he or she has done well.
The feedback will be most meaningful if it is immediate. Let the students know right away how they are doing, so they can act on your feedback while it is all fresh in their minds. Students need to be afforded time to practice independently those aspects of the task that they now can do better having received helpful feedback.Your role while students are practicing is simply to monitor their work, only intervening to prevent them from practicing a mistake.
To finish the class meeting, have students briefly summarize what they learned and what progress they made during the session. This can be done on a half sheet of composition paper, or even an index card, and turned in to you as an “exit ticket.” The exit ticket serves two useful purposes. First, it brings closure to the lesson, and second, it provides you with feedback on what the students got out of your lesson, what misunderstandings or gaps may still exist in the students’ learning. Both can be folded back into the next lesson in the form of the next task, and also general feedback for the class where common issues are revealed.