had, troubleshoot some possibilities, and move on to the next group. I was able to stay with each group for about five minutes. I was discouraged, however, when the groups hadn’t made much progress by the time I visited them again. Something still wasn’t working right in this scenario.
I realized about 30 minutes into the class that I had accidentally skipped one group in my visits and thus hadn’t advised them at all. I found the group and was amazed. They had not only made good progress with their stomp project, but they were nearing completion. How marvelous! These students didn’t need me hovering over them; they simply needed some free exploration time, which eventually turned into their composition. By giving these students the trust to work on their own, they were able to navigate through the nuttiness of exploration quickly and move into a composition plan.
Getting Better How forgetful I am! Day one is always chaotic. Students are exploring possibilities. It isn’t mindless noise; it is a process to work through ideas. A key part of creating new music is exploring the possibilities. When everybody explores sound in the same room, the result is an explosive cacophony of resonance. Day two usually results in more processed sound. However, the progress into more processed sound cannot happen if a teacher is hovering over students’ shoulders. They need time to figure it out for themselves.
In talking with colleagues about composition ideas for the classroom, many of them have been frustrated with day-one progress… or lack thereof. It is this chaos of sound that seems to frustrate teachers. This exploration time, however, is key to the students’ success in the long run. There might be a better way to organize the class so that frustration levels can be minimized (separate workspaces, headphones, etc.), but this exploration stage is imperative for students to work through the
possibilities and form them into a final product.
On my way home from work that evening, I put my iPod on shuffle. Serendipity was on my side as the Beatles’ “Let it Be” began to play, a sign I was on the right track. The chaos I had been experiencing was only temporary. Furthermore, I thought the students had trouble with time management. This assumption was incorrect. I needed to allow the students to work through their exploration. This “chaos” was purposeful, serving as an explorative stage. If I learned to let the students be and let them work through their exploration, their music would begin to form, and the chaos would settle.
Let It Be Day three? Success!!! Finally, the students had worked through their exploration, and I heard the sweet sounds of organization. Maybe it was my “control-freak” tendency or the new school or my yearning for rhythmically satisfying music, but I forgot how students have to work through the possibilities before it becomes music. On this third day, the students were able to organize the ideas they had explored previously. All groups were able to get a rough performance together by the end of the class. Somehow, by just saying, “let it be” and allowing the students to work in a more informal setting, they were able to work through their issues and create a finished product.
Lucy Green, a British music educator, has written two books on informal learning and how occasionally kids succeed if teachers allow students the potential to work through their music on their own, without adult interference. Music, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy discusses the transfer of informal music making ideas into the music classroom, and one of the biggest obstacles for teachers is learning to let students work through their mistakes on their own. During the first stage of Green’s study, several
teachers commented on how difficult it is to not get involved and help students when they seem to be having difficulty. When we train to be music teachers, we learn how to listen so that we can step in when our students need help. However, by letting students work through issues on their own, we enable them to be independent thinkers and learners. Often when the learning and realization come from within, the experience is more meaningful. As teachers if on occasion we can “let it be,” our students’ learning is maximized.
As the groups shared their compositions, their excitement was palpable. In wrapping up the unit, I asked the students, “Who would like to do more composition projects?” After the day’s success, the class resoundingly said, “I will!!!” They had been able to explore their ideas, organize them, and present them in a meaningful manner. These students not only worked through the beginning chaos of composition through informal and unguided music making, but they learned to love the process and the product. And I learned to “let it be.”
References Green, L. (2008). Music, informal learning and the school: A new classroom pedagogy. Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
Robin Giebelhausen has a BME in music education from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and an MM from Northwestern University. Robin previously taught middle school general music and choir in Libertyville, IL. She currently is a PhD student at Michigan State University, where she is a graduate assistant and has taught music education foundations courses. She also serves as the choral director at St. Michael Parish and teaches elementary general music at St. Michael School in Grand Ledge, MI. Robin has presented at the Illinois Music Educators Conference and Michigan Music Conference. n
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