Artwork – Music Castle by Colin Thompson
In looking at current thinking in education, we often focus on only new ideas. But great learning designs are not always the newest ones. When we talk about 21st Century Learning we are talking about changing our focus from teaching and assessment that is focused on individual learning and recall of knowledge, to a focus on collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving. Knowledge and skill are needed as a base, but they are not the end goal of the learning process.
With this shift in mind, it is helpful to look at existing teaching methods that focus on collaboration and performance (and group performance) – coaching and conducting. In many endeavours in life and careers, successful group performance is the goal. In band, for example, the student must put in the individual time and effort to develop skill with the instrument, but what lifts the individual performance to a high level is the group performance. This requirement to bring one’s individual skill to a group project, such that everyone must contribute, is a powerful learning design. .
This learning design can be pushed further with the addition of student choice and creativity. Last year at one of our band concerts a small group of students from jazz band performed an original arrangement that was the result of hours and days of hard, creative collaborative work with each other and their teacher mentors. The results were professional and powerful. The learning those students experienced was very different from the usual classroom experience, and probably much more influential in their development. They will carry that learning with them when they leave high school.
This year the band and the choir performed their Christmas concert, both breaking new ground and having a lot of seasonal fun. The pieces they performed, including the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah (1741), and Karl Orff’s Carmina Burana (1936) are forms of music that require a collaborative process. These works have been around for a long time, but they still influence our listening and thinking. As we are heading into the holiday season, take a little time to listen to the performances of the band and choir, reflect on the learning that must take place in order for that performance to happen, and consider the contrast with individual oriented learning designs.
Better still, just enjoy the music.