Empowering Student Ownership

Wow, this year has been off to a great start in the classroom. The first day back and we had professional development with Andy Vasily discussing conceptual planning and empowering student choice and ownership. After our session, I knew I could easily adapt things I had learned in my own classroom to improve student ownership by the choices they make in my classroom.  

Giving Room to Explore

I have used stations/centers in my classroom when exploring a new concept to allow student choice in learning in a way that works for them. I love this strategy because, with hundreds of students, every student gets what they need to promote their learning. However, what I was missing was scaffolding to take their learning further within those stations and that is what I learned with Andy. By providing specific songs that range in difficulty that students could choose and learn at their own pace in their own way.

We called it, “Finding Your “Just Right” Challenge”. This is what Andy shared from his own school that worked with his music teacher and I knew immediately, this was something that could provide context and merit to our already established learning stations.

What is your “Just Right” zone?

We started off this new way of learning by discussing what it means to be “Impossible Right Now”, “Challenging”, and “Easy Peasy”. We decided that Challenging was where the best learning happened and where we felt good about ourselves. Students also discussed when a song was too hard or too easy that they need to move down or up to continue in that “Just Right” challenging zone. There was no judgment on where students were because everyone’s needs are different and we need to understand that. This created an air of excitement because now students could ask other students for help in explaining specific concepts of rhythm, beat, or pitch.

Finding your “Just Right” Challenge Zone using songs created by Emily F. found here.

 We started in small groups to get the hang of this new learning strategy. Within a week, we discussed whether we wanted to stay in small groups or move ahead alone. Some students choose to continue working together and others choose to move on by themselves.

There was an immediate buzz in the room of learning and excitement. The question I received the most was, “When can I move to the next one?” I knew I had found something that excited all my students because they could work at their own pace due to finding a place that was challenging but wasn’t impossible.

4-Steps to Success

Wanting to continue empowering my student’s ownership, I created an infographic to help them decide if they were ready to continue to a more challenging song. It had 4 steps that they could assess themselves on whether or not they were ready to move to the next one. This was used for about a week discussing where in the 4-step process students struggled and to start identifying the challenges within the learning journey.

“Just Right Challenge”

  • Say it with Solfege Using Handsigns
  • Sing it with Solfege Using Handsigns
  • Playing it Using Instrument of Your Choice
  • Play it While Singing Using Solfege

After, several weeks of going on our learning journey we took a minute to identify what specifically we as learners found challenging when exploring the new concept of pitch. I had them do this on index cards and then gathered them into a booklet for future reference. We then did a “Think, Pair, Share” routine to help create focus groups and share strategies that might be helpful.

Challenges We Have Faced

In our next lesson, we took the most common challenges and created a mind-map for each class. Students then worked in pairs with someone having the same challenge to create a strategy that they used to help them with that problem. They identified similar challenges in other classes so students could work with other students in different classes to create to share strategies. These mind-maps were also one of my take away moments from Andy’s workshop.

Challenge Posters for each class
Identifying challenges they have faced and paired up with a partner to face that
challenge together and create a strategy to overcome it.

I am looking forward to what the rest of our unit holds in store and can’t wait to see what my students come up with. What strategies do you have to promote choice and ownership in your classroom? How do you differentiate your lessons for your student’s needs? Let me know below!

Find out more about Andy Vasily here and all the great things he does.  

Levi Allison

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