Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Feedback and guiding my students to be conversational with their learning

This year I have spent time reflecting on the fact that while my students tend to be phenomenal performers, the moment they are asked to verbalize what they are doing......crickets.....

Challenge Accepted!  

My students need to be advocates of their learning and their hard work.  I have enhanced what I am already doing in the classroom to ensure that they can have an intelligent conversation about their projects and performances without taking time away from the joy of creativity and music making.  

I have found that dedicating a minute here and a minute there to encourage my students to verbalize what they are doing is paying off.  The key has been the consistent use of simple sentence stems that can be transferred easily from movement, vocal, rhythmic and melodic reading, and instrumental activities.

Here is one tool that has been a gem in my classroom!  

Beginning polyrhythmic reading activity: Blue/Left Pat, Red/Right Pat.  Students perform rhythm from board (See visual above).  One student is chosen before (or after to keep them on their toes) to be the "funky feedbacker."  Another student is chosen to be the "feedback checker" (I don't have a catchy title for this job yet....)

The funky feedbacker's job is to simply stick to the sentence stems (from the visual), be very specific (use evidence to support their observation), and be concise (straight and to the point with a challenge of avoiding the use of "likes" "ums" and "you knows").

The feedback checker could easily answer their checklist of the funky feedbacker's job with yes or no answers.  This does not show active listening skills and proves nothing!  We take it a step further by encouraging them to be conversational and prove their own feedback of the person giving feedback!  They should:
  • Use complete sentences and site from the "text" (Hannah used specific details when she said.....)
    • The key phrase that shows active listening skills is the phrase when she/he said.  I have noticed a HUGE difference in engaging conversations within my classroom.  The students are doing this in their homeroom classrooms by using paper clips, post it notes, and highlighters when reading texts while supporting their answers with evidence, so why not transfer it to my room too?!
  • The fourth and final question is whether or not the feedbacker was able to complete the task on their own without assistance.  We take this one further by adding a challenge or action plan from one student to another.
    • Hannah was able to complete this on her own and I want to challenge her to use even more detail in her next turn.  
    • The challenge is revolving around their feedback and not their performance.  While introducing this new system in my classes, I noticed that some students default to giving performance challenges/feedback, but they are reminded to give a challenge for the student's actual feedback.  Do they want to hear more details, hear specific note names, specific measures, etc?  
      • I remind students that the challenge/action plan is coming from a place of "we are excited about what you said and want even more!"  I refer to scenarios of dessert...when it's good, you want more!  This steers the students in a direction of respect and positive communication skills, rather than feeling like they are being criticized for not doing enough.  It's all in the delivery.
Remind students that observations and feedback from an individual can be transferred to anyone and can help us all grow to become more successful musicians.  

We have gone through several changes in my building and district revolving around feedback and observations.  I have worked very hard over the years to create a climate of respect and safety in my room.  It has taken time, trust, and modeling to create a culture where students are comfortable receiving and giving feedback, critiques, and stating and receiving opinions without the default reaction of anger, sadness, and the general feeling of "I'm being picked on" or "I'm not good enough so I don't care anymore."  I have learned a lot from watching teachers receiving feedback and have want to grow from mistakes made in my work environment and the uncomfortable situations that can be created if the climate is not laid out correctly.