In Monday's YouTube Live episode, John Spencer spoke about how teachers can find ways to offer student choice. John said, "It's a mindset issue, not a policy issue." His words struck me. I am starting to understand and witness first hand that it really is a mindset issue and not a policy issue. We make so many rules for ourselves as teachers and we've done things for so long the same way that we don't always see how to reinvent inside the box. I'm learning over and over that innovation starts with me. Too often, we focus on what we can't change. When I make an effort to shift my thinking, I begin to see where I can make a difference.
Angela Watson, also a guest on the YouTube live episode, spoke about opportunity cost and innovation with intention. As teachers, we have too much on our plates. When we spend time perfecting a slide show presentation, we are missing an opportunity to do something else. We only have so many minutes in the day and it's so important to make those moments count with the things we value the most for our students. Angela also mentioned teachers should innovate with intention. It's not helpful to jump into a new idea or tool without knowing the why behind it. Too often we try something new that fails and instead of spending the time to understand why, we throw it out and look for the next new something. If we take the time to understand the why and we see value in the innovation, it will stick and stay with us.
The prompt this week calls for educators to reflect on what we do in the classroom to honor the statement, "Student choice is at the heart of ownership and empowerment.
Here's how I have started to shift my mindset and how I am working to innovate with intention while considering the opportunity cost so I'm making the most of my minutes with my students in the music classroom.
Ask the Question
For starters, I simply asked myself the question, "How can I offer more choice and voice in the music classroom?" I grappled with this question for some time. When at school, I started to notice lessons that went really well. I would stop a few minutes early and asked kids about the lesson. I got great feedback by listening, taking notes and reflecting on what the kids said. Over and over it was "You gave us a choice... We created... We decided..." I started to connect the dots.
When I began to lesson plan, I asked, "Is there a way to add more voice and choice to this lesson?" Sometimes it was something really little. Maybe it's a choice in what classroom instruments we should add to a sound story or a choice of activities to prepare for a spring program.
Now it's shifting even more. Angela Watson also spoke about the difference in planning lessons for your students and planning lessons with your students. I see now that most of the time I plan for my students. With this said, I do have to give myself credit and recognize how I have started to plan lessons with my students.
Instead of dictating what students will sing and perform in a school performance, I asked the students what they wanted to perform. Once we brainstormed ideas, the class decided that the next step would be to vote on their favorite activities. From there, we practiced our activities and my students continually offered next steps after each lesson. This is a great reminder for me of how to plan with my students and not for my students. It can be done. I did it!
Let it Go
I've noticed I really like to control things. I control things because I've always controlled things. This year I am trying to let go more of that control. I let go of assigned seats this year. I added a few more flexible seating options to the music room. I'm allowing kids to take home their recorders if they wish. (Don't worry. I'm NOT assigning homework.) Now when I get a question from students that challenge something I am controlling I think twice. I have to let more things go.
Jump a Little
And then there are times you have to jump a little. This year I started a genius hour with another teacher. Doing this with another teacher made the experience fun and not so scary. We read books together, went to workshops together and met every Saturday for months planning and trying to stay ahead of the kiddos. Our risk and failings have helped us to see the benefits to choice and voice in a classroom.
I pushed myself and joined last season's IMMOOC. Blogging, Twitter chats and Flipgrid videos all pushed my thinking and pushed me way out of my comfort zone. If I want my kids to take risks and innovate, I must too.
I've learned that I don't have to do everything overnight but I do need to tackle my mindset issue and innovate with intention. As I honor student choice more and more, I will continue to build an environment of ownership and empowerment.