As the music teacher, it is my job to direct a fifth grade spring musical. I choose the musical and create the cast list but over the years I have learned how to involve my students more and more in the creative process. I truly believe that students should share some ownership in the musical. The fifth grade spring musical for some students is their last musical performance! Once they enter junior high, they don’t have to join an ensemble or participate in a required music performance. It’s my last chance to help my students see themselves as creative, musical beings.
A few years ago, I started letting go some of the control by simply asking students what our ending pose should be for the end a song or what a prop should look like. Another year, I started a Padlet as an idea board in Google Classroom. If students had an idea they could post to the board.
In rehearsals, I started to ask more questions. “My choreography isn’t working here. Does anyone else have an idea?” or “ I don’t know how we should create the race scene between the locomotive and horse. Does anyone have any thoughts on how we could do this?” My students never disappointed. They had great ideas. In fact, many rehearsals became collaborative and together we choreographed a dance routine or blocked a scene together.
And then my students started asking questions like:
“Can I choreograph a dance routine?”
“What if we added special lighting to this scene?”
“Could we have sound effects for this scene?”
“Mrs. Finch, I know the perfect piece of music for this scene. Can we try this?”
I did my best to say yes when they asked to do something I could be on board with. I didn’t always know the answer to their questions but together we took a risk and problem solved until we had a good solution.
There is so much power in asking a question. It’s just a question. You don’t always know where it will take you. Sometimes nothing happens. Sometimes due to money, time, workload, etc, the question or idea stays a dream or wish. But sometimes the question turns into something much bigger.
Here are some opportunities that happened in my classroom by simply giving students the chance to ask questions:
Students created a Google Slide for each scene and collectively added ideas to the slides.
Students wanted their principal to have a small role at the beginning of the show. As a group, we decided how to involve the principal and then asked a few students to to write the short scene.
A student brought in original artwork from home to use on the program cover. I didn’t ask him to. He just thought of it, knew his voice was valued and did it.
Students asked if they could choreograph a dance routine. Together we met, gave them some guidelines to follow and then let them create. Once we reviewed their routine and worked through any issues, the student’s led rehearsal and taught their peers the dance.
We created a backstage crew for the musical. Students that were interested tuned Ukuleles, organized props, moved set pieces on stage, ran the spotlight, lightboard, and soundboard.
Please don’t read this post and think I just let students take charge of everything. They are 11 years old. For many, this is their first experience with a musical. So, I take time getting to know my students and sometimes I say no to an idea or tell them we need to do other tasks first before we are ready to add other ideas. Sometimes I have to lead them through scenes and songs and other times I can step to the side and let students lead. In the end, I am in charge of setting up a safe environment for all my students to thrive in.
When I watch the kids take the stage and backstage with enthusiasm and pride, I know I have done a job well done. I am able to let go and my students shine on and off stage. They don’t need me. They are confident and independent. My students are invested in something larger than themselves. They work as a team and lift each other up by cheering each other on. The power of asking questions and problem solving answers is a valuable quality for our students to possess. Give them the opportunity to ask questions while in your classroom. They won't disappoint.