I wrote in my blog, "Re-imagining School Music", about the advice my mentoring teacher gave me about not needing to "reinvent the wheel" in order to be an effective teacher. Every single gem I present to students in my classroom need not be my own original, inspired idea... especially when there is such a rich tradition to draw from. Or, in this case, new innovations that are being developed in music education when thinking about our 21st Century students, the evolution of technology, and the relevance of our subject area in schools and in their lives.

With that in mind, I am going to adapt some ideas from the fantastic curriculum from England known as "Musical Futures" . Although the original ideas were designed to take place over several years of middle school-aged general music settings, I am going to adapt kernels of their practice for my high school guitar class.

Real World Guitar

A project for high schoolers

In the beginning, students will be asked why they signed up for this elective music class and what they hope to have learned by the end of the year. Although classical nylon-string guitars are provided for each student, they will be encouraged to bring in or practice at home on their own guitars if they wish, particularly electric and steel-sting acoustic guitars. Bass guitars will also be welcomed.

First sessions of this class will adapt ideas from "Music Futures" about jamming together in a whole group setting, based on riffs and pitch sets, echoing rhythms and starting with guided improvisation as a prerequisite for the project outlined here. (If there is interest, I would encourage students to try out the keyboards and drum set as well). Another prerequisite experience will be setting up a technology playground for students to explore and demonstrate the use of different kinds of technology, equipment, and software that will be used as tools in learning and exhibiting their journey. Students and teachers in the building can give demonstrations, or students may be allowed to play around at each site in the playground to discover what they can themselves (encouraging flexibility as a lasting 21st century trait).

This project will focus on students working in friendship groups to learn how to play an existing song. Whether or not they choose the song outright, or are encouraged to research finding new music based on music they like through the use of Pandora and other sites, is yet to be determined. Perhaps this project is worth doing more than once, with some variation in the parameters, so students can better reflect on what kinds of learners they are, what challenges them, and what they like to learn. Regardless of how the song is chosen, students will approach learning how to play the song in a variety of ways, using stations located in adjoining classroom spaces.

The stations will represent different entry points for learning. One will be a computer center, where students can research guitar tablature, notation, chord charts, or even youtube videos of other students figuring out the same song and demonstrating their learning. Another will be a listening station where students can either listen to their song on CD, or using a mobile device hooked up to speakers, to learn by listening and through trial and error and collaboration (much like the "real world" experience of jamming with friends). Yet another station will be technology-free where students will be encouraged to work from memory, or from printed sources found on the internet, or even creating their own notation systems as a way to remember and revisit what they have already learned. And located in a separate room will be an informal recording studio, where the group will periodically record what they are learning. Perhaps the recording formats will change, or be left to the students to choose (whether audio or video, or maybe this can change with different projects so they learn how to use both).

Whole group time will also be rotated in between days we spend at stations. A day at the computer lab will allow student blogging, so they are able to reflect over time the work they have been doing, to encourage metacognition, and perhaps, collaboration with others through comments or suggestions. I'm still fuzzy on the details of whether I'd like this element to be individual or group-based, but this will take place in the computer lab with the whole class periodically throughout the project (which I anticipate taking up one of our 6 marking periods throughout the year). Students will be expected to embed video files, audio files, and pictures of their own playing or of the resources they've discovered while engaged in this project. The other whole group days will be spent in jam sessions, showing each other what we've learned, talking about frustrations and celebrations, and hashing out ideas to help other groups problem-solve based on experiences others have learned along the way.