Welcome to the kickoff to Season 2 of The Anacrusic Podcast! On TAP today is an episode all about learning sequences, which has been a recent passion project of mine. Not sure what learning sequences are? You are 100% in the right place, because today I’m unpacking all of that for you.

(Psst! I also wrote this blog post all about learning sequences and why they are so vital to your classroom. Click here to check it out!)

What I love about using learning sequences is that it’s not a method, or a prescription for the exact things you need to do in your class. It’s a framework for how to effectively facilitate instruction for your students so that they can be the most musical they can possibly be. It has nothing to do with a set of activities or required media by which to teach specific concepts, but rather a process that lives and breathes and allows for the flexibility on the part of the teacher to make decisions that will pave the best path for their students. And today I’m going to talk to you a little bit about how I delineate these phases and divide things up into accessible chunks so I can wrap my brain around what I need to teach my kids.

If you’re new around here, please know that I’m not the biiigest fan of labels, but if I had to put myself in a box, it would probably be one with the Kodály-inspired teacher name tag. It’s no secret that Kodály-inspired teachers are drawn to being really intentional about sequencing instruction and effectively leading their students from one place to the next, and growing from the simple to the complex. But I also know that, regardless of labels, if a teacher is a good teacher, and a thoughtful teacher, and a purposeful teacher, she is going to be intentional with what she does and that very likely includes sequencing.

So again, it’s worth saying that I draw from different approaches, but for the purposes of this topic, I think that you will see some parallels to what is a “traditional” Kodály sequence. I use a similar prepare/present/practice model, but I’m using some different terms to be more aligned with the way I approach music teaching and learning with all of my influences. Since it’s my take on a learning sequence or micro sequencing, then it makes sense to use some new vocabulary.

What is a learning sequence?

A learning sequence is a series of steps that allow students to explore, discover, extend, and share any given concept that you are teaching in your elementary music classroom. Regardless of whether I’m teaching a rhythmic element, a melodic element, or something from another category, I still use an intentional plan to scaffold each phase of the learning sequence appropriately.

Phase 1: Gathering Resources

The very first step is actually not anything that you would do with students. Rather, it’s getting yourself primed for the process you are about to take your students through, and that begins with gathering resources. I recommend that you sit down and think about how you want to unveil a concept to your kids. Gather the songs, the Ggmes, the books, the stories, the instrumental activities, any composition or speech pieces, all of the things you might want to do. This is your brainstorming period. It’s the area that you get to be really, really creative and then go on to serve as a facilitator for your kids.

Often music teachers get caught off guard and think, “oh my gosh, I needed to teach this concept.” And then we just throw a song in one day, without the intentional planning. And while in a pinch that can do the job, you’re better off being little bit more intentional about what things you’re bringing to your kids, It’s our job to not just throw in a song here that works or throwing us on there that works, but to really think about how the whole process & sequence is going to look. If you take this time to really gather resources intentionally for each concept, it’s going to save you a lot of headache in the future.

It’s important to note, that this is not just making a list. True, that’s the first part of it, but it’s also thinking through where in the learning sequence this particular activity will fit. In order to do that, you go through this entire learning sequence process on your own and think about what it looks like for your kids before you even step foot into that classroom.

Phase 2: Exploration

This is the first phase that you are actively making music with your students.This is the very beginning stage of getting to know a concept. It’s where you introduce all of the songs and games. It’s where you get students to engage with their eyes and their ears and their bodies. And it’s also the phase where you’re exploring without any overt literacy components. You’re not showing kids notation and you’re not necessarily naming anything. You might have icons on the board, you might have short and long lines for a rhythm, or you might be showing contour on an instrument or their body ladder, but there’s no overt or formal musical notation.

This can be a tricky phase, because it is devoid of rhythm or melodic syllables and formal notation. Sometimes we can get hung up here and think, “well, I’m going to teach this concept, so here’s the notation and off we go!” But really and truly, that’s not giving your students a chance to get to know it, to explore. In the English language, or any other language we speak before we read. So give make sure that you’re giving your kids a chance to practice fluency of speaking, the aural/oral way, within this phase. They still get to actually make music, we’re building their vocabulary, but we don’t figure out the literacy component until the next phase.

Keep in mind, that the exploration phase can include activities with many different inspirations and through a bunch of different mediums. Use your imagination, figure out ways for your kids to experience all of these different concepts through singing, games, speech, movement, instruments, as many different ways as you can think of.  How can you bring in as many different opportunities for your kids to be musical even though they don’t really know the thing that you want them to know yet? Give them lots of time to play and experience and become fluent in using whatever element it is that you’re sequencing.

Phase 3: Discovery

The discovery phase is where you finally pull back the curtain and you connect the exploration, the experience that students have had, to an overt literacy component. This is really essential because the literacy component does not exist in isolation, so you’re drawing on students’ experience when you bring them to this thing that they can see and read and write with. Without all of the previous exploration, the literacy component has no meaning. This is why it’s so essential to take that time to explore, to let them play, to let all of that stuff mull around their brains before you go onto the discovery moment.

The discovery moment is going to be crazy quick. And perhaps that doesn’t sound quite right, but think about it. If your students have explored two sounds on a beat and they’ve walked, played, and hand clapped it, or whatever you want to do during the exploration phase, when it comes time to put it into notation, it’s just going to click. The discovery point is the quickest phase in this entire learning sequence because you’re students have built so much experience and personal repertoire with that element before you show it to them that it’s like a mic drop. Seriously. This is the place where we finally take all those things that we’ve learned and can speak, and now we can read and write.

Phase 4: Extension

After the quick mic drop that is the discovery phase, we move into the extension phase. This is the place where you as the teacher can really start to take a step back. That is to say, I hope throughout this process you’re really thinking about activities that treat the teacher as a facilitator, but the extension phase is where your kiddos can really start to be more free. This is where the magic happens. Our kids can read and write and do all of those things you might consider typical practice activities, but this is the place where we draw on the exploration, the discovery, connect the two, and then give students the opportunity to do music in a way that is really true to themselves as musicians.

Yes, the extension phase include some of that reading and writing and dictation and making sure you can kind of check a box for those literacy components. But that’s not where it ends. That’s really just the beginning of giving your students the opportunity to show what they can do, and I encourage you to give your students that chance. Sometimes we find ourselves checking the reading and writing box, or saying, ok they can move these puzzle pieces around and that’s like composition… but that’s not really opening up the space for students to show you everything they can do. Think about the extension phase as a workshop. Think about it as a chance for kids to play even more, but this time they have musical facts or objectives or literacy skills where they can start to put things together more comprehensively.

Phase 5: Show & Tell

Show and tell is the culmination of the learning process. It’s where you give students the opportunity to share and explain and highlight their learning through performance, whether on a smaller scale within the classroom or a larger scale, like a huge performance or project based learning project. It’s essential to the process because we’re music teachers. Music is meant to be shared.

Rethink and reframe how you define “performance.” It can be in the music classroom during regular music time, for another class, or it can be going to a community center. You could even video or audio record and post to a class blog or I But there needs to be some sort of sharing component where students can show everything that they’ve created based on what they’ve explored, discovered, and played with within the extension phase, which is really like informed exploration. If you can give your students the opportunity to show and tell, you can improve their self efficacy and enable them to be more confident going forward with other concepts and learning sequences.

Phase 6: Assessment & Reflection

This phase is tied in very closely with the previous, because we gain information from show & tell for assessment and reflection. Through a show until you can facilitate students either individually in small groups or as a class doing some reflection and doing some self assessment—which is not necessarily of the final product. Instead of just assessing what happened in that five minutes, ask students what they thought or how they felt or what they’ve learned throughout the overall process.

Now this will likely include some data collection. Within this phase you can do things that are quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative is more like a numerical score, where qualitative has to do with what you observed and the conclusions that can be drawn from those observations.. Both are really valuable. For instance, a quantitative, checklist style assessment can be really effective. If this kid or that kid can’t sing this rhythm that you’ve been practicing to kingdom come, then that’s something you need to take note of so that you can improve your instruction later on. But the money is in the qualitative, when you talk to students, when you make observations, when together you can look at the show and tell and the process and have a reflective conversation and draw some conclusions based on experience.

Collecting data for the sake of collecting data and to prove that we checked the box… isn’t really checking the box. I think of assessment and data collection as a way to inform and adapt and revise my teaching practice. And if your students are thinking about a learning sequence as a whole, they’re going to be able to give some feedback and help you figure out where you need to refine next time. Gathering information about and from students is the only way we can assess ourselves as teachers and make some positive changes for everybody in the learning environment as a whole.

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