Besides all of the excitement of the end of the year (6 more days, 6 more days!!!), there is a certain joy and freedom that comes only at this time of year. No pressure. No more testing. Just good, old fashioned fun.
Of course, I aim to have fun most days at my job. Students are there to learn, but true learning can’t occur if the child isn’t excited and engaged, aka: having fun. But try as we might, most of us get caught up in the school year with grading, testing, paperwork, fire drills, curriculum mandates and data daze. So the last few days of school really do take on a kind of mystical quality of freedom.
This is also the best time of year to take risks. If the lesson doesn’t go as you planned, so what? You can make adjustments and go with it. You can improvise. In fact, some of my best student work usually comes from these last days when the kids think they’re just “winging it”. It’s during these last few days that I have my students work on their composition skills.
We play on the instruments just for fun and see what we can come up with. Usually, I start them off with a beat and then the other students start to chime in, one by one, on various instruments from throughout the room. We record it and then play it back to see if we liked it or not. If we did, we keep it and record another one to link it to. If we didn’t like it, we talk about what didn’t work and why and then we scrap it and try again. In the end, we have a whole big file of “jazzed jam sessions” that I then post on our school website for our students to download at home and share with their families. There’s nothing formal about it – sometimes we add lyrics if the mood strikes us and other times, it’s just the music. I don’t need to remind anyone about dynamics or meter, rhythmic cadences or texture. It’s all about the improv – all about the jazz.
We can do this in all classrooms – not just music. We need to provide students with a time to be creative and improvise within a structure so that they can understand that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay for something not to work. As long as we learn why it didn’t work and do something different to get a different result.
Some ideas? Students can work on slam poetry this way – choose a topic, provide some guidelines (no obscene langauge, etc) and then let students run wild with it. Each student gets to add a line and has 10 seconds from the time the person before them ended. Or go even further and have one student start and whoever has the next line in their head calls it out whenever it strikes them. Create improvised number sequences using the same method. The possibilities for improvising are endless. Just allow yourself the fun and flexibility to open that door – the freedom of summer will come shining through.
Susan Riley is the founder and President of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and Arts and the Common Core.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.