STUDENT TEACHING PORTFOLIO
IMPROVISATION THROUGH CIRCLE SINGING
This creative musicianship project was created in order for my students to explore improvisation through the context of circle singing. In these three lessons, my students began to understand the concept of circle singing by identifying the elements of a circle song in previous arrangements that they have already performed and turning the context they were familiar with ito an improvisational playground for creativity. This first step into improvisation serves as a stepping stone into arranging through improv, though I'm not able to delve that deep into the concept for this project, the students learned a great deal about creative musicianship through these three lessons.
The portfolio class for this project is the Madrigal Choir at my student teaching internship at Grand Ledge High School. This class is made up of 41 auditioned students in 10th-12th grade. The choir is an SATB choir that mostly performs unaccompanied music, challenging pieces like J'entends le moulin arranged by Donald Patriquin, Loch Lomond arranged by Jonathan Quick, or Witness by Jack Halloran. This ensemble has previously performed at the Michigan Music Conference in 2020 and the excellence of the singers in the ensemble is proven by their incredible musical ears and heart for singing. Due to the unfortunate circumstances of COVID-19, this choir was only able to meet for four days a week split into two groups for the first half of the trimester. Sopranos and altos meeting Mondays and Wednesdays and tenors and basses meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays for 60 minutes each. The students began a hybrid schedule for the last month of the trimester, allowing for the choir to meet four days a week in person for 70 minutes a day.
I had introduced the concept of circle singing to the students by having them sing one that I had improvised in front of them before starting this project. I wanted the students to experience what a circle song is like a few times before actually having them create their own in small groups. The goal of these lessons was to facilitate the creativity of my individual students through a medium they haven't created in before. Each student would understand the elements that build a circle song, unfold their own process of creating one with the help of a checklist, and teach their songs to each other to perform as a group. Working to keep students engaged in this process took more adaptation throughout the planning process, as it became difficult for me to conceptualize how the online students would collaborate with their in person colleagues, but after revisiting the plan for lesson two after teaching lesson one, I rewrote my lesson plan thinking mainly about the online students and their participation in the project to keep them engaged.
REFLECTION ON TEACHING AND LEARNING
Addressing the three different artistic processes within these lessons was fairly easy for me. I wanted the students to experience the performing aspect of singing a circle song and to assess what circle singing is through the first lesson, identifying the elements. I created a different facet of learning for all the students to experience to try to accommodate all of the different types of learners. The creating process was addressed in lesson two, where students would work together to create their own unique versions of each element of a circle song. Though I would only really give the students four different parts when teaching them a circle song (one for each section), I challenged the students to create a fifth element by putting them in groups of five (and one group of six). The students learned about the performing aspect in two different ways. Performing circle songs that I taught them in lesson one and three, and teaching their own circle songs and performing them as a full ensemble in lesson three.
I used many of the skills that I have gained over the years through my own musicianship. In the first lesson, I was able to use arrangements that I wrote for these students as a way to get their foot into the door of understanding the terminology I used throughout the three lessons. This also helped them understand what each element sounds and looks like for future reference in the latter part of this first lesson and moving forward for lesson two and three. Examples of this can be seen in the video for lesson one. Throughout the two days for lesson two, when the students were creating their own circle songs, I used prior knowledge and skill sets that I’ve gained from composing, improvising, and arranging to help students discuss their ideas and develop their ideas further to help them create a tonal landscape to explore. The students were very willing to step outside of their comfort zone and try something different and create something new. This is not an easy thing for anyone to do and these students worked hard to create something they were proud of.
The classroom was split into two small groups for the first lesson so I was able to use the technology in the choir room. I mainly used the Apple TV to stream scores and youtube videos for all of the students to view. To accommodate my online students in this lesson, all of the information, forms, and links were available on the Google Classroom page. You can see the use of technology in the video for lesson one. I also had access to a piano in my classroom, but I try to teach mainly without a piano. Most of my use for a piano is to either give starting pitches, or have the students hear something together without having to sing the parts together. For lessons two and three, my class took place in the auditorium, which allowed me to give the students their own spaces to work in and bounce ideas back and forth without singing over another group. This also allowed me to walk around the space and talk with each group about their processes and give them advice on how to move forward or help groups that were struggling with any part of the process.
Originally I thought these lessons would work great in a hybrid format, but I found myself editing my lesson plans before teaching the next lesson to try to accommodate my students in every which way. Even though this format of teaching isn’t “normal,” it is our current normal and I think it is important that we create and adapt our lessons to include those students who are also online. These lessons really taught me about what it is like to lesson plan for a whole unit and visually showed me how ever-changing teaching can be. For the most part, proven by my students' reflections in lesson three, the information that I wanted them to learn was learned, but I know I can always find better ways to teach information to my students. These lessons show promise for future teaching and I would like to expand more into arranging through improvisation with students if I had more time.