In my previous Wiley Exchanges article kicking off this series, I revealed the story of how I found my signature classroom sound. Ms. Connie Wells, AP Physics workshop facilitator, was the inspiration that motivated me to make a fundamental change in my teaching over three years ago. In this piece, I provide you with the first three of six simple steps to rock your classroom and create your signature classroom sound. Stage manager…cue the lights!
Playing in a rock and roll band and teaching in a classroom have more in common than one would think. Putting in late nights, planning for the next performance, and improvising are all just part of the story. I had the pleasure of watching a Dave Grohl interview a few weeks ago. Dave Grohl, frontman of the rock band the Foo Fighters, has successfully navigated the music business for over 25 years. Through trials and tribulations, he has always continued to develop and tweak the signature sound of his bands.
As the music industry has evolved, the Foo Fighters have continued to progress and tweak their iconic sound as a collective unit. Understanding that each contributing member of the band has an individual backstory, individual influences, and individual strengths, it’s no minor feat for these artists to collectively create something that is both organic and authentic.
As is the case for educators, part of a band’s success can be traced back to finding common ground among a vast collection of creative ideas and concepts. In academia, the curriculum for many courses is miles deep and many more miles wide. With so many contrasting concepts embedded in the curriculum, it is challenging for a teacher to find a shared thread that connects all the moving parts.
So how does an educator find cohesion given all these challenges? Here are the first three tips to help you craft your signature sound in the classroom.
- Something From Nothing - Identify the most important take away from your class. Pick an element that has the most practical real-world application. Avoid content-focused elements. Think big-picture; identify the skill set, communication technique, or problem-solving procedure that your students will use routinely ten, twenty, or thirty years from now. Great examples are communication skills (verbal or written), problem-solving strategies, negotiation approaches, etc.
Often, in interviews, artists in a band are asked to discuss that special thing what makes the group unique. This is an informal dialog among band mates. How does a prospective fan get drawn into the musical works of an unknown group? Introspective songwriting? Heavy bass riff? Hypnotizing percussion?
Identify the theme behind your signature sound. The theme behind my signature sound is reading and writing in the classroom.
- Resolve - Fit the curriculum-course objectives into that signature-sound theme from step one. Determine how you can use specific objectives to reinforce your chosen signature sound. Identify a product that students will create as the signature sound for your course. For example, if you determined written communication skills in step one, now decide how those written communication skills can become entwined into the written communication objectives of the course. Specify something that is done often in your course. Select something that when done often, will improve over time. Choose something that is integral to student understanding. Don’t shy away from considering a new way to implement the skill throughout the year.
Once you identify how to connect the course objectives to your signature sound theme, it becomes easier to structure and connect the content around it. We aren’t replacing what you already do well. We aren’t creating an activity that is entirely new. We are simply connecting the isolated pieces together that you have mastered. We are using an overarching theme to fortify the structure of your course.
At this stage, the band as a whole is determining how to parlay that “special something,” into a reoccurring musical tactic. This device isn’t one that cheapens the product, but one that keeps fans waiting for the next single to drop. This device is something that when done over a period of time, will continue to improve that signature sound.
Connect your signature sound theme to tasks that are specific to your class. The process of creating formal written laboratory reports is my signature sound. The process is connected to my signature sound theme of reading and writing in physics class.
- A Matter of Time - Determine how you can make your signature sound the number one priority in your course by selecting an appropriate time for integration. Schedule how this addition will take place over the course of a chapter. Since your signature sound is a fundamental theme, structure your course to emphasize it. The pace and schedule of your course is directly tied to it.
A signature classroom sound should be practiced and refined. It should be something that is seen as a point of emphasis once a chapter or every few weeks and something that is crafted through a process. This is fundamentally different that overdoing it- planning the same, brief, weekly activity throughout the year. Smart places to time this integration of the signature sound are at the start of a new chapter, either right before a lecture, or right after the initial introduction.
Since this takeaway is a high priority, it would make sense to have this item placed instructionally at the start of a chapter or somewhere in the first third of the act. Select a time frame that reinforces the importance of your signature sound. Provide ample room for the ideas to develop, the skills to be strengthened, and the process to evolve.
Don’t let your signature sound seem like an afterthought. Allow a reasonable window of time for your signature sound to be an iterative process for your students. We are thinking in terms of days, not minutes. It should be a collaborative effort, ripe with real-time feedback that helps students grow and sharpen their skills at this task.
At this stage the band has mindfully scheduled practice sessions to record demo songs. The band will use the sessions in order to get creative ideas for a new album. Envision band mates jamming and experimenting with sounds and patterns while creativity is fresh. Envision a musical producer providing support to help (not directly guide) the flow of innovative output. The producer is learning more about the band, than the band is learning about him. Think process-focused more and product-focused less for this step.
Schedule your signature sound into an appropriate time and place relative to your class. I integrate my signature sound- the process of creating formal written laboratory reports- at the start of each new chapter in physics class. Even though data collection may take a scant twenty minutes total for a given lab, I schedule adequate time (both inside and outside class) for the creative process of constructing the report. My role as a teacher at this point is to provide general guidance as my students work on the task related to my signature sound. I’m collecting lots of anecdotal feedback from the students on their understanding of the content that I can use later in the chapter to support instruction.
What’s your signature classroom sound? Post a comment in the space below and share your vision with me.
This post is part two of a three part series designed to help you find your signature classroom sound. In the final installment I will provide the last three steps designed to help you find your signature classroom sound.
Doug Petrick holds an Architectural Engineering degree from Pennsylvania State University and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from California University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a high school Physics teacher at Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh. Doug will be regularly contributing to a series for educators on Wiley Exchanges offering practical advice and instructional strategies.
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