Laura Johnson is a band director at a Title I middle school in Chesapeake, Virginia. Before moving to Virginia, she taught middle school band in central Minnesota. Laura is passionate about having students select repertoire in her ensembles. She was inspired by her own high school band experience, where she and her classmates were given the opportunity to do this. Laura feels that many times directors choose music they think the students will like. However, instead of making this assumption, she believes it’s more powerful to let the students have some choice. As a result, Laura has identified a six-step process for using student-selected repertoire in her ensembles.
- Discussion: First Laura talks to her students about good programming. They discuss what they like in the music, and what makes a good piece of music. They also think about their ability level, and talk about what instrument specific skills they need to be aware of when choosing music. She wants to make sure students know what they are looking for when that part of the process begins. They take a few minutes each class period to hold these discussions.
- Creating a criteria list: Next the group makes a criteria list together, to determine what they are looking for. This could include repetition, featured instruments, grade level, etc.
- Research: Laura provides suggestions on where to look for music and then gives students time to search for repertoire. They can choose to work independently or with a small group. Using the criteria from step 2, each individual or group finds one piece of music they would be interested in playing. Laura suggests directors check in with students to ensure their selected piece will work for the ensemble.
- Presentations: Students present their selected piece to the class. Some simply talk about it, while others go further and create Google Slides presentations or short movie trailers. It is up to the learner how they would prefer to share their findings.
- Voting: The students vote for their favorite piece. The students vote by ballot or Google Forms, to keep the responses anonymous.
- Performance: The students perform the piece during a concert! Students also introduce the piece, talk about why they like it and what their families should listen for.
The biggest benefit Laura has found is the increased level of student engagement and how the students appreciate having their voices heard. This heightens their motivation when learning the piece. Laura has also found this process has strengthened relationships within the band and has helped her get to know her students even better than before. In addition, Laura has enjoyed discovering new repertoire that the students found! Often she will keep a list of their suggestions that don’t get picked and use that when programming future concerts.
One challenge is how invested the students become in their selected piece. After the voting occurs, they choose only one piece, which sometimes leaves students with their feelings hurt. Laura uses it as a teachable moment and ensures the students know their feelings are valid. They celebrate having an emotional connection to a piece of music.
“It gives students that voice in what they’re learning…that usually heightens their motivation and their engagement.”
When asked what advice Laura would give a music teacher looking to implement student-selected repertoire, she said “prepare!” Laura uses a good portion of the year to prepare students for this process. She also recommends being aware of any purchasing limitations set by your school, to make sure students are only looking for music from vendors you can purchase from. When grading and assessing students, Laura recommends giving students a rubric prior to starting the project so students know what the expectations are.
Check out the full interview to hear more about Laura’s process for having students select repertoire in ensembles: Student-Selected Repertoire
If you would like to connect with Laura, you can find her through the Women Banding Together group on Facebook.