Could two questions really shift the experience of your ensemble and boost their learning dramatically? You betcha.
I've spent a LOT of time running, planning, reflecting on and crying about online rehearsals over the past 18 months. Heck, I even came up with 110 Innovative Activities for Online/Hybrid Rehearsals. But it wasn't until I incorporated something I stole from my wife's online university teaching that I really started to get a good handle on what my ensemble was learning (and what they weren't) and felt like they were getting value from our sessions.
It's a simple strategy I'd used in classroom and instrumental teaching consistently, but not in ensemble rehearsals: The Exit Ticket. An exit ticket is a task students have to complete before leaving a class or lesson, and usually involves reflecting on what they've learned.
Seems simple enough, right? Just ask some questions. Wrong. The quality of the questions is essential if we want to get quality answers. I've tried, tweaked and tested many variations to get to these two particular questions.
Take five minutes to incorporate these two questions at the end of your online or in person rehearsals and I guarantee you'll not only get valuable information, you'll also encourage your ensemble to better understand and embed what they have learned.
Initially my wife and I both asked the question 'What did you learn?' This worked okay for her university level students.
I found that asking my secondary school students this question didn't work so well.
They regurgitated what they thought I wanted to hear: "I learned about the history of Pictures at an Exhibition".
Or they gave me smart alec comments: "I learned online band is really boring" or "I learned my teacher's internet connection is terrible".
"What was your 'aha' moment?" gets a completely different response. You get a much clearer picture of what was actually meaningful and sticky in what you've done in your rehearsal. The results are often surprising.
Here are some answers from my 8th-9th graders during a recent online rehearsal:
In terms of metacognition (thinking about thinking) this question prompts students to reflect on what they have learned. This reflection allows them to revisit and consolidate the learning - meaning they are more likely to remember it next time they come to play their instrument, see the music or come to rehearsal.
This is the kicker. It's all well and good to say 'I learned this' but if you're not going to incorporate it, or change what you do as a result, then it's useless. You may as well not have learned it in the first place. (This is especially true if you don't revisit it again until, say, a week later at the next rehearsal. It will be forgotten.)
This question points the musicians' minds into the future, to imagine and articulate publicly, how they will incorporate their learning. Tying the learning to a stated action means they are more likely to actually do something with what they've learned.
If we don't ask them this question, they won't necessarily think to apply the learning for themselves. Its value will likely be diminished or lost. It's suddenly a crapshoot as to whether they'll actually incorporate what they've learned. This question puts them on the hook - with themselves, each other, and you.
I doubt my students would have articulated the actions above if they hadn't directly been asked the question. As you can see, some didn't quite take on the 'how will you use' idea. Next time I can either tweak the question, or give them a sentence starter like: "I will use what I learned today by...."
Verbally ask the question, but make sure to also write it in the chat before the musicians start answering (like in the examples above). This way you have an organised digital record you can easily refer to later. (Great for Professional Development, Performance Reviews and evidencing student learning).
It's harder if you don't know where the answers to one question end and the next lot begin.
Alternatively you can set up a simple 2-question Google Form or Microsoft Form to do at the end of every rehearsal. This will keep all your data in one place, will automatically time-stamp all contributions and link them to student accounts (if they're logged into, say, Microsoft Teams). You only need to make it once, just make sure to allow multiple submissions, and not 'Edit after submit' (so they don't accidentally erase past answers).
You can make up pre-printed notebooks for students to have in their folders, or hand out exit tickets that you collect as students leave the room. (Pre-printed notebooks seem like a better idea to me, as students will be able to look back on their past learning and have ongoing access to what they wrote. This is much harder with exit tickets.)
The value of students writing it down is that everyone has a voice and can contribute, including those who don't usually speak up in class. It also saves time - it would be hard to hear all 50+ students in my ensemble answer these questions - it would take half the rehearsal! Writing also allows students to work at their own pace. Just give them enough time to do so.
If you're feeling tech-y and your musicians have devices using rehearsals set up a simple 2-question Google Form or Microsoft Form, as for online rehearsals.
Once you do these regularly students will get in the habit of reflecting on their learning. Keep pushing through, even if you get some resistance and eye rolls, the long term benefit is worth it!
What was your 'aha' moment reading this article? How will you use what you've learned?
You know what to do next! ;)
A simple approach to instantly approach every piece with more musicianship, storytelling and emotion - for us, and our ensembles!
Being told to play louder or softer is okay. Being told why is better.
The path to musical nirvana starts with a single question. And the path to musical hell starts with telling the ensemble what to do.