Why the unit should come before the lesson (not a ‘chicken’ or the ‘egg’ approach)

Greetings DP Music teachers!
Today I would like to present a teaching idea as well as a brief reflection on the importance of unit planning prior to lesson planning. I will be exploring how two essential questions (that I created) ‘forced’ me to shift the instructional approach and content I used in a specific lesson. Like my post from 8 September, this discussion could serve as a doorway (or continuation) into the Listening Paper, Musical Links Investigation, and an Extended Essay in Music. I hope that this post will assist you in your thinking concerning unit planning in DP Music.

Interested? Please read on!

In my current position/role, I am not in the classroom on a consistent basis. However, I was fortunate to teach a DP Music lesson last week and I would like to share my reflections with you. My school/centre is currently piloting the ‘approaches to teaching in the DP’. This is a very exciting project that, when completed, will assist DP schools/centres in their discussions concerning teaching and learning. One desired outcome of the pilot is that IB will provide concrete examples of instructional best practices across multiple disciplines. Using a DP unit planner is one aspect of the pilot and I used this planner when designing the lesson that I taught last week.

The planner had a section entitled ‘essential understandings’. After much thought and research into essential understandings, I developed two understandings for my unit (that I shared with students at the beginning of the lesson):
1. How to analyse, compare, and contrast two pieces of music &
2. How to examine and understand similarities and differences between musical cultures.

(If you want to learn more, I have added a video below. The title of the video is ‘Enduring Understandings’. Enduring and Essential are synonyms.)
Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPpFRVogJIg on 29 September 2013

As the day of the lesson approached, I continued to refine my lesson plan, but I could not work what I had planned for the lesson into my essential understandings. My initial plan was to use the two songs from my last post (Blurred Lines & 1234 Get on the dance floor), have the students analyse the two songs, and then have a conversation about whether these two songs were from the same musical culture. If you have had a chance to listen to those two songs, you might realise that they are both strongly influenced by the western ‘pop’ musical culture. Yes, 1234 Get on the dance floor has strong Indian musical culture influences, but there are more cultural similarities than differences between the two songs. (If you disagree, please post your thoughts!)

The night before the lesson, I abandoned Blurred Lines (and all of the planning materials) and I used a traditional Indian Konokkol vocal drum song.
Konokkol Solo – retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXS6UByE_y8&list=PL23F9B51CD65A3865 on 29 September 2013

The conversations were much richer using these two pieces of music (1234 Get on the dance floor & the Konokkol song) as opposed to using 1234 & Blurred lines.

If I would have not designed the essential questions first, I would have used my original plan and had (hopefully) a good lesson. When I contemplated my essential questions, I was able to provide students with a richer and deeper lesson.

The message – think about the big picture as you plan your daily lessons!

Matt

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