Give students the opportunity to express themselves through music by collaborating and teaching each other
Sometimes the noisiest classes are the most focused. This certainly seems to be the case in Sara Brunnschweiler's music class, where 20+ fifth graders can be heard playing music and collaborating with each other. Sara teaches music to kindergarten through fifth grade at Asbury Elementary and is one of many Asbury teachers focusing on personalized learning (PL). This means Sara's students are drivers of their own learning, making choices and directing themselves in their work. Sara places a particular emphasis on peer collaboration through project based learning. With her fifth graders, she's doing a blues unit, where students write their own blues songs and perform them for the class. Sara spent the first half of the year teaching students the basics of each instrument. During the second half of the year, students are self-paced in writing and practicing their songs. They must work together not only to create the music, but to learn more about the instruments as well. Students use each other, Sara, and online and in-class resources to help them learn.
Sara has a unique circumstance--she gets to teach students throughout their journey at Asbury. Students become comfortable with performing and expressing themselves through music early on and build on this as they get older. Sara also finds that since most of the school is implementing PL, students are familiar with these practices and understand how to make responsible decisions during her class.
Sara talks about her philosophy of PL and her use of projects to enhance student engagement and interest. Students set specific goals about what they want to learn and then move into creating their own music. Sara provides additional scaffolding for younger grades in order to transition students into being more comfortable and responsible with the freedom.
Sara leads by example, collaborating with other teachers to make lessons more impactful for students. She shares examples of how she's collaborated with other teachers to connect content to music class. She's collaborated on a rap and poetry unit, a tech unit, and a unit about access to education.
Sara talks about how she's seen students take increased ownership over their learning and engage with the content. She sees student passion and responsibility increasing.
Hear one of the 5th grade bands talk about how they collaborate with each other to create music and what they like about Sara's class.
Sara shares her advice for other educators trying to do this work. She advises teachers to take it slow and scaffold each grade differently. She describes how she starts the year by setting expectations and creating a safe environment for students to openly express themselves and be vulnerable.
Before she started teaching, Sara played the oboe professionally and was pursuing her PhD in music. She realized she wanted more creativity in her work and turned to teaching. This is Sara's sixth year of teaching music at Asbury.
To connect with Sara, email her at SARA_BRUNNSCHWEILER@dpsk12.org.
Thanks to Asbury teacher Sara Brunnschweiler, PL lead Desi Kennedy, and principal Alicia FaJohn, Imaginarium staff Sophie Gullett and Elisa Bowers, and the students marching to the beat of their own drum.
A huge thank you to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation whose Next Generation Systems Intiative (NGSI) grant has been instrumental in helping Denver Public Schools design, implement, and study personalized learning.