Leading Students to Creative Ideas

by Michael Joy

Born and raised in Canton, Ohio, Michael Joy has lived in Philadelphia since 1974. He received a Bachelor of Music Degree in Theory and Composition from Baldwin-Wallace University. He studied handbells with Donald Allured and handbell composition with Arnold Sherman. Michael has been directing handbell choirs in churches since 1978 and in schools since 1983. He recently retired from The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, where he taught for 21 years and developed the handbell program there. For the last 44 years, Michael has been the Music Director at First Presbyterian Church in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Michael is the executive editor for the GIA Foundations Series, designed specifically for developing handbell ensembles in schools. He is the co-author (with Sandra Eithun) of Pathways to Musical Ringing, a reproducible series from Choristers Guild.

A few years ago, I attended a teacher in-service where the presenter introduced what, for me, was a profound concept. He said that we were often taught by a teacher who acted as the “sage on the stage.” She or he lectured, students took notes and then regurgitated the information on tests and quizzes. Education experts have learned that a more powerful approach to learning is for the teacher to be the “guide on the side.” These “guides” present foundational information, ask leading questions and let students take more ownership in the learning process as they lead their students to discovery. Ever since I was introduced to these ideas, I have tried to be more of a “guide on the side.” My teaching took on a new energy and enthusiasm as I interacted in a partnership with my students.

One of the wonderful benefits of working with children is what they have taught me over the years. When students ask me a question, my first response is, “What do you think?” They know my classroom is a safe space, and they also know that it is OK to make mistakes. By guiding their input, students often came up with ideas that I never thought of. Their responses often led to spontaneous ideas which helped to ignite the lesson and lead to new ideas.

One of my fondest memories of my teaching career involved my third and fourth grade choir at church. Like most groups at this age, they were filled with energy and loaded with questions. It was always a challenge to keep them engaged and focused on the task at hand. One day we were talking about the names of the lines and spaces in the treble staff. When I told them that the spaces spelled the word “face,” Jack, a particularly inquisitive boy, shouted out, “I wonder what FACE sounds like?” I had been teaching for over 25 years, and no one had ever asked me that question!

The “guide on the side” in me took his question and ran with it. I replied, “I don’t really know. Let’s find out. If you have an F, an A, a C, or an E, let’s play those notes at the same time.” Together we found out what FACE sounded like. The kids liked that. This gave me several new ideas, all based on a question of a fourth grader.

The wheels kept turning. I said, “When you play all those notes together, it creates something that is essential in music. There’s a word for that.” My kids always loved to play hangman. In the learning process, the brain likes the novelty of playing a game. It also gives them a break from the routine of the rehearsal. We played Hangman. My first word was “chord.” I explained that a chord resulted when two or more notes were played at the same time. Even though the ringers had played many chords, they were finally able to attach a name to a basic musical concept.

Another student asked, “I wonder what FACE sounds like if you play the notes one at a time?” I let them find out. After we explored the notes one at a time, we played another round of Hangman. This time the word was “melody.” We talked about melody as the horizontal aspect of music. The ringers were able to put another label on another important musical concept.

The FACE game became a favorite at every rehearsal. I asked students to come up with other words using the letters of the musical alphabet. We played them as chords and as melodies. In order to try to include everyone, I put the letters up on the board and put a check mark underneath the letter every time it was used. I guided their input by encouraging them to use letters that hadn’t been used much. This gave more ringers a chance to participate. It was fascinating to hear comments that students made about different words. I remember one comment about the word BEG. Someone said that it sounded spooky. Since the chord is a minor triad, I thought that was a very perceptive observation.

As the game evolved, I found the perfect opportunity to introduce ABA form. The ringers created short compositions. The A sections were chords and the B section was the melody. We began with just whole and half notes. I kept the sections short so that it was easier to remember them. I let the students help choose what rhythms we would use for each section. With some guidance from me, they were creating original compositions. They were so pleased with themselves.

At another in-service I learned about the kinds of things that companies wanted from college students as they entered the workforce. I learned about the “Four Cs: Critical thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity.” I tried to implement these ideas in my handbell classes as I continued as the guide on the side. Since the FACE game worked so well at church, I decided to try the same thing at school. One of the limitations of the game is that the same letters were used over and over, and some were rarely used. I found an opportunity to use the Four Cs. I paired up the students and challenged them to come up with at least two words, using all the letters of the musical alphabet. I told them it was fine to use the same letter more than once. I guided them by presenting a challenge. While being paired, they had to use critical thinking skills as they collaborated. They needed to communicate with one another as they worked to find a creative solution.

See the piece DEAF CABBAGE in our “Tips & Tools” section.

I don’t remember a lot of their creative answers, but one stood out. One pair of students came up with “DEAF CABBAGE.” That absurdly quirky title stuck. I told the class I would write them a piece based on the title. They were so pleased that someone from their class came up with the title. I used only whole and half notes. I used the words “deaf” and “cabbage” as chords and as melodies. I even used both words simultaneously. The group played the piece for the next concert.

In the end, this was a win-win situation. I was the guide on the side who helped lead students to creative ideas. During this project the students were using the Four Cs: Critical thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity. In a collaborative effort, their ideas gave me some new creative ideas which resulted in a composition written specifically for them. They were happy that they had some ownership in this effort, and they were excited about premiering a brand-new piece.

My hope is that this article has shown you some of the benefits of being a guide on the side. May my examples help to spark new ways to involve your ringers so that they might be more motivated and successful.

 

A few years ago, I attended a teacher in-service where the presenter introduced what, for me, was a profound concept. He said that we were often taught by a teacher who acted as the “sage on the stage.” She or he lectured, students took notes and then regurgitated the information on tests and quizzes. Education experts have learned that a more powerful approach to learning is for the teacher to be the “guide on the side.” These “guides” present foundational information, ask leading questions and let students take more ownership in the learning process as they lead their students to discovery. Ever since I was introduced to these ideas, I have tried to be more of a “guide on the side.” My teaching took on a new energy and enthusiasm as I interacted in a partnership with my students.

One of the wonderful benefits of working with children is what they have taught me over the years. When students ask me a question, my first response is, “What do you think?” They know my classroom is a safe space, and they also know that it is OK to make mistakes. By guiding their input, students often came up with ideas that I never thought of. Their responses often led to spontaneous ideas which helped to ignite the lesson and lead to new ideas.

One of my fondest memories of my teaching career involved my third and fourth grade choir at church. Like most groups at this age, they were filled with energy and loaded with questions. It was always a challenge to keep them engaged and focused on the task at hand. One day we were talking about the names of the lines and spaces in the treble staff. When I told them that the spaces spelled the word “face,” Jack, a particularly inquisitive boy, shouted out, “I wonder what FACE sounds like?” I had been teaching for over 25 years, and no one had ever asked me that question!

The “guide on the side” in me took his question and ran with it. I replied, “I don’t really know. Let’s find out. If you have an F, an A, a C, or an E, let’s play those notes at the same time.” Together we found out what FACE sounded like. The kids liked that. This gave me several new ideas, all based on a question of a fourth grader.

The wheels kept turning. I said, “When you play all those notes together, it creates something that is essential in music. There’s a word for that.” My kids always loved to play hangman. In the learning process, the brain likes the novelty of playing a game. It also gives them a break from the routine of the rehearsal. We played Hangman. My first word was “chord.” I explained that a chord resulted when two or more notes were played at the same time. Even though the ringers had played many chords, they were finally able to attach a name to a basic musical concept.

Another student asked, “I wonder what FACE sounds like if you play the notes one at a time?” I let them find out. After we explored the notes one at a time, we played another round of Hangman. This time the word was “melody.” We talked about melody as the horizontal aspect of music. The ringers were able to put another label on another important musical concept.

The FACE game became a favorite at every rehearsal. I asked students to come up with other words using the letters of the musical alphabet. We played them as chords and as melodies. In order to try to include everyone, I put the letters up on the board and put a check mark underneath the letter every time it was used. I guided their input by encouraging them to use letters that hadn’t been used much. This gave more ringers a chance to participate. It was fascinating to hear comments that students made about different words. I remember one comment about the word BEG. Someone said that it sounded spooky. Since the chord is a minor triad, I thought that was a very perceptive observation.

As the game evolved, I found the perfect opportunity to introduce ABA form. The ringers created short compositions. The A sections were chords and the B section was the melody. We began with just whole and half notes. I kept the sections short so that it was easier to remember them. I let the students help choose what rhythms we would use for each section. With some guidance from me, they were creating original compositions. They were so pleased with themselves.

At another in-service I learned about the kinds of things that companies wanted from college students as they entered the workforce. I learned about the “Four Cs: Critical thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity.” I tried to implement these ideas in my handbell classes as I continued as the guide on the side. Since the FACE game worked so well at church, I decided to try the same thing at school. One of the limitations of the game is that the same letters were used over and over, and some were rarely used. I found an opportunity to use the Four Cs. I paired up the students and challenged them to come up with at least two words, using all the letters of the musical alphabet. I told them it was fine to use the same letter more than once. I guided them by presenting a challenge. While being paired, they had to use critical thinking skills as they collaborated. They needed to communicate with one another as they worked to find a creative solution.

I don’t remember a lot of their creative answers, but one stood out. One pair of students came up with “DEAF CABBAGE.” That absurdly quirky title stuck. I told the class I would write them a piece based on the title. They were so pleased that someone from their class came up with the title. I used only whole and half notes. I used the words “deaf” and “cabbage” as chords and as melodies. I even used both words simultaneously. The group played the piece for the next concert.

In the end, this was a win-win situation. I was the guide on the side who helped lead students to creative ideas. During this project the students were using the Four Cs: Critical thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity. In a collaborative effort, their ideas gave me some new creative ideas which resulted in a composition written specifically for them. They were happy that they had some ownership in this effort, and they were excited about premiering a brand-new piece.

My hope is that this article has shown you some of the benefits of being a guide on the side. May my examples help to spark new ways to involve your ringers so that they might be more motivated and successful.

See “Tips & Tools,” page 18, for Michael’s arrangement DEAF CABBAGE, derived from a class assignment to come up with a title using all seven letters of the musical alphabet.

Born and raised in Canton, Ohio, Michael Joy has lived in Philadelphia since 1974. He received a Bachelor of Music Degree in Theory and Composition from Baldwin-Wallace University. He studied handbells with Donald Allured and handbell composition with Arnold Sherman. Michael has been directing handbell choirs in churches since 1978 and in schools since 1983. He recently retired from The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, where he taught for 21 years and developed the handbell program there. For the last 44 years, Michael has been the Music Director at First Presbyterian Church in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Michael is the executive editor for the GIA Foundations Series, designed specifically for developing handbell ensembles in schools. He is the co-author (with Sandra Eithun) of Pathways to Musical Ringing, a reproducible series from Choristers Guild.