New school year, new music classes, brand new policies for music educators….many confusions! I have been getting many emails asking about essential questions and applications to a music classroom. I think that a blog post can be a good way to start a discussion and reach other teachers in the online world. Let’s take a look at the essential question; what it is and how it could be easier to think about it.
Quick update: Before you continue reading, we are starting a brand new music teacher You Tube channel where you can find lots of teaching ideas. Please check us out here.
You may go directly to TEN SAMPLE ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS FOR MUSIC
For more detailed information on what essential questions are please continue reading below:
What are essential questions and what do they look like in a music classroom?
- The essential question should be very broad and general. Think about something that wraps up the whole unit.
- The essential question needs to be chosen for a LONGER period of time, preferably one unit. Think about having to prepare an essential question for every lesson, every class, and every single rehearsal, then prepare for the music rehearsal itself. This will get very overwhelming very soon. Instead you want to choose a very broad statement that would incorporate the ideas of that unit.
- It is better to pick a broad essential question that can apply to ALL of your classes. This way you “kill many birds with one stone”.
- The essential question is the essence of the ideas in one unit. You may have smaller units of one week or even a couple of days. In this case you would change the essential question at the end of the week or the smaller unit. My advice is to think broader and make longer units throughout the year.
- Unit study and having essential question for it could be confusing to music teachers. We simply work a bit differently. Think of unit study is equivalent of…concert preparation. So as the other core teachers talk about backward planning and unit study, the easiest way to transfer this knowledge is to think about your next concert of a festival. Think about the steps you need to take in order to get the students ready for the performance. Think about how you would get them prepared from seeing a blank music page to being ready to perform it. And voila! Here is your unit study!
- After picking a broader essential question, you may want to have a more specific goals/guiding questions for a specific class or week. These are also often called enduring understandings. This is where you would put the specific techniques the students will be doing (vibrato, shifting, etc), if they are learning a new piece, if they are learning about composers, etc.
What the essential question is not:
- Something that you need to change daily.
- Something that you need to stress about (well not after reading this post).
- Something that is different from what you already do in your classroom. Think about a statement that generalizes what you are already doing in your classroom. You don’t need to “reinvent the wheel”.
Ready Unit Lesson Plan with Essential Questions
You may want to look at a sample unit lesson plan with essential questions. I teach myself and I know how busy we all get. The school year is getting busier and busier. Your administrator has scheduled an observation with you. You want to make the best of it but you are simply overwhelmed.
To make it easier, I have uploaded a complete unit lesson plan on Teachers Pay Teachers site. It has everything you need for your classroom. It includes music essential questions, music standards, assessment and differentiation. The lesson plan is for orchestra, chorus or band. You can very easily modify it for elementary music as well. You can copy and paste things as they fit your classroom. Find it here!
Sample Essential Questions:
Take a look at how I structured my unit with essential question and guiding questions this month:
My Essential Question and Lesson Planning for this Month
In my meeting with my administrator:
I would explain the steps I will take to get my kids ready for our final performance of the unit-the Halloween concert. I would include the same steps into my lesson plans of the unit. The lesson plan format may vary and many districts have templates they require their teachers to use. But you
At the beginning of the year we focus on discipline, rules and behavior.
We start learning the pieces and the techniques needed for these pieces.
Closer to the concert we would begin talking about concert etiquette, extra practice, stage appearance, etc.
Easy, clear, and principal tested and approved!
If you have your lessons planned but are not sure what essential question to use for it, simply write about it in the comments and I will answer the best I can.