Much of the work that goes on in the music classroom will take place in groups. Therefore, it is essential that children in your class can work effectively as a group, as opposed to just in a group and that they have the tools to be able to collaborate. This can be challenging; within any class at any given time there is usually at least one child who will find it difficult to work with others.
During some activities, it may be beneficial to choose the groups yourself based on your knowledge of the class and the learning design. In some cases these may be mixed ability groups, and on other occasions it may be that you want to organise pupils based on their prior experiences. At other times, there may be opportunities for pupils to choose their own groups and undertake learning in friendship groups, however as a teacher you need to be mindful of some children who may feel excluded from friendship groups. The Musical Futures1 work for upper primary is often based around the premise that children work best in groups they have chosen.
We cannot assume that children of any age know how to collaborate effectively on a learning task; you might want to consider giving them specific roles in groups (for example – making sure only one person talks at a time, leader, etc.) and reminding them about the importance of listening to everyone. This naturally then extends to listening intently when performing together, to try and keep in time with everyone else and to be mindful and responsive of all others. These roles need to be rotated on different occasions. Providing reminders or prompts for the task that are only referred to if necessary can be helpful, and help the groups to work more independently. It is also crucial that the task is clearly understood before children move into groups and that a few minutes of ‘planning’ time is included to give the task a sense of direction and purpose.
In music, it is essential that children understand the importance of the role of everyone in an ensemble and that everyone’s contribution is equally important. For example, keeping the beat might seem to be the most simple part, yet in effect it is the ‘engine’ of the music and is crucial for keeping the ensemble together (and it can be challenging not to speed up!).
Groups come in all sizes – from pairs to whole classes or the whole school, and it is important that all children are able to thrive whatever the learning situation.