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Strategies for Unit Collaboration


Revisiting students’ work on file, I was inspired to share my learning journey with them, together with my colleagues whom I had fun working with. The strategies I’m about to share here are based on personal experiences of working with IB MYP students and my ARTS team. In a school year, MYP students get a glimpse of the ARTS through Visual, Music and Drama. Each of the arts gets an average of 12 weeks to complete a unit. This “carousel” structure can be challenging in terms of scheduling, sequencing and management. Although similar in some areas, designing and aligning tasks, assessments can be tricky when defining terminologies in a language wherein students can understand their work in the context of not only a single art but in various art forms. Let’s begin with process of how the planning is in a collaborative environment.

1. Plan with Flexibility and Fun

In most situations, planning is commonly practiced within a proper venue and scheduling. While this practice is ideal, there are some situations wherein spontaneity sets its way to spark new ideas that may happen over a cup of coffee, lunch or hallway chats. It is in this less stressful environment where small lesson plans to large scale projects are conceptualized.

In terms of scheduling, how do we make things happen when subjects are not offered at the same time or term, like in the case of a “carousel” model? In this scenario, how do we plan to ensure continuity, depth and connections among our students? How often and to what extent do we allow change?

For two consecutive school years, my ARTS team was able to make the carousel model work for a collaborative music and visual arts unit. At first, we took the challenge to let students create the music first prior to the visuals. Creating the music involved performing a cover of a song, programming their own music to it or actually making their own original tune. Given that most people are initially inspired by visuals, creating the music first would entail a different learning approach for the students and teachers as well. Guess which structuring work better? Without doubts, it was easier to create the visuals first before setting the music that goes with it. After a year of trial, we had to change the sequence. Finally, students get to work with Visual Arts first before setting the music. Oops…did I mention that all of these happened one term after and not at the same time? See how flexibility can lead us to success, and how all of these can be so much fun, especially when we make things work in a unique way.

2. Communicate no matter what

To what extent did your colleagues communicate the ongoing process for feedback purposes? Was there a time when you thought you were working in the same directions, but then suddenly there was a shift? I think this is something that we all need to be mindful of, since change can be good as long as it is explicitly communicated to the students and teachers involved. When overlooked, expect a mass confusion!

Feedback continues to play an essential role in informing teachers how to proceed. Sharing for what worked and what didn’t will always be a useful information for teachers’ planning, reflection and evaluation. As busy as it gets, a short walk or email would serve its purpose.

3. Learn the unfamiliar

Collaboration gives us more opportunities to learn something that we know limited of or nothing about. As a music teacher, how would we respond to students’ questions about visual perspectives, lighting or frames per second? On the other hand, how would a visual art teacher respond to inquiries about instrument range, meter or rhythm? Sounds familiar? Depending on how one takes this opportunity, it can be exciting to learn something new, gain perspectives, or possibly be stressed when one isolates or limits himself to his expertise. I think in the end, everyone on board needs to be credible and worthy of students’ trust and inspiration.

4. Build relationships

In any collaborative planning, tension or conflicts would always be part it. Nothing is perfect, but everything can be discussed and improved on when we are able to establish good relationships with each other. There is nothing so complex or impossible if all heads and hands work together to reach the end. Besides, it’s always easier to work with people who we have developed some kind of relationship. As I have always shared with my students, it’s a fact that we may never get to like or even love everyone we work with, but we can always respect each other no matter what.

5. Make the connections

How do we immerse students into the projects or units that we adults become excited about? Do we tell them our stories or do we reach out to them so we’ll know their stories? When was the last time you played a game or watch a movie of your students’ favorite? How does entering their world support our teaching? How would a teacher’s knowledge of students’ interest support understanding of what students’ intentions are, how their ideas are developed, how they choose to express, or why they have made a decision or a change? Later, all of these become an important consideration in the process of designing assessment tasks and rubrics.

Enjoy watching this sample student's work on ANIMATION SOUNDTRACK (an ARTS collaborative unit). The collaborative unit plan, including resources used will be shared in my next blog.

The music background was an original composition by the student

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