This blog post is designed to describe how I use learning pairs in the music room. Please comment below if you need any clarification.
What do learning pairs look like in your classroom?
Learning pairs do just that - they help students learn while working with a partner. In my classroom, students are working with their partner either in a circle formation or in organized linear lines. The learning pairs work together often so that they are more comfortable with each other. Learning pairs sometimes share materials, answer discussion questions together, or work together on worksheets, assessments, and compositional or instrumental assignments.
How do you assign learning pairs look like in your classroom?
When I assign them seats, my students are grouped in many different ways. When they sit on the risers, they are organized by colors (red, yellow, green, and blue) and rows (top row and bottom row). These places determine where they will sit on the carpet (either in a large circle or in four rows that match the four colors). I try to group students in successful ways - I think about their musical skills, behavior, learning accommodations, English language abilities, etc. Therefore, when we move into activities where they will work in pairs, I've already set them up for success. If a pair isn't being successful (arguing, one partner does more work than the other, they seem uncomfortable with each other) I will immediately address this and change partners if necessary. Sometimes, I approach their classroom teacher (who also has them assigned into pairs) if I feel I need more background knowledge before grouping students.
Why use learning pairs?
I've found that learning pairs are beneficial for a number of reasons:
1. ELL's and SPED students - Pairing an ELL with a strong English speaker or a SPED student with a patient classmate will often lead to the success of the ELL or SPED student. Some partners can be very protective of their ELL or SPED partner and even praise or encourage them as they improve. Again, these students need to be paired with care as some students may get frustrated working with an ELL or SPED classmate.
2. Students re-teach themselves when they teach others - When working on a concepts, sometimes I think, what else can I do? We sing it, we read it, we play it, we compose with it, we discuss it, I have an anchor chart that goes with it, I have printables, games, etc - but sometimes all a student needs to do to "get it" is explain it to a peer. These conversations are absolutely precious and I can easily see who is excitedly talking with their partner, pointing to anchor charts and explaining anxiously with their hands and who is struggling or looking confused. This is another way to assess students without them filling out a worksheet. They are excited and engaged because they are talking to a peer.
For example, I sat my 4th graders in front of our large "Music Street" board and asked them to discuss the following questions (most of which were review and I didn't want to waste time teaching them again - but I wanted to make sure the students still remembered them and that newer students were getting the opportunity to learn this material as well):
1. What is music street?
2. What are pitches? Why do we need them?
3. List everything you remember about Do-Re-Mi-So and La.
4. Using Do Re Mi So La, find steps, skips, and leaps.
Of course, I only asked students to discuss one question at a time. We read the question out loud and I checked to make sure everyone understood it. Then, students discussed with their partners. Before moving to the next question, I asked students to share with the class what they discussed. It was so cute because students were raising their hands and saying, "My partner remember that Do is like the president, he can move to any line or space he wants." etc.
3. Sharing and learning - If you spent any time on my blog, you know I use lots of manipulatives. I use so many that I can get a little overwhelming and time-consuming to create and organize them. With my students in learning pairs, I only have to create, say, 12 sets for a class of 24 instead of 24 materials. Often, this saves me time AND money. Before you think I'm just looking for an easy way out, let me tell you that my students LOVE working together. They get to talk to their partner as they figure things out, they can read, sing, clap, and play instruments with their partner (especially great if doing a composition activity - one student creates and another performs), and they can discuss why they did or didn't reach the correct answer (especially in ear-training activities) with their partner.
Here's a little picture from a group of darling little 1st graders. They were using the beat maps (so easy - just glue the heart cut-outs onto construction paper and laminate - these have lasted 5 years and are still going strong) and bingo chip circles to decode rhythms of known songs (two circles was titi, one circle was ta, and one circle turned over to the white side was shh). After students worked on the songs I wanted them to, they were allowed to create and perform rhythms with their partners. The girls were pointing along to the beats as their boys chanted and performed their rhythms with body percussion. The students loved this activity and I loved that I didn't have bingo chips everywhere, haha.
4. Time to check for understanding and share ideas/thoughts - Sometimes, well, a lot of the time, I just don't have the time for each student to share what they thought about a listening example. Students can share their thoughts with a partner. Sometimes, I'll have students read a bit of information and then discuss it with their partner (for example, third graders were singing "Kuma San" and "Nabe Nabe" as they reviewed Do Re Mi and students discussed the facts about Japan that were projected on the screen with their partners).
Tips for success
1. Place with a plan - Pair your students after you've thought carefully about who they should work with - don't assign random pairs or you may get random results.
2. Create norms - Discuss (and create an anchor chart) norms for working with a partner. You might start partner work by having the students greet their partner politely (mine love doing this - we shake hands, we say hello, it is very sweet and it helps to "break the ice"). Have conversations about what students want in a partner (someone who does their work, someone who is patient, no put-downs but encouragement, etc). Set up positive incentives (students that compliment their partner today get to lead the line when we leave, or the first pair to complete their work correctly gets to help clean-up, etc - little things that the kids love). Deal with issues consistently and fairly - putdowns, impatient behavior, etc are never allowed.
3. Work and play - Don't always have your learning pairs "working" - let them play together too. If you have a partner dance or an activity with instruments, pair your students with their learning pair partner. Sometimes, it is nice to bond over a fun activity.
4. Praise, praise, praise - I'm very generous with my praising when we work in pairs. I praise students that get materials out correctly. I praise students that pick-up correctly. I praise students who compliment each other. I praise students that greet each other. I praise students that work well and stay on task. I praise pairs or a student in that pair that might not have worked so well during a previous partner activity. I over-praise pairs where one student is an ELL/SPED/behavior and the other is not. Praise praise praise. Positive positive positive. I walk around and monitor, monitor, monitor. I engage pairs in discussions and praise their answers. Do it!
Learning pairs are a simple and time-saving way to help your students succeed. Try them out and let me know what you think!