Specific Approaches to Learning skills are incorporated into each MYP music unit so that students can improve their thinking, research, social, communication, and self-management skills. These skills must be explicitly taught to students and thus only a few are chosen during unit planning. 

There are some Approaches to Learning skills that naturally lend themselves to MYP music classrooms. Self-Management is a given – In these constructivist classrooms, in which student agency is paramount, students must be taught how to manage their own time and materials. Some Approaches to Learning skills seem more elusive to students. Those who are composing or arranging on their own may argue that they are not demonstrating social skills because they are not actively interacting with teachers or peers. However, advocating for yourself is an essential part of their social skills. 

An open laptop depicting a cartoon conference call, representing communication skills.

Approaches to Learning - Thinking Skills

Thinking skills take on two forms in MYP/DP music classes.  The first seems very academic – students are acting as researchers and critics as they discover musical findings (e.g. score analyses) and extra-musical findings (historical, societal, and cultural contexts) of the pieces they are studying. They gather information, synthesize it, and use it with their own academic voices.  They analyse scores to find evidence that leads them to conclusions about composer intentions and performer’s interpretations. 

However, thinking skills also go beyond traditional research and into decision making and problem solving in their own music-making. When they are composing music, they have to take the information they learned in their extra-musical findings (e.g. characteristics of a genre) and adapt it to their own performances. When they are arranging music, they are looking at the technical issues in transferring music from one idiom to another. Essentially, you must be thinking to make informed decisions. 

The best place to put this Visible Thinking is in their process journal.

Research Skills

Students need to learn how to conduct the research that will give them the information on which they will think. Therefore, researching and thinking skills go hand in hand. Researching in a musical context can often be very challenging because of the lack of historical data. We don’t know the exact date that Mozart died.  Did you know that? Music historians have used a wealth of historical data on burial traditions, church records, etc. to come to a very good guesstimate. Students will face similar, exciting and interesting challenges. They need to know how to use the tools before them. Interviews. Emails to composers. Autograph manuscripts. etc. All of this, of course, while using their authentic academic voice and correct academic citations (e.g. APA, MLS, etc.)

A magnifying class in front of a laptop showing a graph, representing research skills.
An open laptop depicting a cartoon conference call, representing communication skills.

Communication Skills

Communication skills come in two forms. If you look at the official IB documentation on ATLs, you will see that Communication includes reading, writing, taking notes, using subject specific language, etc. This is all true; however, the “Further Guidance” documents talk about how communication in Music is also found in communicating with an audience. How do students take the information they gained in researching, think about it, and then communicate that through their music? They must communicate their choices and ideas in verbal, non-verbal, and musical ways (p.9 of Further Guidance)

Social Skills

Many students are confused about what social skills are. Some soloists may say they didn’t use any social skills in their creative cycles. However, in looking at their descriptors, you can see social skills embedded throughout. For example, social skills include advocating for yourself, listening to others, showing respect, and building consensus. A soloist who asks for help booking a practice space, listens to feed back from their teacher, shows respect for the practice room and other performers, and then negotiates rehearsal spaces, has in fact been using their social skills.

In a music-specific context, the “Further Guidance” document talks about students working in group contexts. The DP guide has placed emphasis on musical collaborations with others. 

Two groups of people talking with cartoon speech bubbles, representing social skills.
Cartoon clock has appointments attached to times, representing self-management Approaches to Learning skills.

Self-Management Skills

Self-Management also comes in two parts. The first is the sheet logistics of keeping on keeping on.  It’s bringing your instrument to school, having your process journal ready, and knowing where your rosin is.  It’s staying on-task in a practice room, and off the latest video game.

The second part of self-management is demonstrating the use of the creative cycle. It’s being able to demonstrate through a plan, regular reflections, and progress videos, that you have undertaken a challenge and completed it through a process. It’s the ability to independently complete a task, or your portion of a larger task.  

How do Approaches to Learning Skills work in an MYP Music classroom?

The MYP Arts guide states, “Courses in arts help students to develop key approaches to learning (ATL) that lead to success and enjoyment in MYP projects. In this subject group, students have important opportunities to practise ATL skills, especially social skills and self-management skills. Creativity, communication and collaboration are essential  aspects of arts.” (IBO, 2017, p.17)

Whenever our MYP Coordinator asks us to focus on one, maybe two, ATLs per unit, we all want to gravitate towards our favourites. The Performing Arts teachers want social and self-management for nearly everything, while the Visual Art teachers may focus more on thinking and research. However, looking at the sub-strands of each Approaches to Learning category clearly demonstrates how each relates to the Arts in general. 

Approaches to Learning skills are also essential in the Diploma Programme. The IB has released a news reel on the inclusion of ATL skills with a link to downloading the ATL guide from My IBO.