Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Flipping Out? Is Music the Original Flipped Classroom?

Wow ... the pendulum of educational technology is swinging wildly lately over the Flipped Classroom.

The concept is that you record your presentations for students to view at home, allowing teachers use class time for even more positive learning (thus flipping the usual order of lecture at school, homework at home).  The backlash suggests that if students won't put quality time into homework at home, will they watch videos?  What kind of engagement does watching a video entail?  If you are anti-homework, can you support the flipped classroom at all?  And of course, the biggest issue is that true flipped learning requires that you change what you do in your room with students, not just help them with homework in your presence.  I am not taking a pro- or anti-flipped model.  What I want to do is see how it relates to music education.

Is music the original flipped classroom?
Or is it impossible to flip the music classroom?

This takes us to the very heart of the study of music.  In music, you are either performing, creating (composing), or listening.  And these three are completely interwoven - one leads to another.  Your brain and your body are totally engaged whenever you are working on music.  Consider this scenario:

A 3rd grade recorder student must look at 5 lines and 4 spaces, decipher the letters of the treble clef, figure out the rhythmic values, turn the letters into numbers of fingers on their usually non-dominant left hand, tell the diaphragm and lungs to breathe in rhythm, listen to the resulting sound, adjust accordingly, hear what others are doing to play simultaneously, look at the next note while still playing the current note, and repeat the entire process over and over.  All of this must happen multiple times every second for the 3rd grade student.

It doesn't matter if the music student is in elementary music or high school orchestra.  The expectation is the same - performance - "doing" music.  Music teachers and students live under the deadline that a concert is looming.  The audience is waiting, and every moment is precious.  So students need to be engaged as much as possible - and that means in both the classroom and at home.

But what of the flipped classroom concept?  If the purpose to make best use of face-to-face time with students, how does that connect to music?  If one of the tenets of the flipped model is to have students "doing" or "performing" while in the presence of the teacher, we can say that has always been the goal of the music classroom.  Throughout history, music has meant working in the presence of an expert who can guide you to better performance.  And the expert convinces you that if you want to be truly great, you must go home and practice on your own.  Remember that recorder student?  We send that recorder home to the (ahem!) delight of parents all over.  In tech lingo, we could say music is "platform agnostic" since it doesn't matter where you are when you practice.  This might make music the original flipped classroom.

That means that musicians (and athletes, and so many other areas) are performing - are doing - both in school AND at home.  That's the best outcome of all.  In this scenario, flipping is not the question or the answer.  Engagement is.  And whatever you do to get kids engaged in your field of study - to get kids performing and achieving at a higher level - is the goal.

But I am not a fool - I know there are students who do not practice enough at home.  Just as I know there are students who can participate much more fully in the classroom.  The same happens in sports, math, music, and every other curricular area.  What I do know is that student engagement is the key to student achievement, and if the engagement is happening at both school and home, then achievement will (hopefully) increase.

Charlotte Danielson's framework says that "student engagement in learning is the centerpiece of the framework for teaching; all other components contribute to it." (domain 3c of the Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument)

Grant Wiggins recent article, entitled "Everything You Know About Curriculum May Be Wrong.  Really."  enshrines engagement and action as well:
"Suppose knowledge is not the goal of education.  Rather, suppose today's content knowledge is an offshoot of of successful ongoing learning in a changing world - in which 'learning' means 'learning to perform in the world."  We learn to perform, and we perform to learn.

It comes back to the basics of good teaching and learning - relationships, enthusiasm, and engagement.  There is no single recipe for the best way to accomplish them, and so the pendulum continues to swing.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris,

    You've raised a number of good points in your blog. I'm a huge fan of flipping the music classroom and will give a presentation on flipping the choral music classroom at NAfME, October 29, 2013 in Nashville. It is important to remember that there is more to the flipped classroom than just watching videos. Interactive web music games, apps and software such as SmartMusic are incredibly powerful and can compact or expand the educational sequence for students. For the student who needs to see & hear the demonstration again and again, a video can be an excellent means of strengthening their skill/understanding.

    Using the example of your recorder student, their parent is probably not going to be able to provide the needed support for the very complex scenario that you describe (which is so important to acknowledge-it is not so simple to learn to the play the recorder & read music!) It takes many repetitions to get it right & wouldn't that be more fun if it involved playing a game such as Joytunes?
    This can progress to seeing the music from Recorder Express in the SmartMusic library where the student can receive immediate feedback about their progress, hear a recording of their work & click on notes to get reminders of fingerings.

    I've taught elementary general music and I can swear that I could not have given this kind of attention to the hundreds of students that were in my classes. The engagement and differentiation that the flipped experience offer students is at the heart of the experience.

    In my work visiting teachers in their classrooms, I will say that sometimes music rehearsals are more lecture than the active experience you might assume is happening. Teachers are no longer the only "experts," but sometimes they don't realize it. Teachers' desire to help students do their best (or sometimes just as much to make the performance reflect well on the teacher)can result in top-down instruction that is not engaging the students effectively. Yes there may be "doing" and "performing" in the rehearsal, but how often is it the same 4 measures again & again? How often is the rehearsal based on individual assessments so that the focus is in line with what students truly know and are able to do rather than assumptions that can be deceiving? How often do students know why they are repeating & how to change their participation so that things will move on? That is where the flipped classroom comes in....