High School (Virtual) Music Class

There’s a chance I’m years behind on this one, but I had a thought today that high school music classes are on a hiding to nothing.

The syllabuses works towards a particular kind of assessment that is, effectively, based on performance and theory exams, given a bit of a tweak for the purposes of fitting in with the other subjects. Even when ensemble performances are part of the assessments the emphasis is on the individual performer rather than the group achievements or the learning that has taken place to bring the performance into existence.

High school music classes are just a kind of AMEB or ABRSM exam on steroids with a different marking system.

So when high school music teachers think about contemporary approaches to teaching, it’s quite tricky to see a purpose for these new-fangled education ideas in an individualised performance + theory/musicianship exam kind of assessment context.

My current favourite new-fangled idea about teaching is this one called “the flipped classroom”. Basically the students learn the content part of the course using online resources – the teacher might have uploaded diagrams, videos, links, recordings, and the students can read, watch, explore and listen in their own time at their own pace via their own internet access at home. The classroom time is then freed up to do the things that students can’t do alone: from things like discussing ideas with their peers and reviewing each other’s performances through to creative experiences like improvising in a group or learning conducting skills through to massive projects like planning and producing a concert series.

This freed up classroom time also means that the role of the teacher changes: facilitating and mentoring rather than instructing and correcting. And this would impact on the amount of preparation time a high school music teacher would need for each class (to be explicit – this new model would require much more teacher preparation) as well as increased follow-up obligations.

But it would be so cool.

No more prac periods, where students are (effectively) abandoned by the teacher to do their own private practice. All class time would be spent working collaboratively, either in small groups (even pairs) or as a class. Students would have to talk to each other about their work every day. [This would be a revolution in many an Australian high school…]

This would only work if teachers and school administrators took a leap of faith and believed that better results (marks and rankings) would be achieved through this change in approach. And as most collaborative activities would not have a direct correlation to the activities that are assessed, it might be difficult for teachers and administrators to take that leap. [And that’s without the leap in hours invested being taken into account, for a sector of the teaching profession that is strained to breaking point already.]

But I’ve been feeling inspired today just imagining/fantasising about what might be….

10 thoughts on “High School (Virtual) Music Class

  1. Its a great idea. Unfortunately, first you have to teach children that education is something they do, not something that is done to them.
    I did year 11/12 German over the last two years, over the phone; distance education. At the beginning of the first term, I heard students come, all geed up to learn German and then disappear. What they couldn’t cope with was 8 hours of homework learning the content and then 1 hour of listening and speaking practice with the other students. Because it was phone, at any one time there were only 4 students on the line.
    In the end there was me and one other girl who, until year 11, had been home schooled and been taught to learn.

    • Don’t you think the energy of being in the physical presence of other students would have changed this dynamic, however? You’re talking about a process where the students *don’t* have the advantage of being together in a room…

      Having said that, I hear you [“something they do, not something that is done to them”]. I’d like to teach them that, too, of course. 🙂

  2. Yes there are many variables, which are hard to eliminate. However, I also did 1 term of Japanese in a classroom at the same level last year.
    THere we had 3 hours of lesson and were expected to do about 5 hours of homework. Although the lesson did include some collaboration between the students (which was great and definitely what was missing in our german classes) most of the lesson was spoon feeding. The retention rate in these classes were very high, even though the children had to spend an entire evening there.
    Now I am doing Japanese at Uni. We have 4 hours of lessons/week and I’ve been feeling quite dissatisfied with them and now I know why. Suddenly the spoon-fed-ees are expected to learn the content like adults but then the class is spent with the teacher reiterating what we learnt, not in collaboration with the other students. This is the worst possible use of time. Thanks for taking the time to reply and helping me think this through. Now I know what to write when the student feedback forms come round. 🙂

    • So after I wrote the previous comment, I got out of bed 🙂 , and went and talked to my husband who lectures science at the same Uni I am at and always gets excellent student assessments (no really, he does!). Turns out he uses exactly the same method my tutors do because he cannot rely on the students to have read the material!
      However they are trialling something called POGIL
      http://www.pogil.org/about
      which you might be interested in. This involves spoon feeding a small amount of information, a core concept, to the students, and then have them collaboratively explore some leading questions. I guess you could have a practical compnent to it too. My husband says its quite a lot of work for the tutors though, setting up the material.
      I supose you have already seen the TTED talk on studio schools?
      http://blog.ted.com/2011/09/27/a-short-intro-to-the-studio-school-geoff-mulgan-on-ted-com/
      My daughters school has changed all their classrooms names to Sudio N, which I don’t suppose is the same as being a real studio school but the intent is nice. 🙂

  3. I learnt absolutely nothing in my pre-tertiary high school music class (or any school music classes at all for that matter). There was no assessment outside the school for the theory component so theory wasn’t addressed at all in class either – I was given an A for the theory criteria despite probably not even being able to pass a grade 2 ameb theory exam at the time, and all the class time was spent practicing alone for the end of year practical assesment, of which the entire program was chosen and taught to me by my private teacher outside of the school. What a joke!

    The low standard of music classes in Australian schools is something that makes my blood boil. I teach piano privately, and most of my students tell me they spend their entire school music classes singing (and that isn’t being taught either – it’s not like they’re doing aural skills exercises or singing in parts, it’s just a way of filling in time). They can’t even tap basic rhythms. Music seems to be looked at by everyone in the school as non-contact time for the classroom teachers to do marking or prep, rather than as something valuable in itself. Grrrr!

    My other pet peeve with school music is schools taking advantage of their most talented students and “using” them, either (excessively) to promote the school or to make their own jobs easier. I had a 12 year old kid doing grade 5 piano for leisure rock up the other day with a thick stack of photocopied songs that he had been told he had to learn to accompany the school choir as part of his role as “choir captain.” The pieces were at least two levels higher than where he is at, and after spending 5 minutes struggling over one line of one of the songs to demonstrate the size of the task, I told him to tell his teacher that I forbade him doing it. There was NOTHING to gain for him in spending his practice time learning difficult accompaniments (I would have felt differently if it was one song, slightly below the level he can play at, to give him an experience accompanying a choir) – the teacher was just too lazy to learn it all herself!

  4. Have you heard of Musical Futures? This is a new approach from the UK based on some great research into informal music learning by Lucy Green. Group work and peer learning are a key part of the approach and, just as you describe teachers have to step back and facitlitate rather than “teaching,” allowing students to teach themselves. I’ve been applying some of the principles in my grade 4/5/6 primary school classes and there are a number of pilot programs accross Australia.

    • Hi Nicole – yes, I have been following the Musical Futures stories with interest, but I haven’t seen any reportage on Australian pilot programs… Having said that, I hadn’t connected the great work being done through Musical Futures with this idea of flipping the classroom – thank you for the insight!

  5. I’ve worked in International schools around the world for most of my career. Presently I am at a school in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I have the freedom to try out new techniques and processes in how I deliver music curriculum to my students.

    Some of my colleagues and I have used flipped classrooms for a few years now. It is astounding how much the students will take on in their own learning. At times, concepts are mastered before I even broach the subject. The flipped classroom also allows me to spend more time with students who have some skill deficits or students who have developed interests in progressing at a much faster pace. The students are much more motivated and gain a depth of understanding that usually doesn’t occur in a HS or MS classroom.

    I some ways we are starting to progress beyond the flipped classroom. Students are automatically taking it upon themselves to research their interests in music, set up their own recitals and concerts and approach more skilled musicians online. I am finding some of my students are becoming much more creative in their approach to music.

    All this is not to say that I have an outstanding programn by any sense of the word. Ho Chi Minh City is just about the most unmusical place on the planet with no tradition in western instrumental performance, pedagogy or composition. There are simply no musical resources in this city as well as a certain amount of xenophobia towards western muscians. As well, my school is constantly in flux so the various music programns have not developed the way that we teachers would like.

    Still we are encouraged to try and research and implement strategies in all areas of teaching. Our latest foray is into more meaningful assessment of our students skills and creativity.

    As an educator, I feel duty-bound to bring my students into the twenty first century ( I am of the opinion that education in general is about 50 years out of date). As a composer I like to explore the new as well as attempt to learn and master what has gone before.

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