Monday, September 12, 2016

Active Learning in the Music Room

Active Learning includes the ideas that classrooms should be student-centered, and teachers are facilitators of learning.  The students' voices are heard, and students are given choices in their learning as well.  Material should be relevant, and learning is hands-on, providing an engaging and meaningful experience for the student as well as the teacher.  For more detailed information, go to What Is Active Learning? by Nicole Zumpano.

After being introduced to the concept of Active Learning, our class was divided into partners, and each group was assigned an article which demonstrated an example of Active Learning in a classroom setting.  My partner, Jane, and I read an article on the use of QR codes, and then created a short Google slide presentation to summarize what we had learned.  To see our presentation, click HERE.

To me, as a music educator with a primary focus in Orff-Schulwerk, I was struck by how perfectly the Orff-Schulwerk aligns with the ideas of active learning.  We do many activities in small groups, where students are given rhythms, for example, and expected to create an ostinato pattern, or a melody.  We do "Group Practice, Group Share" enabling students to practice all the different work they have done simultaneously, then share for another and assess their own learning.  The first question I have them ask each other is, "Did you follow the assignment?"  We talk about feedback: "It's great!" really isn't great feedback!

Just the other day, we had learned a simple speech piece using body percussion and transferred the piece the xylophones.  In a non-Active Learning setting, I would have provided the students with a melody to this speech rhythm, and taught it to them by rote.  But, as an Orff-Schulwerk teacher, it is my job to facilitate the students making their OWN music.  So, after demonstrating how to create one's own melody, students went to the xylophones and composed 4-note melodies in C pentatonic. The activity was highly structured to set students up for success, but it created an opportunity for all the students to come up with their own musical answer to an unknown.   Click Out Goes the Rat to hear a 5th grade student improvising an 'answer' on a metallophone.

5th Grade Student
Personal Photo from iPad camera

I was also struck by the question, "Would you want to be a student in your classroom?"  About 10 years ago, after teaching a day of classes that didn't go very well, I made a decision to never have a bad class period again.  This might sound impossible, but it is not.  It meant that I would have to do extraordinary amounts of planning, then continue to allow for flexibility in the moment, and be willing to redo a lesson differently when I didn't like the way it had unfolded.  Ten years later, I have hardly had a bad class since that defining moment.  Most importantly, students respond to this type of classroom environment in remarkable ways.  Their lives are changed for the better by simply being given a voice.

What's the secret?  The main secret is designing music lessons around active learning so I can get out of the way and, in the words of Carl Orff, "Let the students be their own composers."  Whether we are playing drums, recorders, xylophones or doing movement, the students need an opportunity to make it theirs.  YES, I want to be a student in my own classroom, and I am proud of that!

P.S. This is a chaotic process.  Active Learning is noisy, and that's ok!