Flippin’ the Band Room

Mike Lawson • • July 14, 2017

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Let’s change the way we’ve always taught.

With increased technology comes lots of increased ideas about how we ‘should’ start teaching. A lot of this increased technology can easily transfer into the ELA or Social Studies classroom where computers are utilized regularly for teaching. This new technology can be used in STEM classes and science classes, but can it be used in the same capacity in the music classroom? Why not? Let’s see how one particular ‘new’ concept can be utilized regularly in the music classroom.

The concept of flipping the classroom is not new, but rather has been around since 2007 when two high school science teachers, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams figured out a way to record their lectures from their high school classrooms. These teachers found that if the students watched and listened to their lectures the night before they came to class that it would gain them more class time. What is a flipped classroom? Well, instead of the lecture happening during school and a teacher assigning “homework” the night after the lecture, the teachers flipped the process. Bergmann and Sams, first assigned their lecture as homework, by having students watch a video of the teachers lecturing. This then allowed the teachers time during class to have greater conversations about the concept as well as being able to use more higher order thinking. While this concept of flipping the classroom is not “new,” it is a concept that is not widely used in all classrooms. Within my own district it was first used by many math teachers to provide instruction to students prior to class. These math teachers would record their lessons on the smartboard or within a PowerPoint presentation so that the students could see the lessons and come to class the next day with questions. This allowed the teachers more time with students during class to help struggling students as well as give more challenging work to the students who excelled. Band class, however, is not the same as a math classroom. How could I utilize the flipped classroom concepts in band to be able to gain more rehearsal time?

Since original concept of flipping the classroom was created to be able to use class time more wisely I began to think about all the concepts we teach at the beginning of the year in beginning band. What concepts do we teach during class that we could instead how the students learn outside of class? The first concept that came to mind immediately was the idea of note reading. This year in beginning band, from an idea taken from the After Sectionals podcast, (aftersectionals.com), my beginning band colleague and I wanted our students to take a “pass off” test on the first eight notes of their instrument. In the example on the podcast, their band program in Texas, is set up where they see their students in group instrument classes every day. Our program is not set up this way, rather we see our beginners in large band class every other day, so our approach to teaching our students has to be very different since instead of seeing 26 clarinet players every day, we see all band instruments together every other day. I decided we would try flipping the lesson. Our students instead of making flashcards in class, went home and watched a video specific to their instrument that allowed them to create index cards for the first eight notes of their own instrument.

Here is an example of one of our flipped videos for index cards: https://youtu.be/TlD3q01KkmA

Students will then utilize these index cards in class as well as at home to practice memorizing their notes. Class time was then utilized for rhythm work, following the Teaching Rhythm Logically (teachingrhythmlogically.com), and theory work from the A New Approach to Band (payhip.com/musicmegs). By utilizing these two programs we were then able to start students reading notes, reading rhythms and understanding theory even before they played.  A New Approach to Band allows time for students to work independently while the teacher(s) can quiz each student individually on their note reading skills.

Many of you might not teach beginning band and if you’ve gotten to this point of the article might be thinking, the idea of creating index cards is a very basic one that only allows for instant recall instead of more higher order thinking questions, so how else could you flip your band class? Each year I teach a lesson to my 7th and 8th grade band students reviewing the idea and concepts of enharmonics, as well as introduce new concepts such the formula to creating a scale and the order of key signatures. Instead of trying to teach these concepts in band, and feeling like it was taking time away from other rehearsing, I decided to flip the lessons. Since the concept of flipping is a newer one to me and to many of my students I decided to experiment a little not only on how I deliver the information but how I test for understanding of the knowledge.

One thing I did learn was that students need to be held accountable for the information learned in the flipped lesson. For some of the flipped lessons I had the students fill out a worksheet while they watched the video, which they then handed in for a grade. This worksheet went step by step along with the video to insure students watched the video in its entirety. The flipping idea allows the flexibility to have students re-watch parts of the video or the entire video if they did not understand the concept as well as start and stop the video as needed for their own individual learning. For another assignment, I utilized the mix PowerPoint feature in Office 365, to which our district subscribes and had the students complete a three-question quiz for a grade once they watched the video. These quizzes could easily be created in Google Docs or a free subscription to surveymonkey. com if your district is not an Office 365 or Google district.

Some examples can be found here: goo.gl/0ab5ca

You could also create a short “do now,” assigned for the students the next day in class to test for the new knowledge.

When flipping your classroom, the videos can be very short or full-length lessons. I found for many of the students a video between 6 and 8 minutes was a good length to keep them engaged and learning while outside of the classroom. As a middle school band department, we have also begun the conversation of how else we could flip our instruction for increased learning. We started creating videos on how to practice, what to practice, playing scales, as well as more advanced playing concepts such as cross partial slurring on trombone. The idea of flipping your classroom in no way takes away from the need to have “seat” time with the students but rather allows the “seat” time to be more productive.

Meghan Cabral is a middle school band teacher. Her articles have been published in The Instrumentalist magazine, MEJ, NYSBDA Band Stand, as well as the NYSSMA School Music News. Meghan is a 2016 Grammy semi-finalist, an active guest conductor as well as presenter. She can be reached at musicmegs@gmail.com


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