MACCornerTechnology Enhances Teaching and Learning in the Music Classroom

Mike Lawson • Technology • June 14, 2016

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Does technology really help us in the music classroom? You bet! However, it largely depends on how and when you use specific technologies within the teaching process.

That process involves precision, examples, assessment, sequencing, feedback, transfer, and change. If these categories sound familiar, that’s because you’ll find these in Robert A. Duke’s book Intelligent Music Teaching. I would highly recommend this book as a professional resource that has changed the way we teach music at Metea Valley High School. Technology should never be the focus of the lesson — instead, technology should be a teaching tool that helps students learn. Below you will find seven areas of the teaching process where technology can enhance learning.

Use technology to help students understand precision. Whether it is a metronome or a tuner, or SmartMusic, we have a variety of tech tools to help students become aware that as humans we will never be as perfect as a computer. The technology should be used in your teaching method to show examples of rhythmic perfection, or the lack thereof. The app “Tonal Energy” can be used to help students understand the pitch corrections needed in a major chord when playing in just temperament or equal temperament. Apps, metronomes, or even using a computer to simply display rhythm cards in a slideshow are ways to show students how to focus on a technique as an ensemble and improve precision.

Use technology to show examples of excellence. With the amount of video and audio available on the internet alone, we have many examples to show our students. Young musicians need to see what it looks like when YOU listen to music. Are you excited, enthusiastic and interested in the performance aspects of a piece? If you are, chances are that they will follow. Use video or pictures to show your students what good posture looks like, or what the Marine Band looks like when they perform, or how a symphony orchestra sets up on the stage. We have so many great examples of what things are supposed to look like and sound like, there really is no excuse for our students, even in the most remote areas, to not be attempting to imitate professionals. If you show your students a standard of excellence, they now have something for which to strive. Many successful teachers have tabs on their band and orchestra websites that provide listening examples, instrument and posture position, and good practice habits. Consider posting this information where students and parents can read and watch together at home. You do not need to rely on yourself to explain every detail to the students about the examples. Instead, let them do the talking. If they can explain what good posture is and back up their thoughts with an example (citing a source), we have just allowed them to set the standard of excellence. Ask your students to watch a video of the New York Philharmonic performing a piece of music. Then, ask your students to play a piece of music with “New York Philharmonic” posture. If you teach in a 1-1 setup where students all have Chromebooks or iPads, try having them journal about their posture or send in pictures of great posture using searches. Posture is just one example here, you can substitute for tone quality, phrasing, nuance, etc.

Use technology to assess your students regularly. Formative assessment works the best and gathers the quickest, most usable data. As music teachers, we are masters of formatively assessing our students. However, when we incorporate technology into the data gathering process, we often times make things way too complicated. When assessing your students over a long period of time or asking them to show mastery of a concept, the best way to find out if they have mastered a skill is through individual performance assessments. Consider having your school purchase SmartMusic and have it installed on several laptops or iPads. This way the students have access to SmartMusic at school, and have the option of using it further through a home subscription. Remember that programs such as SmartMusic provide great assessment and learning tools, and this program has many ways to functionally motivate your students, but you must provide the inspiration and information that makes the performance truly come to life. If you assess too much or weight those assessments over the ensemble, they may not come to rehearsal ready and excited to play. You have to find the balance of what is right for you and your program. If our goal is to prepare students to be able to make music on their own, remember that assessment drives instruction, not performance.

Use technology to help students see the sequencing of instruction. Consider posting the class agenda for the day with learning goals displayed. Use the computer and a projector if available to do so. If using PowerPoint of Google Slides, consider saving each slide so that you have a running evidence of everything you have accomplished this year (curriculum mapping). One of the best ways to use technology in the sequencing of instruction is by mapping out instruction over a long period of time. By utilizing a spreadsheet or outline, we can easily post rehearsal plans or goals on Google Classroom or another online learning platform. I know teachers who post their conductor scores and personal score study analysis in Google Classroom and let students use these documents to gain more perspective on the pieces they are studying. What a great way to use technology! Many teachers have online platform experience using Blackboard. Newer sites such as Schoology, Edmodo, Google Classroom, and more, are all available to teachers for free and can greatly enhance the organization of your classroom from an instructional standpoint. This will help your students know daily, weekly, and semesterly goals, as well as what they are learning right now in the class. Setup activities that allow students to participate and provide their thoughts on the learning process through the use of discussion questions, polls, or written assignments.

Use technology to give students feedback. This is where SmartMusic really does pack a lot of punch. When a student can see when they have made a mistake, and what the mistake was (pitch, rhythm, etc), you have an extremely valuable formative assessment. The fact that students are able to see their mistakes and try over and over to improve means that they are learning through self-actualization. How many subjects in school can prove that students learn something new, demonstrate it, apply it, and feel completely aware of their skill level as much as they do in music education. Technology helps students self-actualize. Be aware that teachers that only use SmartMusic to give feedback to their students are missing a huge component of the teacher-student relationship. Ensure that while you use computer driven assessment that you blend that with a more relational approach through verbal or written communication.

Use technology to find out if transfer is occurring from the skill aspect of playing to the learning aspect. If all we ever do is play and never consider the understanding of what just took place, when do we find out if the students actually learned what we thought we taught them? Technology should be the piece of the puzzle that allows skills to be reinforced and practiced, and then the transfer takes place when we turn the technology off (metronomes, SmartMusic, tuner, etc). By utilizing recording software on a computer (for example, GarageBand), we can record the ensemble and have students find out if their performance was accurate; if it created an aesthetic experience for the audience through volume or color changes, or if it was in tune, both harmonically and melodically. Once we are able to perceive the correctness of our playing, then we go back to the beginning of the learning process and use technology to reinforce or learn new concepts.

Technology can effectively change the learning process so that students experience the joy of playing an instrument while peripherally experiencing excellent assessment and feedback about their playing. While students should realize the potential of playing more precisely when playing along with a metronome, they should also experience what it is like to audiate good tempo. Students need a blend of pitch bending, pitch matching, and relative pitch exercises (playing intervals or chord progressions) away from an electronic tuner. Technology has also been proven to enhance the self – reflection process through the use of Google forms or an ensemble reflection activity through the use of Wordle.

As we climb to the conclusion of the school year, try to use technology to compile the thoughts of your students in an end of the year reflection survey or assignment. Use the student responses to create inspiration for other students. Let technology continue to be a fun, interactive, and reflective tool to build inspiration and motivation to play with the highest level of excellence in musicianship. Ultimately, we as teachers should use technology in a way where music making is always at the fore-front, and never a burden in the music making process. Be creative, experiment, and allow technology to lead those important moments of discovery. Let Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Holst, or Sousa, and other important composers we study and perform always be the lasting impression a student has when they think about music class.

Glen Schneider is an educator at Metea Valley High School Indian Prairie School District #204, Aurora/Naperville, IL & Vander- Cook College of Music, Chicago, IL.


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