Monday, August 1, 2011

Time to change

In another blog, I am writing a more-or-less detailed accounting of some of the lessons and practices that have proven effective in teaching music to the  thousands of kindergarten through high school students that I have had in my career.  
In that blog, I have so far concentrated on my use of music, movement, and play with the lower elementary grades.  The reason for this is that to have an effective upper-grade music program like I did (see 'featured practice' video) requires that the students have early, extensive, and quality instruction in music for the same reason that they need to learn reading, writing, and 'rithmetic.  It is so that basic abilities can be taken for granted, and built upon as the student gets older. 

When I came to my last school,  I chose to address the challenge of making the middle school 'advanced' band better by dramatically changing the approach to music education with  the younger students.  I did this because I know from previous experience that it takes 3 -5 years to make any kind of substantive change that would effect student learning in that amount of time.  I did not lesson my efforts with the upper grades, I merely made changes to the pre-existing program in the upper grades much more gradually than in the younger grades so that the older students wouldn't be threatened by the new ideas, but would be able to integrate them with what they had been taught.  It is worth noting that this 3-5 year (some would say 3-7 years) is necessary to effect any kind of major change in a learning environment. The loss of arts programs in so many schools nationally, means that even if the arts programs were re-introduced into those schools in the next few of years, it will take years to recover what has been lost.    

gradually introduced the use of technology into the band room, in ways that augmented the existing program.   Toward the end of my career, I was noted for, and invited to speak on my innovative use of technology in the classroom especially as it related to the arts, but also as it related to the classroom in general.  For anyone who has read my other blog however, up to this point (i.e. in the Teachers corner), I have not mentioned the use of technology. That is because I am a firm believer that technology should be used age-appropriately  and as a tool of teaching, not a substitute for it.  For younger children, who are at a different developmental stage than middle-school students, my experience has shown that they are much more in need of sensory-motor, socializing and adult-modeling input into their learning than they are in need of more whiz-bang gadgets.  As evidence of that statement, I would submit that the results of the RITMMAP study, which compared an 8 week program of study utilizing only music, movement, and play, to that of an acclaimed computer reading intervention program that was utilized by non-mmp students at the same time. Reading scores of all students improved under both programs, but were decidedly more pronounced in the MMP portion of the study than in the computer-assisted Reading intervention program. 
Back to technology and its use for education.  While I believe that technology should be used thoughtfully and sparingly in lower grades, by the upper grades, I am convinced of its indispensability, and incorporated it as an integral part of all of my music classes. One of my earliest additions of technology to the upper music classroom was computers and educational software.  I spent a summer going from workshop to workshop, and music conference to music conference, talking to experts about what software was appropriate and effective for teaching students music related information at that time.  I found out, through their experience, that there was a great deal of software available, but much of it of limited educational value.  By that I mean of course, that there were a good many well-intentioned, but absolutely user un-friendly programs that purported to 'teach' various aspects of music education.  Those programs had no chance of survival in a classroom of active, intellegent, and media-savvy children that I knew of.  They would be bored to death in no-time, and simply not use it.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were a great many edu-tainment programs, that had all the eye-popping graffics, sounds, and actions to keep the kids interested, but the amount and the quality of the teaching that actually transpired was pretty minimal.  There were however, some very good programs and I utilized many of them, and listed a set of links on my school home-page of educational programs that I and other music teachers recommended.  I have begun doing that again on the web-page 'Edu-links', and I will continue to add to that list as time goes on.  

Of course a great deal has transpired in the 2 years since I was torn kicking and screaming from my classroom.  For one thing, the arts have been taken out of innumerable schools, thousands of teachers have been laid off, classroom sizes have increased, and test scores continue to fall as more and more schools fail.  In my next blog, I will discuss some of what I see as promising new methods for teaching in general, and for teaching the arts especially, that are being tried and show promise as alternatives to our dysfunctional institutionalized education system.  See you then. 
Ron Zell

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