R – Jennifer Etter is my friend and colleague at York Middle School as Choral Director and General Music teacher grades 6 through 8. She has not only been an extraordinary partner as we continue to develop our K-12 music program, she has been an innovator and driving force in exploring ways to up the ante with regard to our craft as music educators. I asked her to submit a blog post and below is her offering. I hope you will find it as thought provoking as I do!
As music teachers, we believe deeply that we are an academic subject. We want to be held to the same standards as other subject areas and we want to be regarded as “Core”. For this reason, I wish we collaborated more with different academic areas more often to improve our teaching practices.
When I first started teaching I realized quickly that there were many things that college had not prepared me for in regards to the day to day of classroom teaching. Ironically, the most valuable experiences that I drew from were not even experiences I had student teaching but rather as an Educational Technician in the non-music classroom. Since that time I have found repeatedly that I am more inspired to be a better music teacher when I attend non-music professional development than music-related professional development! I can’t help but wonder where the disconnect is.
In the past year or so, I have learned so much from taking ideas that were designed to be implemented in a classroom of 20 or so students and modifying them for the large ensemble. Through this process I have found that my classroom has become much more centered around learning and less centered around teaching. I have become increasingly more interested in the student centered classroom although I have to admit in many ways I am at a loss as to how to embrace it within the large ensemble.
I have an idea though…
I recently read Andrew Lupien’s (Cape Elizabeth High School, Math) write-up in the Middle Link Newsletter. His article is entitled Flipping the Classroom. The phrase “flipping the classroom” refers to reversing the learning process, with instruction happening at home, individually on the student’s own time and the practice (what has traditionally been the homework) happening at school with the teacher there to guide the students and be of assistance when needed. This idea really resonated with me as I have had such a hard time trying to wrap my brain around the idea of individualizing instruction for a classroom of 100+ students. Why not flip it around and put the task of the instruction on them and then be there on the other side to help them digest the material? The idea makes a lot of sense in any classroom, this way the student can work through the instruction on their own schedule and at their own pace, but to me it seems almost essential within the large ensemble.
I am lucky to work with 7th and 8th graders in the state of Maine where we have a plethora of technology at our fingertips, otherwise this task may not be as straight-forward as it seems. By no means do I have this figured out yet but for next year I’ve decided to flip, for at least one or two of my classes anyway. Rather than teaching lessons in class where students are more likely to be distracted by their peers, I’m going to try to pre-record the lessons for the students to watch as their homework and then come to class with a knowledge base already. I can record separate lessons for each voice part or lessons on music literacy. Our time in school can be used to practice and assess the material that was introduced to them at home. Using this model students can be free to access the material at their own pace. If it’s done through video, they can watch it as many times as needed and can pause or rewind if they would like.
I do not envision this making my job as a teacher any easier. I will need to be a strong leader and provide structure for the students so that they can make the best use of their working time in the classroom. It is my hope however to try to put the ball in their court in terms of learning material and that way when it comes time for class…. we can run with it!
you can contact Jen at firstname.lastname@example.org