Today confirmed something that I guess I’ve always known- the vast majority of my students are visual learners (Dunn, Thies, & Honigsfeld, 2001). After 18 years as a high school teacher, I certainly have been through my share of professional development and the study of learning styles, but it is only recently that I have made a concerted effort to bring learning theory into my daily teaching practice.
As a band director, I am always focused on my next performance. There have been countless times that I have “rote taught” rhythms (It goes like this, kids….) because of time constraints or some other pressing matter. In the past few years, I have dedicated myself to teaching concepts and assessing whether my students have learned the material. More about this in other posts, and I am also considering writing a book on the subject…
On to the “bloggable moment” which compelled me to write this entry- a wonderful “a-ha!” moment for my students during the study of that great gem of musical literature “Highlights from Pirates of the Carribean”. Yes, you read correctly. This particular arrangement has some wonderful opportunities for teaching 12/8 time, which was the focus of my lesson for the day.
My dominant learning style is auditory, so I tend to teach that way. I suspect that most music teachers are also auditory learners, (although I don’t have research to back that claim up) and tend to deliver instruction skewed to this style of learning. I decided that I would teach the concept from the visual perspective to see if it would increase understanding- I was not prepared for the results.
Using the ActivBoard in my classroom, I brought up a pdf file of my score. With a few flipcharts, I access their prior knowledge by relating duple and triple meter and reviewing hierarchy of note values and then bring up a desktop flipchart with a copy of my score. With a few clicks, I highlight the flute and clarinet parts that play against each other in a hemiola-sounding passage. Now the magic- as soon as I highlighted the eighth notes and the quarter notes that they corresponded to in the other part, I got wide eyes and gasps of “OH!”. My students needed to see the concept as well as hear it to understand.
After a few minutes, I was having students come up and identify other instances of the same pattern in my score and explaining how to decode the rhythm in their own words. They then returned to their seats where they used a reciprocal teaching model to “teach” their seat partner how to perform the rhythm. In short order, we were performing the passage accurately (assessment).
The moral of the story- Never forget that the majority of your students need to see the concept because they are visual learners! Take every opportunity to translate the content delivery into highly visual elements and your concept retention is sure to increase!