Out with the Old, In with the New

I subscribe to ASCD’s daily SmartBrief.  It’s a wonderful email newsletter with links to latest headlines and research in education. I found the following article to be very interesting, particularly to Orff teachers.

From: http://www.ascd.org/conferences/conference-daily/ac12/lectures.aspx

Old-School Lectures Are Out

Caroline Newton

“The goal is to create an environment that is meaningful, challenging, and in which the students’ minds are actively engaged,” said Rick Smith, author of Picture This! and Conscious Classroom Management

Smith not only presented his teaching style, but he also used that approach to lead his conference session, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lecture.” He encouraged the crowd to applaud whenever they felt the urge, especially because movement increases circulation to the brain, making you smarter.

“Neurons that fire together, wire together!” Smith said, pointing to PET scan images on the screen. 

To consistently involve students and make sure they benefit from the lessons, teachers need to understand how the brain learns. Scientists conducting rat brain research discovered that rats’ brains stimulated with ever-changing mazes had more neuron connections than those of isolated rats, whose number of connections shrank. Smith joked that if the rats had too much stimulation, they might learn to dance.

“We need to constantly feed the brain,” said Smith. “Neurons, like people, crave connections.” 

Connections develop when students talk and participate in learning. To have an actively involved class, there must be a high participation rate. There are two common reasons kids don’t participate: fear of public speaking and fear of having the wrong answer. 

“If you call on Sally, she feels humiliated; if you don’t, she falls through the cracks,” Smith explained. 

The best way to tackle participation fear is to take it step by step and break the fear in half, Smith said. He suggested the 8 Raised Hands strategy, which requires eight people to raise their hands. Teachers call on each one and respond to their answers only with “thank you.” Then the teacher announces the right answer, alleviating the students’ pressure to be right. That way, there is no longer celebrity for being right. 

But more important, how can teachers keep their students actively engaged and absorbing information? By breaking up the lecture into 10- to 12-minute intervals. During his session, Smith presented the information, paused, and asked the audience to reflect. For example, audience members had a few moments to come up with a slogan that represented the whole presentation.

In his model, Note-Taking, Note-Making, Smith proposed that teachers use brief pauses to reinforce new information. Students still take notes during the lecture, but at each pause, the teacher gives an allotted time for students to summarize, compare, or make an alliteration of their own to personalize the subject matter. 

“Note-Taking, Note-Making nurtures neurons,” Smith said. “It’s taking what the brain already likes to do and using it.”

I see this relating to music education in many ways.  First, we all know that simply having the students memorize notes on the staff, facts about old composers, and musical terms does not require higher level thinking. We also know that it makes our classrooms rather stagnant and boring.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t teach those things, we simply need to remember to teach them IN THE CONTEXT of CREATING MUSIC!

Here is an example:

  You could list all of the musical terminology you want your third graders to know on the board, have them copy it down to a notebook, memorize it, and take a matching test to see if they’ve learned the music.


Your third grade students are performing a body percussion rondo (perhaps something you learned at a workshop, in Jim Solomon’s book, or from the Orff Volumes), or singing a song, or playing the recorder.  You, the teacher, notice that the students are using the same dynamic level throughout the whole piece.  You, the musician, know that dynamic contrast creates interest.  You ask the children to play different parts of the piece using a different volume. You ask the children their opinion about which sections need to be different. After your students have created a version of the piece using their recommended dynamic selections, you give the loudness and softness a name. You say, “when musicians play softly, that’s called piano. When musicians play loudly, that’s called forte!”

In which scenario are students more engaged in the learning process? Its obvious.  Try something like this in your class, with your curriculum needs and see children get excited about learning music.


One response to “Out with the Old, In with the New

  1. I just love this post. It needs to be blown up and posted in every music classroom. It is critical knowledge every teacher, young and old, needs to be reminded of.

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