Flipped Recorder Class
This is the second year of teaching my elementary recorder class with technology and the resulting progress of my students could not be more profound. This year, we have completely flipped the recorder unit of study. For a look back at the baby steps we took with technology in my class last year, read this post. I honestly think I could write ten posts on the amazing way technology is changing my music class, but I will focus on the recorder class first. I want to tell you how I accidentally flipped the elementary recorder class.
Do you have an iPad or smart phone at home?
When I asked this question last year, just a handful of students raised their hands. When asked the same question this year, all but two out of 78 students raised their hands. What a difference a year makes! After a year and a half of 1:1 iPads, our students completely understand how to use their iPads to make a video and attach it to an email. They are comfortable looking up our recorderkids.wikispaces site. They know how to move between the linked pages, work with the sound files, and save images to their iPads. Some children have figured out how to read the music and play along with the accompaniment on one iPad while making a video with their parent’s smart phone. Various levels of independence in making the videos can be seen in the thinglink below. The access to technology makes flipping the elementary recorder class possible.
Who controls the learning?
Because of all the technology the children have at their disposal at home, this year, the children are controlling the learning. I never understood the potential until these last three weeks with my 4th graders. Although I’ve heard Alan November explain it, read about teachers in upper grade levels doing it, I never ever thought flipping a class would be remotely possible in an elementary music class that only meets forty minutes just once every six days. Sha-zam!! It wasn’t intentional, but it works!!! The students are using the wiki to learn their recorder pieces and emailing me their performances to pass their belts. By the way, they are using their parent’s email address. When I receive their email, I download and listen to the piece, then I email them back with all kinds of praise and affirmation, and when needed, a suggestion to fix something played incorrectly. I’ve even sent back a demo video just for a student who is having trouble. The boys and girls are learning at their own pace; the instruction is completely individualized. Do you want to know how?
“If you build it, he will come!”
This quote inspired me. It’s from Ray Liotta’s character, Shoeless Joe Jackson, in the 1989 film “Field of Dreams.” When I built the wiki at recorderkids.wikispaces.com., I wanted a place where my students could go to learn and play along with their recorder pieces. I know that’s not the real purpose of a wiki, but it works for me and it was super easy to set up. On the first day of the recorder unit, I sent home the link and told the children to get started – making a big to-do over the secret recorder site just for kids. This year, I added videos of me and/or students teaching them how to finger and play the new notes that must be mastered in each belt level. The wiki provides the materials and instruction my students need to learn at their own pace. It’s a work in progress though. I have to keep updating the teaching videos because a large group of the children are moving quicker than I can demonstrate in class. The ultimate reward for a student who sends in an A++ video is to have it linked on the wiki page as an example. A child demonstrating playing is always more effective than anything I do. Between you and me, the only problem with the videos sent in by the children is sometimes they don’t position the camera correctly and it cuts off their fingers, or their head, or it’s slanted, or facing a vase or the ceiling, etc. haha! The wiki works for most of the children, but I also have hard copies available for those who want to work the old-fashioned way. What I would like for them to do via the wiki is to play the slow version, the fast version, watch the demo if needed, and record themselves playing along with the piece. It doesn’t always work like that (yet). It’s easy to identify those who practice playing along and those who don’t, but I realize some students have more access to technology at home than others.
What is a flipped class like?
Housekeeping: At the beginning of our 40 minute class time, the students take care of housekeeping: they move their names up to the correct belt level (bulletin board) and get their earned belts and beads. They don’t put on beads during class because that would take up too much time. I’ve given them a pipe cleaner on which to put their beads to store in their recorder bags until they get home. Review: For the next 15-20 minutes, we play through the pieces they have learned at home. I start with easier belt pieces and move on up. For example, after they have learned it at home, we play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in different styles. Using the MK-8 resources, we have so many wonderful accompaniments to enjoy. I explain how being part of the “Orchestra” is so fun when you know your part. We also work on musicianship: playing with long, beautiful phrases, contrasting dynamics, or spunky rhythms…making sure they are playing with LH on top, etc.
Work: For the rest of the time, I have the children use the wiki site to work on their next pieces because all the children are now on different levels. The children group themselves by belt levels for the remainder of the class time. I’m free to check on different groups and spot those who need encouragement. When they exit, they have to tell me the piece they are working on.
Test: If any student needs help with a piece, select students instantly volunteer. (In the emails, I tell the children who have played a piece perfectly that they can be a tutor / tester for that piece. They are to remind me during class.) This helps those children who are not able to record at home for various reasons. If any student wants to pass of a piece, they have to make a recording – no “live” playing. I’ve found it’s a better use of our class time: they work on their own until their video is perfect and I’m not tied up trying to listen to 18 students before class ends. Students either email me their recordings during class time or the afternoon after class, my inbox is flooded with attached videos from excited and competitive children.
The Difference: The amazing difference that a flipped classroom makes is how well they play when they return. They play with confidence. They have great questions to ask. If a child says, “I don’t get it!” he/she is instantly helped by children around him/her. I’m not teaching the class anymore. The kids are doing the teaching. I’ll say, “Who needs to pass the green belt today?” Who can show us how to play the low ‘e’? Five students instantly pop up! One tells the class how to blow softly, another gives a hint on how to play with flat fingers to cover the low holes. Instead of using the recorder to learn music once every six days, my students are now actively learning music every day. Am I reaching every student? Realistically, there are those children who are lazy and still difficult to reach, but fewer in number, they are no longer controlling the class. They have been silenced by the excitement of the others.
Time: The class time does have a fast pace to it. I have children on all different levels wanting to play their pieces together. 40 minutes seems like 10 and no one wants to leave. Because I am emailing back and forth (through their parents), there is a greater connect to the children and their families. It is making a huge difference! Is it time-consuming? Yes. Initially, setting up the wiki took the longest. Once a system is in place to download/upload the videos to Dropbox, the emailing is actually fun because of the interaction with the kids. I receive an average of 8-10 videos every day or two days and it takes about 3-5 minutes per response.
Look at the videos
I uploaded the videos to my Dropbox and created a thinglink to share with you so you could see my precious little ones creating their videos at home. Talking about it is one thing, watching them in action makes the point. You can see the variety of ability. In their pj’s or around the dinner table, their pride in performing is priceless. I just have to share what is working so well.
How about you? Have you found a way to flip the elementary music class?
If you have ideas, let’s share and learn from each other. Next post, I want to show you the cool way we are using Aurasma with recorders.
Update: Feb. 16 / Here is the beginning letter that I sent home to my students and parents.