In my classroom, I have my laptop, an interactive whiteboard (using Interwrite Workspace software, a little different to the Smartboards we saw at MTEC 2011), and one other computer for staff and student use. There are computer labs at the school as well as trolleys with class sets of laptops for the library, but no dedicated music tech lab as such. Since the recent holidays, I also now have an iPad.
As well as the site licence for O-Generator, I’m also making a list of other software, like Acid Xpress and Musescore, to be installed. Once these are done, I can start running some composition lessons in the labs.
In the meantime, I’m finding ways to stretch the resources that I have in the classroom. The IWB is a very recent addition, and I’m really pleased with the stuff I can do with it. I’ve installed O-Generator, ProTools, and Sing and See on my laptop, and Acid Music Studio on the classroom computer so far (with O-Generator and ProTools next on the list).
For the last couple of days, I’ve been splitting my classes into several small groups, and have had a rotation arrangement going. While one pair uses O-Generator on the IWB, another pair explores Acid Music Studio on the computer, and every so often they swap so that other students can try them out.
In the meantime, those not using music software practise keyboard skills, guitar, or drums. There are two smaller rooms which adjoin the main classroom, one of which is affectionately called “the soundproof room”, even though students playing in it can sometimes be heard a block or two away. One room has a piano, the other, a drum kit. I also have several smaller keyboards that students can play individually, and a number of acoustic guitars.
The students are really enjoying the new software, although I look forward to being able to run full lab lessons so that they can all individually play around with it. The downside is, they won’t have musical instruments with them while they’re in the labs. Dedicated composition lessons on computers will be kept very separate from normal instrumental prac at the moment. For most, I imagine that won’t be a problem, although I wonder how well that will work for those who want to combine both, especially the senior students.
The small-group arrangement with a bunch of various activities is a really good strategy for differentiated instruction and self-paced, student-centred learning. Students can show off what they can do, and teach each other what they know. When it works, it can work extremely well. I’ve had whole 70-minute lessons where I don’t have to do anything: I just let them get into their groups, and they teach each other and make music together. These are the most magical lessons for me to watch, in my experience. But not all classes work this way. I’ve also had classes where I try to let them take control of their own music-making and music learning, and for one reason or another, it doesn’t seem to work. I still have yet to figure out why.
Setting learning goals and having an overall focus is important for these small-group sessions. Sometimes, I find that I don’t need to set the goal myself: if the student is motivated enough and clear about what he or she wants to achieve, then the goal-setting is already done. For others who are not as motivated or as clearly focused, some form of goal-setting is needed to give them some direction.
Also, the overall long-term objective for that unit, term, or semester needs to be clear, at least in my own mind, so I know where I’m steering the boat, so to speak. Individual and small-group goals need to be connected somehow to that overall goal.
The other thing is student engagement. While most are occupied with making music, there are some who aren’t, who just sit back and listen. While I think it’s important to have that group dynamic where students can simply listen to each other, it can be easy for some to be tempted just to be lazy.
I have a variety of individual activities ready for students who would otherwise try to fade into the wallpaper. These include progressive manuals for guitar, piano, and drums, a few song books, a guitar chord chart, a guitar manual devoted to fingerpicking patterns, and other similar resources from which the students can pick and choose. The addition of O-Generator and Acid Music are the most recent additions.
I still get a bit nervous sometimes with this kind of activity, I have to confess. I tend to be a lot more comfortable when I have the reigns. But the nature of music, is that students need to have that freedom just to explore and to make a lot of noise in the process of learning. It’s not a “quiet” field of study! You know there’s work going on when your ears are ringing at the end of it.
Stretching My Resources by Gabrielle Deschamps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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