Everyday Education – Teaching Music In The Age Of Technology

Most of us now accept the fact that technology has changed almost everything in our lives, including how teachers teach and students learn. But few of us can imagine how much a beloved activity such as middle school or high school chorus has changed as technology has become ubiquitous.

Last spring and this fall I have visited with Rivers Smith. Last spring Smith was the Brevard Middle School choral director; this fall he has moved to Brevard High School. While he has changed schools and grade levels, the important things have remained the same: his love of music, his enjoyment of his students, and his use of technology in his choral program.

As he says, “Tech-nology is in everything that I’m doing, in every part of my lesson.”

To illustrate the point, he starts with his planning process, which is all online – and free. He uses an online lesson-planning program, which was designed by a fellow teacher in Baltimore, that allows him easily to create his weekly lessons, identify the North Carolina Learning Standards that he is teaching daily, and track them over the semester.

This archiving mechanism makes it easy to submit his lesson plans to both his principal and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. (Smith can opt to send samples of his lesson plans to NCDPI as a portion of the Analysis of Student Work process instituted recently as part of teacher evaluation here in North Carolina.)

Those of us who, perhaps not so long ago, remember band or chorus as a group effort with only the occasional talented student solo, would be surprised at how much individual attention Smith can give his students. Beginning students can learn basic music theory by accessing musictheory.net on their district-issued Chromebooks. Singers aspiring to be chosen for the State Honors Chorus can brush up on their sight reading – an important component of their auditions – by using a website called Sight Reading Factory. One of the most stressful aspects of individual choral competition is a bit less so with a program like this for practice and review.

When Smith assigns a new song to the chorus, he can upload what he calls “practice tracks” on his classroom website. A student can use his Chromebook to play a recording of all the other vocal parts, as well as the instrumentation, and sing his part to the music. Imagine! He’s learned his part on his own and is ready to put it all together when he next comes to rehearsal.

Smith can even have the singer record his part and send it to him via the Internet for a grade.

As he admits, “When I was coming up in the ’80s, I was part of a choir. But I don’t think my teacher knew where I was-what I knew. I certainly didn’t have advanced composition, theory, or sight reading.”

Ideally, chorus isn’t an isolated class, and it certainly isn’t at Brevard High School and Brevard Middle School. When Smith was at the middle school, he worked with the Social Studies teachers to support the study of the Medieval Ages by introducing its music and instruments. Students loved the African drumming unit. At the high school, the chorus is singing “Jabberwocky” (think “Alice in Wonder-land”) and a lovely contemporary piece composed from the Emily Dickinson poem, “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers.”

Recently some students came to him asking him to sponsor the Photography Club; he agreed on one condition: they have to attend all choral events and they will create a photo display/visual representation of the music their chorus buddies are singing.

As he notes, “It’s important for kids to see that art comes in many forms. I try to cultivate the understanding that art crosses all boundaries and reaches all people.”

As with all technology, there are always new things to try and Smith has a laundry list of interesting applications and experiences for his students. Right now he is seeking funding avenues to create a recording studio for the students. He’s eyeing a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), the same set of tools that recording studio professionals use.

“It’s only about $500,” he mentions hopefully.

He’s also interested in purchasing upper level theory courseware that will enable his students to compose a variety of new music for their fellow students to sing and play. He already has kids submitting project ideas, some of which blend live choral composition with electronic music.

New ideas, new ways of teaching and learning, are evident even in the age-old experience of choral singing, the art of making beautiful music together. Technology is the catalyst that allows us to shake our heads in the realization that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

(Frances Bryant Brad-burn is the 1:1 Teaching and Learning Consultant as part of a grant to the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University from the Golden LEAF Foundation.)


Original article on The Transylvania Times

Article written by Frances Bryant Bradburn


Kristen Rencher, Social Media and Online Community Engagement Coordinator. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)