Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pull Out Lessons - No longer the lone solution for instrumental music instruction

By Mark T. Burke

The bell rings, 3rd period begins and Jenn meets the teacher at the front of the class as she enters the room.  Jenn's not going to the teacher to discuss last night's assignment, she's about to leave class and head to the band room.  The teacher informs her the class will be taking a quiz today followed by a critical discussion on last nights reading assignment so Jenn will need to stay.  Jenn heads back to her seat and the class starts.

Jenn's felt prepared for this week's clarinet lesson and was looking forward to getting feedback from her music teacher.  Since the school is on a 6 day cycle, Jenn will have to wait more than week util she can attend another lesson  For now, she must stay in class and finish the assignment.  

This story highlights just one aspect of the challenges pull out music lessons present to students, core subject teachers and music programs.  Pull out lessons are a standard practice in schools now-a-days.  How many schools actually provide a free period for instrumental music lessons? I would estimate few if any.  The majority of instrumental music lessons are provided through pull out lessons when students leave a class, or study hall or lunch to attend their lesson.

During my years of public school teaching, all of my lessons (at various schools) where scheduled through pull outs.  I worked within the periods (or times) given to me throughout the week to arrange for small groups of students to come to the band room for lessons.  I was responsible for ensuring students didn't miss the same classes too often and encouraged to take advantage of "free" periods such as study halls and lunch times.  Needless to say, this effort almost always proved that my college degree left me totally unprepared for the real tasks I would encounter in the field.  (I should have paid more attention in calculus so I could have learned to apply a thousand variables to one challenge).

My efforts to arrange pull out lessons left me feeling like my career was based on the luck of the draw, randomness and unrealized expectations.  There was nothing worse than expecting a full class of flutes only to have 1 show up 20 minutes into the class after failing a pop-quiz.  But none-the-less, the rotating pull out lesson is a necessity in most schools that want to provide small group or individualized instruction.  There are ways to increase the participating rate and innovation is certainly one of those ways.

Not being a believer in creating a solution for an unidentified problem, it's important to know what we are trying to solve.  I believe our target goals should be:
"Ensure instrumental music instructional time is maximized through a combination of flexible services that support complex school curriculum requirements and expectations on students, limit the negative impacts of scheduling conflicts, ensure consistent opportunities for teacher-student interaction, eliminate teacher "down time," and foster a positive attitude in students and the school community in regards to student participation in instrumental music."
Pull out lessons create challenges in ALL of these areas.  While I do believe they are still a viable and necessary element of instrumental music instruction, dealing with the issues can be overwhelming.  When I was teaching, if I would have had a way to provide other options for my students (and school), I would jumped on the effort with my full energy.

We've built our online instrumental music program to be a turn key supplement to pull out lessons.  The power of virtual learning tools combined with proven face-to-face instruction provided through in-school lessons can provide what we feel is the ULTIMATE instrumental music experience for kids (and schools).  Let's revisit our story above and change the scenario a bit.

After speaking to her teacher, Jenn joined the class and participated in the quiz and the class discussion on the reading assignment.  The night before, Jenn had been practiced her clarinet exercises, reviewed the musical content to ensure she understood the concepts, taken a practice quiz online and received the feedback, made a recording of herself playing the assignment and submitted it for review and feedback from her in-school music teacher.  Throughout the day, her music teacher would review Jenn's submission and send her comments.  In addition, Jenn had access to all of the musical content and explanations of the new symbols and playing techniques online.  Her music teacher sent her feedback on her recording, asked her to work on a few areas and resubmit and told her to move on to the next section of her online course.  When Jenn returned to her face-to-face lesson the following week, she was prepared and had progressed.  

This story demonstrates that Jenn had grown musically during a time that could have been, well, less than productive. Virtual music instructional tools help students deal with the challenges that are NOT always so obvious.  I remember the days of participating in pull out lessons as a young student.  Facing my teachers and reminding them that I would be leaving class was not always so easy to do.  I also remember having to go in front of the class after it started and ask to leave.  Other students were not always so kind when I approached the front of the room to leave for band lessons.  While I'm certainly not suggesting kids hide their musical interest, I know if I could have learned what I needed to learn musically, received feedback from my teacher and avoided often uncomfortable social situations, I would have benefited from virtual learning.  As an educator, I know I have taught other students who would have benefited as well.

As you head back to school this year, think about your instrumental music goals.  How could your students and program benefit from supplementing your pull out lesson program with quality online instructional tools?  Would your beginners progress more quickly so that retention would increase and drop outs decrease?  Would your 1st and 2nd year performers develop better at home practice routines? What would increased teacher-student interactions mean for your program?  Visit us online at

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