Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Strategies for Flipped Music Classrooms

By Mark T. Burke

I know it has only been a day since I started talking about Flipped Classrooms, but have you given some thought to how you can Flip your Classroom?  Yes...great, share a comment or two below.  If not....then maybe after reading this post you'll have an idea or two.

If you missed the first post, just look below or click here for Part 1: Flipped Out Over Flipped Classrooms. In Part 1, I discussed the many benefits of practicing Flipped Classroom techniques.  Let's dive a bit deeper and discuss a few strategies.  For today's post, "Strategies for Flipped Music Classrooms" I have added the subtitle of "Determining Existing and Desired Educational Focus."  I believe music classrooms are a bit more complex than most K-12 academic subjects in regards to determining how to Flip them.  I think we can all agree we are not a drill and practice curriculum (or at least, we shouldn't be).  Our goal is to help students think in order to build knowledge, like all subjects, as well as grow performance and expressive musical skills.

Consider a typical trumpet lesson for a 9th grade student.  The student comes to the lesson, gets out their instrument, warms up a bit, and then places their lesson material on a music stand.  Next, the teacher will talk to them about their practice routine over the past few days and ask the student to play a selected exercise or section of a solo or their band literature. The teacher will make comments based on the student's performance and give them suggestions for improvement.  The student will then attempt to incorporate the suggestions and the cycle continues until the lesson period ends.

What's the goal of a lesson such as this?  Maybe the goal is "improve the student's performance."  Or, maybe it's "build instrumental skills." Another possibility is, "demonstrate ability to play the music."  Well, in reality, this age old, apprentice model of teaching has served us well for centuries, but it is actually hard to nail down what we are really trying to accomplish.  For select students, this model works extremely well.  Having a mentor listen to and guide musical performance in the immediate can be incredibly beneficial....for some.  But, I think if we really dig deep, many of us would agree that for most students, this instructional model has little impact on musical growth.  So....what do we do?

Well, we must first think about the lesson I described above.  In this model, our role as a superior musician is evident.  During the lesson, we can clearly state the obvious such as, "You didn't practice very much" or "You still can't lip slur from C to E" and so on.  Musically, we can make comments such as "Your Dolce is a bit rough" or "Forte means FORTE!"  Through all these comments, we cover practice ethics, musical interpretation, fundamental instrumental and musical skills.  By the time the lesson is over, we have thoroughly demonstrated our understanding of music.  The student however...well, has not.

Now, I say all of this a bit humorously, but we must talk about it.  If we don't realize what our true purpose of teaching is, attempting a Flipped Classroom technique will not work.  Why?  Well, let's look at the obvious.  In our example above, what would the Flip look like?  The student was to practice at home and perform for the teacher during school.  If we flipped that, the student would play for the teacher at home and practice during school.  Without really adding to the instructional strategy, I believe everyone can see that would not really make sense.  We must think about our true purpose for teaching a particular class or lesson, then, we can develop some really exciting Flipped Classroom practices.

Let's focus on the trumpet student learning a solo.  While it is a grand vision that all players will some day be performers, we all know that is not the case.  So, let's pick an aspect of the experience that is really universally valuable...."Learning How to Learn New Compositions."  Now let's say for this trumpet player, that's our goal for a series of lessons.  By making that distinction in what our goal is for the trumpet student, we can create some amazing Flipped Classroom practices.  Our "desired educational focus" has now shifted to "Learning How to Learn New Compositions."  If each student could demonstrate skills in this area....WOW! 

By the nature of that focus, we have already Flipped the Classroom.  In order to work with a student on this area, our time with that student must be spent discussing and observing the process they used to learn the music.  Through those observations, we can directly connect performance level with preparatory practice.  In essence, we've Flipped the Classroom experience even before we actually did it :-)  Not bad, right?

Let's get down to brass tacks. What will you actually do?  A few days ago, I outlined an innovative activity based on the K'NEX Model kits.  The post, KNEX, the Musical Parts and Wholes described the idea of developing a "road map" for students to use to document their understanding of a new composition.  Through this process, they will learn the components (scales, arpeggios, terms, etc.) that make up sections of the music at a time.  By documenting the components, they gain an understanding of the skills they must master in order to play that section. Sections connect to sections and ultimately, the piece has been learned.  Using this activity is a great way to Flip the Classroom.  Rather than attempting to observe the results of a student's practice routine, have them create a system through which they can demonstrate it to you.  Then, during the lesson time, review their work on that project and have them perform within the context of that system.  Essentially, the students will be following your instructions while at home and practicing while at school....You've been FLIPPED!

To deliver consistent instructions on this assignment, make a simple document guide, record a video, create a screen capture or record a podcast.  I don't think spending time here in this post talking about the technology is all that important actually, that's why I saved it until last.  If you need help in this arena, give me a call or email.  Glad to help.  By the purist definition, Flipped Classrooms involve some type of distributive instruction so that students have access to your guidance at home. The important bit of learning here though is all of the information above.

So get a clear picture of what your educational focus is, then think through what is truly important for you to deliver to your students and what you want to observe them doing.  Flipped Classroom technique will come easy to you at that point.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post, we'll talk about music classrooms where you have more than one student at a time.  Until then, enjoy getting Flipped!

Tomorrow's Post:  Flipping the Switch for Music Technology:  Flipped Classroom Model.

If you would like to discuss professional development or content development for your music program, let me know.  Visit www.viaAcademies.com to contact me, Mark Burke, or post on Facebook (www.facebook.com/MakeMusicClick) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/viaAcademies). 


  1. Mark,

    Great thoughts in your article. I am a Fire Department Training Officer, and we have been using a flipped classroom model in part for about 6 months with great success. We have a few different issues to face with regard to our instruction methods, with the biggest being the fact that we are teaching the same material to three different generations of employee!

    In the past we would bring all crews to our main fire station and have the typical lecture/quiz/practical learning session. This worked fine as a check off but in the limited time we have usually one or two hours (if no fire calls), we often did not get mastery from the students nor retention of the skills.

    We now have integrated iPads and create video presentations using keynote and the "Explain Everything" App on iPad. This is transferred to youTube and email is sent out for all members to watch the video and read any required documents by a certain date say 2 weeks. Then we have a hands on practical where instructors can evaluate understanding and retention of the information, and give any tips that will help the student improve.

    Another issue that has been helped is that in the old system if a member was absent they never received a makeup of the actual lesson. I assume a school setting is similar in this regard. Now we are able to give the member the video to watch and then do a small hands on session with them individually.

    Finally, our instructor hours are going down because lessons that are annual can be reused each year, or just slightly updated with changes (In that case we send out update videos). This idea of flipping the classroom has worked very well for us and I am excited to see it working in the schools as well. I have often said when working with my son on homework "how does your teacher want this shown?" I always think man I wish the lesson was on youtube for us to see rather than waiting until tomorrow at school to ask a clarification question about homework from the night before!

    Thanks for your article,

    Please feel free to email me if you want to discuss any issues especially the tech side using the ipads etc... as that is my passion.


    1. Frank....thank you for the wonderful comments and feedback. I love to see folks involved in very different learning environments (to my own) sharing strategies. A significant take away from your comments is -- when mastery is critical, and lives depend on that mastery, flipped instruction works. From my seat, applying flipped strategies to less critical, but no less important educational settings, will create great success stories as well.

      You post speaks for itself and provides additional details for all, so thank you again. I would love to learn more about your iPad use. In fact, how about a guest article within the next month or so?


  2. Your title caught my attention--as a general music teacher for intermediate grades, I'm interested in this concept as I implement the Essential Standards next year. My thinking is to speak less & listen more while the students work collaboratively to reach goals. I'd like to hear your thoughts on moving from the traditional to the flipped music classroom at this level. Thanks! Amy

  3. Hi Amy....great question. I am going to flip this conversation over to my new blog site if you don't mind....


    I'll post my thoughts there....thanks Amy.