It wasn’t until I started teaching that I understood how to become a better student and a more effective teacher. The education I received as a child and adolescent was primarily subject-centered and focused on the acquisition and consumption of factual knowledge. As I moved from one grade to another, I formed the understanding that the main goal in school was to memorize information and provide my teachers with the correct answers. Brazilian educator Paulo Freire called the instructional paradigm of filling and depositing knowledge into students’ heads “Banking Education” (Freire 1993, chapter 2). Teachers would present the required information, check for understanding, and move on to the next lesson.
Likewise, most of my experiences in general music and school and church choirs reinforced this same paradigm. We would learn music through identifying symbols and terms, memorizing songs, and preparing music for our next concert or worship service. If you already knew how to read music and caught on quickly, you were talented. If not, you were to learn the music by ear and follow the leader(s) in your section. I was never taught how to read music. I was taught how to follow – I have a good ear.
Thankfully, music education has come a long way in the last few decades. But many of our students still do not have the skills needed to become musically autonomous. They wait for us to lead so they can follow. Many choir members and teachers are stuck in the “tell me what to sing” and “show me what to do” syndrome. Like I in my youth, they have a Learning Paradigm Paralysis.
Breaking through Paradigm Paralysis
Many years ago, I decided to modify my teaching paradigm and changed my perspective. I started stepping away from direct instruction and began asking my students open-ended questions during rehearsals.
“Who can review what we learned/rehearsed last rehearsal?” (present the information)
“What is another way we can learn or teach this skill?” (check for understanding)
“What part of this song do you think we should focus on next? Why?” (move the lesson forward)
When I first started asking these questions, I got blank stares with mouths half-open. I seriously think some of my students had never been asked these questions before. Then back in 2015, I stumbled upon two great resources from the computer programing field: Agile Development and Scrum. These two computer programing and software development models replace the Silo Effect paradigm and create an environment centered around team planning, collaboration, and individual responsibility.
By adapting Scrum and Agile Development principles into the choral rehearsal, my students are now aware of the necessity and importance of becoming both independent and interdependent learners. Now during rehearsals, they take on more responsibility for their learning and for the success of the ensemble.
I find that my choir members become stronger musicians and better students when they:
- Look below the surface and beyond basic facts, skills, and formulas
- Experience a variety of perspectives and instructional strategies
- Embrace “Failing Forward” and modify their learning
- Experience various learning modalities and learning theories
- Focus on encouraging, strengthening, and empowering themselves and others
Leading Voices Essential Question
How do we actively engage students in lifelong music learning and participation?
Agile Development Instructional Framework
The Agile Development Instructional Framework (ADIF) goal is to draw the students into an active teaching and learning environment where they learn to participate and think as autonomous musicians. This is accomplished by presenting learning experiences that engage, challenge, and deepen our students’ cognitive and metacognitive processes, while also fostering independence and personal musical enjoyment. There is no longer a need for strict Banking Education or to retain the Silo Effect for each content area or skill. ADIF promotes and supports only one “Silo,” the Silo of metacognitive autonomy.
ADIF Collaboration Principles
The Agile Development Instructional Framework is not a preconceived formula or template for correct instruction. Rather, it presents guiding principles that value, strengthen, and support each music student and choir director alike.
1. As students collaborate, their personal musical-views and beliefs get challenged as they experience the musical-views of others. They learn to engage and expand their learning through an open dialogue.
2. Students are encouraged to question and actively participate in the learning process but not compromise their beliefs or the integrity of others.
3. Students gain intrapersonal skills in which they discover that they do not have to agree with other’s ideas or points of view but learn to remain in dialogue and allow others to maintain their personal perspectives.
4. As students collaborate, they gain an awareness and understanding that their classmates learn music and operate within a different framework. Students begin to “wrestle with ideas and not each other.”
Docendo Discimus – By Teaching, We Learn
Students Teaching Students
The purpose of Students Teaching Students (STS) is to foster musical autonomy and metacognition by placing students in the peer mentor and teaching roles. Peer instruction can range from students creating simple learning videos for others (not the traditional sing by rote), participating in Zoom or Google Meet coaching, and leading in-person sectionals or rehearsals. All of which can culminate in presenting a combined concert or music festival when pandemic and performance protocols allow.
Students Teaching Students implements the vertical grouping model and scaffolding paradigm. Upper-level ensembles prepare and instruct lower-level ensembles, as the more advanced students teach and guide younger music students. Through the STS learning model, older students gain valuable experience peer teaching and strengthen their personal music skills. Younger students benefit by learning music skills and strategies from student mentor teachers and experience age-appropriate cognitive and vocal models. The scope and sequence of STS activities can vary from a simple student-led tracking and solfege video of The Star-Spangles Banner to suggested performance and style interpretations for O Love.
Student Instructional Responsibilities
Assess, plan, and produce learning materials
Create and explain learning skills and strategies
Provide directions and perform for audio/video recording or in-person instruction
Students Teaching Students Benefits all Ensembles
Responsive to the skill level and needs of each ensemble
Provides opportunities to share repertoire between ensembles
Supports flexibility in voicing and performance level
Provides opportunities to experience a variety of musical interpretations
Encourages age-appropriate score study and rehearsal preparation
Develops confidence and cultivates motivation
Suitable for virtual, hybrid, and in-person instruction
Conclusion – By Teaching, We Learn
From the Post-Secondary Ensemble to the Elementary Choir, the success of the STS project lies in providing students with the skills, resources, and experiences necessary to create age-appropriate authentic learning lessons and materials. The value and success of STS lie in an intuitive learning feedback loop that occurs when we teach and transfer our knowledge to others. This reciprocal teaching experience benefits both the student mentor and mentee and fosters metacognition. By centering on student musical autonomy, Students Teaching Students dismantles the Silo Effect and modifies Banking Education and labels both as tools rather than educational paradigms.
As I plan and run my rehearsals, I participate in the dance between the inevitability of direct instruction and the necessity of indirect instruction – the dance between fostering interdependence within an ensemble and the independence responsibility of each choir member. Like our experiences teaching, I believe it is essential that we allow students the opportunity during the learning process to question, get frustrated, feel a sense of accomplishment, fail miserably, and succeed with joy.
Postlude – PD Lesson Study Opportunity
Lesson Study is a form of professional development where teachers’ collaboratively design research lessons and improve instruction using the evidence they have observed and gathered on student learning and concept development. STS transfers this same framework providing students with the opportunity to design, perform collaboratively, and assess learning experiences with their peers. This Project also provides educators with opportunities to step back, observe their students, and evaluate any need for instructional modifications or adaptations.
All activities, rehearsal strategies, and projects developed through applying the Agile Development Instructional Framework are research-based. They contain elements of the following teaching models and instructional theories: Self-Regulated Learning, Self-Directed-Learning, Experiential Learning Theory, Understanding by Design, Cognitive Coaching, and the Universal Design for Learning.
Ackles, Brian O., 2018. Agile Development Instructional Framework (ADIF): A New Strategy for Student-Centered Music Education. Choral Journal, September 2018. Vol. 59, No. 2.
Bennet Reimer, “Music Education in the Twenty-First Century.” Music Educators Journal 84, no. 3 (November 1997): 33-38.
Cohen, Peter A., James A. Kulik, and Chen-Lin C. Kulik. “Educational Outcomes of Tutoring: A Meta-analysis of Findings.” American Educational Research Journal 19, no. 2 (1982): 237-48. doi:10.3102/00028312019002237.
Costa, Arthur L. Cognitive Coaching Developing Self-directed Leaders and Learners. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
Hess, Juliet, A “Discomfortable” Approach to Music Education Re-envisioning the “Strange Encounter” March 2018 Philosophy of Music Education Review 26(1):24, DOI: 10.2979/philmusieducrevi.26.1.03
Aloysius Wei Lun Koh, Sze Chi Lee, and Stephen Wee Hun Lim. “The Learning Benefits of Teaching: A Retrieval Practice Hypothesis.” Applied Cognitive Psychology 32, no. 3 (2018): 401-10. doi:10.1002/acp.3410.