“Do you call yourself a vocal music teacher or a choir director?” At first, this question seemed relatively simple and straightforward. I was wrong.
I was asked this question along with a few of our colleagues during an interview for a research study earlier this year. As each of us took turns responding to the question, I listened intensely to my colleagues and began examining and rethinking my view and beliefs about teaching music. Through the experience of contemplating this question, I came to realize that I see myself more as a music teacher than a choir director.
Herein lies the importance and value of a well-placed and presented question; its function is to stimulate investigation, seek clarification, and at times may be unsettling. Though I do not use essential questions in the classroom, I use standards-based concept-centered lesson prompts to guide and focus my lesson planning and instructional preparations.
In the same way that the following essential question drives and shapes Leading Voices: How do we actively engage students in lifelong music learning and participation? Each Leading Voices headline functions as a prompt that guides and shapes the blog’s content and theme.
Who is Your Vygotsky?
Adapting Specs Grading for the Virtual and Hybrid Choral Classroom
Positive Reappraisal: Adapting Instruction and Managing Stress
Oh, Now I Get it! – Understanding Threshold Concepts
This is also the function of the Agile Development Instructional Framework (ADIF) lesson prompts. They serve as a guide for planning instruction and point to a lesson’s conceptual theme and content inherent within a rehearsal.
At the start of each rehearsal, I always begin with a short two-minute “Call to Class” warm-up or focus exercise for the ensemble (for my church choir, we open with prayer). A Call to Class signals to the chorus that the rehearsal has begun and is immediately followed by the lesson prompt and a quick rehearsal overview.
A lesson prompt is a short two-to-five-word statement or phrase that is written on the whiteboard along with a brief outline of the rehearsal plan. This visual and verbal introduction is essential as it helps the students focus and become aware of the skills and concepts they will experience during that specific lesson. The lesson prompt and rehearsal overview takes less than a minute to introduce, and like exit tickets, they are well worth your time.
Lesson Prompt Examples
Initiate a Discipline
Reflection in Action
Revisit & Reloop
Rewrite Your Script
Musical Chess Master
Plunge Into Learning
Concept-Based Teaching and Learning
For many years, I used the Madeline Hunter lesson planning model as I created and presented objective-based subject-centered music instruction to my students. While I have experienced great success using this framework, I now strengthen and build upon this traditional model by integrating concept-centered lesson prompts into my instruction. Incorporating concept-based music instruction within the traditional model provides me with the vehicle and structure I need to stimulate both individual and ensemble musical autonomy.
Erickson (2012), in her International Baccalaureate position paper Concept-Based Teaching and Learning presents a three-dimensional concept-based curriculum and instruction model. This paradigm focuses on principles, concepts, and practices that use the tools of factual knowledge and skills to facilitate a deeper understanding of subject content.
“When information today is a click away on a computer keyboard, the use of classroom time must shift focus from covering and memorizing information to thinking with and applying knowledge at both the factual and conceptual levels. Thinking deeply with factual knowledge and concepts to communicate ideas and solve problems, transferring knowledge across distinct global contexts and situations, and seeing patterns and connections between concepts, ideas and situations are at the heart of concept-based teaching and learning” (Erickson, 2012, p. 3).
The Chess Metaphor
I will borrow from our science colleagues and use The Chess Metaphor to clarify the importance and necessity of implementing concept-based instruction and lesson prompts into the music classroom. In the study Expert vs. novice differences in the detection of relevant information during a chess game: evidence from eye movements, researchers discovered that while novices focused on each specific chess piece and their corresponding moves, chess masters group chess pieces together in relation to their strategic moves. The novice tends to focus on surface features, while the experts develop a conceptual framework to organize, prioritize, and initiate new ideas and understandings.
This is precisely what my successful student musicians do: somehow and somewhere in their studies, they have developed their own musical conceptual framework which allows them to organize, prioritize, and initiate new musical ideas and conceptual understandings. But how?
“A Musical Chess Master”
For the past few weeks, I used the above lesson prompt during voice lessons. I have been intrigued by several of my students on their continual progress and musical growth during virtual and hybrid instruction this year. What conceptual framework are they using?
The answer came from one of my juniors while we were working on the following exercise on musictheory.net. We were reviewing the base-concepts of (1) basic staff notation, (2) note names, (3) key signatures, and (4) altered pitches, and then applying this combined procedure-concept to the recognition and identification of solfege syllables.
As Jim was flying through all the examples with total confidence and accuracy, I asked him,” What process are you using to find the answer?” He said, “I think math – like a mathematical process.” He then went on to explain the mathematical musical process he uses to read and perform music successfully and efficiently.
Here was the answer to my question; Jim applied one of his conceptual frameworks from another subject, math, and created a new musical conceptual framework for music reading. He uses Crosscutting Concepts and transfers conceptual understandings and processes from one subject area to another by discovering their functional commonalities and usefulness across all disciplines.
This epiphany is not an educational breakthrough. Science educators label conceptual frameworks and understandings that can be applied to a variety of other science disciplines Crosscutting Concepts. The Council of Chief State School Offices (CCSSO) in their publication Using Crosscutting Concepts to Promote Student Responses, places the responsibility of helping our students build conceptual bridges from one subject area to another directly on teachers.
tl;dr – Lesson Prompts and Concept-Based Teaching
Through using lesson prompts and promoting concept-based instruction, we as educators can foster individual and ensemble autonomy and help our students build conceptual bridges and skills from one discipline to another. By presenting students with learning environments and musical experiences that draw connections between different subject concepts and practices, our ensemble members will excel in music and become successful in all of their studies.
Postlude: One Last Question
Do you see your students as choir members or individual musicians?
Erickson, H. Lynn (2012) Concept-Based Teaching and Learning
Sfard, A. (1998) On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One. Educational Researcher 27, no. 2: 4-13. Accessed March 14, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1176193.
Sheridan, Heather, and Eyal M. Reingold. “Expert vs. Novice Differences in the Detection of Relevant Information during a Chess Game: Evidence from Eye Movements.” Frontiers in Psychology 5 (2014). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00941.