Engaging Students: Essays in Music Pedagogy

Table of Contents

Inquiry-Based Learning

Kris Shaffer, University of Colorado–Boulder

Though the basic flip, just-in-time teaching, and peer instruction all represent significant changes when compared with the lecture–homework approach, much of the underlying pedagogy remains the same. In his blog post, “A Pedagogy-First Approach to the Flipped Classroom”, Ramsey Musallam summarizes the basic flip, where the locations of pedagogical activities (in-class, out-of-class) are inverted, and then writes:

Just because lecture happens in a different space doesn’t make it, in today’s information leviathan, a meaningful pedagogy. Yes, the self paced medium video provided was better than in-class lectures, and with more class time available for one-one-one assistance my students were solving harder problems more frequently and with greater accuracy. But, when I was honest with myself, I realized I was just employing a “high tech” version of the same didactic approach.

This has been a revolutionary insight for me: the basic flip is an improvement over lecture-in-class/active-work-at-home, but it still reflects the same pedagogical pattern: information then assimilation and application.

Musallam proposes a different model for the inverted classroom: the inquiry-driven class. In this model, not only are the locations of pedagogical activities inverted, but the timing of pedagogical activities are inverted as well. That is, in an inquiry-driven class, students begin working toward assimilation immediately, with instructor-to-student information transfer coming later in the learning process, if at all. (This approach is similar to the model Donald Finkel puts forward in his book, Teaching with Your Mouth Shut, the subject of Carla Colletti’s session at FlipCamp Music Theory 2013.)

Musallam recounts rethinking his pedagogy in light of the scientific method. Work in the sciences does not begin with information, but with data and questions about the data. What if science pedagogy adopted this approach?

Musallam builds off of the idea of “learning cycles,” developed by physics instructor Richard Karplus. Musallam writes:

In Karplus’s cycle, an initial “Explore” phase, where pupils worked through guided inquiry exercises is followed by an “Explain” phase, a more teacher-centered moment where necessary and tailored information is transferred (Sunal, n.d.). The cycle concludes with an “Apply” phase where the concept is extended to new and unique situations. I rewrote my learning objectives into Karplus-like cycles, developed associated assessments, and began writing lesson plans.

Musallam recast Karplus’s Explore–Explain–Apply cycle in terms of “flipped” pedagogy: Explore–Flip–Apply, where “flip” refers to an out-of-class video microlecture that contains the “necessary and tailored information” students were unable to discover through their own exploration. These microlectures are short, targeted at only the specific gaps in student knowledge after the explore phase, rather than the complete explanation that would come in a traditional lecture. The success of Explore–Flip–Apply in Musallam’s courses has led him to the following conclusion:

In my opinion, what Mazur, Lage et al., and the plethora of popularized blogs and infographics about the flipped classroom rarely address is the real problem: When information transfer happens, not where. Although I believe passionately in Mazur’s assertion that assimilation is the role of today’s teacher, it is important that not only the location of assimilation be flipped, but also the timing.

Though developed in the context of high-school science courses, this inquiry-driven model is perfectly suited to university-level music courses, as evidenced by the following example of a species-counterpoint learning cycle.

A species-counterpoint learning cycle

For each topic within the species counterpoint unit of my musicianship course this year (cantus firmi and each successive species), I provided students with two pages of exemplars—typically the model exercises provided at the end of each chapter in Salzer and Schachter’s Counterpoint in Composition. Students were asked to perform and analyze each exemplar with a partner during class (using the keyboard when necessary), attempting to find the general principles according to which a good exercise in that species is composed.

Based on an idea that came out of a Twitter conversation I had with Christopher Long last November, I instructed students to tweet during class, rather than take notes individually, and archive the tweets as the class “notebook” for the day. As students discovered common properties of the exemplars, they tweeted their findings. However, students were not allowed to tweet something already tweeted by a classmate. If a student agrees with a previous tweet, they are welcome to “retweet” it. Otherwise they must respond with a critique, a correction, or a question, or tweet about something else entirely.

Here is an example of the succession of tweets from a class session introducing fourth-species counterpoint, using the model examples from Salzer & Schachter. As with all the species topics, this is the first day that students have seen fourth-species exercises, and they are responding to what they hear and see as they perform and analyze, with no support from a textbook or other resources. (Though students tweeted publicly, I have removed all personal information because of the—hopefully—wide distribution of this essay. Only retweets are omitted.)

For fourth species, when the counterpoint has tied notes, they are tied over the bar line. #musi199 #rhythm

The climax in both the cantus and counterpoint in fourth species can be in the same measure. #musi199

Generally the first note of a fourth species is tied. #Musi199

In fourth species, there can be a dissonant note on the strong beat #musi199

Strong beat dissonances are tied over the bar line and step down. #musi199

In fourth species, a seventh is usually followed by a sixth #musi199

Fourth species both the cantus and counterpoint start and end on do. #musi199

a good fourth species counterpoint usually starts with a half rest and half note #musi199

In 4th species counterpoint if the tied note becomes dissonant in the next measure, it is fixed by stepping down into a consonance. #musi199

At this point, Section 1’s class ends, and Section 2 takes over. Section 2 students were allowed to look at the tweets from Section 1, but could not repeat them. In this respect, their work was harder. Both sections read all the tweets from both sections before the next class meeting.

In a 4th species the counterpoint line has multiple ties that always occur across the bar line #musi199

In 4th spc CF you may have dissonance #musi199

In 4th Species CP you may have dissonance on the strong beat as long as it has a consonance weak beat. #Musi199

In a 4th species counter point the first half of the measure may be dissonance when resolved to consonance on weak beat. #Musi199

You must have a tied note going into the next measure to have dissonance on the strong beat. #Musi199

This is thus resolved by a consonant weak beat going in step-wise motion. #Musi199

When the half notes in a 4th species counterpoint are tied together it sets a bar level syncopation. #musi199

in a good 4th species it is okay to have the climax in the counterpoint and CF to overlap #musi199

In a fourth species counterpoint when a note is tied over it leads to a dissonant chord in the downbeat #musi199

In 4th species CP when not tying across barlines the rules of 2nd/3rd species apply only allowing consonance on the downbeat #Musi199

Notice that though students did not have the language of preparation, suspension, resolution, and though they had not seen enough examples to know the difference between usually and always, they found almost every “rule” that would be given them in a lecture or reading by the end of a 50-minute class meeting. What was missing from students’ tweets were highly specific principles, such as avoiding 2–1 and 7–8 suspensions. They had also not seen the compositional process in action.

To fill in these gaps, and help students reflect on their own analysis, I archived student responses using Storify. I then instructed them to read through the archive at home, read through a condensed instructional writing I composed myself, and return to the next class meeting ready to discuss any differences between the two and ready to attempt composing an exercise following the models provided. I also provided a short video demonstration of how to attempt the compositional process (making, and correcting, a few mistakes in the video, as well). Exploration of each species followed a similar pattern, where students discovered most of the important principles on their own, and gaps were filled and demonstrations provided via brief reading and video material consumed outside of class.

Reflections on the inquiry-driven model

In addition to making my job easier and more enjoyable (less lecture preparation, less grading outside of class, more face-to-face interaction with students) and achieving the same or better benchmarks of student success, this method has several distinct advantages for the students’ overall musicianship and intellectual growth. First, it gets the students to application tasks more quickly, putting the making of music at the center of study. Second, by minimizing direct instruction, it puts the onus on the student to manage their own learning, with the instructor offering expert guidance and correction as they work through the process of learning a new skill/style themselves. This is an important process for them to learn, if this class is to serve them for more than just the beginning of their careers. Third, it gets students used to using non-expert peers to help in the learning process, which also prepares them for the “real world.” And lastly, by tying performance both to the analysis and to the application phases, they learn to tie theory and practice, performance and composition. All in all, it has been a huge improvement to my pedagogy, benefiting both me and my students.

(Part 1: The Basic Flip)
(Part 2: Just-in-Time Teaching and Peer Instruction)

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This work is copyright 2013 Kris Shaffer and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.