Tag Archives: Teaching with Creativity

Piano Teaching Week #7 Online! (amidst COVID-19)

Even though I was still working during the Spring vacation week, writing and participating in webinars on Women Composers as well as creating our studio video, I had enough of a break from being at the computer to feel rejuvenated.  It was helpful that there were occasional lovely weather days that allowed me to get out to work in the garden.  Feeling energetic again allowed me to take stock of my work station so that Josh and I made some significant improvements:  by ordering extra-long cables, we were able to improve the output by hooking up my laptop since it had been moved over to the piano,  to the large speakers under my desk on the opposite side of the room, so I could hear my students even more clearly.  We improved input by also connecting one of my recording microphones so that it would pick up my speaking voice while teaching.  We reworked the video camera so that it would give my students an alternate view of my hands on the piano as well as seeing my face.  It wasn’t long before switching between my computer camera and the video camera became smooth and automatic.  My students came back to lessons with new skills online as well.  They were screen sharing with me! To show me their work and new finds of music on You Tube.   I am definitely enjoying my updated workstation!

Piano Teaching Week #5 Online! (amidst COVID-19)

This 5th week of teaching all piano lessons online has been a real turning point and where I can see who is thriving and who is not.  Most of my students are now so comfortable working on Facetime and Skype that they are making real progress.  So much so that we are ready to host 3 virtual recitals next week on the Zoom platform that allows multiple users to share screen time together in a group.  By now, our studio would have hosted one of our major large recitals of the year.  So, not only will students perform in real time, albeit online, I am going to use my non-individual lesson teaching time this coming week, which would have been our spring vacation week from school, to put together a video of all of our students performing a newly learned work that will be posted on our private You Tube channel for all of my families to watch.  It is really important to have specific goals of achievement, just like we have during our regular piano semesters.  Students are excited to share and perform on Zoom.  And they are very pleased that we will have a permanent video record of their playing…something we have not done before as a whole group.  Parents often video record their individual students in performance.  But now we will have a presentation of the entire studio.  I’m planning on using some fancy video editing tools to create a movie that is as visually interesting to watch as much as to listen to.  We’ll see if my new-fangled video skills can stand up to the test!  Fingers crossed!

 

But not all students are thriving in online lessons.  The very young are having a difficult time.  It seems that students in elementary grades truly thrive on interpersonal connections; the warmth of a voice, a ready smile and body language that is easy to understand and that provides immediate feedback.  While teaching online, I try to speak slower so that I can be understood.  I use letter blocks, hand gloves and numbered dice to indicate clearly that we are talking about a “C” versus a “D” or “right hand” versus the “left hand” or the finger number “Four” versus finger number “Five.”  One blip of the screen can mean that the student does not hear your reference point and 5 minutes of ensuing miscommunication can eat away at valuable lesson time.  Learning to count octaves up from the bottom of the piano and to count measures has been a critical skill to teach and learn.  Fortunately, we can see ourselves teaching as well as seeing out students at their piano, which is a wonderful reminder to make sure our facial expressions are larger and thus, easily understood.  But young students, as much experience they have playing games on screens, seem to not feel our communication as much.  They hit a dead spot, like a bird flying into a window they cannot see, and lessons may not be as much fun as before. 

 

So, it’s not just as simple as getting the right “set up” for teaching online.  It’s not just making sure you have copies of all of your student’s music.  Something is missing and for some students, it can be detrimental.  So, the next problem solving going forward will be how to make sure everyone stays engaged.  It is amazing how much my middle school and high students are thriving with the necessity now of being more independent in their lessons and practice…taking their own notes. Checking off their memory list pieces.  Writing in pieces learned onto their 30 lists.  And with extra time at home and fewer activities to divert their attention, energy and focus, I’m hearing some of the best piano playing of the year.  But it is back to the drawing board for me still.  Maybe I’ll go watch old episodes of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street.  Fred and Elmo were always able to make it seem like they were in our living room, for everyone, all the time.

 

Piano Teaching Week #2 Online! (amidst COVID-19).

March 22 -28, 2020.   Now that everyone has been set up with their online platforms and have figured out the best placement for their smartphones or iPad or laptop computers, we were able to start our lessons much quicker this week.  We all had to come up with creative solutions to place our devices so that we could see both each other and our keyboards.  My video camera is placed up high on the mantel of a fireplace in the studio, held in place with a gummy stick product similar to playdoh.  Some students used removable painter’s tape to wrap their phones to a nearby lamp pole!  One family came up with the solution for their laptop….by placing a small 5 step metal ladder by the piano…the next to the highest rung was just the perfect height! 

We begin each lesson with students showing me where they wrote down their practice times in their piano notebook.  Now each week, I can start to challenge them to raise their practice time to 150 minutes, which surprises everyone that this is only 30 minutes a day for 5 days.  One of my students takes Sunday off from practicing because this is the day, they dedicate to family two-mile runs, bicycle trips and backyard planks to stay in shape since all team sports have been canceled and we are all mandated to staying either indoors or outside away from others.  During lessons, we are now experimenting with split screens!  I have learned, from one of my tech savvy students of course, how each of us can watch a YouTube video at the same time and still see each other.  Professional music groups are filling our inboxes and spirits with samples of symphonies and chamber pieces played virtually from their own living rooms.  One of the first of these to appear is the Colorado Symphony playing a virtual chamber version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy of the last movement of his last symphony, #9.  Many of my students play this theme and have it memorized for their memory lists.  For each of these students, we were able to watch this uplifting 5-minute video of musicians playing physically separated in their individual living rooms but musically together with sophisticated recording equipment.  It was wonderful.  Inspired by this experiment, I also set up a private YouTube Listening channel for the studio and downloaded a video for each student for them to watch…usually a video of a piece they are currently learning so that they could understand that their music is important because other pianists play them too.  

So far, everyone is healthy and practicing social distancing.  Some of my families are very fearful; they have parents with asthma or grandparents who have compromised health issues. We don’t know anyone yet who has had to be hospitalized although the numbers around us are growing. One family spent the week working to extricate an Aunt and Uncle and cousins from a sabbatical in Spain.  They made it back, healthy but under quarantine now in North Carolina.  Families are doing their best to celebrate birthdays at home without friends and family and school mates.  It helps, all around, for me to see my families and I’ve been told that my students look forward to their weekly lessons.  It is difficult to stay on time…I’m running at least a half late by the end of a teaching afternoon.  It’s not just that teaching online is harder; but we all need to check in with each other.  Parents share their worries; yet we are all so grateful our musical life continues as normal in an otherwise very abnormal time.

When Our Piano Students Inspire Others! Publication

Dear Penny,
There is no way I can tell you how beautiful your magazine article is! First, congratulations! What a testimony to all your creative, caring and hard work you always exhibit at every lesson and beyond.  One wonders how many other music teachers will be inspired to carry out some similar, worthy projects in their studios and touch others in near and faraway places. I loved the way you told about themes and some of the chosen music for those themes.I teared up myself when I saw and read how Alban Dhamo was moved to tears. I loved those two pictures you put together.
The way you ended, telling how Theo was playing “Won’t You be my Neighbor? at that particular time [of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting]. Well, I agree with the old Yiddish saying you shared. We don’t know the deep and complete mystery of how God is knitting us all together, but sometimes a beautiful hint escapes from hidden mysteries, and your work with the children and your article is a beautiful example for us to experience wonder, be in awe, and be thankful!
 
Today we were at the Dalton House for our yearly big family Christmas gathering. While we were all in the dining room, Harry played some of his memorized pieces ( Riding the Rapids, Dragonfly, and his new Christmas piece from the Snowman movie). I was surprised…Harry wasn’t asked to play….he just went to the piano and played away…..Harry does not look for attention…..he was just happy to be able to play the pieces. The  boy and girl cousins in their 20’s loved listening to the Christmas piece. I think it brought back memories of when they were younger. Everyone at our long table got to hear about Penny Lazarus, and about some of the work she is doing with her students….some of the work mentioned in your article! 
 
Thanks so much for sending the article.I am going to print it 
You are truly a gift to all of us.
See you on Tuesday.
Love,
Mary
 
Here is a copy of  my article published in national music journal, The Piano Magazine, Winter 2019-2020.
 

When our Piano Students Inspire Others: The Socially Conscious Piano Studio

Engaging in acts of kindness and collaboration is a mainstay of healthy living and a profound way to head off feelings of isolation, burnout, and depression. At the age students typically start piano lessons, they are also reaching a developmental stage in which they begin to think outside of themselves. All schools implement statewide curriculum goals that introduce young people to concepts of community, starting with a student’s town or city. Upper elementary grades work at the state level, middle schools work on understanding our country, and each successive grade builds on our global relationships. Children respond amazingly well when they are given an opportunity to work collaboratively for the greater good of their community, and it becomes important for us as teachers to remind our students that we study music because it is a collaborative, social, communicative art between ourselves and others. 

My students have found inspiration to practice through their ability to use music to do good for the world around them. Students can help others by playing for charity benefits or, in this case, asking family members to sponsor their practicing (much like Walks for a Cause or Race for the Cure). This feeling of “agency,” the ability to successfully urge others to make a change, is incredibly motivating for all of us, including our youngest students.  

One year, my students worked with our local Audubon center to foster rescued cold-stunned sea turtles. Another year we worked with a foundation in Kenya that rescues baby elephants abandoned by ivory poachers. We have opened the walls of our studio to the outside community, making connections with music studios across the world, including post-communist Albania and a new music school in the environmentally sensitive Easter Island in the South Pacific Ocean. It is not difficult to implement some community projects into your studio. If you do, I think you will find that your students will practice with renewed intention. Then, perhaps, they will return again and again to the piano as they discover that music speaks, as Victor Hugo spoke, of that “which we must not be silent.”

 Starting top left and moving clockwise: 1. Fostering Baby Elephants in Nairobi, Kenya at the Tsavo National Park with the SheldrickWildlifeTrust.org. Only 415,000 African elephants remain in the wild. 2. Saving Kemp’s Ridley Seat Turtles on Cape Cod, MA. Female nesting Ridleys number under a thousand. 3. Composer Alban Dhamo on top of one of 750,000 bomb shelters built but never used across the entire country of Albania. These bunkers were built by Communist Dictator Enver Hoxha (1944–1985) depleting the Albanian economy of food, education, and other resources. 4. The giant statues are a World Heritage Site on Easter Island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. Called Moai, they were created by early Rapa Nui people. Easter Island is inundated with trash that washes over from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

​Here’s How We Do It!

​We have become a project-based studio. In fact, my students helped me to come up with a byline that now explains what we do on a regular basis: The Studio of Penny Lazarus— Interacting with the World One Key at a Time! But you do not have to reorient your teaching style or teaching practices to implement a community project during your teaching year. What do I mean by a project-based studio? I choose an all-encompassing theme each summer and this theme drives a portion of our selected piano music, theory, history, and compositional assignments from September through June. This annual project can be a focused study of a single composer (Bartok), or a period of music (the Baroque era), or a more abstract theme (music about water). While good musical practices are foremost in my mind, our annual theme always includes a community fundraising project in which students find sponsors who will fund their practice time at three cents a minute over the course of a six-week time period.

Tracking Practice for Fundraising

​I provide detailed project plans, information, and dates for the fundraising period to every family well in advance of our starting week. Students keep track of their minutes spent practicing each day and in their practice notebooks. After the six weeks are over, we add up the minutes to find the total amount of dollars earned. I don’t collect money weekly, but wait until the entire fundraising period is over. On average, students will reach a contribution of $25. Some students may earn well over $30, depending upon age and time spent at the piano. Even though many families will round up an earned amount, I never require donations from families. Scholar students with a reduced lesson tuition plan are often sponsored by former piano families, who are delighted to contribute to the project.

7th grader Aidan Reynolds keeping track of his practice minutes in our studio lesson notebook. 

Fundraising Projects Must Tie into Music Studies

​My studio families have all found these to be exciting and worthy goals; parents and relatives often double or triple the amount of dollars raised through sponsorships. We typically raise $1,000 each year for a specified cause, but your studio can make an impact with much less. It is most important that these community fundraising projects align closely with a student’s personal pianistic goals and that the ensuing relationship among foundation, music school, and your studio be mutually collaborative and beneficial for all parties. More often than not, my students participate in the creation of ideas and details of our collaboration. Group projects are a hallmark of student-centered learning. It’s this “agency,” the ability for students to influence change, that creates excitement in the piano studio. Parents and students have repeatedly told me how much they enjoy our collaborations and how deeply they inform our recitals. I assume they are sincere in their compliments, since the retention rate in my studio annually reaches 90 percent.

FOUR SAMPLES OF COMMUNITY AND MUSIC-BASED FUNDRAISING PROJECTS

Elephant Project

​Students will easily connect with fundraising projects that help protect wildlife. One of our favorites is The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust that operates in Kenya rescuing baby elephants, whose mothers have been killed by ivory poachers, and raising them in the protected Nairobi’s Tsavo National Park, where they can live out their full lives. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust raises money by asking people to “adopt” an orphaned elephant. For as little as $50, your studio can receive monthly updates and photos of your baby elephant for a year. 

This is all well and good, but how does it relate to the piano? In a word: ivory. The illegal collection of ivory still fuels an active black market. While pianos are no longer manufactured using ivory for keys, many of our students still play on older pianos. And even though the market for ivory piano keys should no longer exist, this is a great opportunity to study, for example, the history of the piano spanning harpsichords to electric pianos, or maybe focus on a period of music such as the Baroque or Romantic period, in which changes to the piano led to changes in composition and performance. (sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/orphans)

Turtle Project

​My students and I live on the ocean in seaside Essex County, which is the Northeastern-most area in Massachusetts. We are all extremely aware of the encroachment of non-native species of plants, powerboat fishing nets, environmental pollution, and climate change that threaten extinction of marine life. One such situation is the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, whose female nesting numbers are now below a thousand. With waters warming more every year, these sea turtles are swimming into Canada, farther north than normal, where they are unprepared for the increasing cold of November ocean currents. By the time they turn south for their annual migration back to the warm winter beaches in the Gulf of Mexico, they become so cold-stunned that their navigational senses deteriorate and they arrive by the hundreds near death on the frozen beaches of Wellfleet, MA (in the crook of the arm that shapes the Cape). The Audubon Society of Wellfleet is ground zero for the rescue of these smallest of all sea turtles during the months of November and December. Their staff is inundated with frozen turtles requiring veterinary care, providing banana boxes with blankets to hold the sea turtles for evaluation as well as dozens of kiddie pools filled with warm water. Donations are crucial for success. We started the piano year by studying Handel’s Water Music and Fireworks suites and extended our sound connection to music about rivers. (The Water Music suites were first performed on the banks of the Thames River in commemoration of King George I). Barcarolles, sailors’ songs by Heller, Schumann, and Grieg, spirituals such as Wade in the WaterAt the River and Deep River, Kabalevksy’s Night on the River, and music suggesting swans (think Swan Lake, “The Swan” from Carnival of the Animals, and Julie Knerr’s “The Swan” from Piano Safari) extend the subject to all ages in the studio. Add in pieces from The Little Mermaid, Free Willy, Sponge Bob Square Pants, Moon River, Over the Rainbow, and Firework by Katy Perry and you can also provide ties to popular music. (massaudubon.org/get-outdoors/wildlife-sanctuaries/ wellfleet-bay/)

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary Center. The Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle rescue operation of November 2016. Photo credits: Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

Easter Island Project

As part of our outreach to the community, we annually partner with the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival led by David Yang, Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Chamber Music department and Ensemble Epomeo violist. Every March, David brings an accomplished pianist to Newburyport and, on the morning of their concert, the pianist works with my students in a public “un-masterclass” setting. Our annual theme often derives from this solo concert program, proposed a year in advance. This past year, New York City pianist Michael Brown proffered a piano recital with music about the ocean, which led us to another “water” music project. This time, however, we focused on music about the ocean and island cultures, along with the problem of plastics left on our beaches, littering the ocean floor and devastating sea life; whales are turning up dead with over 80 lbs. of refuse in their bellies and sea turtles are found swimming with plastic straws stuck in their noses. This trash that we all create is threatening the existence of small islands whose people cannot possibly handle the tons of rubbish that never completely decomposes and drifts forever on ocean currents pulling toward their shores.

Piano student Alexandra Paciulan meeting with Julie Towne, head of development of Wellfleet Audubon, at our end-of-year piano recital where the exchange of donations took place.

There is a treasure trove of music about the ocean because of the nineteenth-century’s preoccupation with high seas, leisure boat travel, and devastating storms resulting in shipwrecks. One might imagine Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude, Mendelsohn’s “On the Sea Shore,” Burgmüller’s “The Storm,” and Heller’s “Through Wind and Rain” and “Avalanche,” to name just a few. We expanded our European-based repertoire to include folk music from countries impacted by the sea, including Inuit melodies, Icelandic children’s songs, and Sakura from Japan. We also added music by contemporary composers: William Gillock’s “Summer Storm” and Anne Crosby Gaudet’s “Angel Fish”; “Starfish in the Night” and “Evening Sail” by Melody Bober; “Mist” by Carolyn Miller; “The Shark” by Catherine Rollins; John Williams’ theme song from the movie Jaws; “Make Your Own Storm” by Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee; Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “How Far I’ll Go” from the movie Moana; and music from Titanic and Pacific, by Ryan O’Neil. Here is a wide range of music for every level and every music taste in the studio! For our joint fundraising project, we worked with the new Rapa Nui School of Music and the Arts on Easter Island, Chile, that aims to support 100 children and adults with free music lessons. The school itself, built in the shape of a flower, is made entirely out of recycled materials: ten tons of recycled plastic pellets, 30,000 aluminum cans, and 20,000 glass bottles. We raised more than one thousand dollars to help this school’s goals that include classical music and ancestral Rapanui music lessons. The teachers at the school sent us handwritten unpublished piano scores of original folk music that we then incorporated into our end-of-year recital. My students continue to write pen pal letters both in English and Spanish to their new friends in Chili. (https://tokirapanui.org › school-of-music)   

Albania Project

​In 2017 we undertook our first transatlantic project. While researching the Hungarian, Rumanian, and Magyar folk melodies that Bartok used in his piano music, I was introduced to Alban Dhamo and his wife Erinda Agolli, who live in Tirana, Albania! Alban is a contemporary composer and Erinda is a singer, as well as a voice and piano teacher. We worked out a mutual project: Alban wrote twelve pieces for my studio based on Albanian folk melodies, just as Bartok used ethnic melodies of his homeland in his works for children. Then we found out that the music school at the Lincoln Center for Language and the Arts in Tirana, where both Alban and Erinda work, did not have access to any of the pedagogy materials that we take for granted in our studios. Until 1985, Albania was a communist country where the dictator Enver Hoxa disavowed the study of all arts and music unless it was in service to the regime. Thirty-five years later, the country is successfully developing a free market system, but, alas, no one has opened up a music bookstore in the country. Salaries are still quite low in Albania, with an average middle-class worker earning only $60 per month. Credit cards are scarce, ordinary citizens do not have access to many websites, and import fees and a still dysfunctional post office system make sending packages a risky and expensive proposition. Our fundraising efforts went to purchasing multiple levels of our most frequently used piano series and paid for extra luggage fees. In the end, 500 piano books were personally delivered to the music school.

Teacher Penny Lazarus with piano students Harry Meurer looking over the many donated books to send to the Lincoln Center of the Arts, Tirana, Albania. Photo credit Jim Vaiknoros/The Daily News of Newburyport. These donated books and new music were hand delivered, using five suitcases, by David Turner, who lives in my hometown of Newburyport but volunteered with the Peace Corp in Tirana, Albania. David and his musician wife Bettina were instrumental in setting up this studio partnership. Half of the money we raised went to help pay the extra luggage fees at the airport, when David brought the suitcases with him as he traveled from Boston to Tirana in September 2018.

This has been an amazing collaboration. We studied interesting and unusual rhythms all year long, as this is what characterizes Bartok’s (and Eastern European and Balkan folk) music. My students loved the syncopated rhythms. Alban and Erinda do have access to Skype and we have been sharing music in recital format ever since: our students take turns playing back and forth through computers in our studios.

Composer and Music Theory teacher Alban Dhamo reacting with tears while listening to student Sam LeMoine play Alban’s “Albanian March.” 

Student Sam LeMoine listening to composer Alban Dhamo’s appreciation of Sam’s performance of “Albanian March.”

Skyping with Erinda Agolli’s students at the Lincoln Center for the Arts just before Halloween, October 27, 2018.

The search for community or music projects need not span the globe. Sometimes the most in need are music programs for the underprivileged or worthy foundations right in our own backyard.

I’ll leave you with a telling story. On the Saturday morning before Halloween, 2018, we shared a Skype recital with our Albanian counterparts. We proceeded to share music with all the students dressed up in costumes, as Albanian children also participate in that custom. It was 9:00 a.m. our time, 3:00 p.m. in Albania. One of my students decided to play the theme song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” from the television show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. This couldn’t have been more appropriate. Once my students left, I turned on the television to witness, in real time, a racist madman killing eleven congregants of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. (This was deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.) I am from Pittsburgh. I know that synagogue well. It is in the same block as the house and studio of my beloved piano teacher Natalie Phillips, who gave my own fingers their musical life. Some of those killed were parents of friends of mine. One was my mother’s mahjong partner. Fred Rogers had lived nearby with his piano-concertizing wife. His show that taught love for your neighbor no matter their color or religion was produced one neighborhood away. I checked the photos of our Skype recital. The shooting started just as my student, Theo Roberts, was playing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” to children half a world away, with love, affection, and respect in all of our hearts. There is a Yiddish expression called Bersherit meaning “it was meant to be.” In our studio, this poignant coincidence strengthens our resolve to inspire others with music and kindness.

 
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Piano Bingo and the “Flipped Classroom”

Every September in the piano studio, I like to match my students’ excitement about the return to lessons with small open ended projects that get our creative juices flowing and our fingers moving and our eyes reading again after the summer break. Often I send out an email in early August with suggestions for practicing in preparing specially for the first lesson of the new school year.   Often small prizes are included when a student completes a short checklist of suggested activities. Sometimes these projects lead into major themes of study for the year, or they may just simply be used in the first month of practice. But the most essential component, is a varied list that creates an incentive for students to share with me, anything they may have explored on their own during the summer months, whether it is some composing or listening to You Tube videos of their favorite pop songs or mastering a piece that was started at the end of the previous school year in June. *

 

This year I borrowed a suggestion from friend and fellow colleague Lynn Wilby that involved creating a Bingo Card of piano activities. When a student completed all the activities in a row, either across or down or diagonally, they would receive a prize. Perfect, I thought for a beginning of the piano year activity. I devised projects for each square that would allow students an opportunity to re-master musical components that we covered during the past year. Music theory, music literacy, rhythm exercises, counting skills, playing from their memory list, learning a new piece of music on their own, opportunities to compose or improvise; these areas were all targeted and included. I also wanted to remind my students and parents of the online music theory and music making apps that I subscribe to for the benefit of the whole studio. And I wanted to make sure that all students remembered their user names and passwords so that they could check their own mp3 recording page that is stored on my website. Tasks such as these were all included in the bingo squares.

 

Students and families seemed excited to start after I emailed the cards to be printed out at home. At first I saw this as a one-week activity…just complete one row of projects for the first lesson and receive a prize from the prize box.

 

But I soon realized that all of the projects in the bingo squares were valuable but also, that students would need some guidance to complete some of them as intended. So, I changed the requirement to allow for an entire month of use, with students earning a colorful, biodegradable straw for each bingo row completed and then, working in cohorts with our local ice cream shop, a $5 gift certificate for a frappe, to go with their collection of straws, if they completed the whole card.

 

Cool yes? Exactly. I was as excited as the students to be approaching the piano in a   new and unexpected way. But the biggest surprise and satisfaction came after using the bingo piano project for three weeks. Parents noticed it too. This project led to a “flipped classroom” approach to teaching! In a “flipped classroom” the teacher is no longer the prime disseminator of information. Students use videos and information at home to learn. Then they come to lessons for guidance to complete their projects. For example, I rarely suggested an order of bingo squares to complete. Students decided on their own, which project and which direction they wanted to go in. They came into lessons with pieces started, compositions sketched out and ideas for improvisations. They were tapping and clapping to learn the pieces they selected because they figured out that by practicing one piece, they could solve several squares of suggestions at one time. In order for me to put a “stamp” on a square that signaled completion, I might have to help them to lengthen their composition or encourage their attempts at improvisation or help them with counting aloud or completing their landmark note reading guides, but that is exactly the approach of the “flipped classroom.” I was their guide, not their lecturer.

 

I was shocked at which students chose to dive right into creating or drawing pictures that suggested the expression of a piece or making up lyrics to a classical piece where there were none. I had a chance to see which students are also natural artists, poets; inventive with sound and who was able to use their music skills to learn independently…which is our actual goal…unquestionably.

 

I found myself starting each lesson with something that I wanted to set up…like “this is the week we start our scale practice again”. But then I always specifically turned the rest of the lesson over to them…for the students to show me what they wanted help with, in what order they wanted to work on their mini-projects and where they saw themselves working the following week. It was exciting. Remarkable. Unforeseen advantages with keen interest all around. In the end, we are keeping up the project until everyone earns a special New England style frappe, before the chill of winter settles in.

 

*An alternative bingo card was created for young and new students.