I started the MOOC “The Place of Music in 21st Century Education” with the goal of learning some techniques for teaching music and seeing how they might be applicable in a language learning environment. I was not disappointed. I have learned a lot from this course about different approaches to the teaching of music, but I think more importantly, I have seen that it is not just my own field that is suffering at the moment.
We see in all areas of the curriculum that traditional methods are falling futher and further behind, and that modern technology is creating a super-intelligent generation of chronically bored and disillusioned youths. School exists more and more to merely rubber-stamp a student’s academic ability while the real learning happens at home or with friends, through social media or internet websites.
The problem with a multimedia approach is always one of authority. The Authoritarian teacher, the one who stands up in class to show their dominance, who only allows speaking in answer to a direct question, and who emphasizes the importance of good handwriting and appropriate ink colour over actual content, finds it impossible to conceive of using technology that the student might know better than they do themselves. In the same way that my own parents were amazed at how quickly my younger brother learned the VHS remote, I watched in awe at how easily my daughter learned to scroll through websites on a tablet. But the current generation of teachers would never doubt the effectiveness of a VHS (even if only as a reward at the end of the school year) – so why do they struggle so much in allowing the 21st Century to seep in?
With my rant out of the way, I think I should set out the goal of my mini-manifesto, and then get on with it. This is my promise, as much to myself as to my readers, that I will embrace technology in the classroom and make music the driving force for language learning. And here’s how…
1. Make more time for music in every class
I already use Youtube as a valuable source for contextualising words and phrases for language learners, but from now on, I hope to include five or ten minute ‘intervals’ of music per one hour session. I believe that in a country that is very exam-centric (Spain), that anything that helps students ‘cambia chip’ (change their way of thinking) is useful for making extra-curricular classes feel a little different from what they already get at school.
2. Introduce Project Based Learning
I love the idea of setting a group of five or six students the task of picking a popular song and dissecting it. They can use whatever media they feel comfortable with to find the lyrics and practice the tune, with the final goal of performing the piece before the rest of the students from other classes.
I think that music classes need to be focused towards preparing students to perform before an audience. But I also agree with James (the host of the MOOC), that music should lead ALL academic learning, and as such, I think that preparing a song in English and performing it before parents and classmates at an end of term show would be a great way of focusing projects to a specific deadline. Too many language students have their only goal to pass the next exam, and I believe that language is much more like music than, for example, mathmatics or history, because you learn better from your mistakes than from successes, that practice makes perfect, and that there is no specific date that you can aim towards to be the last day you ever need to study that subject. Language, like music, is constantly changing, and students needs to move with the times, as do their teachers.
I hope this was a short but concise ‘manifesto’. I see it more as a letter of intent, but I am extremely grateful to James, Sydney University, and Coursera for giving me a push in the right direction to incorporate 21st Century music into my own job as a teacher of English as a second language as well as a believer in the importance of using music to open minds of students in all academic areas.