Hi, I’m Molly Dubois. I teach middle school music. For my Capstone, I revised a major project I do in one of my eighth grade classes. Throughout my time in the Educational Technologies program, I have used class assignments to revise different parts of my curriculum. This Capstone is a culmination of these practices.
I chose to revise this particular project, because it was not meeting my high expectations for student performance. The original cover project proved successful for only about 25% of my students. This result did not match my hopes for this course, in which I teach students who are not enrolled in band, chorus, or orchestra.
Music lab is an elective class that can meet the music requirement for eighth graders. A few students in the class have lots of piano playing and music reading experience. Most of my students do not have playing or music literacy experience. Since September, these students struggled to read the music and become competent on keyboard, but the reading part is still a handicap for them.
In the cover project, I ask students to learn to play a song previously recorded by a popular artist. They have about eight weeks to complete the project. The objective of this project is to give students the skills necessary to learn to play a song from a recording, lyrics, and pop chord symbols, all of which are readily available and free online.
To revise the project, I added four major elements. I implemented a blog, intended for peer evaluation. I added scaffolding to make the goals attainable for all students. I collected and maintained a set of iPods so students could listen to their song. Finally, I changed the way I taught the music theory for the unit, so that all students could understand and apply the necessary skills.
I chose to add a blog to this project, because I thought it would solve one of the major problems I’d had in the past- students did not have a chance to hear each others’ recordings before the final presentations, and I thought they could offer each other some helpful criticism. Also, I knew I could use the blog to share successful recordings from past projects.
Overall, the blog worked out well. Students were active in posting, and excited to hear the recordings. I began by posting examples from last year’s classes, and then, as the projects got closer to completion, I added partial projects from this year. They were posting meaningful comments and most of them exceeded the three comments I required for the unit.
However, the blog was not the perfect tool for peer evaluation. The turnaround was too slow–by the time students got feedback on their project, it was too late to implement it. Even if I posted their recording right after class, it took at least 24 hours for feedback to arrive. And depending on when we had class, it could be a week or more before they could apply it.
After noticing the stalled progress of many of my students, I realized that they could be having executive functioning issues. This would explain their intimidation with the scope and size of this project. Therefore, I chose to implement some scaffolding-- breaking the project into smaller steps that would make it more manageable for all. I started this before the official project even began.
Months before we started the Cover Project, I gave them a similar assignment, using lyrics, chord symbols, and listening, but with one song for the whole class. This gave them some initial experience. Then, I added a lesson about choosing a good song for the project, using the acronym CSI to remind them to look out for chords, speed, and instruments in their choice.
I had them figure out the chords for their song on paper, and write them out using their favorite notation. I had some students, like Andrew here, using visual aids. He used colors to indicate each chord, which he could read and process faster than standard notation. These kinds of accommodations were especially helpful for the students with less music reading experience.
Although my dream had been a class set of iPod touches, I ended up with a pile of used iPods, from classics to shuffles to original iPhones. I loaded the iPods up with their songs, and also invited students to bring their own iPods to class. This meant that every student in the room could be using an iPod, listening to their song while they worked.
Before the iPods, my students had few opportunities to listen to their songs. I have one desktop computer in the room, which allowed 5-6 students, total, to listen in one class period. It also meant that they were far from their keyboard when they listened. They weren’t able to hear something in the recording and try it right away.
With the iPods, students could listen and play simultaneously. They could also listen to small chunks of their song and perfect each piece. Listening at their keyboard allowed them to make better choices on instrument selection and tempo. The students with iTouches or old iPhones could get YouTube videos of performances or even lessons.
The most successful change I made in the Cover Project was the way I taught Music Theory. The goal in this project, remember, was to give students the skills they needed to figure out chords themselves, without needing to read music. The traditional method of teaching this, beginning with scales, keys, and intervals, was out of the question. We simply didn’t have the time to master it.
So, I taught them to count keys. They would start on the name of their chord-- C here-- and count every key-- black and white-- up to eight. 1, 5, and 8 make a major chord, 1, 4, and 8 make a minor chord.
Now, students were free from reading tradiitonal music notation. This put my less experienced musicians on a level field with the piano prodigies. I had them to notate the chords in their favorite way-- note names, keyboard diagrams, or traditional notation. This allowed for faster processing and more accurate playing from every student.
Now, those 25% of students who were succeeding before-- the ones with more experience of course-- had no advantage on the rest of the class. With their newfound skills, every student could easily learn their chords, and had the tools necessary to figure out chords for any other song down the road.
With the implementation of Cover Project 2.0 I was now reaching 100% of the students. Yes, I still had students who had trouble meeting the deadline, but now, every student could do the work and was capable of finishing the project. These changes, most of which were inspired or influenced by prior ALM classes, made the Cover Project more successful for all.
And now, I leave you with a little Journey.
Cover Project 2.0 Molly Dubois May 10, 2010 Capstone Course in Educational Technologies