4 ideas for building a performing arts blended-learning program

March 15, 2018 | by Emily Pulham

Girl on piano_800x400Are you an administrator or teacher wondering how to use blended-learning pedagogy for performing arts classes? What kind of an impact could blended and personalized learning have on the outcomes of the courses you teach or oversee? If funding is cut for performing arts in school, could blended learning be an answer to help when rehearsal time is shortened?

I spent the better part of 2016 designing a blended curriculum for a university choir (a modified Flipped Classroom where students accessed personalized activities outside of class to prepare for rehearsal), and learned some valuable insights about how K-12 performing arts teachers can benefit from a blended teaching and learning paradigm. Here are some considerations that may help spur the conversation about blended learning in the performing arts at your school.

    1. Think of data as a personalization tool.
      1. Audition data: When students audition for a music or theatre ensemble, usually directors take notes about student abilities or deficiencies. This has been a standard procedure for years in the arts. What if audition data was used to personalize the experience for students? Moving forward, educators should keep this information on file. For instance, when you know that Sally, Sue and Sam are all struggling with diction after they deliver monologues at the start of next semester’s acting class, perhaps that means you can provide them with personalized online instruction (in the form of online assignments, videos, and other resources) to guide them.
      2. Test data: Knowledge of music theory is one example of a domain that can be tested at the beginning of a school year or semester, and then online music theory lessons can be tailored to individual student levels outside of class time. If Mariah takes private piano lessons and is very proficient, she doesn’t need remedial assignments. Give her more challenging material: dictation, ear training, or composition exercises. Meanwhile, Peter has never had a private lesson in his life and some basic theory instruction accessed online, at his own pace, can be just what he needs to feel more confident sight-reading new material alongside other classmates.
      3. Personal interest data: Let’s say students fill out a form at the beginning of the semester telling you their dance background and favorite dancers or choreographers. Using this information, you can groups students together who share similar preferences, or perhaps mix it up and put students with a variety of interests together so that they get exposure to a variety of styles and genres.
  • Take time to collect open resources.
      1. Open Educational Resources (OER): OER abound on the internet. When your budget is allocated for costuming, sheet music, or booking a performing venue, there isn’t much money left for purchasing curriculum. OER Commons contains open textbooks on a variety of subjects (including performing arts) that you can feel free to use, remix, and repurpose for your students. Also consider what examples of famous performances are freely available on YouTube, Spotify, or elsewhere. For example, if you are introducing jazz band to improvisational techniques, you could find a few audio clips from famous performers and assign students to listen to them outside of class. Students can take time to look at the details of the performance at their own pace, pausing and rewinding if they desire. Then you could discuss the performance briefly before rehearsal, or better still, practice using the techniques they heard in the audio clips as part of rehearsal.
  • Consider connecting students to each other, and others, online.
      1. Online student projects: Students can share unique ideas for collaborative projects or assignments in an online discussion. In the online space, students are accountable for contributing ideas because teachers can see who posts in the discussion board and the level of contribution. Whether students are analyzing a composition, debating the social impact of a flash-mob dance in a public park, or discussing artistic direction for the next one-act play, online discussions can ensure that students come prepared to work in class and you as a teacher can see the thought processes as students work toward creating something new.
      2. Video interviews and presentations: Do you know a local artist or professional who could share insights with your students? Consider bringing them into your classroom via Skype to answer student questions and create dialogue about becoming a professional performing artist. They could also critique your music ensemble’s performance as a guest clinician from a distance. Julia Freeland Fisher has written about the power of leveraging technology to expand students’ access to relationships.
      3. Collaboration with other classes and schools: Is there a school far away with a great performing arts program that you’d like to collaborate with? Imagine students sharing ideas with students from other schools or performing for each other over video conferencing. Then you don’t even have to pay for a field trip to get together!
  • Increasing individual practice accountability.
    1. Online assignments: In a large performing ensemble or class, let’s face it: there’s very little way to ensure that everyone is putting in practice time outside of class. With online assignments and quizzes, you are making sure that there is an added accountability measure. Imagine if you could have students upload a video of them performing a monologue as an online assignment. You can view these and provide feedback privately. New compositions or choreography could also be recorded and graded independent of class rehearsal time.

Now, there are some caveats with implementing a blended approach, no matter what subject area. Teachers have a lot of up-front time investments when creating a blended curriculum. Preparing for a semester that uses online-learning tools takes time and effort. Students will also need to become familiar with the tools you use. There will be some growing pains associated with adopting new data practices.

However, in my experience, the extra time and energy spent preparing a blended pedagogical approach for a choir yielded results that were greater than the effort to put it together. Often there are technology specialists in schools that may be available to help you design or discover appropriate curriculum. See what options are out there for you and your school.

Is your school using blended learning for the performing arts? Tell your story by creating a school profile in the BLU directory.

Emily Pulham is a doctoral candidate in Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University with a bachelors in vocal performance. She will be leading a session on Measuring Blended Teaching Readiness with a Cognitive Assessment at the Blended and Personalized Learning Conference this April. 

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