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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Mixed Methods Approach: how and why

Early in my teaching career, I felt a certain amount of pressure to choose a team to join- you know, the Orff team, the Kodaly team, the MLT team.... And everyone seemed to think their "team" was the best one, and considered it one of the primary sources of their identity. The conversation has shifted since then- most music teachers know that different teachers prefer different methodologies, and that there are many different equally-valid ways to teach music, but there still seems to be a sense among many music teachers that, to be an effective teacher, you need to pick a team. While I don't want to say that "picking a team" is a bad thing, I'd like to offer an additional perspective on the merits of a mixed methods approach to elementary general music teaching.

Why? Because many brains are better than one.

Having grown up crossing various disparate cultures and learning to adapt to different worldviews, I think it's so helpful to be able to learn from a variety of perspectives and adopt the best parts of each- there's something to be learned from almost everyone! I think it's the same in music teaching frameworks- there's something to be learned from each perspective, and by taking the best of each, I can create the best approach for me and my students.

Think about it: I don't think any of us would claim to have the answers for everything, even if it's a topic we've been researching for a very long time. I don't think Carl Orff, Zoltan Kodaly, or any of the other people responsible for developing the approaches to music education many of us use today, had all the right answers about everything either. We certainly can learn a lot from each of them though! And of course we know that different children learn in different ways, so there certainly can't be anything wrong with approaching our teaching from different perspectives, approaches, and techniques!

But how?

One of the arguments I hear often from teachers on the "pick a team" side is that, by picking and choosing bits and pieces from different approaches, you lose the cohesive, comprehensive framework that each approach provides on its own. That's true, if you don't have a sequential, comprehensive framework of your own.

The key to a mixed-methods approach is to have a solid understanding of musical skill development and to have a set of appropriate, sequenced standards into which you can incorporate the approaches, techniques, and philosophies of various frameworks. 

For me, that sequence comes from my training in general music, and the commonalities I found in studying a range of standards and curricula- I found that, while there are some key differences, most sequences are similar in how quickly and in what order they introduce key rhythm and pitch concepts, for example. By studying different sets of standards and curricula from textbooks, national curricula around the world, and different frameworks, and from seeing what works in my classroom, I have a solid starting point into which I can incorporate a variety of teaching approaches.

I don't think you have to study all of those curriculum documents to get a good starting point for a mixed methods approach though! Almost any well-respected music curriculum or approach can be used as a starting point- maybe it's a published textbook, your national/state standards, or the framework from training in Orff, MLT, Kodaly, or something else- the key is to have a starting point of some kind that gives you a framework of when to teach which fundamental musical concepts. How you teach those concepts can be adapted from lots of different approaches!

From the Orff approach, I've learned how to incorporate creative movement, improvisation, composition, and instrumental ensemble skills more effectively into my teaching. From Kodaly, I've adopted the framework of "prepare/present/practice" for introducing new skills most effectively, as well as the sequence for introducing new notes in the solfege scale. From Dalcroze, I've learned how to help students "feel" different meters and show musical elements through movement. These are just a few examples, and certainly the 3 approaches I've mentioned are multidimensional and have much more to offer than just the aspects I've pulled out here, but hopefully the examples help to explain how I incorporate different frameworks into one cohesive one.

If you want to read more about how I start with the standards as my framework and incorporate a wide range of approaches, here's a post I wrote on creating lesson plans based on the National Core Arts Standards. You can learn more about creating a sequenced curriculum from a variety of sources and streamlining your lesson planning in my free Lesson Planning Made Awesome email course.

If you want to see what my mixed methods approach looks like when the "rubber meets the road" take a look at my full curriculum, which includes all the plans and materials you need for K-6 general music classes from a skills-centered, mixed methods approach.

So what are your thoughts? Any other "mixed methods" music teachers out there? I know this approach isn't for everyone, but hopefully this perspective will help to enrich and add to the vibrant conversation on teaching frameworks for general music. I'd love to chat more with you in the comments section!

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  1. I'm a mixed methods gal, though I lean more heavily toward Feierabend. Thanks for writing this. You hit on all the reasons I like to use mixed methods. Also, your curriculum looks like it would be an amazing resource for mixed methods teachers­čśŐ

    1. Feierabend is HUGE here in CT. I honestly hadn't looked at his stuff much until I started teaching here 4 years ago, but I've learned a lot from his approach as well :)

  2. I am solidly Kodaly trained and in a district that does Kodaly, but I just took Orff and plan to insert off things into my curriculum. Honestly, I was already doing some of these things AND they have so much in common I found.

    1. Exactly! I think the various "competing" methodologies have more in common than many realize.