What Do Videos Games Have to do with Music Education?

Dr. Ann Clements was a recent guest of the Music Education Department at the University of Miami Frost School of Music. Among other outstanding presentations over two days, she gave one particularly thought-provoking talk on what music education can learn from video games, which was featured in the Miami Hurricane (the University of Miami student newspaper). Here is an excerpt of that article. The full article can be accessed by clicking the link on the title of this entry or the URL below.

The Miami Hurricane

Carlos Abril, director of undergraduate music education, is [co-editing] a book on innovative approaches to teaching music…He invited Penn State professor Ann Clements to the University of Miami’s Music Education Forum to talk to students about how “technology and gaming can inform music education practice.”

“Learning is a joy and a pleasure, and only in schools is it repressed,” said Clements, who is writing a chapter in the book.  “Schools are just providing the game manuals and not the games themselves.”

The main point of her talk was how incorporating the idea behind video games into classrooms, of all grades and ages, would motivate students to learn.  She also said video games would motivate students’ passion to learn. Clements believes that students will respond to failure in a more positive and constructive way if the failure is creative and fair.  If so, the students will have more interest and motivation to overcome the failure and become successful, which is the goal in most video games. If schools collaborate using creative and sophisticated methods, they will see the average number of students retaining information increase dramatically.



Mapping, Collaborating, and Connecting through PREZI

Many of you may know Prezi ( as an online presentation tool that frees you from the linearity of Powerpoint, but did you know that it makes for a great mind mapping tool as well? In the last three years I have primarily used it that way in my classes, during brainstorming sessions, in meetings, and for project planning and management. I thought I would share a few of the ways I have been using Prezi for instructional purposes along with some recent Prezis.  (As my students know, I usually can’t contain my excitement about all it can do, so simply)

MAPPING. I recently used Prezi on the first day of the Smithsonian Folkways World Music Pedagogy course at the University of Miami as a way to introduce participants to the musics of the world we would be studying throughout the school year. Initially it served as a way to provide an overview of the course. As I videotaped the grScreen shot 2013-10-05 at 10.22.05 AMoup learning songs, dances, games, and music, I realized Prezi could also serve as a repository for these videos. I have since given participants in the program access to the Prezi so they can recall the songs, note how the songs performed differ from the notated versions, or link to the Smithsonian music collection. As the course evolves, I imagine it will include many other things as well. At the end of the six sessions, spread over a school year, we will have documented the many musical cultures studied, the curricular frameworks discussed, and the projects created. This is a work in progress. You might want to check back to see how it has changed in six months.

COLLABORATING. In the past I used to bring in large posters and markers into class when I wanted my classes to break up into small groups to brainstorm or work on an in-class project. Class members would usually assemble into groups around the classroom to work on their posters (if you were my student at some point, you probably remember doing that). Screen shot 2013-10-05 at 10.24.36 AMNow I use Prezi as a way for students to work collaboratively, documenting their thinking and ideas. For instance, in my History and Philosophy of Music Education course this semester, I had students (all of whom I granted editing access to our class Prezi) synthesize some of the key ideas of formalism, utilitarianism, praxialism, contextualism on Prezi.   We could see our individual avatars moving through the Prezi, adding images, text, and videos in real time.

CONNECTING. I’ve been using Prezi in my general music methods courses for three years now. Each semester, I start with a blank Prezi; each class period is an opportunity for us to build and extend it. In so doing, we map what we are learning from the readings,  experiences in the field, and in-class discussions. We also use it as a way to make inter- and intra-unit connections. Many of the videos I ask students to watch are found on the Prezi, as well as videos and books we recommend one another because of their relevance to the course content. You can also see students’ illustrations, representing their visions of the elementary music classroom (they are actually kind of fun, revealing, and funny all rolled into one). Like the prior Prezi, this has no animation and is a work in progress.

I hope this blog entry gives you some ideas for how you might use Prezi or some other mind mapping tool in your own teaching. I’d love to hear how some of you are using it in your own work.

Smithsonian Folkways at the University of Miami

I am excited to report that the University of Miami and Smithsonian Folkways will be co-sponsoring a World Music Pedagogy Certification Course at the Frost School of Music during the 2013-2014 school year. Presenters from around the country, with diverse specializatFROST SCHOOL LOGOions in world music cultures, will bring their experience, musicality, and expertise to music teachers and community music leaders in the South Florida region.  The aim of the course is to provide opportunities in learning about world music cultures, with a special emphasis on those found in our rich cultural backyard. Specialists in Afro-Cuban children’s songs and folk music, Puerto Rican drumming styles, Eastern European song, Argentinean folk music, Uruguayan candombe, Maori song and movement, Brazilian folk dance, and more will be invited to work with participants. World music pedagogues, Patrician Shehan Campbell and Ann Clements, as well as world music song leadeSmithsonianr and composer/arranger, Nick Page, are a few of the distinguished guests who comprise the faculty roster.  Follow the link for more information about the Smithsonian Folkways World Music Pedagogy course at the University of Miami:

Towards a More Culturally Responsive Music Pedagogy


If you have an interest in making music pedagogy more culturally responsive, I invite you to read an article that I recently wrote for General Music Today called, Towards a More Culturally Responsive Music Classroom. In this article I seek to characterize culturally responsive teaching and consider how it differs from other pedagogical approaches in music that have been explicitly informed by culture, such as multicultural music education. Stretching the work of Gloria Ladson-Billings and Geneva Gay into music learning contexts, I consider how we might move our attention from the things we teach to the people we work with in socio-musical learning environments such as classrooms and community centers. Finally, I discuss ideas for making these environments more culturally responsive around five pedagogical action points:

·      See and come to know students

·      Create a social learning community

·      Recognize multiple perspectives and positions

·      Connect beyond the classroom

·      Select music and materials with culture in mind

I would love to know how others have approached culturally responsive pedagogy in the arts.

From Idea to Dogma

This afternoon I was reading Janet Mills’ book, Music in the School, for a project I am currently working on, when I stumbled upon an interesting conjecture she made about the cyclical pattern of curriculum development in music. I think it is worth sharing because it provides a perspective on the evolution of curricular and instructional ideas that animate the work of many educators.  Mills describes this cycle as beginning with a (1) very good idea that is developed. For example, Guild Keetman and Carl Orff developed an innovative idea for artistically educating students in Bavaria, during the first half of the twentieth century. This is followed by a period when disciples (her choice of word) observe, work with, and learn from the original developer(s) and (2) the idea grows, takes root, and spreads. The disciples, who learned from or with the developers, then (3) pass on the idea to second-generation disciples. TheIMG_0573se individuals may or may not have worked with the developers and may only learn from secondary sources.  In so doing, they focus more on how they are supposed to do something than on asking why they should be doing that something. The (4) very good idea starts to fade to dogma. Mills states, “As the content of the curriculum becomes disconnected from the very good idea, practices develop that would be anathema to the originator, but which are still credited to the very good idea” (p. 96). For example, meaningfully transplanting the philosophical and curricular ideas of Kodály from Hungary to another time and place (21st century UK) requires a deep understanding and critical thought of its broad aims, that could be easily become obfuscated if dogma (pitch and rhythmic sequence) has already overshadowed the idea (musical fluency). When (5) dogma becomes the focus, gurus (again her word choice) replace the disciples. The gurus train teachers, provide recipes, market products, and contribute to a cottage industry around those good ideas. At this point, teachers might fail to ask why they are doing what they are doing because it just seems to “work” in the classroom. Practice may lose relevance and meaning for the very people for whom these ideas were first developed—the students. Mills claims that over time this leads to the (6) failure and disuse of the dogma, until (7) another very good idea is developed.

I leave you with some lingering questions and a final thought. Are some or all of the theories, approaches, methods, or philosophies that guide teaching practices on a wide scale victim to this or other cycles? What role do our national organizations and leaders play in this process? How do they play into this model? How can the forces imbedded within any of these stages, if they do hold up to scrutiny (especially 2-6), be disrupted, challenged, or at the least made more transparent? This last question in particular brings to mind Cathy Benedict’s (2009) reminder that we “need to interrogate the indiscriminate embracing of these methods as a possible form of control and coercion, as well as the possible appropriation of musicking as a way to increase the social capital of music teachers” (p. 222).

References and Articles of Interest
Abril, C. R. (2013). Critical issues in Orff Schulwerk. In C. Wang (Ed.) Orff Schulwerk: Reflections and direction. Chicago: GIA Press.
Benedict, C. (2009). Processes of alienation: Marx, Orff and Kodaly. British Journal of
Music Education, 26(2), 213-224.
Bennett, P. D. (2005). So, Why Sol-Mi? Music Educators Journal, 91(3), 43.
Mills, J. (2005). Music in the school. New York: Oxford University Press.

Peter Webster Sparks Imagination

IMG_1463One of the first words that comes to my mind when I think of Peter Webster is imagination. Through his long and productive career, he has challenged us to think more expansively and imaginatively about our work–the ways we teach, how we learn, what we do, and how we do it. His talk last week at the University of Miami Frost School of Music, as part of the Stamps Family Distinguished Visitor Series, was no exception. In his talk he took seven big ideas and teased out what they suggest for the new directions we go in music education, from preschool to college. Those of you thinking about new directions in music education will probably be able to see where your work fits within this conceptual framework. The seven ideas are: (1) adaptive constructivism, (2) creative thinking, (3) interdisciplinary thinking, (4) embedded balanced assessment, (5) who we teach, (6) what kind of music, and (7) learning in new venues. PW has made his key note presentation available to those who would like to see it:

2013-02-09 18.51.36This quote from J.K. Rowlings’ commencement address at Harvard succinctly captures an essence of imagination that speaks to its importance and power:

Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and, therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.


Documentary on Sam Pilafian

Master tubist and music pedagogue, Sam Pilafian, was the focus of an examination conducted and documentary created by University of Miami Master’s student, Elizabeth Elliott. She  has great interest in matters related to education, teaching and learning and social equity and is studying conducting with Gary Green at the Frost School. This is the product of a project on pedagogy that she created in our Seminar in Music Education.

The Pedagogy of SAM PILAFIAN by Elizabeth Elliott in Seminar in Music Education at University of Miami (password: fundamentals)