On Group Classes, Edutainment and Playful Learning

Piano Combo Configuration Another Group Class Week has come and gone. As I sit here trying to get my brain around next year, I'm mulling over how to approach group classes going forward.

Some students just aren't into group classes. While some like the idea of trying out something new (e.g. trying to make a radio commercial) but aren't really that interested in learning and honing their skills in those areas. Some like the ensembles. While some are just too busy for group classes and have missed every single one. You get the idea.

I know, we can't please everyone. To that end, I'm contemplating the idea of making the group classes optional and available to outside students.

Now, one comment that I usually hear from students and parents is how "X has so much fun at group classes." Well that's fine and dandy, but as an educator, I feel duty bound to teach them something. I'd like for them to learn something that will help them become better musicians and listeners.

The classes that they enjoyed the most weren't necessarily the ones where they actually learned anything. The aspiration of having the students create a video game theme, record, edit and then present it at the year-end recital? No dice. All the dreams of having them do a singing and accompanying project throughout the year and then perform it at the year-end recital? Nyet.

They fiddled, they made noise, they laughed a lot. Some made a 30-second radio commercial and saved a file. Others spent 90 minutes learning three types of beat patterns, while others played in a piano combo for the first time.

Is anything perform-able in public? Not without hours of tweaking (practice, editing, rendering and re-recording, etc.). Did they learn something that they can execute on their own? Uh-uh.

At least, they tried something new.

One area that started really slowly but gathered momentum was my Music Appreciation 101: Music & Technology class. It evolved each time a little bit to adjust to the next group of students. The students were fascinated with how music listening devices have evolved, especially with the addition of my retro-player:

Not only did this capture their attention, but the topic of copyright interested them too.

Now, the only group activity that saw any thread of progress and continuity was my student band WEDG as they prepared for the Long and McQuade Music Education Contest and later, the  APTA Festival. That was an optional activity, which impacted only four students - profoundly enough that they are continuing to work together.

My challenge becomes one of creating group classes that will generate enough interest, yet from a pedagogical standpoint, teach them something useful. I've heard the term "edutainment" thrown around in relation to TV shows. However, that doesn't quite sit right with what I'm trying to do here. I suppose that "playful learning" or "learning through play" would be a closer fit. I suppose that really, they're just different terms on the same continuum of learning.

It's a lot of food for thought.