Let’s Talk About Flipping the Arts

Editors Features April 19 / April 17, 2019

–George Hess–

Flipped Learning (FL) has made substantial inroads in classes around the world, primarily in math and the sciences but also engineering, nursing, and ESL classes. A growing body of research also suggests FL is an effective teaching strategy. But while more and more STEM teachers are adopting it, FL has not been embraced nearly as much in the arts and humanities.

On the one hand, it makes sense. Many classes –music, art, dance, and drama- are conducted in a very different manner than other disciplines. There are very few lectures and little homework. These classes are all about active and experiential learning as they rehearse for performances or create artworks. So the basic idea of flipping a class may not seem applicable.

But let’s make one thing clear; Flipped Learning is more than just about videos. Videos are one tool we have at our disposal. Flipped Learning is really about promoting active learning in the classroom and developing stronger relationships with our students.

The group space (i.e., your classroom) and individual space (i.e., the student’s home, dorm room, etc.) each have their own function. The goal for the group space is more student-centered and collaborative learning. The purpose of the individual space is to introduce material that will support what happens in the group space. The good news is arts classes are already active and largely collaborative, so you’re already halfway there.


Why Flip?

Let’s look at some of the ways Flipped Learning might work for you.

For starters, consider how much time you spend in direct instruction of your students. This time will vary greatly, and in some instances, it might not be very much at all. But even in performance and creative arts classes where most direct instruction is reactive, there are probably some concepts that you find yourself doing year after year. By becoming proactive and flipping these lessons, you can free up valuable class time for other activities.

Of course, not all arts classes are performance-oriented. International qualifications like the A-level and International Baccalaureate Music programs are often taught more traditionally. Music technology and production, and music theory classes also may involve more direct instruction. And in colleges, many courses in the arts are still taught as lectures and tutorials. Just as in STEM classes, Flipped Learning can help your classes become more active and student-centered.

There are other benefits. When the focus is on performance and creation, it can leave little time for teaching the underlying concepts, history, or other relevant information. Flipped Learning can provide the opportunity to go more in-depth without having to sacrifice rehearsal or studio time.

Flipped Learning can also encourage students to be more prepared. One of the things we’ve learned is that it’s important to require some level of interaction with individual space activities. This exchange provides a level of accountability for your students and has the added benefit of providing your administrators with documentation about what happens in your class.


Getting Started

These are just a few of the benefits of Flipped Learning, and hopefully, you are starting to see the value of incorporating it into your classes. So how do you go about doing it?

A lot of excellent information is on the FLGI site, in past issues of FLR, in the certification courses, and I highly recommend them. The material there is a good starting point, but the way Flipped Learning is implemented in most classrooms, it won’t always work in performance or creative classes. So we’ll need to come up with some solutions on our own, too.


Making the Connection

Flipped Learning is a global movement, and one of the things the FLGI faculty have been encouraged to do is get out of our “silos” and get connected globally.

Music and art teachers, especially at the lower levels and in smaller schools, are pretty isolated and lonely. We are often the only one who teaches our subject, many of us are split between multiple schools, often on the same day. It doesn’t leave much time for developing relationships with fellow faculty members, nor much opportunity to discuss the challenges we find in our classes with fellow arts teachers.

We need to fix that.

Many of you have found chats and forums on Facebook and Twitter to be helpful, but they only go so far. They can be somewhat impersonal, at times, contentious and most people only participate when they need something. Wouldn’t it be better if they were more proactive, intimate and consistent?

For the past six months, I’ve been part of an experiment where people with a similar general interest–in this case, making pop music–join a small online support group of four to six people. It’s the brainchild of drummer/producer, Deane Ogden, and it’s really taken off. I’ve learned a great deal about so many things that have helped me in my teaching and as a musician.

I have to admit to having been somewhat skeptical about it at first. We didn’t do much in the way of advance screening for the members, and we ended up with a pretty diverse group. I have little else in common with the members of my group; they are all younger, songwriters, producers and composers from all over the world. But this diversity is its strength.

There are only a few basic rules. One is to commit to meeting weekly via video chat. All of us do our best to make the time for this. Another is to keep all meetings to one hour. And it goes without saying, be supportive and positive.

The format of each meeting is the same. For the first ten minutes, we catch up and see how everyone is doing. Then someone, who has been determined in advance, takes the hot seat. This is where we focus on an issue that is important to one of the members. We brainstorm, commiserate and offer moral support.  

I’ve found this exchange to be so useful that I wanted to bring it to education. I’ve now formed a new group of music technology teachers. We’ve only met a few times, but the reaction of the members is very enthusiastic indeed. You can be sure one of the things we’ll discuss is Flipped Learning.

The advantages of these peer groups over forums and chats are many, the most significant is its non-threatening nature and intimacy. You quickly develop a level of trust among the members. It’s private, so there’s no worry about saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. It’s also a group of equals. There’s no leader, no teacher, and each member brings different strengths and perspectives to the group.

I would like to invite arts teachers to join me in forming peer groups. It doesn’t matter what discipline you are in, whether you’ve already started flipping or are just curious about it.  Join a peer group today. It’s therapeutic, it’s cathartic, and it’s truly gratifying.


George Hess
Dr. George Hess
Dr. Hess is currently Associate Professor of Music at Sunway University in Malaysia. Previously, he was on the faculty at the National University of Singapore, Central Michigan University, Alabama State University and the University of Northern Colorado. He holds degrees from the Berklee College of Music and the University of Northern Colorado. George is a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty. George is an educator, guitarist, composer and author. An award-winning teacher, he has taught music technology, jazz and theory at leading universities for over 25 years.

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