Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pedagog-Audio::The Explanation (READ THIS LAST!)

Engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate are the five e-words that make up the constructivist teaching model. The idea of ‘constructivism’ is based in the belief that students given the opportunity to construct new knowledge from what they already know, as opposed to simply taking it in, will flourish in the classroom.  It is just one type of active learning.  Two of its twelve primary premises are that, “learning engages the entire physiology,” and “learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat.” By focusing on activities that challenge and engage the listener as a whole to teach the technique of active listening, this project results in the student being a more active listener.  Below is more theoretical information concerning the teaching technique, as well as a section-by-section description of how it was applied.  I have also included a brief synopsis of other techniques that were used in the project, including artistic techniques.   


At the beginning of the project, there is a quick attention grabber- it’s meant to set the scene for fun.  I chose to start with a very familiar song because once a student feels that he or she can connect with the subject matter, they are more open to new information. 


The engage track sets out to find a common ground between the medium and the audience.  One of the major challenges to producing this type of media (interactive media without feedback), is that the ‘teacher’ or the CD, will never know whether or not the student gets the answer right.  Necessarily, the very beginning activities will lead the student to an inevitable conclusion, purposely drawing on common knowledge.  These small successes set the scene for a willing pupil.  In this case, students are shown that they can already tell the difference between a variety of instruments and that they can also give name to a familiar series tones.  Students learn why they recognize instruments and songs a little bit later.


Throughout the explore track, students combine celebrating their previous success with exploring how they can participate even more.  This clapping, nodding, and vocalizing begins to engage the ‘entire physiology’ of the student.  It marries celebration with further progress, creating an almost seamless transition between funning and studying. 


Explain and elaborate are exactly like what they sound.  Here, the seven parameters of sound (wavelength, amplitude, frequency, pitch, timbre, envelope, and phase) are explained, or defined.  Students are then given the opportunity to elaborate, through the use of drawing and vocalizing, playing an instrument, a small science experiment, etc.  Generally the idea here is that students must ‘dig’ to find some of the answers.  This is the challenge.  As a listener, you are not given information that you regurgitate to a piece of paper.  Rather, you are given a definition and a related activity.  It is up to the listener to follow through these activities: in this way the student takes learning into his or her own hands.  Of course one can listen to the CD all the way through without stopping, but it is readily apparent that the knowledge comes from participating, rather than listening.  Through explain/elaborate, references are made to previous activities.  This is done as a kind of proof that the project is centrally focused.  When students are asked to construct knowledge, it can often happen in a non-linear way.  A very interested student may take the time to explore thoroughly, and even have a family member or friend take the hearing test to compare.  This type of student needs to be reminded that all of these parameters fit very closely together. 


The evaluate section was by far the hardest to record.  As was stated earlier, interactive media in this format cannot give student-specific feedback (with the exception of the hearing test), nor can it take feedback from students.  In constructivist learning environments, where the teacher is asking the learner to do just as much work as them, it’s very important to evaluate and celebrate.  In a normal classroom setting, evaluation would lead the instructor (or learning assistant) to a set of best practices for those particular students.  He or she would accumulate a set of knowledge about how the group best works, how much time they need for research and planning as well as production.  Celebration gives the students a ‘day off’, if you will.  It’s a chance to look back on all that they’ve learned, and be grateful.


Some of the more general applications of constructivism come in the language surrounding the technique.  The teacher uses words that imply student responsibility- explore is the best example.  A teacher does not teach an idea, but students explore the idea.  It is stressed that teachers must think of themselves as learning assistants, rather than instructors.  Instead of asking, “How can I best teach this?” they would instead ask, “How can my students best learn this?”  Additionally, open-ended questions are used to encourage thoughtful responses.         


Artistic techniques were also applied to the project.  All of the ‘explain’ tracks were recorded to the same loop, as were all of the ‘elaborate’ sections, to create a subtle link between the two.  Speaking to beats made the necessary talking go much faster, while maintaining a sense of steady movement.  It also made the words more memorable, rather than just flat speech to remember; students could remember the beat or cadence to which the words were spoken.  This is on par with common mnemonic devices.  All “explain” tracks were recorded to the same looped beat, as were “elaborate” tracks.  This allows students to make conscious or subconscious connections between the differences of the two portions. 


Aural as well as visual styles were kept consistent.  Actually, the aural style of the project stemmed from my visual representation of active learning.  In active learning I saw growth, for the student and the learning assistant, so I chose a very warm and earthy color palette (and the images of a tree).  I also used basic shapes and repetition to give the concept realization journal a simple, aesthetically pleasing appearance.  Scanned paper and overlays were used to create texture.  The translation of these colors, simplicity, and textures into audio, I feel, is very clear.  In fact, I can draw three direct parallels.  The colors translate into the different sections.  Orange headlines elaboration- the shovel, which signifies more in depth information, is orange as well as the parameters that are listed.  The simplicity comes through in the beats to which I speak.  They are no more than the first few bars of a song repeated, always a very basic beat.  The textures are the extra audio- Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” and “Celebrate” are simply fun.  They add just a little extra ‘feel-good’ to the project.


Finally, on the artistic spectrum, a complete package, or environment, was created to go along with the lesson.  From the moment the student took hold of the gift bag with balloons attached, he knew that at least he would have fun.  Because of the nature of the class, I believe that the student may have been intrigued by the project before it was ever seen or held.            

Soflege is a technique used by musicians to teach perfect pitch:  do re mi fa sol la ti do.  The seven parameters of sound are a technique used to critically and actively hear sounds, including music.  Music is a cultural technique by which to transmit universal feelings and ideas beyond language.  Suspense is a technique by which to heighten interest in a subject that may be predictable and bland in less-suspenseful settings.  I could obviously write an infinitely long paper on the inherent techniques in the project.  But, here, I will come to an end.


Because of the application of these techniques, both artistic and pedagogic, you the listener were able to construct new knowledge about listening from information you already knew.  You decided to participate more deeply because of your basic and immediate success, but also because you were challenged to do so.  You are able to walk away from this project with a more thorough understanding of the sounds you hear and how you perceive them because you were physiologically involved in creating and hearing those sounds.  Constructivist teaching techniques are effective in this environment.             


tricia said...

sorry for yelling at you in my title. 8D

Adam Johns said...

I enjoyed the CD a lot; I wasn't able to listen to it at a time when my daughter could join me, but we'll do that soon (and boy, is she going to love that recorder!). Probably having this read by a harried instructor at the last possible minute is less than idea; on the other hand, I actively enjoyed it (especially, blech, compared to grading final exams) - so maybe you did know what you were doing in that respect.

I enjoyed the cd a lot, like I said. I'm curious to see what my daughter thinks, or how she reacts, but I feel like the pacing is off, especially for kids - it's good to be fast, but I think you might be a little too fast, and a lot of the terminology comes together. The demonstrations/experiments seemed great, but, again, a little fast - although it partially depends on your envisioned age.

So audience is an issue here. I enjoyed it, and various questions arose for me (for instance, I want the deployment of MIA, who is so deeply committed to being simultaneously fun and politically radical, to mean something - I'm (over)reading it as related to the implicit radicalism of the teaching technique.

As far as that radicalism, though. You obviously believe in it, and there's lots of fun stuff here, but I'd like to have seen some theory. Not in the cd itself, but your essay about the experience could have been more effective if it had included a theoretical element. I liked the praxis, but you're rooting it in a theory (I think), and I'd like to have known a little about it.

Thanks for the fun project