As a student of Arabic I thought: what processes do I need which will aid my learning of new words and continues to refresh words that I've previously learnt? After a little research my answer was to use an android app which allowed me to learn my Arabic vocabulary anywhere and to learn efficiently, only revising the words that it figured out (with complex algorithms...?) that I was going to forget.
Great. What does this have to do with teaching music...?
Well, when I reflect on the times that I've been a student I realise what, as a teacher, I need to provide my students with which will aid their learning. So, when my current GCSE students are faced with a huge amount of musical concepts to learn for their set works I remember the process I put in place to learn (and to continue learning!) my huge amount of Arabic words.
This led me to:
Even thought Memrise was designed primarily as a language learning platform, this was not what I used for my Arabic learning. For reasons explained below, I felt was much more suitable for my GCSE students as opposed to the app that I used.
Memrise does many things:
I set around creating different Memrise courses for each of the set works in the new GCSE syllabus. For example, my course for Defying Gravity can be found here.
Here are a couple of screen shots from the questions:
Although this is only one type of question (there are multiple choice, ordering words, etc.), there are some elements that are present in each question:
The timer which provides a competitive element but also ensuring that the vocabulary is 'at the front' of the mind; the learners shouldn't be rummaging for the concepts with an endless timeframe. The quicker the student answers, the more points are given.
The green plant icon which allows learners to track their progress with each concept - once the plant has flowered, the concept has 'taken root' in their mind and Memrise considers this word having been learnt. It will be tested in later sessions.
If I ran out of time, got the question wrong, or was learning the concept for the first time, I would see a definition page like this:
There are so many useful features of this page which makes Memrise a fantastic resource:
Note the audio icon at the top - I matched every concept with an appropriate sound sample (or two) so the learners are not only reading the definition but are hearing it at the same time. The audio plays automatically which is a real bonus - there is no escaping the sound.
Reinforcing the audio is the annotated score that I created. Some score extracts are annotated in greater detail, highlighting for example the elements in and effects of an interrupted cadence:
Here is a quick run-down of the pros and cons of Memrise as I currently see them:
My students have loved the competitive element of Memrise and are constantly logging on to see if they are on the leaderboard for the week, the month or for all time. It's provided a fun and friendly impetus to logging on and learning these concepts.
The fact that my students are placed on a leaderboard means that I can very easily tell who is revising and who is not - and my learners know this too!
The ability to see and hear the musical concepts easily at one and the same time is incredibly valuable.
My students are genuinely enjoying logging on and doing revision. The fact that they can log on quickly and learn a couple of words in 5 minutes means that they are using time here and there which would otherwise have been wasted. I've heard of one student completing a few questions in some spare time at the end of an English class...!
I create my own material which is tailored for my particular class, highlighting what I feel is important in a way that I know my students will understand.
If I deem it necessary, Memrise can facilitate the flipped-classroom model. I could set the students a number of words to learn before the lesson. This means they come with the musical vocabulary already in their minds and we can do some higher-order thinking around them. The students will come with their own questions from that study time and so we can use our time more effectively.
It works! I've witnessed my students' ability in using and identifying these concepts grow hugely. They are becoming aware of which concepts are categorised in each element which is helping them answer exam questions.
The creation of a Memrise course is quite labour-intensive:
Each score needs scanned, clipped, annotated and then exported as a graphic.
Each concept needs inputted with a concise and clear definition.
Each audio clip needs cut, faded in and out and then bounced to a file.
The images do not show properly in the Android app at the moment. If they did, this would really allow the learners to learn anywhere and make use of the often wasted moments of the day learning a couple of new musical concepts. I've submitted a bug report but as yet have had no reply from Memrise about this.
As you can see the pros far outweigh the cons and I am confident that Memrise will continue to form an intrinsic part of my GCSE and A-level teaching.