Defending  Music Education  Classes & Rehearsals Against Unprepared  IPI Evaluators

I recently heard some horror stories of a music teacher receiving poor Instructional Practices Inventory scores from the other teachers during weekly observations of the teacher's ensemble rehearsal classes.  For those not familiar with it IPI is a method many schools are currently using to evaluate instructional practices in teaching as they relate to students using the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  If you are already a music educator then you know that what we do is completely encompassed within the top levels of Bloom’s.  Music education classrooms consistently use many of the best instructional practices, very rarely sliding down the pyramid of Bloom’s except in pedagogical cases where prerequisite knowledge of music notation and other musical topics is required.  When we are performing there are very few other subjects that keep students thinking at the analysis and evaluation levels of Bloom’s as consistently as we do.

This then brings back the question of why on earth was this teacher’s peers grading him in a way that he perceived to be below the true level of engagement?  It turns out they were saying that his rehearsals only ranked a 3 or 4 on the scale because they were “Teacher Led Instruction” rather than “Student Active Engaged Learning.”  Conversely in another case he was given the highest marks possible when the observers noted that his students (who had not practiced) were essentially sight reading their lesson material.  In blessed irony it was decided that that session was scored as being very high on the IPI scale because essentially “they were reading something new for the first time.”  

A few minutes later I awoke laying on the floor beside my desk.  Apparently I had gone too far in banging my head into it in utter frustration over the idiocy of these comments.  Once I had recovered my composure I decided to do something about my discontent over the issue.  I took these comments as a subtle plea asking for my help in defending his classes against this perceived musicological bias.  As a result I went out and did some digging of my own, even going so far as to contact the god of all things IPI, Professor Jerry Valentine of the University of Missouri to get his take on things.  

During my conversation with Dr. Valentine I discovered that the basic premise behind IPI is that a mixture of levels be included in instruction.  In other words hitting a 6 on every evaluation is not considered a good thing.  As anyone would attest you have to have a variety of activities in any classroom to truly engage and advance the learning process.  Having a few 3's and 4's is not a bad thing in a given classroom.  However, the problem in this particular situation lies in that it seems the other teachers are applying the wrong set of criteria to the music education classroom.

Applying Special Reading Criteria to Music Education Rehearsals Within The IPI Rubric

In doing my research on the topic of IPI and music education I discovered that in this specific case it seems as though the other teachers who were evaluating this music educator may have been missing a key piece of information.  It would appear they are using the standard IPI evaluation rubric in this case but there is actually a supplemental IPI rubric that has specific suggestions for evaluating classrooms that fall outside the norm.  It specifically designates the three areas of Reading, Physical Activities, and Media classrooms, but in our situation the Reading or Physical Activities portions seems to apply the best.

For Physical Activities the IPI Supplement uses the criteria that:
Students [are] engaged in the development of physical skills (and doing higher order thinking) as they do the skills —authentically learning how to properly do the skill

It seems that this definition should be directly applicable to any well run music education ensemble rehearsal or private lesson.  In regard to the physical aspect a HUGE part of our musical art is developing muscle memory so that eventually playing our instruments becomes an almost automatic process.  I personally think that that directly relates to the physical activity criteria and shows that students involved in a music rehearsal or lesson setting are almost certainly fully engaged in their learning.


Relating Reading Criteria to Music Education Rehearsals In The IPI Rubric

Even if the physical activity aspect of the argument could be shot down for some reason the Reading criteria is also met in any normal band rehearsal. In the the Reading portion of the IPI rubric supplement it says that Student Active Engaged Learning (the highest level of Bloom’s) is observed when:

For Reading the IPI Supplement uses the criteria that:
Students in reading or literature class [are] working on reading skills (and doing higher order thinking) —authentically learning the skills that will help them be better readers

When we rehearse a piece of music there can be no doubt that we are asking those students to become  more fluent readers of the music.  In other classes students might miss as much as 10% on a test and still get an A.  In an ensemble rehearsal missing 10% of the notes would be a complete disaster and the group would be laughed off stage.  It is our primary job to be constantly pushing them to be better readers of music and that is what we are doing every time we pick up the baton.

I really do feel for this music teacher, and hope that he finds this article and in some way uses it to better educate his peers as to what kind of learning is really going on in his music education classes.  Let music rehearsals be known for what they are, brain intensive exercise sessions where a performance approaching that of perfection is expected of every student in the group.  In my mind this once again goes to prove that there are few other school topics that can hold a finger to the power of music education as it relates to higher order thinking skills and encouraging active engaged learning in our students.  

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