ThE dIgiTal nAtiveS ArE heRE!

The NATIVES are here. Every single day they come. Look like normal students? Maybe. It’s in their eyes. In their mode of communication(s). “Got a text?” “Saw your post on Facebook.” “Hey! zat a new phone? Got any pix?”

DIGITAL NATIVES they are. No learning curve per se. They were born to do YouTube, I-Tube, What’s new Tube? They aren’t quite as impressed with the new stuff as maybe two years ago. They already have seen it, bought it, borrowed it or have seen it on their iPhone.

As DIGITAL IMMIGRANTS, most teachers are learning from their students. With the X-Gen vs. Baby Boomers, the BB’s are playing catch up with their children. Surprised? Yet, we’re the first generation of parents who actually know where our children are… most ALL the time! Our digital immigrant children and now students live in technology. Don’t we TEXT more than we TALK?

This year begins my 29th cycle of 180 days with students. So, what’s DIFFERENT this year about teaching and instruction you say? Are the students making you become cynical? You’ve “been at this” for a while now.

Because I am technically in that FINAL FIVE years before I could go out to pasture, I know what COULD happen as an educator. But, you know what? My SUBJECT MATTER hasn’t changed all that much. The NATIVES are different.


Driving home from vacation, my wife looks over and asks me, “Who was that texting you?” Oh, it was Ben. “The tech guy at school?!! What’s he want?” No! It’s one of my students! “Whadhewant?” He’s giving me a heads up on the HEADSETS we need in the iMAC MUSIC TECH LAB.

I texted back… What’s the model? (reply: zxoidvwef) … How much do they cost? … (reply: in about 1 minute b/c he is at home searching online…. (reply: $40 each.)…Thanks! Later. JW

Web 2.0. Community. Facilitating. Thinking out loud with young men and women. Facebook. Connecting. Moms of my students “poking” me online. Videos and pictures that are part of my students’ REAL lives. Oh, those lives outside the school day.

This is how we are challenged to LIVE and EDUCATE in the 21st century with DIGITAL NATIVES. Personal? You bet! One of our BIGGEST challenges with school year 08-09 is defining just how we going to function with the DIGITAL NATIVES. Boundaries. Guidelines. Protection. Freedoms.

As music programs face budget challenges like never before in the United States, I am thankful to be in a position to remain in public music education! We offered a NEW CLASS called INTRODUCTION TO MUSIC TECHNOLOGY in 2007-2008 school year. We now have MORE students in the “digital native” culture of Intro to Music Tech than we do in our traditional vocal/choral program.

My greatest challenge, at this point, is to KNOCK THE WALLS DOWN. What walls? Tradition-for-tradition- sake. The barriers that keep student work in the classroom vs. out in the world. Connecting. Connecting. Connecting. Mentoring younger students within our school district in music technology.

THE DIGITAL NATIVES are here to STAY. We are the IMMIGRANTS. Will our GREEN CARDS run out as educators in the 21st Century? It’s our decision.


ClassICKs or ClassICs? The Dilemma

What type music or art engages you? By default, most people I know listen to an ipod , car CD, or an Internet radio station (Pandora). While contemporary citizens — such you and I — may favor listening to what we know, there is strong empirical evidence that broadening our musical and artistic tastes has promising rewards, academically speaking.

A Fine Arts Education Dilemma

Gutek (2005) poses an interesting perspective on teaching TODAY’S students. Regarding Plato’s The Republic, Gutek states, “Plato raised the issue of continuity and change in culture, society, and education” (Gutek, 45) . Should educators teach BOTH continuity and change? From this writer’s perspective, the definitive answer is “Absolutely!” That is precisely why this blog exists.

In the 21st century, the question exists as to the level to which schools should “be conservators of the cultural heritage or agents of social change” (Gutek, 45).  Music Technologists have the capacity to lead students in multifarious ways of creatively promoting values-laden cultural heritage through unique means.

NCLB (2001) holds schools highly accountable for the 3R’s and places some institutions down to the mat with AYP.  With such accountability strongholds over today’s schools, should schools invest in incorporating current issues and new technology into the curriculum (Gutek, 2005)? Dr. Gutek, the obvious answer is a resounding “Yes!”.

My ClassICK Education

With acronyms galore, you may be inquiring what the “ICK” in ClassICKs  stands for? It is a shortened version of the term “icky”, meaning distastefully sentimental. There were times that my own education seemed “icky”, uninteresting and disengaging. How about your education? If we are honest with ourselves, much of our own traditional education seemed irrelevant – at least – at the time.

ClassICal Education

As a music educator, I have spent many hours learning how to perform music.  I began piano lessons at age six. Oh, did I tell you that I wore my baseball uniform to my piano lessons? Yes. I played baseball and football too through ninth grade. Plato would have strongly supported my ClassICal music education paired with a love for sports. My high school years were filled with choral and vocal performances. What joy!! Music always engages me in learning.

Today’s ClassICal Music Education

True Story. A few choral students were preparing to audition for vocal solos competition. The vocal literature requirements included sining an Italian Art Song.  (Commentary: Disney music does not typically produce winners at vocal competitions – at least in my experience.)

It all happened so fast…in my classroom. It went something like this. “Guys, I want to teach you a really cool, CLASSICAL vocal solo this week…Let’s take a few minutes and hear it at Youtube“.

The CRUX of the matter

It’s all about the music, friends. Musical experience must precede musical knowledge. “So, who cares about some dead composer named Giordani anyway?” Herein lies the problem with music instruction. No one cares about knowing facts about a composer – unless “the composer” is linked to an exciting musical performance.

Key: Learning “names and datesdoes not engage students in learning, unless students link new knowledge to prior knowledge or previous learning experiences.

February 2011 – “Caro Mio Ben” LESSON – YouTube

My students and I watched several GREAT performers sing the ClassIC vocal art song, “Caro Mio Ben”on The first performance caught everyone off guard and sealed the deal! Luciano Pavarotti did it again! Most every student was unfamiliar with Pavarotti. Yet, we were blown away at 8:08 a.m. by his amazing performance! A student asked about why Pavarotti carried a white handkerchief during his performance. (Music history time based on the “readiness factor”). We discussed Pavorotti’s death, his large fan base, marriages, his children, his final world tour, etc. The Learning Connection was happening right before my eyes!

The Cecilia Bartoli performance was too smaltzy for most students . This performance seemed ClassICKY for these teens. Well, “no problem”. Let’s watch someone else. Blah. Blah. Click. Click. Man, our Internet is so slow today. Then… it happened. We observed a teenager perform “Caro Mio Ben” on Youtube. This teenager was serious, passionate about singing and had a great voice. The connection went deeper into the psyche of my high school students than I thought it would. They were getting primed for performance.

Character Education using

Giordani’s “Caro Mio Ben” fit Plato’s criteria for education usefulness. Plato said, “Melodies imitating the sounds and accents of men courageous in the face of danger and those suitable to peaceful men are allowed, but modes suiting laments or revelries are forbidden (399b). Only simple instruments such as the lyre, zither, and pipe are permitted (399d). Every component of speech must follow the disposition of a good soul; “Good speech, good harmony, good grace, and good rhythm accompany good disposition” (400e).

The Effect on Student Performance

Typically, the first run-through of a vocal or choral song is lacking much in quality. Students, who are not excellent sight-readers, usually miss notes and pitches. English-speaking students do not normally understand Italian. Based on my experience, students need much repetition in learning lyrics, notes and pitches before they approach a desirable level of vocal performance.

Thanks to Ms. Velarde, we learned how to parrot the Italian lyrics in a matter of minutes.

First run-through. Most every student was able to fairly accurately perform this 18th century Italian Art Song with lyrics on the first try. Why? I honestly believe that I used every imaginable avenue open to us at the moment to enhance student engagement in learning. Students were able to mentally rehearse the notes, rhythm, expressive content and foreign language prior to being asked to actually perform the music.

The ClassICs still rule when they are taught using 21st century learning designs. The content holds the potential for enhancing good character. By removing the ICK factor in music education, students can still engage in meaningful learning with classical music. 


Gutek, G. L. (2005). Historical and philosophical foundations of education: A biographical introduction (4th ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall. ISBN: 978-0-131-13809-4.

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. (2011). The Elementary and Secondary Education Act as reauthorized by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Retrieved from the website