Summer 2015 happy update

After concluding a two-year stint serving as associate dean for academic affairs, I’m delighted to be returning to the classroom next Fall (and looking forward to returning to blogging about teaching)!

Phishy inspiration? Real time formal analysis

<The attached video was shared with me weeks ago, yet I’m still stuck on it. This musician knows Phish’s style so well that he has mad virtuoso skillz when it comes to real-time analysis of form, pitch collections, and styles.  I especially love his clear delight in nuances, evident in font size, underscoring, and use of caps. I would love for my students to develop that kind of delight in the pitch, collection, rhythms, meters, timbres, and gestures of music that they invest in. Continue reading

“Mapping” Exercise: a first-hand account

Workshop 2-20-14At the workshop I attended a week ago on sharing responsibility for classroom environment and learning [with our students], we closed with what I found to be an effective and helpful mapping exercise.

Continue reading

Doubts and Beliefs

I am very fortunate to work at an institution that supports a teaching center.  I don’t know if this dedicated focus on supporting innovative and excellent teaching is available at other pre-professional schools, but it’s an excellent resource for all faculty on our campus. Since we are tied with a liberal arts school, we benefit from the ways they support their emphasis on teaching.
Tonight, I participated in a session called “Sharing Responsibility for Classroom Environments and Learning.” It forwarded many ideas that I already firmly believe in, but did it in ways that helped me to broaden the ways I talk about these values by eliciting comments from colleagues that I have never talked to about teaching. (Essentially, it ties in with a lot of things I’ve already written about, especially mid-term evaluations, reflection, involving students in learning and assessment, and getting out of your comfort zone.) Continue reading

Shaking Up My World by Going Around The World (or at least halfway)

I have long nurtured my interest of incorporating outside-my-canon musics into my pedagogies. In four short days, I’ll be headed to the other side of the world to participate first-hand in a lot of different musical practices from Indonesia. I have some experience with gamelan, but the rest of these art forms will be new to me. While the musical aspect is only one of three foci for the trip, I am totally stoked to experience new musics because it always gives a boost to my creativity in teaching and love of music.

The trip is a Winter Term trip (2 professors, 10 students) called “Music, Islam, and Disasters in Indonesia.” We will travel via Dubai and Jakarta to Banda Aceh to start our 21-day adventure. While I know that every aspect of this trip will impact my life and the way I view the world, I am particularly excited about the musical aspects and their potential impact on my teaching. Continue reading

Semester End Reflection Leaves More Questions than Answers

This is a meta-reflection rather than my more traditional course reflection.

Well, I’m embarrassed to write it out loud, but I think one of the biggest things that I learned this Fall is that after 12 years of teaching these wonderful students, the process of taking my teaching from a B+ to A level takes just as much work as it does to get it to a B+ level to begin with.  In other words, if it takes me 10 hours a week to get one course to a B+ level, it probably takes me 20 hours a week to get it to where I really feel good about it. I’m embarrassed because let’s face it: B+ isn’t good enough.

Or is it?

That’s a really tough question for me that I just don’t know the answer to. For my students this semester, B+ was good enough. They learned what they needed to learn, I *think* they have a really good chance at retaining what they need to retain, they had a great attitude about the work, they were open to my leadership, they took ownership when asked, they developed skills that I think are important for musicians, and many of them loved me to a point that was embarrassing. Part this success probably comes from the way the class was cobbled together (see here for a summary)–the cards were already stacked towards creating fertile ground for bonding opportunities.

How important is that extra 100% effort on my part?

For me, it is part of what makes me happiest.  Teaching well and having the time to do my best is a luxury I didn’t appreciate until I started juggling a massive number of other things at the same time.

For most of the students, what I was able to accomplish was more than sufficient. For all of my students, I am incredibly proud of what they learned while maintaining enthusiasm for the subject that they were so worried about on Day 1.

For two of my 17 students, however, I think I could have made a difference in their academic lives if I had had more time to invest in them. For one, it might have resulted in passing the course. For the other, it might have provided a kick in the pants that would make the rest of college a little bit easier. That’s depressing.  Two is a lot.  It’s not that I didn’t try, but it’s that I could’ve tried harder and perhaps my efforts would have been more fruitful if I had tried harder to get these students into my office for some very honest conversations about ability, work ethic, student skills, etc. (on the flip side, through my deanly work I made a difference in far more than two students’ lives, albeit in a far less personal way…).

I remain troubled about what this realization of the pay-off for my investment of time means. When I return to teaching full-time, should I put those 10 hours a week into my research instead of my teaching? I sure do like putting them into my teaching, but it’s probably not going to make a long-term difference to my career (and my career goals) if I put them into teaching.

Does that mean I need to re-evaluate my career goals? (ya know, full professorship, maybe doing a visiting professorship abroad with the family in tow, etc.)

A wise colleague spoke of how awkward the 12-year point of an academic career is. Indeed, this moment of my career leaves me with far more questions than answers…

My Scoff-able Final Exam

So, I can tell I’m getting older.  I used to scoff at all sorts of ideas that I thought were simply way too lax (P/nP grading, redos, singing on neutral syllables, journals). As I accrue gray hairs, I’ve adopted many of these formerly uncomfortable ideas–with my own twists, of course–because I think (I know!) they effectively forward my course goals. So, this semester I tried another scoff-able idea. Co-writing the final exam with my students. I know this is hardly a new idea, but it’s the first time I’ve been brave (or stupid) enough to try.

the fears:

  1. the exam will be too easy;
  2. no one will need to study;
  3. some people will earn higher grades than they really should, especially unfortunate if it ends up impacting their course grade;
  4. class time could be better spent on review and answering questions; and
  5. a few voices will control the entire exam.

the reality:

  1. The exam was fine. It absolutely tested what I wanted it to test.
  2. The people who needed to study did.  And what studying happened was definitely directed toward what the exam was testing.
  3. A few people earned grades that were pleasantly surprising to me.  A few people earned grades that were unpleasantly surprising to me.  This situation strikes me as no different from any other semester. The pleasant surprises often were directly related to someone trying really hard for a stretch (but possible) grade.
  4. I was extremely happy with how we used that class time (described below)
  5. And the way we handled class time guaranteed that all voices took the opportunity to contribute to the exam.

Here’s how it all got set up:

In the last week of classes, we put together the review sheet in about 15 minutes on Monday.  We divided the sheet into two lists: Content and Skills. Students took the lead on the Content part; I took the lead on the Skills part. Here’s our review sheet.

On Tuesday, I gave them the typed up version.

On Wednesday, I saved a few minutes for questions, but there weren’t many.  And we did course evaluations.

On Thursday, our final day, we were supposed to have our normal Thursday quiz.  I forgot to write it (DOH). I had them put themselves into small groups and come up with exam questions based on the SKILLS page of the review sheet.  After 7 minutes, we reconvened and started to write the exam together (yay Elmo projector).  After an individual contributed, I gave them the final handout for the class (a reminder of redo policies, 3 final sessions of office hours, and yet another reminder of the exam time and place). To pass the I-forgot-to-write-it quiz, they had to earn a handout.  Essentially, once they made a meaningful contribution, I handed them the handout. When I had zero handouts left, I knew everyone had contributed.  And, I was stingy about what it took to earn a handout.

After class, I typed up their suggestions and posted it to blackboard.  You can see it here.

I finished grading the exams today. In the official version of the exam I ended up expanding the voice leading portion to three very short progressions because I couldn’t test enough of the content I wanted to test with their suggestion. And, the writing about a favorite spot in the musical excerpt (the opening parallel period to the Clock movement of Haydn’s “Clock” Symphony) wasn’t optional. But the rest paralleled their very good suggestions.

The class averaged a B+ on the exam, which strikes me as too high, but I wouldn’t change a thing.  No one bombed the exam, no one got everything perfect.  (63.5 to 99 were the scores).

My biggest takeaway?  I think my process worked because I had students emphasize skills, not content, as they thought about the exam. They understood how to review the content because they were preparing to demonstrate the skills…

Intensity vs. Effectiveness (BOTH should win!)

So, the most effective and toughest class I took as an undergrad was Japanese. It beats out Advanced Calculus (you know, that class with Multi-V as a pre-req where you study different sizes of infinity) by a long shot for this honor. It was challenging and effective not because I’m bad at picking up languages, but because it met daily and I could never slack.  The class only had 11-12 people in it, and we had to prepare daily conversations. I remember keenly how painful it was to stay caught up when the semester got tough. Continue reading

Time Out! four-month reflection on deanly duties

I’ve been wearing one extra hat this semester, adding “temporary dean-type” to the various kinds of family, community, and teacher hats that I wear. I haven’t learned all that much new about myself, but the process of wearing multiple hats has helped me clarify who I am and where I want to go.

I love to teach. I do it well, and even though I’m a naturally happy person, I always find a special kind of happy when I’m in the classroom.

I have ideas.  Scholarly ideas. Publishable ideas. Once I regain some of that time that I’m losing this academic year, I look forward to getting some work out there. In the meantime, I’m keeping a brainstorming file.

I have the makings of an effective administrator. But I work at a place that is already functioning at a very high level (I know how lucky I am!). I have amazing colleagues. From time to time, I hear people at other institutions say “I’m looking to have more impact,” meaning they want to move into administration. Other than keeping the cogs of a well-oiled machine running smoothly, I don’t find that the work of a mid-level administrator at my institution has much impact. Yes, I recognize that maintaining the status quo is difficult and important when the status quo is pretty darn good.  And, I’ll totally admit that it’s fun, detail ridden, challenges my people skills, and also makes me happy. But it’s not the same as teaching and watching/hearing the light bulbs go on in students’ heads.

So far I think I have three take-aways from the first four months: (1) I have completely accepted that doing my best will mean that sometimes I’ll still make mistakes.  I’m not even losing sleep over it.  (2) I’m going to be much more productive with my time now that I’m learning some tricks for better managing it! (3) I’m more creative, more effective, and happier when I’m busy.  I’ve always kinda known this about myself; this year is just putting it to the test in a very extreme way…  I’m just not a lady of leisure.

I wanted to write this post about the awesomeness of my intensive music theory experience. But it morphed into something else…
Posts to write this week (it’s fall break!): effectiveness of daily homework, awesomeness of low-stakes podcasts, and some reflections on why the class dynamic this semester ended up being so good.


Podcasting in Music Theory 1

This semester, I’m teaching a four-day-a-week music theory 1 class that serves as a “catch up” class for students who had less music theory preparation upon entering Oberlin. So far, this experience has been incredibly rewarding. The students have a great attitude, are not afraid to be wrong, are happy to ask “stupid” questions, are willing to be put on the spot, are open to peer teaching, and are interested in pretty much whatever I ask them to do (or at least they’re really good at faking it…).

This course starts out with a lot of very basic rudiments: key signatures, flavors of minor scales, flavors of triads, flavors of seventh chords, and inversions of those chordal flavors (Baskin Robbins 31, anyone?).  Building fluency with core skills is a perfect opportunity to use podcasts.  So far, the class has met eight times and there are already five podcasts.

I’ve used podcasts in two ways: a summation of a topic after presenting it in person and an introduction of a topic that is quizzed the next day. Assessments of topics (we have two 5-minute quizzes a week) show that the learning has been even across all topics, despite differences in style of introduction.  I have not asked our course management system to track use of the podcasts, although I should perhaps do that to get a better sense of how heavily the summation ones are used!  I fully expect them all to get more use when student prepare for the midterm.

After five podcasts, I feel comfortable stating a beginning list of strategies for making podcasts effective this semester:

  1. I still think brevity is essential for this type of podcasting use.  The longest podcast this semester has been 5 minutes and 20 seconds.  I believe that if I can’t fit it in to 5 minutes, it’s too complex to be done with out video-ing me as I write on a piece of staff paper. (that extra 20 seconds contained things like “good luck,” “thank you,” and “see you tomorrow!”)
  2. Hold students accountable for the information.  Five-minute quizzes at the beginning of class over the most basic of information (add accidentals to these triads, label that seventh chord) encourage students to actively listen to and attempt to learn from the podcasts.
  3. Remind students that listening is passive. If they are struggling with the material, they need to take notes while they listen.
  4. When possible, connecting their listening to images (whether websites or a scanned handout) helps facilitate learning.