‘Tis the Season: Meaningful Grading and the Role of Redos

This post is a corollary to the post: Meaningful Grading: Is It An Oxymoron? 

I imagine I will remain unsure about the correlation between grades and learning for the foreseeable future. But, one thing I am pretty sure about is the correlation between grades and doing your work. If, then, the work has been constructed in a way that promotes learning, there might be a more meaningful connection between grades and learning…

I’m headed into what I call the Season of Redos. I have a very generous redo policy for my lower division classes (aural skills 1-4, music theory 1-4): any non-exam grade may be redone once, assuming you turned something in the first time (even if it was a blank piece of paper or showing up to class like a blank sheet of paper, unprepared to perform). I think about one-third of my students take advantage of the redo policy. Combining this policy with a +/P/nP grading system and a set of assignments designed with specific learning objectives (transparently shared with students) is increasing learning for a significant number of students without significantly increasing my grading burden. Here are the logistics, the pros, the cons, and a few concluding thoughts: Continue reading

Barbara Allen (Joan Baez): Hearing and articulating differences

As we near the end of the semester and a written exam, I always find myself focusing harder on error detection. Error detection is a hugely practical skill for musicians. Working on it and testing it in the classroom presents all sorts of opportunities for dialogue and written work. What it boils down to, though, is being able to hear and articulate differences between what you think is supposed to happen and what is actually happening. Those skills are transferable to many settings, draw on vocabulary essential for a musician, and build on the course’s work on rhythm, pitch, meter, details and nuance. Today’s work on error detection concludes with something that has no mistakes but plenty of differences: Joan Baez’s rendition of Barbara Allen. Continue reading

Exploring the Middle Ground: Visit #3

Next Wednesday will be our final visit of three to our Museum “classroom.”

In planning this visit, I involved the students more directly than before. After our second visit, we brainstormed some ideas for our third visit.  Those ideas included the compositional process (in our class, we wrestle with attributing intention to the composer when we really shouldn’t, but if we knew about the compositional process we could sometimes attribute intention to a composer), authenticity (viewing the “real” work as opposed to reproductions and what does that mean in music), and –more generally– picking favorite works in the museum to explore. The class showed the most interest in investigating the compositional process. I sent that idea back to the museum educators and they replied with various options for studying the process of creation. None were ideal, most were exciting to us, and here’s what we chose: Continue reading

Barbara Allen: Harmonic function dictation

This 15-20 minute activity will set the stage for more nuanced harmonic analysis that includes predominants. We will use the King’s Noyse recording of the English ballad “Barbara Allen” (here’s the handout). The class goal is to work with vi, IV6 and IV. This handout is a middle step towards that end.   Continue reading

Quick Syncopation Dictation: Ai Di Tren Dam Duong Truong

I was browsing through the one disc of Soundscapes that I brought home with me for Thanksgiving and found two related tracks that I can use for a very quick rhythmic dictation featuring syncopation. The recordings I have are a little different than the one I posted here, but the opening rhythm remains the same. I still have a lot to do to get ready to teach (like reading the textbook to understand why there are two tracks of the same piece…), but here are my current thoughts on how this excerpt will be used: Continue reading

Making Lemonade: Teaching On The Day Before Thanksgiving

While I understand lemonade is not a traditional Thanksgiving quaffing substance, it sums up my approach to tomorrow. The day before Thanksgiving is a frustrating teaching day because everyone wants to be somewhere else (self included). And it gets better… the public schools are closed. So, those of us with kids have to figure out childcare while we keep our professional commitments. I’ve always dug deep into my reserves of patience and taught a “real” class on this day, even in my 2:30p.m. class. After all, if more people cancel their Wednesday classes, more students leave early, and more Wednesday classes are less attended, and, and, and… I’m super sensitive about canceling classes because college is expensive, their classes are a big part of the college experience, and I already cancel two classes in the Fall (one for Rosh Hashanah, which I observe, and one to attend my professional conference).

So, here’s how I’ve chosen to juggle having my six-year-old in tow with teaching a “real” class.  She’s going to help me teach. Seriously. Continue reading

Edelweiss: feeling the Cadential six-four

This 3-5 minute activity is the final one in a class whose subtext was “feeling the cadential six-four.” It also had a really nice connection with my students’ prepared singing (Purcell, “Dido’s Lament”). I didn’t get this post written before class, so here’s an overview of how it went and aspects I could tweak for next time. Continue reading

Keeping it fresh: four weeks to go

I’m exhausted.  We’re at that point in the semester where it seems like it will never end.  And, owing to a quirk of the solar calendar, there are THREE weeks of teaching after Thanksgiving instead of the traditional two.  I find myself worried about keeping an appropriate level of energy and excitement in my classes.

One of the weirdest things about earning tenure is that, suddenly, your teaching isn’t critically observed any more. It’s been three years since someone has visited my classroom with the intent to help me evaluate my own teaching (I have had many guests there to observe my so-called “good” teaching, but–for obvious reasons to do with experience and power structures–they rarely offer feedback on what they saw). I invited my long-time mentor and friend to come in last week to give me his outsider’s perspective on two things: (1) how high or low I am setting the bar in my class, and (2) strategies for raising it. Here’s what he thought and what we talked about over lunch after class. Continue reading

Genres over time: Learning in the Museum

This week, my upper division class had our second session in the museum. I wrote about the planning and my hopes here. I’m not surprised to report that we learned, but not necessarily what I thought we would learn.

The class time went as planned, and the students had done a great job engaging with the digital image of their assigned self-portrait.  We didn’t have time to wrap up at the museum, but used about half of today’s class to talk about the effectiveness of the exercise, what we actually took from it, ways to tweak it next time, and ideas for our final visit. Continue reading

“Samoan Moon”: Harmonic dictation in real time

Recently, I have been setting students up to harmonize melodies with simple I, IV, and V harmonies. I usually have them sing the tune a few times to get a sense of how quickly the harmonies change, and then to make best guesses on the harmony that fits.  They try out their guess (the famous guess-and-test method from junior high math!), and revise if necessary. It’s my hope that the emphasis on “feel,” will benefit their real-time harmonic dictation.

The goal of this 10-15 minute activity is for students to write down the harmonic functions they hear in real time, which requires them to react to how things feel.  We will use “Samoan Moon” performed by the Tao Moe family (pictured) I have asked them to write T for tonic, P for predominant, and D for dominant on a blank score sheet that I will hand out. I really feel this should be a quick 5-10 minute activity, but know that every time I do something like this, it takes longer than I expect.  Here’s how I think I’ll do it:

Continue reading