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

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.

Here we go again!

I’m getting super excited about re-entering the classroom after a semester away.  This fall, I get to teach an old class in new ways: Music Theory 1.  I last taught this class a lifetime ago: 2003(!!!!).  I surely won’t teach it the same way in 2013.  I’m extra excited about this class because it is the “intensive” class.  Essentially, we identify the 18 students with the least amount of music theory preparation and put them in this four-day-a-week class.  Historic tracking shows that they do marvelously in the next three semesters (when they are “mainstreamed” into a standard three-day-a-week schedule).  The class spends considerably more time on fundamentals than the other seven sections of music theory 1, yet reaches the same ending point content-wise as those other sections. I think the students thrive in future semesters for two reasons: (1) they work hard, and (2) they had a great teacher for theory 1.  Of course, this makes me completely nervous, too…  I have big shoes to fill! Continue reading

MOOCs and Music Theory Pedagogy

So, I’ve been watching some of the discussion on massive open online courses (MOOCs) and notice some parallels with things I, and others, experiment with in our music theory classrooms. In discussing the rise of online education, David Brooks’s recent OpEd in the NYTimes, “The Practical University (April 4, 2013),” explores the question that helps me define my pedagogy: “What is a university for?” Continue reading

Semester Wrap-Up with Myself

Sounds kind of silly, but I have a little ritual for closing up my semester. I clean out my course binder of extra photocopies, remove stuff from previous semesters that I didn’t use this semester and can’t imagine using in future semester, write a course reflection, insert reflection into the front of the binder, and put away the binder.

Even though I’m exhausted, I think it’s important to do the course reflection NOW while the semester’s experience is still fresh. Here’s how I go about it: Continue reading

Acquiring Basic Skills

Do you remember those timed multiplication table tests in elementary school?  The kind where you do the 2s, and then the 3s, all the way through the 9s.  You earned a start on a public chart when you mastered each flavor of multiplication, and mastery was defined by getting a specific number of answers correct within a strict time period (1 minute is what I remember).  Even though today it seems somewhat old-fashioned and a mite-bit draconian, it worked.  It worked. As I’m teaching the first semester of a four-semester course, there are certain parallels with basic knowledge acquisition. So, I’ve been experimenting a bit with this old fashioned model. Continue reading