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

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

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

‘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

Podcasting, pt. 1 (reflection on past use)

Last semester, I used podcasts for the first time.  I tried it out in my Theory 4 class, which felt like a natural place to try it out. Many of the theoretical concepts in theory 4 are simple, requiring little nuance for a basic understanding of them.  It’s the application of those concepts that is key.

More than any 100- or 200-level class, I teach theory 4 as a piece-by-piece class. I know why I pick the pieces (modes, set classes, serialism, etc.), and I make sure the student has one take-away point that highlights why we got to study the piece even though most of the class is spent on a complete analysis of the piece (form, pitch, motive, broader context, etc.).  When class time starts, I want to hit the ground running in a musical space, which means that I want to dig into analysis immediately.  In other words, I don’t want to lecture about the modes and then dig into Debussy’s “Sunken Cathedral.”

In previous semesters, I achieved this goal by lecturing and woodsheding the necessary theoretical topics on Monday, then teaching one or two pieces over the week’s remaining two classes.  I thought this format worked pretty well.  But the idea of podcasting really opened up new realms of possibilities.  Here’s what I did:

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Happy Class: Good Discussion

We had a productive discussion today at the end of my upper division course (students with four semesters of music theory under their belts). Over the course of my teaching career, I’ve really struggled with how to improve discussion.  I’ve done reading, met with master teachers, observed, and experimented.  But, today really was the first where I think I found a good combination of strategies.  There were three: Continue reading

Meaningful Grading, Is It an Oxymoron?

Grading is such a slippery slope. As a kid, it was why I wanted to teach. I wanted to mark spelling papers with grades so badly. I thought grades were important. I thought good grades meant I was a good person. Very late in life (relatively speaking, that is), the light bulb came on. Grades reflect a combination of educational savviness, work ethic, and aptitude. The mixture is different for every student. They say nothing about being a good person. Most important, they [usually] say nothing about the learning that happened.

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