Reflecting on Teaching and Learning
Through this project, students have experienced how simple parameters can increase the success of compositions. Many young composers quickly feel overwhelmed when confronted with the idea of creating something from nothing. Offering students parameters, in the way I did in these lessons, alleviated much of that fear for these students. Before this project—as I gave preparatory lessons in music theory and notation—I mentioned to students that they would soon have a chance to compose their own music. At that time, I saw students’ faces fill with looks of awe or doubt. Luckily, through the guidance of the parameters in this project, not a single student came up to me complaining that he or she simply, “couldn’t compose.” In fact, I found that many students who are still having processing delays or difficulty physically manipulating their instruments are excelling in composing. Thus, the students made much progress in the creation aspect of musicianship as a direct result of this project.
While analyzing form and discussing music theory are all inherently apart of this classroom, the variety of experiences assessing music enriched the experience for many students. I used a variety of examples of music (familiar method book tunes, rote songs, melodies from musicals, video games songs, pop songs, my own compositions, and student work) as subjects for student analysis. In many cases, I used these examples to reinforce a concept I taught through verbal explanation or pictoral explanation. It was the act of students assessing features of form, notation, and composition—not merely hearing it—which resonated with many students. The success of the assessment part of their musicianship is found in my assessment of their work. The grades in this composition project have greatly increased in comparison with the earlier projects I gave for rhythmic compositions. In addition, because students can assess other work, they are more equipped to assess their own compositions than they were before this project. Self-reflection and assessment of outside examples are critical skills in composition.
Students had some opportunities to perform as part of this project. Students used their instruments to play in class while they created their melodies and pre-composition maps. In this way, students used their pre-acquired, instrumental skills to enhance their ever-increasing creative skills. In the third lesson, I asked a few students to play the musical examples I presented. These examples were far more challenging for beginning players, and thus omitted from the video clips for the sake of time. In the future, I could easily simplify and make these examples more age-appropriate. Another opportunity for performance was also during the third lesson, in which a few students played their own work as models for class assessment. However, outside of these examples, performing experiences in this project were limited. To some extent, this decreased emphasis on performing expresses my philosophy on the balance of the three processes—creation, assessment, and performance—as it pertains to this particular project. Performing is something that these students do in every lesson in band. Students create and assess music in band much less often, thus I strongly felt that a balance in favor of creating and assessing was appropriate.
In the future, however, I would like to find ways to include more opportunities for students to perform. In an ideal situation, I would spend two more days on this project. On the fourth day, I would require all students to turn in two copies of their compositions. One copy would be the copy I grade and another copy would go to another student playing that same instrument. I would spend the bulk of the fourth lesson having students practice one another’s compositions. On the fifth and final day of the lesson, I would have several students perform the compositions for one another. This would be an informal mini-recital of student work. I would have several students play in quick succession, leaving time for commentary only at the end of the lesson. This would be a true test of the quality and clarity of the students’ compositions because having work performed by another person always brings out unseen features.
While I used a variety of assessment throughout the lesson, in the future I would offer more direct, concrete guidelines at the very beginning of the assignment. For example, after students submitted the first piece of work (their original melody, the B section of the composition), I felt that I did not effectively communicate to students the way I intended to evaluate their work. Perhaps I could have given the directions for the final assignment at the beginning so that the students could see how each piece (the melody, the composition map, and the final project) directly flowed into the whole. Also, I was initially underwhelmed with the quality of the melodies from students. While we discussed the way to create a melody under a unique set of guidelines (a melody must have arc-shaped contour, it must start on either concert Bb, D, or F, and it must end on concert Bb), I could have listed these three steps on the assignment. Further, I could have given students a checklist or rubric for this first step so that they could understand the project better. Even though I did not create such a rubric in advance, as I graded the melody assignments it became clear that I needed such a checklist for the final assignment. It was through grading the melodies from the first lesson that I knew how to direct further discussion. I knew I needed to be clear about the expectation for their original portion of the assignment by showing more examples. Many students did not limit their melodies to four to six measures, so during the next few lessons I explained my reasoning for this parameter (ie: a melody longer than that would make the final piece feel unbalanced and too long). In the future, I will use guidelines that are more specific and give clearer expectations from the first lesson of the project.
There are also instructional changes I would like to make in future versions of this project. For example, after completing this project I have a greater grasp of how to set up worksheets, so the first worksheet in the first lesson will look much neater. Further, I will be more specific on how students turn in their final projects. For example, I allowed students to turn in their assignments using the provided staff paper or using Noteflight (an online notation project which our band program uses). However, I failed to specify that students who completed their projects on Noteflight also needed to print the music and turn it in physically so that it could be graded. As a result, many of the projects were submitted electronically and I had to be very creative in the way that I graded these projects. In this case, I gave the students back a checklist with a grade and comments. However, I feel that seeing my comments in close proximity to what I was commenting on will benefit students more in the end. As a result, I will be more specific in my directions in the future.
As I watched and edited these videos, there were many things I learned about my own musicianship and teaching presence. First, I was pleased with much of my modeling of on one of my secondary instrument (flute), yet I realize that I still have room to improve with phrasing and tone. I included the best example of my flute playing on the first video clip, but I did not include the segments in which I struggled with the instrument. As I watched the video for this segment, I noticed that the students had a harder time connecting what I modeled to the concept I taught when I struggled musically. In this way, I understand that it is imperative that every musical example provide a positive example of our musical goals. That said, my skills—on all my secondary instruments—will continue to develop with time and practice.
Along with learning about my musicianship, I also learned a lot about my teaching presence. Throughout student teaching I have endeavored to carve out a persona that is both professional, friendly, firm, and honest to whom I am as a person. I have found that when I take time to be myself I am the most effective as a teacher. With this class of sixth graders, I feel that I am able to be that best version of myself. That said, I noticed that I am still using a lot of filler words when I speak, such as “like,” “um”, and “uh.” There are also repetitive buzzwords I can use less when speaking, such as “hey,” “guys,” “okay,” and “so.” Even though I feel more comfortable with this group than with some of my other classes, my physical presence still seems tentative. If I use more assertive movements and stand in larger poses, perhaps I will exude more of the energy I feel when I teach. Finally, I need to not only slow down my speech, but also use more weight, emphasis, and inflection in my speech. Even as I listened intently to my videos, I noticed that I had difficulty catching all the details I threw out. Perhaps that is why so many students asked for clarification of instructions. As I improve these facets of my teaching, I will enhance my ability to give meaningful directions, speak with fewer words, and make my classroom more efficient. As a result, I will be able to spend more time letting the students speak, create, perform, and assess because when I am more efficient, they will benefit by learning more from one another.
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