Like many of us, I can clearly remember where I was on 9/11. In the months and years later, after this tragic event, our world and our model of national security evolved and changed into a new recognition of personal and social safety.
Now, after months of teaching online this Spring, attending Zoom meetings, and numerous webinars due to COVID-19, I find myself becoming acutely aware of the fact that education and the current model of instruction are changing, evolving and transforming right before my eyes. To help me navigate through the upcoming school year and the new paradigm, I will be looking forward to what lies ahead, and only glancing back once and a while to be aware of and acknowledge the experiences of my past.
“There’s a reason the rear-view mirror is so small, and the windshield is so large.
Where you are headed is more important than where you’ve been”.
Unknown, attributed to Joel Osteen
Introduction to Leading Voices
This blog post is an index with links to all of my writings since the beginning of Leading Voices. It begins with my first blog In the Beginning. It continues with the presentation of the question that forms the foundation and motivation for sharing my teaching experiences and research through Leading Voices: How Do We Actively Engage Students in Lifelong Music Learning and Participation?
The first group of blogs encompasses my philosophy and teaching style in the classroom, as well as my experience in presenting and attending the 2020 NJMEA Winter Conference in Atlantic City.
Leading Voices #3, The Paradox of Learning
In his book, Educating the Reflective Practitioner, Donald Schon discusses several strategies that are very relevant to engaging our students in the learning process. After reading chapter two: Teaching Artistry Through Reflection-in-Action, I realized that Reflection-in-Action is what many of us do naturally as we teach.
When I taught K-5 general music on a six-day rotation, many times, my lesson plan for day one evolved and looked much different than the lesson I taught six days later. The big take away is to share the learning procedures with your students, and encourage them to understand that: “. a student cannot at first understand what he needs to learn, can learn it only by educating himself, and can educate himself only by beginning to do what he does not yet understand” (Schon, P.93).
Leading Voices #4, Becoming a Student of Reorganization and Adaptation
In one NJMEA 2020 State Music Conference Inservice Session in Atlantic City this winter, a colleague with over 40 years of experience shared her repertoire suggestions for middle school SAB ensembles. After the session, I introduced myself and asked: “With over 40 years of teaching experience, what motivates you to participate and attend Music Conferences?” She responded with a smile, “I always find a new song or two, or an idea that I incorporate into my teaching.” Even though she has many years of experience, she is still a student of reorganization and adaptation.
“It is much more difficult to reorganize the brain than it is to organize it in the first place.
Organization inhibits reorganization”.
Jane M. Healy, 1999
Leading Voices #5, Self-Generation
Self-Generalization is a tool we can use to discover and label our habits while teaching and working with others. The four-step process of Self-Observation, Realization, Reorganization, and Stabilization takes some time and practice. Still, I assure you, it will strengthen your relationships with your students and transform your teaching.
“Self-Generation is the capacity to be present and a learner in all of life in
order to make choices from the inner state of greatest possible awareness
and resourcefulness.” (Presence-Based Coaching p.50)
Leading Voices #6, Seeing with New Eyes
Throughout my career, I continue to search for new ways to engage my students in the classroom actively. I make every effort to learn new methodologies and approaches that fit well with time tested teaching strategies. Edwin Gordon, in his book, Learning Sequences in Music: Skill, Content, and Patterns challenges educators to look at music learning and audiation with “new eyes.”
Gordon writes, “audiation is to music what thinking is to language” (Gordon. 1997, p.46). I not only want my students to be musically competent through reading, understanding, and hearing music but to audiate and activate their musical intelligence. I want my students and to be aware of their active participation in the classroom, the rehearsal process, and their responsibility to the ensemble.
Welcome to Distance Learning
The next group of blogs comprises of my experience with online instruction as I discovered, created, and implemented music instruction for my students this Spring,
Leading Voices #7, “What Would it Look Like?”
I proposed the following question to my students just before we transitioned to online learning: “if our school transitions to online learning, what would a choir assignment look like?” “What assignments and activities would be most meaningful and helpful as we prepare for the Jazz Concert in late April and our Spring Concert in June?” I expressed my concern that I wanted to post assignments that the students would look forward to, learn from, and enjoy.
Lucy Green (2008), In her book Music, Informal Learning and the School: a New Classroom Pedagogy, presents her research in informal music learning. This book offers valuable new perspectives on students’ musical capabilities and abilities that music teachers can incorporate into their instruction.
Leading Voices #8, Tune to your Trios
I first heard” Tune to your Trios” during an Onondaga County Music Educators Association (OCMEA) High School Music Festival many years ago. During one of their rehearsals, the guest director asked the choir to listen and become more aware of each other. While the choir sang, he asked the students to listen to the person to their left and the right. He also challenged them to listen to the person in front and behind them.
To help reorient ourselves and create stronger relationships with each other, Doug Silsbee (2008) offers five approaches called Relational Fields that can improve connections with our families, colleagues, and students. Spaciousness, Compassion, Unconditional Positive Regard, Resonance, and Neutrality are the qualities we can learn to bring to our awareness as we teach and relate with others.
Leading Voices #9, The Experiential Learning Cycle
One of my goals through distance learning is to provide opportunities for my choir members to continue to become independent critical thinkers, problem solvers/finders and to think musically on their own at their current skill level.
Leading Voices #10, Agile Development
Through applying the Agile Development Instructional Framework (ADIF) for the past five years in the music classroom, my students developed the skills and abilities needed to work through sections of music together using what we call “Sprints.” A Sprint is a short rehearsal event (Iteration) that can last from three minutes to forty minutes or longer. Each Sprint focuses on one distinct skill or concept the students identify as essential to learning and performing a piece of music.
The underlying philosophy of ADIF is the desire to teach and enable each student to discover and to develop their ability to respond and think musically. It is the realization that each student has the inherent capacity to evaluate, plan, execute, and evaluate a musical experience in a way that is valuable to both the individual and the ensemble. It is the ability and capacity to learn with each other, for each other, and themselves.
Leading Voices #11, Teaching Out Loud
Teaching “out loud” encourages teachers to put the ensemble right in the middle of the rehearsal process with you. To let your students hear you think, question, and search for a solution out loud in real-time. It is like talking to your choir, as you would speak to a student-teacher during their first few initial rehearsals (I team teach with my student teachers for their first few weeks).
When I teach and think out loud, the choir inherently become more engaged and energized in the entire learning process. I believe it is essential for my students to hear me think, question, and search for a solution out loud in real-time. As they become more aware of and participate in the dialogue between discovery and solutions, students internalize the process and establish a repertoire of experiences that will be available to them for future learning.
Teaching Out Loud, The Seal Lullaby Self-Sprint MHS Concert Choir April 2020
Leading Voices #12, Reimagining and Improving Instruction
Even though we may not start the school year in person with our students, this fall is an excellent time to explore and reflect upon our past and current teaching habits and preferences. A way for us to uncover our practices and reimagine instruction is to take the Kolb Educator Role Profile (KERP). Kolb and Kolb (2017) found through their research that successful teachers tend to teach around the Experiential Learning Cycle as they organize their activities in such a way that they address the four learning modes of experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting.
The awareness of our instructional practices, teaching styles, and methodology preferences is the foundation for pedagogy. As I begin to reimagine the future of Music Education instruction, I am reminded of a quote by Jerome Bruner:
“Pedagogy is never innocent. It is a medium that carries its own message.” (1997. P.63)
Looking to the Future
Leading Voices #13, Creating a New Pedagogy for Music Education
We, as a profession, are unquestionably feeling uneasiness as we face the reality of the pandemic and strive to navigate and understand how to move our profession forward. The uncertainty and questioning we are experiencing are because we can no longer implement the standard classroom pedagogy or follow the rote music instruction we have relied upon for so many years.
This quandary, however, does present an opportunity for me to engage in critical inquiry and examine my current pedagogical values and beliefs. To proceed, I must embrace my uneasiness and begin a dialogue between past music education pedagogies, and the reality of this moment. If we can engage in critical inquiry and examine our core values and beliefs, I believe we can create a new pedagogy and redefine the future of Music Education.
Leading Voices #14, Agile Centered Instruction
Agile Centered Instruction is adaptable, resourceful, fluid, and purposeful. It is based on the praxial philosophy and uses a praxis-based curriculum as defined by David J. Elliott in his book, Music Matters. “praxis connotates action that is embedded in, responsive to, and reflective of a specific context of effort.” (emphasis added)
The implementation of a praxis-based curriculum is simply not a matter of actively building new skills, but rather it strengthens the connections between actions, purpose, and understanding. As a result, the students’ learning effects and changes future music instruction and the classroom environment. Throughout this interaction, the changes in student understanding necessitate new responses and adaptations from the teacher by adapting and modifying instruction. (adapted for teaching from Silsbee, 2008, p 239)
The interaction and interchange between all elements in music instruction: student-centered, subject-centered, teacher-centered, performance-centered, concept-centered, product-centered, is the foundation of good teaching and the Agile Centered Classroom.
“Tell me, and I forget, teach me, and I may remember, involve me, and I learn.”
Xun Kuang, Chinese Confucian philosopher
Leading Voices #15, Building A Community of Practice
I credit my students’ ability to be creative and express their musical personalities through what we experience as a learning community or Community of Practice (CoP) in the classroom. It is not solely through my direction but also their intentional relationship with music and their learning experience. Starting with our first rehearsal, we as an ensemble (1) acknowledge our shared mission and interest – Mutual Engagement, (2) agree upon a common set of standards and expectations – Joint Enterprise, and (3) learn a shared vocabulary and expectations – Shared Repertoire, that differentiates our class from the others.
As I reflect upon my years of experience in teaching, I realize that my style of instruction resembles the mentor-apprentice model of education. The mentor-apprentice model cultivates musical autonomy for my students and helps them become aware of both the product and process in music-making. In dialogue with my students, we came to realize that there is not just one, but four mentor-teacher styles.
Building a community of practice is what we do as a profession when a group of people/students come together for a common cause. Applying and varying the four Mentor-Teaching Styles ensures that each student will have opportunities to find their “voice” and become co-owners of their learning experience. There will be a time when the mentor will no longer, and the apprentice will become the new master.
Leading Voices #16, Something to Look Forward To
My ultimate objective during online learning this Spring was to keep the students singing and musically engaged as much as possible. It was a challenge to find the right balance between performance and non-performance online assignments and activities. For me, since we sing and plan during our choir rehearsals in school, then I must also find ways for my students to sing and plan during distance learning.
I am not sure how my participation numbers compare to other ensembles, but I hope that the assignments I designed and implemented were strong in rigor, while also light on stress for my students. I wanted “choir” to remain an activity they enjoyed, and hopefully, next year, it will continue to be something for them to look forward to.
Conclusion: Fall 2020, Look Forward to the Future
I tell my students:
“If in fifteen years you are unable to help your son or daughter learn to read music,
then I have failed you” – Tell me, and I forget.
“If in fifteen years you are unable to successfully audition for a community choir,
then I have failed you” – teach me, and I may remember.
“But, if in fifteen years you are unable to sit still and sing during a concert, worship service,
or just hanging out with friends, then I have been successful – involve me, and I learn.
Owens, Delia. Where the Crawdads Sing. New York: Putnam, 2018.
Byrne, David. How Music Works. New York: Three Rivers Press, an Imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2017.
Dewey, John, and Charles A. McMurry. The Relation of Theory to Practice in the Education of Teachers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1904.
Meyer, Anne, David H. Rose, and David T. Gordon. Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing, an Imprint of CAST, 2014.