college teaching

Ready or Not

Today is my first day back to school. It’s been a mad dash to the finish line but lesson plans in hand, I’m as ready as I think I could ever be. As most of you know by now, I’m teaching a new class this semester. It’s exhilarating and completely intimidating all at the same time. The thought of walking into a room with 34 pairs of eyes on me is enough to send me running in the other direction. But, I spent the last three weeks practicing excellence and preparing to teach, to demonstrate, to guide, to share what I know and what I’ve learned. Yes, I wrote this entire course in three weeks. Some may have sketched out the first few class periods and left the rest to office hours and Friday afternoons. I wanted to see the whole semester. And by “whole semester,” I mean:

- 4 textbooks spanning almost 500 years - 78 pages of notes - a 4-page outline for the first class - 52 pieces of media (30 recordings, 22 YouTube videos) - 77 slides of images - 2 paper assignments - a 5-page syllabus - 7 group project assignments - 10 essay topics - 14 research paper topics - 15 quizzes

I wanted to walk in on the first day with the big picture in mind. I want to teach every day with a goal, a purpose, an objective. . . .This is where we’re going to start and this is where we’re going. Ready or not, let’s do this.

First Day of School

It's my first day of school today - second year as a professor!  What a different world it is to spend the last few weeks of summer checking enrollment, revising a syllabus, triple-checking all the technology in the classroom, and writing lesson plans.

There's something very exciting to me about this world of academia.  Students criss-crossing over the quad; tall, ivy-covered buildings; libraries full of books; the voices of lecturers drifting through the hallway.  The pursuit of knowledge can be a very exciting one if you put your mind to learning.  As I approach the academic world from "the other side," I feel like one of my primary goals as a teacher is to inspire learning.  I want my students to succeed and do well but I want them to truly desire learning most of all.  As I told a student today, I truly believe you can be as successful as you want to be.  How do you teach this level of commitment and strength of will?  How do you develop independent learners?  So you see, even professors have much still to learn.

This afternoon, I'll meet the five bright-eyed students currently enrolled in my class (as of 10:19 p.m. last night); dive into our thick, spiral-bound textbook; and pray for no major technology failures.  However, seeing as how technology is not always on our my side, the backup plan is to play "air piano" and play multiple rounds of "rhythm editing" - a sure crowd-pleaser.  Don't you wish you were in my class?!

Image Credit: personal

The Adjunct: The First Year

You're probably wondering, "What happened after that post about becoming an adjunct back in August?  How were the classes?"  Well, I'm back with a full year of college teaching experience under my belt and four classes (two each semester) on my resume.  But that's not enough for me.  I want to know what I can improve, how I can teach more effectively, and how the students perceived the class.  What better way to get this feedback than by creating an end-of-the-semester assessment!  (Dorky, I know.) The university does a course assessment at the end of each semester; however, I as a teacher did not receive this feedback until FOUR MONTHS into the next semester!  My solution: Create my own one-page assessment to give to students on the same day as the university assessments.  I had two envelopes - one for me and one for the university.  This way I get instant results... and feedback from the school in about four months.

I asked the following questions about the course itself:

1. Please state your reason(s) for taking this course (i.e. elective, interest, minor) 2. Did you have any prior experience with the piano prior to taking this course? 3. Please describe your favorite aspect of this course 4. How can this course be improved in the future? 5. Did this course meet your expectations?

Then I asked students to rate my teaching effectiveness (5-point scale: 1-Strongly disagree, 2-Disagree, 3-Neither agree nor disagree, 4-Agree, 5-Strongly agree)

1. Demonstrates commitment to each student's progress 2. Seeks a good, working relationship with students 3. Selects appropriate material for learning new concepts 4. Establishes a welcoming learning environment 5. Introduces new concepts in a clear manner 6. Demonstrates enthusiasm in teaching 7. Addresses technical challenges and works to resolve them 8. Presents an extensive knowledge of musical style 9. Introduces music theory concepts in a clear manner 10. Establishes strategies for effective practicing 11. Respects the needs and goals of the student 12. Prepares and encourages students for and in performance 13. Manages class time effectively 14. Approachable; open to communication

I had 11 students submit responses.  Here are the results:

Course Assessment Question #1: Almost half stated, "Interest in improving piano skills;" about a third said, "Elective;" and only one indicated "Humanities requirement."

Question #2: Five said, "Yes;" six said, "No."

Question #3: One indicated, "Sheet Music;" one said, "How we were tested;" five students said either, "Playing the piano," or "Learning how to play;" one said, "Learning how to read music;" one said, "All of it;" and one said, "Being able to make constant strides in the understanding of the piano and how to play it."

Question #4: One commented, "Better classroom;" four students said, "More class time," or "Meet more times per week;" two had no suggestions for improvement; one suggested, "Instructor play more;" and two said, "Spend more time on important lessons rather than going at such a fast pace."

Question #5: All students responded, "Yes."

Teacher Assessment #1 - Six students said, "5-Strongly agree;" five said, "4-Agree" #2 - Ten students said, "5-Strongly agree;" one said, "4-Agree" #3 - Nine students said, "5-Strongly agree;" two said, "4-Agree" #4 - Seven students said, "5-Strongly agree;" four said, "4-Agree" #5 - Eight students said, "5-Strongly agree;" two said, "4-Agree;" one said, "3-Neither agree nor disagree" #6 - Six students said, "5-Strongly agree;" five said, "4-Agree" #7 - Five students said, "5-Strongly agree;" five said, "4-Agree;" one said, "3-Neither agree nor disagree" #8 - Ten students said, "5-Strongly agree;" one said, "4-Agree" #9 - Six students said, "5-Strongly agree;" five said, "4-Agree" #10 - Nine students said, "5-Strongly agree;" two said, "4-Agree" #11 - Nine students said, "5-Strongly agree;" two said, "4-Agree" #12 - Eight students said, "5-Strongly agree;" three said, "4-Agree" #13 - Eight students said, "5-Strongly agree;" three said, "4-Agree" #14 - Ten students said, "5-Strongly agree;" one said, "4-Agree"

I was pretty pleased with the results!  The answers to these questions are so helpful in my future course-planning.  I can self-evaluate all semester but in the end, it's the student opinion that matters the most.

If you made it this far, thanks for bearing with me!  I not only survived my first year of college teaching, I learned a great deal!  Looking forward to more opportunities like this in the future.

Life on the other side of the fence

This week marks the end of my first semester of collegiate teaching.  I survived!  There were plenty of new experiences – leaving the room for course evaluations, grading tests, giving written feedback, and administering juries, just to name a few.  It’s life on the other side of the fence.  I am so thankful for the education I received at Eastman which prepared me for these situations. I saw the need for periodic “checkpoints” – making sure that the students are keeping up and able to master the new concepts during the course of the semester.  How can you grade piano performances by seven different students simultaneously and objectively?I developed a unique system using the technology resources in the lab.  Every few weeks, I chose four items for students to record via Garage Band.  They had 30 minutes to complete these items, which allowed them the opportunity to re-record, if needed.  I am more concerned about whether or not they can perform the selected items rather than how well they do on their first attempt.  At the conclusion of the test time, the students emailed me their files for grading.  This allowed me to use a rating scale to grade their performances on tonal and rhythmic accuracy and expression.  I generally listened to each item three times to focus individually on each of these criteria rather than having to take in everything the first time.  When the students get their tests back, they have a very clear measure of their tonal, rhythmic, and expressive performances across all four items.  It’s a great way to see areas of consistency (i.e., John is great with rhythm but could spend more time on his preparation of tonal patterns).

I graded my fourth and final quiz/exam on Tuesday (yes, I am the teacher that gives a final exam on the last day of class – two days prior to the final).  The final exam is a 15-minute jury.  Students were asked to prepare the following:

  • Three 2-octave scales of choice
  • Solo piece
  • American Song
  • Harmonization study
  • Transposition study
  • Improvisation study

My classes are held in the Music Technology Lab so many of my students are not used to playing on an acoustic piano.  There are four small practice rooms on the first floor of the Fine Arts building (all with Boston uprights) but I thought it might be nice to arrange the juries to be held in a space that had a nice instrument.  My students were enamored with the classroom Steinway – the touch, the sound, the pedals – I think it had a positive impact on their performances.

For the jury, I decided not to record the student performances, for time’s sake.  Rather, I developed a grading chart to be filled out while listening.  I included items such as fingering, characteristic tone, rhythmic consistency, tonal accuracy, hand position, posture, technique, pedaling, phrasing, and articulation, each worth no more than 5 points out of 100.  This proved to be a great tool.  I administered six juries on Wednesday (with grades: 94, 93, two 89s, 87 and 85) with six more to go on Monday.

Time to take what I have learned and prepare materials for my classes next semester!