Exemplary teaching in today’s educational climate can be broken down into three areas each of which dictates to some extent what teachers do and what students do. While these nine areas apply to teachers in all disciplines, they can be discussed at the application level within a single discipline such as music. Today I will discuss these nine areas and how to apply them to teaching music.
The first area is assessment of student learning and teacher instruction. Assessment is not about grades or report cards; it is about finding out how well students are doing the things we are asking them to do, and where their areas of strengths and weaknesses are so that instruction can be appropriately adjusted, targeting the strengthening of weaknesses and the further development of strengths. Teachers who collect data consistently and effectively can gain snapshots of students at the time of assessment, and pictures of growth as data points are compared over time. Areas of need are identified with each assessment, plans for future instruction can be made or revised, and lesson plans can be under continual adjustment as needed. I have just completed giving a solo singing assessment to each of the 2nd grade children I teach. The assessment measured accuracy of the starting pitch, maintaining the tonality, use of head voice, intonation, tempo, rhythm, and expression with both a teacher rating scale and a self-assessment rating scale for each child. All performances were recorded for assessment purposes, and are artifacts of student work. I have a data point for each of these assessed items on the assessment, and an overall rating that represents the child’s placement in comparison to an established standard. I know in which of these assessed areas each child needs more instruction, and I can easily set goals for each child to improve in their weakest areas on the assessment. Frequently, students can be given a choice of how to demonstrate learning. For example, rhythm assessment can be demonstrated with chanting, singing, or drumming.
The second area is group dynamics and interactions between individuals. Any classroom is a social structure, and the success of the class depends to a large degree on the frequency and quality of interactions between the individuals in the class. The functioning of these social qualities must be open to consistent analysis and evaluation in order to identify aspects of it that need improvement. Exemplary teachers intentionally meet the social and emotional needs of students, and are knowledgeable about individual needs and interest, using this information in planning and teaching. Examples include allowing students to learn musical concepts with culturally relevant music, and to teach each other within a protocol of productive small group work. They develop and maintain standards of conduct that are clear to all students and reflect student needs, include all students in classroom activities, and provide opportunities for meaningful student choice. Examples of student choice in music can include interpretive decisions including dynamics and tempo, choice of repertoire from a menu, or choice of learning styles by providing time for small group learning, including student-run sectionals in performance ensembles.
The third area is challenging work. Instruction should be meaningful, and it can only be meaningful if it fosters growth. Growth is a product of gaining proficiency where there was none or less before. Every learning experience that results in growth will include a degree of challenge. To put it another way, you cannot sharpen a metal blade on a plastic knife. The metal is not challenged by the plastic, and will in fact become dull instead of sharper. The same is true of learners. Lack of challenge will result in dullness and boredom, not growth and learning. Meaningful learning is in-depth, and engages students with significant concepts and high-order thinking. Levels of challenge can be designed into all areas of music education: performing, creating, responding, and connecting. For performance, the complexity of the literature, for creating the quantity of concepts incorporated, for responding in the depth to which an analysis or interpretation goes, and for connecting the creativeness and diversity of connections made and the broadness of knowledge upon which the student can draw to make those connections. Challenge is where learning goes beyond learning facts and vocabulary to where they become tools used to creative, expressive, and artistic affect. As teacher evaluations become more sophisticated and demanding, and more research based, teachers can be exemplary by including these three areas, assessment, group dynamics, and challenge, in their daily work.