An Approach to MGS Pedagogy

April 30, 2006

The Doctor of Arts degree at Ball State University was launched in the late 1960s in an effort to offer a degree plan that specifically prepared graduate students for college and university teaching; Ball State was one of the early programs. While other doctoral programs might offer specialized internships or workshops devoted to the development of classroom proficiency, DA programs place more emphasis on teacher preparation, and teaching skills are acquired through specific coursework built into every student's course of study.

In the BSU School of Music, each doctoral student is required to take either a music theory pedagogy class or a music appreciation pedagogy class. Many times the pedagogy class is foundational to a required internship at Ball State or to an externship at a nearby college in which students teach independently for all or part of a semester under the guidance of a master teacher. Other students team-teach significant portions of a class along side the master teacher.

Since 1994, I have been the instructor for the music-appreciation pedagogy class (MuHis 602 Teaching Introduction to Music). Enrollment is limited to 15 graduate students so that hands-on activities are feasible. In designing the class, I try to answer the question, "What information and experiences would have helped me in advance of my first music appreciation teaching assignment?" I can substantiate the practicality of the class by the post-graduation contacts I have with alumni of the course-our correspondence and conversations most often are related to experiences and exercises from MuHis 602 or to their own experiences in the "real world" as teachers of music appreciation. It also is common to have a student contact me for suggestions regarding an upcoming college job interview that includes a demonstration of music appreciation teaching. These conversations at times have given me new ideas or ideas for revising the 602 course content so that it remains practical and useful.

On the first day of MuHis 602, I teach a lesson modeling the basics of what I would do if I were teaching MuHis 100, which I believe establishes the atmosphere for the entire semester. We then have a discussion about the things an instructor might do (or likely should not do) during the first class. The discussion centers on the presentation of quality content (even though many students might not have the textbook yet) and the creation of an open and interesting atmosphere. I also share my MuHis 100 syllabus and the Master Syllabus (common to all BSU MuHis 100 teachers) with the students. Other discussion topics appropriate to the first few class periods include classroom management and the role of courses for non-majors in the university setting.

Classroom management needs to be discussed early because the requirements for the graduate students include at least one "live" substitute-teaching experience in one of our "real" MuHis 100 classes. Some students initially approach this with a bit of trepidation, but a vast majority find it to be rewarding and useful. Having an administrator speak to the graduate students about the role of MuHis 100 in the overall scheme of the school, college, or university can be enlightening. The administrator likely will speak about aspects of the course not directly related to the day-to-day lesson plans or content delivery. Their concerns generally include staffing (tenure track or contract, music history faculty or performance faculty, etc.), the financial links to class size, and how practical matters might or might not correlate with an ideal philosophy related to the goals of the course.

The graduate students also observe and interview other MuHis 100 instructors or instructors of similar non-major courses either on campus or at a nearby college. Additionally, they teach three "mock lessons" to their graduate-student classmates, create a test and two assignments (one of which must involve listening in some manner), review two potential textbooks and their accompanying materials, and, as a culmination to the semester, prepare a syllabus with a detailed class schedule of topics and lessons. The three teaching experiences are arranged as follows:

  • Everyone begins by teaching an "elements" lesson based on a topic drawn from a hat;
  • The second round of lessons is based on traditional music-history topics, such as fugue, chant, Stravinsky, or impressionism) - also drawn from a hat.
  • The students choose a third topic, and it must revolve around popular music, non-western music, American music, or some other topic they think is legitimate but not commonly covered in music-appreciation textbooks.

Preparation of the detailed class schedule is one of the most difficult tasks of the semester; I constantly urge caution against trying to cover too much in a single class or semester unit.

Among the other topics for discussion are:

  • Attendance policies (for class and for concerts)
  • Encouraging active learning and class participation
  • Strategies for teaching large sections
  • Deciding what to leave in and what to leave out
  • Helping the students develop listening skills (and related skills in applying vocabulary to what they are hearing)
  • Selecting a textbook
  • Effective use of audio/visual materials and technology
  • Testing and assignments
  • Broadening the repertoire base
  • Handling varied course schedules (i.e., once a week for 150 minutes, three times a week for 50 minutes)
  • Grading and assessments

Additionally I suggest resources, options, and philosophy related to my experience in teaching popular music and world music. Most students in 602 have little experience in those areas-if I were to develop a second trailer course, its emphasis likely would be here.

From my perspective, preparing and teaching this pedagogy class and observing the choices, listening to the comments, and watching the growth of the graduate students cause me to think deeply about what I am doing in the music-appreciation classroom - and why. I happily share my philosophy and experience with them, always clarifying that "this is what has worked for me-you have to develop your own way."

Limiting the class to fifteen graduate students is a luxury, but the small size is essential for keeping the class useful. Trying to keep up with constantly changing technology and related music-appreciation resources is, of course, a challenge. I find that making the pedagogy students aware of basic options often leads to them making further discoveries that end up being informative for me! The "give and take" approach is helpful for all of us, and through this course I am continually motivated to analyze, refocus, and refine my own philosophy, approach, goals, content, and methodology BOTH for the 602 graduate students AND for the students in my own music-appreciation class. I want to relieve the graduate students from fearing or loathing such a teaching assignment if that is what their future holds, and I hope they leave encouraged to continue to seek ways of mixing traditional, time-tested materials and methodology with newer materials and innovative means of delivery. They seem to sense the potential this kind of class holds for offering the undergraduate enrollees a great experience with music at the same time they recognize the challenges that are inherent in teaching it.

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