Learning about Learning

April 30, 2010

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning grew out of Charles Boyer's reflections in Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. As president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Boyer noted that a relatively small percentage of higher education faculty are employed in research-intensive institutions, yet a traditional definition of scholarship, as scientific research, had come to dominate promotion and tenure processes for faculty. Boyer concluded, "if the nation's higher learning institutions are to meet today's urgent academic and social mandates, their missions must be carefully redefined and the meaning of scholarship creatively reconsidered" (1990, p. 13).

In 1998, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching introduced the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL). About their work, Hutchings and Shulman explained:

A scholarship of teaching is not synonymous with excellent teaching. It requires a kind of "going meta" in which faculty frame and systematically investigate questions related to student learning—the conditions under which it occurs, what it looks like, how to deepen it, and so forth—and do so with an eye not only to improving their own classroom but to advancing practice beyond it. (1999 p. 12-13)

It quickly became clear that the "center of gravity" in the scholarship of teaching and learning was student learning. Although many faculty in higher education institutions cared deeply about students and their learning, few had ever systematically investigated students' learning. Furthermore, faculty were wary that their attempts to understand more about students' learning, and change their approaches to teaching in light of new understanding, would not be met with recognition and reward by their institutions.

The College Music Society was one of the first courageous professional organizations to affiliate with CASTL for the purpose of advancing the scholarship of teaching and learning. In 2003, I published an article in Symposium entitled "Envisioning a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning for the Music Discipline" in which I outlined some potential areas for investigation by music faculty, and I suggested how we might equip our doctoral students as scholars of music teaching and learning (pp. 55–64). Since that time, more faculty have been attracted to scholarship of teaching and learning, and they have begun various projects on their campuses. Even if they are reluctant to use the "Scholarship of Teaching and Learning" moniker, music faculty have become more concerned with understanding and improving their students' learning.

One of my projects is a course called "Preparing Future Music Faculty." Doctoral students who enroll in the course typically are those who, only recently, have made a decision to pursue a teaching career in higher education. Although the course is designed to acquaint the doctoral students with all aspects of faculty life, one of the major goals of the course is to help the doctoral students adopt an inquiry stance toward their own students' learning. One of the course assignments is to design an assessment of student learning, implement it, and report back to the class about what they have discovered.

We begin in class by wondering aloud about what and how students might be learning. Doctoral students who teach instrument or voice lessons usually want to know about practicing: how often and how long are their own students practicing, when are they practicing, and do they feel that their practice is productive? If they teach small groups, such as aural skills, piano class, or voice class, doctoral students are concerned about the extent to which individual students are taking general information presented in class and applying it specifically to their own learning and development.

Our next step is to examine assessments presented by Angelo and Cross in their book, Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers (1993). The authors recommend using assessments that are beneficial to both student and teacher, formative rather than summative, and context-specific (pp. 4–5). Additionally, I recommend that the doctoral students choose an assessment that takes very little class or lesson time to administer. Although an initial glance through the book might lead a reader to believe that the assessments are most appropriate for large, lecture-based courses, there are many useful assessments that can be adapted for studio lessons and small groups. Following are two examples assessments that doctoral students implemented:

  • Rebecca, who taught a voice class, wanted to learn about the extent to which her students understood various vocal concepts. She adapted the "Applications Cards" assessment from the Angelo and Cross text, and she employed a Blackboard course site to make administration of the assessment easier. Rebecca uploaded professionally recorded clips of singers to Blackboard. She included both male and female singers in these recordings, and the musical styles included classical, pop, Broadway, and jazz. Students in the voice class used the Blackboard blog to critique the recorded performances. Rebecca looked for appropriate application of vocal terminology, such as breath management, onset, register, and passaggio, in the students' postings.
  • Greg, who taught piano students who were not music majors, wanted to know how his students spent their practice time. He adapted the "Study-Time Log" from the Angelo and Cross text as his assessment. His students recorded each day for two weeks: what time they practiced, where they practiced, and how they sequenced their practice. Greg also asked the students to rate their practice productivity on a 1–5 scale.

After they have implemented their assessments, the doctoral students analyze the results. Were their questions about students' learning answered? What did they discover? What questions remain? Furthermore, the doctoral students must decide how to close the feedback loop. How will they communicate about the assessment results to their students? How will they alter their teaching in response to all they have learned about their students' learning?

As Rebecca looked through her students' blog postings, she discovered that some concepts were clearly understood, but a few students had misunderstandings of other concepts. At first, Rebecca decided simply to re-teach the concepts that had been misunderstood, but as she closely analyzed her students' blog postings, she began to notice that they were challenging, questioning, and correcting one another. Rebecca determined that she could reorganize the class an keep using the Blackboard blog to take advantage of meaningful, collaborative learning among her voice class students.

Greg was happy to see his students' reports of practicing, but he immediately noticed that they were not feeling particularly productive about their practicing. He wondered whether they were being mindful in their practice. Did they know how to isolate problems, or were they just starting over from the beginning of a piece? He also wondered if his students had any strategies for mental practice to keep them from tiring at the keyboard. Greg determined that he would use one lesson each month to have a student "practice" in front of him. In this way, he hoped to offer new strategies to each student, and improve their feelings of productivity.

Although Rebecca's and Greg's assessments do not represent a full-scale scholarship of teaching and learning program, they do mark the most important step toward that scholarship: an inquiry stance toward students' learning. Like all of my doctoral students, Rebecca and Greg were initially skeptical about this assignment, but afterward, they reported that it was their favorite and most memorable activity of the semester. They learned about their students' learning, and in the process, they improved their teaching practice.

2935 Last modified on May 6, 2013
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