Make Students Feel Invested: New Pedagogical Methodologies in Music

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18177/sym.2020.60.fr.11474

Increasingly, faculty are looking at the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) to see the latest trends, methodologies, and issues in pedagogy that can aid in their teaching and increase student learning outcomes. As music educators, we often look at music SoTL, but there is a much wider world of SoTL studies that are not specific to music whose methodologies, when implemented, can help all faculty become better teachers, regardless of discipline. This essay considers three pedagogical methodologies that have recently emerged in the broader SoTL literature that may be of value to music faculty: TILT (Transparency in Learning and Teaching), ungrading, and student-faculty partnerships in teaching. Each of these methodologies is student-centered, facilitates learning, and involves students in their courses differently than they may have been in the past. All aim to build a greater sense of ownership in courses and enhance student learning outcomes.

The first of these issues, and likely the easiest to implement, is TILT. Behind TILT is the notion that faculty should be transparent in every step of teaching and learning so that students have a greater sense of what they are going to learn in a course and why. This transparency facilitates students’ understanding of why instructors are assigning certain materials or assessments, giving them a greater sense of buy-in (Winklemes 2019, 1). This occurs first with the syllabus, which tells students what skills they are to learn in each lesson and how they might be transferred to different contexts. Transparency also occurs on the assignment level; one way faculty can create transparency in assignments is by providing every step of an assignment (usually in the form of an outline), rather than asking students to figure each step out themselves. This is especially helpful for freshmen and first-generation students who often are confused about the steps of an assignment or inadvertently miss steps (Boye 2019, 58–59). Students understand each step of the course material and its assessments and are told how it will help them in their future careers. TILT has been shown to improve student retention as well as information retention. Aside from its helpful acronym, TILT has often been given to mean that faculty make a small change in the way they present information to students to improve meaningful results; in doing so, they tilt the presentation of information in a student-centered direction from one that was faculty-driven (Winklemes 2019, 1–2). For those wondering how TILT would work in non-academic music courses, one faculty member, Lisa Garner Santa, uses TILT in her playing technique assignments for her applied flute students (Boye 2019, 57; 64–65).

Grades have recently been the subject of scrutiny in the scholarship of teaching and learning (Blum 2017). As many pedagogues have recently acknowledged, traditional grading schemes do not accurately measure learning and, often, they can have a negative effect on student learning (Stommel 2018). Ungrading (sometimes referred to as contract grading or specifications grading) is an assessment method whereby students learn to self-critique their work and assign their own grades through the reflection of their assignments and self-critiques of those assignments. In this method, students set their own goals for the course. Sometimes this means that students must decide how many assignments they want to do and what level of achievement they want to reach in the course to earn a specific grade. The instructor determines the skill levels and their corresponding grade for easy entry at the end of the semester (Nilson 2015, 15). Other times, students must hand in each assignment but with several revisions that have required them to self-evaluate their performance. In both cases, at the end of the semester, students self-reflect and evaluate their own performance, assigning themselves a grade for the course with proper justification. (If the instructor feels grades are not realistic, they can consult with students to change them.) The instructor will then enter the grades that the students assigned to themselves.

Like TILT and ungrading, students are at the heart of the third method, the creation of student-faculty partnerships. In this method, students are involved with faculty during almost every step in the course’s development, with no single role greater than the other, creating a sense of shared responsibility, confidence building, a greater sense of agency, empowerment, and belonging, all of which are especially crucial for first-generation students (Cook-Sather 2019, 2). This partnership gives students a sense of ownership, one in which they feel the stakes are higher (Cook-Sather 2014, 103). This methodology is often implemented at the department level to create pairs of faculty and students that work together to implement and revise pedagogical approaches and meet weekly on topics such as curriculum change and implementation, course design and assessments, and identifying specific course or section needs. It is important to note that these are not teaching assistants (Cook-Sather 2019, 10–11). These partnerships help faculty to see what does and does not work from a student perspective, allowing them to make the necessary changes. Students, in turn, learn more about the instructor’s perspective on the course while still retaining their views as students.

While all three of these methods typically are employed over time rather than all at once (though some faculty may choose to go “all in” with one of these methods in a given semester), each can be implemented through some initial first steps for those who want to try them. For those who want to try TILT, simply add the skills that will be taught and/or achieved during that unit or lesson next to the topic heading on the syllabus. This addition of a list of skills allows students to know immediately what they should be getting from the lesson and home in on the activities that will allow them to gain those skills (Winklemes 2019, 21–24). Ungrading can be implemented by using it for a single assignment and its component or scaffolded parts. For student-faculty partnerships, faculty can involve all students in one aspect of the assessment process, such as creating a rubric for an assignment together. Should faculty eventually want to implement student-faculty pairs to create a partnership, I highly recommend reading the appropriate resources cited below.

One thing that each of these methods has in common is that they increase students’ sense of belonging and confidence, leading to greater learning outcomes. However, for some faculty, each of these pedagogies may seem radical or even impossible to implement given your course structure, despite the improvements that they create. However, if we want to be student-centered faculty, then we must reconsider the ways that we traditionally have taught and assessed students and move to methods that present course information in a way that is meaningful to students. Whether or not you try to implement these methods in any way or read more about them, I hope music faculty colleagues will consider reading the non-music SoTL literature to keep up with the latest trends and to find some new methods to include in their teaching.


References and Recommended Readings

Anderson, Geoff, David Boud, and Jane Sampson. Learning Contracts: A Practical Guide. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Blum, Susan. “Ungrading.” Inside Higher Ed, November 14, 2017. Retrieved January 30, 2020. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2017/11/14/significant-learning-benefits-getting-rid-grades-essay/

Boye, Allison, Suzanne Tapp, Julie Nelson Couch, Robert D. Cox, and Lisa Garner Santa. “Faculty Voices and Perspectives on Transparent Assignment Design: FAQs for Implementation and Beyond.” In Transparent Design in Higher Education Teaching and Leadership, edited by Mary-Ann Winklemes, Allison Boye, and Suzanne Tapp, 55–69. Sterling, VA: Stylus Press, 2019.

Cook-Sather, Alison, Melanie Bahti, and Anita Ntem. Pedagogical Partnerships: A How-To Guide for Faculty, Students, and Academic Developers in Higher Education. Elon, NC: Elon University Center for Engaged Learning, 2019. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/books/pedagogical-partnerships/

Cook-Sather, Alison, Catherine Bovill, and Peter Felten. Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching: A Guide for Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014.

Mercer-Mapstone, Lucy and Sophia Abbot, eds. The Power of Partnership: Students, Staff, and Faculty Revolutionizing Higher Education. Elon, NC: Elon University Center for Engaged Learning, 2020. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/books/power-of-partnership/

Nilson, Linda. Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publications, 2015.

Sackstein, Starr. Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School. Cleveland: Times 10 Publications, 2015.

Stommel, Jesse. “How to Ungrade.” JesseStommel.com, March 11, 2018. Retrieved on January 30, 2020. https://www.jessestommel.com/how-to-ungrade/

Winklemes, Mary-Ann. “Introduction: The Story of TILT and Its Emerging Uses in Higher Education.” In Transparent Design in Higher Education Teaching and Leadership, edited by Mary-Ann Winklemes, Allison Boye, and Suzanne Tapp, 1–14. Sterling, VA: Stylus Press, 2019.

---. “Why It Works: Understanding the Concepts Behind Transparency in Learning and Teaching.” In Transparent Design in Higher Education Teaching and Leadership, edited by Mary-Ann Winklemes, Allison Boye, and Suzanne Tapp, 17–25. Sterling, VA: Stylus Press, 2019.

Winklemes, Mary-Ann, Allison Boye, and Suzanne Tapp, eds. Transparent Design in Higher Education Teaching and Leadership. Sterling, VA: Stylus Press, 2019.

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Last modified on Monday, 11/05/2020

Reba Wissner

Reba Wissner, PhD, is on the music history faculty of New York University. She is the author of two books, A Dimension of Sound: Music in The Twilight Zone and We Will Control All That You Hear: The Outer Limits and the Aural Imagination.

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