Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
- Benjamin Franklin
Nothing excites me more than helping facilitate learning! In my career as a teacher, I am privileged to work with musicians at Sheridan College including dual-enrolled high school students, traditional college students, and adult learners. As a performing artist, I visit schools as a performer and guest conductor/clinician. I also work with young people as a member of the string trio, Virginia Virtuosi
My first collegiate job was teaching 250 undergraduates in a general education course about American popular music. Optimism and ambition about reaching every student motivated me. I devoted many hours to preparing lectures, Powerpoint slides, and seeking musical examples illustrating my observations. I prepared for class like a concert performance, honing exactly what I would say and how I would say it for maximum impact. By presenting information the most impactful way, I felt my students would “get it,” become inspired, and demonstrate mastery of the material by acing exams and assignments.
It would be wonderful to say that all of my preparation paid off and each student found my course stimulating, challenging, and transformative. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Despite all my efforts in becoming a “virtuoso” teacher, I had lost sight of the most important thing in a classroom: learning!
I’ve since come to understand that telling is not teaching. I expect my students to do more than memorize and recite information and experts' opinions. I want empowered learners capable of engaging, analyzing, and critically evaluating music. When I couldn’t find a textbook about popular music that did this for my general education classes at George Mason University, I wrote my own. Learners in my popular music class now analyze music, sharing influences, timbres, meters, and formal structures (like AABA form, blues form, or strophic form). I place no restrictions on the music that they can choose. Sometimes this means wading into murky gray areas where the music they find doesn’t exactly fit the prototypes and examples we discussed in class. Finding the “right” answer is less important than thoughtfully and knowledgeably engaging the material. Making mistakes, revising, and clarifying are central to the learning process. While I maintain high standards, I help learners meet expectations by providing office hours, review sessions, and carefully prepared “podcast” programs available for download and streaming on the Blackboard course management site.
When working with private double bass students, I encourage them to develop the skills to solve their own musical and technical issues. Sometimes, it is a struggle to resist the temptation to fix a technical problem for a student. After all, this is the quickest route to solving the immediate concern of the problem at hand. However, I always try and remind myself that teaching advanced solving skills are the best way to facilitate learning and growth. Whenever possible, I prefer to guide my students to asking the kind of questions that will encourage self-reflection and lead a student to the correct solution.
Learners in my classes do not come to education as blank slates. They have a wealth of important identity-forming experiences often linked to the music to which they listen. As the director of the Sheridan College Symphony Orchestra and the Sheridan College Viol Consort, I work with a talented cohort of college students and community members embracing wide-ranging musical influences. I believe in providing musical direction, but also inviting the musicians with whom I work to be partners in artistic problem-solving.
Contemporary educational research shows that ideas attached to feelings are much more likely to facilitate deep learning than isolated pieces of information. This is why contextualizing an artist’s life and work solidifies learning and builds a larger, richer knowledge schema. In the end, I hope this knowledge inspires growth, curiosity, and open-mindedness about new aesthetic ideas that enrich my students' lives.