Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Reflective Musician: My MdMEA Session

I presented (for the first time!) at the Maryland Music Educators Association Conference. For those who were not able to attend my session (since you were busy or live in another state) and for those who wanted a chance to review the info, here is my presentation in a nutshell (but not literally "in a nutshell", although that would be an interesting delivery system):


This session will provide methods and resources in teaching student reflection techniques to gauge personal learning and progress in instrumental music classes. Methods range from instant reflections using only a few seconds of class time, to complete projects involving multiple class sessions and methods of reflecting. Session attendees will leave with a packet containing worksheets & prompts that can be used immediately, and concepts & examples of how to implement reflection methods daily. 

(Confession of dishonesty: I did not create packets since I could hear the trees screaming. Instead I provided my contact information so those who wanted electronic documents could request them... as can you.)

Why Teach Reflection?

  • Reflection is an inherent task in the Arts. An artist must evaluate what they produce in order to learn and grow from the experience.
  • Growth is achieved through mistakes and successes. Students often focus on success or mistake, but not both; we must teach them to look at both.
  • The more we practice Reflection, the more comfortable the process becomes. Have you ever watched a video of yourself teaching? My first experience was one of the most uncomfortable moment of my life; now I find the practice invaluable!

 Reflection is in the Standards

         (This list is a quick touch on the standards; there are methods of linking reflection to practically every standard.)

Reflection is in Teacher Evaluation

Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching
  • Components 2a, 2b, 3b, 3c, & 3d

How Much Time?

  • Minimal Time & Preparation: Thumb Checks and Rating Scales
  • Medium Time & Preparation: Recordings and Performance Reflections
  • Extensive Time & Preparation: Portfolios and Projects

Minimal Time & Preparation

These practices do not need any preparation time or equipment and take minimal class time. These are "instant" reflections.

Thumb Check & Rating Scale: to quickly gauge student understanding or opinions

"Thumbs up if you completely understand Allegro, thumb middle if you kind-of understand, or thumbs down if you have no clue about the term."

"Thumbs up, clarinets, if you successfully shifted from A to C; thumb middle if you need more practice; thumb down if it did not work at all."

"Show me fingers of how well we followed dynamics when we performed this piece: 1 is we performed all the dynamics, 3 we performed some, and 5 we performed none."

Always incorporate follow-up questions. As the teacher, you can select any student and ask "Why did you give us that rating?" or "Why was your thumb in the middle?" You can also ask that student to then ask another student to share their reasoning and so on.

Medium Time & Preparation

These practices need preparation time and/or equipment and take some class time. These are reusable reflections once you create them the first time.

Recordings: of a professional group or of the student group. I keep a digital recorder handy at all times to record my group and do instant playback.

"Listen to this recording of Over the Waves; compare and contrast it to how you just sang it."

"I just recorded you as you played the chorale. What do you think of our balance?" 

Concert or Festival Reflection: listening to or watching a performance and completing reflection questions on a worksheet.

"List two things the band did well at the performance."

"List one thing the band needs to improve."

"List one critique from the festival judges." 

"What is one suggestion from the judges that you can implement immediately. Why did you select this suggestion?"

Depending on the experience level with reflection practices of your group, you may also keep the worksheet open-ended:

Using this form, the student lists the compliments (+) and critiques (-) for each piece of music, circling the one that can be fixed at the next rehearsal.

Practice Reflection: with an emphasis on goal-setting and reflection, instead of total time spent practicing.

The student sets two goals for the week and marks progress towards achievement at each practice session. Additional reflection questions are answered at the end of the week.

Extensive Time & Preparation

These practices need preparation time & equipment and will take class time, often spread over multiple days.

Portfolios: this method is primarily for goal-setting and performance preparation. Depending on the needs of your students, the goals can be performance-based (intonation, musicality, etc.) or behavior-based (bringing class supplies, talking when appropriate, etc.). Portfolios can be combined with a project, as shown below.

Projects: this method is used to achieve a task while setting and progressing toward goals. The task can be solo performance, small ensemble performance, or composition.

In the examples below, my students formed small ensembles and selected music to prepare & perform for the class. This process was spread over 15 class meetings, using only 15-30 minutes at a time.

This is the first task which occurred over 2 class sessions. The students were encouraged to write honest and thoughtful answers, not answers they believed I wanted.
The students then set individual goals to give them a focus during the project. I insisted on complete sentences for every item in the portfolio.
Open-ended question allowed them voice their opinion, while encouraging them to practice good writing skills.
Two of the items in the portfolio asked them to reflect on goal progress.

Prior to performing for the class, the groups had to record and assess their performance. I encouraged them to be honest in their evaluation, since the grade at the bottom of the chart would not be the grade at the top of the sheet; that grade is based on completion instead of performance.

As with all teaching practices, I continually tweak my methods as well as gather new methods. I attended a session the day before I presented my session and discovered additional reflection practices that I plan to use this year.

Keep your eyes and ears open, listen to and address the needs of your students, and remember to share, share, share!!! The more the students reflect, the more they will reflect without your guidance, which is something they can use in every facet of their life.