Revising the Band Pedagogy Course – Part 1

5 Sep

One of my tasks as an instructor in the instrumental music education program at the University of Texas at San Antonio is to teach the ubiquitous “band methods” class. This class, one of three our senior-level students are required to take as a part of their degree program, is designed to help students assimilate what they have learned from our introduction to music education class, their individual methods classes (brass, woodwinds, strings, percussion, and voice classes), and the various courses offered in our College of Education and Human Development.

Last year, after teaching this course somewhat successfully for five years, I decided that it was time for a change. I continue to attempt to move further away from the typical lecture-style presentation of materials into more a project-based and microteaching-based application of the ideas of the course; instead of the typical cycle of assigning a chapter to read outside of class followed up by brilliant lecture and witty Socratic questioning culminating in a final project for each “unit” or “topic,” I wanted to set up activities that allowed my students to engage in actually¬†using the materials and ideas of the course in real-life situations. (While this has always been a passion of mine, I found infinite inspiration and confirmation of my inclination towards this method in the work of Dr. Dee Fink and Dr. Michael Raiber at the University of Oklahoma.)

One of the first components of this particular class included a quick review and overview of the fundamental concepts of each woodwind, brass, and percussion instrument. I wanted my students to be able to identify and correct problems with the basic fundamentals of playing each of these instruments. How could I set up authentic teaching activities that would allow my students to engage in the real-life task of seeing out information about teaching, separating the wheat from the chaff, organizing that information in such a way as to make it accessible to their students, and share that information with the other students in the class?

For this initial unit of study, I assigned a pair of students to each instrument and asked them to come up with checklists they might use with their students to help teach instrument assembly, forming an embouchure and playing a note on the small instruments, holding the instrument, and playing the first note. I asked the students to initially write their own ideas for a checklist and then to consult outside resources to confirm what they came up with. The students would then post their step-by-step procedures on the WikiBandDirector site to share with their classmates and anyone else who might be interested. In the last step of the project, students would then use their checklists as an outline to teach each of these elements to a classmate. Each teaching episode was recorded and posted on our university’s learning management system so that the students could complete a reflection activity.

The entire process looks like this:

  1. Create a rough draft of the checklist that students and their families could use to check their work on each fundamental (embouchure, assembly, and so forth)
  2. Consult various sources to confirm and fortify the initial checklist
  3. Create a formal checklist that could be used in the classroom (visually appealing, neat and organized)
  4. Teach this concept to a classmate in a five-minute microteaching episode
  5. Review the recorded microteaching episode and complete a reflection activity

Over the long Labor Day weekend, while my students were feverishly preparing their work on this assignment, I realized that I had assigned two students to each instrument — how would they each contribute their work to the WikiBandDirector site? My fears were calmed when I realized that this was indeed a real-life situation in the twenty-first century: we were actually collaborating as a class on our collective version of what a flute embouchure looks like or how to assemble a trombone. I think these are important skills that our students will need to know as they move out into a world where the “answer” to their questions is as close as their smart phone.

By applying the knowledge our students have accumulated in their previous coursework, fortified with some outside research and review, to authentic teaching activities, the students should develop some real-life skills that will help them become reflective teachers and active researchers who seek out new ideas and share them with others.