Flipping Coins
A year of learning from and in the classroom
Cumulative Portfolio
Spring 2020

Teaching and learning are but different sides of the same coin.

I arrived at this truth while compiling all the media for my cumulative Music-in-Education portfolio. My experience as an artist and an educator thus far has really felt like flipping a coin, in many regards. Just like any other job, there are good days and bad days, fulfilling days, and days you wish you knew nothing of music; likewise, there are days where I feel like the teacher, and days where I am very much the learner. The great part about being an Artist-Teacher-Scholar is that even when I have “one of those days”, I am still learning. The great part about being a musician and music educator in particular is that the music is always there, waiting for me to return whenever I am are ready, and is always ready to teach.

This portfolio details my journey in the Music-in-Education department at New England Conservatory, and in many ways is the tangible evidence that teaching and learning are nearly indistinguishable for the artist. Artistry is a perpetual cycle of learning and growing, teaching what you know, and through that process learning more. From NEC Prep to substitute teaching, MIE courses to conducting courses, my time with the MIE department has put purpose and a certain tangibility behind the “good intentions” for my artistry. In other words, it is gradually becoming second nature to think in the Artist-Teacher-Scholar paradigm (picture below).

 “a genuine, comprehensive musical education often results to some degree in the development and synthesis of three complementary (i.e., mutually reinforcing and increasingly cohesive) aspects of musicianship”  (Scripp, “An Ongoing Chronicle of Music’s Evolving Role in Education”, v.)

As I use the ATS model as my guide for teaching, scholarship, and artistry, I understand more and more just how much everything in life is inherently multi-faceted. For me, it really began to click while reading for my MIE 511 independent study and getting a better grasp on perspectives of learning. Learning is occurs in so many varying environments, it is hard to hold fast to one method of it. However, in my quest for viewing teaching and learning in a holistic way, I do find myself hearkening back to Vygotsky often, in favor of the view that learning is a largely social activity. A social context calls for the ability to be adaptable – multi-faceted – because one never knows from where the observer will derive meaning. In that manner, all artists are teachers whether intentional or not, so it is imperative that the arts begin equipping their constituents with the tools to harness their artistry into something to make an impact on audiences that exceeds aesthetics.

This is where the analogy of the coin comes in: an artist interested in the ATS paradigm is always evolving, and that makes it attractive to me. Thinking about the ways in which my artistry can impact education or scholarship does not detract from my music-making or my creative output. Instead, it causes the three to converge in a symbiotic relationship.

I am grateful for the MIE department for making me aware of these things. Its mission and curriculum have challenged and broadened my horizons, and I am glad to share it with you. As the great Mary Oliver wrote in her poem titled “Sometimes”:

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

 

These are the drafts of my "The Teacher I Want to Become" essay, documenting an evolution of thought and several Gestalt moments in real time.

Draft #1

One of the goals of my MIE 511 independent study was to write an essay entitled “The Teacher I Want to Become”. I did not really know where to begin, as I think you might see in my first draft.

Draft #2

After several weeks exploring teaching methods and learning perspectives in D.C. Phillips’ Perspectives on Learning Fifth Edition, I was able to start piecing together the differences in teaching with good intentions and with purpose, and you can start to see those taking shape in my second draft.

Draft #3

As the course moved from the differences between Plato, Locke, Vygotsgy, and Skinner, to Gick and Holyoak and Schoenfeld, I began to see how those foundations such as debunking the “lone investigator” and the “Zone of Proximal Development” intertwined with  learning transfer and metacognition. A narrative started to take shape in my third draft.

Final Draft

But moving from theorizing to implementing helped get my final draft off the ground. (Although, I will call it a working Final Draft, since the role of a music educator in the artist-teacher-scholar mindset is ever-evolving.)

Guided Internship #1 at Nashoba Brooks Middle School in Concord, MA

In January 2019, I joined the Philharmonic Society of Arlington’s Arlington-Belmont Chorale as Assistant Conductor. This 90-person community chorus was my first “real” conducting job, and I was so excited to start putting my teaching skills to use outside of my own classroom. Unbeknownst to me, this job would lead to so many other connections! The first was from a chorus member, Christel Michaud. She was expecting her first child at the time of my arrival, and in March she approached me about applying to be her long-term substitute teacher.

After applying, interviewing, and teaching demo lessons, I got the job as Nashoba Brooks Middle School Long-term Maternity Substitute (a mouthful, yes, but it was all crammed onto my name tag). I started in May and spent the last month of school teaching and learning alongside Christel, and getting to know the environment so that when I returned in the fall, I would already know the lay of the land, though I was unsure what the job would exactly entail.

 

This photo is of me teaching the fifth grade chorus block. The chorus blocks did not have any set curriculum, so I pretty much had free rein. The students knew a lot of the technical musical theory, but had never quite been able to put it into practice. It was my goal throughout the semester to make them sight-readers. I would start every chorus block with a vocal warm up and mental warm up based on the C scale:

Based on the school culture of support and care for one another, I wanted to use the idea of peer leadership as a teaching tool. So, after warm-ups I would call on volunteers to compose one measure of music using do, re, mi, fa, and sol. Then the whole class would sight read what the volunteers had written.

Lastly, I worked all semester to teach the choirs how to follow a conductor. I taught the basic 4/4 pattern to the choruses and assigned each student a week that they would conduct “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. It was their job to decide tempo and dynamic, and the choir’s job to do what their fellow student asked of them with their gesture.

Ultimately, this job was one of the best experiences I had in my time at New England Conservatory. I worked for NBS from May 2019 all the way to Thanksgiving break in the Fall 2019 semester, teaching over 100 4th-8th grade girls. It taught be so much about working inside an institution and exactly what that all entails. My days varied greatly, given that I taught all grades in the middle school, and that helped keep things new and fast-paced. The most difficult thing I had to adjust to was the overall bureaucracy. Some of my duties included:

  • Teaching 4th-6th grade chorus blocks
    • Grades 4-6 have a winter concert in January, featuring music they work on all of the fall and part of the winter trimester. Mrs. Michaud was generous enough to let me program the music for this concert
  • Teaching 4th-8th grade general music blocks
    • I followed the curriculum left to me by Mrs. Michaud, with her blessing to add/take away as I saw fit.
    • Fifth grade learned about ABA forms, culminating in a movement project I derived from the curriculum. Click the link below.
  • Music directing 7th/3rd grade fall musical, A Year with Frog and Toad
    • This included making practice tracks, working with the accompanist, and teaching music
  • Teaching extra-curricular ensembles like intermediate band and Nashoba Notes (7th/8th grade acapella group)
  • Assembly Committee and Emcee
  • Recess and lunch duty

Even though I was subbing, I was still a full-time teacher and expectations were as such. I participated in events like Open House and Curriculum Night, where I presented to the parents what their children would be learning this year. The general music classes had a set curriculum left for me by the music teacher, Mrs. Michaud; however, there was no set curriculum for the chorus blocks, so I was free to create curriculum and learning objectives. Here are the blurbs that I wrote and presented at Curriculum Night. Additionally, for the school’s parent/teacher conferences, I had to write snippets about each students’ progress. I also had access to personal time off, and since the school had two full-time employees dedicated to subbing for teachers who were not necessarily musical, these teachers depended on detailed lesson plans.

My favorite thing I got to do at NBS was teach the before school acapella ensemble, Nashoba Notes. The school had an excellent multi-media room, which we put to good use. The girls voted and chose to learn an arrangement of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. Over the course of a month, we story-boarded the video, learned parts, and shot takes for a music video.

After my tenure as Music Substitute came to a close, students expressed their thanks and the school asked if I would be willing to serve as an on-call substitute and resident voice teacher. I was still unsure that teaching full-time in a school setting was a sustainable career option for me; however, I subbed a few times and had a vocal studio of 6 students. My connection to the school not only doubled my private voice studio, but opened up an avenue for more jobs – I am now a music director for Concord Youth Theater and worked this semester at Ephraim Curtis Middle School in Sudbury, MA as a music director.

MIE Guided Internship #2 with the NEC Preparatory School Children's Choirs

When I enrolled in my second internship for MIE I never dreamed that I would be creating teaching strategies for remote choir rehearsals! Being an interim conductor for the NEC Prep Children’s Choruses has been a great look into what a potential job might look like for me. While this is the first semester I am counting toward an MIE internship, this is actually the second semester I have spent in this position. I am grateful to have been taking the independent study alongside this semester’s internship; I feel better equipped by the materials I have learned from to give my students a closely comparable and engaging experience to that of an in-person rehearsal since.

General overview of the internship:

  • Pick repertoire and manage logistical details for ordering
  • Conduct Children’s Choirs alongside fellow conductor, Saturday mornings
    • Preparatory Chorus (ages 6-8)
    • Children’s Chorus (ages 8-12)
    • Chamber Chorus (ages 9-13)
  • Manage rehearsal set up and schedule, be in communication with chorus master and NEC Prep office
  • Be available for questions from the NEC Prep office and parents

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In my first reflection I identified three goals for this internship:

  1. Communicate effectively with my counterpart so that we are of like mind when it comes to rehearsal pacing, both within an individual rehearsal and over the semester
  2. Engage the students in fun and energetic ways
  3. Teach the music in a methodological way so as to get better results in retention

My second reflection demonstrates my putting into practice some of the things I outlined in my Teacher I Want to Become essay like consulting mentors and adapting in the rehearsal room.

After the pandemic and subsequent quarantine, choir moved online. This change of setting was disrupting and a little disheartening because it meant that our concert was cancelled; however, it did show me that my goals were broad enough in places and specific-to-myself enough in places that they mostly remained intact when the quarantine happened. In other words, it seems that my past self was concerned about the process rather than the performance, and the big-picture view of the semester and my teaching rather than the small details that were rehearsal-room specific.

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I was grateful to get to speak on my work with the Prep Choirs in the MIE department’s event: “After NEC… what can I, should I, will I do? Music Education and Community Engagement”. I presented on our commissioned piece and creating an interactive project for the choir to help write it.

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Other media from the semester:

  • This spring’s concert spanned four choirs. Three of which I conduct regularly, and another Prep choir (Tourjeé Singers) that was going to join us. Since we also had a large age and ability range, it was important that all the conductors were on the same page in regards to who sings what. I created this document to serve as an easy guide for teaching the materials.
  • Practice tracks like this one: Bluebell
  • Remote Choir lessons: The Lost Words Challenge 1 and a submission:

 

Text read this semester:

  • “Framing the dimensions of sight-singing: teaching towards musical development” by Lawrence Scripp and Lyle Davidson, 1988
    • This text was helpful because it has a section on breaking down levels of musical development and shows all the levels that go into teaching beginner sight singing.

Fall 2019: Performing Artists in Community Outreach

“Looking at music through the economic, anthropological, and psychological standpoint helps us synthesize and see music more clearly.” This was the most impacting statement I noted from Professor Burdick during this course. 

The PAICO course allowed me to look through a psychological/anthropological lens of music in terms which I did not have much previous experience. I work a lot with youth and have great interest in teaching young minds, but through this class I the deep and meaningful impact teaching and learning music has on elderly students as well. The course ended with a volunteering session at the Balis assisted living home, where we sang holiday songs and communed with its people.

As a class we read and reflected on How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders. In addition, we worked on curating thought-provoking questions regarding music with which we interviewed a senior in our life. I chose a family friend, Robert M. Randolph. As you will hear in our interview, he is quite knowledgeable in many genres of music, having “learned to tell time because of the radio,” and has no formal training, yet his life has been enriched greater than some who study music professionally because he really understands the value of the music.

Interviewing and preserving Mr. Randolph’s thoughts on music was a wonderful experience and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to glean from his wisdom.

Spring 2020: MIE 511 Independent Study

Self-Aware, adaptable, current, and equipping: these are aspects of the teacher I want to become. In this semester of quarantine and pandemic, I certainly got to strengthen my adaptability skills and put to use me knowledge of learning theories to create online curriculum for the ensembles and students I teach. But more than that, I got to hone my personal feelings and motivations for artistry, education, and scholarship. Here is an excerpt from my final draft of The Teacher I Want to Become:

I think the plight of a teacher is to inspire. Nobody wants to feel as though their work is meaningless, yet mere transfer of information often is not enough to inspire minds. When first drafting this essay,  I initially embarked to answer the question: “how do you become a teacher who inspires?” I made a list of qualities I thought the ideal teacher would have, such as thoughtfulness, kindness, inspiring critical thinking, self-awareness, etc.. Though these qualities are not excluded from the final draft, in fact they serve as the basis for a lot of the main themes I have outlined, you will see that they have since been broken down and rebuilt in my mind. […] I began to rebuild my own definition of “inspire”, and what I have come to realize is that inspiring teaching looks a lot like serving. Not in an archaic or authoritarian manner, but in the way that a musician serves the composer and the audience: teachers are to recognize the significance of being a vessel through which new ideas pass and schema form. When teaching is motivated by this paradigm of service – that is to say, it is not only interested in the physical act of conveying new information, but concerned with the how and why, it holds a transformative power. This transformation creates critical thinkers, incessant questioners, and a communal bond that not only occurs in the lives of those students being served, but in the lives of those serving and enlightening, as well. The knowledge of how and why a teacher teaches allows the tangible act of teaching to meet the intangible inspiring and takes good and even great teaching to a new tier. 

Often, as I have learned this semester, it is difficult to see the progress made in learning. This padlet gives a clue to all the things I am thinking about and connecting as a result of this independent study.

As described in my The Teacher I Want To Become essay, it is important to me that I stay current and aware of what is going on in my fields. Here is a list of texts I read and found helpful from this course:

  • Perspectives on Learning Fifth Edition by D.C. Phillips and Jonas F. Soltis, introduction and chapters 1-8
    • This was a foundational text for me,
  • Cognitive Science and Mathematics Education by Alan H. Schoenfeld, 1987, chapter 8, reflection here
  • “Schema Induction and Analogical Transfer” by Mary L. Gick and Keith J. Holyoak, 1983
  • Peak, by K. Anders Ericsson, 2016 introduction and chapter 2, reflection here
  • Is it the Music or Is It Selection Bias?, Kenneth Elpus, 2013
  • “Carol Dweck Revisits the Growth Mindset” by Carol Dweck, 2015
  • “We Are All Teachers”, Andrea Kalyn, 2017, reflection here
  • “Thoughts about Musical Literacy” by Lyle Davidson, 1999
  • “The Secret of Effective Motivation” by Amy Wrzesniewski and Barry Schwartz, 2014, reflection here

And of course, texts in my ever-growing “to-read” pile thanks to this course:

  • “Mind, Brain, and Education: Building a Scientific Groundwork for Learning and Teaching” by Kurt Fischer
  • “More Seeing in Learning” Saeed Arida
  • The Little Book of Talent, by Daniel Coyle
  • The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle
  • Peak, by K. Anders Ericsson

These courses were part of my major's core curriculum and were available for cross-registration in the MIE Concentration

Spring 2019: Advanced Conducting (COND562)

Being able to use my core major courses as credits to the MIE concentration was wonderful, as my schedule would not have allowed me to take four courses outside of my required course load. It was also wonderful because I got to use teaching and ATS ideals in my choir rehearsals.  This semester, the Advanced Conducting students put on a performance of the Brahms Requiem. We also had administrative tasks assigned to us: I was the musician-conductor liaison. Every week I would send out the rehearsal plan, location, and any reminders needed of the choristers and orchestra players. We also had to write program notes and create performance promotional materials.

Each week we submitted our rehearsal plan to Professor Washburn, and as the semester went on I realized the importance of putting time perimeters on myself. Because of the small rehearsal time we got each week, I needed to work efficiently and smoothly. I also had to make educated decisions on which material would just have to be rehearsed less. For example, you’ll see in this rehearsal plan that I will only go back and get the introduction “if time” allowed. I think in this particular movement, we only rehearsed the introduction twice before performance – but it was okay! As a conductor and a teacher, a big part of learning is knowing that you are trusted as a student.

Fall 2019: Advanced Conducting (COND661)

In this semester of Advanced Conducting, we learned how to conduct chant and put on a performance of the Duruflé Requiem using a chamber choir and orchestra.

Conducting chant is one of the harder things one can attempt to conduct, due to its unmetered and loose rhythmic integrity. It really forces the conductor and ensemble to act as one. In this assignment, we were not given specific groupings of 2 or 3; instead, we were to learn the music on our own (without listening to recordings) and come up with our own groupings and rhythms to convey to the choir.

Prior to coming to NEC I had little experience conducting instrumentalists. I felt as though this semester I was finally able to get past the mental block of inexperience and use my training to run an effective rehearsal. I also gained more experience in keeping the morale up and the pace engaging during rehearsals.

We received our final performance conducting assignments in the few minutes before the final took place. I had to conduct two movements – 3 and 9. I felt as though the personal moment I had with the musicians before conducting movement 9 was a huge step toward expertise as a conductor/teacher because it was a tangible moment of seeing my rapport with the musicians.

 

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