Workshop Finale

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January 19th 2010
Published: January 19th 2010
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At long last, here are the final two days of my music teacher workshop. The whole endeavor was a fantastic success--it brought me a group of motivated music teachers--and we have some excellent plans for the future. We'll meet as the 'Nepal Music Educators' Society' for the first time this coming Saturday, and it promises to be a big event. We're sending out invites to many other music teachers, including high-profile university professors, and we may get a story in one of the country's big newspapers. I'm excited. In other news, this morning I had a jam session with my friend the sitar professor, and he asked me to teach him an American song. After a little bit of thought I settled on Yankee Doodle, and I proceeded to teach it to him phrase by phrase. He loves it, and he can play it perfectly now. If he is not the first, he has now joined the elite handful of people to have deliberately played Yankee Doodle on the sitar. Here's the workshop:

Day 15

This morning again was very cold, and again started a little bit late. Thinking about that subject in particular—lateness—I tried to start a discussion with the teachers who had arrived about the problem of tardiness in a classroom and things that they can do to lessen it. Especially in schools in Nepal I’ve noticed that kids show up predictably late to music class, many times with no consequence. The teachers whom I have observed just fit the tardiness into their general expectations. I made the point to these teachers that it shouldn’t be acceptable, and that there are things they can do to get their students to come in on time. First they can tell their students how much of a problem it is and make it clear that success in the class comes in large part from on-time class attendance. They can also structure their classes so that an important part of the instruction comes at the very beginning, therefore late students get a real feeling of being at a disadvantage from their tardiness. They can also introduce informal penalties to their late students like calling them out to demonstrate things in front of the class and forcing them to participate in the instruction part of class (things that most students would not want to do—especially unprepared late students), or formal penalties like grade reduction. Something else they can do to get kids to come to class on time is to make music class something that kids intrinsically want to participate in. In other words, make it fun! Give the kids activities and a sense of purpose and focus. At this point some more teachers had showed up, and I used the sense of purpose to transition to the lesson that I had planned—lesson planning. I again drew up the formula for a lesson plan on the board, and we practiced doing another plan—one to follow the one we did the previous day. I tried to solicit participation from the teachers, but mostly they were tired and content to just watch me work the plan out on my own. That’s not to say that they weren’t interested—they were very interested and watched me intently, writing down in their notebooks everything that I wrote on the board; I just think it was a little bit too early in the morning/class-time for them to feel comfortable with creative thinking and active participation. We did another lesson plan on the board, and I drove home the point that in lesson planning they can really let their own creativity come out. The objectives and curriculum points for the lessons are given—ideally they’re already planned out for a year—but for each individual lesson the teacher can draw on his own experience and ideas for activities to come up with the method/way/manner of teaching the given objectives. That’s what makes each teacher different and unique from every other teacher: how they teach. 100 teachers can teach the same objectives to their classes, but each one is going to have a different way of doing it. Some ways are better than others, but some are equally good and absolutely different. I gave the teachers ideas for teaching activities for this lesson plan, and throughout the workshop I’ve been giving them ideas for teaching activities for a variety of possible teaching objectives, but I stressed that for each lesson they would be deciding for themselves which ones to use for that particular class. I told them that when the year-long planning is taken care of, their job becomes much easier from day to day; they don’t have to stress about trying to teach everything in a few lessons, or running out of material (that never happens), or leaving material out over the course of the year. Their goals/objectives become a matter of course, and they can then focus their energy on making those concepts and activities come alive for their students. After we did this lesson on the board and I told them of the importance of year-long planning, I had to give them a method to direct their year-long plans. Unfortunately Nepal doesn’t already have a sequence of concepts to be learned in each grade level, so we did a brainstorm and made one ourselves. It isn’t perfect, but I used the exercise to show them the process of how it can be done. First we chose one broad musical concept: rhythm. Then we mapped it out on the board as to what we want our students to be able to do when they graduate from our programs. I put that the most advanced rhythmic activity I expect from my graduates is to be able to sight-read complex rhythms in compound meter. That was the pinnacle. From there I worked down, mapping out concepts that students need to know before they can be expected to do this complex sight-reading. Things like understanding complex meter, sight-reading practice, simple meter, triplets, note durations, performing notated rhythms in time, analyzing notated rhythms for how they should be performed in time, performance independence/rhythmic independence, feeling pulse, dividing pulse, etc. The teachers helped make this chart, and they were especially helpful when mapping the performance aspects of rhythm. When we were satisfied with our conceived flow of concepts, we made spaces on the board for grades 1-10, and assigned each grade with rhythmic concepts that we believe would be possible, practical, and useful to teach to the specific grade level. I stressed that each grade still gets practice and instruction in the concepts from the previous grade, and they just add another component of complexity. Most of the fundamental teaching is done at the lower grades, so that when the students get older and the teaching gets more complex, there are less new concepts for them to be initially exposed to and there is more time for them to practice the performance aspect of the concepts they have already learned. In our grade-by-grade chart of these concepts we had the kids sight-reading complex rhythms in compound meter by grade 8, and then taking the last two grades to practice and master this cognitively complex activity. All of this charting and thinking and planning took a long time and represented a lot of work. When we finished I told them again how helpful this kind of planning can be for their programs. With a sequence of concepts like this and a clear idea of where their students should be upon graduation, they can much more efficiently and organizedly assess their students’ progress, and they can assess the success of their own teaching practices. From this they can make targeted improvements. We all know it’s a daunting task to start, but I drove home the point that even an incomplete plan is better than no plan at all. When this was all finished we looked at the lesson plan of one of the teachers who came in late, and I transitioned to a discussion about the proposed Nepal Music Educators’ Society. They love the idea, and it looks like my Saturday meetings will be a reality. In the remaining 15 minutes of class I had the teachers come to the board one after another and write their names, email addresses, and phone numbers for everybody to share. The class ended well, and it was a class full of really useful information. I walked away satisfied.

Day 16--final day

This morning I managed to wake up without too much of a problem, and rode my bike all the way out to KJC with a backpack full of theory textbooks—I received this package of textbooks the day before from a very generous Baylor University music professor. I got there early—nobody was there when I arrived—and teachers trickled in until about 9:15. It was an informal start; I laid out the books at the front of the class and invited teachers to get them and look through them, making it clear that access to books like this would be a big benefit of being a part of the Nepal Music Educators’ Society. During this time I also played them CD recordings of band music—some from professional bands and some from my Fulmore 6-8 grade bands. After everybody had arrived and had some time to look through the books, I focused the class and did a review of the entire three weeks, taking them through our first discussions of planning and directing lessons toward musical concepts, to learning and teaching rhythmic notation reading and dictating, to learning and teaching pitch notation reading and dictating, to our more intensive practice with planning for full school programs, year-long segments, term segments, weeks, and finally individual lesson plans. I asked for questions and comments, and received mostly praise about how much they learned and how valuable it is to them. I then directed to the conversation to the future—telling them of plans that I have for NMES, things that we can do as a group, reasons for doing things as a group, and asking for their own ideas for things the group can do. This was really productive; they want to have a conference, they want to do small frequent workshops at their various schools with visiting teachers, they want to make a directory of institutions, they want a newsletter, they think a music contest could be a great idea, and most importantly they want to keep meeting regularly. I really stressed this last part—we can’t do anything together until we can regularly meet to get these things done. I also implored them to bring their friends to these future meetings. We’re a small group, but we have the potential to expand. We discussed music conferences briefly, and I told them about TMEA in Texas, and the upcoming ISME in Beijing. After this I told them how excellent as a class they were throughout the whole workshop, and that I would be around for the next 5 months to help them out with anything. This was the last of my leading the class. We found someone to take some pictures of the group of us, and the teachers then surprised me with a program of appreciation. They made generous speeches and presented me with a ceremonial kata, a fine Nepali topi (hat), a small madal, and a small decorative sarangi. I was really touched—this came as a complete surprise to me, and it was a wonderful affirmation about the significance of the work I’m doing here. They had things for the KJC director, too, but unfortunately he was out of town and had to miss the last couple of days. After the program we took more pictures, and then they took me out for tea as a group. There’s a tea shop very close to the school, and they told me that they had been regularly taking tea there after class to discuss the class material. That’s exactly what a teacher wants to hear—that his students value his class enough to regularly meet and discuss it—and again I felt that amazing feeling of affirmation. Our whole group had tea and discussed a range of things, both related and unrelated to the workshop, and finally we split up and went our separate ways. The next meeting will be on Saturday, Jan 23, at KJC at 11:00 am.


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