My teaching philosophy is centered on three principles: the creative engagement of students with course content, the importance of revision and self-reflection, and addressing diversity in course content and pedagogy. Music students learn creativity and revision in the context of Western art music and popular music, but can apply them to any career, within or outside of music. By addressing diversity in my courses, I am a more broadly effective teacher, which benefits all students. I achieve these goals primarily through model composition and writing.
Model composition allows each student to relate their individual musical background to the course content. I introduce composition early in the core curriculum, beginning with composition of basic phrases and expanding these phrases into sonata expositions or songs. For example, a unit of chromatic harmony in my class culminates in the student setting poetry by Emily Dickinson for voice and piano, using stylistic 19th-century text painting techniques. Model composition gives students a place to synthesize several theory topics while creating a musically satisfying composition. Compositions are always played in class, and students offer positive and constructive feedback on each others’ works.
Model compositions and verbal written assignments are also a way for students to learn how to manage large projects and how to revise. I always “scaffold” large projects like model compositions; students are not simply asked to write a whole piece all at once. Students begin by writing a phrase or a period after being given a stylistic motive; then, students expand this into the fuller composition, by following a process I clearly outline in advance. I scaffold writing projects similarly, beginning with low-stakes brainstorming and then building up to a proper analytical essay. Through the scaffolding of projects, students learn that large projects are not written all at once, but rather are built up in small parts over a number of weeks. Every student also has at least one opportunity to revise their composition or essay and resubmit it to receive a higher grade. Through this process I encourage two things: one, reduction of anxiety surrounding large projects, and two, the establishment of good habits when dealing with projects. I walk students through these processes in my classes; afterward, students will be equipped to break larger projects into manageable steps independently.
I have taught an uncommonly diverse group of students, and learned to ensure that every student feels heard in my classroom. For example, many of my students immigrated to America from another country and do not speak English as their first language; other students may suffer from anxiety disorders. Rather than putting these students on the spot, which may very well only exacerbate their anxiety, I implement writing as a tool to facilitate discussion. I assign low-stakes written responses as homework that is due in advance of class. Before class, I read these responses, and then call on these quiet students to recite their response. By articulating their thoughts in writing in advance, these students are empowered to state their opinions with confidence.