Music Teacher Education

Lessons for Ensemble Directors from Lorne Michaels of SNL

Running a Show, Directing the Band, Choir, Orchestra, etc.

I recently felt a need to unplug from the world for a moment and was fortunate to have the luxury of time to go for a run and listen to a podcast.

I happened across an interview with Lorne Michaels about his career with Saturday Night Live and his thoughts on what it’s all been about. (It’s from a podcast with Marc Maron called WTF – a terrific show – see the link below.) What struck me was that almost every major theme that emerged in regard to his involvement and ability to be successful with the show – despite over 40 years of societal change – seemed to me to be relevant to being successful in music teaching in some direct way.

As I was listening, I couldn’t help but think that these issues are some of the very same things that come up in conversations I have regularly had with preservice, current, and former ensemble directors about how they do what they do.

If you’re also a fan of SNL and are curious as to what these might be, read on and enjoy a distraction from some of the other things going on in the world at the moment.

Here are some curious parallels…

  • He arrived in NYC on a bus from Canada having previously worked for/with luminaries in comedy – Lily Tomlin, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers, Dick Cavitt, Phyllis Diller, Jack Benny, those involved with Laugh In, etc. He was explicitly cognizant of the impact that these people have had on him as teachers and/or mentors.
    • Most successful people I know, music teachers or otherwise, can describe how they were lucky to have at least one important mentor and if they weren’t lucky enough to have one early in their development, they can explain how they went out to get one. For example, I can think of several good friends who have used their personal days as teachers to travel the country and visit with people who have grown the kinds of music programs they aspire to create.
  • When setting up the program he called upon his friends and mentors and got help from everyone he knew – asking the questions and seeking the advice of those who could show him the ropes and methods for how things get done.
    • One of the most inspiring instrumental music teachers I have had the pleasure to work with was notorious for the openness he applied to his program. There was a constantly revolving door to his band room with guests from all over with all kinds of backgrounds streaming in to work with his kids and show him new and alternative ideas for helping kids engage with music.
  • Lorne describes the importance of intensely focused, deliberate work for achieving success – for both the performers and the show in general. In this part of the conversation he defines success as a program that resonates with people.
    • Successful music teachers recognize the value in practice and the hard work dedicated to refinement that is essential for developing individual musicianship and for creating a musical experience that people will value and appreciate.
  • He explains that when the show is great – people can recognize it as something they feel they’ve always known and something they’ve always knew they liked but, when the show is not great – people can question whether it’s necessary at all.
    • When a musical program presents work that is sincere and refined – people can recognize it as something they’ve always known and something they always knew was valuable but, when a music program presents work that is insincere and poorly arranged – people can question whether it’s necessary in a school at all.
  • When asked about his motivation… he clearly discounts an emphasis on a perfect product and emphasizes process instead. He explains how he was driven by building the show each week, the thrill of live performance, and the elusive objective of doing the best you possibly can.
    • In my experience, this is a mindset that successful music teachers often bring to their work as they try to create an optimal motivational atmosphere for their students. They invest in the process of music learning with an eye towards the outcome but without obsessing about perfection. Accordingly, they typically express goals and outcomes in relation to students’ efforts and progress rather than a particular point of arrival.
  • Lorne has purposefully let the program evolve – although there are parallels, he asserts that it is not the same show as it was 40 years ago.
    • Despite what some might believe, successful ensemble directors do not let their programs stagnate. They choose to be informed by their students’ culture and grow their programs with an appreciation for adaptations that are necessary to continue to be relevant to their communities. Beyond that, they are willing and able to relate to their students as they are and recognize that kids and what they value changes with time.
  • He recognizes he is not, nor should be the center of power – he is a guide, someone who helps sift good and bad ideas, someone who helps people understand why they’re successful as well as why they’re not, and someone who sees their role as pulling others forward.
    • Most of the successful directors that I know inspire their students and work as much along side them as they do from out in front of them. They give feedback such that students know when they’re succeeding or when they’re not succeeding and why. They cultivate a spirit of collaboration and appreciation for students’ individual perspectives while maintaining focus on the collective objectives of the group.
  • Lorne recognizes that no amount of success will ever eliminate the facts that (a) he works for someone else and (b) that there are always others that have power over what he does – ultimately it’s not about him, it’s about the community the show plays to.
    • No music teacher works in isolation from their community. We are always beholden to the people we serve and no degree of musical success or accomplishment will ever change that.

Take a listen for yourself:

http://www.wtfpod.com/podcast/episodes/episode_653_-_lorne_michaels

Note: Obviously the work space of SNL is in many ways NOT a model of the kind of atmosphere that is appropriate for kids. In addition, many performers in the ensemble have gone on to personal success as well as personal ruin. The message in this post is not that SNL is a metaphor for music education, it is that some of the principles that have helped Lorne Michaels be a successful producer are those that underlie success in any endeavor that aims to connect artists, programming, and communities.

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Motivation: Growth, self-beliefs, and attributions, oh my…

This week I had the pleasure of giving an invited talk for the IU student chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (IU SNATS). I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to work with extremely fine singers and committed vocal pedagogues on a regular basis in my courses and very much enjoyed speaking with the students of IU SNATS.

The talk I gave was on issues related to motivation for learning. I’ve attached a pdf of the powerpoint to this post via the image below. You’re welcome to download it to see the range of topics we discussed if you’re curious. The powerpoint also includes some basic texts and resources for reading about motivation in general and motivation in music learning more specifically. There is also a slide that includes links to some interesting web-resources for exploring these ideas further.

Miksza - Motivation presentation for IU SNATS - 2015

What was particularly enjoyable for me was that the talk gave me a chance to step back and think broadly about how several theoretical perspectives could be synthesized to address the components of music learning that are often heavily impacted by student motivation. The following set of reflective questions captures some of these components:

  • What drives you to choose to engage in learning in the first place?
  • What kinds of things contribute to the “degree” of energy you invest in this learning process?
  • What kinds of things contribute to the “degree” of quality and deliberateness you will apply to your learning process? In other words, the degree to which you’ll try to approach learning situations critically, thoughtfully, creatively, etc.
  • What will help you persist when you inevitably hit roadblocks and find yourself at a learning tableau or dipping into a negative attitude state?
  • What will stop you from giving up if learning gets tough?

I framed the main part of the discussion by describing how human needs for self-growth, flow, intrinsic satisfaction, and self-determination can lead people to seek out new experiences, work for mastery, and find personal meaning in their experiences. We also spent some time thinking about how social contexts created through teachers’ behaviors, studios/classrooms/rehearsal rooms, learning environments in general, etc. can serve to either support or thwart someone as they strive to satisfy these needs. The following points are a sample of what was addressed:

Contexts can be supportive or not…

  • Balancing the amount of structure/scaffolding provided and opportunities for independent work/decision making is important
  • Providing informational instruction (clues and ways to achieve objectives) vs. controlling rules (specific ways to do things) makes a difference
  • Giving opportunities to make choices vs. emphasizing interpersonal control in general is critical
  • Communicating evaluations as opportunities for improvement vs. as how something ‘should’ have been performed

We then moved through a cyclical set of motivational beliefs that have been shown to be related to learning in compelling ways. The powerpoint linked to this post includes summary points of some of the implications for pedagogy that each theoretical perspective suggests.

  • Mindset (Dweck)
    • Beliefs that abilities can be either fixed- or growth–oriented…
  • Self-efficacy (Bandura)
    • An individual’s beliefs in their own ability to produce an intended outcome on a specific task
  • Achievement goal orientations (Elliot)
    • The reasons why people aim to be competent and how they frame their own goals
  • Attributions (Weiner)
    • How the reasons people give for their successes and failures can impact their motivation and achievement in the future

We then ended the discussion by talking about some common motivational problems students experience and some general ideas for how to help them.

If a student’s needs are not met

  • The environment must feel like a safe place – physically and psychologically – this clearly has much larger ramifications for situations involving poverty, violent crime, discrimination, and/or harassment, etc.
  • Employ active approaches to help students develop positive feelings of competence and autonomy for the sake of esteem and self-determination
  • Employ active approaches to help students form productive relationships with each other
  • Provide preparation for students for how to interact with civility in a community
  • Employ active approaches to reducing the stressfulness of potentially competitive and high-stakes environment

If students are amotivated or lacking in apparent intrinsic motivation

  • Interventions can require altering the social context to help students integrate values of the environment to their own self
  • Make connections between activities and the students’ life goals and values
  • Make connections between activities and the values the students’ peer group recognize
  • Make connections to the values of the students’ significant others e.g., those they regard highly as role models
  • Provide opportunities for choice and for the student to feel in control of the environment
  • Give a secure foundation for building a sense of readiness – do not “throw into the fire”
  • Steer students away from performance-based goal orientations and towards mastery-oriented ideals (i.e., self-improvement)

If students demonstrate learned helplessness or self-handicapping

  • Vary goals according to individual students’ needs
  • Structure learning with an emphasis on short-term goals and develop them with the students
  • Provide frequent opportunity to acquire mastery and frequently document and display evidence of their growth (to them, not the class)
  • Teach students to avoid comparisons with others and encourage mastery goal orientations
  • Make it safe to ask for help by building it into the learning process as a required step
  • Do not over-assist and inadvertently communicate your belief in their lack of ability
  • Consider cooperative learning approaches

Strategies and considerations for assessment in music education

I am fortunate to have had the distinct pleasure of moderating a panel on assessment practices in music education this morning at the Indiana Music Educators Professional Development Conference.

The panel consisted of three terrifically dedicated and incredibly intelligent teachers:

  • Lisa Sullivan, Mohawk Trails Elementary School
  • Laura E Helms, Bloomfield JR/SR High School (choral emphasis)
  • Soo Han, Carmel HS (instrumental emphasis)

They each shared their insights regarding the value and purpose of assessment in music and how to approach designing an assessment system that was also practical and pragmatic in its execution.

Resources from the panel presenters can be found at the links below (posted with permission). Thanks to all who were in attendance at today’s session and thanks again to the terrific presenters!

Powerpoint Slides

Handout

Pete, Lisa, Laura, Soo - IMEA 2014

Research reads to keep you warm on cold winter nights

Because, really, what’s more comforting in the middle of winter than curling up with a great book on quantitative research design and/or statistical analysis!

🙂

This semester I have the pleasure of teaching a course on quantitative research methods for music education. In preparation for this class, I’ve been looking at all kinds of resources that could be helpful for the students (and me) to dig into compelling issues of research design and analysis. A couple of standouts from the pile of books I was wading through are listed below. In addition to being clearly written and approachable in style, each book does a great job elaborating on issues related to quantitative research that are often difficult to digest. These books aren’t designed to be suitable as a text for a music education research methods course, but, they’re certainly excellent supplements.

photo

(snowflake courtesy of Lucy Miksza, 5 yrs old)

Stanovich, K. E. (2001). How to think straight about psychology (6th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

  • This book is a terrific, down-to-Earth read about some of the most basic characteristics of scientific inquiry. I particularly enjoy the discussions of scientific inquiry as a converging process, the importance of falsification, and the challenges inherent in probabilistic thinking. Being focused on the social science of psychology, it comes across as a good introduction to issues of scientific activity that comes across in a way that I think is relevant to many of the types of questions that music ed researchers may be interested in.

Abelson, R. (1995). Statistics as principled argument. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.

  • This is a humorous and plain-spoken collection of wisdom for those who are writing about statistical findings. The first chapter, “making claims with statistics,” raises a host of simple, yet important considerations for stats folk. All of the chapters, though, will be helpful – especially when thinking about developing a writing style.

Jaeger, R. M. (1990). Statistics as a spectators sport. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

  • I’ve relied on this book for one reason or another many times since getting bitten by the music ed research bug. This book lays out basic and intermediate statistical topics in an easy-to-grasp, conceptual manner. Jaeger’s explanations could be a great help for those who find that math and formulas seem to get in the way of understanding how statistical analysis techniques could serve music ed researchers. Or, if you’re looking for a book that ties together some loose ends and fills conceptual gaps – this could really help.

Ed Policy and Music Teacher Preparation

This weekend I had the opportunity of co-presenting a session on embedding educational policy issues in music teacher preparation coursework at the bi-annual Symposium on Music Teacher Education in North Carolina. It was a pleasure to work with our newest Jacobs School of Music music education colleague, Dr. Lauren Kapalka-Richerme and IU JSOM alumna, Dr. Carla Aguilar who is currently coordinator of music education at Metropolitan State University in Denver, Colorado.

This is us enjoying the day! And here is a link to our presentation slides: Aguilar, Miksza, Richerme – Policy – SMTE – 2013.

Also, check out the SMTE Policy ASPA Facebook page here: SMTE POLICY

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Theoretipracticaliexpealidocious

Preface

This post includes a few brief, light-hearted thoughts I put out to the music education graduate research colloquium today during our faculty roundtable on the theme of, “Intersections Between Research and Practice.” This event was intended to be an introductory colloquium during which the faculty shared 5- to 7-minute reflections on how they see their own research impacting their practical concerns. If you’re curious, this was my take…

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Near, Far, and In-between – Some views on instrumental music teaching effectiveness*

The summer course I’m teaching, Advanced Instrumental Methods, has kicked off this month and I thought I’d share a bit about the first topic we tackled. We began with an exploration of what it means to lead as an instrumental music educator and what factors seem to contribute to teaching effectiveness in instrumental music settings. As the title of this post implies, we tried to consider several perspectives – near, far, and in-between – to paint a picture of great instrumental music teaching.

One of the more entertaining discussion activities we tried in class was to draw a comic book superhero depicting what an ideal conductor might look like and trying to exemplify what kinds of superpowers a super-instrumental music teacher might have – here’s one image from some particularly gifted artists in class… see if you can guess the attributes they were trying to emphasize… Notice some of the more unique elements… the “third eye,” “lack of gender-specificity,” “inclusion of a student (with their own baton),” etc.

Dr. Madskillz

Here’s a quick glimpse of some of the perspectives we’ve brought to the issue as we zoom in and out in our discussions…

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