Entries in Philosophy of teaching (1)


Philosophy of Teaching | by Paul Drummond  

Much is said and written about developing a philosophy of teaching but for me there was one change of paradigm that most significantly impacted my daily choices on behalf of my students sand my career.  I stopped thinking of myself as a performing artist with the choral ensemble as my instrument; I stopped thinking of myself as an expert who provides information to students and colleagues.  I began thinking of myself as one who facilitates the successes of other people.  The ramifications of that change are many and almost all of them have improved the quality of my life both personally and professionally.


In order to get participants to invest “discretionary effort” (more than what is required) in your class or choir create a “safe space” in which they feel free to contribute and to risk without fear of criticism or ridicule.  Affirm and encourage their efforts.


Investigate a marvelous book from the business community entitled “Bringing Out the Best in People:  How to apply the astonishing power of positive reinforcement” by Aubrey C. Daniels (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994).  To insure that a productive behavior continues, craft a consequence of that behavior that is of value to the individual.


The best way to avoid discipline problems is to keep the students actively engaged.  Keep them singing!  The time WILL be filled in one way or another and if you don’t insure it is used productively they will fill the time with something that may not be.  Keep them singing!  “Free days, “ “Days off” and so on are an invitation to chaos, especially for a new teacher whom the students may be testing anyway.


Tim will be spent in one of three ways – invest it wisely:  Productively:  the activity moves you and the ensemble toward your goal(s);

Non-Productively:  the activity does not move you toward the goal;

Counter-Productively:  the activity actually inhibits the accomplishment of your goal.


I strongly recommend that a new teacher become intimately familiar with Barry Green’s “The Inner Game of Music.”  This resource is most helpful to me in choosing rehearsal language that is encouraging, affirming, non-threatening, and non-judgmental.  Particularly effective have been what the author calls “Awareness” instructions as opposed to “Do-this” instructions.


I realized at one point that I was assessing my students and expecting them to develop as I wanted them to as singers, but I hadn’t actually told them what I wished them to do.  So I developed a series of rubrics on singing (describing in language that is simple and easy to understand what I consider poor, fair, and excellent posture, breathing, phrasing, etc to look and feel like).  I now hand one out at the beginning of each rehearsal and ask the students to concentrate on that one item during that rehearsal.  At the end they assess their own success for that day on a 1-5 scale, which is then entered into my grade book.  This process helps focus their thinking during the rehearsal and provides a certain part of the grade.  These rubrics are available on the MCDA website at:  www.moacda.org/


In addition to the self-grading provided by the rubrics described above, I ask the students to grade each other according to the descriptors in the rubrics.  Further assessment is assigned according to a syllabus that lists such categories as attendance, Performance Exams, Reading Exams, and Singing Exams.  All of this should be presented in as cooperative and non-threatening an atmosphere as can possibly be achieved.


Accountability for grading and avoidance of grade inflation will become increasingly important for all of us.


The key to successful sight-reading (especially at contest) is that the students have regularly, periodically been taught to decipher the elements of a musical score.  It is not difficult but it does require time and persistence.  Some effort in this regard should be part of every class or rehearsal.  Which particular methodology the teacher chooses to present (I prefer Solfeggio syllables and Curwen/Kodaly hand signs) is much less important than that some system is presented and consistently practiced in class.


Embrace the traditions of your school.  Anything less will alienate a significant population in your community and among the alumni.  In the event that you find some traditions untenable, you will gradually be able to shift the emphasis to something more in line with your own thinking and philosophy.