I have been pleasantly surprised at how well the chapters of this book have related to my field of instrumental music. Chapter 4, “How Do Students Develop Mastery?” explores how we move from novice to expert and the various steps of consciousness/competence. This chapter made me stop and re-think how I learned what I know (and now comes automatically, or “unconscious competence”), and if I am as effective as I can be as a teacher.
We as teachers often don’t put ourselves in the students’ frames of mind or consider how transfer of knowledge affects their connection with new information. It is important to remember that as musicians we are spending years honing our craft. Most of us are always in flux between the third and fourth stages, “Conscious Competence” and “Unconsious Competence”. As with athletes, musicians find it difficult to remain at the latter stage (the “expert” stage), without consistent practice to maintain technical and physical skills. “Use it or lose it” is very applicable to keeping musical skills sharp and we all find ourselves in need of polishing a passage or skill if we’ve been away from it for too long. Muscle memory fades and brings us back to reality, forcing us to slow it down, use the metronome and tuner, and check our musical interpretation.
Recognizing the effect of Cognitive Load, we usually focus on rehearsing one musical skill at a time. One tool featured in Google Apps is the ability to create a game. In my Chapter 4 summary, I created a Google flash card game which can help reinforce musical terms. While most of the time musicians are developing technical or musical skills, there are times when basic drill-downs such as flash cards are necessary. The flash cards were created in Google Docs and the process was very simple. For extra learning benefit, students can be taught to create the flashcards themselves. Google flash cards adds a fun spin to an otherwise tedious study method.
This chapter gives us a different perspective on the stages of learning, and helps identify the skill level our students have attained.
My own reflections as I read Chapter 3 made me realize that while I intrinsically knew that goals, values, and expectancies could all influence our success in the classroom, research on this subject is rarely discussed.
Reading the chapter, I thought back on what my classroom environment was previously and is now. I like to think my teaching style and the environment I seek to cultivate is a positive and supportive. But I think it is easy to get caught up in objectives, testing, and daily activities and forget to reflect upon our own class “environment”.
As I continue my long-term substitute position as an orchestra director, I have had the good fortune of working with a lead director who has mastered motivating her students with goals, value, and expectancies. Many students in her high school orchestra are already highly achieving honors students, and all of them have auditioned for chair placements in the performing ensemble. In addition to performance technique, this director teaches her students to be organized in their notes and practicing, is clear about her expectations, and doesn’t request more of them than they are capable of giving. Students are continuously reviewing and rating their own rehearsals and discussing how they can be more productive. They are learning in an environment where they feel supported by teacher and peers and usually find that they develop skills far beyond what they imagined by the end of the year (this is one of the top high school orchestra programs in the country). While the director maintains high expectations and runs a strict rehearsal, she does so with a sense of humor. She is clear about the groups’ objectives and the students respect her. There are always bumps in the road, but as an assistant with this class for the past year I have been amazed at how environment does affect learning (and the students’ belief in self) in a big way.