So, the lecture model isn’t that bad after all.
J. Proppe

As an instructor in humanities courses (I teach music history courses), I have struggled with some of the newer, more post-modern methods of incorporating student group work and critical thinking activities in class. Despite clear instructions and rubrics, the number of students who actually complete the required readings or video viewing prior to class in preparation for group discussions is still quite low. I have tried gaming styles of in-class exercises, write-your-own-exam questions activities, and other various flipped course work activities to no avail. Still only approximately one third of the students bother to even access the course materials. I check online.

Another colleague of mine, who teaches history, shared the following New York Times article with me. Quite a bit of it resonates with me. I do believe in the power of strong, informative, and engaging, old-fashioned lectures, especially for humanities courses like mine. I do not simply stand and read from my notes. As with many of my skilled colleagues, I animate my lectures with real-world examples that bring the material to life. As one of the instructors in the article mentioned, by the end of my classes I am a bit sweaty and tired (in a good way).

I would love your thoughts on this article and on the old-fashioned lecture model as well.

Personally, the article was very validating for my style of teaching. – NYT Lecture Me. Really.

lecture image middle ages

Setting the Tone: A Restart
J. Proppe

This opening topic is a fantastic one. I decided, just this semester, to change the tone of my first day/week approach. As the teaching years have progressed I have noticed how my first day routine had evolved into rules, rules, rules, “don’t do this”, “do this”…much like a list for prisoners rather than guidelines for students.

jail hands

The syllabus, course structure, assignments, and class procedures are important (and I still go over them), but my focus this term was flipped to the students rather than on me as surrogate prison guard. In addition to my first day “write your musical story” activity, I asked for a show of hands for various musical activities in their lives. Quickly the class was sharing their musical past, present, and interests without much prodding and poking on my part.

student raising hand

On day one I assign a required article reading in my face to face classes. Then on day two we do discuss this brief article. Since it is accessed by the students online I can see who has taken the time to open the document or not. This gives me a sense of the “go-getters” and those that may struggle or who won’t follow through on assignments.

Also on day two I thank all of them for sharing their stories (by day two I have already read all the music autobiographies), and I share a couple of short stories about my musical life. I purposely pick a silly one like the time my father thought it would be great to have his thirteen year old, 5’11”, spectacle wearing daughter play the accordion; as if I needed anything else to emphasize my awkwardness at that age. I also share with them the awesome experience I had teaching the very course they are taking in China in 2010.

China class 2010

I am pleased with this more personal tone now as my semester is in full swing, and I will continue this first week approach for future semesters.

Everyone likes to talk about themselves!
J. Proppe

Hi Everyone!
I teach music history courses at a variety of college. One of them is Intro to World Music, which is interdisciplinary encompassing music history, music theory, anthropology, and some sociology. The culminating project is a music ethnography which they must present in class. In the past I have shown videos of past projects, given extensive guidelines, and photocopied tomes on ethnographies, but still many students express high anxiety preparing for this project. I suspected it was mostly due to having to stand up in front of their peers.


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