Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Learning outside Our Disciplines: How Being Music Students Makes Us Better Teachers

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Learning outside Our Disciplines: How Being Music Students Makes Us Better Teachers

Article excerpt

This paper presents the critical reflections of four mid-career professors who are also beginning music students. These case studies, developed during a faculty learning community, outline how the experience of being learners changed how these professors taught their classes in enduring ways. Based on theories of experiential learning, research in expert/novice learning, and research in emotion and learning, the authors assert that critical reflection on the experience of being a novice learner in a discipline outside one's expertise is a powerful form of faculty development. Experiencing learning outside one's discipline puts the expert teacher into the novice student state. The change of perspective leads to teaching insights. This experiment in experiential learning emphasized the importance of compassion, the benefits of praise, and the necessity of structure for novice students.

An Irish poet living in the U. S. picks up a guitar and a few years later forms a band. A noted journalist from National Public Radio devotes a year to learning how to play the piano. A group of faculty members from a twoyear college return to instruments they played in the past or decide to learn new ones. So what do Paul Muldoon, Noah Adams, and the authors of this paper have in common, other than their music? All of them hover around or beyond the half-century mark, making them very adult learners of a subject other than their primary disciplines. Returning to an instrument or learning a new one offers mental, physical, and aesthetic benefits to anyone at any age. For those of us who teach, however, there are pedagogical implications as well, made somewhat more acute by the fact that in studying music, we are removed from the comfort zone of our own field, in which much of our learning is grounded in what we know and linked to the generation of new knowledge. Although the case studies in this paper reflect on learning music, we suggest that teachers who put themselves in the position of any novel learning experience can benefit from this type of experience.

When we literally face the music, we face ourselves anew as students, a role attended not only by growth and creativity, but by frustration and fear of failure. Reflecting on our experience as learners can inform our thinking about a range of teaching issues - from teacher-student interaction in the classroom to homework and self-instruction. This essay provides a pedagogical frame on which the teacher as learner is constructed, followed by a series of reflections by professors who have used their experience as music learners for critical reflection on their teaching. These reflections come from a faculty learning community that gathered to discuss how being novice music students provided insights on teaching and learning. Some members of the group participated in formal music lessons, and some participated in an ongoing open jam session at the college. The group met to critically reflect on their experiences and discuss how being beginning music students changed how they teach in their discipline specific courses. The case studies included in this paper are excerpts from these critical reflections.

First, however, the obvious differences between a college professor learning to play a musical instrument as an avocation, and an undergraduate student pursuing a vocation must be acknowledged, exceptions notwithstanding. Central among these differences are expectations, motivation, cost, maturity, and time. Other than self-imposed expectations, there are fewer external expectations, and thus less pressure, for the adult music learner to succeed than there are for undergraduate students who are making career choices. The adult music learner can quit her pursuit with little damage other than to her own ego, if the learning becomes too difficult or time-consuming. The undergraduate can make those same choices but money, time, and progress toward the degree are lost. Also the adult music student may be more motivated to learn than the student unable to see the relevance of required courses to her major. …

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