I still can't believe that I get paid to teach and perform music at the Oberlin College Conservatory. I view it as a privilege and a challenge to be entrusted to develop the musicianship and artistry of motivated and talented students. I try to live up to the challenge in three ways: studying deeply the craft of pedagogy and theories of learning, maintaining an active profile as a researcher and performer and aspiring to be fluent in as many different genres of music as possible. I am motivated by a desire to share the transformative power of music—my awe of it. I have spent my entire teaching career experimenting with, reflecting upon and redesigning my courses in an effort to promote deeper learning and personal growth. Indeed, I've never taught the same class the same way twice. I've invested thousands of hours listening to and analyzing jazz, popular, rock, metal, electronic, hip hop and world music to draw on a wider variety of contexts for instruction.
My earliest pedagogical experiments were inspired by the writings of higher education leaders Ken Bain, Dee Fink, Peter Elbow and Wilbert McKeachie. I stopped lecturing, embraced the praxis of backwards course design, abandoned quizzes and exams in favor of self-designed projects, and incorporated revision, self-reflection and self-assessment. I offered first-year seminars in the college, took classes to the art museum and completely overhauled my approach to course design, day-to-day teaching and assessment. I have presented and published on many of my best practices—chief among them the pedagogical use of road maps, which are a special kind of analytical document and the notion of scuba-diving (covering much less content but exploring it in much greater depth). I employ alternative grading strategies that are particularly suited for assessing engagement and musicianship. My teaching is always evolving as I strive to create an environment for students to develop their interpretive skills. I have learned that one way to promote deep learning is to motivate students to engage with the music they love as deeply and rigorously as possible.
The rewards of working with students outside of the classroom are profoundly inspiring. I have wonderful opportunities to coach soloists and groups, collaborate with students on recitals and recordings for competitions, festivals, graduate school and fellowships, and co-author conference presentations and peer-reviewed articles. I serve as an official adviser to a handful of arts and science students each year and mentor many other students on applications for graduate school, internships and fellowships.
Presented with the opportunity to help lead the development of a music criticism course, I co-wrote a successful $100,000 grant, recruited three professional critics from Cleveland to team-teach, and worked closely with them on all aspects of course design, implementation and feedback. The criticism course, now entering its fifth year, is thriving; several of the former students work professionally in the discipline and others are pursuing graduate degrees in the field.
My passion is in developing students' analytical and musicianship skills: to hone their ability to hear acutely, internalize fully and communicate different types of music—especially new music—compellingly. I am honored to have worked with over two thousand students at a world-class conservatory, and while I remain as excited to go to work as I was when I first came to Oberlin, I have a deep appreciation for the investment that excellence demands and the opportunities I have to continually learn and contribute.
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