[Smt-talk] Simplifying theory books--comment

Kris Shaffer kshaffer at csuniv.edu
Fri Apr 27 05:46:02 PDT 2012

Paul (and other colleagues),
I couldn't agree more about the importance of engaging the written word thoughtfully and critically. And I like (and have used) the idea of quizzes or other post-reading formative assessments both to motivate reading closely and to gauge what needs to be covered and practiced in class.

It is entirely predictable, though, that if we cover most of the reading in class, students will not read, and they will think that the part of the reading we don't cover is not important. However, that's not a reason to abandon the readings. On the contrary, I think it's a reason to do something different in class.

Have you seen Eric Mazur's talk, "Confessions of a Converted Lecturer"? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwslBPj8GgI) He has some great ideas that have been helpful for me getting my students both to engage the reading/listening material, and to learn the material and tasks better. The model of "information transfer" out of class, followed by formative assessment of some kind, followed by shorter, more direct in-class explanations or discussions of material unclear after the readings, and then practice work in the presence of the instructor—all before attempting graded work on one's own—has made a huge difference for my students. They are learning faster and better than when I did the regular lecture–homework thing, and they value the readings more. (Those readings also naturally end up being more things written by me in response to their specific needs and problem areas, which helps sell them on it and makes them more directly applicable.)

Here's a little detail on how I've applied some of that, if you're interested: http://kris.shaffermusic.com/wordpress/tag/inverted-classroom/


Kris Shaffer, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Music Theory
Charleston Southern University
twitter: @krisshaffer

On Apr 26, 2012, at 7:33 PM, Paul Siskind wrote:

> Hello Colleagues:  I'd like to comment on one point that has been raised
> in the discussion about theory textbooks.
> As Zae Munn pointed out in her comment (below), most students today don't
> bother reading their textbooks, and wait for the teacher to explain it all
> to them.  In fact, I dare say that many of today's students might never
> have been expected to actually learn something on their own simply by
> reading about it (and some might feel themselves incapable of doing so).
> However, I disagree that this is an argument to forgo textbooks.  Rather,
> I would argue that this indicates all the more reason why we SHOULD
> require students to buy, read, and learn from books.
> Beyond the content of whatever course we are teaching, part of what many
> college teachers profess to be doing (and indeed, should be doing) is to
> be "teaching critical thinking and lifelong learning skills."  There's
> nothing more fundamental to this than the ability to read and learn on
> one's own.  And, in the case of Theory texts, part of "reading" the text
> is being able to look at the printed examples and actually find in the
> examples what the verbiage is telling them to notice (i.e. the purple
> boxes that K&P thankfully added to the past two editions!).
> To this end, I incorporate at least one "Reading Quiz" into my Theory II
> and III courses.  For these, I assign some short topic that students must
> read about in the text without me discussing it in class, and I tell them
> that they will be quizzed on it the next class.  Of course, there is much
> groaning and gnashing of teeth.  However, I have prepped them for this in
> the previous weeks by having different students in class read a paragraph
> aloud, who then talks the rest of the class through the example, pointing
> out the important info to be gleaned.
> When I first started teaching, I was shocked when students would complain:
> "We don't think that it's fair that you gave us homework on something that
> you hadn't yet taught us in class."  I then gave them a lecture/pep-talk
> about being now adults in college.  Over the years, I've noticed that if
> one introduces the expectation for reading and self-learning early in a
> course (with suitable types of accountability assessment), many students
> will rise to the challenge and become more self-reliant and take more
> ownership/responsibility for their own learning.  To me, that's probably
> more important than learning how to resolve a V7 chord properly.
> ...Paul
>> In my diatonic harmony class this semester, I am trying this: I
>> provide my students with a less-than-one-page summary of a Kostka and
>> Payne chapter, I present briefly (usually in C or a) and then we go
>> right to the K and P workbook for applications, musical contexts, and
>> thinking of the material in different keys. So they will end up with
>> maybe a dozen pages of "text" and most of their work will be contained
>> in the workbook. They are not required to own the textbook itself.
>> I have personally learned lots from the K and P textbook, esp. the
>> detailed examples of standard and exceptional uses. But, in my
>> experience, students are less and less able to process written words
>> in relation to musical examples, esp. when keys change from example to
>> example. The result is that they usually gloss over them and hope I
>> will tell them what they really need to know in class.  The summaries
>> I have given them are really what I used to end up telling them
>> anyways after struggling to help them process the assigned text. This
>> way they have it, in writing, at the outset, and it's simple and clear
>> enough that I can really insist that they know that material well.
>> Best, Zae Munn
>> Saint Mary's College
>> www.zaemunn.com
>> On Apr 26, 2012, at 9:17 AM, Nicholas Baragwanath wrote:
>>> In response to Stephen Jablonsky's comments on the seemingly inverse
>>> proportion between the length of a harmony textbook and its
>>> efficiency in providing practical training, it might be interesting
>>> to note that Nicola Porpora, the principal teacher of Farinelli and
>>> Haydn, used a single page as the basis for five or six years' of
>>> training in singing and bel canto improvisation. The thoroughbass
>>> manuals that formed the cornerstone of musical education in the 17th
>>> and 18th centuries usually contained around 50 pages or less. The 55
>>> pages of Fenaroli (1775) would fit onto approximately 15 pages of a
>>> modern textbook.
>>> Less is more?
>>> Nicholas Baragwanath
>>> University of Nottingham
>>> nicholas.baragwanath at nottingham.ac.uk
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