Cat in the Window

A clinician once made an analogy about music using the example of a cat sitting in a window. The cat doesn’t see the details of the cars driving by; he only sees broad impressions.

Cat in a WindowThe same is often true of our students. I often wonder what students’ responses would be if you were to ask them what they learned in class today. Did they actually remember anything? Or were they distracted by the actions of other students?

How can we make our lessons more interesting and memorable than whatever distractions pull at our students? What can we do differently to hold the attention of our cats?

I also wonder what audiences remember about performances. What do the students in the audience remember? The teachers and staff? The parents? What broad impressions do those people have of our music programs?


5 thoughts on “Cat in the Window

  1. Well, from talking to my parents, they assure me that the parental point of view is usually like that of the guy from The Music Man : “That’s my Davey!!!”

    As for the kids in class, my vocal methods teacher told us a story of when she got in trouble with some parents when their kid said that in music class, they play games all day. She had to invite the parents into class so they could see that they were playing music games and learning things from them, but to the kid, it was just playing a game. I’m still close enough to elementary school and middle school that if you asked me what I learned in class, I would have looked at you funny and asked “learned?”

  2. Greg, I can totally relate to both of your thoughts. My elementary-age daughter has had a number of little class performances, and each time my heart swelled with inexplicable pride. I will probably be more concerned with actual performance technique in the future, but for now, I have gained an understanding for parents’ desire to watch their children perform.

    Your story about the upset parent and games in music class: Been there, done that. I had been assigned to a school where the previous teacher didn’t teach musical literacy, so I had to find creative ways to teach the experienced students who could play their instruments but couldn’t read music. We did a lot of rhythm studies disguised as games, and I guess one student had enough of it. I can imagine how your friend must have felt: “No, really! I’m teaching!”

  3. One strategy I use is the exit ticket–students respond in writing to a question or two at the end of the period and turn it in before they leave. It can’t give the whole picture of what a kid learned, of course, but it helps a lot. It only takes a few minutes to read them, too. 🙂

    I’ve started focusing on writing clear objectives, and tying my exit ticket questions to the objective.

    I teach English, though–would this kind of end-of-period, reflective writing be as useful in a music class? I have a kind of ideological belief that writing is important and useful in any discipline, but haven’t been able to test it outside the disciplines that I know well. Music education, I’m afraid, is not one of those disciplines! 🙂

  4. That’s a great idea, but I think you may be right. I’m not sure if a music student could really answer a question like “what did you learn?” I say that as an elementary teacher, but maybe high school music students could comment about what they learned.

    One thing I have always appreciated about teaching music is the whole “check for understanding” concept which is necessary for classroom teachers. In music classes, teachers are always checking for understanding. If music students don’t understand, it will be plain and clear!

    Still, some sort of exit questionnaire might be interesting. “What would you change about music classes? Would is your favorite/least favorite part of music classes?” etc.

  5. Mr. Weller –

    I really like that idea with two caveats jumping at me right away: 1) in a large-group setting, I’d have to keep track of as many as 60 exit tickets, and 2) in any case, there’s the chance that people will just get an easy answer from their neighbor and not put any thought into it – have you encountered this?

    Mr. Engel –

    My instrumental methods teacher, who taught at the high school level, used to have no attendance requirement and would instead grade based on very detailed concert write-ups (like “I missed the 16th note run at measure 72, but got the one at the recapitulation, measure 158”). I don’t see why you couldn’t have them respond to something new they learned, heard, heard anew, found needs work, found is now working, etc. The questions may have to be simpler at the elementary level because of their discreet listening abilities, but it might still be a good way to focus their ears during rehearsal, knowing that they’ll have to listen closely for something to write on their ticket.

    A further idea: if managing a band’s worth of exit tickets is too much, could you make it optional? Write one that displays thoughtful reflection and the ticket goes into a big bucket or tank or something for a drawing at the end of the semester/block/trimester for a CD of band music or other music-related prize?

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