Teaching reflections #9: Cross-discipline sharing is where it's at

I was speaking with an English professor the other day. She was discussing how online teaching has changed her approach to class.

Previously, she’d have individual conversations with students about improving their writing. Now she has those conversations publicly, with all students in attendance on Zoom. She was particularly concerned about constructive critique and not embarrassing students.

I said, “Sounds like a music master class. Only you’re doing it with writing.”

In a music master class, a form that has been part of classical music teaching for centuries, a well-known and well-respected audience teaches a lesson from the stage. There are a handful of performers, playing a piece they’ve worked on for some time. The artist works with the student for a period of time, often 15-20 minutes. Typically, the artist focuses on one aspect of the student’s playing; often it’s the artistry that gets attention rather than the mechanics of notes and rhythms.

The audience gets enormous benefit from this:

  • They learn how a master performer thinks about and approaches a given piece of music.

  • They see teaching techniques on display, including how the student responds and improves to suggestions.

  • The audience may take some of the lessons back to their own playing in a moment of transferance.

  • The audience also listens critically, comparing their own performance of the same piece to the student’s and the artist’s work. Is there anything the audience member might take to improve their own work?

  • The audience also gets moments of critical thinking – do they agree with the artist’s analysis of the student? Many critiques are art, so there is no “correct” answer.

In an academic environment, the English department would rarely (never?) overlap with the music department. Indeed, academics who attempt to be “cross-discipline” often are penalized in promotions and tenure decisions. However, her husband is a musician, and she understood the parallel to the master class having attended a few with him.

Imagine how English class might change if they took more teaching tips from the music department.

Jen Kramer @jen4web