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How to Teach Music Reflectively
Reflective teaching is perennial and has become very popular world-wide. See for example the work of Cole (1997), Canada, Hatton and Smith (1995), Australia, Zeichner and Liston (1996), United States, Ghaye and Ghaye (1998), United Kingdom, Day (1999) United Kingdom, Farrell (2001), Singapore, Author, ( 2009) Cayman Islands and Hyrkas, Tarkka and llmonen (2000) Finland.
This world-wide popularity has resulted in an abundance of literature on the practice. Despite this abundance and popularity, there seems to be limited literary sources displaying how to teach music in a reflective manner. To further support this claim, I recently got an email from a colleague from Seoul National University of Education pointing out difficulty in locating literature which clearly displays the activities involved in teaching music in a reflective manner. Therefore, through the use of selected music-teaching vignettes, this column provides some guiding principles on how to teach music reflectively.
Guiding principles for reflective music teaching
Zeichner and Liston (1996) argue that to teach without ‘questioning’ or ‘critically thinking about’ your lesson planning, implementation and evaluation processes, ‘self’ as teacher, and all aspects of the teaching-and-learning dynamics occurring in any educational context, is to teach in a non-reflective manner. A simple analysis of this statement reveals the centrality of ‘questioning’ or ‘critical thinking’ to reflective teaching. Based on this, here are a number of guiding principles to which music teachers could adhere, should they wish to carry out their practice in a reflective manner. As indicated above, each principle is supported by an example and/or a vignette.
- Question or think critically about all aspects of your lesson before it is taught.
Let me demonstrate this using an example of preparing to teach a classroom instrumental percussion ensemble lesson. My preparation process involves questioning or critically thinking about: songs or sets of rhythms to use as the foundation for the ensemble, ensuring that these are age-appropriate and within the students’ present musical capabilities; the kinds and availability of percussion instruments and how various rhythmic patterns may or may not ‘work’ with the available instruments, and whether students sit or stand to play the instruments during rehearsals and final performance.
Additionally, if tuned percussion instruments are utilized, alternative notation may need to be prepared in advance. Alternate notation is only necessary if students were unfamiliar with standard notations. I also question or critically think about methods of teaching, i.e., would I teach by rote and, if so, which aspects of the lesson lends itself to this method, or will I teach with visual aid or employ demonstrations, and at what point of the teaching-learning process would these be most advantageous to students grasping the concept being taught or the skills to be learned or developed. I would also consider classroom management, strategies for reducing students’ disruptive behaviours and students’ learning overall.
While the total eradication of all barriers to students’ learning is impossible, engaging in a reflective preparation process, as indicated above, helps to eliminate or reduce hindrances to students’ acquiring new musical material or new musical skills to be developed or improved.
- Question or think critically about your lesson as it is being taught.
Here, a reflective music teacher questions or thinks critically- on the spot, in ‘the thick of things’- about what is being taught and the intended outcome, sometimes having to assess, revise, and implement new approaches and activities immediately (Schön, 1983).
The process of developing and ‘fine tuning’, so as to improve the overall ‘sound quality’ of a classroom percussion ensemble, will involve discarding or altering rhythmic and melodic patterns. These changes are ordinarily made during actual rehearsals and via the process of questioning or thinking, and, indeed, listening critically ‘on the spot in the thick of things’ (Schön, 1987) as students practice and/or perform. Vignette 1 below demonstrates this by outlining an episode of implementing a classroom instrumental percussion ensemble, and vignette 2 also demonstrates by using a drum-kit lesson episode.
I worked with grade three students at a local elementary school on a classroom instrumental percussion ensemble. The ‘piece’ I chose for the foundation of the ensemble was ‘Blue Moon’ by Richard Rogers. The ensemble was slated to perform during a local children’s festival of the arts competition. Having taught different rhythmic and melodic accompaniment patterns by rote to various groups of students, and hearing the groups play together, there was the need to vary the parts to add ‘interest’ to the performance. This meant varying the use and intensity of various instruments, sound quality and volume. After many hours of listening, questioning or thinking critically during rehearsals, multi alterations to various parts of the ensemble were tried. The process of making changes ‘on the spot in the thick of things’ via questioning or critical thinking allowed me to get the overall ‘sound’ I desired. The ensemble played during the festival competition and received a first place award in that category of the competition (Vignette 1).
I taught a group of mixed age and ability students to play the drum-kit. They were taught basic two, three and four drumming patterns. I used the lecture demonstration method of teaching where I spoke about and demonstrated each pattern on the drum-kit. Students then took turns playing each pattern on the kit. All but one was able to play the patterns as demonstrated. As the students took their turns, I questioned or thought critically about possible reasons why that student was unable to play the patterns. I decided (on the spot in the thick of things, (Schön, 1987) to draw the required patterns on sheets of A4 paper and placed these on a music stand, so that the student could see what was required. To my amazement, he was able to play the required patterns when they were not only spoken of and demonstrated, but displayed visually (Vignette 2).
A word of caution: given the nature of the music classroom, it is not possible to question or think critically ‘on the spot in the thick of things’ about all aspects of the lesson being taught. In such situations, the immediate task at hand or the perceived ‘problem’ should be the main focus of questioning or critical thinking. Vignette 2 clearly displays this occurrence where one student’s inability to play the required patterns became the focus of questioning and critical thinking.
- Question or think critically about your lesson after it has been taught.
Post-lesson evaluation is an integral part of lesson development and not an addendum. Through regular evaluation, the teacher is better able to prepare work with students’ learning needs in mind and will be able to address individual problems when they arise (Ferris & Hedgcock, 1998).
While all teachers engage in some form of lesson evaluation, the music teacher who engages in this task in a reflective manner will not only question or think critically about all aspects of the taught lesson and how various aspects can be improved the next time it is taught, but also his or her role and involvement.
This process will includes questioning or critically thinking about the degree to which personal teaching philosophies and competence, beliefs and values, his or her own practice, including relationships with students, impacted the lesson, making use of what is learnt to also contribute and inform decision-making, planning, and future action.
As music educators, we can improve our practice by teaching music in a reflective manner. However, we should never miss the important fact that the reason we seek to improve practice is that doing so improves students’ learning.
Day, C. (1999). Researching teaching through reflective practice. In Loughran, J. (ed) Researching Teaching; Methodologies and practices for Understanding Pedagogy, London: Falmer press, (pp. 215-232).
Cole, A., L. (1997).Impediments to Reflective practice towards a new agenda forresearch on teaching. Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, 3 (1), 7- 27.
Farrell, T.S.C. (2001). Tailoring Reflection to Individual Needs: a TESOL case study. Journal of Education for Teaching, 27(1), 22-38.
Ferris, D. and Hedgcock, J.S. (1998). Teaching ESL Composition: Purpose, Process, and Practice. Mahwah, NJ.
Ghaye, T. & Ghaye, K. (1998) Teaching and Learning through critical reflective practice London: David Fulton Publishers.
Hatton, N., & Smith, D. (1995). Facilitating reflection: issues and research. Forum of Education, 50(1), 49-65.
Hyrkas, K. Tarkka, M. T. & llmonen, P.M. (2001) Teacher candidates’ reflective teaching and learning in a hospital setting- changing the pattern of ractical training: a challenge of growth into teacher-hood. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 33(4), 503-511
Minott, M.A. (2009). Reflection and reflective teaching: a case study of four seasoned Teachers in the Cayman Islands (Saarbrücken, Germany, VDM Verlag).
Schön, D., A. (1983). Reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books.
Schön, D., A. (1987). Educating the Reflective Practitioner USA: Jossey-Bass Inc.
Zeichner, K., M. & Liston, D., P. (editors) (1996). Reflective teaching-an introduction. Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum.
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