Sunday, January 11, 2009

Music History Group Work

The spring semester is finally upon me this week, and despite having coming down with a plague that has lasted a week (and counting), my syllabi (syllabuses/syllabantes) are finally coming into their final form. One challenge this semester is that each school I teach at prescribes a different textbook: Bonds at one, Burkholder at the other. Then to confuse things further, I am teaching one course that covers 1750 to the present, and then another that covers 1800 to the present. And the former is for non-majors, and the latter is for majors. We'll see if I can keep this all straight, or if by April I am in a hopeless mire accidentally teaching the mechanics of set theory to hapless non-majors who are expecting a lecture on Tchaikovsky. Cross your fingers.

I have a query though: one of my goals this semester is to incorporate more small group work. I have never done any before, largely because when I was an undergraduate I hated such things. Looking back, I think I hated it partly because I was shy, and it always involved awkward social dynamics. And I also hated it because if one was a good student (I wasn't always, but sometimes I was), one might be paired with a bunch of idiots. And that's unpleasant. Plus, a lot of group work feels like it is slightly condescending busywork, which drove me nuts.

That said, I'm trying to experiment on weaning myself from straight lecture-and-discussion teaching, and so I'm wondering if anybody out there has ideas. Have you incorporated group work in a way that was useful for you, and the students?

Thanks in advance!


Doug Gentry said...

Can't help on the music history side, but my approach with small groups in my principles of economics classes is to use the group to help members wrestle with a problem or think through an issue. They help each other and share the outside research work. Ultimately, though, students turn in an individual assignment (like a short paper.) So the group work becomes collaborative and hopefully helpful, but the grade is on the individual.

cpo said...

I'm actually going to my school's teaching development workshop tomorrow and Thursday so I can learn how to do this!

I like the idea of small group work: less prep for me, more learning for them. I'll let you know what I learn.

Also, I really liked teaching with the Burkholder. I'll use less of it next year, but it is a good text.

PMG said...

I'm really impressed with your school's teaching support, CPO!

I think I am going to start slow, and just have a day or two in the classroom where I have small groups tackle a problem--I'm thinking maybe Wagner and the Jews--but not have it be a for-credit assignment beyond their participation grade. I'm still a little unsure exactly of the logistics, of course.

cpo said...

I was a little disappointed in the presentation I went to, but we're actually having a conference on Team Based Learning later in the semester.

I am going to use TBL next year for some of my exams, but I'm not sure what I'll do this semester other than peer reviews.

ms. baby said...

how big are your classes? i have to admit, when i was lecturing a class of 70 last quarter, never once did i break them into small groups; but i use it almost every class meeting with my classes of 20.

PMG said...

Good point, ms. babe. My UD classes will be too big to effectively break out, and also take place in a theater-style lecture hall that would make it physically difficult to maneuver into groups during class time. At my other school, though, my two classes are each less than 25, and the seating is more flexible--another good reason to try and experiment with them.

CPO: too bad about the workshop. Oh well!