Of Transcribing and Analyzing: Methods for Evaluating One’s Own Teaching

A few weeks ago, I completed the second major assignment for MHST 537 (Teaching Music History): Substitute teach (or “guest lecture”) for another professor at NEC; videotape your teaching and analyze it. I had the good fortune to substitute for Larry Scripp; he had to travel out of town for the latter half of his MIE 501 (Intro to MIE), so I stepped in.

The agenda I set forth for my teaching was based on an assignment Larry wanted me to give to the class: to get his students familiarized with the CMIE NewsBlog, as readers and potential writers. I worked backwards from his assignment to plan what basic learning outcomes I hoped my students would achieve—an understanding for what makes NewsBlog writers’ postings different from the “rants” that are commonly associated with blogging; a rationale for organizing the kinds of ideas and documentation that get shared on the NewsBlog; and a sense of direction—where, beyond the NewsBlog or MIE program, does this kind of documentation and writing have use and purpose?

Where’s the Video Documentation?

Although I am not able to post my video of teaching here, due to length and filesize, any readers of the NewsBlog who are interested should read the transcription file (posted as a PDF here). In fact, anyone who reads the transcription file will notice that parts of it are highlighted and color-coded; this is a technique for analysis that we encourage MIE students to undertake.

Transcribing, Coding, and Analysis

The process I have engaged myself in—of videotaping my teaching, watching it, transcribing it, coding it for objectivity, and finally analyzing and reflecting on it is one that I have observed as being useful for emerging and experienced teachers alike. It is a method that we showcased and published in the Journal for Music-In-Education (Scripp, Keppel, Wong, eds.), and that we encourage throughout the MIE department. Its value lies in the fact that words do not lie, and it is often easier to quickly see the ‘big picture’ when scanning transcripts than from sitting and watching a videotape. The benefits of watching the videotape, and doing one’s own transcription from that tape, are obvious: Body language, tone of voice, eye contact, movement, and other physicalities of teaching are easily recognizable. From watching my own tape, I was surprised to learn that my teaching voice was not as loud or enunciable as I thought it had been. I suppose that is something to continue to work on. I didn’t do an ‘exact word’ transcript here, but what I learned from the tape is that there were multiple times that I had to re-phrase questions, transitions, and other verbiage. I already knew from past experiences that off-the-cuff presentation is not my strong suit; the introductory Ten-Minute Presentation we did at the beginning of Teaching Music History is testament to that (I scripted that presentation and practically read it). Because of the limited amount of time I had to prepare this teaching session, scripting nor rehearsing were barely possible, but I did have to time to make a short Powerpoint presentation that I used as an outline of sorts.

Connection to MHST 537 course

Although the class session I taught is not a Music History course, I believe that many of the same principles that we have been studying in Anne Hallmark’s MHST 537 Teaching Music History course still apply. The past several weeks have seen discussions in class based on readings that articulate how college classrooms are run; the pitfalls and mistakes of ‘wet behind the ears’ teachers; ways to engage students in discussion; and organizational tips for lecturers, among other things. These readings are balanced with seminar-style class sessions moderated by Hallmark, which in and of themselves serve as models for successful teaching in a graduate setting.

As is evident in my coded transcription, I tried to incorporate some of the techniques that Hallmark and others are suggesting as worthwhile ways to engage students in discussion and classroom learning. Granted, there was less discussion than I would have liked, and the majority of communication was responsorial, but I think a good effort was made.

The teaching session was also an opportunity for me to go into a situation not as well rehearsed or prepared as I usually would be. There is, as Warren Senders or Larry might say, a certain amount of improvisation that that is a part of any teaching experience, and that a seasoned teacher would need to be comfortable with; things hardly ever go ‘as planned.’

Finally, I did make it to the end-point Larry projected for me: A MIE NewsBlog blogging assignment that students would need to complete, and connect, to the knowledge they’ve so far acquired on documentation, for inclusion in their process portfolios.

Download PDF:

Blog Technology in Educational Settings

Concentrate on a particular area of technology that interests you, and be prepared to explain to your colleagues its current state of development; where it might be in five years; and the pros and cons of its usefulness in the classroom.

—Assignment for this week’s Teaching Music History course (MHST 537), taught by Anne Hallmark

One specific adaptation of technology that interests me is the use of “blogs” as a means for after-class discussion and discourse. Blogging shares many benefits with similar technologies (such as online bulletin boards, forums, email), in that its asynchronous format allows discussants to log on at their leisure; carefully think about what they want to share, and respond in thoughtful ways. A blogging website can offer users several types of opportunities, like: reading or viewing class events passively; re-articulating what happened in class (such as, from the student’s personal perspective) by writing a “post”; and/or commenting on others’ perspectives by leaving comments at the bottom of each post. As with other Internet technologies, online blogging websites usually allow the inclusion of hyperlinked articles, multimedia (videos, audio, pictures, slideshows), rich text (bold, underline, bullets, other formats), and also function as archives. Many blogging websites (such as Blogger, Xanga, MySpace Blog, BlogSpot) already exist, and most offer free general-use blogs that include some kind of technical support for inexperienced users. For a higher level of customization, “open-source” (non proprietary) software like WordPress (which this blog is run on) or Movable Type are also popular, though these often require a more sophisticated sense of technical expertise. 

The major hurdle that I’ve observed is not with the blogging technology itself, but rather it’s use and how it is supported by the instructor, and included in the classroom: A class with access to a blog is a very different story from a class whose members post regularly to the blog, and whose instructor actively moderates the students’ posts and comments. Also, the kind and style of writing that is posted to the blog will make a significant difference in the level of engagement students have with the blog:

  • What will draw them into reading the blog? 
  • What type of discourse is the instructor hoping to achieve via the blog? 
  • To what extent will the blog be able to help students make connections beyond what is discussed in class? 
  • How can learning on the blog make the jump, back to classroom learning?

It’s my inclination that these types of issues and ideas will be with us in 5 years, 10 years, even 50 years—that it’s not the technology that poses questions like this, but the ways that educators structure and vet their own teaching processes, when working with and engaging students of multiple, or varied, learning styles. 

As parts of my professional roles (Information Architect for the Music-In-Education National Consortium, and Program Coordinator for the  MIE Concentration here at NEC), I have spent the last few years researching and developing educational communities that support blog technology. The CMIE NewsBlog (http://centerformie.org/blog) is one example of my work. It is contributed to, on a weekly basis, by a selection of students from currently-running MIE courses and Guided Internships. These students are designated as “Documentation Specialists“—they each are charged with the responsibility of collecting evidence and examples of classroom teaching/learning n their respective MIE classes or internships, and reporting/sharing/articulating what’s going on in those classes. I have designed a number of post types that students can use as springboards for writing. I also regularly meet with students to mentor them on what kinds of documentation they should collect, and how that documentation can be used in a portfolio or NewsBlog post. We try to steer our writers so that they have an uninformed audience in mind; the premise is that a thoughtfully-written NewsBlog post can also be used in a teaching portfolio, or as the basis for academic writing of some kind. Finally, each MIE instructor incorporates the NewsBlog into his classroom in  a course-appropriate way: the MIE Intro class, for example, uses the NewsBlog as practice for students learning to collect and reflect on documentation. As MIE Program Coordinator, I use the NewsBlog to show a birds-eye view of how each part of the department works in relation to the whole. 

The readership of the CMIE NewsBlog is large and varied: Not only do the Documentation Specialists’ classmates read the NewsBlog; but also MIE faculty, students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, members of the MIE National Consortium, and the general public. NewsBlog posts are moderated by myself and other MIE faculty members, and posters often receive extraordinarily deep feedback on their writing. In fact, since the NewsBlog begun, the MIE Department has seen a marked increase in the quality and maturity of written portfolio work. I am sure that this is not unrelated. 

As long as the teacher is supportive, aware, and comfortable with the use of blogging websites, the inclusion of blog technology is generally un-intrusive and can be a welcome complement to synchronous classroom discussion. I welcome my colleagues to visit the CMIE NewsBlog, read and comment on our students’ work, and contact me should they have any questions or suggestions on its use.

-Randy Wong

The “Model Minority” and Some Implications for Teaching

Two weeks ago, we were given an assignment for MHST 537 (Teaching Music History) class: Find a reading outside the syllabus that is connected to prejudice in the classroom, and introduce that reading to the class.

The reading I chose—Strangers From A Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (Ronald Takaki)—is one that was part of the syllabus for a course (“Asian Americans and Education”) I took while at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. That course, the reason I took it, and what I got out of it are posts for perhaps another time. I remembered this Takaki reading because of one particular section titled “The Myth of the ‘Model Minority'” that resonated with post-grad school experiences I’d had. Takaki writes:

Today Asian Americans are celebrated as America’s “model minority.” In 1986, NBC Nightly News and the McNeil/Lehrer Report aired special news segments on Asian Americans and their success, and a year later, CBS’s 60 Minutes presented a glowing report on their stunning achievements in the academy. “Why are Asian Americans doing so exceptionally well in school?” Mike Wallace asked, and quickly added, “They must be doing something right. Let’s bottle it.

[A] Pattern of Asian absence from the higher levels of administration is characterized as “a glass ceiling”—a barrier through which top management positions can only be seen, but not reached, by Asian Americans. . . . Asian Americans complain that they are often stereotyped as passive and told they lack the aggressiveness required in administration. . . . Asian American ‘success’ has emerged as the new stereotype for this ethnic minority. While this image has led many teachers and employers to view Asians as intelligent and hardworking and has opened some opportunities, it has also been harmful. (Takaki, 474-477).

I grew up in a society predominantly Asian and Polynesian, so I was largely insulated from the “model minority” views that Takaki relays. However, while studying for an additional degree beyond my Harvard one, I did encounter some of the reverse racism that Takaki might suggest would come about as a result: That because Asian Americans are perceived as success stories, it becomes acceptable by others to taunt, berate, and bring up Asian ethnicity as a means of “leveling the playing field” for those of other racial or ethnic backgrounds.

Here are a few short anecdotes that I feel relay my experiences:

  • At one point, when I was taking a historical survey course (and was doing rather well in it, because of a lot of effort I’d put into studying the material), the instructor insinuated that my success was ethnically based rather than on my skill set.
  • Another teacher commonly made analogies that somehow connected musical scores with Chinese menus and Oriental massage.
  • I also had new acquaintances remark, “You’re the first Asian friend I’ve had—the others are so nerdy” and “Why are you damn Asians so good at everything?”

Though I wanted to take those experiences and remarks in good faith, I found it increasingly difficult to tolerate and stomach them. While the easiest way to interpret some of these experiences may be as harassment (racial and sexual), I see them as being related to the “Model Minority” syndrome. At no time during these occurrences did I observe members of other minorities or ethnic/racial groups receive similar treatment.

Significantly, Asian-American “success” has been accompanied by the rise of a new wave of anti-Asian sentiment. On college campuses, racial slurs have surfaced in conversations on the quad: ‘Look out forthe Asian Invasion.’ ‘M.I.T. means made in Taiwan.’ ‘U.C.L.A. stands for University of Caucasians Living Among Asians’. ‘Stop the Chinese before they flunk you out.’ (Takaki, 479).

Implications for Classroom Teaching

Clearly, one lesson that I can draw from reflecting on my own experiences is that teachers must strive to be pro-active and conscientious individuals who value objectivity equal to their own interpretation and analysis. Another is that we must always consider what misunderstandings could result from the ambiguities of language and metaphor. I would also argue that organizing coursework and work products in a way that students’ learning processes are most evident can help to counteract any perceived obstacles for students that will come from a variety of cultural, ethnic, racial backgrounds.

Video, Reflection & Analysis: “Exoticism of Taboo” (Mini-Lecture Assignment for Teaching Music History)

NewsBlog Editor’s Note: This post is the first (of hopefully more) to share documentation from the Fall 2008 semester of Anne Hallmark’s Teaching Music History course, a MIE cross-listed course. The assignment given was for students to present a ten-minute straight lecture on a piece of their choice, then watch the videotape of their presentation and write a reflection/analysis following the viewing of their tape. This report comes from CMIE Program Coordinator Randy Wong.

Hello, CMIE NewsBlog readers! This semester I am taking Anne Hallmark’s “Teaching Music History course” and will be acting as one of its Documentation Specialists—that is, posting my class experiences to the CMIE NewsBlog so that others in the MIE community can get a bird’s eye view of the course, and articulating my work in a public forum with the hope of receiving constructive feedback, etc. Expect to read some more blog posts from me over this semester. I will also make a MIE portfolio for the course as an example of what a MIE portfolio would look like for a cross-listed course. I look forward to your comments and feedback!

The Assignment

In our first class, Dr. Hallmark announced that we’d each have to give a short lecture on the piece of our choice. I think she made this assignment as a ‘diagnostic’, of sorts, so that we could each figure out what we already bring to the table and set some goals for the semester. Our assignment had three parts, and this post is a partial extrapolation of the second part. (I wrote a more fleshed-out analysis that you can download here). Here’s the assignment:

  1. Give a short lecture to the class on a topic/piece of choice (and videotape that lecture). 
  2. Watch the videotape and write a reflection/analysis paper based on your reactions to the video. 
  3. Meet with the instructor for further discussion of your reactions and to set goals for the semester.

The presentation requirements, as I understood them, were open-ended: Choose a piece to introduce to your classmates. Use a ‘straight lecture’ format. Use of Powerpoint presentations, hand-outs, audio or video recordings, etc. would be allowed; the only real requirement would be that each presentation must fall strictly within ten minutes. Following each presentation, the floor would be opened for questions or comments from the audience (our classmates). Comments from the audience could pertain either to the lecture style and presentation attributes, or to the content itself.

Pre-Viewing Reflection on Lecture Success

As it is for many, pre-presentation anxiety is one of my faults. I think my biggest worry is getting up to present and either forgetting what I want to say, or trying to say it but not being articulate enough and thus getting a lot of blank stares. Ancillary worries are: rambling (in which main points and others get tangled, and so the audience doesn’t know what the presentation’s ‘take-aways’ are) and running out of time and having to leave off main or important points. Thus, I scripted my lecture… but at the risk of reading my presentation instead of actually presenting it. I know the audience caught on to this pretty quickly, but I might not know until viewing the tape what reactions they each made, and how that affected the overall quality of my presentation.

The Video of My Lecture

Post-Viewing: Analysis of Videotape & Goals for the Semester

The same thoughts I had post-presentation (pre-viewing) applied when I watched the tape. Although the tape does not show the audience while I was presenting, my guess is that if it did, there would be body language from the audience that shows them being ‘turned off’ by my reading from the script vs. me presenting in an organic way.

The videotape also reveals how my body language plays into the way I suspect my audience interprets the tone and formality of my lecture. For much of the video, I am leaning on my hands, slanted diagonally towards the lectern/computer, and the eye contact I make is in short spurts—not for long periods, neither with audience members nor with the projected slides. This coupled with my script reading was surely a turn-off and disengaged my audience.

My main goal for this semester is to feel comfortable giving lectures, short and long, without the crutch of a script or extensive notes. I have long felt comfortable internalizing subject matter and leading discussions on it and buttressing these conversations with audio-visual material. But giving straight lectures is a different animal, and it’s a skill I must master if I continue public speaking in any context.

James Wilkinson, author of the “Varieties of Teaching” essay in The Art and Craft of Teaching (Margaret Gullette, Editor), refers to the varying skills a successful teacher needs:

A good lecturer may experience problems leading a successful discussion; the discussion leader skilled in asking questions may feel ill at ease when conducting a monologue from the lecture podium. But it should be a teacher’s goal to master the full scale of teaching styles, and to know the strengths and drawbacks of each (Gullette, 1984).

This straight-lecture format was definitely good practice for me, because as much as the topic and content is put front and center, so are my methods of organizing and presenting that material. I suppose another crutch I have is to put the student at the center of the conversation; after all, there is a huge push for education these days to be learner-centric rather than topic-centric, and my own philosophy and background in education is from that standpoint (learner-centric) as well. So, this was all a good exercise.

Further Thoughts

As an aside, I think that this course (like other education-focused courses at New England Conservatory) is an important parallel to the school’s performance-based curriculum; particularly because it encourages budding teachers to freely and openly explore and develop each’s own personal teaching style. So often teachers-to-be (also known as pre-professional teachers) are thrown into classrooms with little preparation or minimal chance to practice teaching.

While at NEC, I spent many hours practicing pieces in small motifs, and then slowly linking those motifs together to create longer phrases. Those phrases then had to be linked to each other, and so any transition that occurred between phrases would have to be carefully planned and executed, in accordance with accompanying parts, harmonic structure, rhythm, and form. In other words, it would all have to make sense. I have since come to understand the art of presenting and teaching to be no different. As is stated by Wilkinson, part of the trickiness of lecturing is in the way that one must analyze the subject matter and present it in a logical, flowing, way:

How to argue a point and not simply present data; how to link arguments in a logical chain; how to sum up with a sure sense of what is essential and what is merely extrinsic to your case are skills that require coaching and practice. Students need to be helped to present their ideas with grace and to strive for the control, confidence, and economy of means that help make what Alfred North Whitehead once termed a “sense of style.” (Ibid.)

I have already spent many nights working on this from the standpoint of the written word, and have slowly begun spinning this experience out, into other forms of teaching that I am comfortable with: double bass & music reading lessons; ensemble coaching; and informal lecturing on Exotica music and the Hawaiian culture. However, what I need more practice with is working in more formal venues, with a larger and/or mixed audience, and in extended time periods. Thus, I am excited to conduct the 50-minute classes that are part of the assignments for this course, and hope to further develop the “sense of style” that Wilkinson, Whitehead, and others often refer to as being a crucial characteristic of effective teaching (Ibid).

Read my Reflection & Analysis Paper (PDF)

Work Cited

Wilkinson, J. (1984). Varieties of Teaching. In M. Gullette (Ed.), The Art and Craft of Teaching (p. 4). Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.

Powerpoint Slides (click to enlarge)