The Evolving Educator

Adaptation in a modern teacher

Category: Change Agent

TikTok in The Times

Although I’ve been trying to get out of the relentless cycle of  so-called “breaking news” this fall, I was perusing the NY Times this weekend and saw an article that caught my eye: High Schools to TikTok: We’re Catching Feelings by Taylor Lorenz. The article describes how students at high schools are finding unique ways of creating community using the TikTok platform. Although I’d heard the name before, the article explained that TikTok is a social media app for making and sharing short, often comical videos. The app is surging in popularity, having been downloaded 1.4 billion times to date.

The article talks about how, across the US, students are forming TikTok clubs where they meet to share videos and create their own content, be it songs, skits, dances, etc. I see this as a very interesting and laudable application of the software. Although my current life doesn’t afford me too much time for social media and games, I fondly recall how my years as an adolescent were enhanced by interactions in cyberspace. I spent many evening talking with friends on MSN Messenger. My amateur rap group had a MySpace. I remember the earliest days of Reddit. It seems that these TikTok clubs blend the best of both worlds: giving students a social space to meet and create with peers as well as a digital space to share their creations broadly. I believe that adolescents have enormous potential when they are given agency and are capable of creating things that are very powerful and, often, hilarious. An adviser from West Orange high praised the app for bringing students from diverse backgrounds together, saying: “You see a lot more teamwork and camaraderie and less – I don’t want to say bullying – but focus on individuals.”

I was reflecting on how the EdTech class has been operating on my biases. Prior to this class, I would say that I had a fairly negative perception of the amount of time and energy young people appeared to be spending on tech. Like many teacher candidates, I held a nostalgia for the simple, ‘authentic’ and un-networked past. However, through the resources, speakers and my own investigation, I am starting to change my perspective. I am beginning to understand that it is patronizing to expect students to share my values about tech and their lives. If I doubt the value of the connections they may be making through digital tools, I am minimizing them and their experience. Adolescents are people and, therefore, deserving of their autonomy and self-determination. I would never chastise the social media habits of another member of my PDPP cohort. So, what makes it appropriate to criticize young adults?

So, that’s my $0.02 on my changing perspectives. I am going to continue to interrogate my biases regarding technology and education. Heck, maybe I’ll download TikTok and try it…

A Social Model of Piano Pedagogy

This June, I was fortunate to be hired as the new piano instructor at the South Island Studio (SIS). The director of the studio, Lonny Koch, floated the idea during my interview that we could develop a Group Lesson program at SIS.

My initial reaction was confusion and a little bit of dread. Having always enjoyed 1:1 lessons with my teachers, the idea of a group piano lesson seemed to be a pedagogic and logistical mess. How could a teacher effectively instruct more than one student at a time? However, Lonny & I registered for a primer course by a piano instructor named Daniel Patterson which provided us with a basic model for group lessons. We worked through those materials & considered how we could modify the program to match my teaching style, experience and musical worldview. In the end, we developed a system for 3:1 lessons which I will describe in brief below.

In essence, the experience I am trying to address with the group lessons will be familiar to anyone who has taken 1:1 lessons with an expert: the experience of trying to realize a teacher’s suggestion as they watch. For instance, while I was taking lessons in jazz piano this summer, I found myself wishing I could enter into a private practice ‘bubble’ to work through a suggestion from my teacher. He might ask that I perform a passage in a certain way, or practice a lick in twelve keys. Having him watch over me created a sense of performance anxiety and doubt which clouded my thought and slowed my progress. This is what I am trying to address.

If you’re wondering about the format, refer to the diagram I’ve included below. Everyone has their own digital keyboard and is practising with headphones while I circulate to give feedback and guide your progress. Having a private sonic space to work in allows you to hone and develop your music at your own pace & without the anxiety of having a teacher hover over you. Furthermore, it builds self-sufficiency and sight-reading ability by encouraging you to develop your own inner-teacher. Throughout the lesson, we remove our headphones and come together to have discussions, learn new concepts and play aloud as an ensemble.

Schematic diagram of the proposed learning space.

Moving forward, I have four principle goals for the program:

1. To emphasize playing first and foremost. Teaching the hands more than the head, at least initially.
2. To create a supportive, social, fun environment in which to learn piano, collaborate and get excited about the instrument with other beginners.
3. To make it more accessible by charging a significantly lower hourly rate.
4. To build self-efficacy & teach students how to practice.

This section of my website, found under the Inquiry >> Group Piano Lessons Program tab, will document my experience of developing and implementing group piano lessons at SIS.

-S

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