I believe that learning is an ongoing process that consists of a complicated web of factors that are continually being reconfigured and transformed. Because of this, I see learning as a undertaking that implicates everyone participating in the class (learners, teachers, administrators) in the success of the group’s and individual's learning process. This philosophy requires a teacher to bring methods and values to the class that support the connectedness of all concerned parties.
Goals and Methods
As a teacher, I borrow heavily from inquiry-based learning, action learning, design-based learning, and project-based learning pedagogies. I value group exploration and the development of knowledge and skills. I aim to create an environment where the learners and instructor collaboratively explore concepts, materials, and processes in a way that is respectful of personal difference and ultimately leads to a shift in the “how” and “what” of knowledge. I believe that entering a collaborative process with the instructor and classmates fosters an intrinsic motivation among learners which becomes the foundation for their ability to engage meaningfully in their own education. These ideas have arisen from reflections on my own experience as a student and what I have discovered over my ten years of in-class teaching experience.
As a student, the lessons that caused the most profound transformations in my music making were the ones in which the teacher collaborated with the class to shape knowledge and skills, and demonstrated an investment in my personal development. Similarly, as a teacher, I have seen the impact of these values and approaches on the students that I have taught and on myself as an instructor. For students, this method fosters a personal connection (intrinsic motivation) to the ideas explored in the classroom. As a teacher, I have developed new understandings from collaborative education models. This have led to the continual reconfiguration of how I develop and deliver a class - a process that continually excites me and keeps me engaged with the subject and the students.
I believe that in a classroom where the teacher and students are invested in collaborative learning approaches, a learner can:
- build confidence and agency in developing knowledge
- collaborate in connecting skills, knowledge bases, concepts, and critical inquiry;
- make new discoveries
- challenge their assumptions
- make progress in their journey toward mastery of their discipline
- understand their own learning processes
- and reach their personal education goals
I regard these values as vital in a successful learner's journey. One illustrative example comes to mind from two years ago: during the summers, I design and deliver a free program for adolescent musicians called Decoder: Music Lab. The workshop is six days long and is divided into two sessions per day: one session involves playing and discussing the work of a diverse group or living Canadian composers, and the other session is a collaborative composition process that generates material that comprises a piece that is performed by participants and professional chamber musicians at a culminating recital. On the first day near the close of the morning session, we were exploring a piece of music that had a shifting relationship to the pulse and no fixed meter. A participant came to me and asked if she could share a song she liked with the class. She felt that the “Pyramid Song” by Radiohead explored some overlapping ideas with the material in which we were engaged. This led to a productive group discussion that connected with the ideas we were exploring and produced more listening suggestions from other participants. As this was such a positive exercise, it became a staple task for the week that served to help organize our thoughts and connect the ideas we explored together to our personal relationships with music. As a result, I felt that the participants went from being shy strangers to being open and invested participants in the process.
In moments such as this one, an effective teacher must enter with a clear set of pedagogical values. As an educator, my objective is to:
- be prepared
- have respect, and empathy for each learner
- take a personal stake in the learner’s education
- understand and respond to the needs of the learners in the context of the curriculum/ education environment
- provide clear, comprehensive, and timely formal and informal assessments
- organize the physical classroom and classroom resources in a way that properly facilitates the activities of the class
- reflect on and reevaluate my methods/activities/resources and their effectiveness while remaining open to trying new approaches
- keep up to date with current developments in pedagogy and my discipline.
These are all values that I feel are essential to a successful learning environment. An example that illustrates how my values impacted a student’s success comes from my time as a Master’s student. In my final year, I was able to fashion an independent studies program whereby I not only wrote three piece for the York University New Music Ensemble, but also assisted the ensemble director in the development and delivery of the course. By dividing the ensemble into a junior and senior section, we were able to focus our efforts on one section each. With the junior section, I was able to introduce difficult material that while ambitious for the ensemble, ultimately resulted in a successful performance of the works. The values and approaches outlined in the sections above were a key component of that success, as evident in this email to the course director from a student:
“I just wanted to send you a quick email saying what an asset it was having Jason lead our group this year. I got great marks on my recordings this year and it was definitely due to the effort Jason put in with us in class. He made everyone feel good about their playing skills and boosted confidence. He was also very entertaining haha! Overall he always seemed to be able to tell which areas needed work and how to approach them. I'm not sure if he's coming back next year, but just in case you were wondering what people thought of the class, I enjoyed it and found Jason to be very helpful.”
My teaching philosophy, goals, methods, and values are necessarily interconnected, whereby each responds to and influences the others. Underlying all of this is a genuine interest in helping others, and a love learning - both of which are fundamental components of my life.