The International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) Blog

Experiences in the Classroom: an Introduction

Posted in Jen_Baker, Teaching by iawmblog on January 7, 2010

Hi!  Thanks for reading my blog.  I’m really excited to be sharing my thoughts here because I feel that my experiences-both as educator and as performer- are unique and interesting.  I hope you will enjoy my posts.

I have taught music for nearly 17 years.  During this time, I have evolved enormously in my philosophy and outlook in terms of what a teacher is and does.  Prior to 2004, my teaching experiences were limited to private music lessons and chamber music/sectional coaching.  I had never had any interest in teaching classroom music, and had never even considered formal studies in music education.  (Blessed be, I’m a delusional trombonist.)

When I finally realized that I was interested in teaching, I brainstormed my ideal classroom setting and lessons.  These ideas came out of thinking over how to relate better to students so that whatever the age group, the whole person, not just the mental aspect, could participate and contribute to the class. I realized that I needed to have more information about how kids of all ages learn and what the various stages of learning look like.  I believe quite strongly that as teachers, we can better access the minds of our students when we have an understanding of each stage of development, starting as early as two years of age.  At that point most of my students had been high school or college-aged.  My goal then was to create a music class for young kids ages 4-12 that would allow their ideas to be an integral part of the curriculum and would nurture their spirits with compassionate teaching so they would feel free to be their authentic selves.  At the time I believed (accurately, as it turns out) that teaching younger kids would strengthen and enrich my development as a teacher so that when I returned to the high school and college-aged students with whom I had been familiar, I could reach them more easily and be a better teacher.

Here are a couple of the basic concepts that direct my activities.  I will expound further on each of them in upcoming blog posts.

A great way to send a message to a kid that their ideas are just as valid as the teacher’s is to sit in a circle.  I find that this seating arrangement feels better spiritually as well.  Everyone has eye contact with one another, and even though nothing in the circle indicates superiority of one person over another, the implicit understanding is that the teacher is the one in charge.  Besides, it’s not so easy to talk behind the teacher’s back or play with toys when everyone is equally exposed.

Hands-on Projects
Kids aren’t interested in learning theories alone.  They learn the theories by means of physical practice and by making mistakes.  I always include a major component of hands-on learning by using the body, musical instruments, or composition in class.  As much as as possible, I break the group into smaller groups or partners so learning (and making mistakes) can be less intimidating.


Jen Baker
Jen is a trombonist who specializes in new music and freelances in New York City.  She also teaches composition, improvisation, and homemade instrument making to children, and she’ll be blogging about experiences in the classroom.


4 Responses

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  1. Susan said, on January 7, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    It’s interesting that many of our best and perhaps most innovative ideas lead us back: to the ancient circle of elders when we put students and ourselves as teachers in a circle. Thanks, Jen, for reminding us of the basic wisdoms inherent in good teaching.

  2. Lisa S. Robinson said, on January 21, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    I teach piano privately and always ask my students what they think when they start a new piece and also how they rate their own performance after they’ve played something they’ve worked on. Most of the students who didn’t start studying with me are taken aback by my interest in their thoughts. AND one young woman actually admitted that she didn’t actually listen to what she was playing!

    • Hsiao-Lan said, on January 27, 2010 at 1:57 pm

      What a concept! I also ask my private piano students to rate their own performance. Sometimes I even ask them “what would you suggest to the student if you were the teacher?”

  3. […] respect for others and social awareness. As a couple of commenters alluded to in my previous post (Introduction), some kids are even thrown off at first by the possibility that they a have a say in what has […]

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