Teaching and Learing at Indiana University Bloomington
Teaching and Learing at Indiana University Bloomington
Teaching and Learning at IUB
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Gretchen Horlacher, Jacobs School of Music

CATs for music theory teachers: Classroom assessment techniques help instructors and students monitor learning

showcase photo

Associate Instructor training workshop
Curriculum development
Support provided by Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning


Instructional Goals

How do teachers, especially beginning teachers, know if a student is “getting it?” How do they know if a student is really understanding a concept, or if a student is simply copying down information by rote? The problem can be especially acute in teaching music theory, where teachers strive to describe actual heard music via prose and symbols.

As part of one of its training sessions for graduate student instructors (associate instructors or AIs), the music theory department in the Jacobs School of Music offered a workshop on Classroom Assessment Techniques (informally, CATs), classroom strategies that allow instructors to check student learning and permit students to monitor their own comprehension. See Thomas Angelo and K. Patricia Cross, Classroom Assessment Techniques A Handbook for College Teachers (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993) for more information.

Led by Associate Professor of Music Gretchen Horlacher, who had reviewed CATs strategies with Joan Middendorf of Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, workshop participants discussed how to incorporate into their drill sections questions that connect with a previous lecture. For example, at the start of a class one might ask students to respond anonymously on a small piece of paper to questions such as “what was the hardest thing about yesterday’s lecture?” or “why was yesterday’s lecture important?” The AIs also reviewed activities they could use during a class, such as making a list of ways in which a problem of a particular sort is solved or methods to check one’s work after finishing it.

The AIs then discussed what responses CATs may reveal, such as responses that are simply incorrect, responses that indicate only passive learning, but no clear application strategies (how to do something) and rote responses (answers that are accurate, but do not address why the information is relevant). As the final activity of the workshop, the AIs viewed short demonstrations of teaching by faculty, each of which covered very different kinds of music theory skills. The AIs were instructed to design some CATs they might incorporate into the demonstrations, and to indicate what kinds of responses they might hope to receive from these CATs.

An anonymous survey of the AIs indicated that they enjoyed the session for a couple of reasons. First, many of these kinds of activities could be incorporated into their teaching without making major changes to their teaching styles. The workshop also helped the AIs focus their teaching as much on method as on content. Most importantly, the CATs workshop gave the AIs concrete, measurable ways of finding out what their students were learning and where they could use more help.

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