Thursday, September 20, 2012

Credo in Musica pt. 4

How will I respect and promote diversity while creating instructional opportunities that meet the needs of students from diverse cultural backgrounds and those with exceptionalities?

Music has been called a universal language, and for good reason. Persons in all times and all places have some kind of musical culture with which they express their beliefs and their unique way of life. All of my students come to my class bringing with them their own unique cultures, and to arrive at the universality of beauty in music, I must pass through the subjective worldview and understanding of my students. This does not mean that I wish to change or ignore the differences in my students; on the contrary, each unique individual brings a new means of understanding and creating music, like each facet on a diamond catching and reflecting the light. I truly desire to have an incredibly diverse classroom, for the benefit of every student in the class and for my own enlightenment and continual growth.
I hope to encourage diversity in the student body and also in the materials they learn. One criticism of classical music is its focus on the Western Classical tradition to the point of almost total exclusion of all other musical heritages. I wish to expand my course in a little more breadth in order to understand how musical cultures from around the world have developed and how the shaping of music history has shaped human culture. I hope also that a more universal approach to music will encourage students to be proud of their own unique heritages and embrace music as a means to celebrate diversity in communion with others. Music has the wonderful ability to facilitate individual growth and diversity while moving towards a common goal. Music is its own aim, and students from all backgrounds and all methods of thought can subvert their individual differences and disagreements in order to create beauty together.
Having grown up in a very culturally inclusive environment in the Twin Cities, I am rather knowledgeable with regards to students of other cultures and ethnicities. In my work at Minnesota Masonic Homes, I was an ethnic minority among a Kenyan, Somalian, Taiwanese and Hmong Majority. The experience of being an ethnic minority helped me learn how to work and form friendships with people of vastly different backgrounds. Before my studies at Benedictine my experience with students of low socioeconomic status and exceptionalities was limited, but it was not absent from my life entirely. I know firsthand the complexities that take place in teaching children with Aspergers Syndrome and Downs Syndrome and I learned what it meant to really care sacrificially for people as I cared for those experiencing the difficulties of Alzheimer’s. I have learned to love and genuinely appreciate persons I know with severe Dyslexia and make accommodations for them in my daily life. My classes at Benedictine have also given me much preparatory knowledge of how to teach through exceptionalities and taught me to embrace them with enthusiasm. I still have much to learn, but I am fully confident that, whatever a student’s exceptionality, they can excel in my music classroom with ease. Socioeconomic considerations are the furthest from my area of expertise, but given the knowledge I have gained at Benedictine and in the Atchison community, I see no reason why students cannot succeed in my music classes based on socioeconomic status. Indeed, I fully expect students from all over the wealth spectrum to exceed in my classroom, regardless of their parent’s income or other factors. If students needs extra lessons and can’t afford them, I can always work out a special arrangement that caters to their needs.
To insure that my assessments and my interactions with students are free of bias, I must first understand the students as well as I possibly can. I must have good relationships with my students in order to understand where they come from, where they wish to go, and how I might help them to get there. Constant and honest self-reflection will also aid me in determining if I have been biased in the attention paid to certain students, or not devoting enough time to those who need my help, and lesson planning will help me to structure my teaching strategies so that I am taking the needs of all students into account.
For example, when I break my students up into groups, I need to take the unique qualities of my students into account. In the general music curriculum, or in classes with an academic focus such as music history or theory, I must be sure to group students in ways that account for each other’s weaknesses and strengths. Since group work in performing ensembles is determined by section or instrument, ability grouping is not really an option. I do intend to assign members of different sections into small groups for rehearsal purposes which will be planned according to how many students I have in the various sections, which I will also augment with a mixture of ability and achievement
All of my learning activities should be structured in such a way that I can meet student needs, but I should also be ready to meet student interests and let them make their own choices. In the general music class all of my students will have to learn to play all of the instruments we use in class, but after they have proved proficient on each instrument, then they can choose an instrument to major in for the rest of the semester. In music history students can choose a topic to write an essay about, in theory they will write their own compositions and performing ensembles choose their own instruments. Improvisation is also a beautiful and instructive method for students to both learn and express their unique understanding of music, a method I wish to stress in my classroom.
Music adapts itself very well to diversity, and thus I tend to see diversity as a great advantage in the classroom. The only real difficulties I could see in having great diversity in my classroom is the incredibly rare case of a child with true amusia or an extreme spectrum of musical aptitude. Culture, language, mental and physical disabilities pose challenges but all of those can be easily overcome in the music classroom. Should I require that my students attend musical concerts and write reviews of the concert, students in low SES situations can attend some of the multitudinous musical venues that are free, students with dyslexia or blindness may aurally dictate their review to me, and any other accommodations a student may need can still fulfill the requirements for the assignment. I feel well prepared to help all of my students succeed, no matter their exceptionalities or unique capabilities.
I must not, however, think that because I consider myself knowledgeable I can stop learning how better to adapt my teaching strategy. I am personally fascinated by different cultures and I am always looking to understand more about cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. It only makes sense that the more I know and understand about different cultures, socioeconomic statuses and exceptionalities, the better I can connect with my students and present the information I am teaching in a more effective manner.

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