I agree that some of the Virginia standards are questionable. However, the state regularly examines its standards, and they are changed periodically.

I'm going to paste here my general philosophy of music education for anyone here to examine and respond to. I have to have it polished as part of a professional portfolio (a huge undertaking to be completed by July 24th). I offer this philosophy in hopes that any of you may react to problems with it that you identify. No thin skin here. I've given a lot of thought to the writing of it as the introduction to the portfolio, but it is a starting place. And I do welcome reaction. Here it is:

Philosophy of Teaching

Theresa Ranson
June 9, 2002

Education begins from the time an infant socially interacts with parents, relatives, and

friends to the end of conscious life. Formal education builds upon the sensibility each child has

developed during these social interactions. Students come into the classroom expectant, nervous,

sometimes belligerant, but each having the shared hope that the place into which he enters will

provide something new of interest, something reassuring of safety, and somewhere conducive to

friendship. It is in the control of the teacher to provide an environment that is physically rich in

ambience, one that speaks to each of the senses, and one that is original, pleasant, and

comfortable. The physical environment of the classroom requires careful planning by the teacher in

order for materials to be easily available, for visual aids to be well in view for each student, for

students with special needs to receive consideration, and for the execution of speedy room

rearrangement to be possible when needed.

Perhaps most important in the creation of an environment that students welcome is the

teacher's design of situations in which students may interact in cooperative learning groups.

Vygotsky (Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society. The development of higher psychological

processes), in his brief but brilliant career, documented studies in the early twentieth century in

which students learned from each other in a process he called scaffolding, a process that moved

beyond the traditional lecture format. I believe that the essence of his work, the scaffolding of

knowledge shared among learners, has developed into current studies in the advantages of

cooperative learning groups. When cooperative learning activities are developed with attention to

group cohesiveness, to authentic learning outcomes, and to levels of challenge that are interesting

yet achievable, students learn more. These activities require a great deal of preplanning by the

teacher, but student involvement is generated and learning becomes more widespread for all class


My own field is elementary music education. The Virginia State Department of Education

dictates music standards of learning to be taught at each of the elementary grade levels. Broadly

included in the standards are singing, dancing, playing of instruments, and reading of notation.

These standards provide the framework upon which I build my educational goals. I believe musical

performance of student work is the best possible motivator for student attainment of displaying the

standards in action, and I provide numerous opportunities for my students to sing, dance, drum, and

play recorders to a variety of audiences.

The best single method of documenting student achievement I have come across is use of

the videotaped performance, both as a means for students to examine and evaluate their own work

and as a way for them to critique and learn from past student performances. I have witnessed

sometimes stunning growth in my students' performances that I credit entirely to their analysis of

past performances, their setting of their own performance goals to equal or surpass past student

achievements, and their desire to receive praise from their audiences.

Students respond well when teachers make connections between units of study and the

world that exists beyond the school yard. In music, these connections are easier to make when the

music comes out of the student's contemporary culture. However, it is by far more difficult when

music is foreign to the student's experience. It is part of my responsibility to help students find

bridges between the music of the past and their own experience. In kindergarten, for instance,

students listen to Chopin's two piano concertos. My task is to help learners make the bridge

between Chopin's world of Romanticism and the sensitive one of their own limited experience.

However, these young children are very much in tune with their feelings and can readily identify a

variety of feelings and situations that have aroused them. The bridge is the heart and its language,

Chopin's music illustrating deep emotions typical of the Romantic period as one side of the bridge,

and the child's own experience of emotions forming the other. Teachers do well to take subjects

immediately out of the classroom into the living world and into the world of the past in order to help

students flesh out subjects and to make them real.

Although I offer a wide range of listening experiences to my students, I place most

emphasis upon student performance itself. I believe students learn most by doing, particularly

students who have problems in processing information strictly by reading and listening. I also

believe students learn most by duplicating actual performance habits of professional musicians.

Any technique I either read about or witness in the performances of professional musicans that may

be practiced in the classroom, my students will emulate. Again, this strategy builds the connection

between the classroom and the outside world. The two worlds become unified.

My mission is to develop and enhance my students' musical skills and abilities, based in

the state standards for each level, but, more important, to increase their awareness that music and

the lives of musicians are part of the fabric of our world's way of widening and deepening

communication of the mind, the heart, and the soul through an often complex, but always emotional

aural medium. The ways in which these children learn to communicate the message of the song, of

the drumming routine, of the dance, of the performance of a recorder melody to their audiences

parallel the methods of professional musicians. The beams and braces students place in the

scaffolding of what is communicated from individual, ensemble, or chorus to audience and from

musician to musician become part of the structure students will inculcate in many, if not most, of

their future musical communications inside and outside of the classroom. We hear, we think, we

feel, we perform, we hear performances, but, finally, we are connected to each other through the

mystical workings of music, the universal language and one of the ultimate emotional bridges

in communications among people.