Writing for Psychology Today William Klemm tells us What All Teachers Should Learn from Jazz-Band Teachers. He writes that, “Our schools are broken. Here’s the fix.” After attending a high school jazz festival Klemm was astounded by the abilities of high school and middle school musicians’ abilities to not just play what was on the page, but also to improvise.
Hearing such wonderful music from children raised a nagging question. Why can’t kids master complicated science, math, language arts, or social studies? Why does everybody struggle so mightily to get kids to pass simple-minded government-mandated tests in academic subjects?
And then it hit me. Jazz-band teachers do the right things in teaching that other teachers need to learn how to do.
Klemm goes through what he thinks is so special about jazz education and comes down with a list of six qualities that jazz education revolves around: passion, personal ownership and accountability, constructivism, social interaction, high expectations, and reward.
The (biased) jazz band director in me wants to agree wholeheartedly with Klemm. After all, the above qualities are all things that I try to instill with my student bands, but not just the jazz ensembles but all music groups. In some ways I think Klemm makes improvisation out to be more mysterious and challenging than it really is.
Learning to playing any musical instrument is hard, but playing jazz is the ultimate challenge. In jazz you not only have to know the tunes, you have to use the chord structure and complex rhythms to compose on the fly.
Improvisation is often compared to learning to speak a language. Learning to participate in a class discussion on any topic requires the student to not only understand the materials, but also use the syntax and grammar of language to write on the fly. Imagine if subjects like history or literature were taught purely through rote learning and repeating (or reading) word for word from the textbook. Students “improvise” all the time in school, we’re just not used to thinking of it as such.
At any rate, Klemm concludes his article with Ten Commandments for Better Teaching.
1. Love your students as yourself.
2. Be professional. Know the stuff you teach.
3. Instill passion for the content – especially, make knowledge fun.
4. Make learning personal. Show students how to own their learning.
5. Take away the hiding places of unprepared and under-performing students. Let them embarass themselves.
6. Show students they have to earn self-esteem. You can’t give it to them. Praise success and do so publicly when it is earned.
7. Require students to do things that show they have mastered what you are trying to teach them.
8. Give students opportunities to “strut their stuff” in public, in and out of the class.
9. Help students learn how to work with others as a team.
10. Expect excellence. Do not teach to the lowest common denominator.