Student-selected online woodwind pedagogy articles

December 19, 2015

In the past I have had my woodwind methods classes make woodwind pedagogy notebooks. The idea is to have them explore some available pedagogical resources, and assemble them into a resource they can use for reference in their future teaching. But that assignment is starting to feel a little weird, especially since I have been trying to go increasingly paperless in my own life, and because it has been increasingly difficult to persuade my digitally-oriented students to go to the actual library and look at actual books.

To be clear, I’m a lover of libraries, and for me there’s no question that there are tremendously valuable resources there that are not available online (yet?). But it seemed like time to experiment with embracing an online approach to the assignment. So during the past semester I had them each locate some online articles they thought might be useful. Then they used a discussion board to collaborate on vetting the articles for usefulness and author credentials, and to compare their content against the concepts we covered in class.

I’m going to provide here a heavily-edited report of their results with my own commentary. Some articles were proposed but were rejected by classmates as less useful or credible, and I don’t see any need to list those. Also, I wanted my students to go through the process of vetting online information, but I didn’t entirely agree with their conclusions, so I’m omitting some that I personally think are problematic. (If you’re wondering, my own blog posts were off-limits.)

photo, Knight Foundation
photo, Knight Foundation

Here are some of the articles my students voted to be worthy of inclusion in a digital notebook:

  • Clarinet Basics: Maintenance Habits, written by Julie DeRoche for The Woodwind and The Brasswind. This one was very highly regarded by the class, and I am inclined to agree with their assessment. My students liked the article’s thoroughness and day-to-day applicability. Two cautions with this article: firstly, I think it’s wise to be careful with (paid?) articles from websites that want to sell you things, but Ms. DeRoche’s credentials are above reproach and the information checks out. Secondly, the article does describe briefly the process of oiling a clarinet’s bore, though it does not strongly recommend this procedure. That is probably information best not given to beginners—at that stage it should be prescribed and carried out by a professional.
  • Reed Help for Beginners, written by Sarah Hamilton. This oboe-related article was another top pick by the class, who appreciated its down-to-earth advice, clearly-explained concepts, and helpful illustrations. I agree that this is a great resource, though some of the reed evaluation and adjustment procedures described might be beyond the scope of what a non-oboist band director can or should attempt.
  • Beginner Clarinet Tips, written by “Andrea.” This one is really more of a table of contents to some other articles on the site. My class liked the breadth of material covered and the extensive photos. I find the information to be very similar to much of the conventional wisdom regarding beginning clarinet playing, which mostly but not completely agrees with my preferred approaches.
  • The Big Switch, by Amanda King. My students found this advice on switching students to the bassoon to be useful. I am on record as disagreeing with the premise that beginners should start on some other instrument before switching to the one they want, but the article does raise some relevant points for cases where that is happening.
  • Teaching the Beginning Bassoonist, written by Terry Ewell for The Double Reed. I’m including this excellent article even though it really is geared toward private bassoon teachers rather than band directors; it’s a good example of solid information that would be mismatched to this particular audience. It’s also a good (and relatively harmless) demonstration of the importance of using up-to-date materials, as bassoon reeds now cost well over $6 USD.
  • Tips for Teaching Beginning Flute Players written originally for BandWorld Magazine by Randy Navarre. My students liked the article’s concision and clarity. I generally agree with the information presented.

I think some good things came out of the assignment, though I still feel like I sold out a little by excusing my students from visiting the library. I stayed fairly hands-off through the discussion process, and that did result in the students selecting some articles that weren’t really a fit for what I wanted them to learn. In the future I might consider being more involved with guiding the discussion. I’m also concerned that the final product—this blog post—isn’t as tangible as an actual notebook, and might not be as ready at hand, but hopefully they have developed some skills in evaluating information they find online.

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