My goal is not to steer students toward or away from a career in the arts, but to help them experience how music and other arts are important tools for learning about how they relate to the world, other people, and themselves (in ways that academic subjects might not cover). I want students to feel that they can participate in any music making on some level, whether someone invites them to read through string quartets, sing karaoke, improvise on a familiar tune, jam on a new tune, or create something on the spot. This process of creating and working together starts right at the beginning.
I draw upon Orff, Kodaly, and Gordon pedagogies for teaching basic musicianship skills. All three also strongly emphasize composing and improvising as ways to both explore and synthesize skills and concepts. Lucy Green's work on how musicians teach themselves has pushed me to give my students more time for self-structured learning and collaborative work. The Right Question Institute's method for exploring ideas has yielded great results for learning about music history and style. By coming up with salient, probing questions on their own, they end up both learning about the general information (e.g. Baroque Music) and specific issues that mean something to them.
One of the great things about teaching music is that it has a built-in feedback system: you can hear quite directly what your students have learned. By using various modes of performance and creation — rehearsing, sight-reading, composing, and improvising — I can constantly monitor my students' progress and adjust the pacing and presentation of the material accordingly. Much of my assessment is formative: students perform in class and I, their peers, and they themselves can give immediate feedback and plan a course of action. For compositions and papers, I require drafts. Creation is a process, not a one-shot deal that you either get or you don't. Students need to expect to revise, just as they do in practicing. There are some aspects of music where it is simply helpful to have the information memorized, such as scales; we practice together in class and I give recurring tests, so that students have a chance to simply get it right. External curricula, such as the IGCSE, use exams as their main assessment; I provide several small mock exams, so that students have practice and understand what the external moderators will be evaluating.
Making music requires taking action, taking responsibility, and personal challenge in the preparation for the performance. Through music we can discover the full extent of our humanity. If in other academic subjects we discover what relationships exist in the world, in music we learn how to make them happen. The values that schools seek to instill in their students — realizing one's potential, exploring cultures, engaging in independent, divergent thinking, promoting dialogue — are the kinds of things that musicians do as a matter of course. We experience the values of other people as we learn music of other cultures. We have a responsibility to perform this music to the best of our ability, not just to show respect for the composer or for each other in the ensemble, but for the audience who are taking part in this exploration of values.