In this two-part interview, Kathryn and Theresa talk to Jesse Rathgeber, a music education professor, about his views on planning and teaching student-centered music classes. Jesse’s wealth of knowledge and passion for music education are evident, creating an interview you don’t want to miss. Here are some highlights and key takeaways.
About Jesse Rathgeber
Jesse Rathgeber is currently a music education professor at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. Before coming to Augustana, Jesse taught at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, where he helped found the Center for Inclusive Music Engagement. At both schools, Jesse has created community-based, participatory music experiences, called JMUke and AugiePlay. Jesse received his PhD in Music Education from Arizona State University, and prior to that was an early childhood through 12th grade music teacher in Illinois. Most of Jesse’s work in music education centers on creativity, constructivism, and inclusion.
Crafting a Student-Centered Lesson
When teaching undergraduate students how to create student-centered lessons, Jesse encourages them to understand the frame they bring to teaching. Instead of first thinking about what you (the teacher) want to do, consider what the students want and the students need.
Teachers should consider these ideas when planning lessons:
- Look for areas in the lesson where the students can create.
- Assessment shouldn’t just be an evaluation. Assessment should be a process for getting to know the students and understanding their needs. The data enables us to craft interesting, engaging, and challenging experiences.
- Get to know the students as quickly as possible. Knowing students in a real, actualized way is essential to student-centered learning.
- Become familiar with current music, especially the specific music the students like.
- Ask questions (of the students) that generate more questions.
- Being okay with the path being diverted.
- Prepare students to be improvisational – remember that it starts with play!
There’s More Than One Way
Jesse believes we should show students that there are multiple ways to do things. There isn’t one interpretation that is “correct.” By modeling to students this concept, we show them they have a voice. In ensembles, teachers can discuss with students how a piece is written and the various ways it can be performed. He encourages having ensembles try things in different ways: faster, slower, another style – just different! The students still experience repetition, and they see several possibilities for interpretation.
“People deserve some kind of voice…to be heard, to be seen, to be felt as cooperative partners in an experience.”
Students are People
For Jesse, we should plan student-centered lessons because students are people. People deserve a voice. They deserve to be heard and seen in the world. They deserve to be cooperative partners in an experience. Jesse’s hope is to help students feel like they can self-actualize in spaces, contributing and developing their own social and individual musical worlds. For this to happen, teachers have to model it. Too often, teachers only model ways that are repertoire-centric or method-centric. Instead, we need to see the students, the humans, in their classrooms.
Jesse says we also should consider the need to continue having students in our classrooms. There has been a decline in high school music enrollment. It’s not because they dislike music and art – the artistic production throughout the COVID pandemic is a testament to this! But it means that something needs to change. Not just in ensembles, within the entire ecosystem. Jesse doesn’t believe we should ditch everything in our current classes, but we should question it. The goal is to have students who want to enroll in secondary music courses, and to have our field viewed as something that promotes actualization, play, creativity, and making sense of the world through music.
Now Available: Crafting Student-Centered Lessons, Part 2!