Large Group Planning and Implementation

  1. Large Group Planning and Implementation
  2. Organization
  3. Large Group Dynamics   (Author(s): C. Mancuso

Early Motivation and Teaching Experiences

I seem to have always believed that the most important contribution of a teacher is to provide a rigorous and fair course of study for the student. To that end I have diligently tried to hone and master my teaching and scholarship skills throughout my more than thirty- years of teaching.

Establishing a climate for dynamic instruction and learning begins before each individual student even enters the classroom. On the other hand, creating a course of study requires many hours of painstaking preparation. My exhortations to students and educators through the years has been that 90% of teaching is in research and preparation of the course and subsequent lectures – the rest is in the teaching performance itself. The scholarly research of the subject matter, and the vigilant attention to the details of how and why that research is put together can be the result of a true artistic endeavor. The masterful teacher is, or can strive to become, an artist. Performing in the arts need not be limited to just presenting an applied musical, theatrical, or dance theme on the stage. I have dedicated myself to achieving the highest of standards in the classroom that would place my teaching-learning accomplishments in the same, or equivalent light of my esteemed colleagues who perform in the applied areas.

Because I am not an “applied music performer” in a classical sense, I have always felt that my work in the classroom must be markedly detailed and theatrical. I hope to share with colleagues of all subject matter disciplines the ways in which I have sought to accomplish these ends.

This direct line of discourse with the reader is important because I have seldom been openly didactic. In effect, it has been my long standing belief that action is much more important than words.

Basically, my body of work related to teaching-learning is created in my home. My collection of books and journals is extensive, as is my audio and video recording and studio capabilities. My record/compact disc and video collections are also vast. It is within this environment that I develop my lectures. Throughout my work as a supervisor of student teachers, I was unrelenting in reminding them never to anguish or exhibit signs of duress when it was time to demonstrate their emerging teaching competence, that is, teach their students. I would remind them, to be sure, that the “hard work and sweat” should be expended in the preparation of the lecture, not when delivering or guiding the instructional experience, lesson or lecture.

Planning and Preparing the Teaching-Learning Experience

When preparing the instructional experience; in my case, the largely musically based performing arts, it is imperative to choose relevant and illustrative musical selections as well as the amount of time those selections are to be played. Additionally, pace also is a key factor in attracting and maintaining the attention of a class, particularly so when dealing with large class sections. To that end, it is vitally important to integrate scholarly information with the audio and video clips (an occasional dose of humor doesn’t hurt) in such a way that the performance becomes what I call a “seamless lecture

While each of my courses generally follow the pattern noted below, I would like to center the description of putting a course together on the course “Jazz Rock Foundations.” This course has been perhaps the largest student drawing course offered by the Buffalo State College Performing Arts Department for the past twenty-five years. Furthermore, it has undergone revision numerous times. It is noteworthy that the textbook “Popular Music and the Underground,” (Mancuso,           )…was written to provide a comprehensive resource for students. Much of the research for this volume was conducted during the 25 years of my teaching the course. In effect, “Jazz Rock Foundations” closely parallels each classroom lecture and provides supplemental support for those lectures as well.

Course Content Considerations

A recurring aspect of each course finds me reinforcing or recasting particular songs as the course develops. Over the years of teaching the wide-ranging topic of American popular music forms I found it near impossible to identify a textbook that amply covered the areas of pop, jazz, country, folk and rock. For several years students received drafts of chapters that were in progress and provided me with invaluable feedback. As a result, since developing this text for the course as both a work in progress and finished product, I have seen unmistakable improvement in the comprehension and performance related to the course objectives and content by students enrolled in this course.

Inasmuch as most of the songs from “The Golden Age of Pop” (1920’s to the 1950’s) are unfamiliar to today’s students it helps to have certain selections played a number of times by a variety of artists. In order to help overcome this I repeat or recast certain songs as the course develops. An example of how this has been applied instructionally to George Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” is as follows. During subsequent class meetings, I will often double and triple a single song in a variety of ways, e.g., via records, compact discs, DVDs, video concert performances, or motion picture soundtracks. This reinforcement not only provides the student with an opportunity to become more familiar with a standard song, but also provides new insights into the wide range of musical usage for which they might never have been aware.

“Someone to Watch Over Me” was first introduced on the Broadway stage by Gertrude Lawrence in the musical comedy “OH, KAY!” in1926. That selection is played for the class as part of the series of lectures entitled “Popular Music: 1917-1934” (Chapter 3). Lawrence’s interpretation is followed by a “contemporary connection” – a version by Elton John from the rock ‘n’ roll compilation album “THE GLORY OF GERSHWIN.”

Over my many years of teaching I have come to believe that as often as possible past historical forms in the arts can be connected to contemporary events, thus reaffirming the reality that history need not be antiquated and cobwebbed. As the course, “Jazz Rock Foundations” progresses we meet up with this song in the lectures titled “Big Bands and Small Bands” (Chapter 9). As an example of 1940’s small group 52ndStreet jazz, students hear piano virtuoso Art Tatum’s version of “Someone to Watch Over Me”, followed by vocalist Lee Wiley’s version of the same tune from her groundbreaking “songbook” album of Gershwin music. In Chapter 10, “Revival of the 1930’s and 1940’s” the song is interpreted by cabaret performer Michael Feinstein, then, later on, by nostalgic Linda Ronstadt from her first of three collaborations with veteran orchestrator Nelson Riddle (“WHAT’s NEW?”). Finally, this is followed by showing an edited video clip of the creative use of the song in the movie “MANHATTAN” by Woody Allen. Dick Hyman slotted a lush, symphonic underscoring of this classic as Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are talking in the wee hours of the morning. They sit on a bench facing the 59th Street Bridge as the music is beautifully played by the Buffalo Philharmonic under the direction of conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.

Instruction and Multimedia to Enhance Student Learning

All of the above are tossed into a multimedia mix that requires the interconnection between audio, video, slides and lecture. For instance, when presenting and discussing an artist, multiple screens that comprise my classroom show that artist in a number of different guises. As the music is played several or more slides are advanced featuring that artist. When a video is played on the center screen the side screens advance a number of slides. Essentially, this” instructional production” must be carefully timed and rehearsed so that it has the effect and feeling of a first rate documentary.

There is no doubt that organizing and bringing together a scholarly, and yet dynamic and lively course requires hard decisions as to what musical selections to include, and when and how to repeat tor recast them. Pouring over the mass of recorded and filmed music to be placed in the lecture requires a major investment of research and time in the editing room. Once the audio and video musical selections are recorded, it is then time to create the slide or video production component of the performance

The Slide Show and Student Listening Sheet

A critical component of the “environmental wrap” of the presentation is coordinating the three-screen slide presentation. Virtually each semester finds me re-evaluating the slide collection. Often an artist or musical style needs some shoring up, that is, requires additional slides or visual illumination. Other times a new recording, or new artist, or new theatrical production, motion picture, or commercial arrives on the scene that revives interest in a song, artist, musical style, or musical production. For example, in the past couple of years Gershwin has been revived on Broadway (“CRAZY FOR YOU”) and in the rock music (the aforementioned “THE GLORY OF GERSHWIN”). The great vocalist Tony Bennett made an astounding connection with the X-Generation (“MTV UNPLUGGED”), and the ever popular now deceased Rosemary Clooney had earlier returned to the music scene gaining praise from the jazz critics. Robert Altman, heralded as one of film’s most creative directors, filmed “KANSAS CITY” using television commercials such as Diet Pepsi (with model Cindy Crawford alighting a bus to the strains of Duke Ellington’s “I Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good”), Sprite (with Mel Torme), and Chips Ahoy! (swinging to Benny Goodman’s version of “Sing, Sing, Sing”), abound with recast musical connections.

Updating and Re-Organizing Course Content and Student Engagement Activities

In order to keep this and other courses that I offer current, I subscribe to a number and variety of daily newspapers such as: the NEW YORK TIMES, NEW YORK POST, USA TODAY, BUFFALO NEWS); key magazines such as: DOWN BEAT, JAZZIZ, JAZZ REPORT, THE LEAD BELLY NEWSLETTER, DIRTY LINES, SALSA, COUNTRY MUSIC, PULSE, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, GOLDMINE, SHOW MUSIC, and many others. I also tap into current books and online media resources that explore and report on popular culture entertainment. These publications not only provide the source of new slides, but also allow me the opportunity to keep students abreast of the latest historical connections.

While putting a slide package together I frequently use the slide screens as “bookends”, that is, I begin and end each entry (artist, war setting, political information, etc.) by doubling the picture. This gives a sense of balance and cohesion to the presentation. For example, the center screen serves as the introductory screen in such a way as to highlight the topic visually. Often this means including some kind of written title within the picture. This enables the student to “see” Billie Holiday, Gene Autry or Bing Crosby rather than wonder or guess who the person on the screen is they are visualizing. Further, it helps to enrich and personalize the learning experience of the student through the information that is highlighted and discussed. The intention is to keep the lecture/class presentation moving forward, and not bogging down-the “seamless lecture”.

The Student Listening Sheet was developed as a guided learning activity which serves to actively engage the student. The listening sheet aids the student by listing the musical selections and the artists who perform the musical selections. Little time is expended writing on a board or scrawling information on an overhead. It is important that the listening sheet is well organized and complete so that students will not have to stop the lecture/presentation to ask how to spell a name of an artist or song or show/film/album title, or ask about the style of music being introduced. .Basically, key information is provided for students on the “Student Listening Sheet.” Furthermore, the listening sheet is formatted or structured to facilitate note taking (see the Student Listening Sheet in Appendix ___). This is achieved by providing topic headings for each major section of the lecture/presentation. Also, coordination with the text book is assured by listing the appropriate page numbers in parentheses. The sidebar on the right side of the Student Listening Sheet help alert students to pertinent information not emphasized during class lectures/ presentation that they are expected to master through subsequent course assessments. Of course, this also serves to reinforce the value of the course textbook and that reading assignments will be assessed.

Finally, the Student Listening Sheet lists the video clips that will be shown. The videos are listed with asterisks and letters (see sample Student Listening Sheet, Appendix___). This enables the student to recognize where each video clip is sequenced in the class lecture/presentation. As such, all audio selections, titles of films, concerts, and artists are noted and made explicit for students. Additionally, recording of all music and videos shown in class are made available to students in the college library. (see syllabus)

Creative Instruction and Learning Outcomes and Outgrowth

Since becoming a member of the Performing Arts faculty, I have redesigned each course that I teach. Several courses that I have since developed include: “Modern Jazz, “American Musicals,” and “Film Noir.” “Film Noir” was developed as an interdisciplinary course learning experience taught cooperatively with a colleague-professor of English. In this novel and exciting interdisciplinary team-taught course, the professor of English assumed responsibility for the literary aspects of the form, while a Performing Arts faculty instructor focused on the film aspects of the genre.

Additionally, through a collaborative effort initiated by the University of Buffalo Chair of the Department of American Studies and a member of the Performing Arts Department at Buffalo State College, a “college teacher exchange program” was developed. One unique outcome and outgrowth that resulted included the cross institution teaching of two courses. The professor/chair from the University of Buffalo and the Buffalo State College faculty member taught these courses on each respective campus. One course, focused on multi-cultural music and included a variety of “hands on” experiences. The other course’s focus was primarily on the history of music and included numerous multi-media and experiential learning enrichment activities. These collaborative-faculty exchange opportunities proved to be highly enriching and popular learning and instructional experiences for both students and faculty.