Saturday, December 17, 2016

Sympathy for my Students

My violin teacher told me that she has her college students tell her something new about the composers of their pieces.  I'm guessing this is to get them to look up the composer and read, say, a Wikipedia entry, which would at least give them a basic intro to period, place, and the composer's history.  At any rate, I've been doing this.  For some it's easier than others.

According to Wikipedia, Bach may not be buried in Bach's grave.  Neat.

And JB Lully, the super famous French Baroque composer wasn't born French?  Nope, according to Wikipedia, he was born Giovanni Battista Lulli in Florence, and became a French subject in 1661.

This week, though, my new piece is by Beethoven.  What new can I possible learn about Beethoven to tell my teacher?  (Lots would be new to me, but not to her.)

So I decided instead of stopping at Wikipedia, I'd look up some scholarly articles.  Now, I start with a huge advantage over my students there, because I know how to limit the searches and such.  But still, I looked at articles that were way, way beyond anything I could understand (because I don't know the theory stuff, especially). 

And that's what happens to my students all the time, especially when they look at specialized articles in, say, English lit.

So, how do we get students to begin to read and understand those articles? 


I was reading a student's Shakespeare paper today, and it cites a bunch of sources that sounded suspect, so I started looking, and the suspect sounding ones were mostly papers by undergrads, put up on the web by their schools (it looked like), with one other looking like it was someone doing research for an SCA type group (not bad for what it was, but not what my student should have been depending on).


  1. I've been starting Comp I with deep readings into a social issue -- this year we did Colony Collapse Disorder. I give students scholarly sources to read on the problem, and once they've read those, and we've talked about how to evaluate sources, and also talked in class about what Colony Collapse Disorder is, and why it matters, then we read some NON-scholarly sources -- some terrible sources, frankly.

    We evaluate those sources using the same method we used to evaluate the journal articles. Most of the students (at that point) achieve enlightenment. Now they get the difference between a terrible source (at least on this topic) and a good one.

    The tough part has been getting them to transfer this knowledge to their own topic, when we move to their own research paper.

  2. What a GREAT topic! So timely and interesting!

  3. richard4:03 PM

    You can start a music history exploration with Oxford Music Online (or, if you prefer, the paper new Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians). If you don't know it, it's a massive encyclopedia of the world's music, all entries written by experts for an intelligent but not necessarily knowledgable audience. I'm sure your university has one or the other or both. The online one is nice because you can browse it from home, and it has multimedia. The paper one is nice because there is no competition to use it. And for someone like Beethoven, there won't be any meaningful differences in information between the two.

    Have fun!

  4. It's a great practice! When you get to Cooperario, you'll find out he wasn't Italian after all :)

    As for how we get our students to follow the scholarly articles: slowly, with a lot of help? I ask often: what didn't you understand? I think it's liberating for them to be asked what they didn't get. Though I'm often surprised. . .

  5. Anonymous1:06 PM

    Hmmm. Some disciplines present more barriers than others for young students trying to understand journal articles. English Lit (any Lit, for that matter) journals publish many articles that are literally incomprehensible; students should not be set loose in a library or on-line in these disciplines. In fact, my college Lit professors did not assign journal articles; we analyzed works using our own brains/tastes/experience, not journal articles. History was far better, as was Religion, Philosophy, and Anthropology.