John Ritz

Mus 551: Studies in Improvisation

One way to incorporate elements of critical thinking into courses is to take existing assignments and revise them in ways that highlight Paul-Elder’s elements of thought, and/or by providing students with opportunities to practice the intellectual traits and standards. Another way is to implement new assignments to meet these same purposes. In his course, Music 551: Studies in Improvisation, John Ritz decided to develop and deploy a new assignment designed to help students gather and utilize data and ”reflect on its relevance and appropriateness to their role as musicians, and to their understanding and preconceptions about improvisation in music performance.” Ritz views this as an exercise in metacognition, requiring students “to evaluate what they already knew that was relevant to completing the project, identify what they still needed to learn, develop a plan for learning and implementing that material, and monitor and adjust their plan for accomplishing the project on time as it developed.”

Ritz’s actual assignment consisted of a paper and class presentation which would require students to reflect on the appropriateness of improvisation in their role as musicians and its relevance to their particular field of study. Over the course of his teaching, Ritz realized that he was overestimating his students’ abilities in applying and reflecting on their knowledge. Ritz took time to assess his students’ level of knowledge and skill, preconceptions, and prior knowledge prior to deploying the assignment in order to build a strong foundation for the development of new knowledge and skills.

In addition to concluding that his new assignment was successful, Ritz found additional benefits of developing an assignment focused on student’s metacognitive skills – his own use of metacognition. He realized that he needed to challenge his prior assumptions about his students’ abilities and skill levels. “Going around the wheel” - using the elements of thought as found in the Paul-Elder Model for Critical Thinking, is an exercise which benefits both students and faculty. As Ritz noted: “This year, the Part-Time Faculty Learning Community has certainly played a significant role in refining my practices and in my growth as a teacher.”

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