Podcast Episode 48: Teaching as Jazz With Steve Pond

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In this episode we are joined by Steve Pond from the Cornell music department. Steve is an ethnomusicologist and among other things he studies jazz and the musics of the African diaspora. He plays drums with Cornell’s Brazilian music group Deixa Sambar, and he teaches wide range of courses from freshman writing seminars to graduate theory. His teaching style is highly improvisational. He prepares a rich set of topics and supporting materials for each class, but puts them together in a unique blend depending on his audience, mood, the questions that come up that particular day. During our conversation Steve shares many examples of how he mixes technical jargon, vernacular language, and profound ideas in ways that engage today’s students.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:39 Welcoming Steve Pond.

2:08 The first class Steve taught.
A mentor who was a sage on the stage.
Shifting the emphasis to discussion sections.

5:58 Steve’s “lectures” are not passive.
One year, students asked the professor not to lecture anymore.
The next year: the opposite. Nothing if not flexible.

9:14 How Steve developed a strategy for using presentation slides.
Putting TA’s around the room to take the temperature.
Keeping the slides simple: a humanistic approach to presentation software.
The slides are also a mnemonic for the professor.
Not being married to the slides.
The slides are not your notes.

17:03 Course design. 28 lectures as an extended argument with many different parts.
Vs. a microcosm/macrocosm approach.
Course design is irrespective of classroom format.
Some courses are just about one question. Some courses are about a system and its functioning or one idea with many parts.

21:06 Learning objectives: seeing what the students can do.
Co-teaching a course on researching hip-hop.
Cornell has the largest archive of hip-hop materials in the U.S.
Learning to ask research questions about a Brazilian release of “Rapper’s Delight” on blue vinyl.
Demonstrable skills.

25:45 A challenge in teaching is explaining our own procedures which are largely tacit.
As we become more explicit, it can make the work too cookie-cutter.
Vs. helping students form their own questions and understand that knowledge is made, not found.

30:01 Trying to get students to understand how historical agents reacted to the conditions around them.
John Waters’ HAIRSPRAY.
Jazz and the LP

34:44 Learning about music by playing it in the classroom.
Playing music in class, making judgments about what makes one particular idiom itself.

39:15 Written vs. oral cultures. Criticism can be a conversation.
Sliding artfully between written and oral modalities.
Using vernacular idioms is not the same as dumbing down.
“We still are married to the book.”
Trying to put students in touch with knowledge that is exciting, useful, and profound.

44:45 Teaching as a dance between the formal and the informal, the vernacular and the official.
Doug’s approach to teaching: meeting the students where they are and bringing them.
What’s wrong with writing a lot on Powerpoint slides–again.
Why Steve loves teaching novices: making the concept clear and then giving the concept a name.

50:33 Teaching a freshmen writing seminar with slides–then showing all or none of them–plus links to Youtube videos.
Students gather questions and collecting them intermittently–and by surprise.
Leveraging the active learning classroom: playing “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard and Pat Boone.
Being flexible and finding clips online in realtime.

58:12 Steve’s teaching mistake: reading lectures someone else has written.
“You have to own what you put out there.”

1:01:23 Signing off.

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