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Training Teachers Requires Expertise

March 25, 2014

At the beginning of the year, I gave a timeline that listed the many reasons for why Frances Clark and Louise Goss are considered pioneers in the field of piano pedagogy.  I then moved the timeline to 1981 when The New School and Westminster Choir College first offered a joint program.  I left off by saying I would describe the teaching internship at The New School as obtained from firsthand observation completed in 1998.  Before I do so, I will give an overview of the curriculum.  School catalogs and interviews were used as primary sources.

After fulfilling prerequisites for admission, graduate students began an extensive program of study.  Students pursuing a Master’s degree registered for the following pedagogy courses: Group Teaching Techniques, Private Teaching Techniques, The Teaching-Learning Process and The Piano Teacher, Piano Literature for Pre-College Teaching, History and Evaluation of Piano Study Materials, and Studio Management Practicum.  All but one of these classes were held at The New School.  To satisfy degree requirements for the major in piano performance, students studied with a member of the piano faculty at WestminsterChoirCollege each semester in preparation for a recital.  Progress was evaluated in jury examinations.  The recital was scheduled most often during the second year of enrollment.  In addition, graduate students registered at Westminster for “Introduction to Musicology” and participated in the Symphonic Choir for two terms.  Three credit hours of theory or music history as well as other electives were selected from graduate courses offered by Westminster.  The Master’s program could be completed in two years, but another year of study was sometimes needed.


Requirements for the certificate course included all pedagogy classes listed above for the degree program.  Two semesters of piano instruction were also required.  Graduate students could study with a faculty member from The New School or they could receive instruction from a member of the faculty at Westminster.  A piano recital was optional; jury examinations were contingent upon whether or not a recital was planned.


The design of the piano pedagogy program evolved over time.  Although the curriculum changed, the school’s hands-on training methods remained the same.  Pedagogy students learned how to teach in the same way that piano students who are studying the Clark course still learn how to play.  Just as piano students become less dependent on the teacher after they discover how to teach themselves, pedagogy students began to teach their assigned pupils without constant supervision once they gained enough experience to proceed on their own initiative.  Classroom instruction in and of itself could not offer the same benefits derived from this type of teaching experience.  Pedagogy students needed to teach instead of talking about teaching techniques.


Since active participation was so important in learning how to teach, a teacher-student partnership was established.  At The New School for Music Study, graduate students retained the status of junior faculty, and as faculty members, they were given a unique opportunity to improve their teaching skills by working alongside expert professionals. They say that if you want to improve your tennis game there is no better way than to play with the best.  Frances Clark believed the same approach applies to training teachers.  Few other schools provided a comparable teaching practicum.


All things considered, Frances Clark and Louise Goss knew what needed to be done in order for graduate students to become highly skilled teachers.  Today, many of these  teachers are leading pedagogues, who in turn, have become mentors and role models for pedagogy students enrolled in programs throughout the country.  Frances Clark’s legacy endures.


That’s it for now.  I plan to give some information about course structure and report my observations of teaching at The New School.  I was fortunate to interview Louise Goss on several occasions.  Who better to ask for answers to my countless questions than the co-founder herself?

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This site is created by the faculty of the New School for Music Study, a division of the Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy.

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