This post is one of an occasional series about people in the Webster University Department of Music.
Four questions with Dr. Carla Colletti, Associate Professor of Music and Director of Graduate Studies and Music Theory —
When did you start running marathons and other races, and what does this do for you?
I’ve always been active, but I never considered myself runner. The first actual race I ran was the Zoo 5k in 2016. I never ran more than 3 miles prior to that. The race experience ended up being really fun and motivating, and I ran quicker than I thought I could! Then, I met my running partner in my boot camp class. She suggested running a half marathon. So, we trained and completed that race in April 2017. We then decided that a full marathon was the next step. We trained all summer, and completed the Mo’ Cowbell Marathon in October 2017.
Running a marathon really is like nothing else, but the lessons learned along the way are valuable ones. The training requires careful planning and taught me different tactics for approaching a seemingly unattainable goal. It’s all about consistency and breaking the huge task down to bite-sized, attainable pieces. You don’t just roll out of bed and run a marathon, just like you don’t roll out of bed and perform a full-length recital (or take a final exam or write a final term paper) without careful preparation and consistent practice. And, you can’t procrastinate in training for the event. Running also keeps me sane. It forces me to get outside, and it gives me time to think through things that have been on my mind. It’s a way for me to have some “me” time. It’s important to find an activity that allows us to get away for a while and learn about ourselves, and for me, going for a run is one of my go-to activities.
What is the kind of work you are undertaking as Faculty Fellow this year?
I’m working with the Academic Resource Center to help them assess their services. This involves taking a look at their existing program overviews and student learning outcomes, along with survey data they collected last year. I’m trying to help them develop some new tools for figuring out what they’re doing well and what they can improve upon. We implemented a survey for academic counseling last semester, and this semester I’m working on a writing center survey, and I’m organizing a couple of focus groups to take a closer look at a few of the other services provided through the ARC. I’ve also helped to redesign the ARC informational brochure, which is available through the ARC. And, I’m learning to navigate my way through Qualtrics, which is a fancy survey and data collection tool. I’ve attended a few webinars, too, on assessment, as well as one on learning strategies and the growth mindset.
How has your work with Global Citizenship Program (Webster’s general education program) informed your teaching in the music unit?
My involvement with the GCP has introduced me to pedagogical ideas originating from outside the music area. It was through my GCP connection that I was introduced to the concept of “Teaching With Your Mouth Shut” at a conference back in 2011. This led to the development of many new in-class activities for my music theory classes, where the typical lecture I would give on a topic is turned into a workshop experience for the students where they are asked to discover and think through multiple problems. I subsequently had an essay on the topic published in the first edition of Engaging Students: Essays in Music Pedagogy. This project led to others in the general area of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, including my work on how to teach question asking. And, I’m co-leading a workshop this month at the annual AAC&U General Education and Assessment Conference on these very topics.
Sharing how we teach in music courses with others outside of the music area is very engaging, too. The things we do every day as musicians (individual applied lessons, “group work” through chamber ensembles, large ensemble rehearsal, preparation for a concert or recital performance, etc.) are directly tied to what the AAC&U refers to as “high-impact practices,” specifically Common Intellectual Experiences, Learning Communities, the idea of experiential learning, and the Capstone Project. Because we have a common set of core theory and history classes in music combined with a close-knit group of students (as opposed to a large, 100-student lecture-style theory class), we essentially have created our own learning community where students and faculty work together to solve problems, address issues, and learn about music. These “high-impact” practices are already a part of what we do…and we do them well. Learning about how those outside the arts adapt and apply these practices to their teaching has inspired me to rethink how I use them, helping me to become a better teacher (and learner, too).
How has being a mother affected your teaching?
This is a tough question to answer because there are so many ways my teaching has been affected, negative and positive. First, the negative: I don’t always get things done when I want to (or even should). This results in delayed grading, and my students’ assignments haven’t always gotten back to them in the timeliest fashion (although this semester, I am working on that, and I’m not behind yet!). But, I’m learning how to adjust my workflow so that procrastination and delay don’t happen as often. I have to prioritize, and I try to break down projects into tinier pieces so that I can complete at least something in the 15 or 20 minutes I have before my daughter’s attention span is up, and she comes looking for me.
And, then there are the positives, and there are too many to go into here, but I’ll highlight one. As I watch my daughter grow, I am witnessing first-time experiences, and I can (literally) see her learning new concepts. This has given me new insight into how we learn, and I’m able to take these insights into the classroom. She trying to find her independence, just as our students try to find their own creative voices, but at the same time, there are things that she cannot do. Helping her figure out how to do those things (breaking things down into steps she can follow, for example, and building on the knowledge she already has) allows me to engage with the learning process, and these are the tools that also help our students learn in the classroom. It’s also interesting to witness her reactions when she comes up against a challenge she thinks she cannot handle. She’ll say, “I can’t do it!” but I know that she possesses the tools to do whatever it is. Before I jump in and do it for her, I’m learning to give her the space to fail and figure it out on her own, so that she takes ownership for her actions. I try to do a bit of this with my students, too. My classroom, I hope, provides a safe space to try things out; it won’t be perfect, we may fail, initially, but with diligent work and a bit of guidance, we all learn.