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Multiple Means of Music Education with Reba Wissner

Welcome to Episode 98 of the Think UDL podcast: Multiple Means of Music Education with Reba Wissner. Reba Wissner is an Assistant Professor of Musicology in the Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. Reba recently presented at a musicology conference about her UDL interventions in her college music courses and I had heard of what she is doing through another professional organization, so I was very excited to connect with her on this topic. In today’s conversation, Reba and I discuss not only the “what” of multiple means of representation when it comes to music education courses, but also why we need to do this right now, and how to do this. And don’t worry if you aren’t in the music department, we also talk about the ideas surrounding this and offer some great ideas if you are interested in diversifying your course! The resources we mention can be found on the website for episode 98.


Find Reba on Twitter @reba_wissner or on LinkedIn

Reba’s UDL in Music Classes Sources Handout

Reba and Lillian discussed in their conversation:

Hannah Chan-Hartley’s listening guides (she calls the Symphony Graphique or Visual Listening Guides) 

Edvard Munch’s The Scream

The Amazing Slow Downer for Apple or Android

Blackboard Ally

Baby Got Back ASL Interpretation

Clusiv (CAST)

More Resources:

Reba’s new article on the Unessay (which is open access)

The “One Course, Three Ways” presentation Reba gave at the Teaching Music History ConferenceReba’s study about incorporating music notation into the syllabus (multiple means of representation)




students, UDL, music, class, listening, teaching, learning, thought, create, legos, education, find, write, reading, helpful, guides


Lillian Nave, Reba Wissner

Lillian Nave  00:02

Welcome to Think UDL, the Universal Design for Learning podcast where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind. I’m your host, Lillian Nave. And I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding and facilitating, but how you design and implement it and why it even matters. Welcome to Episode 98 of the think UDL podcast multiple means of music education with Reba Wissner. Reba Wissner is an associate professor of musicology in the schwalb School of Music at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. Rebbe recently presented at a musicology conference about her UDL interventions in her college music courses, and I had heard of what she’s doing through another professional organization. So I was very excited to connect with her on this topic. In today’s conversation, Reba and I discussed not only the what have multiple means of representation when it comes to music education courses, but also why we need to do this right now and how to do this. And don’t worry if you aren’t in the music department. We also talk about the ideas surrounding this and offer some great ideas. If you’re interested in diversifying your course. The resources we mentioned can be found on the think website for episode 98. Thank you for listening. Thank you to our sponsor Texthelp, a global technology company helping people all over the world to understand and to be understood, it has led the way in creating innovative technology for the workplace, and education sectors, including K 12. right through to higher education for the last three decades. Thank you for listening to the think UDL podcast. Well, thank you, Reba Wissner, for joining me today on the think UDL podcast. 

Reba Wissner  02:18

Thanks for having me, Lillian. 

Lillian Nave  02:20

I’m really excited to talk about music. After we kind of shared our our love of the interview with Andrew del Antonio, and what I’ve learned from him. And this to me is like another deep follow up about UDL and music and musicology and music education. So I’m going to start with my first question I asked all my guests, and that is what makes you a different kind of learner. 

Reba Wissner  02:45

For me, what’s really interesting is that I’m still trying to figure out what kind of learner I am after all of these years. And I’m finding that sometimes I can’t necessarily articulate, but I do better with certain types of learning. It depends. It’s very contextual for me. And so sometimes I find myself reading the same page over and over and over again, like five times, and I can’t tell you what I read. And in other contexts, I can watch something and find the same thing will happen, but I’m better at reading it. So I think that’s something that was also exacerbated by COVID. And everything happening around us and burnout and everything else. And so I’m finding that I’m still getting to know myself in many ways, and how I learn, which is exciting, but also, in some ways, really frustrating because I think I know myself, and then I realized, no, it doesn’t work for me, or it doesn’t work for me anymore.

Lillian Nave  03:48

So I see that you’re mentioning you’re kind of constantly evolving and learning more, learning more about ourselves. Yeah. Like, like humans are varied and different. And continue to do so. That’s not now you’re making me rethink. Wow, should I? That’s a really good answer to this question. Should I rethink my first question, because everybody is like it continuously learning and changing as we grow so well, it’ll be like a snapshot in time. So great. So you have really come up with some fantastic resources about implementing universal design for learning in music, education and in musicology. So my first question is kind of an origin story. To find out why what what challenges in music education brought you to incorporate UDL in your classes?

Reba Wissner  04:42

So I’ve been teaching at the college level since 2006, which is a very, very long time and I like sometimes think, like, Do I really have to do the math? And I’ve had many different students. What was really interesting for me is, I spent eight years As an adjunct, and I taught at some point, I taught a classes at four institutions. And they were very, very different institutions. One was a for profit, while one was like a top 10 research university and seeing the ways that my students engaged with the material was very, very different in each of those contexts. So I can be teaching the same class at multiple institutions at once. But I could never teach it the same way. Okay, because of the students that I had. And I noticed that many of them had different kinds of challenges. And so a little bit of my origin story here is that when I realized that adjunct thing was not sustainable, I did a graduate certificate in higher ed administration. And then I always had a thing for pedagogy. I’ve always loved it. And so I wanted to move into faculty development, which was the plan before I got the job that I have now. And I decided after I finished my higher ed admin certificate that I was going to do a a certificate and instructional design. And that was one of the first places I encountered universal design. Yeah. And it just blew me away. Because I thought, why am I reinventing the same class for different ways when I can invent it one way, and it will work for all of the students nice. And that was something that really changed the way that I taught and change the way that I thought about teaching. Because one of the things that happens, at least in music, in music, history classes, it’s very sensory. And there’s something that happens in the arts to like all of the arts are very sensory. And to think about how do you teach an art form that requires hearing and vision and movement, memory, these are all things, I mean, a typical music history class, if you walk in, a student will have to sit down, you’ll talk about a piece of music, you might talk about the context, you probably will talk a little bit about what you’ve talked about before. And then the openness score, with sometimes 20 different parts, and there’ll be following the score, while listening to it, while trying to activate all of their background knowledge, all at the same time. So that when they’re done listening to this music, that they’ve been followed the score, they then have to quickly process what they’ve just done. Yeah. And it’s a lot. And I noticed, particularly this is a, it’s a challenge for most music students. It’s particularly a challenge for students who are first gens. And I was a first gen, so I’m very acutely aware of like, how that affected me. It is, it affects students with disabilities, either diagnosed or undiagnosed. It affects students of minoritized backgrounds who might not have had access to this kind of stuff before. And so one of the tricks is how do we even make music itself, either on the page or in your ear, accessible. And that’s one of the things that I’ve been really trying to figure out how to do because it’s really easy to figure out multiple ways to to create music notation for like one or two lines, when you have a full score that gets really, really challenging. Yeah. And so these are some of the things that I have been thinking about recently, and grappling with, in trying to incorporate UDL into my history classes to make my classes more universally designed.

Lillian Nave  08:50

Yeah, wow. Uh, your history is being an adjunct for years, and having so many, gosh, competing things for your time, I guess I should say, it rings true for me as an adjunct for a decade too. And I learned so much during that time about my students, I must say, and how you can do more with less in essence and stretching yourself quite a bit. And it’s sounds like you were also like exploring so many different avenues for I’ll be honest job security, which is what I had to do. That got me into faculty development, it got me into, you know, all the instructional design and working on like, working with our faculty on online courses and things like that. It was this this need, I didn’t want to have this need but that need also made me a much better teacher. Yeah. And when you mentioned that, like this whole world opened up with instructional design it as I’ve been learning more and more about it. Um, as a UDL practitioner, I kind of equate it to the fact that so many of us are so many college professors, you know, have this degree in their in their actual area, but they haven’t gotten pedagogy, you know, background and so they’re it’s difficult to teach, you might know it, but it’s really a difficult thing to teach. Also that instructional design, man, we should be having instructional design claps Yeah, to learn how to teach what we’re what we’re doing. So this is, I think what makes someone a much better teacher, a much better professor is when they are kind of stretched to move into all those areas. And so I really appreciate that about you that you’ve brought this wealth of jack of all trades broad knowledge into how to teach better and sharing that knowledge with us. So yeah,

Reba Wissner  10:53

and I will say, though, a few years ago, I presented on a panel at the teaching music history conference, specifically for adjuncts. And there was one panel, I think it’s still on YouTube somewhere, that I titled my presentation one course for ways and talked about the different ways that I taught one particular class in different places. And looking back, I’m like, Why did I do that? I could have just universally designed one way extra work that I did before discovering UDL that didn’t need to be done, which kind of blows my mind.

Lillian Nave  11:29

Well, and you just answered one of the common criticisms that I hear as a UDL practitioner is that oh, that sounds like a whole lot of extra work. Now, I have to do all this. But you just explained why it’s not extra work. It’s actually made it. It’s more designed on the front end. But on the back end, it’s made your teaching life easier, which is what I found once I’ve redesigned with UDL in mind, the problems I would get later in the semester disappeared as much Right, exactly. Okay, so let’s get into some, you know, nuts and bolts nitty gritty. I’m not sure what the music analogy would be. Let’s go down to the notes, I’m not sure. And find out. So what do you do? How do you incorporate multiple means of representation in your classes, because I’m really only familiar with music in an a regular staff and music notation that I learned when I was growing up. And I never would have thought there are multiple ways to do that.

Reba Wissner  12:30

So I think it really depends on also what you’re doing. So one of the if you open up any music history book, or any Introduction to Music, Music Appreciation textbook, the core of those books are designed for not just history, but listening. And they give you pieces of music that you’re basically supposed to listen to. And you buy an anthology, which is expensive, and has all of the music. But in these textbooks, they have what are called listening guides. And the listening guides will basically take you through the piece. And there are so many different ways to do this. A lot of them will just do like, here’s the timing. This is what’s going on and give you a list. Some will do that with little snippets of musical examples. And then there’s a whole array of other ways you can do it. And this is something that I was I’ve been thinking about actively because last year, when I was teaching, the second semester of music history, I had my students do a public facing project where we have a radio show on Sunday nights through Georgia public broadcasting that follow up that we have our recordings in the School of Music. And so I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we can actually create little podcasts about the piece with listening guides for people who want to listen, and I was looking at the different ways that we can do listening guides for people who are not musicians. And this is actually a really good model for people who even are musicians. And I pulled up so many different ones. One that I absolutely adore, is Hannah chan Hartley’s music graphique. And she does this fantastic graphic notation kind of thing for symphony orchestras and ensembles and she takes commissions, if your ensembles doing something that she doesn’t already have a listening guide for she will make one. It’s very pictorial, it’s color coded. It will use dots and straight lines and depending on what’s happening, and that I think having multiple ways of even just representing a listening guide is really, really crucial. Sometimes you can go on YouTube and you can find some of these graphics scores that are very similar with they have color coded and they they move with the music and and so seeing the ways that my students didn’t necessarily they default to the whole music history textbook. This is the timing. And this is what’s happening. And figuring out ways that they can represent the music in ways that are accessible to non musicians kind of blew my mind. And it got me to think about ways that I could incorporate multiple kinds of listening guides into my courses, whether it’s the standard, whether it’s the stuff that Hannah does, or any kind of in between visual computer score ones like so thinking about ways that we can even just represent the music because the I have had students with low vision and vision impairments. I have not yet had a student with hearing impairments. And so I’m not anything that I do, I’m not entirely sure how this would work for a student with a hearing impairment, or low hearing. So this is something I would probably have to actively work out. But thinking of how we represent the music in different ways. Even if we were to do something like just an audio description of a score, that could be helpful. Or how can we add subtitles to scores to kind of show students what’s happening. And this is something I also became aware of, too, when I was at a conference. That was it was a fantastic conference. And that was very much like, all about accessibility. And they had people who were sign language interpreters at this conference and noticing even the different ways how they would handle or not handle, when music was playing in their signing led me to think that there’s no standard for how we represent music to those who are hearing impaired. And can we create a standard? Because one of the analog, the analogies that I use with my students all the time when I talk about UDL is that, you know, we look at things like closed captions. And we think, Oh, these are for people who can’t hear, but it’s also for you wanting to watch that funny video and not wake up your child or your spouse, or your in the laundry mat, and you don’t want to disturb someone or someone who might be learning a second language, it’s easier or helpful for them to follow the captions while listening. It’s not just for hearing impairment. So how can we use that to our advantage? When we’re describing music? Like what are like, can we create captions that go with music that could also help students who may not have low hearing or hearing impairments understand the music better? Yeah.

Lillian Nave  17:45

Just it’s fascinating. You’ve made me think of a whole bunch of things. And one of those is, is that even the a very well, UDL FIDE course, there’s still room for accommodations like So if students have disabilities, the that one of those misconceptions I hear is that, oh, if you do all this UDL stuff, you don’t even need, you know, the, the goal is not to have an office of accommodations. And that’s not the goal, that, you know, accommodations work well, with UDL as well. And it just makes everything even better. But it’s not saying, you know, we don’t need those things. And I know you weren’t saying that, but, but I will, I would get these questions later on, right? About work having those two, they still work very well together. And I really appreciated your statement about there’s not only one way to do the listening guide, or there’s not one way to do like musical notation, like there’s not just one way to she said sign for the the hearing impaired. And recently, I saw on social media somewhere, somebody signing a song that I grew up with about Baby Got Back, I think it was, you know, a rap concert. And there was so much expression with it, you know, there’s some, there’s some fun lyrics to that song about an anaconda. And it was, and I thought, I bet you there are multiple ways for that to be for that to be signed, and that there are there as so much variability out there that we need to tap into it right and to offer these multiple ways. And that’s like, that’s one of the first things that I learned about with Universal Design for Learning is the multiple means of representation and to have an audio description for you know, something written right or or to be able to explain a scientific diagram right, the watercycle and be able to describe it, and I would think that would be so helpful also, as an art historian, being able to describe really clear Les and carefully what we’re looking for. And what we’re looking at, would be so important for music to understand, you know, what the swelling of the music, you know, we need to know when it’s swelling. And take note of that not and, and kind of stop and slowly look at those particular parts. And one of the things I do a lot with our history and also intercultural work is stopping our brain process and slowing it down. Because we like jump to a conclusion. It’s like, oh, that painting like Edvard Munch, the scream, makes me feel, you know, terrible. And you know, that, that looking at that sickly character looks like a ghost and his mouth is open, and his hands are on his his face. And he’s lonely, you know, it gives all these emotions, but then we have to go back and think why does it give us these emotions? Let’s look at the the formal analysis, let’s look at the colors that are used. Let’s look at all these things. And that seems to me that how we’re going to understand music includes all of those nuanced ways of getting at that listening guide, I guess.

Reba Wissner  21:10

Yeah. And the other thing, you know, recently, I, you know, I’m doing some research now to hopefully fingers crossed. Get a book published on UDL and music history. And one of the things that I’ve really come across recently that blew my mind is there. So I believe it’s free, it’s an app called the, I think it’s called the amazing slow downer, okay, that it will slow down any recording of a piece of music without distorting the pitch. So something like that can be game changing for a student who really needs to process the music at a slower speed to get all of those nuances that you were talking about? Yes, and they can follow their score, and they can slow it down to whatever pace is helpful for them. So they can listen to it, you know, regularly, but to actually be able to process it. Because that is something that I noticed with students is that processing music notation is can be very challenging, especially when you’re trying to process multiple parts at the same time. And the way music scores tend to work is certain instruments are what is called transposing instruments. So they’re written in a different key on the staff. And so they have to process what it’s what’s on the page versus what the instrument actually sounds like. To make that pitch work with a score. And having something like the amazing slow downer where they can listen to it in a very slow speed to process those things. It’s just amazing to have these tools. Now with the internet, the internet is great for many things. It’s also terrible for many things, but having having some things like this that are available to students that they might not even know about. And that’s one thing that I do too, is I put a module in my course pages, which I can’t find a better name for, but I call them useful stuff. And things like you know, these are really some things that you might find useful. So Blackboard ally, during COVID came up with a, a free website, I think it’s like Blackboard ally slash COVID-19, or something like that. That will allow a student to upload a file in any format, and then download it in any other format. So if a student has a reading, that is OCR accessible, they can upload it and they we download as an mp3 so that when they’re on the treadmill in the gym, if they get motion sickness, and they can’t read, they can listen to it. Or if a student has a recording, they can upload it as the mp3 and we downloaded a txt file. And so things like that I put in my course. And I say these are things that you can use if you feel they’re helpful to you. And if you feel they’re not helpful to you, you can ignore them. But having a whole slew of things, I think is also part of UDL, where, even if for whatever reason we can’t make multiple formats of something. Having the ability for students to just click on that link, upload, download 15 seconds later, and they have what they need, in whatever way works for them is just really, really useful.

Lillian Nave  24:31

Yeah. And, and one of the things that I hear a lot, too is like, Oh, this sounds like so much work. But what what we don’t have to do is upload and download it for them. What you’ve done, here are all these incredible tools. I’m not sure which tool is going to work for you. You can decide you’ve got the choice and the flexibility, but I’m pointing you I’m kind of the facilitator and pointing you in this direction that hey, all of this is not cheating. All of this is really helpful, helpful stuff. And you might find that listening to it or reading it in a different form is going to is going to help you more. And I do think that is our role, our role isn’t necessarily to be the one, you know, behind the scenes doing all of this, but it but our role should be to point students in that direction and say, here’s some, you know, great ideas that may be helpful, and you get to choose which one. And I also noticed you were talking about the difference really between processing speed. And, and understanding like, just because it takes a while to process doesn’t mean the student doesn’t get it, or is not as smart. And that’s often a misconception, oh, that person is slow or than others, but that it’s just the processing speed, but it doesn’t mean that students don’t understand. It’s just a cognitive difference. Yeah, a processing a difference.

Reba Wissner  25:55

Yeah. And it could also be contextual, too. And go back to what I was saying, with contextuality. I was thinking, because as a music historian, I deal a lot with the notes. And I was thinking when I found out about the amazing slow downer, like how many times that would have been so useful for me, when I was writing about a passage that went by and like point two seconds, to be able to slow it down and actually hear it instead of rewinding it and listening to it at like warp speed 15 times and still not being able to figure out what’s going on. And I recently actually also discovered cluesive clues, which is, I don’t know if you know about it, but cast came up with this, this thing called cluesive, where you can professor or teacher can upload a reading, and then the students can actually adjust the reading level with a touch of a button. Because there are certain things that are harder than others. And also, there were times where I tell my students like, I will give you these options to represent whatever you want to represent in class, like you can, if I say write me a letter, I also mean you can do an audio recording or a video or whatever, you don’t have to stick to that the entire semester, like, by the time midterms come, you probably just can’t even like manage to put one finger on the keyboard. So record me a video and it’s fine. But you know, there are days where you have to read an assignment where you may have been up late for whatever reason. And your brain just can’t process the level at which that reading was written. Now you can take that touch of the button, and you can adjust the reading level. And you’re not cheating. You’re just doing what works for you in that context at that time, like you said a snapshot.

Lillian Nave  27:36

Yeah. Oh, fantastic. Yes. And by the way, now I have like four or five things already, I’ve started my notes that we’ll have on our resource page, because you are full of incredible ideas that I think you’re going to be helpful for. And these are helpful, not just in music, but in thinking about what we provide for our students and our role, as well. So, okay, so that’s like one column of the UDL guidelines is about multiple means of representation. But what do you do about music education, where you offer multiple ways for students to express you almost you kind of just started started on this conversation, to express what they know, that differs maybe from the traditional music education.

Reba Wissner  28:20

So I would I try to do for some of my assignments, which I haven’t quite worked out how to do it for all of them. The big project at the end of the semester, I have replaced with the NSA. And so I allow students to express their knowledge of the course material in any way that they see fit. So I’ve had students who have done cross stitches of opera costumes, I’ve had students who are building instruments with hardware material, harvest raw material, I have had students who have done research papers, I have students who have done graphic novels. And you know, usually the first thing people say is, isn’t that like watering down curriculum because you’re like not? The rigor. I hate the word rigor, it makes me cringe. And

Lillian Nave  29:13

I have standards on that, right? Can you judge a cross stitch versus a musical instrument? Right?

Reba Wissner  29:19

Right, exactly. And I tell them, It’s all about the learning outcomes. If you’re learning outcomes are targeted for students to be able to understand the history and the cultural context of music, and do research. There is absolutely zero way a student can do or create a cross stitch costume of an opera performance without researching. There is zero way a student can create a trombone from PVC pipe and funnels and things like that without researching. They have to do the research It’s just how they are presenting that knowledge to you. Yeah, it that is different and no way is better than the other. If you are able to meet those learning outcomes by whatever that student turns in, then it’s still rigorous. It’s not watered down, you still have standards. And so I in the slides that I sent you, there is an example of an assignment that my students absolutely hate, which is the Tick Tock assignment. So, there is this thing in music called Origanum, it is very, very early polyphony or music in multiple parts. And there were a series of rules that had to be followed in order to make two part music three part music, four part music. And so I was one of those things where I woke up at three o’clock in the morning, one day, I’m like, this would be a really cool idea. So I tried it, where I would sing the melody of a chant that the students had gone over a few times in different contexts in class, and told them, I want you to pick any of these rules. And I want you to write another line over it, make it a two part piece, and record it using tic TOCs. Duet function. And that led me to think, Okay, I have the element of choice, they can choose which rules they want to follow. If they don’t want to do a second line, but they want to be adventurous. I had them also list the rules that they used, so that if a student wanted to make a three part piece, they were following that same set of rules. And then I thought, Well, what about ways for students to actually do this? Because some students hate singing, and that’s fine. And I would tell them, you can play it on your instrument, that’s cool. Or for some students, they might have difficulty with certain pitches, certain pitches, high or low, might be something that irritates their hearing, or triggers something, they can transpose it. And then I thought about, well, what about ways that they can do it without actually performing it. And so I’ve come up with, they can write it in notation, like traditional music notation, or they can write it in an alternate notation that they create or come up with, could be a graphic notation, they can use something called slash notation, they can try and think of the other ways that I’ve, I’ve asked them, that they can do it. They can use hand signals. So in music education, we use something called quasi hand signals. They can perform both lines using a video using hand signals, they can come up with another way that works for them, so that they don’t necessarily have to do a duet with me, tic TOCs duet function, they can create a way that represents Oh, they could write in intervals, which is basically how this music is grounded. So they can write in columns of intervals and how the notes would work together. So having ways that they can represent what they’re understanding about following these rules, in ways that they see fit, that does not necessarily require them to sing or play their instrument. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  33:28

that’s fantastic. I love that idea that they’re doing duets with you. That’s, and they can do it asynchronously, you know, on their own time. It’s not. You don’t have to be in class. And we’re doing this in front of everybody, you know, you’ve got the chance to do it over and over again, and and choose your recording. And I know that I have three teenagers once I’ve got 16 to 21 are my three guinea pig children. And they are very talented. As many students are, I won’t say all because we can’t assume they all but but what a great and inventive way for them to use kind of their their knowledge and apply this new knowledge from their class to it. That’s fantastic.

Reba Wissner  34:14

And I think, going back to saying that the student hated the assignment, I think the reasons the student hated the assignment was because I wasn’t allowing them to do anything other than sing and play their instrument. Okay. So this week, when I do this, in the next fall, it will be the third iteration of it. Yeah. And so we’ll see how that goes. Because I have been thinking about other ways for them to do this. So now that I’m implementing all of these other things, because again, constant change. It’s about what students need at the time. And so I’m curious to see what’s going to happen with this if they still hate

Lillian Nave  34:46

it. Yeah. That sounds like the way that it happens in my classes. Like I’ll wake up at three in the morning, like you said, and like, Ah, I’ve got a great way to do this new idea. And then I’m like, so excited. And then after we do it once I’m like, well Okay, now I found that there were some problems too. And so now I get to do this new iteration. And so it’s just a constant plus one, you know, as Tom Tobin and Kristen shouldn’t be like, upset, you know, every time it’s a plus one. And that just keeps getting, I hope, a little better and a little bit more flexible. And, and I think of more things. And as you said, Now, the students are like it a lot more, because they, they’ve got like the second iteration on it, and you’ve added more to it. So, okay, so multiple ways that are sounds already non traditional, from music, education, if they’re making tic TOCs, in your class and other things. But, and what about the third column, which is about engagement, and you’ve already told me about lots of ways you’re engaging your students. But I’m, I’m interested in the way you engage your students in multiple ways. And I’m going to add just a little bit more, because it sounds like you do kind of music, introduction and music appreciation, and the, and how you’re introducing students to a lot of these new things. And as somebody who’s also taught the intro, to art history, and it’s, it’s so much like it’s a really wide array. And I think we forget that those classes for students are difficult, because they have to really bring in a huge amount of information. And then it’s also difficult, I think, for the professors, to figure out how to manage all of this information. And it used to be, we’re just going to stuff all of this in, I want you to memorize all these dates from zero, you know, or from like 2000 BC, or whatever to today. And that’s how I’m going to tell that even now, we don’t do that anymore, necessarily in art history. But I think it’s really hard to keep students engaged when we have especially kind of introducing to all of these new concepts. So So I’m interested in and what UDL interventions you’ve used to think about keeping your students engaged.

Reba Wissner  37:10

So a few things. One is I’ve moved away from testing. Because I, myself have test anxiety. And it is not I mean, testing is not necessarily accurate representative representation of our student knows Yes. And so I’ve moved away from testing I ungraded. Now, because that also removes the anxiety from your students. And also they brings in the metacognition and self assessment that UDL is very much a part of, it also increases student enjoyment of learning. They don’t feel like they’re stressed about having to memorize all of these dates and things. But the other thing I tend to do is I try to my best, I try my best to do to my class into three parts, what I call Listen, see act, where the first part listen is I talk a little bit about context history, the material that we’re talking about, see, usually includes representations of things, videos, or demonstrations or anything like that. And then the ACT part is participatory. So for instance, one of the classes that I was teaching was history of rock. And students, of course, I love popular music, and like they think they know everything about popular music until they realize that they don’t. And so that class I was actually leveraging it was a fully online class, I was leveraging a lot of different kinds of websites that were relatively accessible or fully accessible for them to actually take the knowledge that they learned in my listen and see portion and apply it to music making. So they had to do beat boxing, virtual beat boxing with a website, they had to create a a punk song using something called punk ematic. And I did this also this semester, my video game music class, where I had the students like, imagine a video game that they then went on this website called beatbox, that they then created a eight bit score for that. The trick, again, is accessibility when you’re talking about students who might have low hearing or hearing impairments. And I haven’t found any ways around that, especially in the online context. But I think it’s really important for students, some students process really well by hearing and some process really well by demonstrating and some process really well by doing I’m giving those students and again contextual. So some students might find it a lot easier to do something kinesthetic, and learn that way. So one of the things that I do with my students when I’m teaching Renaissance notation, is I use Legos. And this is an idea that I stole from K to 12 education, that you take the Legos and the number of dots on the Lego block is the number of beats and you write using a sharpie, the note value. And I have them create what I call with MC polyphony, I put them in groups and I say, Okay, you have a little one of those little plates, and I give them a whole bunch of ones. And I’m like, you’re going to write a piece of music, just rhythm, figuring out how these work together. And then you’re going to clap them for the class nice. And so they not only have to think about how the values are immutable and how they work together, but then actually have to physically read it and clap it in real time. And so that when I actually get to the pitches, it’s a lot easier for them. So the scaffolding to is something that I am really passionate about is making sure that things are scaffolded. Yes. So taking things away, or not adding them just yet to make sure that they’re secure. I call them my training wheels.

Lillian Nave  41:18

Nice. So you are literally using Legos as building blocks in your class.

Reba Wissner  41:24

I absolutely love them. College students love Legos. Yes. And colored pencils, I have found Yes,

Lillian Nave  41:31

I’ve used Legos to I use Legos. And then like the blocks that my kids use when they were like two and three, like the little wooden blocks like that I used to play with at my grandmother’s house right? To demonstrate art historical things like what’s post and lintel what’s a corbelled Vault, which is when you have to use the Legos to kind of slowly move up without using a lintel across to straight up vertical shafts so and they loved it. And we did like a group quiz together, where they’re kind of finding it out as they’re building it together. And some students are, you know, engineering brains, and they’re, they’re really good at it. And the other ones are very visual. So whereas they couldn’t necessarily build in the same way somebody else was, they totally understood what was going on could could codify, right could recognize and, and and kind of explain a lot better than the one who was building it silently, let’s say. So,

Reba Wissner  42:26

yeah, another idea that I stole from one of my colleagues, we have a summer music festival that engages high school students from I think, ages 13 to 18. And I was teaching the basic music theory class for them. And my colleague at Columbus State Kristin Hanson teaches this kind of stuff all the time. And she took these cardboard boxes, and she wrote boxes, and she wrote the the letter names of notes. And in her video, she was like stacking them to create chords and things like that. And I actually found a company that creates blocks like that. And what they do is they color code it based on the piano keys. Nice. So all of the sharps and flats are in black and all of the non sharps and flats are in white. And I bought myself a set neck, the girl tested on those high school students. And let me tell you, they love the notion of being able to stack chords using those like wooden blocks. Yeah. And again, like it was a way for them to be able to visually see it those of them who were pianists. Yeah, like, again visualized the black keys and the white keys and, you know, things that we don’t think of like I always had the best teaching ideas or stolen.

Lillian Nave  43:31

There’s nothing I’ve never come up with anything original. 

Reba Wissner  43:36

I tell this to my students. In my music ed students were looking at me like incredulously like, why would you steal a teaching idea? And then some of them were like, can I take that I’m like, steal it.

Lillian Nave  43:44

Exactly. Because it’s totally not stealing. It’s just sharing. And, and that’s what I find too, especially about the UDL community, there’s so many of us who have just fallen, do you know totally for universal design for learning, because we see how good it is how impressive it is how it helps my students learn how I am not excluding students the way I used to, because I didn’t know about UDL. And it’s this free sharing that I really appreciate. And of course, I wouldn’t have a podcast if people like you weren’t sharing your ideas. So I really appreciate it. And, you know, one of the things you started out with is about no testing and because of the anxiety and I also stopped with tests, because I want my students to really stretch themselves and try things in my intercultural dialogues course they have to reach out and talk to people they don’t know. They have to really go outside their comfort zone, but I don’t want them going outside. Like of their I want them in their learning zone, which is slightly outside the comfort zone, but not in a panic zone. Right. And so when you start adding these stressors, like the test anxiety, or things like that, it takes away from their ability to engage with the material like I want you To be able to freely engage with this new idea, a new concept and not worry about getting it wrong or 100%. Right? Even if you’re 50%, right, that’s great. The next time you do it, you’ll be 75%. You know, you’ll be when I don’t want that to be, as Joshua Eiler says that one time, one point in time where you were wrong, and I’m going to mark it. And that’s, that’s what you get. And so I think that’s a great point. I think we haven’t really explored that or I haven’t explored that enough to know how that one of the UDL guidelines says to reduce those outside barriers, are there things that are harming the learning environment. And so much of what I’ve learned from people like Susan Blum and Josh Isler is that a lot of that grading part is harming that learning environment. So ways that we can make it more accessible. I mean, yeah, it’s fun, too. But more interesting and less of a retaliatory. You are worried as students are worried about getting it wrong. I think the more the much more they learn, and are engaged in that process. So okay, you’ve talked a little bit about this. So far, as we’ve been going on about criticisms like that people are saying, Oh, that have you dumbed it down? Have you decreased the rigor. But what, what do you say to critics who say, Oh, look at these UDL interventions, it’s certainly not the way I did it, right. It’s not the way we’ve always done it, which often happens. And you’re criticized that this is a crutch, or it’s not the, let’s say, air quotes here, right way to do things? How do you answer those criticisms? 

Reba Wissner  46:56

So that’s a couple of things too. One is people get very funny about providing their PowerPoint slides on the LMS, thinking, Oh, students are not going to come to class.

Lillian Nave  47:10

So gatekeeping. 

Reba Wissner  47:13

And so and I say, you know, I would rather provide them all of those PowerPoints for a variety of reasons. One, in case they just can’t come to class for whatever reason, but to, they’re not actively listening sometimes, or they can’t actively listen, if they’re too worried about scribbling notes down. And if they’ve got the slides there, they don’t have to worry about catching every word that I say, Yeah. The other thing that people say is too much of a crutch is if students write the letter names down to next to the music, rather, the old, you’re just doing just not reading the music. And actually, that’s not, again, not always the case, especially if you’re dealing with a transposing instrument where everything else is in C and then you’ve got an instrument isn’t B flat, like their brains may not necessarily be able to process that transposition immediately. I will say that the biggest testament to what I’ve been doing came from one of my colleagues, one of my colleagues who had been teaching this class, I’m the first one to hold this position ever in the School of Music. And so before me, they had two faculty who are teaching and who were performance faculty. And one of those performance faculty is still teaching the music history classes. He’s teaching advanced classes, and he came up to me. And he said, You know, I’ve noticed, since you started teaching these history classes, the discussions I have with the students are more substantive in class, ah, they have that background knowledge, and they can activate it, and they know what we’re talking about, and they could make connections that I didn’t foresee. Wow. And that, to me is the benefit of UDL to you is that if you are doing all of these things, if you can see it from students down the line, and you even saying like this, the conversations are much more substantive than when I called that class.

Lillian Nave  49:04

Wow, that’s huge.

Reba Wissner  49:06

So any, any complaints or criticisms that you might have about the way I’m doing things automatically get negated when you find that they’re coming to you able to do these things, and that, for me is huge, is that they’re finding they’re learning about themselves. Like, I’m still learning about myself as a learner. They’re learning what works for them. And if they can continue to figure that out and use that as they’re going along. That immediately is something that I think will will take the criticism away. Oh,

Lillian Nave  49:39

absolutely. Yeah. And and it makes me think, too, that the criticism What is it found it on? Really, it’s just we always did it this way? Well, why did we always do it this way? They were sure reasons that aren’t very good. A story I remember about Thanksgiving, right? Or cooking the turkey. And every year the family would clip the wings off of the the turkey and put it in the pot. And then and and have this Thanksgiving feast. This is a very American story, I guess, to have a Thanksgiving feast. And one day the little granddaughter says, Why do we clip the wings off the turkey and, and asked the mom and I was like, you know, I’m not sure. But we’ve always clipped the wings off the turkey. And, and so she goes and asked her mother also this is very gendered, because we’re only talking about the the women in the family right now. So I’m critiquing the story, and asked the grandmother and says, you know, I’m not sure. And she asked her. So the great grandmother says, Well, my pot was too small. So we had to clip apart the bird. And it’s gone on for generations, and they’ve had different pots. But they kept doing it this old way that now had no meaning and no reason for it to be doing that way. But we’re kind of stuck in that traditional way, without really asking important questions about why we do it that way. And and who are we leaving out when we do it in a certain way? And who have we not invited to the table? Because we we do it a certain way? And what can we do differently that will incorporate the really vast majority of students that we have now that are different than the students we used to have. Because we’re serving.

Reba Wissner  51:25

And we tend to teach as we’ve been taught, you know, I think about all the ways that I’ve been taught, we used to have this thing that it was one of those, I called it a hazing ritual, because it really was where they would have these exams, we call drop the needle exams, where they would just start playing a piece of music anywhere in the middle. And the student would have to say exactly what piece it was. Yes. And I had thought like, I have a whole PhD and I have never had to do that beyond undergraduate. Why do we do that? What’s other than it’s a hazing ritual. And even so even if we weren’t going to do something like that, there’s so much better information we can glean from a student than the composer the name of the piece and when it was written or the genre? Yeah. Like, we can glean information, like, what is the student noticing about the piece? Yeah, like, do we really need to like have these very concrete things? And this is probably a hot take that my older colleagues would be like, yeah. But I mean, again, these things like we, and why do we do that? And again, just the notion like, we call them drop the needle exams? Yeah. Because they started when people were using vinyl. Yeah, when I was in college, we were using CDs. And we still call them drop the needle. And we still call them drop the needle and people using mp3. Like, why, again, because we’ve always done it that way.

Lillian Nave  52:49

Yeah. And it’s not helpful anymore. Yeah. And we can apply that across so many disciplines, like, Why do I know Battle of Hastings 1066 that comes to my head every time. But I didn’t even understand what the Battle of Hastings meant, and what giant significance it had for like, two decades. But I knew if you said battle Hastings, I knew 1066 And I was gonna, and I was like, I’m so smart, because I know that. But I knew nothing outside of that, because I just had to memorize that date at some point, probably when I was 15. And it’s never left me. But it’s not very useful knowledge, I would I would have to say, right, so. Okay, so what advice then do you have? Because you’ve got a lot of great ideas. So what advice do you have for other music educators, other professors who want to improve their courses to be able to reach all their students?

Reba Wissner  53:46

The most important thing that I’ve found is to apply the principles of backward design. You can’t figure out where students are going. When you get there, you have to know where you’re going, and then how together. And so you want to really crucial things is to start with the learning outcomes. And if it’s helpful for you to then think in terms of how am I going to get there assignments, lectures, course material, activities, think about and again, this is the instructional designer and may think of it as a branching scenario. So you have this great idea for an assignment. Okay, so now, what are different ways that you can make that you could represent that to students? Or what are the different ways that the students can engage with that activity. So like, going back to my Tiktok assignment, it started as do a duet with me. And then I thought, well, they can do all of these other things that are still writing two part music that don’t necessarily mean I need them to sing. And so think in terms of what you’re doing, what you want, like how you need to what you need to get there, once you’ve figured out your learning outcomes, and then figure out is this the only way that they can get there? Or what can we do? So that students can decide how they get there. It’s kind of like I have a lot of math anxiety, and those notions in school where there’s one right way to solve this math problem. Like, if you get that answer, right, every time using whatever method works for you, yeah. Yeah. So, you know, if a student gets to those learning outcomes and achieves those learning outcomes in any one of a variety of ways, why not? And I always encourage my students to share to come up with their own that may not be listed. Yeah. Because that might be something that I can add to the list. Because I say if it’s, if it’s inaccessible to one person, it’s not accessible. Yeah. And so having, you know, one student come up with something that works for them, that might work for other students. So offering that as an option. And don’t be scared of UDL, because people tend to be scared of it, because they think it’s a lot of work. And it is, I’m not gonna lie, it’s not teaching. Exactly. And we know, once you’ve done it, you have this universally designed course, that you can then add things to plus one. As you go along, as you find that they, it works. And you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single time. Because just as I was saying that you have I was taught four different classes before for the same classes for different institutions. Not every class is the same. You could have two sections back to back that are completely different. Yes, absolutely. And if you’re designing it, then you can whatever student you have in each of those classes, can have that accessible to them in the ways that they learn and engage best.

Lillian Nave  56:48

Yeah. Oh, my goodness, absolutely. You’ve given me a lot to think about, and actually a whole lot of fun things to think about. From the music side, which I haven’t done in a long, long time. And honestly, I’d love to take your class. So interesting, all of your history of, of rock and Renaissance. And I remember in college, I never took it, but there were some music appreciation. And you got you, you got what you explained in the beginning, which was those listening guides, and you had CDs, and you could, you know, I had friends that took it and they called it clapping for credit. Yep. Which completely belied the fact that it was an incredibly hard course. Because it was that intro, right. And they had the drop the needle exams, you know, and all those things. But it was you’ve made it so interesting, I think, for your students that can take I think, a difficult class and make it into an understandable chunks, you’ve scaffolded it and allowed them to have those building blocks, Legos, and, and in wooden blocks, to really build their knowledge. So thank you, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge Reba and for giving me the chance to talk to you and I had heard wonderful things about you through the Musicology, grapevine. So and my colleagues at Appalachian so thanks so much for spending the time and talking to me and sharing your incredible things for other people to air quotes steal, but use in their courses. So thanks a lot. 

Reba Wissner  58:25

Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Lillian Nave  58:32

You can follow the think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released. And also see transcripts and additional materials at the think website. Thank you again to our sponsor, Texthelp Texthelp is focused on helping all people learn, understand and communicate through the use of digital education and accessibility tools. Texthelp and its people are working towards a world where difference, disability or language are no longer barriers to learning and succeeding, with over 50 million users worldwide. The Texthelp suite of products include Read and Write equates to an orbit note, which work alongside existing platforms such as Microsoft Office and G Suite, enabling them to be integrated quickly into any classroom or workspace with ease. Texthelp has changed the lives of millions worldwide and strives to impact the literacy and understanding of 1 billion people by 2030. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw in Appalachia. The music on the podcast was performed by the Oddyssey quartet comprised of Rex Shepard, David Pate, Bill Folwell and Jose Cochez, and I am your host, Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on The think UDL podcast.

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