Project status report – forums, PD, research, writing…

This was a good work for finishing off a couple of one-off projects. It was a busy week – but it was also a shorter one with the public holiday for Anzac Day yesterday. Here’s a bit of a status report on the various projects swimming around in my head, or just completed.

Teacher and Artist Forum – collaborative partnerships

This was a Professional Development day for both teachers and artists presented by ArtPlay and funded by Arts Victoria. I was one of three artists invited to facilitate some of the sessions – a wonderful teacher was also part of the facilitator team, along with ArtPlay’s Creative Producer, and a Lead facilitator from the University of Melbourne. It proved to be a very interesting day – valuable and inspiring. I presented two workshops – my brief was to run an activity that teachers and artists could take part in together, and in which they might have very different perspectives about how it could be used in a school context. I taught them Read the Circle, and we then built up some compositions around it using voice and body percussion.

The most interesting parts of the day were the discussions about what works well in partnerships, and where the stumbling blocks can be. There was an overall aim to gather as many thoughts together as possible and to end the day with the creation of a kind of template for artists and schools to use when planning a collaborative project. I spoke for 30 minutes on two projects – I talked about one that had worked amazingly, serendipitously well, and considered what was in place to generate this success; and about one that had proved to be quite challenging, all the way through, despite a lot of planning, experience and good will. The teacher was the last of the facilitators to speak, and she just was perfect. So succinct and clear, in mapping out the roles and responsibilities in an artist-in-school residency.

I think an important thing to learn as an artist going into a school for a residency is to have the confidence (and trust) to say what you need, and what you think will work best. For me, this means longer classes (an hour at least) and small group sizes (around 22 if we are doing whole-ensemble work with body percussion or voice; about half that if we are doing instrumental composition). I feel filled with a ind of horror when I hear about young artists going into schools where they are timetabled to work with every class in the school, with short lesson times in order to fit them all in. Of course it is important, and ideal, that ‘everyone have a turn’. But it is, I think, more important that the quality of the experience for the students be the best if can possibly be. This means proper funding, and settings as close to ideal as possible. If it means you only work with three classes, for 90 minutes each, then that is perfect. Those three classes will have an extraordinary experience. Put together a longer-term plan that sees each class having this kind of experience, three classes at a time, across 2 terms, so six classes participating in a year. The next year, the next 6 classes can be the participants, and so on until the whole school has taken part. At which point, ideally, the artist starts again.

That’s what I’d like to see, and more of us need to start really considering what the ideal environment for our artistic process is, an be prepared to put that on the negotiating table. We do ourselves no favours when we take on more than we meaningfully can, and do our best to ‘make it work’.

Byar – teacher professional development

Byar is a gamelan group that performs as part of the Musica Viva in Schools stable of ensembles. They are wonderful – clever, clever musicians, fascinating instruments, compelling sounds of all colours. As part of the MVIS program there is a teacher professional development session, to familiarise the teachers with the group’s repertoire and the kinds of classroom activities that can be done to help the students’ explre the music creatively. I lead these Teacher PD sessions for Byar and this week we had our Metropolitan Melbourne session. There are some more coming up in country Victoria later in the year, apparently.

It is always a fun gig. I love the repertoire, the teaching materials that accompany the group’s repertoire are excellent, and I find it a real pleasure to facilitate others’ enjoyment and understanding of the music. The group take part in the PD session, performing a number of pieces but also joining in the activities, chatting with the teachers, and making it a really rich experience for all. So I did that this week, in the evening of the ArtPlay PD day. Long day, but quite satisfying.

Language School

I forgot my notebook with all my lesson plans in it this week! Hopeless brain…. luckily I had a pretty good idea of where we were up to in each of the projects, and there was plenty for us to do. Upper Primary put together music to accompany their opening song about the spider building her web (inspired by the book by Jenny Wagner, Aranea). It was an intense class. Four different instrumental sections, all of whom needed my assistance. It was one of those situations where, in my less experienced days, I would have found myself getting very tense. But I have strategies now! That day, it was to say to the group,

“Who here knows what to do with their instrument?” Only a couple of children put up their hands.

“Who doesn’t know what to do?” Most of them put up their hands!

“Okay!” I said, cheerily. “So the drummers need my help, and the glockenspiels need my help…. do the xylophone people need my help?” I had just been working with those children, so the whole class chorused “No” at that point.

“How should we do the helping?” I asked the children. Several put up their hands. “Yes, Murad?”

“You can help one group, and then the other group,” Murad suggested.

“Fantastic!” I agreed. “And what should the drummers do while I help he glockenspiel people?”

“They should listen!” everyone called out.

So that’s what we did, and despite the fact that they all had their instruments in front of them, and despite the fact that this scenario required such patience from them, they waited extremely well, and soon we were ready to start putting all our parts together.

Masters study

This is where things start to get depressing. I am still waiting to put my Ethics application in to the Department of Education. I am being held up by the concerns of a third party – my supervisor and the University are perfectly satisfied with what I have proposed. It is very frustrating. I am hoping I will be able to send it off early next week – but there is nothing I can do now to hurry things along.

Meanwhile, the disempowerment I feel in the whole stalled situation is sapping my energy. There are things I should be hunting down and reading. I am finding it difficult to get started on this – psychologically I want the Ethics application to be in, so that I can turn my attention to the next stage of work. My aim this week is to over-ride my disempowerment, and get started in the next phase, regardless what happened with Ethics this week.

My greatest fear is that this delay will mean I do not get Ethics clearances in time to to start my interviews with students this term. There are a number of students in the school who would be ideal candidates for my research – they have been in the school quite a long time, they have backgrounds of disrupted schooling, they are articulate an comfortable in verbal situations… and they will all leave the school at the end of this term. I have my fingers crossed that my applications will be in good enough shape to not need a lot of revisions, hopefully speeding up the approval process. But you never know.

I know too, that research often does not go according to plans. It may be that I have to redesign the project, if things do not get back on track soon. I know that this happening would itself be part of the research. I hope that won’t be the case – it would really affect my writing timelines, which I have planned for the last three months of this year.

I.T

The other thing I have been dong this week is getting to know my MacBook a little better. Getting some software on it, trying to get access to the University Wireless network (so far a fruitless exercise, annoyingly), looking through the different applications and trying to get a sense of what they do.

I had friends over for dinner last night – I cooked Moroccan chicken tagine with dates and honey – a slow cooker, but one of the tastiest dishes you could ever hope to eat! – and a stacked salad of roasted eggplants and capsicums, with a yoghurt, cumin, honey, and pistachio dressing. And in return, Mr B helped me with some computer stuff. And we all talked about work, and the misery and panic at how behind I feel we still are at the orchestra, started to subside a little.

Prison project

We have now finished all the workshops. I have a hard drive with all the raw recordings – I need to listen to all of this footage and start making some suggestions. I feel overwhelmed by this part. It is going to take so long! I still only have two days a week at the Orchestra, and we really, really need to get started on the…

Extended Residency Project

This is the Orchestra’s big outreach project for Terms 3 and 4. It is a residency in a primary school, with the express aim to have an impact on the overall learning results and community connectedness of the students. It is an exciting project, but it is BIG, there is limited funding, so we need to plan carefully. We also should have started in term 1, but the loss of the fulltime Education Manager meant a lot of things had to go on hold – this was one of them.

It has been causing me a lot of worry, because my job feels so over-extended already and I don’t know how I will fit everything in, let alone when I will get the thinking and creative time that ideally I would put into a project like this.

However, after a night spent tossing and turning, I got up yesterday morning and went for a swim. As I cruised up and down the lane my brain kept working on things, and I started to come up with some ideas about how to get started, and what the project shape might look like. I feel a bit more on top of it now, in my head at least.

Writing a music unit

I have been asked by a local music education provider to write a unit of work for a music classroom with large numbers of ESL students. I am going to write about my Musical Alphabets projects. It is a project theme that people really connect with. Certainly lots of readers of this blog find me after putting ‘musical alphabet’ into a search engine. I started a draft of this unit during the week, sketching it out in pencil as I ate my porridge each morning. I aim to get this done quickly, so that it is out of the way when my Ethics application gets through and I get to start my research!

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