Archive for August, 2008|Monthly archive page

MTeach class, week 3

This week we moved onto tuned percussion instruments. The aim is to start applying some of the rhythmic rules of last week to pitched instruments – as soon as we also have to worry about notes, things can become less stable, so I like to move people onto instruments one step at a time.

Warm-up – clap/ssh/bing/hiyah!

This is a circle game that is a variation on Zip-Bop, which I taught the class last week. I particularly like this version because it is easy to adapt it for different groups, to add new sounds and layers, and new rules. The range of vocal sounds you include can create some very interesting musical soundscapes, once the game is in progress.

  • Start by sending a clap swiftly around the circle, one by one. Insist on good eye contact – each person must watch the clap as it approaches them, and when they pass it on, should make immediate eye contact with the person they are passing it to.
  • Try it in both directions.
  • Now get the game underway. The aim is for the clap to be passed around the circle as swiftly as possible, however, anyone, at any time, can change the direction. The game gets people’s reflexes and quick reactions engaged, and has a high ‘fun’ element.
  • Now play the same rules, but use the sound ‘ssshh’ instead of the clap. Once everyone has got the hang of this, give the players the choice of sounds – at anytime they can change the sound, or change the direction of the sound.
  • The use of ‘bing-bong’ and ‘hiyah’ were detailed in MTeach class, week 1.

Instrument work

Everyone then went to the music store room and chose a tuned percussion instrument to play. Most of these are Orff-style instruments, with removable bars.

I asked everyone to remove all the As and Es, which created a 5-note mode that I think of as my ‘Indian raga’ mode (it sounds to me like one of the ‘Morning’ ragas). Five-note modes are ideal for early improvisation work, as there are no ‘wrong’ notes – ie. there are no notes that clash uncomfortably with each other. Also, modes have a certain amount of harmonic ambiguity – the sense of the harmony can shift with the riffs and ostinati that people invent, which stops the music becoming static.

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MTeach class, week 2

In this week’s class, we looked at three ways of developing students’ rhythmic invention and skills.

Circle game – Accumulative Rhythms

This is a good warm-up, it can create a powerful focus in a group. It is also a big brain-teaser, so needs to be worked on slowly, adding complexity a little at a time.

The whole group stands in a circle. One person (the leader/facilitator/teacher/student) starts a clapping pattern going. The person beside them watches, learns it, and joins in. The next person along does the same, and so on, around the circle. It is important that people don’t start clapping the rhythm before it has come to them – even if they have figured it out long ago and are keen to get started!

Once the rhythm is well-established, the leader starts another rhythm. The person beside them hears it, and joins in when ready, passing it on to their neighbour. See how many different rhythms you can have travelling around the circle at the same time!

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Interviewing ESL children

Last week I met with the teachers at the Language School to make plans for my research project that I will be starting this term. I want to film some music classes and interview three students over a series of weeks, and to do this I need formal consent from their parents.

Setting up the research – ethics and informed consent

That is no simple matter in an ESL context, with the most appropriate means of communicating with parents differing between cultural groups, and families. As is usual with University-based research projects that require ethics approval, I have prepared Plain Language Statements that outline the research project, what it entails, issues of confidentiality etc, and Consent forms that parents and children need to sign in order for me to be able to proceed.

I have written these in very simple English. For those of you who have seen sample Plain Language Statements, you will know that they are fairly detailed documents because there is quite a lot of information they need to cover. Even when the language is simple, there is a lot to take. Mine are waaaayyy simpler than any I have ever seen before!

In communicating with parents, teachers at the Language School use a number of different means, depending on the parent they are contacting and the nature of the information. These include:

  • Sending home a notice in English (often in a particular colour if there are many notices going out at the same time that need to be signed and returned);
  • Explaining the content of a note in English prior to sending it home;
  • Using school interpreters (where available) to explain the content of the notice to the children in their own language, before sending the notice home;
  • Calling parents in English (teacher, principal) or in their own language (Multicultural Education Aide/interpreter) to talk through content of the notice;
  • Translating notices into the appropriate written language and sending these home.

The last option – translating notices into another written language – is not appropriate for everyone. Some languages are primarily oral languages, and rarely written down. It may be that one language is used for speaking (eg. Somali) and another for writing (eg. Arabic). Or vice versa. The parent may not in fact be literate.

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MTeach class, week 1

I am teaching a new class at the University this semester – a group of MTeach students who all have backgrounds (to varying degrees) in music. The focus (as much as has been given to me so far.. it seems to change every time I speak to one of the coordinators) is on contemporary art music, improvisation and composition.

I’ll keep things as hands-on as possible – everything we learn, we will learn by doing, and exploring with instruments and our voices. We’ll cover a number of different approaches to group-devised composing, and work towards a large-scale piece that involves all of us, by the end of the 12 weeks.

These ‘MTeach’ posts have two functions – the first is a planning space for me, to log what we are doing each week, and how the classes (which are 60 minutes long – only – every Tuesday morning) link up and develop; the second is for the students to have a place to recall what we did in class, and use as a resource should they want to revisit the activities with their own classes.

I tend to structure most of my lessons with an initial warm-up game ( I think it is useful for all teachers to have a number of these up their sleeve, so see a lot of value in introducing them to the group), followed by content that is more focused on invention, composing, and structure.

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Creativity in education

‘Creativity’ is a buzz word – in a rapidly-changing world, those equipped with the creative, imaginative, and inventive skills are best placed to keep pace, adapt and thrive. That aside, my own work is focused on composition, and invention of new music by groups, so the question of creativity, and its place in education, is always of interest.

A Symposium I attended on the Wednesday of the ISME Bologna conference focused on current research into creativity in education, and presented viewpoints from four different countries.

The first speaker (from the US) started by looking at how the descriptor ‘creative’ can be interpreted in education contexts. We can have:

  • creative process – suggesting imaginative, unusual or surprising approaches to a task
  • creative product – suggesting an outcome that is particularly innovative; and
  • creative experience (for the audience/participant) – suggesting an experience that is particularly expressive, for example.

In music education (in many cultures, not only Western music education practices) ‘creativity’ offers challenges. Performance-based practice is typically focused on the existing repertoire, and long-held traditions. Outside expectations also tend to evaluate and judge according to this criteria. Other artforms are not as restricted as this.

The speaker went on to consider the kinds of ‘spaces’ we inhabit in music education, and contrasted a photo of a drab classroom filled with desks (taken in the 1950s by the looks of things – even in my primary school days classrooms were more welcoming than this) with an image of a vibrant concert hall, glossy, glamourous, shiny and luxurious.

(At this point I found myself taken aback, realising that to me, the classroom looked by far the more potentially ‘creative’ space of the two. Is this my experience of orchestras revealing itself? At the end of the presentations, others in the audience went on to make this point, highlighting that resources do not necessarily indicate greater creativity. The contrary can be, and is, often true).

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Inviting and listening to pupil voice

My Masters research project (on which I am about to embark) involves drawing from three students their perceptions of the music program I run at the Language School, so I had a particular interest at this conference in hearing from people whose research involved encouraging forth, and creating forums for, pupil voice.

I heard one person speak about her project which focused on getting children in a ‘gifted’ program to write and talk about their responses to music. There were some lovely, heartfelt comments that she shared, and it seemed like an interesting site for research. However…. I couldn’t quite see the point of the research, or what her research question was. Maybe it was simply, “What do the children think about music?” But I found the research, as she presented it, to be a bit limited in the way she described. Most of the audience, when it came time for questions, seemed far more interested in the research context of the gifted children’s class, than they were in the content of her research.

Later comment – I’d revise this assessment now. Just to know what students are thinking is valuable. Her students offered such reflective, personal, honest responses to her questions. They articulated their feelings about something as complex, ephemeral and personal as music. The research is valuable, I realise now, simply because it asks questions that we adults often forget to ask. We assume we know what children are thinking. Or we assume they are thinking the same as us. Or we are not concerned with what they are thinking! But the truth is that, unless we ask them, the inner worlds of children will be unknown to us, and we will be much the poorer for this. [Added 9 December 08]

I went to a very inspiring presentation by a Dr Finney, from the University of Cambridge. He presented a very compelling argument for the importance of including student voice in school decision-making, including the fact that the qualities we want to develop in young people, and see them equipped with for the future, can be developed through consultation and discussion with them. He described one particular project where this had been done.

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Music education and social inclusion

A second theme that resonated strongly for me during the ISME conference in Bologna was that of music education and social inclusion, with tangents leading off from this central point in a number of different directions.

On Tuesday, Dan Baron from IDEA (International Drama/Theatre in Education Association) described the current world approach to education as having a dangerously strong (and limiting) commitment to a culture of competition and authority. He went on to invite all arts educators to lead the way to a new world of pedagogies of transformation and sustainability, diversity and inclusivity.

He was an eloquent speaker who in fact began by singing to us an ancient unaccompanied song as a way of reaching out to us and inviting us to join him. He reminded us, “the singing voice touches the skin and penetrates it”.

His platform was bold and unreserved. As he spoke of the World Alliance of Arts Educators submission to UNESCO in March 2006, which called for “paradigms of education which both transmit and transform culture through the humanising languages of the arts, and which are founded of principles of cooperation, not competition”, he called for pedagogies that go beyond social inclusion, to social transformation.

This was a call for a world-scale cultural change in how we educate. A world-project, building a new paradigm of how we educate.

I wanted to ask, how? It felt too negative, or non-believing, to ask this, and I was not brave enough, but I will raise my questions here. What kind of time-line, and milestones along the way, does Dan and indeed the WAAE envisage? And, doesn’t the current pedagogy of authority and competition reflect the way that humanity is already driven by competition and power? Also, we cannot escape today the political agenda in pedagogy and the different ways it impacts on educational culture overall (for example, the Literacy Hour in the UK, and ‘educational audit culture’, vs. the vision and embracing of risk, change and creative possibility in the Creative Partnerships program).

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My own research project

As part of the ISME Policy Commission Seminar the week before the main conference began, I had the chance to present my own research – just a short description of what I am looking at, and I how I intend to do this.

This proved to be such a valuable opportunity. It led to later conversations with far more experienced researchers who had worked in, or had interest in, similar areas, and to invitations to write and present, once I have finished my Masters. I also got steered towards some useful literature – such as a book “Image-based Research” by Prosser.

As part of my preliminary studies last year I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on my own teaching methodolology. You can read more about it here. I concluded that mine is a project-based approach, with all the learning embedded within the framework of a larger project. However, hearing presentations on the development of pedagogies for music of other cultures also showed me the way I have borrowed and learned from music pedagogies developed from other music styles.

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