Educators Grasping Backward Destroy Future (see what I did there?)

Module 2, Lesson 3 Assignment response from ‘The Place of Music in 21st Century Education‘ MOOC

So much theory… Are you surprised?

Francis Xavier described a “technical DJ” as one who can mix records in key with one another, in time, with grooves that “work together”, and as one who knows how to subtly use EQs and effects when needed.

Adam Maggs described a Liveschool curriculum that was composition-based, and that taught “everything about music” from the computer interface and the physics of sound, sound design, mixing, arranging, to traditional music theory including functional harmony, chords, and scales.

Research suggests that teachers see technology as a barrier to teaching electronic, popular music – but did you know that so much of the music theory you’ve learned in your traditional training was essential to the modern popular musician? Are you surprised? Have you learned anything else new and interesting in this module’s videos?


 

I’m certainly not surprised at what I’ve seen/heard so far. I know that skilled use of music technology uses incredible levels of musical understanding and I’m definitely not they kind of teacher that shies away from using popular music or technology in my music classroom, in fact, it forms the main basis of music education in our high school. However, the level and method in which we currently offer it (in my current school’s context, see below) seems slightly at odds with how state assessment bodies credit musical achievement, or what is perceived as ‘necessary’ qualities/abilities in a graduating music student. But when you are given limited capacity to change the circumstances, what other choice do we have other than to advocate and change our approach?

A lot of that disjunct revolves around music notation and music theory. So far I’ve seen very little use of traditional music notation in use music technology in the examples in this MOOC, or in the music education community at large. In fact it’s often an after thought in most approaches to teaching students with music technology – students are encouraged to discover, manipulate and interpret sound, audio and midi, and create music long before they understand their relationship to written rhythms and pitch. In my personal opinion, I see much more benefit (within my context, and despite my absolute ‘theory nerd’ persona) in exploring music theory graphically (midi piano roll, beat grid), aurally and applied directly, visually and physically to an instrument or diagram than to sit around drawing semibreves on lines and and spaces until it all just ‘sinks in.’ But getting others to agree, to prevent students continually ‘voting with their feet,’ is a difficult thing. Some may call it ‘pandering,’ or the ‘dumbing down,’ of musical concepts. I call it ‘liberation.’

NB: To give you some idea of my current teaching context, within a school of 1500 students F-12, students typically only get access to music from year 7, and even then only for 1 term until year 10, there is limited take up of wind instruments – though that is on the rise thanks to new initiatives, and nearly all students come from extremely low socio-economic backgrounds. Behaviour is a massive problem and Music is the least popular ‘elective.’ I have been at the school for just over a year now and am endeavouring to change that as much as possible.

Response to Provocation (Module 1)

I was asked as part of the MOOC I am currently part of to respond to some of a number of readings and/or videos relating to approaches to education and the use of technology. (On a side note, I am completing this task late at night, and with the flu, so forgive any lack of coherence, I know I could have done much better with a clearer head).

In perusing these stimuli, I found some common ideas and links to the examples presented in the module 1 videos the first being the concept of space. In the video titled ‘The best Kindergarten you’ve ever seen,’ Takaharu Tezuka demonstrates the power of learning spaces to unleash developmental benefits. Students have the ability to engage in remarkable ways, and even many unanticipated ways, when the space is considered. This thinking was reminiscent of the module tour of Northern Beaches Christian School, where flexibility, comfort, openness and acoustics were all taken into consideration. The difference being the use of technology built into those spaces. It’s obvious that the students in the kindergarten are excelling in some areas, and the approach to routine seems similar to that of the Steiner approach covered in lesson 4. The music students at NBCS are similarly highly engaged in their learning within an innovative, designed space, but, I wonder, whether the social learning and problem solving occurs on the same level, given the level of technology integrated.

Another link I see is the emphasis on socialisation. In Tezuka’s kindergareten, socialisation is key, as it is in the examples of Steiner education. David Price’s talk on ‘The Open Learning Revolution,’ highlighted examples of social learning and problem solving online, noting that people are most engaged within social spaces rather than formal spaces online, which is interesting considering he also emphasises that people what to be autonomous and ‘in control,’ which contrasts with people seeking social connection online.

The future of learning and how learning needs to change is another theme in the stimuli I explored. Anne Cunningham’s article about Steiner schools’ need to ‘adapt modern reading methods‘ makes a fair point. Having seen an example of Steiner education in Lesson 4 of Module 1 of the MOOC, I was taken a back with how well grounded the children seemed. Furthermore, the evidence is generally favourable for postponing the age of introduction to reading, as it supports child development overall, but I was disappointed that, as Cunningham points out, that when students are prepared to learn, it is not always as successful as other schools. Shouldn’t that forthcoming readiness to learn be accompanied by best practice in reading? Stephen Heppell’s article, originally for the Financial Times, warned that ignorance of the changing needs of the marketplace and businesses, and lack of investment in preparing the next generation for working life within that marketplace, may have far reaching economic implications. Should not, therefore, education emphasis the use of technology to equip students for an ever changing and innovating world?

NB: I really wish I was able to read more of the texts by Bauer and Brown, I didn’t feel confident in discussing them without seeing more than a few pages.

References

Cunningham, A. (2014, Aug 12). Steiner schools should adapt modern reading methods. The Conversation. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/steiner-schools-should-adopt-modern-reading-methods-30298 10th April, 2016.

Heppell, S. (2013, Jul 17). Coalition curriculum is a death knell for UK youth.Financial Times Retrieved fromhttp://workshop.heppell.mobi/2013/10/i-wrote-this-for-financial-times-and-it.html 10th April, 2016.

Price, D. (2014). David Price on The Open Learning Revolution | Amplify 2013. [Website.] Retrieved fromhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fGv3_kaGa8 10th April, 2016.

Tezuka, T. (2014). The best kindergarten you’ve ever seen. [Website.] Retrieved fromhttp://www.ted.com/talks/takaharu_tezuka_the_best_kindergarten_you_ve_ever_seen 10th April, 2016.

Music Technology MOOC – First Post

This week I began taking part in an exciting new MOOC on Coursera on ‘The Place of Music in 21st Century Education‘. I signed up for the MOOC because music technology in the classroom is a a passion of mine, but I still struggle with integrating it, especially when I have limited time available with each of my classes and finding time to learn music acoustically as well as using music technology to create ad compose is still a real struggle for me. I hope to learn more about different approaches to music education in the 21st century through out this course that I will be able to implement in my classroom.

Here’s an insight into what we’ll be looking at throughout the MOOC.

A belated update

I was semi-shocked to see that it had been more than 18 months since my last post. It seems my blogging has become as sporadic as my approach to fitness, but I guess this is as good a time as any to ‘up my game’ in at least one of these areas.

A lot has changed for me since my last post. around 13 months ago, half way through term 1, my husband and I uprooted ourselves from country life in Port Augusta and relocated to Adelaide. The timing was not ideal, but having applied for positions in the metropolitan area for around 18 months prior, I was at a point where I needed to take what I could get. So, I left my permanent position in small country, catholic school to take a contract at a massive government super-school, teaching middle school music while a friend was on maternity leave, in one of the lowest socio-economic areas of Adelaide. Needless to say, I was in for a massive culture shock.

The two school environments couldn’t be more different. While at my previous school I was running my own department, I was now one of a 2 teacher faculty in a remarkably small department in one of the largest schools in the state. Where my focus was once on curriculum, my focus became 99% on behaviour management. Needless to say there were tears as persisted and worked through an unceasing state of shock, pondering ‘what one Earth have I gotten myself into?’ over and over.

I made some headway through out the year, mainly persisting with Musical Futures pedagogy to complement the school’s Project Based Learning approach which is implemented through out the B-12 school, and had some successes with small performances, which were seldom seen from Middle School students prior. I became remarkably resilient (rather than saying passive or numbed) to some of the behaviour that upset me so much when I started, but it’s far from ideal and the emotional toll on teachers is seen everywhere across the school. The school offered me another full year contract for 2016, and I took it, not having been able to secure anything else permanent.

2016 has had an interesting start. I’ve branched into Primary for term 1 teaching NIT Music and Digital Technologies, and while many of the same behaviours are still apparent, it’s been a welcome change to be working as part of a dedicated team, getting to know more of the staff across the school rather than simply living with in the bubble of the Middle Years sub-school. And while this term’s arrangement has purely been ‘at the leisure of leadership’ (there is extremely limited access to quality music or arts related learning below year 7 currently), it’s made me more determined to ensure that continuity becomes a focus for the school into the future. It’s made me a better advocate for my learning area, more confident in speaking with leadership and has inspired me to continue building upon my professional practice to see these goals through.

Already, I’ve managed to grow the number of concert band instrument students from 4 to 36 and my Festival of Music choir is 46 members strong. I’ve started a Ukulele club, helped 70 Year 6 fall in love with playing the recorder (of all things!) with Recorder Karate. Behaviour challenges aside, this term has been fun, and very beneficial to my students, but as the term’s ‘experiment’ comes to a close, I’m preparing to re-enter the world of middle years music once again, teaching one year 7 and two year 9 compulsory music classes for 300 minutes per week for one term. I’m quickly becoming aware that some of the headway I’ve made in Primary isn’t necessarily going to transfer and I need to up my game.

So, my plan is to delve into even more PD, still searching for solutions to structuring music for Middle School beginners with attitude. I anticipate returning more in depth to musical futures approaches, but with the current constraints on space and access to equipment, I will have to modify a number of things. I’m also going to delve into Dr James Humberstone’s new MOOC, ‘The Place of Music in 21st Century Education,’ and finally, after years of wanting to complete it, I will soon complete my Level 1 in Orff Schulwerk (yay for me).

I’ll be using this blog to reflect on my experiences during these endeavours and to continue focusing on my practice this year.

Wish me luck!

Why I teach Musical Futures

Note: this post is more so a personal reflection than an introduction to my musical futures based curriculum, I will no doubt cover that plenty in future posts, but if you would like to know more about what Musical Futures is, please visit the UK based Musical Futures website or the Musical Futures Australia website.

A few years back, 2009 if you want to be specific, I was teaching primary school music in a couple of Area Schools on the Yorke Peninsula and in my random web surfing for ideas for practical tasks I stumbled across the Musical Futures site. As a recent graduate at the time, my head was filled with dreams of grand jazz and classical music programs that would endeavour to produce high quality fine arts performers because my formal, tertiary education had taught me that that’s what schools needed to focus on. Needless to say, being more ‘Popular’ and ‘Alternative’ music inclined personally, as a music teacher I often felt conflicted.

What immediately drew me to research further was the examples of songs schools using the program were performing; Kaiser Cheifs, Greenday, Snow Patrol, Michael Jackson to name a few. But I was in a primary school at the time and I didn’t think any of it could work in that settings (looking back now of course, I know that it would have been awesome). While I did attempt to incorporate some whole class work shopping ideas with upper primary students (we created a class arrangement of Ben Lee’s ‘Catch my disease‘ as a Christmas carol using Orff instruments) I really wanted to try the ‘In the Deep End’ approach with secondary students. At the end of my first year I was offered a position at  a regional catholic school so needless to say, I got my chance, and I am still at the school now, 4 years on.

That first year in a secondary environment was a massive challenge – a mad scrambling, chaos-filled, balancing act if you will. My biggest teething problems came with balancing the requirements of curriculum with what students wanted to do and learn and also what I wanted students to think about and feel when they listened to and performed music, even if it wasn’t styles they wanted play. My Year 10s were my biggest challenge. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly in my year 8 classes where there was a lot of practical music making in classroom work shopping, but for some reason I thought that the year 10s, being senior school students, had to be focused on more traditional aspects of music learning, after all they were possibly going to go on to year 12 music or even tertiary, it was my responsibility to prepare them for that.

The year 10s were mostly all self taught rock stars. Passionate about music, but closed off to anything new. It took me about a term to wake up to reality and realise that this cohort were never going to care about how cool a piece ‘O Fortuna’ from Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ was, and they were never going to pick up sheet music with traditional notation to play a piece. Ultimate-guitar.com and YouTube were their best friends, not the notation theory books I gave them. I kept pushing, they pushed back. It was an injustice on my part to not accept that that was the way they wanted to learn and learnt best. I lost some really good students from my future elective classes. I needed to change things and I was not going to let such kids slip by ever again.

The experience of working with those students taught me something particularly important.

What good is knowing all of the theory if you don’t need it play what you want to play?

A music class isn’t a music class when no one is making music and in the context of a remote school and community, I don’t believe there is anything more important than the social connection that comes with creating music and by making this central to each of my classes through musical futures approaches has made a lot of difference. Our musicians have positive reputations in the town, our end of semester concerts are an outstanding array of varying styles, ensembles are always inclusive of all students and their ability levels and parents are happy to see their children happy. Happy children make for a happy future in our town.