Is this what we mean by ‘depth’?

The publication of Sound and Silence (1) in 1970 gave fuel to the idea of teaching music through a series of projects. The publication was of course not intended to be read as a sequence of projects, rather as a way of approaching the teaching of music, a way of planning for what was referred to as creative music. The project was seen as a self-contained musical world taking the learner deep into some facet of music-making and always connected to what other musicians had done or were doing. The project was given coherence through some kind of structuring idea, a musical technique, feature, music’s realtionship with another art form, the exploration of an instrumental resource. The possibilities were limitless. The projects were designed to encourage experimentation, exploration and the acceptance of outcomes that were not predetermined.

Over time and with the drift towards orthodxy projects were to become units of work. The norm became the half-termly package fitting with half-term assessment requirements and pupil tracking. I am encouraged to note that the idea of the project lives on and as something greater than the half-termly package thought of as a unit of work.

If the project implies experimentation and exploration it can easily be thought of as a form of enquiry and this takes us to the contemporary idea of enquiry learning.(2) The project as enquiry.

While enquiry learning can be found in other subjects – maths, science, history, for example, I am not so sure that it is commonly deployed in the case of music. An interesting feature of enquiry learning is that the work that unfolds stays loyal to a ‘line of enquiry’ or ‘the enquiry question’. Finding worthwhile questions will be a challenge. Perhaps pupils will supply these. I like the question asked by a year 8 pupil ‘why does reggae exist’?, a question that the class can return to as work procedes, and a question that is likely to yield others.

In 2000 a teacher in training devised a project for a year 7 class ‘Introducing the life and Works of John Cage’. (3) The purpose was to introduce pupils to a method of composing, performing and appreciating music and in support of citizenship education. The work undertaken was dense with both skills and content. The project yielded a great deal of music, and just as significant, ideas about music. The project had taken the form of an enquiry. The line of enquiry, while not explicitly stated, involved asking questions about the values and beliefs emerging from the life and work of John Cage and their relevance to the pupils in the class. We might in hindsight frame the project with an overarching enquiry question.

‘What can John Cage teach us about what it means to be a composer, performer, member of an audience?’

One obvious objection to project work, as with the way Key Stage 3 has been conceived of as a series of units of work, is the difficulty in accounting for progression. This is answered only if we can state what it is that the pupils are getting better at as they move from project to project. In the project referred to above they were getting better at: composing, performing and thinking critically about music.(4) In the projects presented to these pupils as they move through Key Stage 3 these three items can form the basis for making judgements about their progress. But they will need elaboration in order to produce a worthwhile range of criteria. One interesting criteria created as part of the John Cage project related to the ability to respond to open questions about music. Another about being able to think about how we make music and what it means to us. These two examples give some sense of the richness of the content and the kind of skills being developed.

I wonder what projects you would want to devise. Just saying Film Music wont do. We would need to start by thinking about why Film Music? What about Film Music? Which Film Music? What is the issue? What will be the line of enquiry?

(1) Sound and Silence: Classroom Projects in Creative Music, John Paynter and Peter Aston, Cambridge University Press, 1970.
(2) Enquiry learning has roots in the thinking of philosopher John Dewey who viewed the school as a place where democracy was practised.
(3) An Analysis of a Scheme of Work Introducing the Life and Work of John Cage in Support of Students Citizenship Education at Year 7. Jo Plumb, IC Assignment, University of Cambridge, 2000.
(4) Thinking critically about music in this context is much more than what is usually implied by ‘appraisal’ or ‘evaluation’. Instead, this is meta critique.


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