Never mind learning what about educating!

In the previous blog I examined a commonplace whole class activity, one with a long history and good provenance. I tried to show that as with all such activities being clear about its educational value (rationale) can help to make it more than a matter of routine, and to see in it endless opportunities to extend pupils’ musical thinking and understanding.

And now I need to extend my own thinking about this.

If ‘tutti-solo’ were to be a regular feature then it would be educative to open up the ‘tutti-solo’ process by offering it as a talking point for the class at some stage. Well focused talking is thinking.

Schools place great emphasis on the development of oracy as a component of literacy. But what is worth talking about? When might it be helpful? How does it connect to reading and writing about music? Can it overcome the tyranny of ‘key words’, ‘two stars and a wish’, ‘feeble self-indulgent evaluations’? Can talk, thought of as thinking about music, form an aspect of our subject’s hard-edged intellectually demanding character?

Ok, teachers do too much talking (1), but pupils not enough mind-raising talk, too much inconsequential talking. What might we talk about?

There is talk about the processes of ‘making music’ (eg. the process of tutti-solo). Secondly, talk about music as a social-cultural practice and thirdly, about the nature of music at a philosophical level. But what kinds of talk are there?

Karen Littlejohn and Neil Mercer propose three kinds: explorative, cumulative and disputational. (2) All this can be explained to pupils, rehearsed and subequently owned by them.

The challenge for the teacher will be when and how to take a little time out from the centrality of music-making to induct pupils into being meta-thinkers. It seems to me that here is one way of helping music education to be educative, claim rigour, and loosen the remorseless reference to ‘learning’ as if this reference by itself justified whatever was going on. Never mind learning, what about educating?

In the Winter 2013-14 issue of the Music Mark magazine Wayne Bowman writes:

‘The values afforded by music-making depend on the kind of music at hand, the ways we engage in it, and the uses to which that experience is subsequently put.’ (3)

In other words, without a clearly thought-through rationale our most cherrished warm up routine may have little merit. The step from meta-thinking to critical thinking may be but a small one.

(1) Teacher narrative talk is one exception.
(2) ‘Interthinking: putting talk to work’, Routledge, Karen Littlejohn and Neil Mercer.
(3) ‘The ethical significance of music-making’, Music Mark Magazine, Winter 2013/14 pp. 3-6, Wayne Bowman.

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