Scaffolding the talk: a case of teacher-led pupil autonomy

One of the claims made for the development of exploratory talk in the classroom is that it becomes a tool for children’s reflection, promoting ‘metacognitive awareness of how they talk and reason together’ [1] [2], leading to internalisation of Exploratory Talk as a model for reasoning. [3]

This is a powerful claim and one that Katie Hasler is testing out in her classroom action research project. [4] Katie notes that the expectation is that students post 16 will know how to talk each other and themselves into understanding, although she concedes that in her case they haven’t quite got there yet. On the other hand students at earlier stages obviously need the teacher to teach them how this works.

In other words, talk needs to be structured and publicly practised, critiqued together, so that it can be internalised and become deliberate behaviour and even second nature by the post 16 stage and earlier. The teacher is needed as a ‘scaffolder’ in order for pupils to know how to reason together. [5] Thus, the teacher is a trainer-mediator and taking a role very different from that of a facilitator. The ground rules below provide an example of this where the teacher would need to lead pupils into awareness of how their interthinking was working and how it could be more productive.

Ground Rules for Exploratory Talk [6]

Everyone offers relevant information
Everyone’s ideas are treated as worthwhile
– but are critically evaluated
We ask each other questions
We ask for reasons and give them
We try to reach agreement
People trust each other and work as a team

In last week’s blog I gave examples of possible talking points and how to create these. In this way I tried to show how talking can go to the heart of the subject, music. Music can claim to be a subject and more than an participatory activity.

Katie is particularly taken by the effectiveness of a Philosophy for Children (P4C) approach which Katie sets out below offering a whole lesson scheme.

Private reflections
Sharing, and creation of a question
Airing questions
Voting for one enquiry question
Reflections on the process
Last words

Well, what might the stimulus be to set thinking off? A pupil’s composition; an image of the first recorded piece of music 14th century BC; ‘In at the Deep End’; ‘finding your voice’; what pupils think needs to be talked about…?

A whole lesson given over to talking/thinking once in a while! Would it bear fruit?

Teachers who have used the P4C scheme will know that there is often a moment in the whole class discussion when pupils stop deferring to the teacher and when full responsibility for discussion is taken on by pupils, a case of teacher-led pupil autonomy. [7]

Could this scheme work as a basis for whole class musical interthinking?

P4C offers a classroom where everybody’s thoughts are valued, where everybody has a voice. This contributes to a productive classroom climate and positive attitudes and behaviour. Of course, this needs to be learnt.

P4C is an example of ‘talking for talking sake’ and just one approach to developing thinking. In the case of music and in contrast to P4C we need examples of talk/thinking emerging inside experiences of music making.

To conclude reporting from the recent Cambridge conference I ask the following questions.

In what ways do talk related strategies foster enquiry, curiosity and the exploration of ideas?
Does infusing music making with purposeful talk improve students’ musical thinking?
Can talking points assist with learning to write about music and foster a need to read about it?
Are talking points a step towards a critical pedagogy?
Could talking become a key aspect of progression?
Do talking points lead to a mature culture of ‘musical criticism’ embracing what currently falls under ‘review, appraisal, evaluation, reflection’?

The last question takes us to the possibility of re-thinking the framework we create for our music education and in England to the dissolution of the ‘holy trinity’ of Performing, Composing, Listening. It is this that I will write about next week.


[1] See Karen Littleton and Neil Mercer (2013) ‘Interthinking’. London: Routledge.
[2} Metacognition = awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.
[3] This idea draws upon Vygotsky’s theory of learning where social interaction forms the basis for individual thinking. The concept of modelling so much casually referred to in pedagogical speak is derived from this theory.
[4] I am encouraged that it is a music teacher who is leading a whole school research project into dialogic practice.
[5] ‘Scaffolding learning’ is another casually used pedagogical term also derived from Vygotsky’s theory. I regret that I am unable to copy Katie’s model of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. It’s a version that I haven’t seen before and seems to incorporate Czicksentmihalyi’s flow concept.
[6] Littleton, K. and Mercer, N. Ibid.
[7] ‘Pupil autonomy’ seems to be highly prized idea in current debate on informal-formal practice. Here the teacher teaches for pupil autonomy, another Vygotskian derived idea. This is a good example of the school as a place of formal instruction.

Talking to think in music education

Chatting over lunch with two of the music teachers at our recent Cambridge Conference I heard how they had mastered the art of teaching a music lesson where music alone did the ‘talking’. One had demonstrated the lesson to a senior manager as a way of explaining that music itself is the medium of learning in music lessons. And we recall Ofsted’s call for music to be the target language. In the context of the conference where we were thinking about the place of talk in music learning, my response to the two music teachers was, ‘well, after that there must have been alot to talk about.’

Before lunch we had heard four different approaches to the place of talk in music lessons. In last week’s blog I reported on one of these, Becky Clarey’s work based on a ‘critical thinking skills’ approach. In her conference presentation Becky made the point that while time is found for talk at the post 16 stage, this didn’t seem to be the case at earlier stages. In commenting on last weeks blog Vicki Love pointed out that with one hour weekly for music (and not always that), and with urgent attention needing to be given to musical skill development, a ‘critical thinking skills’ approach is unlikely to gain traction at Key Stage 3. The most urgent need is to ensure that music lessons are musical in what Vicki maintained was a skills-led curriculum.

Interestingly, none of the other three morning presentations had taken a ‘critical thinking skills’ approach. Lis McCullough had shown how primary school pupil’s talking while composing, with a little help from the teacher, were beginning to master exploratory talk dealing with the process of composing as well as occasionally touching on philosophical matters. Vicki Waller showed how in paired composing at Key Stage 3 talk was not always as productive or creative as it might be. And Katie Hasler leading a whole school research project on dialogic teaching was discovering the value of an approach based on ‘philosophy for children’ at Key Stage 4.

Together the four perspectives make sense when connected to what Mercer and Littlejohn (2013) refer to as ‘interthinking’ and this relates to our teaching of music at whatever stage.

It is difficult to imagine a music classroom, unless particularly contrived, where there is no talking, no reason to talk and where the music making, the musical interthinking, and musical skill development has no counterpointing dialogue. Whenever pupils are working with others, whether in a pair, group or whole class, there will be interthinking through talk. But how productive is this? Do pupils know how to benefit from ‘exploratory’ talk, for example? The effects of exploratory talk on individual reasoning it is maintained promotes:

* Appropriation – transmission of knowledge and problem-solving

* Co-construction – synergistic construction of new knowledge through discussion

* Transformation – tool for children’s reflection, promoting ‘metacognitive awareness of how they talk and reason together’, leading to internalisation of Exploratory Talk as a model for reasoning

So might we find time to teach pupils what exploratory talk entails, how it can help them to think better and understand more?

In the Appendix below I have set out ways of establishing productive exploratory talk through the use of talking points.

Becky Clarey teaching year 9 to think and make music for film posed the question: Is ‘mickey-mousing’ the lowest form of film music? I don’t know how this question was integrated into the development of musical skills surrounding music for film. It may have been the enquiry question set in place at the outset of study, a question to be continually returned to as skills and understanding develop. The point is that by providing pupils with talking points/thinking points and through their learning to think about music as well as think in sound, they hopefully engage with and reflect upon their processes of creating music leading to working more intelligently and with questions of their own arising.

Learning to talk well about music, think critically about it and make it more intelligently is a worthy component of progression within a musical education. It could be the first step in developing a critical pedagogy. But that is another matter altogether.


Talking points: some examples

These examples are not necessarily perfect (!), but do give an idea of where ‘exploratory talk’ might co-exist with making in music (teaching and learning contexts). The idea of talking points has primarily been researched and used, so far, in the primary school context but many of us are now beginning to explore their use within a variety of secondary school contexts.The original idea can be traced back to Neil Mercer’s ‘thinking together’ project. First the need for ground rules.

Ground rules for exploratory talk
(Littleton and Mercer 2013)

• Everyone offers relevant information
• Everyone’s ideas are treated as worthwhile – but are critically evaluated
• We ask each other questions
• We ask for reasons and give them
• We try to reach agreement
• People trust each other and work as a team

Ground rules for writing talking points
(Finney and Earl 2013)

• Talking points must be inclusive so that everyone can understand them and find them interesting.
• Talking points need to be constructed so that there are simple answers and more complex ones. This keep groups engaged.
• Talking points need to be ‘enquiry’ based not focussed on developing specific skills.
• Talking points work when pupils don’t want to stop! Building them, in a spiral curriculum,’ to the KS3 curriculum should help pupils develop their own ‘thinking (rather than just ‘fixing’ strategies) by the time they get to KS4 and 5)
• You need to keep groups to time when they do talking points (no more than 5-7 minutes initially) and encourage them to explore as many as they want to/can. Otherwise they just get stuck on the first talking point and never explore any wider or deeper.
• Everyone’s ideas are treated as worthwhile.
• Talking points work best if you pilot them first (e.g. with other adults?) and see which ones in practice promote exploratory talk (Mercer) rather than cumulative or disputational talk. If they work for you they’ll work for your students, usually.
• Talking points need to be contextualised in the lesson at a point where it is ‘natural’ to expand talk for exploring a ‘line of enquiry.’ e.g. just before a group performs their own composition or just after they have sung, They aren’t ‘starters and plenaries.’
• Writing good talking points is a new skill for many of us and it takes time to learn which ones work. Be ruthless in eliminating TP’s which turn out to be about ‘pushing’ an angle of our own or which just ask pupils to ‘comprehend’ what a particular aspect of music is. The teacher needs to be clear what mix (or separation) of making, social practice and/or ‘big questions’ the talking points are directed at.
• Talking points which involve researching something outside the context (making ,social practice, big questions) usually don’t work.
• Talking points work on the principle that the teacher does know, basically, the range of possibilities of what might be discussed. So they are ‘mediating’ the inter-thinking, not just allowing ‘any old thing’ to emerge.
• However the potential for a wide range of ‘pupil owned’ ideas is enormous, so write the talking points in a way which ensures they can work from their own music practice ‘then and there’ rather than speculating about ‘music in general.’
• For use in the classroom (and once you are sure what works), produce high quality powerpoint slides or cards and laminate them/keep the images up to date for re-use It builds an expectation in pupils’ minds that the activity is worth doing.

Sample talking points

A. Making
1. I can hear what I want the piece to sound like, from the start, in my head.
2. Sometimes I just need to play with sounds alone before ideas begin to work.
3. I don’t know what makes one composition better than another.
4. Composing really interests me. You never know what’s going to come out.
5. I am not sure why we ended up with the piece being this way. I think it might be because we agreed on the ideas but we didn’t know how to…..
6. I’m sure we ended up with this piece being this way because we agreed on the ideas and we did all know how to….

1. It’s easiest to sing by matching what someone else does.
2. When I sing I hear my voice inside as well as outside (myself).
3. I like it when I sound like other singers in the group.
4. I can increase the number of ‘voices’ I have.
5. If I play with my voice I can make all sorts of differences to the sound.
6. Singing out of tune is fun. Why not?

B. Music as social practice
1. There are only two things to do with a musical idea/motif: repeat it or change it.
2. Minimalist music doesn’t really have an ending.
3. Minimalist music can’t tell a story.
4. There is too much going on in this piece of music. (Steve Reich)
5. This music is ‘easy listening.’ (Philip Glass)
6. In music if you repeat an idea more than twice it is boring.
7. This piece must be difficult to perform. (Reilly’s ‘In C’)

Beat boxing
1. Beat boxing makes you feel as if you are a drum kit.
2. Hip-hop needs beat boxing – beat boxing needs hip-hop – beat-boxing is hip-hop.
3. Beat boxing turns your voice into an instrument.
4. Beat boxing is rhythm and pitch working together.
5. You have to move your whole body when you beat box.
6. Orchestras don’t mix with hip-hop.

Reggae performance
1. Moving to reggae influences the way I perform it
2. The way I move in performing reggae can show what reggae is.
3. Reggae movements feel foreign.
4. The way I move helps our group to perform.
5. Our school reggae performance is different to a Bob Marley reggae performance
6. There are enjoyable aspects to reggae
7. Reggae travels.
8. Why does reggae exist?

C. Big questions
1. Is some music better than other music? Why? Why not?
2. Music is the best possible way to show a feeling or understand an idea.
3. Why does music exist?
4. Why do some sounds interest more than others?


Alexander, R. (2005) Towards dialogic teaching: Rethinking classroom talk. York: Dialogos.
Bakhtin, M. (1981) The dialogic imagination. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.
Bakhtin, M. (1986) Speech genres and other late essays. Austin,Texas: University of Texas Press.
Biesta, G. (2005) Against learning: Reclaiming a language for education in an age of learning. Nordisk Pedogik 25: 52-66.
Dewey, J. (1966) Democracy and education. New York: The Free Press.
Dillon, T. (2004) ‘’’It’s in the mix baby’’: exploring how meaning is created within music technology collaborations’, in D. Miell and K. Littleton (eds), Collaborative Creativity: contemporary perspectives, London: Free Association Press.
Freire, P. (2000) Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Littleton, K. and Mercer, N. (2012) ‘Communication, collaboration and creativity: how musicians negotiate a collective sound’, in D. Hargreaves, D. Miell and R. McDonald (eds), Musical Imaginations: multidisciplinary perspectives on creativity, performance and perception, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Littleton, K. and Mercer, N. (2013) Interthinking: putting talk to work. London: Routledge.
Major, A. (2007) Talking about composing in secondary school music lessons. British Journal of Music Education, 24 (2), 167-178.
Plumb, J (2005) Practising democracy in a Cambridgeshire Village College. NAME Magazine 15: 3-6.
Seddon, F. (2004) ‘Empathic creativity: the product of empathic attunement.’ In D. Miell and K. Littleton (eds), Collaborative Creativity: contemporary perspectives, London: Free Association Books.
Seddon, F. (2005) Modes of communicating during jazz improvisation’, British Journal of Music Education, 22 (1), 47-61.
Sennett, R. (2012) Together: The rituals, pleasure and politics of cooperation, London: Allen Lane.
Spruce, G. (2012) Musical knowledge, critical consciousness and critical thinking, in C.Philpott and G. Spruce (eds) Debates in music teaching. London: Routledge.
Wegerif, R. (2011) Towards a dialogic theory of how children learn to think, Thinking Skills and Creativity 6: 179-190.

NUMU may not being doing much for this

Speaking and listening; reading; writing. These are the components of literacy in our schools. Of course, there is the idea of ‘literacies’ reaching out to include any media, multi-media, through which meaning is made and understanding gained. We speak of musical literacy implying the capacity to read and makes sense of musical notation(s) and more generally of having musical understanding. There is both a restricted and a broader meaning.

Schools place high priority on literacy. Inadequate development of literacy is in itself a justification for a failed Ofsted inspection and Special Measures. The development of literacy is thought to be the responsibility of the whole school, every area of learning, every teacher. ‘Every teacher is a teacher of English’ is a well-worn slogan.

The place of literacy development in the context of music needs attending to (NUMU may not do very much for it, dare I say), and there is evidence that musical activities such as singing, and particularly, singing and whole body movement can contribute to literacy development. [1]

While the focus of yesterday’s Cambridge conference was not on music and literacy it did focus on the place of ‘talk’ within a music education, talk thought of as key to learning to think about music and in turn related to reading and writing about it. In this way talk can be related to the development of literacy and offer an interesting place to start.

Teachers presented the various ways in which they make use of talking strategies to help their students think more about (a) how they make music (b) how they make sense of it as a social-cultural practice and (c) how music has a philosophical basis. Becky Clarey, Head of Music at Salesian College, Chertsey reminded us that the 2009 Making More of Music Report noted:

“A lack of emphasis on increasing the quality and depth of students’ responses”

“For students of all abilities, teaching and learning in music in secondary schools must shift away from a narrow emphasis on technical competence towards musical understanding” [2]

In response Becky has deployed a thinking skills approach. Below is an example of work with students as they move between Years 12 and 13. The question posed is:

How does music create emotion?

By presenting a question supported by talking points a line of enquiry has been set up. Below Becky shows how this works. You will be able to imagine the ways in which talking (whether to oneself or each other) is central to thinking critically.

Music to research:
Barber’s Adagio for Strings
Adele – Someone Like You
Research sheets:
Adele – Recipe for Emotion
Why does music make us feel
Wikipedia Article – you may want to share this as it’s quite long!
Questions To Think About
Decide and present one you agree on, one you disagree on, and one you are not sure about. You must explain why, and support your answers with appropriate musical examples.
Music can create a specific emotion:

Music can create an overall mood, but not a specific emotion
Music can create specific emotions, but it is only culturally defined (ie if you played a piece of music to someone who had grown up on Mars, they wouldn’t know what the emotion would be)
Listeners can IDENTIFY an emotion in music but can’t make listeners FEEL that emotion (ie you know the music sounds sad, but it doesn’t actually make you feel sad)
Music ALWAYS creates emotion
If you feel emotion when you are listening to music, you are listening in a more sophisticated way
The emotions you feel when you are listening to music are purely subjective and dependent on the person
By feeling emotion when you are listening to music, you are listening imperfectly

Article by Michaeleen Doucleff

Adele, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter performed “Someone Like You” from her latest album “21” at WSJ Café

What explains the magic of Adele’s song? Though personal experience and culture play into individual reactions, researchers have found that certain features of music are consistently associated with producing strong emotions in listeners. Combined with heartfelt lyrics and a powerhouse voice, these structures can send reward signals to our brains that rival any other pleasure.

Twenty years ago, the British psychologist John Sloboda conducted a simple experiment. He asked music lovers to identify passages of songs that reliably set off a physical reaction, such as tears or goose bumps. Participants identified 20 tear-triggering passages, and when Dr. Sloboda analyzed their properties, a trend emerged: 18 contained a musical device called an “appoggiatura.“

An appoggiatura is a type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound. “This generates tension in the listener,” said Martin Guhn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who co-wrote a 2007 study on the subject. “When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good.”

Chills often descend on listeners at these moments of resolution. When several appoggiaturas occur next to each other in a melody, it generates a cycle of tension and release. This provokes an even stronger reaction, and that is when the tears start to flow.

“Someone Like You,” which Adele wrote with Dan Wilson, is sprinkled with ornamental notes similar to appoggiaturas. In addition, during the chorus, Adele slightly modulates her pitch at the end of long notes right before the accompaniment goes to a new harmony, creating mini-roller coasters of tension and resolution, said Dr. Guhn.

So here is an example of critical thinking where responses to music are extended and where music is a subject with steel, with a backbone. Never mind fruitless debates about whether music is a practical or academic subject, it is a subject which embraces thinking, critical thinking, a subject with a history of musical criticism. Talking, reading and writing in their different ways help to engage with music with greater intelligence and discernment.

But Becky’s crtical thinking approach is not restricted to post 16 students. Year 9’s work with film music presents the talking point:

‘Micky Mousing is the lowest form of film music.’

In next week’s blog I will report on teachers’ work with younger children where talking is integral to their musical education.


[1] For example, see ‘rhythm4reading’ and the work of Marion Long.
[2] It is a concern that Ofsted tends towards becoming ahistorical, leaving behind to be forgotten traces of its former thought.

More advanced music teaching skill

Would creating a hierachy of music teaching skill be helpful at a time when there are official demands to identify ‘outstanding’ teachers? What happened to advanced skills teachers? And now comes the idea of ‘lead practitioners’? (1) UK government policy is looking to the profession to take a lead in developing pedagogy while nudging it in what is thought to be the ‘right’ direction. The recent visit of the Schools Minister Elizabeth Truss to Shanghai provides an exemplar of such policy strategy.

Might the skill of leading a musical workshop qualify as a more advanced music teaching skill, the skill of ‘workshop-ing’ to use a recently coined term?

The idea of the workshop is found at least as far back as medieval times. The workshop is thought of as a place of crafting, making, where people work hard and take a pride in their work. (2) As an educational idea it is more recent and denotes something other than the lesson, something more flexible, but no less rigorous. In the case of Music the guiding principle is that music is being made together and that the making process is not necessarily predicitable. There is space for experiment, exploration, discovery, and for the thoughts and ideas of the participants to play an important part is what is made.

Martin Said, for example, reflecting on his project approach to music teaching, highlights the rigour of a dialogic opening up of thought and understanding where the classroom is imbued with an ethos of making and crafting. This sounds very much like a workshop and there is something here that indicates the nuanced skill of a canny music teacher. Dare I say an example of ‘advanced skill’? (3)

Then there is Emily Crowhurst working with a year 7 class over six sessions sustaining a pattern of whole class music making interspersed with small group work feeding from the whole and back into it, and working towards a communal performance. (4) We would think of this as a workshop approach and requiring considerable skill.

In a NAME magazine article (5) Felicity Laurence sets out a form of workshop-ing, seen through the lens of Christopher Small’s concept of ‘musicking’ (6) and ‘based upon co-operation, democratic participation, mutual and respectful listening, and care for eachother’s differing musical values.’ Felicity made songs together with the children where their voices (7) were ‘priveledged from the first moments’ making for empathic relationships and songs of significance that changed not only the song makers but relationships within the class.’

I am looking forward to working with Felicity on Saturday, March 15 (see when music teachers will be learning more about ‘Making and thinking music together’. You are welcome to join us.

I wonder what is meant when music teachers say ‘workshop-ing’? Presumably it is to be distinguished from something else. And would a hierachy of music teaching skill be helpful? I doubt it.

Next week I will write about ways in which the music room can help or hinder literacy.

End Notes:

(1) The policy of defining teacher competence in gradation from novice to expert has been a somewhat half-hearted aspect of government policy for a number of years. There is now a new wave of policy moving in this direction. In England there are Teaching Schools. Will all teachers in these schools qualify as lead practitioners?
(2) Sennett, R. (2008) ‘The Craftsman’, London: Allen Lane.
(3) See Martin’s guest editorial on the Teaching Music Website at
(4) Emily’s concise account of this work can be found in the Winter edition of the Music Mark magazine, 2013.
(5) Laurence, F. (2006) ‘Musicking, empathic experience and inclusion within the classroom’, National Association of Music Educators, Magazine Issue No. 19, 21-23.
(6) Small, C. (1998) ‘Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening.’ Hanover, NH: Weslyn University Press.
(7) ‘Voice’. This term can be used with at least three meanings. 1. the singing voice 2. the expressive musical voice of the pupil in general 3. the pedagogically knowledgable voice of the pupil. Here it captures all three meanings.

Music Education dignified by thought

‘They mirror the whole repertoire of human expereince, and are worthy of study in their own right. It is difficult to imaging a world without arts.’

These words were written in 1998 in the introduction to ‘The Arts Inspected’, a book setting out examples of good teaching in Art, Dance, Drama and Music. No, not ‘outstanding’ teaching, just ‘good’ teaching. (1)

The book offers examples of good teaching in each of the arts across the 5-18 age range. One of these has stayed firmly in my mind. Every time I return to it I am intrigued and caused to think a bit more. It is in chapter 5, the chapter dedicated to Music and written by the then HMI for Music, Janet Mills. It is a story of transition from primary to secondary school. I wont quote the example in full but enough to make a point. Janet writes:

‘Called ”Moving On”, the materials are based around four songs about transport that the pupils learn in primary school, using lively backing tracks if their teachers wish, and also sing during an induction visit to Cosley School shortly before the end of year 6. There are also some optional composing activities and listening exercises, based on compositions by pupils in Key Stage 4, that can be completed in Year 6.

The teacher’s certainty that Year 7 pupils have four songs in common, and his experience that virtually all pupils enjoy the songs, frees him to plan a first Year 7 lesson that uses them as a springboard for challenging composing, performing, listening and appraising activities. The self-consciousness that arises when Year 7 pupils are asked to start singing at secondary school by leaning a new song in new surroundings and seated among pupils that they do not know is avoided.’ (2)

Much of this will feel familiar as having aspects of commonly used transition strategies – the reworking of familiar material, being at home with ‘musical old friends’ (the songs) and having something in common with new friends in my class. But Janet Mills goes on to provide a detailed description of a Year 7 lesson and I now quote just one part of this.

‘Next, the pupils worked on all the songs, responding to advice from the teacher about how to improve the quality of their singing. As this section of the lesson developed, the pupils also answered questions about the music and their singing that required them to develop their ability to replay and rewind music in their heads, increase the focus with which they listened to and evaluated their own singing, and think even harder.’ (3) (4)

In this clear description there is also sharp analysis which explains why this activity has value, is worth doing. The pupils are led to ‘think even harder’ by learning that they are able to ‘replay and rewind music in their heads’. The pupils are called to think, think music and think about it. It is this thinking dialectic that is so fascinating; thinking in sound-thinking through language: musical thought impregnated by language. I wonder how this works. Anyway, Janet Mills has captured the kernal of a music education dignified by thought, allbeit held in microcosm. We should be grateful.

It is fashionable now to share practice through video recording. But do we need a video record of the above musical encounter, or even an audio recording in the light of the description and analysis. This, I suggest, would be largely superflous? It might show enthusiastic singing or not, singing that we would want to improve or not and a great deal more, all of which might inspire action, of course. And yes, seeing is believing. However, and much more importantly, we have a concisely articulated rationale for this musical episode. It is the ‘why’ that is sadly missing from so much practice that we hear about and see presented. That pupils are engaged, singing in forty parts, for example, is hardly a rationale.

On Saturday, March 15th some of us are coming together for a day of ‘thinking and making music together’. Please join us if you want to think even harder. Details here:

Next week’s blog looks at an example of what advanced workshop-ing skill might be like.

(1) ‘The Arts Inspected: Good teaching in Art, Dance, Drama, Music’. Gordon Clay, John Hertrich, Peter Jones, Jant Mills and Jim Rose. Heinemann/Ofsted, 1998.
That the book is concerned with ‘good teaching’ rather than ‘outstanding teaching’ reminds us that values change over time and that the ethos of Ofsted in 1998 is very different from 2014. Different government, performativity regime tightened, more urgent tasks; Ofsted becomes reactive, unstable, ahistorical.
(2) Ibid, pp.68-69.
(3) Ibid, p.69.
(4) A student of Ofsted school reports will note that one of the current stick and paste phrases used in recognition of effective teaching is ‘… and think even harder.’ This is related to teacher questioning and believed to deepen understanding.