No, this is not scientific – just trying to improve my teaching

‘A composing conundrum’ was the title of Liz Glead’s blog last week. [1] It rang a familiar bell and connected with Ellie’s research (see last week’s blog below). And now Kate ‘On Developing Compositional Capabilities’. [2] Yes, another example of a music teacher researching their own practice. One of Kate’s intentions was ‘to resolve, in some measure, the persistent problems that blight GCSE composition in the context of a year 10 class.’

Kate set out to test ‘the capability approach’ through three cycles of action research. [3]

While we often speak of musical abilities, aptitudes, achievements, attainments and potentials, rarely do we speak of musical capabilities. Put in its plainest form, capabilities are the opportunities open to a person. [4] So, what composing opportunities do year 10 students identify? Starting from here opens up a fresh way for stduents to see their development as composers. It has a positive trajectory.

In Kate’s case students raised fifty-two capabilities e.g ‘have a long period to compose in’; ‘share work with others’; ‘feel good about composing’; ‘be individual or unique when composing’; ‘have freedom to just play around with ideas’; ‘continue composing after completing GCSE’… These fifty-two capabilities formed the basis of Kate’s composition teaching through year 10 and this involved continual re-evaluation of capabilities as the students’ composing progressed. [5]

Kate’s study met the six principles I previously set out as qualifying teacher enquiry to be thought of as research. Was it scientific? No.

While much educational research aspires to meet the conditions of science in order to achieve knowledge that is thought to be objective, reliable and verifiable, much doesn’t work like this. It works from a different set of assumptions. In the case of Ellie and Kate’s research the assumption is that in researching their own practice, their own classroom, there is no attempt to find some general truth about teaching, in this case composing at GCSE, as if this could done.

Instead there is an attempt to understand better their own teaching and to improve it, in this case improved teaching of composing for the benefit of their students. The teacher’s subjectivity is recognised and steps are taken to reduce this and to find some objective distance through the way data/evidence is collected and analysed.

While Ellie and Kate are unable to generalise their findings, they are able to offer theoretical ideas that support approaches to teaching composing for others to consider. They are able to make recommendations to their respective departments and schools as well as others more widely. In these cases teacher professionalism has been strengthened. Ellie and Kate are better equipped to evaluate the research findings of others and especially those presented to them within their schools. All this is part of their continual development as teacher-researchers and their increased standing as professionals.


[1] See
[2] Masters thesis 2014.
[3] The first cycle was evaluative, the second and third based on continual reflection and adaption.
[4] See Biggeri, M., Ballet, J. & Comin, F. (eds.) (2011). Children and the Capability Approach. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Capability theory is ultimately concerned with human flourishing and well-being. Composition capability=compositional well-being.
[5] This approach exemplifies a systematic application of student voice.

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