Inside the secret garden of music teaching

@headguruteacher No idea. Beats me. Follow Ofsted’s lead and just STOP GRADING LESSONS!! (OK, shouty, sorry, but needs to be shouted!)

Headteacher Tom Sherrington (headguruteacher) is leading the way to a more sensible approach to school improvement. How lessons are observed is central to this.

In previous blogs I have been thinking about how music lessons might be observed.

Why not try to discern the dispositions of the teacher, how the teacher is thinking, why is the lesson like this? What is going on here?

This is evaluative and non-judgmental. And in order to begin to understand what is going on I have made a case for writing thick descriptions of the teaching – interpreting and analysing what is going on.

I call for many more so that we can know what each other are talking about when we make statements about music teaching and promote this or that as dismal, exciting, orthodox, retro, culturally oppressive, liberating, progressive, traditional, skills focused, knowledge centred, innovative, transformational, world forlorn or world changing.

In response I have tried to show music teaching through a form of story telling that attends to rich detail. Not a filleted account, a video clip or an Ofsted vignette but an account that takes the reader inside the classroom and if they choose to identify with and learn from what is described. And this opens the door a little wider to the secret garden that is music teaching.

I have used these stories as the basis for proposing five dimensions of music teaching that can guide in the observation and evaluation of music teaching.

The five dimensions can give rise to innumerable questions. Here are a few.

Why do we hear so much about the teacher as facilitator and so little about the teacher as cultural mediator? And what is being mediated? And why this?

Why so little about the facilitation of pupil talk in the cause of critical thought?

Why so little about what is placed before classes as being disruptive or comforting?

Is the distinction between cultural mediation and facilitation helpful?

If classroom music is to be envigorated by the practices of informal music making, what are the limits to this? Are there any? And if so why?

And so on.

Lying behind the five dimensions is a leaning towards a dialogic pedagogy.

Below I have emboldened the dialogic tendency.

A ven diagram or some kind of model is needed to hold the scheme all together.

Five dimensions of music teaching

  1. Ethical commitment

The teacher’s disposition towards nurturing the pupil-teacher relationship that makes teaching possible. This includes the teacher’s concern for each pupil’s psychological safety, the ways in which the teacher expresses authority, how attention is given to what is of concern to each pupil as well as the group, and how the potential to create spontaneous dialogue and action is allowed for.

More generally it seeks to encapsulate the teacher and pupil’s desire to strengthen the climate of the classroom and music-making relationships.

  1. Cultural mediation

The teacher’s disposition towards expressing authority through the transmission of cultural knowledge in the medium of music, involving instruction that is responsive to the receptivity of the pupils.

  1. Embodiment

The teacher’s disposition towards recognising music-making as a form of embodied knowing – that to know music is to perceive through the body as mind.

  1. Facilitation

The teacher’s disposition towards enabling the expression of musical thought in the medium of music and through talk.

  1. Critical intention

The teacher’s disposition towards promoting enquiry, curiosity, thoughtfulness, discrimination, questioning – calling for a growing awareness of what music is, how music is used, how music is given meaning and how meanings are continually negotiated and re-negotiated – a recognition that music has ‘human interest’ – social, cultural and political.

And Jackie Schneider’s story to end, poetic music teaching with dimension 3 leading the way.

On Monday morning year 2 children looked nervously through the classroom doors at the blacked out music room, they squealed in delight as they saw bubbles appear from around the corner and the twinkle of the disco ball shimmered on the classroom floor. The aquarium from Carnival of the Animals played loudly. As their eyes got used to the darkness they spotted 30 silken scarves in bright lurid colours draped around the music room. They picked up a scarf and they made it swim/glide/soar around the room.

Gradually the lights were brought up and glockenspiels and wind chimes were brought out. Half the class glided their beaters up and down the instruments adding another layer to the music they could hear while a quarter blew bubbles and the remaining quarter swam their scarves. Some kids started to sing the melody.

As we returned the scarves to the sea bed and the blinds were gradually pulled up we all agreed Saint Saens was right to make his music strange and eerie. Hundreds of powerful adjectives were shared and most of the kids learnt the word legato. Few kids wanted to leave when the classroom teacher arrived to collect them.

No idea what level we were working at.

3 thoughts on “Inside the secret garden of music teaching

  1. I like that you end back on Jackie’s story. Jackie’s lesson does feel like a “secret garden”.

    Most “resources” seem to mitigate against the secret garden style of teaching.

    Jackie’s story could be part of a useful textbook on music teaching, if Jackie will license the copyright. Any classroom teacher blessed with a music room could read Jackie’s story and know how to do that lesson. However, I suspect the usefulness of the book would be directly proportional to the ability of the stories to remain “unframed”. The page should just be titled “Year 2 story” and you would need a good graphic artist to make the book beautiful. You don’t need a music degree to figure out that you’d need to put Saint Saens on your ipod and locate some scarves and room blinds…..

    I think that the need to gather up stories that once read leave a teacher “knowing what to do” is pressing. Otherwise we will continue to hear students say things like:

    “It’s like classical music when we do it this way” (Green)
    “Gee, that’s how I used to listen to music before I came to University” (Swanwick).

    As for the dimensions, I think they work best when re-anchored to the story. It isn’t safe to introduce them to trainee teachers who haven’t fully embraced story.

  2. Thanks LJ.

    Yes, a book of stories, a bit like the books of Studs Terkel. That would be good and with stories unframed.

    So why a need for dimensions?

    On the question of trainee teachers. The dimensions are probably on a second order level while a first order level dealing with managing, coping, establishing, feeling secure about being a musician in the classroom, satisfying imminent requirements of school and mentor etc. is where we are. This is a closed perspective. The dimensions offer an opening up. So needed as part of ITE.

  3. Pingback: Music education’s secret garden – Music Education Now

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