Year 7 still singing and it’s nearly half-term [1]

This is a year 7 class of 30 pupils singing at the end of their weekly 50 minute music lesson. Their school is a faith school and an estimated 75% of pupils will have transferred from faith primary schools.

The song was taught in the first ten minutes of the lesson followed by a twenty-minute discussion, then singing in response to the discussion before listening to a recording of the singing to close.

‘imperfect, unpolished but heartfelt’ is the teacher’s judgment. What’s yours?

The recording becomes part of the class album given to all as a CD at the end of the year.

The song is a Gaelic Blessing.

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields,
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

So what was discussed in those twenty minutes of talk?

‘We talked about what it might mean to have “rains fall soft upon your fields”. They talked about their sorrows, and how when their rains come they know that the sun still shines beyond clouds.

One pupil gave me a quote:

“The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears”.

I asked them to sing the words of the song with all their heart for someone who they miss, who is struggling. Their little faces and big eyes were a picture of compassion.’ (Teacher)

The teacher has easily justified twenty minutes spent beyond the medium of music. A time for pupil talk, pupils thinking and feeling poetically, pupils finding and searching for meaning, reasons to sing, reasons to be and become more musical.

Time well spent we might agree.

A fifty-minute music lesson and two fifths of the time spent outside of the medium of music, not speaking ‘the target language’ (to use that unfortunate phrase).

Will the guardians of the current orthodoxy of musical immersion be wagging their fingers I wonder? [2]

That unfortunate phrase ‘the target language’ came via the teaching of Modern Foreign Languages (MFL). But in MFL the question is asked ‘when is it principled not to use the target language?’

In our case the twenty minutes of pupil talk was thought to be central to the lesson’s purpose and critical to its ethos, its values, the nurturing of relationships and the education of the pupils’ musical dispositions.

Exceptionally principled we might say. [3]

Ethos, values and dispositions are matters not much talked about in our search for a good music education. And have you ever heard talk of dispositional musical knowledge? Was it this kind of knowledge that was chiefly in play in this lesson? The kind of knowledge worth assessing perhaps. [4]

I have previously set out five dimensions of music teaching. So I am now thinking: how does my analysis above connect with the scheme below? [5]

  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.

Notes:

[1] Scroll down to the blogs of September 17 and 24 for more on this year 7 class.

[2] See https://teachtalkmusic.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/many-years-from-now/ where David Ashworth questions the virtue of the all singing and playing music lesson.

If there are music educational orthodoxies then it’s always refreshing to find practices that lie outside these like the one analyzed here. Music classrooms can be places of repose and reflection.

Instead of ‘innovation’ and ‘revolutions’ what about evolving-revolving practices? Or perhaps we could think of ‘outlying practices’ as sources of renewal.

While I was writing this blog Jennie Francis sent me an article written by E. Allen Huntley in 1957 and published in the magazine Music in Education. The piece is titled ‘Class-singing: The Right Spirit’. I sent it to the teacher referred to in this blog who indentified with its sentiment and who welcomed its wise advice. The past is useable.

[3] See https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/scaffolding-the-talk-a-case-of-teacher-led-pupil-autonomy/ for a discussion of exploratory talk.

[4] I take assessing to mean ‘giving value to’.

[5] See https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/inside-the-secret-garden-of-music-teaching/

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