Why is learning from music classroom examples so difficult?

Randall Allsup, writing about laboratory learning says:

‘To illustrate what I mean by a musical laboratory, I offer some insights from my own practice. Yet I share Estelle Jorgensen’s caution that in reimagining practice it is ”easy to slip into a descriptive mode and address only literal situations in schools …. when teachers hear situations described that they believe do not apply to them, they are inclined to dismiss the entire argument … The difficulty of using literal examples is that they are taken literally rather than figuratively.” ‘ [1]

To take examples literally rather tha figuratively is an interesting point.

So what Estelle is saying I think is that as teachers there is a tendency that we observe/fix on an example of classroom practice and respond to it literally. ‘So is this what I am being recommended to do – replicate this way of working as seen here?’

At that point we may well say, ‘but my classroom is not like that and I …’ and thus dismissal takes place and the wider value offered by the example is lost.

I think this kind of thing happens a lot in music education.

There is the extreme response ‘we couldn’t do this here’. Perhaps the teacher is simply saying ‘ I can’t see myself in this, so it’s not for me’. And I have an extreme example.

In 1980 I spent a day being introduced to the work and principles of the School’s Council Secondary Music Project. In one of the examples shown to the secondary school music teachers we observed a teacher working in a  music room that had two grand pianos. They weren’t being used. The grand pianos were no part of the teacher’s work. However, one teacher present pointed out that he would be unable to work like this as he didn’t have two grand pianos in his classroom. This needs some thinking about. He was taking what he saw very literally.

One way forward might be to treat examples of practice as case studies and to do this thoroughly. The term case study is used widely to mean simply example. But case study is much more than this. It is a unique example of a practice and not in any way generalisable or replicable. It belongs in one place and at one time. It is history.

So if a case study is to mean anything, if it is to resonate with the outsider it requires a great deal of contextual information for it to have significance and validity. For a classroom musical practice to be understood and learnt from the outsider needs to know not only general information about the uniqueness of this situation but importantly what specific constraints and freedoms allow this practice to exist.

Then I think we may be able to move from the literal to the figurative and to engage with what is being offered.


[1] Allsupp, R. (2016) Remixing the classroom: Toward an Open Philosophy of Music Education. Indiana University Press. (p.69)

And cited Jorgensen, E. (2011) Pictures of Music Education. Indiana Press. (p.14)






One thought on “Why is learning from music classroom examples so difficult?

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

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