Music curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and the order of things

In last week’s blog I wrote about assessment in music education. As part of this I offered a working definition of assessment.

‘Assessment consists in evaluating or judging the value of something, or someone, in accordance with certain expectations, an idea or a reference, related to personal and/or shared values.’ [1]

I also suggested that assessment, curriculum and pedagogy exist in a symbiotic relationship, needing each other to live and speak. [2]

Ok, so let’s have a definition of pedagogy:

‘Pedagogy, understood as ‘the core acts of teaching (task, activity, interaction and assessment) framed by space, pupil organization, time and curriculum, and by routines, rules and rituals.’ [3]

Here we note that pedagogy is framed by curriculum. So it may be that curriculum has the upper hand in this three-fold relationship.

In my recent post (see https://wordpress.com/post/jfin107.wordpress.com/7065) I reported on ways of thinking about curriculum as developed by Carolyn Cooke and as set out in chapter 5 of the book Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School. [4] Here curriculum is viewed as ‘lived experience’.

All this prompts me to offer a definition of curriculum and in particular a music curriculum. Here goes:

The music curriculum can be defined as a dynamic set of musical processes and practices framed within historical and contemporary cultural discourse and dialogue that comprise the material musical encounters of pupils and teachers.

A definition that is partial and of course ideological. Discuss.

In the October edition of the Music Teacher Magazine Anthony Anderson makes a case for ‘Time to Think’ about the music curriculum and above all else the process of curriculum design. [5]

This call would seem to be prescient in view of recent utterances from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools.

(See https://schoolsimprovement.net/ofsteds-chief-inspector-amanda-spielman-discusses-findings-recent-research-primary-secondary-curriculum/)

Notes:

[1] Beauvais, M. (2011) Assessment: a question of responsibility. UNIVEST. Retrieved from http://dugidoc.udg.edu/bitstream/handle/10256/3592/Beauvais_en.pdf?sequence=2

[2] See Bernstein, B. (1975) ‘On the Curriculum’ in Class, Codes and Control, Volume III Towards a Theory of Educational Transmission, Basil Bernstein, Routledge and Keegan Paul.

[3] Alexander, R. (2005) Towards dialogic teaching: Rethinking classroom talk. York: Dialogos.

[4] Cooke, C. (2016) What is a music curriculum? In Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School edited by Carolyn Cooke, Keith Evans, Chris Philpott and Gary Spruce (3rd edition), Routledge.

[5] Anderson, A. (2017) Time to Think. Music Teacher Magazine, October, pp. 47-48.

 

 

 

 

 

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Music Education and assessment

At the recent Music Education Council’s gathering those of us interested in curriculum came together to discuss the music curriculum. (Wouldn’t it be good to have a whole day together!)

The music curriculum seems to be a kind of dialogue between ‘what’ musical processes and ‘whose’ music. And then there is the view that curriculum, pedagogy and assessment as being inseparable. Each needs the others to live and speak. As was pointed out, the last forty years have produced robust models of music curriculum, alas too easily forgotten in this age of music educational historical ignorance.

I did point out that there were no agreed standards in our curriculum 4-14. This was a surprise to some. Mention of standards and thoughts about assessment arise.

I sometimes wonder why in books on music education assessment comes to be considered later rather than sooner.

‘Assessment consists in evaluating or judging the value of something, or someone, in accordance with certain expectations, an idea or a reference, related to personal and/or shared values.’ [1]

In this view assessment is about valuing and we usually enter into teaching music with value intentions.

In the MEC curriculum discussion group I wasn’t alone in lamenting how profligate we are with the past, with those good sturdy ideas that have been thoughtfully established in the past forty years. In the case of assessment we might well turn to Derek Rowntree’s book ‘Assessing students: how shall we know them? first published in 1977. [2]

Recently reading the book I am struck by how little has changed in the way assessment is thought about. Rowntree sets out systematically, chapter by chapter, the nature of assessment, its purposes, the question of what to assess, how to assess and so on.

In Rowntree’s chapter ‘How to assess?’ there is a section titled:

Idiographic vs. Nomothetic Assessment

Idiographic is about the individual while nomothetic is about the making of general laws. [3]

So in the case of assessment the idiographic is concerned with understanding the uniqueness of the individual, how the individual is thinking, how they are making music and what value they are seeking to give to their endeavour.

Set against this is nomothetic assessment that collects data about individuals aiming to understand people in general and this means measuring them against each other and against standards.

In England there are no agreed standards pertaining to the music curriculum 4-14. Music teachers are wary of going down the path of standardisation and there are good reasons for this. Yet, standards are what has driven education policy in England in recent years with standards no longer a matter of the local or national but a matter of international comparison leading to what for music teachers in the UK can be an overbearing and barley tolerable audit culture. https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/music-teachers-taming-the-audit-culture/

It is this culture that pushes against seeing the individual pupil and their musical work as ‘sui generis’ – in a class of its own. It is the audit culture that exasperates the long-standing tension between valuing the work of the pupil as sui generis and some external standard.

https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2014/11/28/the-problem-of-standards-in-music-education-and-the-loss-of-happiness/

Rowntree cites William James on the tendency to classify and label the pupil.

 ‘’The first thing the intellect does with an object is to class it along with something else. But any object that is infinitely important to us and awakens our devotion feels to us also as if it must be sui generis and unique. Probably a crab would be filled with a sense of personal outrage if it could hear us class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and dispose of it. ‘I am no such thing,’ it would say; ‘I am myself, myself alone.’’’

Writing in 1993 Ross et. al. noted that:

‘For many children assessment means enduring a form of mental and emotional derangement, the morbid exchange of a warm, living experience for a cold, dead reckoning.’ [4]

For Ross et. al, the radical solution found was to ensure that judgement in the arts ‘’must be and always remain ‘suspended judgement’’’ and thus provide the pupil with an experience that was uniquely freeing and empowering.

In this view assessment is quite simply a matter of sensitive conversation in which the personhood of the pupil matters greatly and far removed from being a unit of accountability.

‘Assessment consists in evaluating or judging the value of something, or someone, in accordance with certain expectations, an idea or a reference, related to personal and/or shared values.’

Notes:

[1] Beauvais, M. (2011) Assessment: a question of responsibility. UNIVEST. Retrieved from http://dugidoc.udg.edu/bitstream/handle/10256/3592/Beauvais_en.pdf?sequence=2

[2] Rowntree, D. (1997) Assessing Students: How shall we know them. Kogan Page.

[3] Greek words adopted by German philosophy.

[4] Ross, M., Radnor, H.,Mitchell, S. and Bierton, C. (1993) Assessing achievement in the Arts. Open university Press.

 

Music in the bones and not easily forgotten

I recently visited a local secondary school for a catch up with the music teacher who took me to the staff room where I was introduced to the Head and who was in discussion with a member of staff about learning objectives/intentions and success criteria. I briefly joined in saying that I had never understood the difference between objectives and outcomes. I have found this statement encourages the technically minded to go round in circles with outcomes merely ending up as sub-sets of objectives or easily interchangeable with objectives.

Anyway, now with cups of coffee, my music teacher host found a quiet space for a chat about the new regime in the school and the insistence that teachers show that pupils had properly learnt stuff by checking that they hadn’t forgotten it – a cue for testing whether low-level or high stake.

Music and the other arts in the school were struggling with this, not because they objected to the link between learning and long-term memory, or for that matter assuring that learning and progress were properly monitored. The problem was the assumption that what was being learnt and remembered was knowledge of this and that, facts, disembodied knowledge.

O dear, here we go again!

In the case of music, if you focus on ‘knowing how’ to do this or that; to sing, play, make, invent, improvise, compose, create, listen for detail, sight-sing, ensemble, talk about music etc. and its associated embodied repertoire of music, then remembering is of a different character to what the headteacher has in mind. And progress looks different too. Remembering how to make music well is actually a strange idea, because the know how comes to be in the bones and not easily forgotten.

From another school the music teacher wrote to me telling how:

‘At the end of a recent GCSE recital an informal 45 music jam broke out, led by students (though after a while the teachers couldn’t help but join in). Students began to play and mash-up various songs that they had studied in big band lessons – Seven Nation Army, Sweet Dreams, Thrift Shop etc.. [1] There was a sense that the students were claiming this music as their own. The outpouring of joy was palpable.’

If the latest zeitgeist rippling around our schools is the connecting of long-term memory with learning then there we are – a 45 minute recapitulation.

There are of course other kinds of things that will be learnt that do chime with the headteacher’s thinking but it’s getting the order of things right that matters and it is this that music teachers continue to struggle with in this age of measurement.

Notes:

[1] In this school pupils receive two one hour music lessons each week, one whole class band, the other ‘general’.

 

‘How shall we know them?’

‘Assessment consists in evaluating or judging the value of something, or someone, in accordance with certain expectations, an idea or a reference, related to personal and/or shared values.’ [1]

One notable attempt to bring assessment under control was Derek Rowntree’s book ‘Assessing students: how shall we know them? first published in 1977. [2]

Reading the book in 2016 I am struck by how little has changed in the way assessment is thought about. Rowntree sets out systematically, chapter by chapter, the nature of assessment, its purposes, the question of what to assess, how to assess and so on.

In Rowntree’s chapter ‘How to assess?’ there is a section titled:

Idiographic vs. Nomothetic Assessment

Idiographic is about the individual while nomothetic is about the making of general laws. [3]

So in the case of assessment the idiographic is concerned with understanding the uniqueness of the individual, how the individual is thinking, how they are making music and what value they are seeking to give to their endeavour.

Set against this is nomothetic assessment that collects data about individuals and aims to understand people in general and this means measuring them against each other and against standards.

One obvious difference from the time when Rowntree was writing is the extent to which standards are no longer a matter of the local or national but a matter of international comparison leading to what for music teachers in the UK can be an overbearing and barely tolerable audit culture. (See https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/music-teachers-taming-the-audit-culture/ )

It is this culture that pushes against seeing the individual pupil and their musical work as ‘sui generis’ – in a class of its own. It is the audit culture that exasperates the long-standing tension between valuing the work of the pupil as sui generis and some external standard.

(See https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2014/11/28/the-problem-of-standards-in-music-education-and-the-loss-of-happiness/ )

Rowntree cites William James on the tendency to classify and label the pupil.

‘’The first thing the intellect does with an object is to class it along with something else. But any object that is infinitely important to us and awakens our devotion feels to us also as if it must be sui generis and unique. Probably a crab would be filled with a sense of personal outrage if it could hear us class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and dispose of it. ‘I am no such thing,’ it would say; ‘I am myself, myself alone.’’’

Writing in 1993 Ross et al. noted that:

‘For many children assessment means enduring a form of mental and emotional derangement, the morbid exchange of a warm, living experience for a cold, dead reckoning.’ [4]

For Ross et al., the radical solution found was to ensure that judgement in the arts ‘’must be and always remain ‘suspended judgement’’’ and thus provide the pupil with an experience that was uniquely freeing and empowering.

In this view assessment is quite simply a matter of sensitive conversation in which the personhood of the pupil matters greatly and far removed from being a unit of accountability.

Notes:

[1] Beauvais, M. (2011) Assessment: a question of responsibility. UNIVEST. Retrieved from http://dugidoc.udg.edu/bitstream/handle/10256/3592/Beauvais_en.pdf?sequence=2

[2] Rowntree, D. (1977) Assessing Students: How shall we know them? Kogan Page.

[3] Greek words adopted by German philosophy.

[4] Ross, M., Radnor, H.,Mitchell, S. and Bierton, C. (1993) Assessing achievement in the Arts. Open University Press.

 

Inside the silence

In last week’s blog I told about a music teacher’s playful dialogue with a year 7 class.

The teacher wrote:

‘They follow me well, and enjoy it when I prolong the silence before the penultimate line. When they get it right, it is magical.

I think the silence creates a moment where not a single student can escape from being musical or from being ‘in flow’. In that silence, every student is compelled to engage in musical feeling, watching, breathing, pitching, and enjoying a resolution. All bodies need to be dancing together.’

So, what’s going on here?

In the silence music is thought and felt. It’s that old friend foundational listening. Marion knows what we are talking about.

Dr Marion Long@Rhythm4Reading Sep 19

@Johnfinney8 @MMAmusicnews The power of the magic silence in a Year 7 classroom, achieved through listening together #musiceducation #trust

Minds-bodies are compelled to engage and did you notice that the teacher connects the idea of engagement with ‘being in flow’, a likely reference to Csicksentmihalyi’s flow theory? [1]

To be in flow involves losing a sense of self, distractions are excluded from consciousness, there is no worry of failure, time is distorted.

This is optimal experience.

Altogether a reasonable way of thinking about ‘musical engagement’.

Engagement is its own reward.

In this case the teacher leads the pupils inward, feeling and thinking inside the silence. An example of deep engagement in the moment we might say.

The song wasn’t selected in order to illustrate a key word or two, to advance theoretical knowledge or the pupil’s skill in notational audiation.

It was simply thought to be a beautiful song and there was a beautiful sound to be made.

And of course there was no stress to assess. No climbing some imaginary ladder of progression.

Perhaps a time in itself.

And pupils may have been learning to be a little more discriminating, discerning and curious about music?

Once upon a time assessment in music was near synonymous with learning to discriminate and discern what was valuable and worthwhile.

Perhaps it might be again or is the past really a foreign country?

Note:

[1] Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper: New York.

See Custodero, L. (2005) ‘Observable indicators of flow experience: a developmental perspective on musical engagement in young children form infancy to school age’ Music Education Research, 7 (2), 185-209.

Also Ambrose, K. (2013) Performing Samba, Finding ‘Flow’: Fostering Engagement in the Classroom. In (eds) John Finney and Felicity Laurence, Masterclass in Music Education: Transforming Teaching and Learning. Bloomsbury: London.

Also on the topic of ‘engagement’ see https://teachtalkmusic.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/many-years-from-now/#comments and a Jennie Francis reply.

Sitting by Lake Geneva (iii)

JF: In last week’s discussion we examined the central role of cognitive structure in your theory and the idea that we build and develop mental schema through the twin processes of assimilation and accommodation. Put simply, our mental schema give us something to think with. We might well have explored the fascinating idea of conservation, the process whereby we learn to hold in mind different aspects of a stimulus and come to see how these relate to eachother (those inter-related musical dimensions, for example). But we must leave this aside for now as I want to raise another matter.

So far we have been thinking about learning and development as a series of cognitive events which develop the mind so that new and better ways of thinking are established. But this form of cognition leaves out feeling. I know you have acknowledged the role of ‘affect’ in learning, but what seems to be significant about the case of music is that to think music involves both thinking and feeling. I have always found the cognition-affective-motor model unhelpful.

The idea of cognitive-feeling has been spoken of in the arts. I believe there is a grave error made by curriculum makers and strategists in the case of music who hold to some general view of cognition, and who reduce it to a matter of ‘ah, now I see and can say’. Knowing music works at a far more profound level than this, surely?

What is it ‘to know music’, ‘what is the nature of musical knowledge?’ Without clarity here dealing with issues such as assessment become confused. Assessment without an epistemological basis will be a birth-strangled babe and cause no end of confusion. And this is why cognitive-feeling is such an important idea.

JP: I see what you are getting at.

As you will know I did carry out work on the nature of play, imagination and dream work, and I think this is relevant to your question here. I recognise that fine musical performance, for example, appears to require a particular form of cognition, and yes, perhaps the idea of cognitive-feeling goes some way to capture this.

What is clear to me is that the form of knowing and understanding of which you speak is free from the tyranny of language. It is a non-verbal form of cognition. And the significance of this form of cognition is rarely appreciated by curriculum makers. Language, for all its immense power – and let’s be clear about this, it is a remarkable tool as Lev Vygotsky has shown – can so easily prevent learning and development.

JF: Yes, this is a very subtle matter in the case of music. Much more work is needed in understanding how language is acquired in the context of music making, and how it enables thought about music.

You mentioned play so allow me to return to those students I spoke about who were adapting badly to their schooling but who operated so well as musical improvisers. I think I can now see that they took to improvising so willingly because it was through improvisation that experience was easily assimilated. Thinking of improvisation as a form of play is helpful, and there needs to be much more of it in a musical education. Indeed, having playful teachers would also help.

I was wondering whether you knew of the work of a fellow Genevan, Emile Jaques-Dalcroze? His eurhythmic classes, where thought, feeling and action worked together, were the basis of growth in musical understanding and where improvisation played an important part. These were taking place in Geneva when you were a child.

JP: But of course, I was in his class. Moving to the music as well as moving the music as a performer-composer-listener is perhaps the finest form of cognition there is!

JF: Another of your ideas was that in reflecting we come to abstract. We need time to absorb experiences and with the passing of time we come to form generalisations and these generate fresh thinking. You refer to this process as ‘reflective abstraction’. I will be doing some of this on my journey home. Thank you.

Year 9 Katie on assessment in music

Martin Fautley@DrFautley

All those things @tallgirlwgc How long before, as @Johnfinney8 predicted, SLTs realise they need subdivided grades? Sublevels reborn!

Anna G@tallgirlwgc

@DrFautley @Johnfinney8 my 8 year old son is now a B2. I said look just tell me is he on, at or below average for his age. That’s all I need

John finney@Johnfinney8

@tallgirlwgc @DrFautley But Anna doesn’t that require some kind of bench marking of standards (levels)?

Anna G@tallgirlwgc

@Johnfinney8 @DrFautley I prefer, what would an 8 year old be expected to be able to do in xyz subject and how does mine match up to this

Kirsty Hirst@Booza69

@tallgirlwgc @Johnfinney8 @DrFautley what about students who haven’t had the same exposure as others?

John finney@Johnfinney8

@Booza69 @tallgirlwgc @DrFautley I don’t know how to allow for that if at the same time expectations are set.

Above is an extract from a twitter conversation about the ways in which the world without levels is being filled with systems that may not be very helpful to a child’s musical development and progression.

The conversation starts with the spectre of GCSE grade criteria setting the benchmarks for all that comes before and so creating a ‘flight path’ to GCSE.

Then Anna’s point about the use of meaningless labels – the B2 mystery and the call for age-related standards that can be referred to.

Then Kirsty’s concern to take into account each student’s exposure to a music education.

In https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2014/11/28/the-problem-of-standards-in-music-education-and-the-loss-of- I explored the tension between individual learning journies of pupils and the need to define ‘standards’.

By standards we imply commonly agreed age-related standards. By the end of Key Stage 3 …

In https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/putting-assessment-back-in-its-box/  I found a way of addressing standards by relating Year 9’s Silent Disco’s Dance tracks to an expert’s view of what could be expected in the field of Dance Music at this age.

In this way the quality of work produced had a reliable reference point. And isn’t this how informal learners monitor their progress beyond the school, measuring themsleves against the models they seek to emulate?

Or another approach to the Silent Disco case offered the idea of whole class evaluation of achievement replacing individual assessment. And isn’t this how community music-making flourishes?

Perhaps Year 9 Katie can help. Katie has experienced her year 9 music without levels and without labels.

‘I found it quite good because we could just get on with our work and do what we want with our piece, without stress of leveling; we could progress at our own steady pace with the freedom of experiences the way we do things in music without the constant idea that we have to be a certain level. However I think sometimes we do need level descriptors to point us in the right direction. But we should all be able to determine our own working level to become better musicians.’