Choral reading

Talking, reading and writing about music is my straightforward way of thinking about the part music education can play in whole school literacy development. In my Aspects of Literacy blog (see  https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2016/09/08/aspects-of-literacy-in-the-music-lesson/) I placed these activities outside of the medium of musical expression itself. They were presented as the means through which we can think about music. Talking about music, reading and writing about it as means of extending musical understanding. That was my line.

But of course talking and speaking, can become the music too, as can reading out loud, and are closely allied to what in music education we refer to as vocalisation, thought by many to be the most elemental source of musical cognition. Vocalisation is the term we use to encapsulate the myriad ways of using the voice musically.

Motherese, rhyming, chanting, rapping, singing, reciting and choral speaking, for example, are examples of culturally embedded modes of expressing the musical impulse and sources of making meaning.

At the close of my Aspects of Literacy blog I recommended talking to the English teacher. The english teacher will know a lot about language and literacy. My experience of such discussion highlights the complexity of finding common ground such are the differing perspectives of the English teacher and the Music teacher. However, I have found these discussions nearly always enriching.

I recently had the pleasure of adjudicating a primary school poetry speaking competition. Here was poetry coming alive involving movement and drama and learnt by heart. I was pleased to tell my English colleague, Gabrielle Cliff Hodges, about this leading to Gabrielle telling me about her trying the approach of choral reading within her subject.

The term choral reading is used to mean a reading in which multiple voices are ‘orchestrated’ in order to construct a reading of a poem. Gabrielle told me how English trainee teachers create poetry anthologies through a process of using their voices like musical instruments to create their readings of different poems. In coming to decide on how to read the poems, groups find themselves arguing about meanings and the range of vocal qualities that can be brought to bear. Human voices are used like musical instruments to create harmony or dissonance, rhythm or counterpoint, hence a choral reading. [1]  Oh, and what about cadence?

All this reminds me of a way of working with vocal material in music lessons. We might call it orchestrating the song although that would imply the use of instruments. I have in mind song arrangement and not really the same as making a cover version.

The song/vocal material, as in the case of choral reading above, has meanings to be argued about alongside decisions to be made about the use of expressive devices in order to re-present it.

The song/vocal material is of course a form of poetry and we will have something to talk to our English colleagues about from the music teacher’s perspective. In turn listening to the English teacher will be instructive. And I know one school where time is allocated for perspectives to be shared and common understandings to evolve between music and English.

As is quite usual I am writing from a secondary music teacher’s perspective. How different must be the primary teacher’s perspective on all this. Or is it?

And do secondary school music teachers think of themselves as teachers of english? Ofsted expect music teachers to promote literacy in their lessons. But doesn’t this need to be handled with care even if ‘all teachers are teachers of english’.

I wonder, has my love of language come through my music? Anyway, wherever it came from I am grateful.

Notes:

[1] Gabrielle describes the process in more detail in a forthcoming article due to be published later this year.

 

 

 

 

Worthwhile music making in ‘the wasted years’ [1]

Preamble

It is difficult to imagine music existing other than in context, that is, in relationship to human interactions in specific places and at specific times. Well, we could think of music as residing in a library, in a score or on a recording existing in some purified realm free from danger. Helpfully we have moved away from such conceptions of music towards focusing on the act of music making, what people-groups of people do in the world. But when we make music in the classroom we will be taking part in a process of re-contextualising what is a living practice. In the classroom it can’t be as it was or is out there. It can’t replicate the relationships and meanings made elsewhere at specific times and under specific conditions. We have no alternative but to re-present it. How to re-present it is a challenge.

Equally challenging is the responsibility for selecting what is brought to the classroom in the first place. Some criteria, implicit or otherwise, for what material is thought to be worthwhile will be in play. And values and beliefs will be exposed through the choices made. Teacher and pupil orientations will soon be evident.

Teacher and pupil orientations

Figure 8 and figure 9 in Kathryn Jourdan’s ISME handout address the orientation of the teacher and pupil respectively. Download accompanying handout here

Amongst other things, Kathryn proposes that the teacher

‘introduces contextually rich, complex material which keeps offering fresh insights and challenges’

and furthermore that the teacher

‘embraces complexity, resists early closure and allows time for pupils to explore unexpected pathways into deeper learning, responding with flexibility to follow new turnings.’

For the pupils’ part there is the call for

‘learning to be responsible to each other as they play, compose listen, craft, discuss together, leading each other into deeper engagement, facility and sensitivity’

and

‘to learn to stay in the encounter, resisting the desire for easy answers with which to close down learning.’

In thinking about all this my recent conversation with secondary music teacher Jo gave me insights into how this might be. Together we developed ideas about how to present to other teachers the possibilities opened up by introducing ‘contextually rich, complex material’ while keeping in mind infinite possibilities and the avoidance of early closure. Jo has been working with Steve Reich’s Different Trains with year 8.

Thinking Different Trains

Richard Taruskin writes:

‘’… in Different Trains (1988) Mr. Reich went the full distance and earned his place among the great composers of the century. …  Mr. Reich based the melodic content of the piece on the contour and rhythm of ordinary human speech. But in his case the speech consisted of fragments of oral history, looped into Reichian ostinatos, then resolved into musical phrases conforming to normal tunings, scales and rhythms of ‘Western music’, imaginatively scored for string quartet. These speech melodies were set in counterpoint with the original speech samples, all of it measured against a Reichian chug.’’ [2]

What if we presented the above for year 8 pupils to read? What sense would be made of it? You might say, ‘not much, it’s packed with sophisticated concepts’. I counted twenty-five! A lot of abstractions there. Please, not a list of ‘key words’. No, no, please. Handle abstractions with care.

But what is a speech melody? I guess year 8 know what a melody is and they have sung and imagined a good many musical phrases. Fragments of oral history? Counterpoint? Reichian ostinatos? String quartet? Not so likely.

Perhaps these will be things we talk about, ideas that become a part of our classroom discourse over time.

What do these pupils read in their English lessons, History, RE lessons? What would their English teacher say about the appropriateness of the above passage?

Well, a suggestion from Jo – what if we rewrote the passage above for year 8 to read or whichever group we might have in mind? And before they come to the lesson?

Taruskin continues by telling about the significance of the Different Trains. Reich’s childhood train journeys from coast to coast and the train journeys of children to Auschwitz.

I note above that Richard Taruskin places Different Trains in the 20th century canon of art music and Reich becomes a ‘great composer’. What a ‘talking point’. Jo’s pupils are well schooled in purposeful talking with ground rules well internalised. [3]

And there are lots more talking points. Who is a great composer? Who decides? What is art music? What is a canon? What’s your canon? Why does it change? Does it?

So perhaps the Taruskin text rewritten by the teacher could be a central resource.

Assuming there will be lots of reasons for making music in response to Different Trains, why would pupils have a reason for writing about their encounter with the music?

What narratives, musical and literary, will they produce as they develop their processes of making and how could these be shared with others?

What range of musical techniques might be taught?

How will technologies serve the musical impulses that arise?

At what points will Steve Reich be invited (metaphorically) into the classroom as a guest?

What range of intervention (disruptions) might the teacher prepare to help deepen and sustain the work?

What will mark the culmination of the work?

How will it generate fresh thinking, further possibilities, ideas about other good places to go?

How will the project be evaluated? What will be worth assessing?

Well, that’s enough. We should be ready now to ask one or two questions that will frame the project. Here’s one possible question:

How do personal histories become music?

Final thoughts

In Figures 8 and 9 Kathryn presents the idea of teacher and pupil orientations. How are each disposed towards encountering music? This I think is a helpful way of approaching the question of what is ‘worthwhile’ and one way of responding to Ofsted’s concern about the wasted early years of secondary school.

What contextually rich, complex material do you have to bring to the classroom?

How will you embraces complexity, resist early closure and allow time for pupils to explore unexpected pathways into deeper learning, responding with flexibility to follow new turnings?

I have presented the case of Different Trains. There are a thousand other possibilities waiting to be explored.

The continuity between projects will be the processes of making and thinking music and therein will lie progression.

Notes:

[1] See https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/459830/Key_Stage_3_the_wasted_years.pdf

The report is based on observations in subjects other than music.

[2] Taruskin, R. (2010) The Danger of Music and other Anti-Utopian Essays. University of California Press: London. p.101.

[3] I am hearing from music teachers about the value of teaching their pupils how to engage in productive talk. For example, Karen in her Norfolk school is impressed by the way classroom conversations now seem natural. See blogpost March 22, 2014 for ‘Talking to Think’.

Five scenes from the music room

This week I was pleased to discover Jane Parker’s rich description of a scene from the early years. This is scene 1 below. In her blog Jane goes on to analyse what is thought to be going on here – the theory of instruction that lies behind the teacher’s actions. (See Jane’s Blog http://www.teachwire.net/news/ill-hum-it-you-play-it-music-education-in-early-years)

Thus I was prompted to celebrate five scenes from the music room, each showing a music teacher’s advanced music teaching skill. Each teacher has a well-developed theory of instruction.

Scene 1:

The practitioner sits on a chair facing her preschool children who are gathered on the carpet in front of her. She takes out a puppet called ‘Songstar’ and hums the first phrase of ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ as she moves Songstar’s mouth. The children excitedly shout out, “Songstar wants to sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle!’” She asks the children if they all have their ‘twinkly fingers’ ready. She then sings (on her starting note) “Ready, steady, let’s all sing.”

The children and adults begin singing together, while simultaneously opening and shutting their hands eight times as they quietly sing the words of the first phrase. The song continues, but then the practitioner stops just before the word ‘sky’. She smiles and listens as a few children very quietly sing “sky”.

She joins in again with the rest of the song, but this time stops leading the song at the very end, allowing the children to sing “are”. She then asks the children if they have magic lips like Songstar, and gets them to have a go at miming the first line of the song – only instead of singing, they’ll clap each word so that they’re essentially ‘Clapping the rhythm’. She sings, “Ready, steady, let’s all clap” and leads the children in clapping out the words of the first line, miming the words while at the same time moving the puppet’s hands in a clapping motion.

Scene 2:

We gather in a circle. With measured poise and calculated tempo Hannah strikes her drum and we start connecting to the regular 1 2 3 4 pattern, learning to co-ordinate our cries of Hey and Hoe, while together making our first music of the session.

Breaking from the circle we walk the beat. And now a different timbre to perceive while conserving the beat – the sound of wood on wood from the drum’s rim used as the signal to walk backwards. Walking backwards I almost collide with Theo who politely tells me, ‘look over your shoulder’.

Now Hannah asks the children to provide themes from the recent Halloween-tide so that our walking has a distinctive character. In turn we become Spider-Man, vampires, skeletons. For skeletons I lean forward reach out my hands and spread fingers as wide as I can. When the music stops eyes close and Hannah asks us to locate particular children. ‘ Where’s Joshua?’ We point, and yes, how did we know that?

We are getting to know each other.

Back in the circle and a little commotion eased through a call to breathe out and a calming shhhh from Hannah that we all partake in.

Scene 3:

They form a circle, and following introductions, the teacher creates a movement-sound sequence figuratively faithful to motives from Mahler’s Symphony No 5 first movement, the ‘Trauermarsch’.

The musical material transmitted is Mahler’s. There are 15 minutes of intensive working where the teacher gives and the pupils give back, where the teacher insists through repetition that all get it. The transaction is already playful and relational. Like catching balls moving fast between all within the circle, the pupils catch melodic fragments as well as rhythmic ones.

‘You really need to get hold of this material, this is very important’, says the teacher.

Now with a voice of enchantment and mystery the teacher reveals Mahler’s use of the song ‘Der Tambourg’sell’, a song about one of Mahler’s ill-fated ‘children’, a drummer boy condemned to execution and his long walk to death, the ‘trauermarsch’.

The pupils want to know what it is that the boy has done that deserves such a fate. However, this is to remain a mystery for the time being. The work proceeds until groups have created their own ‘trauermarschen’ using Mahler’s material.

Scene 4:

Ready to go now and Katy, with a lively good humour, sets about transmitting the musical material.

calmly persisting,
patiently repeating,
incrementally extending,
imperceptibly accumulating,
few words,
key words,
sometimes recoiling,
always advancing.

And as the rhythmic texture enlarges, and as we together master the rules of engagement, we seek our own solutions to the skills-challenge equation and find flow and fluency.

In the ongoing interplay between Katy and the group the locus of control is passed back and forth. Yes, there are times of impersonal learning where the acquisition of content and skills dominate but then times of personal learning as each gains control, self-regulates, gains agency, no longer shaped by the teacher, but shaping self.

The highlight of the Samba workshop comes when there are sectional breaks and when the side-drumming quartet fizz with virtuosity. I think we are by now all feeling a bit virtuous.

Scene 5:

Now it’s back to reggae which started last week and ‘Three Little Birds’. First, instrumental warm up time, then some rhythmic and pitch calling and copying, including that clave rhythm and of course lots of reggae rhythms and melodic twists. Into sectionals with pupils mostly directing each other in their making and playing, and sometimes teacher directed assisting movement into a self-sustainable groove. Lilian is having a whale of a time on keyboard. There is a powerful rhythmic reggae idiomatic feel to her playing and making, and she is vocalizing at the same time. Amarose on drum kit is quickly into the groove and like others, once in the groove, and as a consequence of repetition, new material is made. Tshian asks me how to play A on her trumpet and we have a short discussion about pitch and embouchure. Perhaps unsurprisingly the keyboard, bass guitar, drum section get well-grooved first and ready to welcome back the rest who with some ease join the music. We have ten minutes of whole class playing with the teacher leading the ensemble round a circuit of possible structural combinations without a break.

Something more than accessibility and engagement makes a music education

Have you heard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OSfOTsXYNY ?

That three note vocal call and its variants is what I heard on my recent rail travel in France and I have been enchanted by it ever since. Is it the vocal timbre, the grain of the voice?

It got me thinking.

I thought about other calls to attention and the doh, me, soh – bong-bong-bong often heard and then Gladys Pugh’s chime bar call in the Hi-de-Hi sit com of the 1980s.

So beguiling was that call to attention on my travelling in France that on one occasion I got on the wrong train, a fast train that fortunately stopped after 20 minutes of travel in the wrong direction.

So music can enchant, beguile. Well, not music itself. Music alone has the power to do nothing. Tia DiNora puts it like this:

‘ On its own, music has no more power to make things happen than does kindling to produce combustion. In both cases, certain catalytic processes need to occur.’ [1]

Music is in society and there are complex catalytic factors involved in making ‘musically animated agents’ and for us to become ‘latched on’ as I am in this case.

The way music functions in society is occasionally of interest to music teachers. [2] The ‘music and adverts’ unit of work has had a long and dismal history, for example. But as I thought about that short call to attention I wondered how those few notes had been crafted, and who had crafted them, and why those notes.

Could it have been made with Rhasberry Pie? And if Rhasberry Pie releases the music-maker to control and shape all musical parameters of sound, then perhaps yes. Or is it simple a case of sampling? Or both?

The sonic sphere in which we live ensures that music creates desire. If our pupils are to become critically engaged in music and society, and if music education is to have a critical purpose and engender ‘critical musicality’ as the informal music making movement claims, then getting inside those three notes with critical intent might be a start.

Something more than accessibility and engagement makes a music education.

Notes:

[1] DiNora, T. (2000) Music in Everyday Life. Cambridge University Press.

[2] That a GCSE course in music requires no attention to music’s societal functions seems to me to be remarkably regressive.

Depth, provenance and critical engagement in music education

In a previous blog I thought it likely that year 7 pupils would be singing in their music lessons at this time of the term – an obvious point of continuity and progression with their primary school experience.

In this secondary school year 7 pupils are learning to sing O Waly Waly.

The teacher has selected O Waly, Waly ‘simply because it is a beautiful song’ and is intent on teaching the class to make a beautiful sound.

I’m interested to know whether the singing is accompanied or unaccompanied.

The teacher adds:

‘I play the piano, sometimes big, juicy, arpeggiated chords, and sometimes simple, still chords. Always with much dynamic contrast and rubato. 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 select these three verses. The meanings of the whole song are complex, so just three verses.’

The water is wide, and I can’t get over

And neither have I wings to fly

Build me a boat that can carry two

And both shall row, My love and I

There is a ship, and she sails the sea

She’s loaded deep, as deep can be

But not so deep as the love I’m in

I know not if I sink or swim

Oh love is gentle, love is kind

As sweet as a flower, when first it’s new

But love grows old and waxes cold

And fades away, like morning dew.

But wait a minute. What’s this:

‘I prolong the silence before the penultimate line.’

The teacher explains:

‘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.’

O Waly, Waly is a song of good provenance as they say. [1] Some claim it as a song from the sixteenth century, some that it has Irish origins, some say Scottish, some English.

An internet search shows a great many performance versions and arrangements, and even a discussion forum relating to its provenance.

A Pete Seeger version of the song is near the top of the internet library along with responses from listeners. One response told that the performance was intended to draw attention to the pollution of the Hudson River. Well, we know Pete Seeger was a political activist.

As you will have noted, the teacher’s choice of O Waly Waly is leading me to open up a conversation with the song and to examine its provenance. I am reminded of Chris Philpott writing:

‘Each piece of music (whether we are performing or creating it) comes with an ‘attitude’ of its own and along with our own values and beliefs (which Gadamer calls ‘prejudices’)  engages in a playful dialogue in order to construct meaning.’ [2]

The teacher above achieves this playful dialogue with the ‘silence’ before the penultinate line of each verse. I have taken the idea of playful dialogue to a second level in searching out the song’s provenance. And I have only just begun.

O Waly Waly – the teacher has something of a treasure in her hands opening up ‘complex webs of meaning’ and placing interpretation at the heart of a music education. And this means critical engagement, and rather more than what is usually taken as appraising.

This seems to me to be worthwhile opening up the possibility of depth and rigour.

Notes:

[1] Provenance seems to have two meanings, the first begets the second.  First ‘origin’, and then ‘history-lineage’; we find the term provenance much used in relation to antiques. What is its source, origin, its life history, its condition, how has it been looked after?

If ‘musical provenance’ is important, as Ofsted suggests, we should ask ourselves: is the content of what is brought to the classroom rich, thick with possibilities? Will it defy easy assimilation and mastery?  Will it call forth thinking? Will it defy methods of assessment that prohibit openness? Will activities defy being matched with tidily delineated outcomes?

It is interesting to note that after Mark Phillips HMI introduced the concept of ‘provenance’ and its addition to the criteria for making judgments about a music department’s quality of provision, nobody has taken a blind bit of notice. I think it a valuable idea that as I have tried to show can enhance an enfebbled notion of appraising.

[2] Philpott, C. (2013) The justification for music in the curriculum, in (eds) Chris Philpott and Gary Spruce, Debates in Music Teaching. Routledge: London.

Progressive differentiation in the singing class and the community choir

In last week’s blog I reported on the way positive attitudes to singing were developed through a programme of action research. At the heart of this was a structured dialogue between pupils and teacher.

The postcard communication, for example, ensured that each pupil knew that they were known by the teacher and that the development of their voice was important.

The teacher noted that:

‘As their vocal skills developed pupils exercised greater informed choice about the best approach to learning. They came to realize that working in smaller group settings allowed for more individualized selection of singing repertoire and greater scope for individual voices to claim a space of their own. Pupils who requested to work in ever smaller groups reasoned that this would allow them greater attention from the teacher and would also enable them to better self-assess their singing progress as it would be easier to distinguish their own voice from others.’ [1]

In this we see an important principle at work. I call it ‘progressive differentiation’.

The singing class starts as a cohort but little by little space is created for individual voices to be recognised and nurtured.

In the shortly to be published ‘The Story of Music Education Now’ Fifty Blogs 2012-2013, chapter 5 (blogs 32-37) is devoted to Key Stage 3 singing:

  1. Year 9 boys singing
  2. Mary’s secret
  3. Faye reports from the secret garden
  4. Listening with the voice
  5. ‘You can’t make me sing’
  6. Singing and the protection of masculinity
  7. The voice in a broad and balanced music education

‘32. Mary’s secret’ provides a model of the differentiated singing class where each voice is known and nurtured.

But this is in the classroom, in the school and bounded by the formalities of the school. But what about beyond the school and in another place?

Alresford is a small country town in mid-Hampshire with its watercress beds, steam railway, and since 2013 a community choir now some 130 in number. The choir meets on Monday evenings in the parish church of St John under the direction of Keith Clarke. [2]

The choir is ambitious and this has been recognised by the Hampshire Music Education Hub by awarding the choir its Certificate of Appreciation.

How then does a choir of 130 ‘progressively differentiate’?

From the choir’s website:

‘All of us have the capacity to improve. Our Director is often telling members that they have everything that they need to become great singers. In the future, we want to be able to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to take up the challenge of developing individually, as well as within the choir. To that end, we are beginning to look at ways and means for supporting the training of members in small groups, or as individuals, to help them even better than they already are!’ [3]

The late Janet Mills HMI once wrote a short article for the Music Teacher Magazine titled ‘Differentiation and Integration’ (lost in the Music Teacher Magazine archives alas). Janet set out a simple yet immensely valuable principle of music education. [4]

Both in the case of Year 7’s singing pathway referred to above and the Alresford Community Choir the principle of differentiation and integration is being harnessed ensuring individual development while serving community.

Without progressive differentiation serving whole class community, singing at Key Stage 3 may well continue to be an ‘aspiration outstripping actuality’ as it was in 1989. [5]

Notes:

[1] Man, E. (2013) Developing Positive Attitudes towards Singing in Year 7 through Dialogue and Negotiation, in (eds) John Finney and Felicity Laurence, Masterclass in Music Education. Bloomsbury, p. 124.

[2] See http://alresfordchoir.com/

[3] See http://alresfordchoir.com/home/voice-academy/

[4] Janet was a mathematician as well as a musician. Differentiation and integration is a mathematical concept.

[5] See Swanwick, K. (1989) Music in schools: a study of context and curriculum practice. British Journal of Music Education, 6, pp. 155-171, in which secondary school teachers claimed the centrality of singing in the curriculum yet in practice found little time for it.

Singing for continuity and progression in year 7

Intorduction

Most year 7 music classes comprise children from many different primary schools. One thing these children have in common is that their music education to date will have featured singing.

But not all children transferring to secondary school at age 11 enjoy singing and children considered vocally able by their primary school teachers may not be vocally self-efficacious. [1] Many children remain ambivalent, unsure, and particularly so as a new life stage is embarked upon in a new place surrounded by new people and in a classroom where ‘the rules of the game’ may be far from transparent.

But I suspect there will be much singing in year 7 classes at this time as teachers recognise this most obvious point of continuity and progression. And, no doubt,  there will be the aim that all pupils will come to feel positive about their singing voices, or as some say, ‘find their voice’.

An interesting case

It was just this that the music teacher in the case I will report on here had in mind. The teacher embarked upon a programme of action research to see if one year 7 class could gain mastery of their singing voice and come to view their voices in a positive way. It was thought that this might achieve a sense of musical achievement shared by all.

At first lessons activities were devised by the teacher and subsequently in response to the ongoing dialogue created between pupils and teacher. Data was collected through teacher diary, recordings of whole class and group vocal work, postcard communications, focus group discussions and written questionnaire.

The research was set in motion with whole class singing of ‘Believe’ by Lin Marsh and as part of the lesson the class were introduced to a series of warm up games and activities designed to help vocal development. The lesson marked the beginning of a series of pupil consultations about how the pupils thought about their voices and the way they were learning.

On a postcard each pupil was invited to respond to any or all of ‘tell me how you feel about your voice, did you like the song? What did you think of warming up your voice before starting to learn the song? What singing experiences have you had already?

Thus a pupil-teacher dialogue had been opened up. The private teacher-pupil line of communication was valued by pupils.

Lesson by lesson the teacher responded to the pupils’ thoughts and suggestions.  At first these related to the conditions of learning. for example, arrangements for sitting, standing and configuration of chairs. From here the dialogue moved to repertoire and ways of learning.

Each lesson began with the teacher telling the class how their ideas were being incorporated into the lesson serving to reinforce the validity of their comments and as a way of authenticating ‘the pupil voice’.

As the singing class progressed so a variety of formats was agreed and reflected upon: group work with pupil choice of material working with backing tracks and without; peer teaching; teacher coaching on vocal technique and all leading to pupils singing voluntarily and with ease, coming to know and accepting each other’s voices in a climate of trust and security.

The teacher writes:

‘As their vocal skills developed pupils exercised greater informed choice about the best approach to learning. They came to realise that working in smaller group settings allowed for more individualised selection of singing repertoire and greater scope for individual voices to claim a space of their own. Pupils who requested to work in ever smaller groups reasoned that this would allow them greater attention from the teacher and would also enable them to better self-assess their singing progress as it would be easier to distinguish their own voice from others.’ [2]

An important role for the teacher was to help pupils understand the ways in which their voices were changing, how these changes could be managed and how to gain greater control over them. The teacher helped pupils to better understand audiational processes, the ways in which they could manipulate sounds in mind, how they could extend auditory memory and comprehend a sequence of musical ideas. All of which we might say is the transmission of ‘powerful knowledge’.

Over a term pupils and teacher had reached a point where the curriculum could be negotiated and where pupils understood that while their ideas were important and respected, their teacher ‘knew good things’ and ‘good places to go’ – ‘Down by the Sally Gardens’, for example.

For now at least the teacher had ample evidence of positive attitudes and improved vocal self-efficacy.

For children moving to new situations, meeting new teachers there is often the mystery of ‘what count as success’? The ‘rules of the game’ are not always clear. In this case the pupils had negotiated and constructed ‘the rules of the game’. The pedagogy was visible to all.

The teacher concludes:

‘The challenge of creating a ‘negotiated curriculum’ demands the sharing of power between teacher and pupil, a mutual respect and understanding of objectives. Becoming a negotiator is at the heart of how I intend to develop and explore my teaching in the future.’ [3]

Action research is designed to bring about change through systematic evaluation and review of intervention strategies. It aims ‘to arrive at recommendations for good practice that will tackle a problem or enhance the performance of the organisation and individuals through changes to the rules and procedures within which they operate’. [4]

This teacher started out aiming to create positive attitudes to singing. In the event a new way of being a music teacher was discovered and how through genuine dialogue all kinds of things became possible.

Notes:

[1] See Baskaran, R. (2013) Children’s Enjoyment of Singing in a Primary School, in (eds) John Finney and Felicity Laurence, Masterclass in Music Education, Bloomsbury.

[2] Man, E. (2013) Developing Positive Attitudes towards Singing in Year 7 through Dialogue and Negotiation, in (eds) John Finney and Felicity Laurence, Masterclass in Music Education. Bloomsbury, p. 122.

[3] Ibid, p.124.

[4] Denscombe, M. (2002) Ground Rules for Social Research: A Ten Point Guide for Social Researchers. Open University Press.