Skip to content

Respectfully yours… from the parents

Last week we heard from the parents in our #IVTchat and it was certainly interesting. I’m not going to soliloquise about it here. The good thing was that it made us think and we had a full discussion afterwards. I sometimes feel my head spin as I could (and did) contribute as teacher, parent, and learner. All I will say here is that life is a complicated cocktail, and with the right ingredients it can be completely magic. Just being aware that there is always more to the picture than we can see is a first step – and understanding that the impact of a teacher can be so very valuable – either to instigate and then reinforce the positive support from home, or to be a source of support where there is less to be found outside the lesson. There was so much to think about! It made us reflect on our own experience and perhaps look at the wider picture of lessons in a slightly different way.

Our Storify is below… and hope you can join us next week on Thursday 5 May at 2:30 BST for the last instalment of this year’s #IVTchat. (More on that HERE) …don’t worry though; this isn’t the end! We’ll be back in the autumn! and as always, you are invited to take part. If you listen, learn, or love music, then you are part of our community.


Featured image CC BY-NC-ND by Alison Lait

Reaching out and connecting: Connecting Classes

Today’s the day! I’ve invited my students from across year groups, IT people, and Library people to join us as we take part in the Connecting Classes project. It’s all about expanding the conversation and really getting to thinking… thinking wider, thinking deeper, thinking around the subject and being open to other people’s perspectives. We are studying music and the way it works is that we all listen to an interview – simultaneously, but asynchronously (on our own) and tweet about it. We are seamlessly linked through the internet via a hashtag as we tweet. Today we will be using both the project hashtag: #CClasses and a tag to identify our subject (there are multiple subjects and universities taking part in this project). We are using #IVTchat – as we are studying Instrumental / Vocal Teaching.

Today’s session is talking with music teacher, publisher, and examiner Richard Crozier about teaching – and in specific about the essence of teaching and getting away from ‘just the notes’.

The video interview is linked below and we’ll be starting today Friday 22 April at 12:15 BST (in England). It would be great to have you join the conversation- remember the tags #CClasses and #IVTchat …even if you’re a bit late, you can still watch and tweet – the hashtags will enable us to find your comments!

featured image CC BY by Alexandra E Rust

Skeptic to… at Talis Insight

SO many things on my mind. Today I was speaking at Talis Insight Europe and exploring the benefits of using what they do at Talis. I am the biggest skeptic ever when it comes to change. I was telling a friend that once I was on a trip abroad which was a mix of business and pleasure, as my family were able to come for part of it. My husband had to come home early and he decided to surprise me by repainting the inside of the house. He worked so hard and it was expertly done, but when I walked in through the door, tired and carrying luggage, I simply said, “Why did you do that? I hate it.” (I had the same reaction to Talis at first…)

Simon photo2Oh my oh my oh my! I didn’t mean it, but there is that difficulty with change, and being ready for it and understanding it. Simon Thompson likened adopting something new to the emotional process of grief, and although the two are not really comparable (there was no intention to belittle the enormity of grieving) there are similarities of how we feel … denial, acceptance, all that falls in between – and that takes time.

I found myself reflecting on the train home – what about learning tools? How do we engage with things- with technology, but with the ‘things’ that it leads us to. When asked a question about technology and what it was, before launching into any explanation whatsoever, that wise expert asked a question back – Tell me what you want to do with it and I’ll tell you how it works.

Now that makes me think. If you say – it’s a list. Well then I shut the book. Project over. I already have lists and I don’t need any more thank you. If it’s a tool, well now you’re talking. I can use the tool as I want or need – to make the learning and teaching excavation in my area more efficient.


Photo CC BY-SA by Ted

Am I just a dreamer? No. Take a practical example. An apple. What is it? It’s an apple. Now take one tiny step back and think of all the uses for that apple. –first you have to define it as a phone or a fruit. Let’s just take the fruit that can be everything from Grandma’s apple pie to creating a national hero with the story of William Tell to the object of a children’s party game. It’s never ‘just’ an apple.

I’m not sure where this is going exactly… but it made me think about access, experience, and opportunity. I was really pleased to be at the event and I went away feeling challenged to push the tool to see how creatively I could make it do more. Thank you Talis for an unexpected level of inspiration. Sometimes the best learning happens when you are least expecting it – as long as you are open to the possibility.

OER16 Open Source Learning

Find the Jokers: The wild card, the magic card – that might be anything or nothing – or might become what we make it.

Is it what it seems?

Where will it lead?

Where will you take it?

Some of you will have come to this just by chance and others will have followed this QR code that was on the back of that joker card at the OER16 conference at the presentation about the Open Source Learning Foundation. The idea of the Jokers came from David Preston, who used them to ask his students about their big questions here in 2012. This time it isn’t specifically an invitation to students or to anyone in a class… This QR code brought you here.

It is a challenge and invitation to you – to make more, talk about it, dream about it – not just something about learning for the students, but something extends beyond the learning and becomes personal to them and to those around them, that has value, that becomes their story and your story.

It begins with asking you to ask questions. In education we don’t often (enough) openly reflect and ask one another, as professionals, for advice, input, and genuinely look to help one another learn. Everyone knows that networks are invaluable, and the unseen underlying network that connects us all through the ether is so valuable.

This is an invitation to join in the conversation in two different ways

1. Blog Post: Put a name on it.

Many of us are already doing things in a way that resonates Open Source Learning but it is not always articulated or externalised in a formal sense. Thinking of your own teaching, how is it

  • Inclusive
  • Transparent
  • Productive

and how does it encourage creating value? If you do blog – please tag it #OSL and paste a link into the comments below.

We are our own best resources and explaining and expressing can be so helpful to ourselves and to others. If you can’t put your finger on a specific example – dream. What would you like to do? What would you need?

2. Join in the discussion on an existing project: Connecting Classes Webinar

Connecting Classes is a project initiated by Jonathan Worth that initially involved a handful of HE educators in the UK and already it has spread to be a global initiative. We used Jonathan’s ‘teaching with twitter’ methodology for engaging students, growing the conversation around a topic, reaching out, and opening up. Each teacher had a different class, different specialism, and different experience. Join us to watch, tweet, contribute to the webinar where the teachers get together and publicly discuss –  How was the learning? Our learning? Our students learning? What happened when they opened the door, went down the rabbit hole, took off the lid?

That reflection process and discussion of methods and experiences can be so rich and useful to really take an idea further. The invitation to you is one way to reach out, and open source the project and the experience – because especially in learning, it’s important to leave the door open. I don’t know where it will take us, and I am sure I can learn from you.

The webinar is set to take place on Monday May 16 at 8:00 pm BTS (UK time). The link to join us is either at the event page, or via the video embed (which will work after we have had it!):

Connecting Classes Webinar / Hangout event page link

Ah, the Cello Weekend !

I love this time of year. It is all go – there is a buzz in the air from the springtime as everything wakes up, but there is also that sense of drive as students prepare for exams and recitals, and people in general come out of the woodwork after the winter months. It’s then that we gather for the Cello Weekend. I have been running these events since at least 2004 (I’m not actually sure when I started them, but I found an old poster the other day) and every year we do something different. This year we had a lovely range of people who came from all over and I’m not sure there is actually another event quite like this one. The thing is that we all take part – the 8 year old beginner with the graduating music major and the retired professional. All play in the same cello orchestra and I think it is fair to say that all are challenged.

We have a variety of activities that take place throughout the two days that give people an insight into the different aspects of music making, performing, and collaborating with each other.Here’s a taster of this year’s event:

We always begin with a large cello orchestra session before breaking into other workshops or having a masterclass from our visiting artist. There is nothing like having the sound of 20+ cellos – it is like the richest most nourishing sonic bath. It is definitely a different experience to playing with a piano or even with a quartet.

After reading through the music and getting to grips with the way the different parts work together (we played music with between 4 and 8 different parts) then it’s time for a break – both mentally and physically – and we watch and listen. In music, a masterclass is like a public lesson: one person plays to a teacher and the teacher comments, and gives advice and tips. It is a different situation from a normal student-teacher relationship because usually the student and teacher have never met, and the audience is not passive – they are often all practitioners as well, so that means that the comments are directed at that one performer, but often (in some of the best masterclasses) they are made applicable and accessible to those listening as well.

This Cello Weekend is a unique event, because not only is it for those who are very accomplished, it is for all those who are learning. We are each somewhere along our own paths and, to me, it is a very positive thing to be able to encourage people to take advantage of opportunities for experience, tuition, and to seek guidance from those who have already covered that ground. So there is no shame in being a beginner and playing in a masterclass – actually I know the audience really enjoyed (and learned) from the advice given to each and every one of the performers across the spectrum of where they were on their cellistic paths.

Cellist Matthew Peters came to us from Worcester to give masterclasses and work with individuals throughout the two days. He was magic and inspired us all. Here is is explaining about phrasing:

And here we all get a lesson on bowing technique:

Music making isn’t just about your own instrument, and I am a firm believer in having an open mind to others so that we can understand.

Pianist Thomas Duchan talked to us about working with an accompanist, and he explained how it actually is to sit at the piano and follow someone. We got to experience the challenges of watching the music, the performer, and the keyboard first hand. Thomas had one of our cellists sit at the piano and the exercise was for her to watch the music and use her peripheral vision to also watch him – and on his (subtle but effective) cue, they would both say ‘One’. Then they moved on to having her play the notes, but this left us all in stitches – and illustrated very well the need to communicate with the accompanist about the music – everything from musical nuance and breath in the phrasing, to – in this case – the very basics! I won’t spoil the surprise – you’ll have to watch the short clip to see what happened. 🙂

Thomas asked her to play and as they hadn’t talked, he wasn’t aware that she had rests in the first bar! How simple a thing to fix that with a short conversation. His point was made so well.

And then success:


IMG_6038Cellists also had the opportunity to explore the blues and learn some improvisation skills with guitarist Pete Maher. That brought a smile to everyone’s face!




On Day 2 we rehearsed more, had another masterclass session, and people worked with Matthew Peters in individual sessions. Then for our last workshop challenge, we dabbled with recording by breaking into groups and toying with the Acapella app. This is just so fun, but also it teaches very very good skills. I was talking to one of the University technicians and he said to me ‘Have they really never played to a click track before?’ and I could say that honestly very few classical musicians have been trained to play to a click, listen to themselves, and to fit in with others in a precise way – and for anyone who is going to do session work in the future, it is so much better to have had some practice before you are put in the studio and told that you have one take to play the part. We had lots of laughing and fun with this one and it was perfect for breaking up the concentrated rehearsals before our final concert.

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 11.19.29

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 11.19.49 Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 11.19.59

All who came on the Cello Weekend played in the final concert for friends and family, and someone said to me – there are a lot of people in the audience! Ah, but that is a good thing. It is so good to celebrate achievement, and this was definitely worth celebrating.

Cello Weekend 2016 Concert

Please do save the date for next year:

Cello Weekend 2017: April 1-2 at the University of Chichester 

Thank you so much for everyone who helped to make this Cello Weekend such a wonderful learning and joyful music making experience!