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Posts by Laura Ritchie

Yes I can? YES YOU CAN!

Yesterday something extraordinary happened.

I was asked to run a session for colleagues at my university on learning and teaching as their first session of a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching. Planning for this was like swimming in alphabet soup in my mind and gathering words – I knew what I did not want the session to be, but I wasn’t sure how I would or should tailor the session. I knew nothing about the group – who they were, why they were there, what their responsibilities or roles in their jobs were, or what their experience or conception of learning entailed – and all this matters.

In the past I have run sessions where the room is set out as an orchestra and everyone comes in to find that they will be not observing, but playing in that orchestra. Magic. This year though, that felt like hard work. (After yesterday though, I would like the opportunity to do that with this group) What I did instead was to divide them into groups of four and give each group an instrument. Each group had a different remit: one group was explicitly ‘taught’ by me, one group was told to just figure it out however they liked, one group was given roles for everyone – a facilitator, a scribe, someone to make an abstract map (mind map or the like) of the learning and happenings, and one person to be a designated researcher to find resources. Then after an exploratory 15 mins we came back to discuss what happened, and compare the perceptions of the learners and the others in the groups. -and to perform whatever they ‘figured out’. We heard twinkle twinkle from one group, Clair de lune from another (on viola! yes, I gave them a viola!!), and an improvised jazz/percussion piece from another group.

It was impossible in a short 90 min session to convey what they were actually experiencing from a theoretical standpoint.

Experience is a marvellous teacher, but when you are swimming in the water, you cannot also drink it or wash with it. One thing and ‘one think’ (as one of my children used to say) at a time. Read more

Dear Orchestra, I love you.

There are many things that we do in life, and this is one of my best. It’s funny how these things make themselves manifest. Every week I meet with a group of people who come together to form an orchestra and we enjoy learning and playing. We make music. We are an orchestra. I know very little about the people. I have no idea where they come from, what their jobs are, if they have jobs, what they believe, like or dislike, what they eat for dinner, what they do or have done in their lives, and yet we do amazing things together.

Last night was our concert. It is nice to recognise where you are and a concert is a way of doing this. We framed it as an informal playing of our pieces: anyone can come, it’s free, we all bring food and drink to share, and we make music. We were in the University Chapel, and I had (not so) jokingly told everyone to dress warmly as the main preparation. Where we are it’s winter, and although it is not sub-zero, the winter in England is cold and wet, and it gets in to your bones. The Chapel is very beautiful, but it is a big, big space with two giant stained glass walls that was built before people thought of insulation or heat retention, and let’s just say that heating is a challenge. There was no problem last night – the place was packed and with 100+ bodies in the audience it was toasty.

Our policy is that anyone can come to be part of the group and basically you turn up when you can and when you want to. Something must be going right because we had 46 people listed as performers on the programme.

What’s so special about this group?

We do it. We make music and it actually sounds good and it’s not conventional and it’s not your usual group makeup, and sod that, we do it anyway and I have not remembered a more purely joyful collaborative concert experience in a very long time.

We have saxophones (who actually save the day more often than not) in the group. We have 5 flutes and 9 clarinets, as opposed to the traditional 2 or maybe 4 in an orchestra. Dorothy is a killer percussionist who even bought her own cymbals for our Tchaikovsky and next term is going to debut on drum kit. Hubert and Eunju bring their daughter to every rehearsal and she is amazingly patient and sweet. Ray and Mark have taken on arranging songs they want to play with the group and next term we’ll see two of our violinists play a solo, Bach Double Concerto, with us.

There’s music in the air like moisture waiting to form clouds and blow across the sky in wonderful formations – making patterns, giving breeze and shade, and bringing storms as well as rainbows. We bring people together to form those possibilities, and last night we made it happen.

It wasn’t about right notes or perfection. It was just about growth, being a part of, and letting music be the medium that carried us and the audience. And what an audience – it was a full house! The things that people said afterwards were not about how theme A was presented with care and made such a contrast to the B section and weren’t those keys in the development a surprise! No, they said thank you for giving my family such a wonderful evening both experiencing the music and performing. That was beautiful. See music is all the more meaningful when it starts with meaning, and here it wasn’t primarily about the sounds, but about the accomplishments, the audacity of someone to believe that after however many years of not playing they could do it again, that even though they never did a grade whatever or maybe never played with others that they could. You can. You bloody well can, and I’m not going to tell you otherwise. I am going to do everything I can to find a way to help you to do it. -and no, it’s not perfect, but neither am I. My goal in life isn’t to be perfect, it’s to be with people. This music had meaning because everyone in the space cared about each other and collectively worked to make it come together.

I wanted to somehow thank the orchestra, so I did one of my odd-ball things and made them all cookies in the shape of them. Orchestra cookies J You can see the trumpets, clarinets, oboes held out to the side, bassoon, contrabassoon, sax, and the strings… Somehow a little gesture of being willing to spend time thinking about each one of them (and producing something yummy) seemed a good way to say thank you, to celebrate each one of them.

After the concert there was such an air of genuine happiness from all. I heard from one of the players that the musician next to them had turned to them after we finished performing and said – that was really lovely. They all came to hear us. -and the first person said to me, in relaying the story, ‘It’s a bit like a children’s nativity where the parents come and their child is just the best thing, but for us we’re adults, and we were the best thing for our people, and that is really special.’ They are 100% right. It is special and such an important thing to cultivate in life. Celebrating others is the best.

Here’s to the next year of music making. Thank you ECCO Orchestra. I do love you.

Laura

…and we have beautiful photos thanks to Andrew Worsfold: https://www.flickr.com/photos/40432608@N08/albums/72157712128704463/with/49192585592/ 
ECCO Concert 7 December 2019

 

A Six Word Story:

Thoughts

Spring Tulips

In

My Mind

 

 

I was encouraged to write a story, and I thought oh there are so many stories, thoughts, ideas – they burst out of the ground and the challenge is to somehow catch them in words – and then write those down. A field of tulips grows in my mind, and they are beautiful. I will write them down. That’s the quest…

 

 

 

 

While you’re here… I care.

This evening I went out to the shop down the road to get some bread and maybe fruit. We had two ends of stale bread left and I thought they might have some nice bread for tomorrow’s sandwiches. That and I like to check in case there are any tasty things being reduced. (I’m one of those people who don’t really think the date on a package of apples matters – after all, the tree doesn’t put a date on them.)

I was in no way prepared for what I found. (trigger warning: non-descriptive death mention)

I parked the car and first noticed the flower stand had moved from its usual place outside the shop. There were flowers on the ground. Lots of them. They had notes written on them. ‘Lovely lady, you will be missed.’ There was a candle in a lantern, lit. What was this?

I recognised a local man getting onto his bike (I don’t know his name, but I do know his face, and that he rides to the shop often.) -It was her. The lady who used to work here. She was the one in the accident yesterday.

The whole main road was closed yesterday. I couldn’t comprehend: here the other day. gone now.

She wasn’t a celebrity, not a superstar of any sort. She was simple, consistent, worked at the till and did her job well – but slowly, and everyone knew her. She checked every item, checked the date and picture on my student card every time (yes, as uni staff I get a student card. It is a very cool perk of my job.) even though she saw it at least five times a week, and she always said something personal to you: That’s a nice cardi you’ve got on. You going to be having something nice for supper I see. You’ll soon be taller than your mum.

and she knew everyone’s name. The whole village.

She rode her bike. She didn’t have a car; didn’t drive. She was one year younger than me (I know this because of her checking my birthdate on my student card and telling me so !) and riding her bike…

I can’t quite understand.

The fragility of life. We live like super heroes, invincible, until we’re not.

I saw the flowers and I wrote in the book for her mother and daughter, and I went away thinking and thinking and feeling – feeling grateful to be here.

There was a great outpouring for her, and I couldn’t help thinking that I’d like to give flowers while people are still here.

One of my students today said – oh, I’m dying faster now, and I have to take these pills. (she has some illness and was on a course of medicine) and I said in a jolly way – we’re all dying, I just hope it happens slowly. Not for at least 50 years – maybe even more.

but you never do know.

It was my birthday yesterday and I was celebrating being alive. I think I’ll keep that going. I’ve decided that can be my unbirthday wish, to not make the mistake of waiting to let people know… just while you’re here. So if I tell you I care, tell you that you have changed my life for the better, hopefully that’s ok because so many of you have.

Illiterate for a week

I’m in Bulgaria, and I cannot speak or read the language. Over the summer I went to Brazil and I did pretty well learning a bit of Portuguese. In the end I could understand some and say some and that made it really fun and quite navigable.

In the airport before travelling to Bulgaria, far too late, I had a look for a Duolingo type programme and found this one, which helpfully gives you an intro to the alphabet as a first task and I was overloaded. I had thought I could pick up a few phrases to speak and read. Have a look – and this is only half of the letters. You’ll see there are not only different, but also completely new sounds for an English speaker:

 

Simple things in everyday life bamboozled me. Getting a bus ticket. At the kiosk I handed over some cash, got a little piece of paper and a couple of minutes later meekly returned to the lady to ask, “where?” with hand gestures and the hope that she would reply. She said: SIX. (go to bus stop number 6) See if you could have guessed…

How many stops there were to the destination? One person said three and another said one. The website showed one, but then the bus stopped at a normal bus stop on the side of the road, not a station, so guesswork reigned. I wrote the description of the destination down in English, (with Latin lettering) – not Cyrillic. I wasn’t particularly worried, but I had no clue what was happening and no real way to ask.

This language barrier is no fault of the people here. There is no reason they should speak another language, but I should have studied their language. I can get from here to there by following shapes of roads on a map and yes, the magic of modern translators (for menus) is unprecidented. If I went grocery shopping I would be relying on familiarity and certainly would not buy any cleaning products or medicines. I would have no clue. In restaurants menus tend to have words, not pictures. PICTURES. That’s why Denny’s in America can serve anyone across the country. They use pictures and you don’t have to read.

I am just so glad that I can read and write in my own language. Here I gave my lovely host at the Arts Academy here a piece of paper to write some names of places and things on it, and she wrote them so I could read – I had to ask her to write them so she could read, so if I show to someone else, they will know.

I am really at the mercy of those around me and find myself looking at expressions, listening, and more listening, feeling myself mimic the sounds by making them discretely inside my mouth – baby learning. I’m doing baby learning. I cannot read, write, or speak the language: I am illiterate. Traversing geography has allowed me to experience this in a sudden and real way, and I am now aware of just how big a jump it would be to learn to read as an adult. That cannot be understated.

Makes the stories in the Horton & Freire book all the more meaningful, giving people agency and motivation and support. Hats off to those who help others learn.

The Practice of Praxis

The practice of praxis. Are we asking the right questions?

Every year with my students I discuss what is curriculum and how does one create it? We go from didactic situations through to praxis, reading and then discussing, and this year something hit me. In learning I believe that only the person can learn, e.g. no teacher can ‘learn you’ as one of my great uncles claimed ‘that teacher learned me good’… or maybe not. People can teach but learners are the ones doing the learning for themselves – along with, despite, and sometimes beyond the scope of the teaching. I come to this from the point of view of the teacher, the one responsible for designing the setting and choosing the core methods and content, the one shaping interactions and advising engagement. One of my goals is to build toward co-facilitation, co-engagement and even co-development.

I asked one of my students, so how do you create a student-centred environment? I ask this in all sorts of learning environments and generally get the same answer: #ff6600;">Ask the student.

This is the right answer and the wrong answer. Let me demonstrate.

Imagine learning a new instrument. You are learning the bassoon. Fantastic! You go to your first lesson and have no clue how to assemble the instrument. It isn’t because the instrument is actually new, as in a bookshelf that comes from the shop in pieces. The bassoon has to be physically assembled and disassembled each time it is taken out of the case. Your teacher wants to create a student-centred learning setting, so when you turn up for the start of your lessons they start by asking, ‘what do you want to learn? I want you to guide the learning.’ (Cue an astonished and blank look on the student’s face, with a touch of possible panic) um….. How could the student be expected to answer the question?

Consider another example where the student has perhaps more knowledge: singing. If you were studying singing and we’re asked what you wanted to learn, you may well have a favourite song. This is a start, but there is still a good chance that you are not aware of the voice as an instrument. Even when it seems that someone might have experience of the task, or know something of it, they may not know enough to answer the question in terms of being the complete creator of their learning path. Where speaking is commonplace, and people often match pitches, and sing along with songs, but the voice is an instrument too and singing takes careful technique just like the bassoon. Someone untrained is not likely to have the physiological and technical knowledge necessary to make an informed decision.

This scenario is true of any topic. For me to consider how to involve my students in the lecture-based class on classical music in the late 1800s, the best path is not to directly ask ‘what do you want to learn’ simply because they may not have the baseline knowledge to answer that question. The thing that hit me was that this is not just the wrong question, but it is the wrong SORT of question. Perhaps a better question is not what, but how. People do know what they enjoy doing, whether that is sitting and listening, chatting, walking, exploring, reading, making- and these are the sorts of things that can easily be answered and folded into the curriculum to begin to create praxis.

When teaching Class X there are core tenants that need to be introduced and understood. Asking how do you want to learn can open doors to engagement even if it seems like a little step at first. Going back to the music lesson scenario, I teach all my students that in lesson situations they need at least three different ways to explain a concept or technique. One way might be good for one student, but it will not work for everyone. That is not to say that in large scale teaching someone would or could have multiple modes of engagement, because – …. well actually why the heck not?

I had the pleasure of taking a class with Howard Rheingold and he set down rules for expectation and engagement, and yes, there was an imbalance with engagement. Convincing people to actually participate was a challenge. That is something to be aware of in life- now more than ever we are schooled to be complicit and complacent. He also allowed people to choose suggested roles for their engagement, and encouraged people to take different roles throughout the different topics of the course. Someone might be a scribe one week and work on collecting external sources related to the topic the next week. A third person might be working on a communicable lexicon resource by defining terms that co-learners were interested in or unsure of.

He did not just ask, ‘what do you want to learn?’ As that is too far a leap for most. It takes years of study to learn to be your own teacher and even then, if and when you are proficient at teaching yourself, there is definitely still the need for others. Learning does not happen without connection- internal and external.

I’ve been writing this on the plane and we’re about to land, so it’s time to put this away. A final thought: do you ask what, do you ask how, do you ask at all, and are you willing to receive and act upon the answers from your learners to create praxis.

Every thing is a choice

Every Thing. It’s a sentiment I keep coming back to, keep waking up with, keep telling others, keep reminding myself. I drank some water, played my cello, hugged my son, ate a cookie for breakfast, refused a plastic bag at the shop, sent an email, didn’t send another. Time is ticking and suddenly I’m noticing. all. the. choices.

I know I sit in a position of privilege. I have shelter, food, I washed this morning with running warm water. Most people reading this will also be in a similar position of privilege -and we have the privilege to make choices. I realise the increasing importance of recognise choices and actions. For me, recognising, actively choosing, and owning those choices is where the motivation comes to grow.

Can you imagine the thought of not choosing?

I don’t mean nothing: Choosing nothing is something. Sometimes I choose to rest and be quiet, and that restores me. But not choosing at all seems unimaginable.

Every thing is a choice. and yes, some days it’s harder than others to keep making all the good choices. Keep noticing. Keep choosing. Run. Walk. Stop. Look. Smile. Read. Learn. Eat. Vote. Grow. Notice. Care.

All the little things add up.

#YesICan

Learning Out Loud

On Friday 18th October I presented a talk and performance entitled ‘Learning Out Loud’ as my inaugural professorial lecture, which launched the 2019-20 Public Lecture series at the University of Chichester. I was grateful that my department allowed me to use a couple of cameras to capture the event – they were set running before it kicked off and it looks like (unfortunately) someone bumped the side-view camera, and the lighting was particularly dim, but you can hear it all and the tech people helped to a great job of splicing the video feeds together for me. Thank you to them!

What you cannot see in the video is the display that was along both sides of the walls, showing the documentation of my practice, with over 44,000 words, 115+ videos, audio files, and plenty of images. (for an example of one of the days see HERE) I have been asked to display these for online viewing and I will, but it will take time. (I plan to make a subdomain with the project on it) People were invited to peruse the 128 days of ups and downs, chipping away at learning, and working through the seasons and other life responsibilities as I prepared for this event. 

Below you will find:

  1. The printed programme
  2. The video
  3. Timings for the video
  4. The full transcript of the talk (with some images along the margins – so do look!)

 

References (as shown on the pdf of the programme):

 

Video Timings:

‘Learning Out Loud’ (beginning-5:37 Laura: 5:38-39:04)

Sonata for Solo Cello, op.8    Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)

      1. Allegro maestoso ma appassionato (starts 40:00)
      2. Adagio (con grand expression) (starts 48:39)
      3. Allegro molto vivace (starts 1:00:26)

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

 

This evening I take you on a journey, demonstrating our awareness of experiences, the things we do, and how they impact us- noticing and questioning some of the societal assumptions and constraints around us, and then considering our role, mine and yours – and how we each learn and shape our experiences – personally, as peers and teachers, and within the frameworks of our social and institutional networks. Read more

My100Days: Kodaly Event (sneak peek)

This Friday, October 18th I will present a public lecture and performance. The talk is titled ‘Learning Out Loud’ and it is a foray into the how, why, and what of learning. As is typical for me, I am putting myself out there. I never ask others to do what I am not willing to do myself and the hope is that through demonstration of the process, others will see a glimpse of ‘yes I can’ and know that it is there for them too.

I will start with a talk, and then play the cello. All around the room will be the evidence of my learning. Sometime early in the summer I decided to start learning out loud – on a platform that housed a collective of creatives all doing and sharing projects to gain feedback and deepen their own reflective practice. Yapnet is that home. I decided I would document my practice in preparation for this lecture/performance in a similar vein to the ‘My100Days’ projects that you can see on social media sites. This was different. I was not doing it for any public show, nor was I spending ages preparing and presenting a polished few seconds to demonstrate that day’s work. When I did decide to include my process in this presentation, and I gathered all the days documentation: words, images, audio clips, video – I had over 40K words, and oh so many videos (116!) of short passages, describing how to figure it out, some squeaks, some successes – all progress. Day by day. The audio and video will be shared via QR codes so, if they would like, people can genuinely have a window into what I did.

Learning out loud is not something we see often – perhaps we think it is too close to failure. Well, you only get anywhere by putting one foot in front of the other and I for one am stepping out. When I began this journey I never intended to share beyond the Yapnet community. The reflections are all genuine – when it goes well, I say, and when it’s tough, I say that too.

This event is going to be a talk, a performance, and an interactive instillation (and an installation too).

And, one more thing – excitingly, I ordered 100 cello themed cupcakes for the event. 🙂 Cake and Kodaly – what could be better!?

Here’s a sneak peek of some of the documentation of my learning journey:

This was written on June 28th, 2019:

MY 100 DAYS: DAY 28

Well, you know what? That bit I worked so hard on? I learned the high sequence wrong. That’s right. How did I find out? I watched a video and thought, hey, is that famous person playing the wrong notes? His fingering didn’t match anything physically possible to play the pitches I thought there were.  … So I went back to the score and looked really carefully at the music, where I’d written ‘D’ over the note was supposed to be a ‘B’. I sometimes have a hard time counting leger lines, and have to put a pencil or my finger to count which one I’m one because I lose track, and sure enough, I miscounted and learned that sequence wrong. Fortunately it’s easier the way it’s written, and makes more melodic sense (haha, not surprisingly!!) but that’s ok. It’s easy to change.

I played the following two pages lots. Well for a half hour, which was all my right arm would allow today. I had a suite of vaccinations this morning in prep for a trip to speak in Brazil in August, and the nurse did say that my right arm (they used both!) would feel like someone swung a bag of bricks into it. At least my thumb doesn’t hurt!! 🙂

Those two pages. Notes up high and coordination. It was all about getting the patterns in my mind and ear. All three finger, four string chords where between chords you move up to beyond where you are, but to a place that was held by one of the higher fingers. You know the Harry Potter giant chess game in one of the movies, where they must move to the right places and sometimes it’s a perilous leap?

That’s it. Until it’s stable, then I’ll be like a parkour princess.

I leave you today not with a recording, but with the new skill at the bottom of the seventh page of mvt3 where I bow the bottom string with one finger on it, and also hold down the next string with that same finger and the other two strings with the middle two fingers AND THEN pluck the top three strings with my pinky.
yep. pinky.

#My100Days

100 Days of Practice …and Yapnet

#100Days

Yes, I did 100 days and I’m still going…

I’ve been at this Kodaly for a while now and I’ve been very fortunate to have the support of an artistic community where I can share my progress and talk through the processes I’ve undertaken as they have unfolded. Everyday I practise, and everyday I document what I’ve done. As I’ve gotten farther into the days (I’m now on day 113 and have since performed a movement and will run the piece tomorrow at an informal performance, in advance of the scheduled public lecture and performance on Oct 18) I wrote less detail – or maybe only specific details about what I was doing, and the genuine brain blips happen as well as being in different spaces or having pressures of the day encroach. That happened on Day 100. I was teaching all day (lecturing) and grabbed time to practise wherever and whenever I could, and in those settings sometimes switching it on is tricky.

Having that community of people there (at Yapnet) who might read, might comment, but are present – encourages me. I find solitary working very challenging, long term. I need people. I don’t need constant praise, critical eyes are good too, but as a person, as an artist, as a practitioner, I crave connection.

If you are an artist of any flavour (as in a person who does creative projects – in the medium of sound, colour, or words, movement, or some other medium – I invite you to be a part of this space where work can develop in the open (It’s a private open – and that’s why to publicly share what I wrote I have to physically paste it here. The rule of the site is respect and ownership -as in you own your stuff, and people respect that as an artist you are developing something and it doesn’t get shared unless you share it <– you own your stuff.) How do I know to trust it? I co-founded it and I also trust Geoffrey Gevalt, founder who has a mighty track record with creating the very successful Young Writers Project for teens, also founded on the same principles. I invite you to join us in developing your own creative pursuits. Learn our loud with us.

Anyway, here was my Day 100. I didn’t plan to share these, but was spurred to share by a conversation with a friend about self-talk. In these short videos the interesting bit is not the playing but the thinking- and talking. See the very end of vid 1 & 2 and the start of vid 3. got to listen to catch it. Remember these were practice clips – not intended for public screening – when I video my practise I am my own fly on the wall. Some days I run bits of movements, and on this one I captured a bit of process. Practise is lots of nuts and bolts sometimes.

Here’s my entry for Day 100 on Yapnet:

Gosh it feels good to write that. 100 Days. I feel a bit like I did something, and at the same time I’m glad there ismore road ahead.
It’s a helpful practice to notice where we’ve been and where we are now, and for me I keep in mind where I’m going next – but not to the detriment of being present now.

I did a chunk in the day at uni and then another chunk at home, late. It’s busy teaching week time and I did a bit more than 1 hr 15 but not massively more.

Mvt3 and I worked at it. At home I got through the rest of it and the major work from the day before paid off. Gosh I wish I had more time.

The clips show the trials of practice. In take1 who knows what I did – I realised there were some notes all up bow and it suddenly felt funny. It was akin to saying a word over and over and suddenly becoming aware of your tongue motion and then questioning


The pictures are the holding images for the videos on my iPad. They speak volumes 😉
everything you know. Take2 shows you my odd nature and how I, yes, talk to myslef. What you don’t see are the times I shouted COME ON. GET IT RIGHT and the like. Who knows what passers by thought (!).

The final one is a bit better and you’ll see I am getting more consistent – nearly got those flappy bits! 🙂

Oh to have more time!
#My100Days #YesICan