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Posts from the ‘Life & Learning’ Category

Students, measurement, & connection: Book Club Post 4

Time for another Summer Book Club post! What? You say summer is over?? I am keen to hold on to every ray of sunshine, and as a slow reader, I’ll be posting well into November. This post covers pages 240-347 of Stephen Downes’ (free) ebook: Toward Personal Learning. I wrote about the earlier sections in these posts:

My method in writing these posts is to gather the bits that stop me in my tracks, make me think, write them down, and then connect the dots around them. Three themes emerged for me in these hundred pages: the students, the measurements that sometimes bind (as in hold fast, like hands tied) us, and connections. Let’s start with the students. Read more

A self-regulation worksheet: ISPS 2017

I presented at the International Symposium on Performance Science in Iceland on Sept. 1. The presentation was about a research study that I carried out with Phil Kearney where 22 adults learned to play string instruments over the course of a semester. I talked about self-efficacy and self-regulation in learning and how these people managed their learning across the study.

Inspired by Stephen Downes, who shares everything he does, I live streamed the session and both the stream and the slides are embedded below:

Although you can see the slides above, and in the live video

I have a few links within the slides themselves, and also some ‘presenter notes’ that include some of the other references I mentioned that I couldn’t figure out how to make live on the embed, so have listed them footnote-style, below. Read more


Two years ago today, my daughter and I went to Banksy’s Dismaland. We were so very excited. We had waited for the moment tickets were released and fortunately got two. On the day of the event, we got up early early and booked a parking place in someone’s driveway and made the long drive to the dump of a site. The whole day was in itself an art instillation, some twisted fairy tale- that we were so excited, that the drive was 3 1/2 hours, that we were going to a dump (created intentionally that way)- it wasn’t just about the art.

Once there the experience was oh so Banksy, and looking back, in the light of the world at the moment, and especially recent events, it is so very ironic. We waited in the queue for the park to open

and as we entered we were searched, like others (with extra-effective paper tools). I was held back because I was smiling. I had to stop it. Dismaland, not happy land. Stop the smiling, they told me. Stop it. It took time, but I did, and they let me through. Read more

Sweet rejection

Yesterday I got the best email. It is slightly odd that it was so exciting and that I am sharing it because it was a rejection letter. That’s right: Not interested, no thank you, but it was not presented that way, and in turn, this letter was hugely encouraging to me.

If you have read anything from this blog you will know that over the past year I have been writing up an adventure that I had with five of my students as a book. The manuscript was finished at the end of last year, and then I did what I guess any new author does, sent it in to publishing houses. I knew many well known authors, J.K. Rowling for example, had numerous rejections before an acceptance. I got a really nice letter back from one publisher on January 11th that said…. Read more

Strive Less, Share More: Book Club Post 3

This is the third in a series of posts reflecting on Stephen Downes book Toward Personal Learning. I suggested it might be a summer book club, and a few people have joined in – some have even posted! There is an excellent reflective piece here by Charlag. This post contains musings on p.179-271.

As I read, I keep notes, because with the start of term drawing ever nearer, I want to keep on top of this. I am already a bit behind, although I got stuck with good reason. (hint: it’s the line of text that became the title. It really struck me, and for a week I didn’t read on, but reflected on it)

…now where are those notes I keep? Let’s find them and see what really caught my eye in these eighty odd pages. (Remember I got stuck, so I’m a bit behind and didn’t do the full hundred yet)

Downes goes on to pick holes in Brennan’s article. Read more

The Butterfly, Learning, & Community: Book Club Post (August 1)

Is it August already? Yes, and today is a great day to type with the rain coming down outside. That butterfly pic was taken just yesterday… I’m sure summer will come back. Keeping to my schedule it is time for my August post for this Book Club about Stephen Downes’ book ‘Toward Personal Learning’. Several people have said they are reading too, and that is great. Please do join in either with your own post or a comment.

According to the schedule, this post could cover anything from p.81-177, which contains a lot! I have covered a little bit of it here. (6-8 min read. Featured image is a ‘silver washed’ butterfly taken by Jan Ritchie)

Abstraction and Myth:

About scope and understanding:

“We speak in myth be cause reality is ineffable. It cannot be expressed in words. All language is, as in the first instance, based in myth, based in some idealization, some abstraction.” p.81

“We comprehend the future in terms of what we understand today. This is the basis of the origin of these myths. This is really important to understand. When we start talking about what cannot be known we lose our place or we experience only confusion. We are lost in a swirl of chaos. It’s chaos that, in fact, characterizes all reality.We project our thoughts, our ideas, our beliefs, our features onto the chaos. This is how we understand the chaos. We look at the chaos and we see ourselves. In seeing ourselves in the chaos, we comprehend the chaos, but it’s a myth.” p.82

I liked this because I tell stories, speak in metaphor, sound, images. I love the idea of the chaos. I don’t love chaos, but instead the *concept* of an existent chaos that is beyond my brain’s organisational comprehension. Read more

Toward Personal Learning: Book Club Post 1

I’ve been reading Stephen Downes’ book Toward Personal Learning, which is a collection of blog posts, speeches, and articles (and is free via his website). It is part of my summer learning, making time to do the important things. Reading is one of those important things, and so is talking to people, so I invited people to share their thought about this book as a summer book club, using the tag #TwardPersonalLearning

As I read I keep a copy quotes that jump out at me, and these two really did:

“Good learning empowers; it doesn’t needlessly constrain.” p.59

“That’s the thing with education. What we think is the ‘outcome’ of the process is never really the outcome. If you simply case whether or not they learn how to code REST interfaces, that’s all they will learn. But if you want them to acquire a wider range of skills, you need to place them in a more challenging environment (and then encourage cooperation so they have a decent chance of success in that environment).” p.64

They come from a section that is a written conversation – replies to real questions by students. That is the first meaningful thing for me. Conversation with students. Let’s write that again: Conversation with students others. Even before discussing content, valuing the inquisitiveness of others and engaging with people whether they hold ‘respected’ posts in life, or something less outwardly glamourous, but none the less needed, wins for me. Every one of us on this planet is a person. Every one of us learns, as we all breathe, eat, sleep… Read more

The State of Music Education

Earlier this month I spoke at the Westminster Education Forum Keynote Seminar:

The future for music education in England – maintaining standards, music hubs and career pathways, 3 rd July 2017, and my topic was:

Provision, uptake and teaching at primary and secondary level

I was given 5 minutes, which is not a lot of time to cover the ground, make relevant points, and discuss. I was in very esteemed company; the session was chaired by Rt Hon the Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who is a great advocate for music education, and other speakers included Darren Northcott, National Official, Education, NASUWT, Kevin Rogers, County Inspector, Hampshire County Council’s Music Service, Marie Bessant, Subject Specialist – Music and Performing Arts, OCR, Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive, Incorporated Society of Musicians, and Mark Phillips, Senior HMI, Ofsted. It was a charged and passionate group of speakers and delegates, discussing something dear to us all and fundamental to our children and our society. Below is my speech followed by some comments on the morning.

Here is what I said:

Thank you. My Lord, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

Before addressing the take up provision, and what we’re doing about music education, the first question we need to ask is, why, why are we teaching music? Some of these children will grow up to be musicians. However, all can benefit in their future careers, from a strong music education. The value, impact, and implications of what music teaches is not always understood. These values lie at the heart of the National Curriculum, where music facilities independent enquiry, self-management, creative thinking, effective participation in collaborations, team working, and reflective learning. This ethos was echoed by the pedagogue Suzuki, when he said, “Teaching music is not my main purpose, I want to make good citizens, noble human beings”.

Today’s students are under great pressure to achieve on tests, to be measured. Music is seldom included in the understanding of progression via test scores, in the same way as numeracy and literacy subjects. Has the perceived value of music changed over time to parents and schools in light of tests? I hope not. But the focus of the music provision has changed. Music hubs were set up at a time when the funding model changed dramatically, to ensure that all students retained the opportunity to learn music.

The goals of music hubs, as set out by the DfE, and the DCMS, in 2011, were to ensure that every child had the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, ideally for a year, but at least for a term on that same instrument. To provide opportunities to play in ensembles, and to perform from an early stage. To ensure that clear progression routes are available, and affordable, to all. And to develop a singing strategy, to ensure very pupil is singing regularly, and that choirs, and other vocal ensembles are available. This is very difficult to provide for all.

That includes students:

  • who already play instruments,
  • who would like to start learning an instrument,
  • who want a more informal approach to learning music, like playing in a band with their peers, and also
  • those who are not interested in formal study, but are interested in listening to music, and informal enjoying.

There are pressures on effective delivery facing primary and secondary schools; cost is the obvious one. Being subject to changeable Government policies on certain funding, dependency on school buy in, and relying on parental contributions, means primary schools are unable to spend money on specialists, when facing cuts in their core teaching staff.

Much of these provisions used to be delivered my music specialists, now they’re often outsourced. There’s a cost to schools, and this means a strain on what can be offered. Outsourcing music provision is like a patch. For schools, the buy in of hubs also ticks that box of the National Curriculum. Many schools cannot afford the buy in. Though last year West Sussex Music taught 8,700 children, across 137 schools in whole class tuition, that is still a small percentage of the children overall, and covers under half of the area schools. My local primary school lost their music specialist, and only maintains a class provision for a single year group, one class of children, by fundraising through their parent association. Otherwise, the headteacher has confirmed, music would be squeezed out completely.

There’s a dichotomy, whole group tuition has the widest reach, but last year demand for private lessons, from parents and pupils from West Sussex Music, was up 30%. Class sizes are set to grow, magnifying the challenges of inclusion. Teaching 30 to 40 children an instrument at once, means careful organisation, coordination, and communication. Imagine 30 of you, all learning the violin or the clarinet, in one group.

As numbers grow, inclusion becomes even more challenging, yet preserving an introduction to music making is essential. Secondary schools, face the challenge of teaching a hugely diverse student body, from the post-grade eight student, to those who’ve never touched an instrument. Teacher responsibilities are multi-disciplinary, a portfolio career needs portfolio training.

So what are we doing about it? Addressing the future workforce, to enable them to deliver a well-rounded music education. My university students work with employers and schools, with placements, shadowing and gaining paid apprenticeship positions with providers, like West Sussex Music, as they work to reach ever wider audiences of children. At Chichester, we’re aware of what’s happening across our local primary and secondary school networks. We need to prepare our graduates to be malleable, innovative, and highly skilled. As school leavers are looking forward towards higher education, those people want to study music. At Chichester, we have more than 1,000 undergraduates in the music department, and there are six applications for every single place on our Musical Theatre Degrees. We have unique Music with Teaching Degrees. We’re looking to add a top up PGCE year, to add QTS status to the grounding our graduates already receive in individual and group teaching curriculum design, and private studio management.

People equipped with specialist knowledge, to deliver instrumental tuition, national curriculum music, and use their specialist instrumental vocal teaching skills to enhance the delivery of other core subjects, are desirable teachers. In continuing to bridge these gaps, from primary school through to university, through partnership and creative thinking, our graduates will keep music in their future, and in the futures of our children.

Thank you.


A few comments on the morning:

Marie was very respected by the floor and had a large part in personally writing the GCSE curriculum. She spoke genuinely and the floor was pleased that she said to ‘teach the music first’, but I was surprised when she added [that one should] think about the assessment later, as students will ‘accidentally be picking up’ what an exam board assesses. I am sure she did not mean just that; assessments don’t generally just happen. During the morning’s speeches, we were all strictly limited in time and often there were responses to questions and comments that the panel were dying to contribute, but there wasn’t time, and the agenda moved on to the next speaker. Learning, general musical engagement, musicality, and even developing  public performance skills are very different to learning to jump through the hoops for a criteria based assessment, whether GCSE or externally graded exam. A student might pass, but unless the teaching specifically has those criteria in mind as a way of demonstrating learning outcomes, you could miss the mark significantly. On the Music with Teaching degree at Chichester, there is a specific module to teach the distinction between performance and assessment where students learn a new instrument to Grade 1 standard and sit a mock exam, and also give public performances (on their main instrument). They are assessed both on performance and on reflections about the differences in the learning and performing experiences.

As Mark Phillips began to speak I was already slightly guarded. I was Vice-Chair of my Primary School’s Board of Governors when Ofsted came, and I remember trying to anticipate the questions and wondering what they were trying to unpick as they asked and asked and then stopped. I wondered why they stopped asking, it was cryptic and I began listening with that experience at the back of my mind. However, that instantly melted, and what Mark said, his attitude, and genuine belief and concern for education and the future of music really resonated and stuck with me.

It was from his talk that I scrawled notes on my paper:

“Data gives you the questions to ask, it doesn’t give you the answers.”

Yes, I thought. Yes indeed. He went on…

“Curriculum is about education, it’s not about subjects” 

He had a catchy three word saying about curriculum:

Intent, Implementation, Impact

and finally “Assessment measures whether you are meeting your intentions,” which took me back to the point about teaching to the test. Oh, I do not advocate that! Assessment and getting caught up with teaching to a test opens a can of something worse than worms, and it does impact all of us (in education). Even now I have a cohort of students worrying about their essays… Fortunately communicating clearly is one of the skills they are learning, and therefore assessed on, but it does not detract from the unbalanced stress placed on preparing ‘that task’.   At the core of it, we as educators need to be clear what are the intentions for learning and how can those be assessed (demonstrated).

I am reminded of a quote from the UK Quality Code for HE:

(I loved the quote so much I made it look nice.)

There are no easy answers, and one thing that clearly came out of the event is that this needs to be discussed and addressed by musicians (students and teachers) and educators at all levels. Music education is not something we can let dissolve slowly. One delegate suggested that if every music student, parent/guardian of music students, and teacher across the country stood up for music education… He suggested a strike type demonstration, but I am sure that something more outwardly positive and participatory where everyone came together and SANG and PLAYED their instruments and CHEERED…. People would notice. Policy makers would notice. And there would be music in the air. A national holiday for music? Ok, now I’m dreaming… but still

I’d be there.

Summer Book Club!

I’d like to propose a Summer Book Club! Oh my goodness I am so taken with the ebook I have been reading that I’m proposing a book club. Those of you who know me will know that I don’t generally sit around reading, mostly because I read so slowly, BUT I can’t put this book down, even though it is 757 pages!!

The book is called:

 Toward Personal Learning: Reclaiming a role for humanity in a world of commercialism and automation

and is by Stephen Downes. (it is also free!) It is a compilation of very manageable and extremely well referenced blog posts and articles that have been written over the past 5 years. What I like about it very much is that one of the early-on posts explains that this is a real person, thinking, and putting his self into these pages. I respect that and it is very much my ethos too.

So I suggest a book club! Yay! If anyone is interested in having a read and commenting, please do! I promise I’ll read more slowly than you 😉 I have never organised a book club, but have learned from the masters that one of the key things is to comment on other people’s posts, so if anyone does read and write, I will pledge to comment and support you. I joined in with a book club hosted by Bryan Alexander on the Horton and Friere conversational book We make the Road by Walking, and I loved it. So why not another edu book? To get you started, have a few gems that I loved so much I wrote down (well copied and pasted):

“just in the same way as health and fitness are properties of a person, something they have all their lives, something they develop and grow and maintain, something they are themselves ultimately responsible for.” p. 51

“Good learning empowers; it doesn’t needlessly constrain.” p. 59

“That’s the thing with education. What we think is the ‘outcome’ of the process is never really the outcome. If you simply case whether or not they learn how to code REST interfaces, that’s all they will learn. But if you want them to acquire a wider range of skills, you need to place them in a more challenging environment (and then encourage cooperation so they have a decent chance of success in that environment).” p. 64

“When Abraham Lincoln taught himself to read and write and to be a lawyer, we say he earned himself an education, not a learning.” p.73

Maybe I’m an education geek and get excited about these things. (I should take out the maybe) I do get excited about these things and I find it exciting when I find likeminded people discussing things that are important to me.

I suggest having a go at reading and choosing any (or a group) of the first 80 pages to write about and to post something over the next two weeks. (that gives me a chance to get a head start on the next reading so I don’t fall behind!) I’ll suggest a schedule of 100 pages per fortnight (and you could dip into any section you like). …so

  • July: up to p.80
  • August a: 81-178
  • August b: 179-271
  • September a: 272-375
  • September b: 376-478
  • October a: 479-579
  • October b: 580-677
  • November a: 678-end!

I’ll suggest a hashtag #towardpersonallearning I realise it’s long, but it is yet unused, and heck, if you link a URL and the tag, I can find it. I might post on Mastodon as well as Twitter, because I prefer it there.

Wherever you are, please do join me. I’d love to discuss with you.


When intention becomes doing

Intention has come to the forefront of my thinking lately. Intention and action. It originates with a combination of motivation, desire, and questioning what and why. Over the past week or so I asked my dearest friend, how do you do it? He is amazing. This calendar year he made a decision, a bit like a New Year’s resolution, but he kept it. Every day.  He has both done some yoga, which might only be 10 minutes of stretching, and also has done at least 10 minutes of reading. Last weekend he did a triathlon. Last year it was a challenge for him to bend at 90º and now he does handstands in the garden. The capacity for change and growth in human beings is absolutely astonishing, and I am inspired.

How do you do it? Every day? every day??!?

He said: “What I do with my time is a choice.

It is easy to find 10 minutes to do something.

Do it in the morning instead of looking at Twitter.”

(He said that because that was what I had open at the time, but it could well have been Facebook or Amazon, or whatever page has become your habit.)

Ten Minutes. It is easy to dismiss that small amount of time, but it is significant.

Sometimes lots of things come together to point toward something.

(These will be in chronological order, as I can’t choose otherwise.)

  1. There are pressures from the world to be something, especially for those in formal education settings. Looking forward is something, that we all do, but sometimes it becomes narcissistic, and corrosive instead of being the realisation of a dream. It becomes a sort of coercion to adhere to a norm or some societal view. It is difficult to know that there are many ways, and all the worrying in the world won’t make then become now, and if you worry about then now, when you get there, you may find yourself saying – now what?

I realise that is very vague- purposefully so, because it applies to the 10 yr old, as much as the 20 yr old, as much as the 40 and 60 year olds. ‘When I grow up…’ ‘When I retire…’

2. Then I saw something a stranger shared:

It is not as simple as that nice verse alone, but it is definitely part of the context and it made me think of now, and intentionality. Actually, you only really have now. Tomorrow is a gift and I hope to be here for it, but there is no guarantee. (we don’t normally think like that, but ultimately it is true) Of course it helps if things we do in whatever now we are in aren’t solely encapsulated in bubbles, so what I do today can lead to and build toward tomorrow, and longer ahead.

I am brought back to those ten minutes.

Time. My time. Your time. Time slipping away. I was aware this morning, sitting in the centuries old church pew, hearing a clock tick, of the conscious passing of time. I was sitting in a stone building built with time by people. Their time. When? Then. and it was having an impact on my now.

Ten minutes of mindless habit are a waste, whereas ten minutes of intentionality are fresh water to a plant. -back to the story, there were more things that pointed me to a focus.

  1. Yesterday through conversation, I was pointed to this blog post by Sherri Spelic about the struggles   associated with deciding and doing. For me there was a line that stood out: ‘…about me deciding to become and be.’ (you need to read the post for the context, it involves walking and stand up paddle boarding)

Reflecting on that line, for me I need to replace ‘deciding’ with ‘allowing’. Another person who read it reminded me that actually changing habits was difficult and sometimes a change of scenery was needed to clear the air and allow the door to open for change. -ah yes, this rings true. I have done it myself with music as a medium to discuss and workshop learning and teaching, and self-efficacy. I wonder if the ‘deciding’ has to do with conception of capabilities, or awareness of the opportunity, or something else? Maybe several things coming together… For me ‘allowing’ is the step that gives me permission to go beyond expectation, beyond the box – whether that is society, education, another person’s expectations or even my own expectations.

In response to the question: What can I do?  I genuinely am pleased to accept the answer ‘I don’t know’ because it allows for more than I can see or conceive. My epiphany came when I first went to California with my students in 2015. It impacted me so much I wrote it as a book. It’s full of yes, and allowing, and going beyond expectations. (and it’s the price of a cup of coffee in the hopes that people read it 🙂 ) The deciding and believing- yep. Covered. However, I definitely need reminding about the importance of those ten minutes though…

  1. Then this morning, a  yoga teacher I regularly (remotely) practice with posted a video clip of a yoga teacher’s symposium. (I’ve linked the clip to his name below) He said:

‘It’s so easy to check out in the world we live in today. We get on the phone, we get on the tv, we get on the computer, we open the fridge. However we choose to check out, I don’t want you to do that right now. I want you to check in.’ Vytas Baskauskus

That’s all for now. For me, it’s time to check in. I’m off bust through some dreams.

All images by me. CC-BY