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Posts from the ‘MUS654’ Category

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.

Putting words to music

This post is an open activity to anyone. One of my classes has been discussing expression and the communication and teaching of this in music. It is a challenge to listen to short piano examples and say what words it conjures up in your mind. On a more abstract level the task is to name the ineffable. As teachers we somehow need to convey this abstraction to another person, our students, so that they can achieve this for themselves on their instruments. What makes it even more difficult is that in music we speak through sound, yet describe it with something else… well, you know Plato’s allegory of the cave? Yes, that’s the perpetual state of communication in music. -Not really, but we never *touch* the essence.

Teaching expression is a topic that is rarely taught in an experiential way, partly because it is easier that way. I mean, as a teacher, I have answers if there is something definitive, but with music and expression we are drawing upon associations. For me to create something that embodies a certain emotion is different, conceptually, than the way my 14 year old student would do it, and will be different still than how the student who is a 50 year old father conceives of the same musical sentiment.

As a class we wanted to explore this idea of experience and understanding and so we created a few examples for you to listen to. The task is to choose an example (you are welcome to choose all three if you like!) and listen to it. Comment on this post with whatever words the example conjures up for you. If a certain place in the example is where you thought of the word, add the time when it happens. For example you might write that you thought of ‘red’ at 8 seconds and ‘tricycle’ at 23 seconds. We are looking for words.

The hope is that as many different people from all walks of life can contribute, because that will expand our collective experience. Having this window into your understanding can in turn allow us to deepen our understanding and will be food for our discussion on how we might teach and explain to our students.

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

Please do post a comment! Thank you!

🙂

Featured image CC BY-NC-SA by Phil Hilficker

Encouraging learning: A graph with perspective

At uni my teaching students follow along with the topics of open music class #MUS654 as a stimulus for learning about designing a curriculum. One of my aims is that students connect outwardly and begin to form wider networks of inquiry with teachers and musicians. Although this year I haven’t succeeded in convincing people to make blogs and post outwardly, the students occasionally allow me to share their ideas. This post is about a task I gave students to create a representation of their 1-year curriculum to present in our class session, with strict instructions not to use powerpoint. I wanted some creative representation, and that is exactly what I got.

Brady made a graph and a graphical representation, and gave me permission to share his ideas with you. It is also fitting that he made a graph, as in another course (where I’m the student), #el30, the task this week was to make a graph. Lovely when strands of life cross paths, isn’t it? Read more

Curriculum: Prison, garden, or gateway? Annotate with us

We’ve been thinking about curriculum in #MUS654, and have jumped ahead a bit to look at and annotate the article that is listed n the MUS654 tab between sessions 6 & 7 (and we’re only about to be on session 3 in our real life class). There was a reason for bringing this forward- because it is the central theme as well as the end goal. At the end of the semester my students will put together a 1-year curriculum, and so there is no harm in thinking in detail about what it is?

Curriculum is something that is constructed, and from my point of view constructions can be prisons, gardens, or gateways. Whatever it is, this article gives a few perspectives as they have developed over the past several decades and we’ve been adding comments. I’d like to invite you to join us via this link and make your own annotations, and to respond to the comments of others. You do have to log in to use it, but you can keep it as private as you like. Make a new email for the purpose of using it, be a random user name, and VPN your computer up for starters – you do not have to be your name. (I am my name, so you’ll know what I wrote!)

https://via.hypothes.is/http://infed.org/mobi/curriculum-theory-and-practice/

Reading about curriculum may spark your thoughts on tangential topics too… One of my students was reflecting on the article that we’ve been annotating and sent me this provocation on the concept of ‘progress’:

Can you guess the sounds?

This soundscape was sent to me to post as a part of the MUS654 class. Have a listen and see if you can identify what’s happening here:

I’ve embedded the photo below, using my account on Mastodon. There is a built-in facility to ‘hide’ images (that might not be suitable for everyone due to a phobia/trigger/or just not wanting to see it!) and it works perfectly for this game! 🙂 To reveal the image, click below where it says ‘sensitive content’ I promise it is not at all inappropriate!

If you did listen and guessed something else or got it right – leave a comment to tell us!

LISTENING to sound

For musicians, listening is one of the most valuable skills and like all skills, it is something to develop. The idea of discriminating between gradations of tone or listening to the various harmonics being brought out in a sound or of the minute variations of pitch all take focus and time to learn.

This week in my MUS654 class we have been talking about sound and I encouraged my students to make a soundscape so that we could have a little fun seeing if we could identify sounds and accurately describe various situations with only the sound clues.

Examples (this is a game!)

I made a couple of recordings and have chosen to share these two. I explained to my class that devoid of the context, we draw upon what we know – and so your understanding of these sounds may be very different to the contextual vocabulary that would be commonplace for me. Please share your impressions of the who, what, where, or why in these soundscapes by leaving a comment on this post. If you are not comfortable with leaving a comment, you can tweet or toot and tag it and I’ll find it. 🙂

  • Guess the setting and describe what is making the various sounds? Is there a story or progression being represented? Some of this first recording may be obvious, but other aspects will be trickier.

  • In this second recording there is a bit more of a mystery… Can you identify these sounds?

The people who make sounds for films are Foley artists, and they have a unique look into the sound world. They are able to listen to sounds and to understand them as sounds, analysing them separately from their sources or contexts. These artists can imagine the possibilities for the sounds to be used like colours.

When placed in a completely different context, sounds can give the illusion of being something else. (there has to be a silly side, and this is it. – I am in no way encouraging people to do this as a past time!)

So often sound washes over us and when creating sound, musicians need to listen differently. Young learners sometimes think it is just about the notes, achieving the basic pitches and rhythms, putting down the right fingers, but when they realise there is a whole world within the sound, that is when they begin another level of their journey.

Featured image CC BY-NC-ND by Lucas

Broadening Horizons with #MUS654

It’s a new academic year and a new chance to look at how we learn and teach. MUS654 is just that chance. It’s a class I run at the University of Chichester where my final year undergraduates studying private teaching focus on learning to create a curriculum for a student. This is not something that people often have either spare or even professional development time set aside to learn this and so often, at least in music, it is the kind of thing that is done ‘on the job’. There isn’t a comprehensive music curriculum for each instrument and with all the differences that individual students can bring, with their goals, skills, age, levels of dedication, oh the list could go on and that’s not even accounting for any of the variables like instrument, style, how or where they learn – privately or in school. The list really can go on indefinitely.

Creating a curriculum is tricky, takes thought, and requires a knowledgeable and skillful teacher. It is easy to sit back and do what you’re told as a student, and yes, it is easy to resort to doing the telling as a teacher, but that’s not really the way meaningful learning happens. It’s also easier to teach thing to others just how we learned it, instead of having a rounded insight that lets us forge a new path and mould experiences around each student so they are really able to do the learning. Those last three words are the clinchers “do the learning’, not listen to someone about the learning. I am keen to broaden my perspective and grow and that’s the point of this class: to take the time to dissect, analyse, and rebuild something that really enables learning.

An Intro to MUS654:

I’ve put together a 10 week set of resources under the MUS654 tab on this website and I encourage you to pick and choose elements to dive into, activities to complete, and blogposts to read. This year we’re starting by looking at the satellite topics that I have set out – first thinking of the Mechanics of Sound but also musing ahead at repertoire and the possibilities of how and why we might adapt what we already know to serve as a useful teaching tool.

  • We started with a tune we all knew, Twinkle Twinkle, and used two examples – both student creations. Have a listen and ask yourself as a learner and teacher, what could you use these to learn. This was really an exercise in planting seeds for what’s to come in future weeks.

  • Another seed planting exercise was the invitation to annotate this article on What is curriculum?You can join us. The link will take you to the article in a hypothesis.is page – which means you can annotate and comment all over it. If you don’t like being known online, you are very welcome to use an pseudonym.

I look forward to posting about our progress on considering and creating our own curricula over the next few months. Do comment on anything that interests you, ask questions, or connect and tell us about how you do things. My students and I would love to hear from you.

Featured Image CC-BY-SA by ReflectedSerendipity

Talking Pedagogy: Stringbabies with Kay Tucker

Over the summer I had the pleasure of inviting Kay Tucker, creator of the Stringbabies teaching method to record a couple of conversations with me. I had sent her a few questions in advance and promptly went off script. This will be of interest to anyone who would like to know a bit of the methodology behind Stringbabies. These videos are not meant to be introductions to the method or any sort of sales pitch. I am interested in pedagogy and in these talks, I extract the underlying principles and begin to discuss how they are relevant to teachers and learners of music across the scope of learning – from beginners to the very advanced.

Together the videos take just under an hour to watch. Get the popcorn, boil the kettle, and pull up a chair.

Many thanks to Kay for taking the time to talk with me. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together.

Reaching out: Networking and optimising our signal

In our connected world, networking to create connections is an invaluable asset, but it is not necessarily something easy or instantaneous. When people move to a new city it can take years to feel ‘settled’. How can we create a community of practice, a community or learners, a community of professionals, a community of friends? There is not really a text book and even if was, I somehow doubt it would be accurate. Too many real people and real situations involved.

Once upon a time, connection was taught through how to greet people face to face and how to write letters. Introductory salutation, carefully presented and formed cursive handwriting, return address, date (with the commas in the correct place: Tuesday, 13 March, 2018) and signed with the appropriate version of sincerely, yours truly, faithfully. There is a magic with the internet and the instantaneous aspect of communication now, but somehow there is also confusion. Do I write as if you can see inside my thoughts? What filter do I use? How do I approach someone I don’t know? Somehow I cannot shake the generational titles I use to address the neighbours where I grew up. I could never address Mrs. Fletcher as Jane, and still have a hard time calling my school teachers other than by their formal Mr./Mrs. names. The transition from Instagram videos to inquiring about a professional connection is blurred and the specifics of how and when are not taught. This is mainly because the changes are happening so very fast that by the time someone writes about it, we’ve moved on yet again.

Last week I listened to a podcast by Kris Shaffer and Jesse Stommel on teaching without social media. In true podcast form, they have a discussion and raise great points and ask a lot of questions. I took away two very important points:

  • It would be wonderful to be able to safely amplify the voices of students.
  • It is difficult to build a road for connection, and easier to use existing paths.

A resounding yes to both of those points. There are various social media platforms out there which each have different constraints and objectives. Often the objective is monetisation, and connection serves us and the companies who run the sites, however there are platforms that are not monetised.

So amplification? Do we shout into the wind, or how should we connect? Here’s an analogy:

Rain will make you wet, but even though lots of rain comes down, it does not necessarily fill a bucket, because it is not directed.

The total volume of a big splash is worth less than a cup of successfully collected water.

 

Understanding how to focus in order to reach your intended audience is a skill and will take some research into the others in your intended network.

The blanket approach is not necessarily going to hit the mark in the way that a personal letter once would have done. Connection and amplification, when successful can alter the course of, well of a product, a career, a life. Today I am going to ask my students these questions with regard to their writing:

  • Who is your audience?
  • Who would you like to have in your audience?
  • How can you access those people?

 

I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t have a definitive how-to answer to give them. I do know that connection is invaluable, it takes reaching out and being willing to take the first step, and who knows… I’ll leave you with a song from days gone by – Even if it’s not your type of music, listen to the chorus. The message is still valid as ever.

Featured image by Mechanical Curator’s Cuttings CC-BY

Practice: Walking Through Daisies or ‘Going on a Bear Hunt’?

There is something romantic about playing a musical instrument, but practice? The emotion, getting caught up in the moment, it looks so graceful and can touch people’s lives – but that’s the finished product, what happens at the moment of performance. What about getting there? Is it all that rosey? Do people wake up and pull back the curtains to the sun streaming in and think – Oh yes! I get to practise for 4-6 hours today! La la la! and then twirl their fluffy skirts as they dance to the music room, humming and skipping with the music already singing in their minds. (featured image CC BY-NC-SA by Rachel Patterson)

Well… there are moments of bliss in any discipline when the learning moves from being an unfamiliar skill to being a known competence. The thing is that even when this happens, it isn’t over. In music it is not like creating a typed script that you can print out and look at. Live performance involves our bodies, which are changing, growing, and decaying every day and without upkeep and use, even after achieving something, it fades.

Practising is one of those ‘how’ questions that is sometimes not so explicitly taught. It involves so many different aspects of the self: musical mind, analytical mind, physical coordination (and that’s very specific to each instrument), and the motivation – to listen, to persevere, to assess, to pursue goals. It can be exhausting. With experience and the different hurdles life has thrown at me, I have learned to practice differently and hopefully better.

How much?

I used to while away the days at university just  practising all day and that was wonderful. There were certain factors in that environment that made it work there, that are not necessarily present outside the uni environment. I was a part of a wonderful cello studio and had THE most inspiring and motivating teacher that ever walked (still walks, well actually he runs- no time for walking) the planet. We also supported one another. There was competition, but each person was allowed and encouraged to become whatever they were going to be.

One of the things time taught me is that when the factors (in life, in music, in you) change, so does practising. Learning music is not something that can be distilled onto a recipe card. After university, for example, when living in a new place where I practised alone for the entire day, the motivation, recognition of progress, and general stamina that was easy to maintain in a community became tricky to maintain on my own.

Commitments and other constraints on my time taught me to organise, learning to focus, in order to accomplish in one hour what I might have done in three. Listening, analysis, careful repetition as opposed to less focused playing or even indulging in …just going on to that nice bit one more time.

Goals. Attention.

  • I now set the clock when I practise and do bursts of concentrated practise for 25 minutes at a time with dedicated goals and then

I GET UP AND MOVE AROUND. BREATHE FRESH AIR. DRINK WATER. 

It is important to remember we are more than machines. Our minds, muscles, and whole selves need recharging from time to time.

Without remembering how delicate we are, practising certainly can be a bear hunt. …Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, gotta go through it…. (Image CC BY-NC by Phil Rogers) Perseverance is important. -Musicians should not play through pain or for hours on end for the sake of it. That is unhealthy. There are however some aspects of physical learning that do take time to learn in the muscles and the brain. Yes, there might well be moments of discomfort while you get your thumb callous into shape (I’ve had a blister or two over the years), but nothing should ever ‘hurt’ from normal playing. The nightmare of the bear is quickly dissolved when planned small goals are integrated into a healthy schedule.

If you have a teacher to motivate you – that is great! If you don’t, that is more of a challenge. Being accountable is a useful tool.

  • You can be accountable to yourself, or to someone else who is not a musician, but is a friend.
  • Sometimes telling someone what your aims are, or making a chart can help.
  • Recording practise allows you to look back and see the progress – step-by-step is good.
  • Bite-sized is manageable, whereas demanding all at once is just not realistic.

I’m off to practice, as my concert is Sunday! I’ve been recording myself to listen and learn, and the other day, while rehearsing with my accompanist, I caught an oops. I forgot the thing that keeps my cello spike from slipping, and well… you can hear my surprise at what happened for yourself. 🙂

It’s not all daisies, but practising does pay off. Keep at it. (I’m talking to you as well as to me!)