Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘curriculum’

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.

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!)

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’:

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 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

Time to open #MUS654 for 2017

It’s the start of another academic year, and I have just welcomed a new group of wonderful final year students to my undergraduate class on repertoire for the young performer. It’s a great one, in that we are so diverse, from classical to folk to rock and yet all on a common path of figuring out how to create a year-long curriculum for a learner. One of the first things I tell people is that I am not in a position to tell them how to ‘do’ their instruments. I can advise and guide on how to learn and devise learning. Time to open our minds! (featured image CC BY-SA by Eddie van W.)

We have more in common than we think – even with this year’s group spanning ukulele, clarinet, electric bass, voice, and violin. With all my classes we have no textbooks, and I strive to gather as many resources as possible for the students. For some classes these are paywalled, and fortunately we have access. For this class, there are many great resources that serve our purposes that are freely available. Over the past few years I have developed an open educational resource that is the closest thing to a text book that we have. It is here as the #MUS654 pages. There is a drop down menu for the pages, and I’m going to keep a grid of all the posts I make this year on a page there.

The idea was born out of two things:

  1. I can’t tell everyone what to do (I really could not pretend to have the expertise in ALL the instruments- that would be beyond pretentious)
  2. The people who can advise are out there, and so I thought wouldn’t it be great if my students worked to engage with you all, and in turn you were all invited to join in as well! (yay!)

What I had devised was like a mooc, but it isn’t a class that people need to register for. It is more of a cMOOC (that’s where everyone connects up and they devise the content). I didn’t realise it when I started this class in 2014, but that’s what I was creating. In this project/#MUS654, we discuss the commonalities of music, planning, engagement, but you have to do the heavy work and make the content for a curriculum (if you want). Otherwise you could just dip in and out and join in with anything that takes your fancy.

Learning to reach our and network is more than half of the game for musicians today.

So if you are a player, performer, enthusiast, teacher, learner, or just fancy yourself as a person who enjoys a bit of music – you are warmly invited to join in with any or all of the goings on here. Those studying with me at the University of Chichester will be following along with the content from now until the beginning of December, and I’ll announce the weeks with a blog post and share it as widely as I can. Feel free to look at Session 1: The Mechanics of Sound and see what you think…

You can participate by:

  • Tweeting (in your own account, or feel free to make a fake account just for this if you prefer to remain detached from your normal profile)
  • Blogging
  • Commenting on the main pages and posts here, on this website

You are in control of how publicly or privately you post.

I encourage you to tag things with #MUS654 and I’ll be searching! If I’m clever, this year I’ll figure out how to aggregate blogs! (these technical things hurt my brain sometimes 😉 )


I look forward to having you share the musical journey with us! We can learn a lot from one another.

Here’s to 2017


Image CC By by Sharon Mollerus

Internationalising the curriculum

This post is a transcript of my speech at the Westminster Higher Education Forum Keynote Seminar:  Innovation in curriculum design – internationalisation, employability and inclusivity, December 7, 2016

(5 min read)

My Lord, ladies and gentlemen, respected colleagues,

Twenty years ago as a student at university I experienced two types of curriculum: one stemming from a traditional textbook and a sage-on-the-stage, and the other based on praxis which was completely bespoke and co-developed. Perhaps I was lucky that this was not an uncommon feature of studying music performance.

Then in 1999 the Boyer Commission produced an Academic Bill of Rights. Its preamble states that a college or university should provide ‘maximal opportunities for intellectual and creative development’ of its students (p.12). The first right is that students should have ‘opportunities to learn through enquiry rather than simple transmission of knowledge’ (p.12). These are both essential.

Since that Bill of Rights, enquiry that crosses intellectual and physical borders has become an everyday reality at our fingertips, and Internationalising the curriculum is one way to expand our student’s experience, encourage and develop connection, and prepare our future graduates to successfully meet the demands of a continually developing workforce.

I will outline how I do this in my own practice as Teaching Fellow at the University of Chichester, and present various methods and tools that can be embedded within your own curriculum, no matter what the discipline.

Definitions of employability have expanded from the outdated view that simply developing the required skills or knowledge is enough, to now include an array of wider, and less discipline-specific qualities: from organisational and management skills to self-beliefs.

The ‘USEM’ model of employability: (Knight and York, 2004) includes

  • Understanding
  • Skills
  • Efficacy beliefs
  • Metacognition

And it reinforces the importance of enabling student experience and engagement with applied processes. It reframes knowledge as understanding and recognises an element of deeper learning. Metacognitive processes underpin many aspects of strategic and self-regulated learning, and without efficacy beliefs these could not be combined into successful self-management, academic achievement, or eventually into effective employee performance. (see Brigstock, 2009; CES, 2009; Pegg, Waldock, Hendy-Isaac, & Lawton 2012)

The Institute of the Future, a California think-tank, recently published an article containing this infographic about emerging ‘new’ types of jobs, born out of our on-demand economy. These resonated with me, as in music, graduates seldom have a singular fixed professional destination.

I use internationalisation in a way that amplifies individual creative development and intellectual enquiry, addressing:

  • Gaps between institutional life and the working world
  • How students transfer their knowledge…into something relevant to their professional lives
  • How to develop employability and entrepreneurial thinking

These are derived from benchmarking goals in the Polifonia Handbook: Combining a research orientation with professional relevance, published in 2014.

I embed teaching methods within the curriculum that foster international interaction between and across disciplines, such as using technology to connect to other learners and teachers. I believe it is essential to engage with students, peers, industry partners, and the wider community across the globe. Specifically in my teaching I use:

  • screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-09-07-41Public outreach and engage students via Twitter,

    because it is a platform well populated by professionals, and allows students to engage either as themselves or with a pseudonym of their choice.

Connecting Classes began with Jonathan Worth and his use of the hashtag as an educational tool for his photography class #Phonar. With this methodology, short videos or audio are shared online and people are invited to use a specific tag for discussions. Students Tweet their notes, comments, and questions, and often draw other professionals into large-scale group discussions. This provides students with a rich resource for further research.

  • I also use webinars and hangouts featuring student-led discussion with international practitioners.

An excellent example of this practice established for the educational community is Virtually Connecting, which brings keynote speakers from international conferences into contact with other teachers and students across the world through live, online hangouts. Maha Bali co-founded Virtually Connecting. She lives in Egypt and recognised the need to connect and the practical limitations of travel and cost that affect educators and learners.

Virtually Connecting sessions include people ‘on-site’ as well as a virtual room full of guests- teachers, students, people from across the world. This real-time interaction and engagement with professionals across disciplines is invaluable for all involved.

  • And finally an example of a change to the curriculum itself is my International Experience Module.

This development was driven by students. They wanted to go beyond technological connections, and formalise these interactions, making them face-to-face. Students led the first iteration of these trans-continental experiences, and that trip served as a proof of concept and model for the module that now runs as part of the undergraduate Music with Instrumental or Vocal Teaching Degree.

Students are responsible for the details from planning the logistics of travel to the content of what happens with partners when abroad. Moving away from a textbook based curriculum, they now have to consider, plan for, and anticipate aspects of inclusivity, communication, and cultural sensitivities they might encounter in practical settings. My current group includes a blind student, others with dietary allergies, and of course, musicians from different stylistic backgrounds. There is a host of planning and management skills on top of the musical preparation required, and the students relish it.

Stepping outside the classroom provides immersion and means that:

  1. Students have ownership of their learning and actions
  2. Learning is integrated into life, where theoretical knowledge is applied and tested through experience
  3. Students actively reflect and practice real-time accountability as they learn.

Although when my students travel with me to America, English is a common language, there are distinct cultural differences when traveling to any other country, and effective relationships and communication take forethought and sometimes situations required careful navigation. Embracing differences of those beyond your ‘home’ community can facilitate promotion and reflection on civic agency, another important quality for us and our students to develop.

Not every programme can be expected to include a full international experience module, but there are certainly elements of both cross-discipline and cross-cultural communication that can be embedded into any curriculum, whether through a project like Connecting Classes, using hashtags on Twitter, or through other bespoke online projects.

Connection, communication, and learning all encompass far more than theoretical subject-knowledge. Within music, sound, and playing the instrument is a small part of teaching and professional interaction. Music requires confidence – self-efficacy beliefs, communication, everyday organisation, management, and interpersonal skills. By building and applying transferable skills alongside the discipline-specific skills, students are more prepared to step out and carve a niche in their future professional world. What better way to do that than as an active participant in various international fora? It does mean that we the teachers need to do significant networking, learning, and groundwork in order to fully participate and keep abreast of the changing landscape. It is worth the effort.

The world is a constantly developing place and even those we perceive as most distant to us are actually closer neighbours than we know.


Creation, Spark, Learning, & Curriculum

Learning is a fantastically non-linear, subjective experience that is like a stream flowing over, around, and through any number of expected and unexpected obstacles. It’s midway through the semester, and always at this time of year I find myself reflecting on how and why, on visible and invisible progress, and on what my role as teacher and facilitator might be for my students. Yesterday I discussed the concept of ‘curriculum’ with a good friend and respected colleague, Kenn, and that conversation stuck with me. It stuck with me so much that I had to ‘sprout’ it. (See Geoffrey’s comment here for an explanation of ‘sprout’.) Kenn put forward the idea that anything could be strung together and called a curriculum, but it was important for that content to connect with the learner. He said one of my all-time favourites. You cannot make someone have a spark and be excited about something if an inkling of it isn’t there already.

He spoke about the nature of intrinsic motivation, and how if that ‘spark’ isn’t there, you can’t just throw it at someone and expect it to stick, like paint. But, if it is there, and I hope we all have at least one spark of passion to cultivate something deep within us. With sparks present, the teacher can metaphorically stoke the fire. You or I plan and lay the kindling to allow the air to flow, and when needed, get out the bellows to help puff the current.

Yes, connecting with that spark is so important.

From a teacher’s point of view that means I need to have an awareness of how, so that when I do lay the pieces out for the students, it guides. I likened it to driving the motor cars at Disneyland, with the metal guide rails at the side to keep people on the road. They are wide enough that you can veer to the left or right, but you can’t completely fall off. You can certainly receive a jolt as you bang into the rails, but you are safe and it would be pretty hard to fail completely. As a child I remember riding those cars and being so proud that I was the one driving. Guidance, yes. Safety rails, yes. Kenn reminded me that as the driver, that child or student, still has to put her foot down to make the car go. I did it. My students do it. The connection to the spark is so important.

When put in that car, with all the right guidance rails, and no spark, you still won’t fail. Why? Because 16600001_76402e66b1_zeveryone follows one another, and most people want to be there. So if the person behind does put his foot down, then your car will lurch forward when his bumps into yours! Being vaulted from one place to the next is no way to learn. I am sure it does happen though – and there are better ways to not fail. I remember classes I might admit to having taken just because of requirements… and lurching from one assignment to the next simply to accrue the necessary points or credits. In those cituations I certainly didn’t learn anything by choice. If we as teachers can find a way to connect, then it makes all the difference. (image CC BY-NC by Thomas Hawk)


I don’t have the answer to a golden curriculum, and I think that’s ok. It’s ok to admit as well. This semester my students create their own curriculum with #MUS654. We’ve been thinking about it this week. They set specific constraints for a single one-to-one setting. When you can define all the variables, it is easier, but things within the curriculum still change when put into practise in a live teaching situation. I certainly still actively search for answers (I think that’s also called learning!) and surely even when I think I have found a solution, it will change with each group of students, each changing year, each season. There are so many many variables that affect one’s learning and living that one size will never fit all. However, the good bits and the successful strategies will add to the repertoire and aspects of them will transfer to each new situation.

I commend to you this article by John Hattie and Gregory Donoghue

Learning strategies: a synthesis and conceptual model

It gives a model (like it says in the title) but more than that, it dissects the different stages of learning. It provides a very thought provoking discussion on those big questions of how and what we learn, why, and what is the value. The authors unpack surface learning and deep learning, and really discuss the ‘skill, will, and thrill’ of learning. I’m hoping to ‘think through’ this article as part of an annotation flashmob (hosted by Marginal Syllabus with Remi Kalir)

See what Remi says about the project here:

Featured image CC BY-NC-SA by Lawrence OP

Thinking time!

It’s thinking time in MUS654!

We should be working on Session 7, but you know what? People needed a bit of stepping back and thinking, so I added a page and we have delayed that session for a week. 

Photo byIan Foss CC BY-NC-ND

In this class, MUS654, through these pages, the goal (if you do them all, and especially if you are one of my face-to-face students at uni) is to build a curriculum for a learner. but…

I haven’t yet talked about what a curriculum is.

What does it look like?

What can it be?

So I’ve added a page about curriculum.

Don’t worry – I am not going to tell anyone exactly what or how to do things, but with this page, I encourage you to read, think, and discuss.

Here’s the new page:

Thinking time: What is a curriculum anyway?

If you missed our hangout last week, we spoke with our special guest Jonathan Rees, tuba performer and teacher form London, and we were also joined by Rob Murray from Music Academy for Schools. You can catch up here:


There is NO hangout this week (sorry!), but we will start up with hangouts again on Nov. 4 at 6pm GMT.

If anyone would like to join us, please get in touch!

We’ll pick up with Session 7 next week, where we start to explore planning a rationale and relating some of these concepts about curriculum to music.

In the meantime, happy reading!


Calling all musicians! Come join us!

Are you out there?

It’s that time again…

time to join in with !

(photo CC-BY-NC by Eknath Gomphotherium)

What is #MUS654?? A MOOC? – well yes and no. It is an open connected course. The idea was borne out of a basic and essential desire to learn, connect, and find the best resources (people and things) to enable my students to grow and develop their knowledge as they enter the profession. These people will be developing their own curricula for their students. Music teachers do this all the time and there are not so many resources to guide people in how they do this. I teach within the Music Department at the University of Chichester and I have students who are studying instrumental/ vocal teaching and performance – and this is all part of their course-  I believe that learning about connection, networking, communication, and working with others is something that cannot be done solely in a closed classroom or in a private lesson. We need to reach out.

Every time I connect with someone else, I learn something from them – from their experience and observation, from their perspective of life and learning. In music we often learn from a select few individuals and that can give a narrow focus to our perspective. With that in mind, I made this online content, to encourage people to look outward, connect, and draw upon music students, teachers, and enthusiasts world-wide.

The rationale behind the topics follows a bit of advice that my teacher once have me – to build a taller house, you have to build a stronger foundation. And so to be prepared and equipped to create a curriculum for a student, first we have to deconstruct the components involved with music making and music learning, and then we can put them back together in a way that fits the situation. We are really bespoke practitioners. In education people talk of ‘student centred learning’ – and this is it. In music each private student comes with their own needs and to have the tools to understand how to guide them to be able to learn and achieve is a great skill and asset.

Tomorrow I welcome another class of students on campus to learn about how to create a curriculum. is the online version of the class and you are invited to join in with us regardless of your musical experience. We will be following along, week-by-week, having discussions over twitter, doing the various tasks, blogging, having google hangouts, and making things interactively between us – across the ether.

So I hope you will be interested, and maybe know someone else who is interested in music, music learning, and music teaching and that you will join us ! Dip in to a few sessions or follow along every week. Sessions are located under the tab at the top of my webpage. You are most welcome to join in with any part of the course. Come explore, learn, and create with us.

We will be using the hashtag whenever we post things on Twitter, on blogs, or on any other platform.

Enjoy! and any questions, please ask!


Rusty Guitar O' Mine

Photo CC-BY-ND by madhan r