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Posts tagged ‘Teaching’

Value of Creative Education

@laura_ritchie modelling our own practice as creative educators in different medium @HerefordArtsCol 

—Sarah-Jane (@sarahjfc) 20 September 2017

I felt privileged to be there. Really, it was moving. You reminded us of what we do and sometimes as teachers we forget- Seeing him get it and the look on his face. When he looked at you like that, that is what it’s all about. Witnessing that learning happen was really something. -Holland Otik

What was this all about? I was invited to speak at the Hereford College of Arts 10th Annual HE Symposium to speak on ‘the value of a creative education’.

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Learning on your own

I love learning and I love teaching, and I love to make things fun. My classes started last week and I made a little video with the help of my son to illustrate what happens while ‘learning’. (insert cheshire cat grin here) If you need a good giggle, this one’s for you. Image CC BY-NC by Greg Hirson

See in learning stuff, could be any subject, there is content and then you have to figure out how to actually assimilate it and make it real for you, so that in the big wide world it means something and is useful. Very often we are given a ‘to do’ list and are set free to ‘learn’. The to do list is the what, and seldom includes the how or why. When I showed this video in class, it made my students cry with laughter, not because it is slapstick, but because it’s true. Read more

Community in four words

Sometimes in the midst of the storm there is calm. I felt that today for a brief moment. Oh there are many reasons to feel the storm today. I don’t want to go there – I sat still for a moment and read the very eloquent post by danah boyd (thanks to Bonnie for tweeting it) and thought, mmmm (that’s code for ‘yes’). I admit to skimming the post and then read carefully, backwards- starting at the end – and thought.

(that’s not an unfinished sentiment. It was my action: I thought.)

Community. Trust. Communication. Personal. Stories. Interest. Talking. Inquiry. Curiosity. Care. Friends. Time.

It made me think about how we transmit and value information about one another. Last night I on a video call with America and Australia and Brazil talking about a new archive of ethnomusicology materials, and I was struck by the story that people told through their research – living for decades with distant cultures and stressing the importance of context and having access to all the notes, audio, soundscapes of the places and people. One bit of information in isolation was nothing. To me, as someone who didn’t know, it was at best misleading, and at worst – well I cannot imagine – and that is the nature of ignorance.

When we do not know about something, there is a need to genuinely learn and to teach, and in today’s push-button world, people have sometimes lost the art of explanation, conversation, and (I dare say) an awareness of others. I don’t mean this in any base horrible way, but in simple things.

An everyday example: I was speaking to a lady in her 70’s the other day and she explained how she was using her phone more, but her family didn’t know how to explain to her. Her granddaughter said to just google it, but had not explained the three touches needed to raise the search engine page on the phone, and so it was a mystery without obvious instructions and she was frustrated. I would be too.

There is an art to teaching, and we are all called upon to be teachers, whether in a school or not. Partly that is because we are all learning. Learning, teaching, developing, growing – unless we stop that awareness of ourselves and those around us, and that sort of stopping is different to standing still (because there can be great reflection in that); that is a choice to decay.

News, fake news, community and trust, – from one end of the spectrum to the other. I was struck in danah’s post that she hints at calling upon people from across layers of society to realise and want to make a difference: that people having a choice, but she says “I’m not sure that we have the will, but I think that’s part of the problem.” She is so right. It is like someone who struggles with any addiction, be it food, money, power – it is part of what fuel’s you and it is not easy to choose to live differently than those shouting pretty loud. You can shut your eyes, but closing your ears, now that’s not easy. -but it is possible, and that’s where community comes into it. Each person can make a difference in the world. One kind word, one wave, one song. Whether you reach one or one thousand, what you do has an impact beyond what you can see.

Tomorrow there is a positive thing happening on Twitter. Bonnie Stewart has cast an invitation to share 4 word stories about what community means. It’s all part of the #Antigonish2 movement. I’ll be there. Hope you will join us too.

Featured image CC BY-NC-ND by Phil Norton

Teaching to let go

(3 min read)

“…the delicate relationship between teaching, giving knowledge, and learning knowledge”

This comes from Chapter 4 of We make the road by walking, a book of conversations between the educators Paulo Freire and Myles Horton. Paulo goes on to elaborate this quote, talking about going beyond the knowledge that the people bring to a situation. (p.151) I am struck by this book, how much it resonates with me and I sincerely wish I had been able to meet these people in person. It’s my holiday read, part of a book club, and I suppose this is my post about Chapter 4. It is a short one, not because there is less that inspired me, but because there was one paragraph that leapt out for me. Paulo speaks about this balance between teaching, knowledge, and learning and adds the authority of the teacher.

“The other mistake is to crush freedom and to exacerbate the authority of the teacher. Then you no longer have freedom but now you have authoritarianism, and then the teacher is the one who teaches. The teacher is the one who knows. The teacher is the one who guides. The teacher is the one who does everything. And the students, precisely because the students must be shaped, just expose their bodies and their souls to the hands of the teacher, as if the students were clay for the artist, to be molded.

The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to be­ come themselves. And in doing that, he or she lives the experience of relating democratically as authority with the freedom of the students.” -Paulo, p.181

This is so true, and a difficult one to learn. As a teacher it is a huge apocalyptic epiphany to know, not intellectually, but to really understand that you (or I or anyone) cannot change another. Read more

Picture the sound… #MUS654

One of the elusive topics in music learning and teaching is expression and meaning. How can we work in one medium (sound) and have to explain it in another (words?)? Often the intention of the teacher and the experience of the student can be so far apart, and we may never know it. This week I got creative and a bit silly and set my class loose with the project of picturing the sound. Really – I gave them all sorts of dried pulses, pasta, rice, seeds, nuts, bits of cotton wool, cake decorations, big sheets of paper and asked them to create the picture they heard as people performed to them. This sort of invitation is usually met with two different reactions, often in close succession, excitement followed by a tentativeness and doubt.

Oh WoW!

and then…

but I don’t know what to do?

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I hear what you’re saying…

This morning I woke to a conversation on twitter that caught my eye, perplexed me, and concerned me all at once. It was about how someone was treated rudely on the phone. One person didn’t understand the other, and attributed it to an accent, but this wasn’t very tactful or helpful, and came across as downright rude. Now the thing is, I wasn’t there. I didn’t hear the conversation, but I heard the aftershock. What happened left a mark and caused upset (* see note below). This post is not about the actual conversation, but about the nature of learning and listening. It made me think of the curiosity of communication and teaching. Image CC BY by Double-M

If we only know by shadows, then what truth is there?

The conversation reminded me of the importance of perception, empathy, and a willingness to learn to understand.

In my classes I often talk about communication, as I work with people aiming to perform and teach music in various settings, including 1-to-1. It is a bit heavy going, but I start one class with this quote: Read more

#IVTchat More than Notes

This week my class did their first official Twitter ‘listen-n-chat’ and it was great fun! It’s funny how using technology for a purpose can be sort of like having roadworks – it is there to improve the situation, but if you aren’t aware of it and don’t navigate it carefully, you can get stuck in traffic instead of flowing smoothly to your destination. Fortunately my group work very well together and we were able to navigate things and to come out with an enjoyable and productive outcome. Read more

Yes I Can: Self-efficacy

‘Yes I Can’ is about having that growth mindset. More than that, it’s what happens when you have it. There are huge differences between fixed concepts of ability and the expanding conception of capability. There are reasons for fostering beliefs about capability, self-efficacy beliefs, in people. Self-efficacy is about having a growth mindset for a specific task. Actually we need it for so many different things everyday, but it isn’t a blanket belief that covers all. ‘Yes I Can’ in one setting doesn’t necessarily translate to another. And why not? Maybe you were one of the kids who was lucky enough to have a fantastically supportive environment where YES was the default, or maybe you had a more typical experience where there was at least one thing in life where some unthinking grown-up told you that you would never do that… whether it was singing, acting, public speaking, spelling, or even wearing that shirt in public. These things have an impact.

‘Yes I Can’ doesn’t happen overnight, and to make it last takes more than a reading of the well known story The little engine who could.

2290311284_9fcb47c167_zImage CC BY-NC-SA by Viki

I was talking to my students about teaching (I lead a degree in Instrumental / Vocal Teaching for musicians) and we got to thinking about the differences between school learning and university – and then of course compared these to music learning. In school, at least in the UK, currently there is a strong trend to teach to the test. When children approach the final years of school here, they take big end of year subject exams that have a huge impact on university entrance. It is different to sitting an SAT test on a Saturday, because most of what you do in school is geared toward that final assessment. Even at 15, the coursework counts toward the grade that determines which three or four subjects a student can specialise in for those final two years of school. There is huge pressure, and huge formula. My own teenage children come home and I say things like-‘ Can I see a draft of your essay?’ and just last weekend I was met with the retort ‘Why would I show it to you? Do you know how we are required to structure the essay?’ -I felt like I didn’t have a good reply. Sometimes when you’re in a horserace, there are hoops to jump, but that doesn’t mean that they are the defining factors of your learning. I hope we can all go beyond, and learn because we want to, and because we can. But, grades, rules, exams, these things all impose restrictions and as much as any teacher would like to say it doesn’t happen, there is teaching to the test, at any level. It is simply that our students have a lot of it in the final years of their schooling.

What happens next is a shock to the system.

At university, there is a strong push to develop autonomous learners, to develop people who will make a lasting contribution to society, to guide those who will change the world. Individual differences are valued and encouraged. The skills that were honed to write just so, to answer with the correctly phrased re-articulation of the definition of a plate tectonics are no longer being asked for. I am not saying these activities are useless. That foundation of factual knowledge and the understanding of how to follow rules is essential and is one of many skills needed as people navigate life. I love how Stravinsky found freedom in the confines of rules. He was known for pushing boundaries in his music, not through anarchic daydreaming, but with an extremely high level of skill, careful compositional planning, and precisely notated instructions. He said:

349px-Igor_Stravinsky_LOC_32392u“Well, in art as in everything else, one can build only upon a resisting foundation: whatever constantly gives way to pressure, constantly renders movement impossible. My freedom consists in moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings.” (Stravinsky, 1970, p.65)

Photo by George Grantham Bain Collection – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ggbain.32392. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

The foundational knowledge learned through the final school years is useful, and forms a base from which people move forward, but students can be unprepared for the dramatic change in tack of methods of learning and expectations they meet as they begin their university education.

A growth mindset is definitely needed, but there is also a need for transitions to be facilitated, and for the positive ‘Yes I Can’ self-efficacy beliefs to be developed and enacted. There has been a growing awareness of practical links between university learning and achievements and professional life, with the rise in vocational courses and the emphasis on embedding employability.

Self-efficacy is about the ‘Yes I Can’ and teachers can do a lot to help foster this.

Self-belief is at the core, but is not enough. It is backed up with skills and the practical accomplishments that demonstrate the reality that actually, yes, you can do something.

This morning, mid typing I read Alan Levine’s Tedx talk about +/- memory and how that relates to teachers you may have had, who makes an impact, and what you remember, and he recalled the positive impact of various teachers throughout his education. I thought, yep, I was really lucky to have a few of those teachers who really made a difference because they showed me how to develop that belief. It takes work for an educator and it is not something that can come from an extra assignment or additional research. The teacher has to start by believing, and continue, even when the student doesn’t. The rewards may not be immediate, and might not come until much later, sometimes years after the students have left and they come back and say how that thing you encouraged them to do was really useful and led them on to something else – because they knew they could do it. I realised the impact of one of my teachers and thanked him decades after leaving school. Sometimes educators never see the direct results, but it is important to believe in people. It takes a commitment from the teacher and even some risk, as this is a different perspective for some, and it requires that you are willing to learn yourself.

For me knowing that I can, and the possibilities brought about through having the self-efficacy to put that first foot forward have led to great connections and opened doors, and I want to pass that on. I wrote the book Fostering self-efficacy in higher education students, because I believe in students, I believe in teachers, and I believe in the power of education.

#YesICan

Featured image CC BY-SA by Chris Gilmore

Fostering Self-efficacy… book out next month

This book has been a year in the making and a longer time bubbling away in the back of my mind. It is a book for all teachers, and for students too – across all areas of learning (it is not a music book). I cannot promise any instant solutions to cure all self-efficacy issues, but I can give insight into the construct of self-efficacy, why it is important, and how to build it through practical, everyday means. At a time when students, their opinions, experiences, and ultimately achievements really do matter, self-efficacy is something that needs consideration, because at the end of the day it’s you and only you who know what you can do, how you feel about it, and whether or not you actually can and will see it through.

In the book I use my research and the foundation of research that has been built over the past 30 years, plus my own experiences and the experiences of other teachers across fields of study to demonstrate self-efficacy in action.

It is something that I believe in wholeheartedly. I hope you find it useful!

The book can be found via Palgrave Macmillan or Amazon. Any questions, please ask! Either email or comment…

LRitchie book flyer

 

What’s the big cheese?

(read time 2 min) That’s right. The sketches on the post it notes in the photo all represent the same object. They don’t look the same?? Well that’s what happens when you only know something second hand. They were the visual interpretation of a single verbal description of the object. This week we were exploring the importance and impact of clear communication, and I started us off with a ‘bad’ example to show just how things could go awry, and the result was these adorable cheeses.

How many times have we had to say, ‘no- that’s not what I meant…’ even in a casual conversation? Clarity becomes all the more poignant when professional interaction relies on being able to communicate well. For me, as a teacher, I am aware that communication and the descriptions that introduce students to new things and ideas – as if showing them shadows of what they will later experience as reflections, and then embody in their actions – can be the first step in their own understanding, and if this is presented with clarity that students can use it as a tool to move forward, but if it is vague then the resulting interpretations can be as varied as our cheeses.

Everyone took a turn explaining and the importance of feedback and ‘checking up’ along the way was easily demonstrated, even when the explanations seemed clear, the results could be a bit wonky if we didn’t communicate along the way…

Exhibit A: The broccoli, explained by 10 people collaboratively, but without viewing the progress – only the result. We thought this broccoli might be called Sponge Bob.

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For our purposes, the concept of clarity and communication was translated into musical explanations – as often, in the beginning stages of learning, students don’t know what they are doing until they have done it.

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You know that phrase… I hear what you’re saying… yes, but do you understand?