Walkthrus: Explanation and Modelling

I had a great two terms of supervising coaches on the Accelerate Teaching Programme. Supporting new instructional coaches gave me insight into the experience of the participants and particularly the strength of the rubrics that underpinned the work on the various modules. The rubrics enabled participants to have purposeful conversations with their coaches about their abilities; for the coaches I supervised they found many participants were fairly accurate with their self-assessment, and the rubrics enabled sensitive yet professional dialogue with those participants that placed themselves at less appropriate points on the rubric.

It is difficult to self-reflect (video certainly helps and was part of the coaching cycle for the participants). From the supervision calls with the coaches a recurring theme was the participants were nervous about filming themselves; variety of reasons, including some data protection issues but also a fear of being filmed. I think we musicians are so used to the scrutiny of the minutiae that we don’t mind being reviewed, receiving feedback (anecdotally I think musicians can crave it perhaps too much). It’ll take some time to shift this fear of film and move towards a willingness and openness to engage with deliberate practice, instructional coaching where accountability measures aren’t dwarfing the benefits of using these useful tools for self-reflection.

Great to see Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli’s new Walkthrus. The rubrics of Accelerate showed the value of getting granular with teaching/pedagogical process, and this slim volume offers a clean succinct tool for self-reflection. I jumped immediately to the explanation and modelling section (p. 66); these areas were covered on the Accelerate programme in Module 3. Before I’d seen the Walkthru, Accelerate materials had inspired the way I was working in my own department and with explanation and modelling the whole-school theme for teaching and learning at my own school, I spent some time considering how these research-informed approaches and routines could filter into music.

In departmental CPD I wanted us to reflect on what a good explanation would be in music. I know, I know… we’re supposed to be working in ‘sound’ but explanations are vital too. How many times have we started a class off with a practical task and seen results that defied expectations and thought “I didn’t mean that…” (and whilst some of these unexpected departures from expectations are pleasing others are less so and not useful). I wanted us to reflect as department on how our explanations would encourage pupils ‘to actively engage in making sense of the concept explained, thinking purposefully and effortfully about it, enhancing their understanding’. I wanted us to consider if we genuinely provided the opportunities for pupils to ‘explore the concept, making their understanding (including any misconceptions) clear to us’. Before the school’s move to remote working we would have been rehearsing some explanations with each other to reflect on the clarity and also how we might prevent/prepare for misconception. 

I also wanted us to reflect on how we were modelling musical tasks and if we were modelling some of the practical creative in KS3 well enough to enable all pupils to access the tasks. My feeling was weren’t capitalising on the work of other students as models (professional musicians modelling a task seems less useful in some ways). ‘Good modelling enables pupils to be clear about how to undertake a task set, and they are able to focus their attention on processing learning points / taught content’. I wanted the department to reflect on how they were introducing the practical tasks by considering how worked examples and backward fading (explained so well in Tom and Oliver’s book on p. 68) We were moving towards independence gradually or were we expecting too much too soon from all pupils?

The research suggests (I hate that expression) ‘it can be effective to use three examples, one of which could be a ‘non-example’. I wanted us to reflect on what non-examples we could be using when introducing a creative task (if we weren’t using any why were we avoiding it?). I wanted us to reflect on how we modelled the musical thinking we wanted pupils to demonstrate when working on creative tasks (it was something I explored loosely in my CTeach project). We were talking aloud enough about the steps we were talking to produce responses to the tasks? Were we giving enough opportunities for pupils to articulate their own thoughts and processes in a similar way? How were we capturing the creative process as much as we already were capturing the product? Ultimately how were we encouraging pupils to think like musicians.  I wanted us to reflect on how it is to think like a musician. 

Tom/Oliver’s book have some processes we are already fairly virtuosic at applying as music teachers; live modelling, scaffolding, and I think to a lesser extent metacognitive talk. Our musician metacognitive talk is often unsaid; chamber musicians seemingly read the minds of their fellow musicians when playing and rehearsing, and I wondered if we assumed too much as music educators by not speaking out and slowing down our own metacognitive processes so pupils can keep up. I do agree with ‘set the standards’ (p. 84). Do we make it clear what excellence will look like in an activity, or do we set the stimulus and let the work commence? Is it wrong to set a ‘standard’? I wondered if were pushing work to be more than participation and first attempts before moving on to something else. Were we really going for ‘excellence’ (whatever that means in each task/context) or were we going for first attempts as the best attempts? 

There can be an uncomfortableness about applying generic pedagogy to a submit that is so rich as music with expertise and sophisticated pedagogy; but some of the processes outlined in Tom/Oliver’s book can be a useful springboard for reflection and if we’re already using these processes well there might be others in the book that seem too remote from the experience of music to be useful. I’m going to challenge myself to find seemingly less useful ones and see what I can do to modify and adapt. The more tools for experimentation the better.

3 Comments

  1. It is right to set a standard, and model examples of what that standard might sound like. There’s nothing wrong with expecting a musical outcome. You can set tasks where the outcome no matter how simple can be a musical one, and a high quality one. In addition to providing a range of models at different levels, we also play around with ‘modelling poorly’ , pretending it’s a valid response, and then waiting for the torrent of incredulity……. ‘It’s not even in time Miss, and you can’t call that an ostinato when you didn’t even repeat it,’ ‘How can that be a chord when you’re only playing one note?
    This continues in our teaching all the way up to yr13.
    It’s a really great way of catching out the snoozers… ‘so here’s how this should sound’, I’ll say, ‘everyone alright with that? ‘Yep, yep’, come a few responses… ‘we’ll actually , no, I’m not alright with that’, will come the voice of a student who is actually thinking and listening properly.
    ‘Good’, I’ll, say, ‘now someone show us what this should or could sound like’…..

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