Indicators of (musical) thinking together

In a previous post I wondered if the six types of talk proposed by Robin Alexander could be six types of (creative) music-making:

  • Collective: ‘address learning tasks together’ – ensemble music-making is the immediate equivalent of this.
  • Supportive: free of risk expression of ‘hesitant or tentative, or that might be judged ‘wrong’ – I think we cultivate this well in music.
  • Reciprocal: Listening well, asking questions and ‘consider alternative viewpoints’ – do we provide sufficient opportunities to do this?
  • Deliberative: ‘Discuss and seek to resolve different points of view’ – creative collaborative composing enables this to take place.
  • Cumulative: ‘build on their own and each other’s contributions and chain them into coherent lines of thinking and understanding’ – wholeheartedly we do this.
  • Purposeful: ‘though sometimes open-ended, is neveretheless structured with specific learning goals in view’ – I *hope* we do this.

‘Collectivity, supportiveness and reciprocity characterise the classroom culture within which dialogue [music?] is most likely to prosper’. I like how Alexander emphasises the purposefulness of classroom talk as distinct from the talk taking place in the rest of our lives: ‘classroom [musical?] discussion though valuable and even enjoyable in itself, differs from everyday social discussion in that it is a means to an educational end‘. (p. 132).

I am enjoying the series of posts from Neil Phillipson on dialogic pedagogy and in one of his posts he shares a document that provides some ‘indicators of dialogic pedagogy‘. Neil defines four dimensions of talk in the second post of the series; I won’t repeat these here but I wondered how we would approach the ideal ‘thinking together’ in music. In my own classroom you would find all the dimensions present; there are times when I’m telling students the ‘right’ answer (‘this is from the baroque period’), or being seemingly interactive (‘what justifies this as baroque?’) and in music I imagine plenty of dialogic/non-interactive (‘what do you like about this piece Petunia?’). The thinking together dimension achieved through a dialiogic/interactive dimension is the ideal where ‘we are giving the students the opportunity to reflect, to question, to make connections and to make meaning. Such episodes also provide teachers with vital feedback about the learning that is taking place’.

In the third post in the series Neil explores how teachers would plan for an episode of thinking together. Moving to a dialogic purpose in teaching resonates with the theme of post 21 for the #ReLearnMusicTeaching series where we’re exploring social learning.

If we make a decision to switch to a dialogic approach we might be more concerned with understanding what sense has been made of the information that has been put in and with seeking to facilitate reflection, meaning making and enquiry (in the sense of creating space for students to ask questions about what is not yet understood). (from here).

This is a move from the obsession with retrieval and recall ‘to asking questions that probe understanding, facilitate the making of connections and require more elaborated responses’. Neil highlights ‘the third turn’ – the moment when an exchange can continue (or stop) – and how teachers can enable a purposeful third turn through genuine interest through listening and the suspension of judgment. Neil provides some suggestions of turns:

  • Go on’ or ‘Say more: when a pupil shares a musical idea what is it for them to say more? To keep ‘improvising’ if they are spontaneously generating material? Would we be expected too much for a continued extemporisation under pressure of being heard by the rest of the class?
  • Seek to understand could be encouraging a pupil to share a musical idea in a different guise (‘can you play that in another way?’), asking them to show another example (‘can you find me another moment where the dorian mode is present?’) or they could be encouraged to demonstrate how they arrived at the musical idea (‘how did you make that phrase?’).
  • Making connections and distinctions are the bedrock of musical compositions; we thrive on the ‘play of comparison’ (Whittall) and I think music teachers are instinctively good at spotting that conflict between musical ideas. So many aural activities in the graded examinations are built on assessing ‘spot the difference’.
  • Asking for evidence and reasons is also something students can be encouraged to do, as if they present a musical idea that perhaps was expected to demonstrate a musical concept (a melodic line using a particular mode) we could encourage a student to explain/demonstrate which notes are distinctive for the mode, or how are they certain they have used the mode effectively?
  • Participation and collaboration seem the norm in music classrooms but I wondered how we are enabling all pupils to think whether they are all playing/responding; I’m thinking of those ‘call and response’ activities where only one pupil is delivering an idea (though then again all are called to think and listen to be able to respond effectively, so this choral response is enabling thinking).

Neil stresses that ‘subject knowledge is a vital component of dialogic pedagogy – it’s very hard to ask valuable questions in the moment if you don’t really ‘know you stuff’’. But I wonder if the asking of questions should always be a verbal activity in music; what are the music(al) equivalents of asking questions?

I really like Neil’s planning for a changes of state session he taught to three primary pupils. I’m wondering what a music(al) version of this process might look like (I like the structure of the session, and the provocations considered at each stage). I am wondering what it would be to plan music(al) lessons following a similar structure, and if we/I plan in sufficient detail when approaching creative activity to ensure ‘I have an accountability to accurate subject knowledge‘ though I wonder if Neil has considered how there is the creation of new knowledge when working creatively and in the arts. How do we accommodate the tension between our teacher/authoritative subject knowledge and the new knowledge created by students?

Neil writes ‘researchers tell us that they see relatively little dialogic / interactive teaching’. Is this the case in music?






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