Learning socially

Post twenty-one in our (re)learning to teach music series. This is the second week responding to the tasks in Chris Philpotts’s chapter – the third in Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School. This is week FIVE of the collaborative blogging. 

Here’s a summary of the reading in GIF form – there are five slides. 

Liz Gleed @MrsGleedMusic

I wonder if it is a common music teacher cliché, but there have been many times in my career where someone has visited my classroom for either a moment or a few hours and they have looked around the room, winced and said ‘I don’t know how you do it’. They are usually referring to the noise, the movement of equipment, the general chaos of the space. Except it is not misbehaviour or disorganization (too often?!) The intention is for it to be a room of music making. That is what a good music lesson should be in my opinion – about making music or where music is the dominant language of our classroom.

Social learning needs to be considered respectfully. In the most conservative of musical experiences conductors and musicians model outcomes using musical sound, singing is a dominant tool in explaining concepts. In a music classroom what can look like disordered noise can be evidence of valuable musical processes and learning. The implication of it within a classroom does require some bravery on the part of the teacher and the confidence to relinquish control to an extent. To build in and allow students time to create, solve problems and explore music in real time. Also crafting opportunities for them to be musical models for each other. Sometimes as teachers we can be very outcome driven and we need to be mindful that the process of social learning is as valuable in some ways as a final outcome. I am certainly guilty of wanting to interrupt and persuade a lot and this is something I try to be mindful of.

Where this can be difficult is in reconciling theory and exam outcomes with social learning. If a student thrives in their musicianship via social learning can the real rudiments of theory and notation be woven in effectively? Are they needed? I would argue that on the most part it is best not to close doors to students for when they are older and provide a comprehensive curriculum that enables progress. The idea of the spiral of musical learning is powerful here as Swanwick says: ‘Learning from instruction and enculturation can take place in parallel’. The balance of the two is something that is an important consideration when preparing lessons and when designing any music curriculum.

James Manwaring @TWBSMusic

I don’t think that I had the best experience of music growing up. I have no real memory of Music in my Primary years and I guess things only started to take shape in Year 7. I had a mixture of experiences but then I moved between three schools between Year 7-9.

What I do now is what I wish I had more of then, I think that is what drives me forward to be honest. I want to provide something real & beneficial for all my students.

I would say that growing up my experiences of music were therefore very much towards the instructional learning side of things. I don’t feel I was ever massively inspired over a long period of time and music wasn’t something big in the schools I attended.

Now I try to be a good mix of encultured and instructional. I love having young people leading, and I rely on my students to help in the department. There is a sense of them encountering different forms of music and music making in different settings. I think that the students I teach build up a good knowledge base and they enjoy the instruction that I provide. I believe that I strike a balance between the formal and the informal and we have fun with our music making in both of those categories.

So, I think that Encultured & Instructional learning go hand in hand, they exist together. We have to have teacher led moments, but they can easily help students to encounter music. Informal learning can have formal moments that help to keep the learning focussed and driven. In the past I think I had too much of the instructional stuff and wish I had more encounters with music. But this makes me just want to try and develop my own style to avoid this.

And so now, I will think on these things when I teach. How can my students experience the right blend of these two aspects? What can I do to ensure that they are not being too led by me? Interesting and thought provoking this one. I am not sure I have finished thinking about this, but I will have to stop there!

Vaughan Fleischfresser @VFleischfresser

I feel a strong personal connection to the notion of social learning. While I came to music individually through the saxophone, I came to know, love, and learn ‘of’ music through social learning. I once gave a presentation entitled, ‘My parents gave me a saxophone, and it changed my life’. Much of what I discussed that night was based on all that I had learned through social learning, and for me, the majority of this social learning occurred in music ensembles. While it was Wind and Jazz bands for me, for others it was Choirs, or Orchestras, or Percussion Ensembles. Don’t get me wrong, social learning most certainly takes place in the classroom, however almost every colleague I know became inspired to become a teacher because of all they learned through social learning in a music ensemble.

My personal journey was filled with teachers and conductors who modelled learning, discipline, and musicality, in an authentically musical way, which we were all drawn to and related to. Not only this, these ensembles became melting pots of all we had learned individually, and together through the modelling of our teachers, we created a more musical and meaningful collective whole, which invariably grew and strengthened our individual learning. Finally, the two most important aspects of social learning for me were the fact that in music ensembles, other pupils became musical models for the learning of others. I learned an invaluable amount from modelling myself on those around me, those who inspired me, those who intimidated me, and those who wanted the same as me. All of this was beautifully brought together by the fact that the classroom, or the rehearsal room, was a community of musical learning. While I enjoyed classroom music, I couldn’t wait to get to band. Why? Because of the tangible social learning that took place each and every day.

Therefore, the implications of this experience on me as a teacher have been quite profound. Whether teaching five-year olds or fifteen-year olds, or whether conducting an advanced Choir or beginner Wind Band, I have social learning at the forefront of all my thoughts – how can I help shape and guide the musical experiences and understanding of my pupils through the profound experiences I had? In the manner I discussed above. Through modelling, through providing real and authentic musical experiences, through acknowledging and embracing the learning each and every pupil brings to the room, by encouraging them to learn from and inspire each other, and to build the strong sense of music community that brings people, and keeps bringing people, to music the world over. Music is social. Music is communal. Music is community. It should be taught as such. As for how learning the saxophone changed my life, you can read more of my thoughts here.

Mike Morgan @MikeMMusicED

I have decided to tackle today’s blog from the angle of developing remote learning in my curriculum. This is actually an exercise set by my school to think about what learning will look like in our school from September. Are there elements of this period that we can implement?

Social Learning is something which I am sure many are finding challenging to integrate but at the same time, stimulating to think of creative ways to get our pupils to interact. Reading the Swanwick and Sloboda theories of Constructivism and the importance of embracing instructional and encultured learning is a concept which I am intrigued by. I have interpreted this as the building of ‘know-how’ and knowledge ‘about’ and how those relationships are taught as an important part in the learning process. Then, allowing pupils to develop the knowledge ‘of’ music through activities and implementing social and encultured learning within this. I wanted to consider if some of these elements can be implemented to the pupils through the use of Remote Learning tools?

Instruction and encultured learning can be used develop pupils “know how” and knowledge “about” a topic or concept. This could be done at home or in the classroom at given times through the year. The development of technology in the phase has given me the confidence to think about this. Short listening, composing and performing exercises designed to expose pupils to a given concept, element or idea and to develop their know-how could be used to with this. A task could be set for pupils to learn and perform an African rhythm and find key characteristics. This could be done through the use of teacher led videos or research tasks. They could also find or create their own African rhythm and bring to the lesson. They may wish to show this by video of themselves or writing on notation software or an online DAW. When pupils have learned the concept, they can bring this to the ‘social learning’ area. This would be done within the classroom. Here they can learn in groups by composing or performing and later reflecting their own ideas. This does not have to be conducted purely as ensemble work, but also in the use of collaboration tools in music technology (This is something I am keen to develop when we are back to teaching in our classrooms). This would allow pupils to experience other forms of musical learning in a social context. Through these activities, it will develop pupil’s knowledge ‘of’ music along with “how to behave in musically” in different settings. Using the pupil’s knowledge of African rhythms developed using the ‘remote learning’ tools, they can work with others to present a performance influenced or replicating African Drumming thus, showing their knowledge of the concept of Rhythm (syncopation, polyrhythms, time signatures etc.). The structure of this could be done in cycles in a linear framework. Pupils spend several weeks learning a new concept or element. They learn the ‘how’ and ‘about’ through remote learning tools enhanced by the constructivism or even purely instructional learning techniques. From here, they bring this knowledge to the social learning arena to develop their musical-thinking through practical activities. It will take time to develop but may change the way I think about planning my curriculum

David House @House_dg

What are the implications of social learning for music education? Fascinating to reconnect today with writings which date from the time that I was training to teach and starting my career. Re-reading is so pleasurable, indeed parallels with re-listening are legion. In fact that is one of the comments I will be making about how social learning theories affect my teaching. Anyway, back to the question: awareness of the social aspects of learning can be seen as vital and a key part of any teacher’s professional knowledge. Classrooms are social places, the culture within them shapes the learning environment and effectiveness of work undertaken. In all the writings cited there is a somewhat difficult juxtaposition of the ‘playful’ and ‘prescribed’: education happening almost without the student being aware, and that which is set out in clear terms. I find this both one of the most wonderful things about teaching and one of the hardest to manage: the ‘productive tension’. I feel the biggest implication is that the classroom environment is key – making it a musical environment, whatever the activity.

How might the theory influence the way you teach? Not only the way I teach, but inherently the way musical learning seems to take place. There are two things here for me. First, ensuring that music is the focus of lessons and that all discussion, examples, ideas, comments are presented in relation to music and in a musical way – in a very simple way if a student notices something they will probably be asked to “tap that rhythm back” or “sing the tune they played” for example. Secondly, coming to my point earlier about re-doing things [reading, playing, singing, listening] I feel it vital that music which is encountered is re-encountered frequently, this links with the idea of a musical culture – in musical life pieces are rarely performed once and then left, repertoires are built through use and re-use, new material is introduced gradually whilst older pieces still receive performances even if only in rehearsal. This is so solidly a part of all musical life, especially in ensembles, that it is rather surprising that contemporary educational thought [interleaving, regular review, taking small steps, independent practice, models, scaffolding, assessment for learning etc.] seems to only now be catching up with methods in musical use for centuries.

Ewan McIntosh @ETMcINTOSH

I would definitely agree with the Elliot’s model of procedural knowledge; I think that it is very important that music is made in as real circumstances as possible. During this Covid-19 crisis, many musicians have played together remotely via Zoom or other platforms; I cannot see this happening when the concert halls and other venues re-open. Most musicians prefer to make music with other around them both participating and listening as part of an audience; active music making is most people preferred method of music making.

I try and put as much active music making into lessons as possible through either performing, composing and active listening. Set works are performed by classes at GCSE and A Level so that students can explore their inner working through doing, rather than just listening and writing. Are the performances as real as possible? Probably not as my 8 Y12 students don’t make a Haydn Orchestra, but they can still play the parts on their various non authentic instruments (Haydn 104 sounds great with a bass guitar playing the cello/bass line btw). This active participation helps them understand Haydn’s composing methods, which in turn helps their own Western Classical Tradition pastiche pieces that are required for coursework.

At KS3 we have a large emphasis on whole class and Year group singing in choirs, with house competitions etc to ensure lots of participation. The choir singing is one of the reasons we have such good uptake at GCSE and lots of non GCSE and A level pupils still sing in a school choir from y10 and beyond.

Steven Berryman @steven_berryman

When I did a small-scale research project with John Sloboda it was a result of my increasing feeling that there was a tension between the music I wanted to teach and the music pupils wanted to experience. I recognised it was a musical culture that they felt alienated from and I wanted to understand how can I enable their engagement with classical chamber music on their terms; what would make the experience something they could ‘enjoy’? The project was built on a very simple premise of giving a group of young people a chamber ensemble. They would meet regularly to get to know each other, and work together to put an event on. The process and the final concert gave John and I some insight into how young people wanted to experience classical chamber music. Whilst it was a small scale study, it is was an enlightening process. 

I realised that the social aspect was important; the feeling of belonging gained by the collective listening to music and feeling like they understood what they were hearing. They did some music-making in one of the sessions, where pupils brought their instruments and joined in with the chamber ensemble, seeing their rehearsal behaviours and through doing gaining an insight into the practices of classical musicians. The chamber ensemble were endlessly keen to share, and the pupils found the idiosyncrasies of the players’ lives rewarding (‘do you have any dogs?’). Once they knew the players better, they were bowled over by the music. When the ensemble played some Walton I turned to see open-mouthed pupils; they were surprised by the players’ abilities and genuinely impressed. The music was being played by people, people they knew (i.e. how many dogs they had) and their music-making became something to be in awe of because they appreciated the human effort to create it. 

It’s challenging to avoid the human behind the sound; when the human is present it’s always much more appealing. Classrooms become ecosystems of music-making, and each class brings an idiosyncratic array of musicianship that collides into intriguing and fascinating ways. For me I need to know the musicians in the room, and build the musical experiences around them. There will always be musical objects I want them to engage with that are beyond their current engagement, but I approach it by making it a human endeavour and they’re often fascinated and willing to engage more. 


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