Learning Contexts

Post twenty-three 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. 

  • Audit your own learning in each setting; What musical knowledge have you developed in each?
  • Identify ways in which the learning from one setting as informed another
  • List three implications of this analysis for planning for musical learning in your own classroom
  • Have you observed any music teaching that has managed to take account of each context?

Vaughan Fleischfresser @VFleischfresser

David House @House_dg

Formal, informal and non-formal learning? In reflection of my own experience, that observed in classrooms across various schools and the current ‘virtual’ working environment I am drawn back to my favourite quote from E.M. Forster “Only connect.” For many years I have used this as a maxim as a VI form tutor, impressing upon my tutees the need to de-compartmentalise their learning both within subjects and across their whole educational experience. Now I see this more and more clearly for individual students within Music. In any class there are students with experiences from all three settings [formal, informal, non-formal] and to enable them to connect these in an effective and efficient way in moving their musical understanding forward is key. The contribution to my thinking that the current virtual environment and distance learning scenario has brought is that of developing and maintaining a portfolio. As a school we use Office 365 and Microsoft Teams, within this there is much use of OneNote and I have set up sections and pages for each student to use in their notebooks to keep a record of musical activities, discoveries and thoughts – including links, files, audio clips and more. I want to bring this approach in to regular use from now on, so that each student can track their formal learning [with clear notes and documents for reference], record their informal learning [adding pieces of independent work they have done] and connect their non-formal learning [for example putting in notes on ensemble participation beyond school].

Mike Morgan @MikeMMusicED

A: Audit your own learning in each setting; What musical knowledge have you developed in each? My formal learning experience came from the classroom. This is where I developed my understanding about music through the usual routes of GCSE and A Level. I would also have guitar lessons inside and outside of school. This is usually where I would learn how to play the instrument. I would learn my scales, songs, techniques etc. that helped enhance my skill on the instrument. I loved these lessons as I always loved learning different styles (Outside was main Rock at the time). I had a 2 great guitar teachers in school who were so inspiring and encouraged me to learn a range of styles. My informal activities is where a musician with my background would feel I gained the most. I would walk 2 hours, up to 3 or 4 times a week to play in bands when I was a teenager. That’s how much I loved playing. This is where I developed my ensemble and band skills. I was usually the most advanced musician there so would also need to direct others. I feel I really developed multi-task skills through this and was very much a ‘band leader’ from the start. As I progressed through university. I played with more advanced players and in many different styles (Jazz, Funk, Blues etc.) and this is where the skills from my formal teaching were applied. I suppose this also answers question b (identify ways in which the learning from one setting as informed another). I was never really part of Non-formal settings growing up. I would usually be part of the schools flex ensemble, guitar group, jazz ensemble and school orchestra for productions, but in the sense of having an adult to supervise, this was very sporadic.

C: List three implications of this analysis for planning for musical learning in your own classroom

  1. I tend to ensure that at some point in a SOW, all three are experienced. We have the formal teaching of music.
  2. We would use non-formal opportunities of playing as a whole class (Although not the same).
  3. I would use Musical Future techniques to allow pupils to learn with minimum input form myself

D: Have you observed any music teaching that has managed to take account of each context? In the short time we have in lesson, I feel it is almost impossible to fit all three into a lesson. I have observed many a lesson where some amazing informal teaching is used. You would walk in and it would look like chaos to untrained eye at first, but when you look closely, you see the excellent experiences the pupils are having. I think this type is where behaviour management and boundaries are important. I see this in a colleague of mine which I have used. We set these at the start of the year. Pupils love working in this way and if they want to continue, they must not let themselves down. This is something we instil. It really is great to see when pupils turn up to their lesson excited to learn like this.

Ewan McIntosh @ETMcINTOSH

I would say that a lot of my performing musical knowledge has come from a mixture of all three as lots of performing was done both in a school setting, through lottos non-formal plain with Youth Orchestra’s and string groups and then informal playing in bands with friends etc. This is a similar case for some composing with the formal and informal setting making up a lot of this. Composing is a bit more limited in non-formal settings as these sort of groups rarely play music composed by members of the group. The listening side of my education was mostly done informally as I loved and still love listening to music.

I would say that lots of learning from each of the settings, underpin each other. That is to say that music rarely exists in a vacuum; not many children only listen to music in their weekly school music lessons. Most children do lots of informal music everyday through their own listening as well as all the other things they do now with music being a backdrop to many an tiktok or snapchat video. Non-formal music making is also very popular in my school with lots of pupils taking part in ensembles, even when their own compulsory music curriculum has finished from Years 10-13. Hopefully some of the skills and knowledge that they have been taught in their formal music curriculum will help them develop their musicianship further in these other contexts. The implications that need to be understood when planning are 1. What informal and non-formal music making opportunities do pupils take part in? 2. How can the formal music curriculum tie in and help develop the musical skills leant in these non and informal settings? 3. How can the formal curriculum encourage pupils to take part in more non-formal and informal musical making and learning?

I would say that the vast amount of practice that I have observed in music lessons over the last 17 years would take into account all three of the contexts. Rarely do music teachers separate them all out and have no cross-over at all. It is sometimes hard to get the non-formal to cross over with the other two, depending on what ensembles are being taught, but it can be done.

Steven Berryman @steven_berryman

Audit your own learning in each setting; What musical knowledge have you developed in each?

I think all of us formed a music education built on all three; it’s that multi-context that has formed us as music educators I think. I combined the individual lessons, class music, country ensembles and my own composing as a way of capturing all three different contexts. 

Identify ways in which the learning from one setting as informed another

My instrumental skills enhanced my composing; my composing enhanced my instrumental skills. I was much better at the flute/piano as a consequence of my endless doodling and composing, as the more I played the greater the familiarity I had with the instrument. My tone improved hugely on the flute through sheer amount of practising. The creativity and flexibility I cultivated through composing helped me to cater for those hairy moments in performance when things didn’t go to plan and I needed to adapt rapidly – such as when I was told moments before accompanying a singer in an aria (I was on the flute) that the music needed to be down a tone. 

List three implications of this analysis for planning for musical learning in your own classroom

  1. Acknowledge that the three contexts are worthy of cultivating – what space exists for non-formal music-making to flourish? 
  2. Build curriculum that takes into account these contexts and provide the opportunity for pupils to demonstrate their expertise developed in one or more of these contexts
  3. Pupils can be encouraged to find the right context for them; just because there are ‘three’ doesn’t mean every pupil should be forced to engage with them. 

Have you observed any music teaching that has managed to take account of each context?

Seeing Paul Griffiths work reminds me that there is a way to synthesise the three contexts well. Having met him back in 2005 I not only developed my own workshop leading skills but have been able to see his work in action over the past years as he has worked across our family of schools creating collaborative works with large groups of pupils. He has the knack of embracing what each pupil brings to the process, and all feel welcome. The outcome is always ingenious and impressive, and every pupil feels like a musician. 

 

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