Moving towards emergence

Post thirty-one in our (re)learning to teach music series. This is the second week responding to the tasks in chapter five in Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School. This is week seven of the collaborative blogging. 

Review the statements about the curriculum in Box 5.1 (pg 67). In what ways would the views of curriculum in these statements limit students’ interactions and limit the emergence of their own musical knowledge and meanings?

Vaughan Fleischfresser @VFleischfresser

When I look at the curriculum statements in question, I see a lot of prescription and not a lot of possibility. For any curriculum to achieve a sense of investment and ownership by its pupils, then – in my opinion – possibility has to outweigh prescription. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe there has to be some level of prescription, however that which is prescribed should act only as a springboard for the possibilities inherent in that which is being experienced and learned.

This theme of prescription over possibility runs rampant through these statements. For example – When there is a set list of genres to be taught, possibility is lost. When there is a finite timeframe, possibility is lost. When there is a predetermined sequence of learning, possibility is lost. When everything is magnetised towards a final piece of assessment, possibility is lost. When there is a tick box of required musical learning, possibility is lost. When the way in which certain resources are to be used is prescribed, possibility is lost. When the focus is on achieving stated outcomes, possibility is lost. When the curriculum remains the same while the pupils change, possibility is lost.

When we take away the power of possibility, then we take away the power of the pupils themselves to shape, realise, and fulfil their own musical learning. You can’t prescribe or put down on paper the learning that occurs authentically through informal and non-formal learning contexts. You can’t prescribe or put down on paper moments of educative breath, moments of self or group discovery, or moments of self or group creation. However, you can expect, prepare for, and build in moments of possibility where the pupils engage with music on their own terms and in their own time, guided by that which they’ve been given.

As I recently tweeted, “The path I’ve travelled in life has led me to loving the music that I do. It’s my path. No one else’s. It’s no more legitimate than anyone else’s. Rather than devaluing or dismissing the paths of our pupils, we should look to enrich both our paths by taking a stroll together”. I believe curriculum design should be informed by this philosophy too. If we want our pupils to interact, engage with, and create their own musical knowledge and meaning, then we need to walk ‘with’ them. There’s no better path than one filled with possibility.

David House @House_dg

The curriculum . . . “tells me what musical genres to teach and when” – this has a limiting nature if it is mapped out and inflexible, taking no account of the situation within a school community or allowing reaction to external events. Sometimes there is an occasion, for example the death of a famous musician, which could be marked but not if the plan is followed to the letter. Similarly, there may well be a sense that a class would enjoy exploring a particular genre or style at one time and not at the time initially planned for.

… “is a document that helps me to plan lessons in the correct sequence so that young people develop the skills and knowledge they need to work towards the end of term assessment” – this immediately calls to mind the ‘tail-wagging-the-dog’ feel of schools where the driving force is meeting assessment ‘data-drops’ or similar. Assessment at a given moment in time may well not be the best time to check on the learning of those students – and if all work is geared with that in mind then any deviation to allow for interests sparked within daily exploration of music is lost. “outlines all the musical learning that takes place over the key stage” – the main implication here is that if something occurs which is not explicitly in the curriculum then it would not count as ‘musical learning’ – so often I am side-tracked into work and detail which arises from student questions or interest or playing techniques, none of which is explicitly planned.

…“tells me how to teach using the department’s resources” – here the limiting factor would be the equipment available. In this way teachers might never explore musical genres because of the lack of specific kit – this also harks back to previous discussions of authentic experience: so, should Gamelan be taught if only classroom xylophones are available? “makes sure all young people achieve the stated outcomes by the end of the term” – again the ‘end-of-term’ test rears its head, an assessment driven approach. The other concern for me in this statement is of ‘stated outcomes’ – if a specific time is put on students being able to play chords along with a melody fluently what is to say that some may take that bit longer to manage this, and if so are they any less worthy of having reached that ‘outcome’? Would we really cut off an assessment of their musical development because of needing to award a grade at a specified time?

… “has stayed pretty much the same for the past five years after a big rewrite we did to incorporate more group work” – this begs the question for me: does it matter if curriculum content in general stays the same? I frequently experience teaching the same content to multiple classes but with very different approaches and outcomes – the direction taken by work would be very attuned to the needs of that particular class.

Ewan McIntosh @ETMcINTOSH

I think the thread that runs through all these statements is that the curriculum is the main thing that the teacher in the text is thinking about; not the musical development or enjoyment of the pupils but the curriculum and all the outcomes that the pupils following this path are already pre-defined as the curriculum document is set in stone.

This means that there is no room for students personal likes or tastes with music. If they are lucky, then there maybe some intersection where curriculum and the personal meet but this is not through plan or design, just chance and coincidence. This means that pupils will not put much investment into the curriculum if it does not suit their own musical needs. If it is just written to pass an assessment or to use what instruments/resources the department has, then pupils will probably end up passive learners or ‘consumers’ of the curriculum and will go and develop their own musical interests elsewhere (not in school).

Steven Berryman @steven_berryman

[to add]

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