Emergent curriculum

Post thirty-two 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. 

  • What would the learning environment look and sound like in an emergent curriculum?
  • What sort of activities would they be involved in?
  • What would your role be as teacher and how could you best prepare for this?
  • What resources would you need and what routines of the lesson need to be altered to reflect emergent principles?

Mike Morgan @MikeMMusicED

The idea of an emergent curriculum is something I am sure happens in lots of music classrooms. The practical nature of most Key Stage 3 music allows pupils to be emerged in content through listening, composing and performing music. I feel the most important step is to make this explicit to the pupils, and ensure they understand why they may be taking part in an activity. I often find pupils engage better when you state why they may be completing a particular task. I feel this can be overlooked by the pupils when the task is taking place.

The role of the teacher as the facilitator of this is nothing new, but I feel it is important that the ‘planning’ of the curriculum needs to have the knowledge at the forefront, with the activities and resources being used to help pupils apply it. The routines of the lesson would need an emphasis on the plenary to allow pupils to reflect on the tasks and what was being learnt. Allow pupils to see for how them being immersed in a task has helped them acquire knowledge and the importance of understanding this. Rather than the starter being the emphasis on what is being learnt, allow the pupils to engage with the music and spend more time and resources on the reflection.

Vaughan Fleischfresser @VFleischfresser

What would the learning environment look and sound like in an emergent curriculum? The learning environment would need to be malleable and movable, so the young people and teacher could shape and influence the content and experiences in whatever way necessary. How it looks from day to day, and class to class, would need to fit the experiences and tendencies of the individual pupils present at any one time. In terms of the sound, it would be vibrant and conversatory, both from a dialogue and music perspective. Just as with the environment, the sounds would need to be malleable and movable.

How would students be grouped? The students would be grouped in whatever manner necessary for the task(s) at hand. This would be fluid, and any prior planning would need to be done so with the caveat that said plan could be changed almost immediately, or at any time, dependent on the circumstances. Change would need to be viewed as a good / necessary reflexive entity.

What sort of activities would they be involved in? A continuous cycle of discussion and creation. Again, the discussion and creation would be both dialogic and musical. These activities would be pupil led, stoked by the fire of teacher interaction. When the dialogue or creation dies down, the teacher could throw some propellant on, conversely if the dialogue or creation burns too bright, the teacher could help to bring the fire under control. The teacher would need to be a Fire Bug and Fireman Sam at the same time.

What would your role be as teacher and how could you best prepare for this? Having just said that the teacher would need to be a unique mix of Fire Bug and Fireman Sam, for me the role would be more akin to that of a tour guide. The pupils would arrive, be shown around the content / room by the teacher, who shares their experiences / expertise of the music etc. Then, following the brief tour, the pupils would be set free to metaphorically walk around and explore the music themselves thus creating their own knowledge and meaning, with the teacher interjecting when something pricks their ear, or when one of the pupils asks a question / for guidance. To go back to my fire analogy, a good tour guide could stroke the fire, or extinguish the flames entirely.

What resources would you need and what routines of the lesson need to be altered to reflect emergent principles? The resources needed, just as with the learning environment, would need to be malleable and ready for change. They should not be a one size fits all model. The concept of differentiation would be even more central to the resource building of an emergent curriculum that the alternative. In terms of the routines of the lesson, these would involve a lot of freedom. To go back to the example of a tour guide – the lesson might start with some together teacher led / discussion time, followed by pupil centred / led discussion and creation time, concluded by some co-led sharing / discussion. Of course, while these elements would possibly always be present, the order in which they occur would always be open to change / interpretation. 

David House @House_dg

What would the learning environment look and sound like in an emergent curriculum? This is interesting as I feel the question is perhaps leading in a particular way, I am quite prepared to entertain any classroom environment and arrangement could be used for an emergent curriculum. It would be how the teacher steered the learning that mattered. Potentially a fully emergent curriculum would be taught in a room which allowed 30 students to work individually, each following their own ‘learning journey’. Given that this is not possible there has to be teacher direction, supervision and guidance and so the environment would be arranged to suit the individual school and context.

How would students be grouped? Always in the same way at the start of a lesson to enable a familiar routine. After that it will depend on the activity and available space.

What sort of activities would they be involved in? Musical ones – that is not supposed to be a facile answer but they might be discussing matters relating to music listened to or that they are working on, they might be practising, improvising, studying scores, learning new songs, some groups focussing on specific things [such as learning hand positions to play chords] whilst others were trying to notate the melody of the song which was in their heads – all manner of activities with music as the focus. What would your role be as teacher and how could you best prepare for this? The best description I think of is of as a coach – moving from the listening, watching role to a didactic one, and from the questioning stance to the open-ended ‘poetical’ [John Finney] approach. What resources would you need and what routines of the lesson need to be altered to reflect emergent principles? Resources are not as important as the approach, I feel that this type of lesson can work very well with vocal music as with instrumental – to be tied down to having the necessary technology or instruments would constrain matters. 

Think of a lesson you’ve taught in the past and consider how it would be taught if it used the principles of an emergent curriculum. I’m just going to mention one which arose from a chance conversation at the end of a Y7 lesson. The students were keen to tell me that they had all made ‘junk’ instruments in Science earlier in the week. Next lesson they brought them in and we constructed a composition with these instruments – following the lead from their interest and subsequently their suggestions about structure, compositional techniques and overall sound. I recall at least three recordings being made, all subtly different where there was very different input from particular groups who were interested in driving the process forward.

Ewan McIntosh @ETMcINTOSH

The environment would look very much like clusters of students working together on music. There would be lots of rehearsing/developing/jamming/practising within the groups, who may be working in separate rooms/practice rooms or areas to enable themselves to be heard effectively. Students would be grouped around ability/interest of the music they are creating. Students would be effectively planning their own learning in how they would achieve the most musical outcome that they could. The teacher would act more like an expert trouble-shooter/facilitator who would help pupils to develop their own musicianship through questioning/demonstration and encouragement. These skills can be developed by teachers through listening to pupils work and using effective questioning to help elicit exactly what they are trying to achieve. The lesson routines could stay the same with an engaging general musical starter to develop a certain skill or active listening and musical vocabulary. The main body of the lesson would be students getting on with their music making and recording and listening back to their work to see how best to improve it. At the end, planning where to go next and what needs to be done next lesson as well as reflecting on what has gone well in this lesson is vital so that students can clearly set out what they need to do to move forwards musically. Resources could include lead sheets, manuscript, recording devices and instruments. This approach could be used for many schemes of work that are currently much more teacher led such as introduction to rhythm and notation. By using an emergent curriculum for the would involve students choosing what music to study and maybe developing their aural skills through copying music that they have heard in a performance to work out how it is rhythmically put together. Students may then go on and improvise different rhythmic patterns to fit with their chosen music and try and notate them using either standard notation or rhythmic grids.

Steven Berryman @steven_berryman

What would the learning environment look and sound like in an emergent curriculum? I’d need a big room! I’m remembering the workshop leadership courses I attended at Guildhall and how the room was like a laboratory. It would be noisy, active and busy. 

What sort of activities would they be involved in? We were all engaged in conversation, doodling, improvising using our own instruments. This was a way of working that wasn’t about learning *about* music, but learning through music how to resolve a creative challenge. 

What would your role be as teacher and how could you best prepare for this? Teachers would be facilitating and joining in, rather than directly instructing activities. They’d be stood back, listening and joining in when a space was made for them to add suggestions or more likely further questions to provoke new ways of thinking. The students 

What resources would you need and what routines of the lesson need to be altered to reflect emergent principles? There’d be ground rules of how we’d work together, and the resources would mostly be space and access to instruments and appropriate technology. I’d likely introduce some moments of reflection for when we’d want to share and discuss.

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