In week 4 of my PGCAP course I took part in the ‘Sell your Bargains’ game. We were tasked with finding an object that could assist us teach a topic we would consider to be a ‘Threshold Concept’. Our objects could not exceed a budget of £1 and I was given an additional requirement of it needing to contain primary colors. Meyers & Land (2006) explain that the transformative aspect of a threshold concept can involve a performative element, so I considered the time–rhythm subject of ‘Note Placement’ to be suitable. There are three ways of playing in relation to a metronomic beat – dead centre, a bit ahead or a bit behind (Goodrick 1987). Once students are able to understand and apply this idea practically it will allow them to bring an advanced level of expression to their performances. After discussion with Dhang Zalu (my peer partner for the task), we decided that the three primary colours could represent the different aspects of playing involved in note placement, so I bought a pack of felt stars that were red, yellow and blue. The stars could be placed against a horizontal line divided into three sections, also colour coded by primary colours to symbolise the periods of time involved in note placement (centre, ahead and behind) then moved to different points along the line to provide a visual representation of grooves or time feels associated with various styles of music. The stars also gave me the idea of giving my lesson the fun astrological themed title of ‘The Groove Universe’ with each of the visually represented time periods being a ‘Galaxy’ (UKPSF A1 & K2).
The lesson for which I used the object and theme was a performance workshop delivered to five students. The first part of the class focused on me explaining the topic, I questioned the students regularly to check their level of understanding and concluded that as a class they seemed to grasp the main concept quicker in comparison to my prior experience of teaching this subject. I felt the visual metaphors of the groove universe were a real asset, the students seemed to engage with the theme of the class and having a visual representation was useful when clarifying any points of confusion. Until now I have worked under the assumption that audio examples are the most useful aid when teaching music students, but through the experience of teaching this class I have realised one can’t presume the best approach to teaching music topics is always using auditory methods, as Brookfield and James (2014, p.73) state, some students with a high visual intelligence learn best when visual representations are used:
“Visual learners think in pictures, respond to things being presented in image or diagrammatic forms, like to draw their developing understandings of new ideas, and maintain attention through visual stimuli. They are likely to be adept at creating visual representation themselves and have “an eye” for visual composition in whatever form”.
In consideration of the learners who might respond better to visual stimuli I will start to include visual represtations in my lessons whenever possible (UKPSF A1, A2, K3 &V1).
The second phase of the lesson involved two games that focused on practical application of the theory covered in the first part and again utilized the ‘The Groove Universe’. In the first game I would play them some audio recordings of different styles of music then ask them to place an appropriately coloured star at a point within a ‘Galaxy’ they felt reflected the time feel of the song they were hearing. The second game involved them playing a repeated figure on their instruments then adjusting their timing accordingly when I moved a star to different places along the horizontal line. I felt slightly apprehensive about how the students would respond to these games so I was pleased to discover that they fully engaged and there was a real sense of enjoyment from everybody involved. Because of the positive outcome from this class I feel that I can identify with the potential benefits of incorporating games and unusual methods for students’ learning. As (Lucas 2007, p.2) describes, “you will find the use of novelty, fun, eustress (good stress) caused by time and other challenges, props, colour, music, incentives and various environmental elements crucial in helping the brain grasp and retain concepts. Eric Jensen of Jensen Learning (formerly The Brain Store) often suggests using such strategies and tools to better engage learners and enhance the learning process.”
As a result of the insights gained through my participation in ‘Sell your Bargains’ I now view game-based learning as a valuable learning tool that I will definitely consider incorporating into my practice more often (UKPSF A5).
Brookfield, S.D, & James, A., (2014). Engaging Imagination: Helping Students Become Creative and Reflective Thinkers. San Francisco: Jossey Bass
Goodrick, M. (1987). The Advancing Guitarist: Applying Guitar Concepts & Techniques. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation
Higher Education Academy. (2011). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supported learning in higher education. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/ukpsf_2011_english.pdf
Lucas, R.W. (2007) Creative Learning: Activities and Games That Really Engage People. San Francisco: Pfeiffer
Meyer, J.H.F., & Land, R., (2006) Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge. Oxon: Routledge