Professional Conversation 6/6

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This Lego model is a symbol of how I view my development through activities and research undertaken as part of the PGCAP course. The figure on top of the tree exemplifies my feeling of empowerment. The trunk represents the growth of my teaching skills as a result of implementing my initial action plan and the branches emblematize areas of development resulting from my participation in the different aspects of the course. In this post I will reflect upon how my own pro-active approach and engagement with the LTHE module has enhanced my practice and provided me with ongoing areas of development.

The area I felt was in most need of development was delivering lectures to large numbers. In previous posts I have focused on elements of my presentation skills and methods for evaluating student understanding that require improvement. However, I also feel that ensuring there is opportunity for formative feedback and assessment is important when dealing with a substantial class size as Gibb, T. Habeshaw and S. Habeshaw (1992, p.135) describe:

“With increasing numbers it is becoming impossible to give individual feedback to so many students. And yet feedback is crucial to formative assessment: students need to be given information about their performance so that they can learn from the experience.”

I can identify with this problem as this semester I was faced with a situation of supporting 50 elective performers within a 1-hour timetabled class each week. I decided the best approach for providing formative feedback in these circumstances would be to schedule the students to perform individually in the class time. This would allow me (plus the rest of the class) to critique the performances in relation to the assessment criteria. It would also facilitate peer directed learning – an important part of the learning process for musicians because “performance, composition and improvisational abilities are thus acquired not only as individuals but, crucially, as members of a group.” (Green 2002, Chapter 3.2, para. 17) (UKPSF A1, A2, A4 & K3). In the modern HE environment it is becoming increasing problematic for academics to provide quality formative feedback outside of taught sessions as Irons (2008, p.9) explains:

“There is currently an environment of mass higher education, there are staff student ratios (Sirs) of 27:1, 35:1 or even 45:1, there is an increasingly diverse student body, there are many teaching pressures on staff, there are all sorts of bureaucratic demands and there is an expectation that staff participate in research. How are formative assessment and formative feedback going to fit into a very full curriculum and a very full schedule?”

Considering this sector-wide problem of academics’ time becoming increasingly stretched, I feel that creating opportunities for formative feedback and assessment within my lesson design is important, so I intend to integrate opportunities for this as much as possible (UKSPSF A1, A3 & V4).

I have also evaluated how I approach teaching large classes that involve practical work, as there are a number of sessions I teach that involve large ensembles. These sessions often involve delivering theoretical content as well as directing a rehearsal whilst simultaneously trying to address the needs of individuals with varying performance ability. When planning a class of this nature I have adapted Sindbergs (2012) planning model of ‘Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance’. The model focuses on five key factors including music selection, analysis, outcomes, strategies and assessment; it aims to embed further musical understanding in performance teaching though supporting cognitive, affective and skill development in the planned activities. Since implementing this approach I feel the students are engaging more with the music they are performing because they are also developing harmonic knowledge, stylistic awareness and aural abilities. I find this encouraging, as making these kind of connections with other areas of study is an indicator of ‘deep learning’, (Biggs & Tang, 2011) (UKPSF A1, A5, K1 & K3).

The feedback following my mentor observation suggested I need to be more sympathetic to diversity amongst learners; teaching a large music ensemble is a good place to put into effect a more considered approach to diversity as differentiation in terms of ability, prior experience/knowledge, learning styles, individual technical ability and interests is always pressent (Harris, 2012). With varying technical abilities and prior experience, it is unavoidable that at some point an individual must be given some brief 1-1 support as not being able to understand or play a particular passage will hinder their progress. Harris (2012, Chapter 13.2, para. 3) offers a strategy for doing so without disrupting other students:

“Occasionally, a particular pupil may need some individual help. Another pupil may be able to demonstrate, or the teacher may take that pupil aside for a minute or two. In this case the remaining pupils could, for example, improvise on particular ingredients, make a note in their notebooks, clap some rhythms, explore a technical point, or read some notation silently.”

By using this approach I have been able to offer support to individuals without interrupting the flow of a rehearsal or lesson (UKPSF A2, A4 & K2). When it comes to learning styles within a pop music ensemble it is important to consider peer directed learning again, as associated methods are long established and native to pop musicians as Green (Green 2002, Chapter 3.2, para. 1) states, “solitude is by no means a distinguishing mark of the popular music learner… for example, a member of one band can show a new lick or chord to a member or several members of another band; a player may learn something by watching or listening to another player, who remains unaware of the fact that any learning is taking place”.

Through becoming more aware of this important factor when pop musicians are working in a group-learning situation, I will occasionally take a step back if I see there is the potential for these kinds of exchange to take place. Sometimes I will also actively encourage peer directed learning in this way by asking students to demonstrate something of interest to the rest of the group (UKPSF A4, K1 & K2). It is also important to consider that “members of a band are likely to have casual learning encounters outside their rehearsals, the results of which are then consciously or unconsciously brought back into the rehearsals” (Green 2002, Chapter 3.2, para.1). Where appropriate, I will allow students to influence the content of a lesson by selecting repertoire that focuses on a style or technique they have been exposed to through a ‘casual learning encounter’, I find this helps inspire groups of students with a variety of interests and diverse stylistic preferences; it also ensures the teaching and subject matter is in line with industry developments (UKPSF A2, A4, K1 & V1).

I found the ‘learning through play’ experience very enlightening, it really got me thinking about the issue of fostering creativity when teaching music performance as -“The encouragement of creativity in any subject is more likely to engage our individual learning styles, different intelligences, imaginations and bodies” (Barnes, 2011, p.97). I take a Jazz Improvisation ensemble where the nature of the music requires students to spontaneously create melodies and with this in mind I started to reflect upon ways in which I might be able to enhance creativity through my teaching. Robinson (2011) discusses how generating ideas and creativity in some contexts has to adhere to certain conventions, this is also true of the Jazz idiom so I can identify with the view that, “the creative achievement and the aesthetic pleasure lie in using standard forms to achieve unique effects and original insights” (Robinson, 2011, p.152). Using this idea to encourage creativity within the context of my improvisation class, I would provide students with the limitation of focusing on a particular harmonic musical device thus necessitating them to be more inventive within the confines of these resources to keep a listener engaged. This eventually leads to them using rhythms, articulations and phrasing they wouldn’t have imagined in normal circumstances and “as compelling melodic ideas are created with only a handful of notes, and used effectively via repetition, students will experience the compositional ‘truth’ that sometimes less is more” (Watson, 2011, Chapter 7, para. 17) (UKPSF A4, A2, K1 & K2).

I have found there is a role technology can play with instigating creativity in improvised music, particularly within the elements of rhythmic and sonic experimentation. Watson (2011) believes that the presence of technology – such as synthesizers, drum machines and samplers with intuitive interfaces – incites experimentation; the variety of potentially appealing sounds and pre-programmed rhythms can be very inspirational and their ease of use means that improvisational creativity isn’t inhibited by technical limitations on instruments. Through incorporating this kind technology into my teaching I can identify with these benefits as I often hear clear signs of innovation; an indication that original ideas have been developed through a creative process (Robinson, 2011). Technology also has the ability to engage a wide range of learners as Watson (2011, Chapter 7, para. 9) explains: “all the keys, buttons, sliders, and wheels invite tactile learners; all the evocative sounds engage auditory learners, visual learners like exploring the display and/or listings of sounds I sometimes hand out as a guide”. For these reasons I have really come to value the use of technology in performance classes and intend to keep abreast of industry relevant technological developments I can bring to the classroom (UKPSF, A1, A5, K4 & V2).

The use of technology was also a point of discussion during my professional conversation, when describing my use of ‘instant questionnaires’, it was suggested I should investigate how mobile learning devices might be able to assist with this method of gauging student understanding. It is a fair assumption that all my students will own a mobile device or tablet of some description, yet I have never really given much consideration into how their interactivity might be harnessed for learning. “Interactions are, at the core, the presentation of a choice to the learner, the learner’s response, and, ideally, feedback to the learner” (Quinn, 2012, p.66), so mobile phones or tablets are an ideal medium through which to communicate in this way and there is lots of software available to do this with. The classroom response system ‘Socrative’ was recommended by a peer; it enabled me to create quiz questions that students can answer via an application on their phone, responses are then sent back to me live. The big advantage of using this method to gauge students’ understanding as opposed to hand written questionnaires is that it allows me to instantly assess their level of understanding of a topic then immediately provide feedback and address any weak areas of knowledge. I have compiled quizzes for all my lectures next semester and although I have yet to use Socrative in a lesson I am confident that it will be an efficient means for gauging student understanding (UKPSF A1, A3, K4 & K5).

From the PGCAP sessions themselves, I found the lecture on assessing and feeding back to be very interesting and a prompt to think about how I approach assessing within my discipline. Kleimen (2015) lists two challenges associated with assessing performance I find familiar: the need for assessing process and product and benchmarking the work against appropriate professional or educational standards. I would identify process and product as being the rehearsal period and final recital in music performance. To ensure both these aspects are acknowledged in assessment I now award two distinct grades – a continuous assessment mark and a practical assessment mark – they have an equal weighting towards the overall final mark. This allows me to reward improvements or learning gains made during the rehearsal period as well as judging the final performance. In terms of making sure the work is judged with the correct level of expectation it is important to adhere to set standards sector wide in your discipline. Through discussion with colleagues and external examiners I have agreed that in music performance LV6 work falling into the 1st class honours category should be described as ‘approaching a professional standard’. Following this agreement, I ensured the language used in the grade descriptors clearly communicated this benchmark for the purpose of transparency with students and quality assurance (UKPSF A3 & K6).

Overall I feel I have benefitted a great deal from undertaking the PGCAP. Engaging with UKPSF framework as described in my posts and understanding its relevance to my practice has served as the main driver for the improvement in my practice. Becoming familiar with pedagogical approaches to HE music teaching through reading recommended texts has also been of great benefit and resulted in my methods being better informed. The course lectures, observations and activities with my action learning set have encouraged me to reflect on lots of aspects of my teaching and instilled the good habit of constant reflection. Not by any means do I now consider myself the complete educator, I will aim to look for further areas of development beyond those discussed in this blog.

 

References

Barnes, J.M. (2001). Creativity and Composition in Music. In C. Philpott & C. Plummeridge (Eds), Issues in Music Teaching. London: Routledge

Biggs, J.B., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for Quality Learning at University (4th ed.). Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Education

Gibbs, G., Habeshaw, S., & Habeshaw, T., (1992). 53 Problems with large classes. Bristol: Technical and Education Services Ltd

Green, L. (2002). How Popular Musicians Learn: A Way Ahead for Music Education. Aldershot: Ashgate (Kindle reader version 4.15.1) Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk

Harris, P. (2012). The Virtuoso Teacher: the inspirational guide for instrumental and singing teachers. London: Faber (Kindle reader version 4.15.1) Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk

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

Irons, A., & Exely (Ed). (2008). Enhancing Learning through Formative Assessment and Feedback. Oxon:Routledge

Kleiman, P. (2015). Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines: Dance, Drama and Music In H. Fry, S. Ketteridge & S. Marshall (Eds), A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Oxon: Routledge

Quinn, C.N. (2012). The Mobile Academy: mLearning for Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Robinson, Ken. (2011). Out of Our Minds: Learning to be creative. Chichester: Capstone

Sindberg, L.k. (2012). Just Good Teaching: Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance (CMP) in Theory and Practice. Plymouth: Rowman & LittleField (Kindle reader version 4.15.1) Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk

Watson, S. (2011). Using Technology to Unlock Musical Creativity. New York: Oxford University Press (Kindle reader version 4.15.1) Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

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