Using Gaming Software for Critical Incident Charting with Music Teacher Trainees

Written by Sam Clements, Birmingham City University HELS PhD Student and Senior Lecturer at London South Bank UniversitySam C(15th January, 2016)

Research Background: The National Plan for Music, and the trial ITT modules

In September 2010, Darren Henley, Managing Director of Classic FM, was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Education of the coalition government, Michael Gove, to undertake a review of Music Education in England. The Henley Review lays down recommendations for minimum expectations of what any child going through the system should receive in terms of an education in music.

The purpose of developing a ‘National Plan for Music’ was introduced by National planHenley as the means to ‘tackle the patchiness’ in the quantity and quality of music education available across the country. My interest lies with the implications for the ‘core workforce’; that is the primary school teachers, and primary teacher trainees in the classroom. The part of the plan to ‘boost new teachers’ confidence and skill in teaching music’ included the trialling of new primary music Initial Teacher Training (ITT) modules during the Summer break of 2012 following the completion of trainees’ one-year Post Graduate training (PGCE) courses, and before they took up their first posts as newly qualified teachers. These trial modules were delivered by selected ITT providers who successfully bid for funding from the Teaching Agency (now the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL)) to devise, implement and evaluate their modules.

2. Me - Teaching in school

21 institutions were awarded various amounts of funding each; of which London South Bank University was one. My paper presented at the Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) Aston Conference of May, 2013, entitled, ‘How can we improve training in music within primary ITT programmes to best meet and develop the competence and confidence of teacher trainees?’ (Clements, 2013) evaluates the short and medium term impact of the music module we carried out at London South Bank University with PGCE students in July 2012, who were then tracked as newly qualified teachers over their first term in school, to January 2013. The paper discusses the implications for the development of training programmes arising from our module, which in turn led to the preparation and validation in March 2013 of a new optional Performing Arts Education module (worth 30 Masters level credits) within our PGCE course.

Incidental Themes arising from the trial modules

My current research investigates themes from the trial music module. What emerged from this module very clearly was the apparent influence of individual musical or other background factors (for the purposes of this study I have called them the X Factors (XF)) on Student Teachers’ ability to engage with and teach different aspects of classroom music effectively. For the purposes of this study I have used the term Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP) to mean different aspects of primary classroom music teaching. It was not possible to investigate these emerging themes during the music module due to the pre-set aims and restrictions of that study, thus leaving me with ‘incidental questions’, which have inspired this current piece of PhD research.

During the music module a number of student teachers appeared to challenge common stereotypes; here are some examples: Those with the XF: High level of formal musical training, were not always ‘the best’ at teaching all aspects of music; issues arose around the following MTP: Ability to improvise with children and The use of freer (and less musically accurate) forms of notation such as picture scores. Student teachers with the XF: No formal training but with a family or cultural musical background, were often found to be the most musically creative in a classroom context (MTP); however psychological barriers arose around issues of musical self efficacy (MTP) and use of tools such as staff notation (MTP).


The aims of my research therefore are to identify and analyse the underlying ‘X Factors (XF)’ influencing aptitude for Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP), to catch the interplay between them, and to devise an effective framework for developing individualised training strategies for teachers at different stages in their experience.

Pilot of Method

I carried out a pilot of my method using a control group to test the planned method for collecting data related to the following research objectives:

  1. To identify and define the internal musical and non musical factors (X Factors (XF)) influencing aptitude for different aspects of music teaching (Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP));
  2. To explore and analyse the extent to which XF and MTP function as interdependent variables.

The method involved two exercises, both related to personal construct theory:

  1. Map making (critical incident charting) exercise
  2. Adapted Repertory Grid (ARG) technique exercise

The control group consisted of four participants all of whom were trainee teachers at the time.

3. Some of my control group - my PGCE students

The two exercises worked in conjunction as tools to uncover what was present, in terms of internal X Factors, and look at them closely – whatever they might turn out to be – rather than having a pre-determined agenda such as those agendas which permeate traditional interviews or questionnaires. Charmaz (2006) describes methods which are too agenda biased as being incapable of generating ‘rich data’. With this method, there are no questions. The participant sets the agenda right from the start, deciding what topics are, or are not, important to be represented and/or discussed.

Participants code their own data, in a way that is meaningful to them.

They elicit their own elements from those codes, generating poles for those elements and their contrasts. This enables the research activities to be situated within the participant’s life, rather than the participant being situated within the research project.

In this method the outcomes of exercise 1 inform exercise 2. Therefore exercise 1 must be successfully completed before exercise 2 can take place.

The method was a little experimental and a pilot was most definitely necessary, as the outcomes proved!

Exercise 1: Map Making (critical incident charting)

The control group was introduced to the idea of mapping an individual’s ‘musical journey’ from birth to date using their own words and pictures/diagrams around a journey line, by showing them an example map. Following this,

participants were invited to make their own maps, representing their own journey in any way they chose, from a straight and smooth pathway to a traumatic path with twists and turns.

The critical incidents shown in their map could include for example, musical experiences in their lives as children, adult music makers and teachers of music. Participants were encouraged to include core life events and personality/identity development within the map. Large poster paper and coloured pens were made available for the participants, who completed this exercise independently. All four participants completed the exercise at the same time, in the same place (a university classroom). It was intended that the X Factors which the map exercise uncovers for each participant would subsequently be analysed to generate codes which would become the unique, personalised elements for the participant’s Adapted Repertory Grid (ARG). These elements would then be rated by that participant against their personally selected constructs (Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP)) in order to uncover connections between them.

Critical Reflection

The control group found the map making exercise difficult – not to comprehend, but to execute. Some participants claimed to be inhibited by their artistic ability (their perceived lack of it) and found managing the space on the poster paper a challenge. They had ideas but struggled to convey these on paper, some started well but then reverted to ‘writing lists’. They felt their outcomes lacked depth, almost as though they were trying to represent in a 2D way 3D concepts, or layers of meaning. All the participants expressed a desire to ‘do the task well’ – two participants requested that they re-draft their journey maps after they had finished them. Two participants stated that they felt they had used too much writing on their map, that it strayed from the main points they wished to portray, and that they needed time and tools to re-focus their work.

The maps produced by the control group had not effectively uncovered X Factors for which any effective coding could be undertaken. The maps were descriptive rather than analytical and stated ‘what happened’ rather than telling the story behind ‘what happened’. It became clear that participants needed the opportunity to reflect, revise and return to their maps in an on-going way. There were barriers to successful execution in terms of the practical aspects of making the map (for example drawing, space awareness) and critical analysis or ’thinking in layers’.

Evolution of Method

The United States television series CSI: New York broadcast an episode entitled ‘Kill Screen’ (2014), CSI NYset within the world of competitive gaming. The main character in the episode creates a virtual world for his avatar (his virtual self), complete with physical and human geographical features which interconnect different aspects of his life. In the episode, the features of this virtual world were selected by the gamer; he selected ideas and icons which had meaning for him and would represent his world, whether that be in the realm of reality or the world of fantasy.

Inspired by this idea I began to investigate software designed to enable gamers to create their own virtual worlds. Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3), (2014), created by Pro Fantasy Softwarepro fant is a map making programme which enables users to create simple maps and worlds for campaigns and games. The software includes a wide choice of fantasy mapping symbols, styles and types so that users can set their ‘world parameters’ such as size and geographical features (terrain type, % of water to land), and introduce features to represent critical incidents, how they are situated within a journey map, and how they are interconnected.

4. Example of a control group participant's virtual world

The software was introduced individually to each participant of the control group. Through the medium of this software the mapping exercise evolved into something which could be executed with relative ease.

Participants were able to successfully import into their virtual world physical icons to represent their musical and life critical incidents, and plot a route to join the icons together to show connections.

They were able to review and revise their worlds in an on-going way over the course of the exercise.

Data Coding

Burnard (2012) makes much use of Bourdieu’s ‘Thinking Tools’ of field, habitus, capital and practice to understand the creative musical practices of the musicians participating in her project. She uses these thinking tools to structure her analysis of how these musicians think, act and create; to understand what their practices are grounded in; and on what capital rests the processes and principles of their practices. These same thinking tools were used as a conceptual framework to aid the participants and I to collaboratively extract and make sense of the X Factors present within their virtual worlds. The answers to the question; ‘How did/does this participant think about, act about, and create (this performance, this composition, this music lesson, this experience)?’ and the question; ‘On what capital rests the processes and principles of this particular practice?’ helped to generate the codes which were elicited from the dense virtual worlds data.

Once their virtual world had been created participants were asked to narrate their journey around it. The significant underlying musical and non-musical X Factors influencing their journeys were uncovered in detail as these narrations were transcribed. After the narration stage the X Factors which had been identified were discussed and the participants organised these into codes. Their codes became the elements (of the self)/X factors which were then used in their Adapted Repertory Grids (ARGs).

Thanks for reading! I think that’s more than enough for now – but I’ll write more, about the ARGS and their outcomes in due course!

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