In November 2017, a team of academics from Faculty of HELS attended and contributed at an international conference hosted by Nguyen Tat Thanh University in Vietnam. This conference is part of the VietUKHE project, funded by the British Council, to explore and share pedagogies for professional learning and employability development.
Two senior lecturers from Child Nursing, Nathalie Turville and Ilana Pressick, presented their work at the conference. Here, they share a summery of their experience of the day.
What an experience and privilege it was to attend the international conference in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The conference was the culmination of two collaborative projects, part-funded by the British Council, carried out over a two-year period between Birmingham City University, Nguyen Tat Thanh University, VNU University of Education, Hanoi and HCMC University of Pedagogy. The focus of the projects was to increase the employability skills of students who are undertaking vocational courses through the use of student-centred approaches to learning. Of particular interest to us was the introduction of a tool to facilitate personal and professional development through reflection.
The conference began with a summary of the projects and an evaluation of the outcomes. The reflective practice project clearly demonstrated the novelty and challenge of introducing reflection in to vocational practice where it is not usual to actively question and explore practice in depth. Our Vietnamese colleagues encouraged students to identify problems, write them down and then the teacher would solve the problems for the students or with the students, an indication of reflection being a new concept. In the UK, especially in nursing, reflection has become part of our daily routine and lives. The magic of reflection lies in the process of identifying learning from experience that can be applied in other situations and this contributes to personal and professional growth. As nurse academics, we use reflection to empower our students. It was evident that our colleagues were beginning to engage with reflection and in time they will appreciate the powerful and transformative nature of reflective practice.
Following the project updates in the morning, the afternoon was kicked off in style by the keynote speaker, our very own Dr Matt O’Leary. Matt, demonstrating sartorial elegance in his trade-mark flowery shirts, had us laughing, listening and engaging in his lecture titled: Learning about vocational learning and teaching through collaborative observation. He discussed his current project, looking at how a collaborative approach between academics and students to teaching observation can enhance their understanding of the teaching and learning experience.
The buzzing atmosphere continued with inspiring presentations of pedagogical boundaries being broken in order to improve the students’ learning experiences. There was the common desire to enhance teaching and learning and a recognition of shared issues and challenges even down to the every-day level with classroom management and student resilience. These commonalities provided us with a shared frame of reference from which to discuss and share experiences.
Overall this was a great opportunity to collaborate with university colleagues from similar subject areas and develop an insight into the similarities and differences across programmes, institutions and countries.
Nathalie & Ilana
Nathalie Turville is a Senior Lecturer within the Department for Children and Young People’s Health at Birmingham City University. Nathalie qualified as a Children’s Nurse in 1991 and specialised in neonatal cardiology and surgery. She joined the university in 2001 and has taught on and coordinated a number of modules across pre and post-registration nursing. She remains committed to the importance of education informing practice to promote the best care for the child and family. She is currently Co-Chair of the Faculty Academic Ethics Committee. She is also studying for a professional Doctorate in Education.
Ilana Pressick is a Senior Lecturer within the Department of Children and Young People’s Health at Birmingham City University. Ilana has worked in different intensive care settings since qualifying in 2009 and completed numerous post graduate nursing qualifications. She joined the university in 2016 and teaches on undergraduate and postgraduate courses in nursing. Currently she is involved in a research project exploring the effects of taking academia into clinical practice areas as well as a HEFCE funded research project on classroom observation.
Ilana’s teaching and learning interest align with her believes that the infant, child, young person and their families should always be at the heart of the high quality care we provide. Ilana believes that one way of helping our nurses, of today and of the future, achieve this goal is to ensure that every learning experience is one that is not only thought-provoking, but also is fun and engaging.
On 15th November, educators, academics, researchers and campaigners gathered at Birmingham City University to share latest research on school bullying and explore practices to tackle this important issue. Dr. Elizabeth Nassem, a CSPACE researcher and one of the event organisers, gives a report of the day.
The anti-bullying conference was a collaborative venture with Birmingham City University (BCU) and the Bullying Reduction Action Group (BRAG) which was supported by Birmingham City Council. Many participating schools and research from across the region were involved. The event was a great success as professionals worked together to share and enhance good practice. It focused on not just dealing with bullying between pupils but also involved discussions of bullying between staff and pupils and reflection on how school systems and societal inequalities contribute to school bullying and can be tackled. It has led to a growing community of professionals who are now working more collaboratively to resolve bullying. This enhanced community will be built upon through the continued partnership work with BCU and BRAG.
Baroness Sal Brinton chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Bullying gave a warm welcome and was impressed by the high number of participants (over 100) and high level of engagement from schools and researchers. She explained how it is often that those perceived as different will be bullied and that this is unacceptable and how we can work together as a community to tackle bullying and discrimination such as towards traveller children and individuals who have disabilities.
Professor Peter Smith a world-leading expert on school bullying from Goldsmiths University provided the keynote on what works in tackling bullying. He has noticed a reduction in reports of bullying as research has increased. He discussed the effectiveness of strategies such as restorative justice, KiVa and the Support Group method. He also explained how a social-ecological approach could enhance understanding. Professor Smith highlighted the importance of working with the whole school community such as bus drivers and support staff who also have are instrumental in sending out messages of what behaviours are acceptable, for example, in areas which are often unsupervised by teachers. He discussed evidence that anti-bullying interventions are cost-effective for schools.
Dr Elizabeth Nassem, Centre for Studies of Culture and Practice in Education, BCU discussed the pupil-led anti-bullying strategies she has been implementing. She has used techniques such as role-play, group discussion and critical reflection to support pupils to improve their strategies for responding to bullying. She also provided details of the ‘mentoring for bullies’ intervention she is implementing to explore why ‘bullies’ behave the way they do and help them develop more respectful ways of interacting with others. Dr Nassem explained how schools can ensure there is a process in place to support staff that might feel they are being bullied by staff and/or pupils. She also discussed how children did not perceive themselves as ‘bullies’ and tended to focus on their own feelings of victimisation. She highlighted how children are rejecting the label of ‘bully’ and ‘victim’ and the importance of having a more embracing definition of school bullying.
Dr Neil Duncan is a retired expert on bullying from University of Wolverhampton and provided a controversial but well received presentation on how schools in England generate bullying cultures. He argues that children in secondary school have such lack of control that they cannot even go to the toilet when they need to. He stated that tackling bullying and anti-bullying week has become an institution and remains a problem; now we have an additional problem of cyber-bullying. Dr Duncan increased awareness of how bullying is not just an issues concerning a small number of pupils and highlighted the role of the school environment in bullying. He emphasised the importance of speaking to pupils with respect when reprimanding them.
Julie Smith from Kidscape talked about the free training they provide in Birmingham to support schools, children and families such as their assertiveness training from children who are victimised which has successfully reduced bullying for a high number of participants. Julie was pleased with the increased awareness and uptake of Kidscape’s excellent provision. In addition sessions were provided on compassion in education and the right of individuals to feel safe. Participants in the conference commented on how they had learnt how to provide a scheme of work and practical ideas on how to educate about trans/bi/LGBT bullying. The presentation by PC Simon Bolwell on sexting was well attended and participants commented on how they had learnt how to deal with young people sending child produced sexual images. They had also learnt about the support for schools when working on the compliance side of sexting.
Some schools are looking to implement the ‘No Outsiders’ method of Andrew Moffatt, MBE. Amanda Daniels launched the transgender toolkit and encouraged schools to engage with it providing advice on how to avoid prejudice-based language. Online systems for reporting bullying were also provided by Tell-Chris and Toot-toot. BCU showed it had a leading role in supporting schools through its research provision. Professor Kevin Mattinson who is the Head of Education and Associate Dean announced how he wants to build on this great success and enhance partnerships and collaboration to schools.
Further information on the excellent feedback and photos are on my twitter @bulliedvoices.
Elizabeth is a researcher in the Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education. She has a Doctorate in Education which she examined where bullying exists in children’s everyday experiences of school. Her current work involves developing evidence-based pupil-led anti-bullying initiatives. She provides professional development to schools about school bullying and what to do about it.
This year’s BERA conference took place at Sussex University outside Brighton. As ever it was a busy event – there were more applications than ever to present and that competition was as a result more fierce than ever.
The diversity of papers and presentations was exciting and provided a lot of space for discussion and interaction.
The final keynote was a high point. Drawing on a range of insights from his work and in particular his new book, The Rediscovery of Teaching, Gert Biesta talked about learning and how it has been hi-jacked by a policy view that draws on neoliberal human capital theory. In other words, the current focus on learning is learning for a purpose connected to skills and productivity: an economised version of learning.
For Biesta, learning has now become a problem. He connects this also to certain kinds of learning that involve ‘meaning-making’. In the worst cases, this becomes ego-logical – i.e. the (isolated) individual making sense for themselves (although he acknowledged that Freirean dialogical learning is collective rather individualised).
His provocative response to this situation, embedded in his philosophical position, suggests a return to a dynamic curriculum in which students and teachers stop learning. Learning spaces then become classrooms in which the world can be listened to. He presented the issue by posing these questions:
If we are sense makers – can the world speak to us in its own terms and on its own terms?
If we are just meaning-making beings, how then can we be taught?
There was a sense in this that the cultural and economic emphasis on individualism and entrepreneurialism that is having such an impact on our ways of living and on our world needs to be checked. Otherwise, learning will only support the further deterioration of our planet and jeopardise our collective attempts to achieve a good life for everyone.
Other than referring to Levinas, Biesta didn’t elaborate on what stopping learning might mean in our classrooms, but he did assert the importance of doing something other than focusing on the transmission of ‘bodies of knowledge’. He also developed the idea that we should try to ‘bracket’ learning to open up different ways of being in the world: a ‘non ego-logical’ way of being in the world.
For Biesta then being in the world in our times is filtered by the desires that shape who we are. There is a question about the provenance of many of these desires in our commercialised and commodified world. The suggestion is that the desires created for us by the forces of marketisation and commodification are displacing desires that could be more meaningful. Out of that thought emerges the fundamental question:
Is what I desire, desirable?
While he didn’t offer any pat answers to this last puzzle, Biesta cited Spivak and her idea of the individual ‘non-coercive rearrangement of desires’ as a way forward. Education he viewed as a space in which such a rearrangement could occur to support “grown-up ways of being in the world”.
There is something in that final phrase that brings us back to earth with a bang when we consider the current ‘common sense’ views on education that we are confronted by and also, occasionally, the level of debate.
Dr. Rob Smith is a Reader in Education at Birmingham City University. His body of work explores the impact of funding and marketisation on teaching and learning in further education settings. He has researched and written extensively in collaboration with FE and HE practitioners. Currently, Rob is involved in the FE in England: transforming lives and communities project with Dr Vicky Duckworth (Edge Hill University). This is a national research study focusing on the transformative qualities of further education. He is also developing an interdisciplinary research project looking at HE space and time focusing on the design and architecture of HEIs and their situatedness with urban settings.
In November 2016, Dr. Matt O’Leary and Dr. Vanessa Cui from C-SPACE were successful in their application for HEFCE Catalyst Fund: Innovation in Learning and Teaching. In this blog post, Matt and Vanessa tell us about the project and some of highlights of their recent activities.
Teaching excellence has been at the centre of debates about quality in English Higher Education (HE) in recent years. The introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework has ratcheted up this focus even further. Fuelled by critiques of teaching as ‘the weakest aspect’ of English HE (Gill,2015), the government has argued that universities need to adopt a more evidence-based approach to learning and teaching (L & T) akin to that associated with research.
Traditional approaches to capturing and promoting teaching excellence have largely been shaped by a managerialist agenda that conceptualises academic staff as accountable suppliers of a product and students as consumers of that product, with an overreliance on reductive metrics that fail to reflect either the authenticity or complexity of HE learning and teaching. This raises some important questions for the HE sector.
How can we develop a greater understanding and improvement of L & T among academic staff and students? How can we combine scholarly knowledge, practices and our education ideologies to satisfy the demands of policymakers while generating data about L & T that is legitimate and worthwhile? What can we do to create and nurture an approach that sustains and enhances authentic L & T experiences?
About the project
A HEFCE-funded project at Birmingham City University seeks to use collaborative observation of L & T as a means of harnessing staff and student perspectives. Observation is a common method for staff development in HE, typically through a peer observation model. Some HE institutions have introduced teaching observation as a performance management tool in recent years. However, recent research (e.g. O’Leary & Wood, 2017; O’Leary, 2016) has revealed that assessment-based models of observation can often be a deterrent to developing L & T practice. Our project is built on the belief that improving student learning requires teachers and learners to develop an awareness and understanding about learning collaboratively in the context of their programme. It is our attempt to answer the questions raised above.
Underpinning this collaborative observation process is the principles of critical reflection (Brookfield, 1998), learning as collective consciousness (Bowden & Marton, 1998) and participatory inquiry. A key feature of our methodology is the reconceptualisation of observation as a method to enhance L & T practices through inquiry rather than as a method of assessment. Pairs of teaching staff and students come together in a collection of subject-specific case studies to co-investigate, co-observe and co-reflect on their own classroom L & T practices. Within our collaborative approach, student identity is reconceptualised from that of ‘consumers’ and ‘evaluators’ of teaching to co-researchers and co-producers of knowledge about L & T.
Our project started in November 2016 and it runs until April 2018. It is led by Dr. Matt O’Leary and Dr. Vanessa Cui from C-SPACE. The project works with five case studies in the Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences: BA (Hons) Early Childhood Studies, BSc (Hons) Nursing (Adult), BSc (Hons) Nursing (Child), BA (Hons) Primary Education with QTS and BSc (Hons) Radiography. Each case study is made up of two staff members and two first/second year students. On our project website, there is more details about our project, our methodology and each of the case studies: http://blogs.bcu.ac.uk/collaborativeobservation/.
During last summer, we were busy sharing our project and some preliminary findings at internal and external events. At our C-SPACE annual conference and the University’s Festival of Teaching, we hosted a symposium and a workshop where four of the case studies shared their experiences with the delegates.
Primary Education participants’ talk on their case study and their Cycle 1 experience at C-SPACE 2017 conference:
Staff from the Child Nursing case study talk about their case study and their Cycle 1 experience at C-SPACE 2017 conference:
Staff from the Early Childhood Studies case study talk about their case study and their Cycle 1 experience at C-SPACE 2017 conference:
We also ran an innovation session at this year’s BERA conference. During the session, we had really engaging and critical discussions with the delegates around issues on Ethics and power dynamics in staff and student collaborations like ours. We also discussed how this could be an opportunity for students and staff’s personal and/or professional development, and how this model could potentially be used in different types of HE educational project on student engagement and student learning experience.
To follow our project, please visit our website. You can also get in touch with Vanessa to add your contact detail to our mailing list.
Matt & Vanessa
Bowden, J. and Marton, F. (1998). The University of Learning: beyond quality and competence, London: Routledge.
Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Gill, J. (2015). David Willetts interview: ‘What I did was in the interests of young people’. Times Higher Education, Article published online June 18, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/david-willetts-what-idid-was-in-the-interests-of-young-people. Accessed on August 28, 2017.
O’Leary, M. & Wood, P. (2017) ‘Performance over professional learning and the complexity puzzle: lesson observation in England’s further education sector’, Professional Development in Education, Vol. 43(4), pp. 573-591.
O’Leary, M. (Ed) (2016) Reclaiming lesson observation: supporting excellence in teacher learning. Abingdon: Routledge.
Becky Snape, a PhD student and Assistant Lecturer working with CSPACE, reflects on her recent experience of the 2017 BERA Conference.
I’m Becky Snape and I work in CSPACE as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD researcher. I’m just about to go into my third year of my PhD programme. On 4th September 2017, I travelled down to Brighton for the British Educational Research Association (BERA) Annual Conference. BERA is one of the largest conferences in the educational research world – I was one of 996 attendees – so I was keen to attend and disseminate my research at this event. In this blog, I will share some of my experiences of the conference.
When you submit an abstract to the conference committee, you can choose to affiliate your research with a particular SIG. I aligned my work with the ‘Creativities in Education’ cluster. However, two new SIGs caught my attention at the conference – ‘English in Education’ and ‘Language and Literacy’. My research looks at teachers’ perspectives of creative writing in GCSE English Language. Within that subject area, my research encompasses pedagogy, policy and philosophy (teachers’ conceptualisations of CW). Therefore, like me, you may find that your research aligns with different SIGs.
In order to present your research at BERA, you need to submit a 750 word abstract to the conference committee. The deadline is very early, so watch out for it (31st January). The abstract is then marked using a points system by experts in your selected SIG. The abstract is marked on its clarity, contribution, quality, and relevance. For an Early Career Researcher, this was a useful and gentle introduction to peer review.
My presentation was scheduled at 1:40pm on 5th September. I arrived at the room early so that I could get set up.
Before my presentation started, I took the opportunity to speak to the other presenters and delegates who had arrived early. The delegates were from a range of backgrounds, including teachers from Singapore and someone who worked in a research company. There was also a representative from one of the GCSE exam boards in the audience too, which was quite surreal!
My presentation ran fairly smoothly. Rather than focusing on one aspect of the research, I presented a whistle-stop tour of my project. Some people like to take one part of their work and look at it in-depth but I decided to present an overview of the context, literature review, methodology, and emerging findings. I felt that this was the best format as BERA is an international conference, so some of the delegates would not have an in-depth understanding of the English school curriculum.
Following my twenty-minute presentation, delegates were keen to know more about my perspectives on creative writing: how do I define creative writing? Do I have any recommendations for teaching creative writing? It was really nice to hear those sorts of questions, and to be able to share the insights I have gleaned from my research.
I returned from BERA enthused, having presented successfully and encountered some of the most prominent names in my field, including Professors Teresa Cremin and Dominic Wyse. On the final day, we were also treated to a fascinating keynote lecture from Gert Biesta.
I hope to attend BERA again next year (11th-13th September 2018, Northumbria University), when my PhD is at a more advanced stage. I would definitely encourage my BCU colleagues to attend BERA. It’s a great opportunity to present your research to a wider audience, and find out about cutting edge research in the field. You can find out more details about next year’s conference here: https://www.bera.ac.uk/event/bera-conference-2018.
On the 10th July 2017 the third annual CSPACE education conference took place at Perry Barr campus of BCU. The conference was a great success and it was wonderful to see so many engaging and exciting research contributions from colleagues from across the university. The conference was entitled ‘Connecting Communities: Spaces for Creativity and Collaboration in Education’ and presentations covered a diverse range of themes related to this.
The conference kicked off with a keynote from Laura Watts, Simbi Folarin and Liz Garnham (MBE) who run Dens of Equality, a not for profit community organisation which is focused on creating inclusive community play leisure and learning opportunities for disabled and disadvantaged children across Birmingham. Laura, Simbi and Liz discussed the strengths and challenges of working at a grassroots level engaging in community capacity building and embedding local partnership against a landscape where play work remains consistently undervalued. Conference delegates gave lots of positive feedback about the keynote and the inspirational work Laura and colleagues are doing with access to extremely limited funding and resources.
Presentations covered a wide range of topics at the conference, from the use of touchscreen technology in the early years to the importance of multi-agency working for young people’s creative musical engagement and lots in between! It was fascinating to see the work that colleagues are engaging in across the university and was great to see such a wide representation from both experienced academic staff and newer researchers and post-graduate students. Given the conference themes of community, creativity and collaboration it was important that students were included within this and so we were thrilled to include undergraduate student researcher awards for the first time.
There was also a great range of hour-long workshops on offer at the conference, including a symposium on improving learning and teaching in Higher Education through collaborative observation, a workshop on rhythm analysis and a performative ‘armchair discussion’ on practitioner inquiry into research supervision. During lunch delegates had the opportunity to view the impressive posters offered by colleagues and vote for their favourite one.
As first-year PhD students organising the conference was a steep learning curve! Each of us also presented at the conference and although we were all incredibly nervous it was wonderful to be able to share our work in its initial stages surrounded by supportive peers. The conference offered a real climate of collaboration and the questions and comments posed by colleagues were extremely useful in extending our thinking around our research.
It was also great to get to meet so many colleagues from across HELS and the wider university and we all agreed organising the conference really helped us to feel embedded into the community of BCU. It was also great to see some really positive comments on twitter from conference delegates, search #cspaceconf17 to relive some of the best moments of the day. We hope that you all enjoyed it as much as we did and are looking forward to #CSPACECONF18!
Bethany Sumner, Emma Nenadic, Bally Kaur, and Gail Kuppan
CSPACE Conference 2017 Committee
The conference will bring together practitioners, researchers and key figures in the field of Further Education (FE) and will cover a range of themes from apprenticeships and work-based learning to accountability and governance in FE.
Instead of the conventional ‘stand and deliver’ format of many conferences, ‘Reimagining Further Education’ will be organised as group conversations framed and facilitated by a discussant and chair for each of the 6 thematic strands included. By exploring positive, imaginative and creative ways forward that enhance agency, workforce development and the professional ethos of all FE practitioners, this conference aims to put the ‘confer’ back into conference!
For the first time this year CELT and CSPACE are joining forces to host our Annual Education Conference. In case you haven’t heard of us before, CSPACE is the Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education, and CELT is the Centre for Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. The conference will be held on 11th July 2016.
Although 11th July seems like a while away yet, it’s the standard protocol for us to collect and select abstracts in advance. You’ve probably already received a call for papers from me via your staff email. If you haven’t received this email, please alert me to this on Rebecca.Snape@bcu.ac.uk and I will immediately rectify this. We need to receive all abstracts before 20th May 2016, so you have two weeks to get these in to us. We have a range of different formats for you to choose from to ensure that you can present your research in the best way you see fit.
We believe that this is a fantastic opportunity for researchers and teachers across the University to showcase their best practice. Whether you’re an emerging researcher who wants to present their work for the first time, or an experienced academic who wants to share their wisdom and receive feedback from others, we’re keen to hear about the work you’re doing. It’s also a good opportunity for networking, and, particularly if you’re an Early Career Researcher, it’s a great addition to your CV. We also strongly believe that it is a fantastic opportunity for faculties to come together and hear what others are doing, which is why we are opening this up to the entire University. So, come and get involved!
This year we are keen to open out our conference to students and academics across the University who would like to showcase the fantastic work they’re doing with regards to teaching, learning and educational research. Whether you want to talk about a theoretical approach you’ve utilised in your teaching, a style of teaching which has worked particularly well, or a piece of interdisciplinary research, we’re keen to hear about the work that is being done across BCU. Below is an overview of the general themes of the conference for your reference:
Pedagogy, Practice, Politics and Policy: Where to next in teaching, learning and research in education?
(a) Professional practices in teaching
(b) Formal and informal lifelong learning pedagogies
(c) Public and popular debates in education policy
(d) Researching education
Each strand will encourage papers from all education sectors;
Third sector /Voluntary provision
Aside from informing you about the conference via internal channels, we will also be promoting it via Twitter. If you want to keep up to date with the latest developments regarding the planning, preparation and running of the conference, please follow @BeckyS1993 or @CSPACE_BCU on Twitter. We now have our own dedicated hashtag for the conference on Twitter: #CSPACE16.
We look forward to receiving your submissions in advance of 20th May. If you have any questions please contact me on Rebecca.Snape@bcu.ac.uk. Remember to follow our updates on Twitter! #CSPACE16
‘Looking for the unexpected – Creativity and Innovation in Music Education’
On March 16th-19th a team of BCU music educators & researchers flew all the way to Lithuania to attend the European Association of Music in Schools (EAS). The title of the conference was ‘Looking for the Unexpected – Creativity and innovation in music education’, a hot topic for us in the UK with the uncertainty of creative subjects within schools due to the impending EBacc and forced acadamisation knocking at the door.
So Prof. Martin Fautley, Dr. Victoria Kinsella, fellow PhD student Samantha Clements, and I packed our warm winter clothes to prepare for snow and produced our presentations about our own research into creativity in music education. Director of learning and participation at Birmingham Contemporary Music Group Nancy Evans also joined us at the conference to present alongside Victoria and Martin on their action research project with ‘Music Maze’.
How is ‘creativity’ defined in other countries?
The conference kicked off with a keynote from Pamela Burnard talking about ‘diverse musical creativities’, an interesting terminology. In her keynote, Burnard discussed the links between ‘real world practice and industry’ and what is happening within schools and out of school. She also mentioned important aspects of being creative including risk taking, autonomy and enjoyment. Burnard explores musical creativity further in her book ‘Musical Creativities in Practice’ and talks about how some may view musical creativity as:
‘a particular type of practice, perhaps that of the Great Composers, rather than to multiple possibilities’ (p.7, 2012).
There were many incredibly polished vocal performances during the conference covering vast amounts of repertoire, including a lot of traditional Lithuanian folk music. Burnard asked if one of the performances that morning was ‘creative’. Many automatically nodded and said yes. It was a striking piece of musical theatre, they varied how they used the space on the stage and use of props, and the combination between traditional folk music with modern day themes was striking. The students were engaged throughout and the experience was immersive. However, had the students been creative? There is no way of telling just from the performance. Creativity is a process (Wallas, 1926) and we could not know if the students had co-created the piece, made decisions, rejected ideas, improvised, or if they had just followed a strict set of orders from the choreographer or music leader. How did the audience define creativity? What made a ‘creative performance’?
Wallas: 4 stages of the creative process
Whilst attending other presentations I was surprised by the diversity of practice happening in Europe, differences in what they valued in music education and how they defined ‘creativity’ in practice.
Is composing inherently creative?
My own research focuses on composing within schools and I have witnessed many music educators that believe composing is inherently creative because it is ‘creating something new’. However in practice composing can be a very uncreative activity, guided by stylistic rules, criteria driven direction. The assessment can lead to creating pieces of music with a set number of techniques thus creating very ‘unmusical’ works – a kind of ‘composing by numbers’. The three aspects Burnard spoke about in the keynote (risk taking, autonomy and enjoyment) are not always found when students are composing in the classroom or for exams. In other presentations focusing on composing there were interesting approaches to how people approached teaching composing. This made me consider the ‘skills vs creative’ debate:
Should you learn the ‘rules’ first before you can break them?
In one particular presentation the teacher had developed a step-by-step approach to teaching melody writing with young recorder players. The music was rooted in folk tradition but focused on limiting the students’ choice in pitch and using grids to develop a rhythmic pattern. It was also based in western classical notation. The presenter commented that it was a way for students to learn about specific folk music traditions and techniques as well as improving notation reading. His approach to introducing composing to young students was quite radically different to my own but there were some similarities in that we both were aiming to introduce stages and steps for students. For me, instead of choosing which of the two pitches to use I ask students to decide when there should be sound and when there should be silence, referring back to John Cage’s quote:
‘The material of music is sound and silence integrating these is composing’ (1949)
We would then move onto the next step asking them for either high and low, or loud or quiet sounds. For this teacher it would be the next pitch or rhythm. I would initially see my own approach as more ‘creative’ but on reflection we were both still asking our students to make a decision and go along a process, but it was framed very differently. This leads back to one of the fundamental questions of ‘how DO we teach composing?’ Both of our approaches in rooted in a cultural and musical background, and we are both limiting students decisions initially, however one was focused on melody and the other on timbre and texture.
An aspect of composing that was present in this presentation, and one that I see regularly in the UK, was an obsession around pitch as a starting pointfor composing. Why is it that deciding on what key a piece of music should be, or what pitch to start with, the most important thing for music? Why not the title, the mood, the structure, the timbral quality of the instruments, the way it looks when performed, the rhythmic quality or the ‘feel’. I am not suggesting every young musician or teacher starts with pitch when composing but it seems more common than other areas of music. This focus on pitch may also impact on what a young person might think composing is about – I remember telling myself at the age of 16:
‘once I know how to do harmony, I will be able to compose’
For a start that phrase doesn’t even make sense, but I felt at that time there were inherent rules that I just needed to learn in order to be a composer. The more rules I learnt, the better I would be. But who dictates these rules – Society? Examination boards? Culture? The teacher? In music and composing there are rules we can learn, but the act of being creative is deciding how and when to use them, when to not use them, and when to change them, do something new and make them our own.
Reflections on my presentation:
On the 3rd day I gave my presentation titled: ‘Loosing Faith in the System: The implications of inconsistent marking, of AS and A level composing, on creativity.’ My talk used the results collected from my KS5 composing survey on teachers’ experiences of marking in A level. Results from 71 teachers found that over 90% of them had been surprised by an examination grade and many did not feel confident with predicting grades. The first aspect of my presentation involved delegates looking through the raw data from the survey and talking about what they felt the data told them. I enjoyed this aspect of my talk as it allowed them to ask questions and open up a dialogue with the audience early on in the presentation. It engaged them in the research from the start. I was also keen to see how other researchers in the audience would react to the data; one even commented saying how the research was ‘gold dust’ and examination boards would be very keen to see the full research.
In addition to the qualitative data, my research used the free text answers on the survey and 9 telephone interviews. In this section of the presentation I presented some emerging themes into what impact inconstant making has in the school:
1) Downward Spiral:
This is when, due to unexpected poor grades, teachers restrict what students can compose so that it is closer to the marking criteria. However as a result of trying to second-guess the exam board requirements the students do not enjoy the experience as much and therefore do less well in the exam.
2) Trail of interpretation:
As mentioned before, there is a danger of trying to second-guess what the exam board of examiner wants to see in the composition. As a result a trail of interpretation of what people think ‘good’ composing looks and sounds like is developed, leaving the student at the end of this line trying to compose what they think others want.
3) Ripple effect:
The final emerging theme is this idea of a ‘ripple effect’ – that inconsistent marking has an impact on the teacher’s confidence, which effects their teaching of composing (potentially limiting creativity), which in turn effects the students’ learning and experience of composing. The wider implications are that students decide not to take music as a subject at this level which endangers music as a subject in the school and therefore threatens jobs. At the end of this it could have a negative impact on the music industry in the UK as a whole.
I enjoyed presenting my early findings at EAS. It has given me confidence to present at future conferences including ISME and BERA, and practice into how to present to a wider audience from across Europe where there are diverse practices in music education.
BCU team presentations overviews:
The BCU team covered a wide range of topics at the conference. Martin Fautley focused on creativity within lower secondary schools. His results from a survey of over 100 secondary music teachers from Birmingham and London found that assessment was based on matching school expectations of predicted grades. It was also noted that that assessment was reducing creative opportunities in the classroom.
Samantha Clements presented her PhD research methodology involving gaming software as a tool for critical incident charting. This experimental way of collecting data was used in her pilot study with 4 trainee music teachers. She asked them to create ‘fantasy worlds’ which charted each of their ‘critical incidents’ in their life influencing their aptitude for different aspects of music education.
Victoria Kinsella has been working alongside ‘The National Foundations for Youth Music’ on their ‘Exchanging Notes’ projects across England. Victoria reported, from the first year findings, on the importance of multi-agency working for increased creative engagement and intrinsic motivation of young people.
On the final morning Nancy Evans from BCMG, Martin and Victoria presented research from an action research project with BCMG’s composing group ‘music maze’ from 8-11 year olds. The research focused on how the students responded to open-ended composing tasks. Some of the finding included that the children’s starting points were very diverse, and the way they composed and how much adult support and scaffolding was needed, varied.
We all enjoyed attending the conference as it helped stimulated discussions and debates with each other and with other delegates from outside the UK. Lithuania has a rich musical and cultural background and a country none of us had thought to visit before but would be excited to go back to.
This is just a gentle reminder that we will soon be putting out a Call for Papers for this year’s Annual Education Conference, which will be held on 11th July 2016. This year, CSPACE will be teaming up with CELT to deliver an exciting conference which will encompass a broad range of aspects of research, teaching and learning in education across the university.
Regardless of which Faculty you work in, we’re keen to hear about the work that is being done with regards to education across BCU. You might want to talk about a teaching approach or technique that has worked well for you, or you may some interdisciplinary research that you’d like to share. Whatever you would like to talk about, we’re keen to hear about your work.
Below is an overview of the conference foci:
Pedagogy, Practice, Politics and Policy: Where to next in teaching, learning and research in education?
(a) Professional practices in teaching
(b) Formal and informal lifelong learning pedagogies
(c) Public and popular debates in education policy
(d) Researching education
Each strand will encourage papers from all education sectors;