Kirsty’s research is investigating how the assessment of composing in UK secondary school examinations is impacting the teaching and learning of composing within schools.
Martin Fautley, Professor of Education, Victoria Kinsella, Research Fellow in Education (Creativity), Phil Taylor, MA Education and Masters in Teaching and Learning Course Director, Jane O’Connor, Reader in Childhood Studies
The National Foundation for Youth Music has awarded grants to support 10 Exchanging Notes projects across England. Each project (a partnership between a school and specialist music provider) works with young people at risk of low attainment, disengagement, or educational exclusion to see how participation in regular music-making activities can enable achievement of musical, educational and wider outcomes. Researchers in the School of Education are supporting the project over a four-year period through the evaluation of the educational and musical outcomes of these new models.
Aim of research
This project aims to:
- See how participation in regular music-making activities can enable achievement of musical, educational and wider outcomes
- Explore these benefits across a variety of different musical approaches and styles
- Stimulate fresh thinking and support the aspirations set out in the National Plan for Music Education.
Read more here: http://www.bcu.ac.uk/research/stories/exchanging-notes
Name: Ian James Axtell
Role at BCU: Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader for Music Education
What is the Field of Music Education?
Is the Universe of Discourse in Music Education under threat?
How can Signature Pedagogy in Music Education be defined?
Research you are currently working on: How can Signature Pedagogy in Music Education be defined?
Research methodologies you are using: Humanistic and interpretivist phenomenography underpinned by Bourdieu’s perception of epistemic reflexivity.
Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: This is a fascinating time to be involved in education research since we are in an anti-intellectual turn in education policy discourse. There is an urgent need for genuine critical education research. The place of theory in education has been questioned but education research is responded by creating strong links between theory and practice through critical practice-based enquiry. The question remains whether genuine critical education research can save the education system from collapse under the false gods of knowledge-led curricular and evidence based research (or research that proves what policy makers have already decided).
Most influential research you have read/seen: Bourdieu, P (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Advice for new researchers: Join a community of thinking.
Mini fact about you: I am passionate about music education for all and how music can change people’s perception of the world around them.
‘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.
Ian Axtell reflects on the music curriculum and asks: ‘is time for music education in England going to disappear in schools?’
“Classroom music can instill the same sense of motivation and challenge if musical events are a regular part of the curriculum…Where music making is shared there is an opportunity to be positive, to recognise and value individual contributions and to promote meaningful thinking and learning. However, relying on the musical events themselves is not enough. Composing or performing do not just happen. They quickly lose their value if pupils are not provided with the time and space to prepare. Regular recordings can provide a safety net and promote the opportunity reflect, adapt and improve music making prior to an event but time is needed for this to happen.”
“Personal experience suggests that the opportunity for children to experience the buzz of sharing a musical event or magical moment, particularly after their careful planning and preparation, is disappearing because music does not fit into the EBACC or STEM agendas…the emphasis from government is on a narrow perception of academic knowledge that prioritises certain subject domains at the expense of others.”
Music is an academic subject but it is not just theoria, it is also techne and poiesis. Music education goes beyond the academic because it brings together a variety of ways of thinking and doing. It is cognitive but also psycho-motor and affective (Pierce & Gray, 2013).
“If schools are being measured through their engagement with the EBACC then will the time for all pupils to engage with active music making be reduced or even stopped entirely? This appears to be already happening, particularly in the context of Key Stage 4. If there is no Key Stage 4 music then what will happen to music at Key Stage 3 or Key Stage 2?”
Read the full article here: https://ianaxtell.wordpress.com/
On the 6th February the creativity cluster attended the Big Bang Data exhibition in London. You can read more about the exhibit from Becky Snape and Geof Hill in their blog posts. In the creativity cluster meeting this March we were asked to prepare questions which reflected the themes that we felt were highlighted through the exhibition.
Consent and privacy:
George Turvey felt the exhibit raised questions around personal data collection asking about what is happening with the data we create and who owns the data at the end of the day:
- Where are we going with our endless production of data – in colossal and ever-growing quantities?
Apple’s cloud data centres
- How is data being used? – including data that relates to us and is sometimes personal data
- Is the data we produce still ours? – e.g. texts over mobile networks, social media posts crossing the internet and causing interactions in huge, distant data centres, photos stored on our own harddrives, online or in cloud storage
- Does our technology and use of data enhance life or make us ‘better people’?
PhD student Becky Snape asked similar questions around consent:
- To what extent have our private lives become public, and what implications does this have for society and the individuals who negotiate it?
- Do we have to accept that we give up some of our rights to privacy when we use the Internet?
Many in the cluster brought up the work ‘The Others’, from the exhibit, by artists Eva and Franco Mattes:
‘The Others is a slideshow of 10,000 photographs stolen from hacked computers, sound-tracked by songs taken from the same hard-drives. The series provokes ideas about our concept of public and private space, and how it is becoming more and more blurred.’
This work had a significant impact on the group as it raised concerns about the consent of the participants in this piece of art.Alex Wade made an interesting comment that we are ‘selling our lives for convenience‘. Personally, the exhibit made me feel that on the surface social media has its benefits but it can also have a much darker side. It feels like a time-bomb and at some point it could be turned against us if needed.
Redefining the Rules:
Questions around ‘power’ and ‘rules’ in research we raised. Who determines if research is done ethically? Who defines ‘good’ data collection. Becky Snape discussed data collection through social media and the idea of consent from participants. Victoria Kinsella wondered if we, as researchers, can learn from the artists in the in the exhibit – can we can start challenging the norms and ‘rules’ of research – redefining what research and data mean:
- What is the relationship between the knower and the unknown?
- Disrupting ways of seeing
- Foucault – notions of power and the gaze
The exhibit made the group consider how we can communicate data and meaning besides just using the written word. We discussed why we perhaps choose writing as the dominant form of communication and how we may challenge this norm. I thought about two examples of how I use images and music to communicate meaning:
1) The first image is of my Primary PGCSE class – I get the students to draw their route into the uni – we then use their graphic journeys to create music.
2) The second set of images below are pictures of music classrooms for my PhD research. I have been amazed about how one image can stimulate a number of discussions and topics raised in my PhD and how the images link to the interviews and observations. These images are a vital part of the research.
All of these extensive topics have important relevance to the research taking place in CSPACE. The exhibit has made us challenge our own perceptions of data, dissemination, communication, privacy, power, consent and ethics.
Dr. Susan Foster-Cohen from the Champion Centre in New Zealand will be visiting Birmingham City University to deliver an International Guest Lecture in June, 2016. Places can be booked here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/bio-psycho-social-consequences-of-premature-bir
“Children born prematurely are at risk of a variety of neurological impairments…such research is revealing trends and likelihoods of developmental, educational, mental health and social consequences of prematurity that can, and must, be addressed in early intervention.”
In the changing landscape of the HE and FE sector, many new roles are appearing to support and advise students. The guiding roles of academic faculty and professional services are also being re-defined and explored. The theme of the first annual UKAT, held at Southampton Solent University in March 2015, was Exploration of Student Advising, Support and Guidance in the context of Student Success, Attainment and Retention.
United Kingdom Advising and Tutoring (UKAT) is a professional body of practitioners and researchers interested in all aspects of advising and personal tutoring in FE and HE in the UK.
UKAT’s conference explored the current trends and methods of student advice, support and guidance, and considered the broader context of student success, attainment and retention whilst sharing innovative practice. The conference was held over two-days with participants from different countries, although were from the UK. I participated in the ‘show and tell’ session and presented my poster, Trainee Teachers and their tutorial system: a case study.
In a keynote speech the success of student discourse was of central concern. Karen Sullivan-Vance, covered this ground by touching on real students’ lives. She emphasised that tutors were the first people to demystify the curriculum for many students. For student success, to her, tutoring meant: to be persistent against retention, to promote academic achievement, to set academic milestones, to support students in reaching their goals, to review educational attainment and to support high impact practices. Prior to Karen, the DVC Jane Longmore, referred to the changed climate in HE participation. She questioned the support required to close the attainment gap among white working class boys and black, ethnic minority students.
These presentations became reminders for not taking-for-granted the power dynamics, cultural capital and generational structures of the education systems from which student come and enter into.
The audience listened attentively as Karen shared her experiences from Western Oregon. She made some stimulating points:
- young people have to learn how to deal with failure
- young people do not study in a vacuum, their lives are impacted by HE, globalisation and many other factors
- everyone is struggling in terms of how to support students
- Advisors give advice which makes students rocket scientist, advising is not rocket science.
At least five implications could be deciphered. Staff need to be advocates of tutoring. Conduct assessment of tutoring. Promote best practice. Model active learning for students and create annual PD Plans.
It was interesting to note how the discourse on advising is formulated in academic circles compared to what is actually discharged in policy and practice – particularly among support service providers. Here, questions were raised about the framing of tutoring as a moral obligation, the accepted conflation of retention and the prominence of attainment and success in FE & HE.
Later, in a symposium, the habitual question about definitions and meanings was raised as a way towards the deconstruction of advising and tutorial. As expected, attendees expressed divergent perspectives. Some suggested advising was a teaching function others thought tutoring was about on-going support.
Over the years, having been exposed to a wide range of challenging issues faced by my tutees, some of which have been complex and related to their psychological well-being and other deeply personal ones, it was evident that the construction of tutorial comes to fruition in the dynamics of tutorials within institutions. Instead of defining it, perhaps, the question to ask would be: what is the mission? Are coaching, mentoring, advising and tutoring all about student success? Is there more to the student than success? Would a student centered enterprise be fully satisfied by mere reforms on policies and use of technology in systems which are already constrained?
Some students deny they need help. Others recognise they need help, but power differentials may impede their voices. Others might feel intimidated or pride may withhold them
– whatever the reasons, I was getting the impression that waiting for the student to come to the tutor will soon, if it has not yet, become an outdated practice. Rightly so, students should be prevented from ‘coming in’ when it is too late. The message, thus, was to notice them early. In so doing they may be surprised and pleased that someone is noticing them.
While current policy trends in the UK and NSS surveys might suggest that ‘the job’ is being done. Sir Christopher Snowden VC went on to suggest that more needs to happen to understand students’ needs and reminded the audience that academics are forming their students, they are not yet formed! He appeared to have reservations about the pressure on Universities to conduct, behave and do things in certain ways. He argued that shifting teaching and learning onto the Web without sufficient personal contact might become a shallow experience for some students. Talk, he claimed, was essential for scholarship and development. He also invited questions to be asked about how systems allow student to fail.
In a climate clamouring against withdraws and advancing retention, a team of presenters, which included two students, recapped that tutoring can be emotionally draining for tutors. Some institutes have initiated the use of peer tutors who are mobile and highly visible. Perhaps, this is a shift from a ‘problem’ centered tutoring system where student meet the tutor when there is a problem to one where the ‘door is open’. The presentation, raised many questions and issues.
- Has the time come for students to be informed about what they are entitled to? The Compliance with consumer law is not only important in giving students the protection required by the law, but also helps to maintain student confidence and the standards and reputation of the UK Higher Education sector.
- Should all academics have an expectation to be tutors and should this work load be discussed with their line managers?
- Does HR have a responsibility to support tutors?
Tutoring has moved into teaching and learning, which is a welcome shift –signs of a holistic approach to student experience. However, questions about resources were raised for a system to be truly student centred rather than a paper exercise. It was observed that shared values, care, people well-being and pride are more important than papers and policies. It was also noted that academics were being asked to do more to intervene, to make formal referrals, to create data bases for individual students and to tract attendance and their success. From the tutoring perspective, it is significant that the tutorial should not to become about the data of the student instead of being about the student.
Apart from the conference, online discussions show that some institutes are interested in creating a role of Senior Personal Tutor (SPT), as is the case at Plymouth. The SPTs support personal tutors, may be responsible for allocation, training sessions and dealing with problems and complaints. There is interest in exploring a supportive structure or framework within which SPTs would operate and how personal tutoring looks like in different institutes and what is the nature of the provision. In another institute, proposals are being considered for SPTs to have a formal responsibility for monitoring and reporting, via the quality process, on the effectiveness of personal tutoring in their academic area.
Tutoring and research
In terms of survey research, I was encouraged to discover that UKAT had conducted its first national survey of personal supervision and academic tutoring. The purpose of which was to examine and report on the use of and approaches to personal supervision/academic tutoring within HE institutions in the UK.
Tutoring is a relatively recent phenomenon, perhaps 12 years, as one presenter noted. Thus, there is recognition that student experience in HE matters and tutoring is seen as a way of ensuring students succeed. In this context the experience of staff is important too. Thus this growing field of advising, mentoring, tutoring and coaching opens wide the opportunities for further research.
There is some very powerful rhetoric in the Education White Paper: Educational Excellence Everywhere. Who cannot warm to the ideas that educational excellence is for everyone and that schools and teachers should have the freedom to teach in the manner which is most appropriate for their pupils? But, how can you ensure there is excellence for every pupil if teachers and schools have the freedom to teach how they like? The answer in the White Paper is to make sure that teaching and learning can be measured using easily quantifiable outcomes. The processes of teaching and learning, the pedagogy underpinning how we make subjects accessible to pupils, no longer seems to be important as long as pupils can pass the test. Schools and individual teachers will be held accountable for how well their pupils pass these tests, tests that have been devised by the government.
Is this real freedom?
The White Paper indicates that the focus will be on embedding existing reforms to the accountability measures in education. This might come as a relief to those of us who have been in education for over 30 years where the standards debate has seen a gradual increase in the pace of reform. However, recent reforms have further emphasised accountability measures, linking them to pay and conditions and restricting pupils to the range and scope of subjects with which they can engage. Is this in the interest of teachers and pupils? Schools and teachers will now be held accountable for the number of children who pass academic subjects highlighted in the Ebacc. In effect, the White Paper supports the idea that:
Being academic (focusing on theory) = educational excellence.
It is interesting that the place of theory has been questioned when it comes to teacher education (DfE, 2010) but appears to be the priority when it comes to pupils’ learning. Focusing on academic education addresses the assertion that “knowledge matters” and
“the ability to think demands a basic knowledge of the thing about which one is thinking”(Woodhead in Kitchen, 2014: xi)
but in many tests the focus is on knowledge recall rather than promoting thinking. Knowledge and knowing go beyond recalling facts. Testing facts can provide a limited and even distorted picture of what a person knows and understands. Measuring the recall of facts consigns people to think in a particular ways about particular knowledge suggesting compliance and conformity rather than creativity and individuality (worryingly compliance and conformity underpin many forms of extremism that exist in our world today). Testing facts looks backwards rather than forwards and ignores the potential for pupils to contribute their own creative thinking. Pupils need access to knowledge but they also need opportunities to share their own personal perspectives, experiences, aptitudes and capabilities related to that knowledge.
We have always had tests and always will. They can provide a helpful snapshot of what a person might know at a particular time in a particular place but there are other forms of summative assessment. The most rewarding teaching experiences I have had are when knowledge is used as a catalyst to promote thinking. It is more difficult to measure thinking but infinitely more engaging for the learner:
“the unexamined life is not worth living for the human being” (Socrates from Plato’s Apology in Hetherington, 2012: 31).
Thinking is: “the highest and perhaps purest activity of which men are capable” (Arendt, 1958: 5).
If pupils are just taught how to pass the test rather than to use knowledge to promote thinking then they become automatons that expect to be told what to do and say. They lose the potential to develop a sense of their own individual identify. The process of acquiring knowledge through thinking is engaging and empowering. When this thinking involves metacognition it can provide the skills and aspiration to acquire further knowledge:
“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking” (Dewey, 1916, p.181).
This is real freedom.
- Arendt, H. (1958) The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education. New York: MacMillan.
- DfE (2010) The Importance of Teaching: The Schools White Paper 2010. London: Crown Copyright.
- Hetherington, S. (ed.) (2012) Epistemology: Key Thinkers. London: Continuum.
- Kitchen W. H. (2014) Authority and the Teacher. London: Bloomsbury Academic.