Monday, 10 February 2020

PEDAGOGY OF MUSIC PART 5: the art, science & organization of teaching music

MULTISENSORY EDUCATION
As a hardworking well-behaved primary schoolkid I was seated at the back at the classroom
as I was no troublemaker.
I could however barely read the blackboard text.  Teachers were dangerous in those days
so I would never complain.
An alert teacher would have considered individual differences within the classroom
mix. An alert teacher would have checked these things.
Some teachers got excited when people started writing about sensory learning
preferences and strengths.
Some people are certainly more visual, tactile or sensitive to audio.
Smell and taste might not seem a feature of music but good writers of lyrics or stories can’t
avoid exploring all the senses.
Good teachers don’t just cater for sensory mode preferences, they consciously
develop strengths across the other modes.
As I teach music I notice how diverse people are. Some struggle with written formats of
any kind, even formats which are essentially pictorial. 
Music at first glance might seem to be just about sound, but look closer and you
will see that there is a vast overlap of skills using all senses. 
Using and varying the senses used in lessons uncovers a load of extra detail both
within the subject and the way we learn, including favoured senses.


PHYSICALITY
Prior to cheap, modern sound equipment, most early stage school departments had a piano
playing teacher.
Teachers understood the developmental stages of children and used music deliberately
to enhance and develop skills.
The movement to music, singing and action songs using finger-play were
preparing students to listen, ready their fingers and hands for fine motor skills
used in writing, maintain physicality and achieve these goals in a fun way. These
lessons ensured kids were present in the lesson.
Engagement is a pressing issue for educators- how do we keep students engaged?
Even good students drift off in private thoughts in classrooms everywhere.
Good teachers still know the importance of pre-writing/reading activities and
presenting them in ways that are palatable to the students. Relating these same
concepts to music lessons means getting fingers ready in small steps, getting
eyes focused on visual cues including charts, lyrics, diagrams and the instrument
itself, listening for a purpose, organizing and caring for materials.
Young students can have trouble focusing on small detail with their wobbly eyes.
Print is bigger in beginner books for a good reason.

Now households have media on tap, parents have drifted away from many of the
traditional nursery rhymes and action songs that might once have been good preparation
for fine motor co-ordination and auditory memory. The repetition of rhyming sounds
is often part of the focus of early reading training.


MEMORY TRAINING
Memory is not just a mental process but involves your body. Some educators have
underplayed the importance of memory as an essential component of learning. 
The logic is “why should I try to remember everything (even anything)  if I can
just have good research skills and look it up?” 
They think research and having a theory about something is the same as
doing it, practicing it and perfecting it. A failure to commit anything to memory
will hamper growth in the skills and knowledge to get anything right.
Memory has been really misunderstood.
Memory is not just a symbolic or pictorial thing filed in a brain.
Our brains tend to file generalities for convenience. It wouldn’t be unusual to look at a flower
but a glance won’t give you all the information there is to be seen.
Smell it, touch it, in some cases taste it. There actually is a physical side to the memory process
which in that case includes visual and textual. Can you close your eyes and see the object
after you are no longer looking at it? It's a mistake to bypass the effort required to be good at
"visualizing" or any other memory component. Would you want to employ an architect, engineer
or designer who hadn't practiced this skill?
You cannot master anything without some commitment (often great commitment)
to memory of your subject material.  Yes, it’s very useful to understand what it is,
or what it means. Understanding won’t go too far if you can’t lock it into the
memory banks and actually dynamically and physically manage the skills.
If I teach guitar, should I need a long winded explanation of the theory before we start?  
I mean really, why can't we just do it? After that we might have some concrete experience
on which to pin symbolic references.
A lot of the initial stages of playing are locked onto the physical actions of getting your
body parts into the right places at the right time and actually listening.
The ‘anti-memory lobby’ use the words “understanding is the most important
thing” as their excuse not to bother memorizing anything. Well often it is just best
to do the activity, then add in other information. Physical, visual, auditory, sense of smell and
symbolic memory have to be trained and mastered. 
How we learn is heavily connected to how we remember. 
We listen to it, read it, do it, write it down, repeat it, think it, play games
with it, use mnemonics, fall in love with it. Draw it. Touch it, listen to it.
The more ways we do something the higher the chance that learning will stick.
There are more types of memory than just the superficial “thinking memory banks”. 
Simply having  thought about it doesn’t cut it as far as deep learning goes.
Your computer like brain is attached to a series of tools:  eyes, ears, nose,
touch, muscles, etc that all require use to get skill. There is also such a thing
as muscle memory, auditory memory etc.  
Music lends itself to repetition. 
Readers of books tend to see the end of the book and think " it’s done.”  In many
situations, (particularly young children) people become better readers if they
read a book more than once as they often glance over things in superficial ways
& make incorrect assumptions in their predictive reading skills. When challenged
to explain a meaning or colloquial expression, they are often way off base.
Refreshing & reviewing through singing are often an enjoyable way to improve
reading. Repetition is necessary for both effective memorization & deeper understanding.   
TEACHING MEMORY TOOLS
The mnemonic is a memory training tool.
When reading scored music, we remember  “Every Good Boy Drives Ferraris" or similar which
denotes the names of the lines on each stave.

 
Easter Bunnies Get Drunk At Easter, or Eddy Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddy
denotes the notes used for standard guitar tuning- E A G D A and E.


Visual Memory Can Be Enhanced Through Associations
This picture below is a D chord showing where to place fingers and what strings
to play. What does it look like ? Not much.
And now,  can you see a face with 2 eyes and a nose on the one below ?
Using visual memory cues can be developed through music training. 
Improving memory uses conscious approaches in how you do things.
Our vast and confusing world gives us too many things to remember.  
We have a generation who remember very little, not necessarily because they
are lazy or brainless. Some just haven’t had sufficient help in choosing worthy
targets to commit to memory. In previous generations, math tables drill was
routine. Just remembering the answers to simple tables was enough to make
quick everyday calculations of value to daily living skills. 
A generation of theorists entered and the claim was “ you don’t have to
remember it, you must understand it.”  Sounds fair right, except the first part.
They should have been saying at least about some especially useful things
“you must remember it and also understand it.”  
Like the Suzuki students who learnt playing violins rote style with repetition and
physical engagement, the theory could come along a bit later.
(Some) Educators have given away the goal of memorization skills and replaced
it with “as long as they know how to work it out.”  
As if explaining something with words is the same thing as doing it?
A master of any subject needs to have a ready set of memorized knowledge.
It’s handy to know how to work it out, but without core knowledge memorized,
there can be no mastery of a subject. These memories can be physical,
auditory, scent, visual or symbolic and they are often a complex mix including
many of our senses. 
Take an everyday example of getting your car repaired. What would you say to a
repairman who told you he couldn’t remember how to do the job but he would
work it out?  Naturally you would be billed for the time it takes him to work it out.
You might immediately look around for an expert.
As a young man repairing my car I knew the theory to replacing a steering tie rod and ball
joint. Separate the parts with a hammer hit. Couldn't do it. The mechanic did it in 2 seconds. 
I asked a computer specialist for help with my music software.
His response was "I don't know it but I can work it out."
Not at $100 an hour, I'll find an actual user of this software to help me, or work it out myself.
Naturally everything including known “facts” changes over time. Is that a reason
not to know what you are doing today?
STRATEGIES AND MUSIC EDUCATION
Math lessons like most subjects involve a number of strategies which are
explicitly taught :
Observing patterns, listing, putting things in order, recording information, labeling,
pattern recognition, categorizing, predicting, summarizing, explaining, making
guesses and testing whether they work (trial and error), using processes of
elimination, taking a patterned example and applying the principles to a similar
but different example. 
All of these strategies can be similarly and explicitly taught in the context
of music and lead to orderly, systematic thinking. 
In most cases the more ways you do something improves your depth of skill:
read it, write it, say it, sing it, think it, listen to it, do it, play it, modify it,
apply a rule to a different example.


DIVERGENT THINKING and USING THINKING TOOLS
These ideas should be considered as strategies in learning and decision
making but are different from the ones mentioned already.
Edward De Bono got into the nitty gritty of thinking with his colored hats. Each
hat represented a way of thinking such as emotional, critical, positive. There
were a lot of hats and I don’t care to memorise them all but looking at issues
from many different perspectives is valid. People have benefited from listing
ways to think through problems. Comedians & their audiences have benefited
from wearing the purple hat of stupid suggestions. 
Edward De Bono had fun and earnt money at the same time training people to
wear one of six coloured hats.  Each hat represented a singular thinking role :
information, weaknesses, strengths, feelings, creativity and an overseer. 
He just divvied up the roles so all aspects of an issue were thought about,
weighed and organized before decisions were made. I guess that’s called
“doing your homework”  to a normal human.  
Other “thinking tools”  looks at the pros and cons of  ideas or plans as
positive-negative-or interesting. 
Mind-mapping is another strategy to planning. Anything that you want to plan
out becomes clearer at some point if it’s been written down. I truly should have
written a mind map before working on my “pedagogy of music” and it may have
been more orderly.

The idea of choosing the best bits and synergizing that knowledge so that the
whole thing is greater than the sum of the parts is our ideal.

Friday, 7 February 2020

PEDAGOGY OF MUSIC PART 4: the art, science & organization of teaching music

STUDY OF EDUCATION THEORY
THEORIES OF LEARNING AND MOTIVATION
An awareness of teaching & learning psychology is helpful for educators.
Things have changed since I was a kid and fear was routinely used
as an “educational tool”. Machiavelli wrote “The Prince” in which the tool of fear
was considered better than reward as a reliable means of control. From my
childhood experience “fear’ kept us in line and teachers were able to spend
more time teaching or monitoring our steady output than these days where
teaching and negotiating behaviour is a major occupation of classroom teachers. 
There are however more tools for educators than fear, and fear was in past days
overused by some poor teachers.
Stimulus and Reward
Pavlov was an early observer of the effects of stimulus in training. He would ring
a bell before feed time & his dogs got used to the idea. Soon they associated the
bell with food & would begin slobbering & salivating everywhere when they heard it.
Of course rewards don’t have to be positive. If the stimulus of a bell preceded
beating his dogs the response would have been quite different.  
Educators took on the tool of using an external motivator and there is certainly a
degree of usability in Pavlov’s training methods.  Routine’s particularly have a value to
educators and some teachers will use bells, timers, clocks, echoed clapping and
gesture to elicit a response that may be simply saying “it’s time to listen,” or "
you know what to do now."
Simply having a routine sets up an expectation, preparedness and workflow.
Reinforcement
Educators have identified a few useful tools of reinforcing  preferred behaviours
and responses from their students.
Positive reinforcers such as praise for good behavior can also include “token”
reinforcement such as prizes or treats.
Vicarious reinforcers are the tendency that when rewarding one student, others
nearby try harder to be like the receiver of rewards. “Yeah, I want to get the
good stuff like Tommy Toogoodshoes.”
Proximity of the educator to the student makes a difference too. Contact does
too but educators must be ultra cautious in touching any student (to the point
where it’s simply better not to).
Contact or proximity can be as a threat (physical or emotional) or just for warmth & concern. 
The idea of actually understanding what motivated the student, rather than
provide some external token is important. Intrinsic motivation is about that
self-set target and it is effective.
What can be motivating for others (Let’s Do A Concert!) could be fear for some,
delight for others. 
Both motivations don’t have to be considered as positive or negative. A person
that overcomes fear to relax into a performance has learnt a valuable skill. The
person who is happy to perform under any circumstances might be oblivious to
the need for practice. 
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since those  early days of Pavlov
and his dogs. “The new right” seem to have determined stimulus and
reward to be a little passé.  
It is not.                                                                                                      
It’s not that these things don’t work.  It is more that you can’t make any money
telling the same old stories. The real world functions on many different types of
reinforcement exchanges, " I'll reward you, if you help me."
Rewards and reinforcement are sure to work differently for different people.
Do I want any more toys ? No. Would I like an exercise break? Yes please.
And so we come to the new generation buzz-word “metacognition.”
METACOGNITION
Holy Hell is it dangerous ?   Who invented this word ?
Flavell (1976), an American developmental psychologist came up with this fancy
word meaning thinking about thinking,  
I’ve been thinking myself for quite a while now. Often enough,  I think about what
I think about. Is it enough to pull the world out of the dark ages ?  
Well psychologists have had plenty to do with “incorrect thinking”  but not all
psychologists want to spend all their time unraveling the dark thought patterns of
their patients. Some want to uncover ways to “improve thinking” of relatively
normal thinkers so training the thinker to er, think better, is a modern goal.
Did I not think about how to work out my problems in a variety of ways using
different perspectives and reflectively analyse my thoughts to clarify goals,
objectives, results, directions, methods etc etc etc ? 
Oh I did, but I didn’t write a book or make up a new word.
I took a university course and the buzzword “metacognition”  was very important. 
The course was “technology in education.” I had to set my own goals, find solutions,
write about it and I was judged.
The course leader stipulated no expertise in technical areas would be given.
They implied the way you think about things determines your success.
So, instead of going to an expert who can help me efficiently learn something,
I'm teaching myself but paying the course leaders.
That’s a clever way to get someone’s money.
Wish I’d thought about it cause if I had been thinking enough about my thinking
I’d be the one grabbing the cash. Darn, I lost.
I would have preferred to pay an expert to lead me more directly to the path.
I thought I was paying experts but the academic system has changed. 
Imagine advertising your course and telling your students  to make their own
plans and projects, then tell you how they learnt something and you the course
leader will judge it, but give them no technical expertise in a technical course?
Sounds ridiculous but that’s how some university lecturers make their money these days.   
How this “metacognition” might look in a class could be through daily
reflective writing: 
What did I learn today?
What did I do well ?
How can I improve or how did I go? 
What do I need to learn about and who or what can help me?
Let's compile samples of work, art, crafts & recordings in a portfolio.
Explain the processes & thinking involved in the work. 
Compare earlier work to later work for progression in skills & thought.   

RELATIONSHIPS: PARTNERS IN LEARNING
Here is where the clinical analysis and measurement becomes less scientific.
The variables concerning relationships are truly difficult to quantify.
Though almost everybody will agree that relationships make a difference in
learning, how to measure these differences is quite problematic. Teachers do
more than just use some kind of magic charisma to get their students to work.
They carefully (or not) curate activities and resource materials, organize spaces
and experiences at the same time as managing diverse groups of people.
The work of a teacher can be measured to some extent there. 
The results of that work are not always apparent. 
Some work is planting seeds, nurturing seeds which take years before the
harvest is due.  Teachers (or politicians) that push for short term goals such as
good scores in National Testing week may be ignoring the greater benefits of
less measurable long term plans. Teachers have to consider a range of short
and long term plans with due consideration to what their public expect but have
the depth to stand up for what can only be described as “belief” that they need
to prepare, plant, nurture and sow and having the foresight to do this without
immediate rewards is difficult for many who want instant gratification.
How and to what degree a relationship impacts the student’s learning, keeping
students motivated to practice, staying fascinated by the subject, playing through
the mechanistic drills and routines of the subject material, setting and completing goals
are difficult to measure but always present.
Students have ranging views from negative to positive of their teachers.
Liking a teacher does not necessarily imply action on the part of the student but
I believe having a generally positive view of your course leader more often
translates into action.
In a classroom this translates as students taking directions positively including
negotiating goals and working steadily through assignments.
THE TRUST EFFECT
If there is a leading light of academic studies in "trust" I don't know who it is.
Many people have written about it. Can it be measured?

I'd say it can't be measured in a numerical system but its results are quite obvious.
When trust is low, teachers and their students behave differently.

If a teacher believes a student will misbehave, it may prevent them
from letting a kid take a toilet break because the teacher might be blamed for
accidents, damage or misbehaviour on the way.
The kid will probably have caused concern prior to this.
A lack of trust can prevent teachers from taking kids for sports, field trips,
lending equipment, having choices in assignments or letting children choose seating.
A lack of trust might even prevent a teacher from preparing good lessons because the teacher
thinks the class will misbehave & it's wasted effort.

Conversely trusted students can do many things & gain many advantages in the process.
Trust is not an easily tested phenomena and you won’t easily find much scientific
educational research highlighting its importance but for a fact, it is totally important.
Parents are also involved in the trust phenomena. I’ve had many parents in my
teaching spaces. Some can’t stop themselves butting in, answering a question
instead of letting their kid have time to absorb the question & form an answer.
Other parents might want to police the class or their student. A laughing
student might be just enough to make a parent cross with their kid (or someone
else’s) and that pressure to be serious all the time could be enough for a kid to
withdraw from lessons.  Many parents have also been extremely valuable in my class
and I trust that any volunteer has at least intent to be helpful.
We all want students to do well. We would do well to understand the journey of learning
should have serious and fun moments. Adults need some reservation in displaying
over emotional responses to kid behaviour and to understand positive ways to disrupt
unwanted behaviours.
When students trust the teacher, they may more easily follow advice, take risks
when performing for the sake of improving their long term goals and even do
things that may look like backward steps to fill holes in their learning.
Some areas of learning are like going down into the valley so you can climb the next
hill, literally unlearning something so that your approach yields better results.
“Unlearning” can apply to a technique, false information or an attitude.
Without trust, a student for example may be unwilling to speak or sing publicly or even
privately for the teacher for fear of criticism. Opinions may be withheld because
a student is nervous to express an idea. A musical composition might be kept a secret
because confidence is lacking. Trust and confidence go hand in hand in
teacher-learner partnerships.

When there is a parent in the mix, a School Principal, a Head Supervisor,
an outside auditing process (National Testing) these relationships become more
complex and require thoughtful attention.
My principle is that those that can be trusted with something small can be then trusted
with something bigger. Trust, is something that needs to be earned & can quite easily
be lost.
My thoughts are that the giving of trust must seen as a gift and risk that may or may not
pay off, but tomorrow is a new day to try again.
Teachers have styles.
In some situations teachers give very ordered direction managing and
micromanaging actions and decisions made by the student. This top-down
approach may be very important in for example a dangerous activity such as
driving when mistakes can be fatal. It’s also very important where details are
important such as taking accurate measurements before cutting so waste and
costs are minimized. Use of expensive equipment is another area where trust
is exercised judiciously.
Other situations allow greater flexibility that might range from teachers providing
high levels of structure, through collaboration to total individual autonomy.  
Education has generally moved from a top-down approach to providing
mentorship from the leader and peer-to-peer tutoring and collaboration.
I suggest a range of these approaches are desirable. 


EXPECTATIONS
Having a clear set of  expectations is important if expectations are grounded in
reality.  Don’t expect your student to practice daily if they have 6 activities on
after school weekly. They will be tired.  
Being consistent with lessons will help them retain skills. Musical skills are similar
to a healthy body. Mostly we maintain what we have and sometimes we try to
improve it.
When we get to a certain level, maintenance takes longer.
Missing every second lesson to go to another party will disrupt their discipline. 
Controlling computer, games and T.V. time will impact on time free to do more
practice. 
It is fair to expect that it makes no sense to pay for lessons if the input of the
student doesn’t extend beyond the lesson. It is however intelligent to be sure
that parents have set up an environment that allows the student to regularly
participate at home in practice without major distractions.
Moving the Goals

Some people expect that each lesson should get harder and more complex.
If the reward for hard work is more work & harder work there's little room for enjoyment.
Each achievement level needs a consolidation period to be firm in the skills
and knowledge of that level. Rushing onward might look like progress but does not
provide proper consolidation of learning at a level. 
Some people race through grade books with the goal  to complete as many
levels as quickly as possible. On that path they have a very narrow focus.
They play 3 pieces from each book and that is it.  They have a certificate to show off.
Bravo, but the tunnel vision approach has its own narrow limit, which usually means
they don't have much depth at a grade level beyond 3 pieces.
Moving goals is important. Having a range of shorter and longer term goals
helps balance the need to play and feel successful with some material, against
the concentrated effort required to stretch to a new skill level in a different project.
Cool vs Uncool

The psychology of learning and motivation has to account for the need to like what we do.
Everyone has likes and dislikes, even very young people can have quite firm opinions.
These become expectations which can be helpful or limiting.
A student who won’t play something because they see it as uncool, or childish may be
limiting their all round skill-set.
Some music is not for ourselves, it is for somebody different.
The path to complex needs to establish basics first.
Appreciating the different audiences ultimately is a useful thing.
No one should try to please everybody but in the process of learning, generally we should
not expect everything to be our cup of tea.


STUDYING vs DOING MUSIC. 
The skills and knowledge involved in music education are measurable, at least
observable.
What separates Studying from just doing or playing?
 
Anyone who claims to study music but can’t name a note or chord on their
instrument is playing and learning something. Is it  studying?   
Pause for your answer……………………….. 
Playing is necessary of course. A baby learns to walk and talk through
natural processes, not sitting in a study room in front of a teacher.
Did we learn our language by constant reference to a dictionary ? No.
When Suzuki taught 3 year olds to play violin, the approach was see, listen,
touch- PLAY. Not about reading scores. 
Just as spoken language precedes reading & writing language, Suzuki knew that
reading music wasn’t essential at first and that it could be learnt later.
We do however require both
the experiential- experimental play with
the planned learning experiences in order to achieve mastery. 
Planned learning can be initiated by the learner.
It isn't always about the teacher.
It is about having intent and following these intentions.
You can learn stuff without being able to discuss the theory.  Many learners
come to music class and turn out a good performance in practical terms without
a strong reference to musical theory.                                                
I always attempt to seek a higher level from a students who are ready for it,
but theory is there to support better playing, not the other way around. 
What Suzuki did with very young children isn’t necessarily for older students
who have more language, history and literacy skills.              
Many older students can & will learn theory of music as they learn to play. 
Deep learning is more than a parrot-style learning experience. Parrots talk but
don’t know what they are saying. We can learn music by rote and produce
good results and it is studying music. It’s  just not studying with a detailed
comprehension of what is happening.
Some students are very busy. They will only ever get into the shallow end.
Some students are perfectionists and have time to develop extensive skill.
Some students might just be there for the social side, or because their parents
want them to be or….you get the idea. We are individuals.
I try to understand something about students so within their ability,
available time  & motivations, they can achieve a pleasant result.
The result ranges from just having a nice time, to developing extensive
mastery skills, professional habits and repertoire.
STAGES OF LEARNING
The stages of learning competency start with
unconscious incompetence (don’t know anything, can’t do anything), then,
conscious incompetence (awareness of things to learn), then   
conscious competence (knowing your subject)  through to
unconscious competency (a state of being so fluent in your area there is
little need to think about what you are doing).  
It’s best to be able to do something, knowing how and why. This is especially
true if you are a teacher or need to collaborate professionally. 
Playing by ear is great. Being a player who understands the vocabulary and
patterns is even better. Some learners are happy to learn parrot style and can go
all the way to a career stage this way. Playing with understanding is more likely
to extend that career phase past a couple of good years. You also have more
opportunities as you waste less time getting basic things right. 
As silly as it might sound, I would often rather be “unconsciously competent” in
knowing what works without being smashed by thinking that distracts rather
than smooths the workflow. 

I'll digress to my first golf lesson from my near-pro level father. The grip, bent knees,
eye on the ball, the swing, neck position and follow through in a 2 minute lesson
was all a bit too much for a 7 year old.
Let's just start with a small swing looking at the ball or in the case of music education
a small lesson with an achievable goal consolidated with a little practice.