Friday, 7 February 2020

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

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” a fiction 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.
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 Tammy 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,
excitement 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. A
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's 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.”
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 spend their time unraveling the dark thought patterns of 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 & 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. 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.   

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.
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 or lies to get out of class.)
A lack of trust can prevent teachers from taking kids for sports, field trips,
lending equipment, having choices in assignments or children choosing seating.
A lack of trust might 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 a 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. 

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 & at times 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
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.
A kid that says "that's baby stuff" needs to reframe the definition to this is a beginner song
for a baby. This isn't for you, this is for a special audience. Can you play it?

The skills and knowledge involved in music education are measurable, at least
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 discussing 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 without knowing
what they say. 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.
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 parrot style learners can go all the way to a career stage.
Playing with understanding probably extends 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. 

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