Category Archives: Book Reviews

Musical Futures cited as a model of progressive music education

Geoffrey Baker’s new book, El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth, is a stinging critique of the Venezuelan instrumental and social music education programme. Baker’s research is far reaching, drawing on observations of the programme throughout Venezuela and interviews with key participants in the programme and students themselves. As a piece of qualitative and ethnographic research, it is beautifully constructed. Throughout his book, which I reviewed here for the Music Education UK websiteBaker is at pains to justify his assertions about the programme and, when necessary, points to the limitations of his research and the conclusions therein.

In the final chapter of his book, Baker points to a number of projects that exemplify what he calls a more ‘progressive’ form of music education. At this point, it was lovely to find references to Musical Futures, a project that surely every music teacher here in the UK must be aware of that has made a significant and positive contribution to music education over the last ten years. This was what Baker has to say about Musical Futures:

One of the most radical and promising music education initiatives is Musical Futures, which began in the United Kingdom in 2003 and is spreading internationally. Musical Futures builds on Green’s (2002, 2008) work on informal learning and its application to the classroom. It’s central element is copying recordings by ear, and it integrates listening, improvising, and composing into the learning process, which is holistic and student-led (rather than sequential or drill-based) and promotes student choice of instruments and repertoire. Green (2008, 199-80) applies this informal learning pedagogy to ensemble playing and classical music, revealing that there is no inevitable bond between El Sistema’s curriculum, collective ethos, and conservative pedagogy. (Baker 2014, p.318) Continue reading

‘El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth’ by Geoffrey Baker: A book review

This review was first published on the Music Education UK website on the 26th February 2015.

Geoffrey Baker’s new book, El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth, is a stinging critique of the Venezuelan instrumental and social music education programme. Baker’s research is far reaching, drawing on observations of the programme throughout Venezuela and interviews with key participants in the programme and students themselves. As a piece of qualitative and ethnographic research, it is beautifully constructed. Throughout his book, Baker is at pains to justify his assertions about the programme and, when necessary, points to the limitations of his research and the conclusions therein. Continue reading

Want some help with your lesson planning? Look no further!

lesson_planning I’m delighted to say that my new book for Routledge - Lesson Planning: Key concepts and skills for teachers - is published today. The book describes a simple, staged process of lesson planning that includes:

  • Defining learning objects and outcomes;
  • Considering various different structure for lessons;
  • Creating a suitable environment for learning;
  • Assessment processes;
  • Differentiating and personalising your teaching;
  • Evaluating your work;

and, most importantly, a large chapter on pedagogy which is, for me, an integral part of the planning process.

For anyone who has read my blog and other writings over the years, there will be no surprise that one of the central arguments of the book is built on Stenhouse’s phrase that ‘there is no curriculum development development without teacher development’. This is as true today as it was in the 1970s when he first penned it. Lesson planning is not a dry and dull process. It is about your development as a person, as a teacher, and, when done well, is a highly creative and enjoyable process that is at the heart of all excellent teaching.

Book Review: Technology and the Gendering of Music Education by Victoria Armstrong

This book explores, most successfully, the construction of gendered identities in the music technology classroom. In particular, it explores these identities within the specific activity of musical composition with technology. Whilst I think that Armstrong is wrong to state that the current research literature ‘ignores the socially constructed nature of computers and computer use’ (p.1), she is right to point out that much of the current research literature in the field of music education with technology focuses on issues other than the gendered implications focused on within her book. This book is an important redress to that imbalance. Continue reading

Book Review: Music Education in the 21st Century in the United Kingdon: Achievements, analysis and aspirations (eds. Susan Hallam and Andrea Creech)

Music education in the United Kingdom is quite remarkable. It seems to me that for many of those involved, this simple statement has been taken for granted for far too long. This book is a celebration of music education in its various guises throughout the United Kingdom. Its publication comes at a very important time. Music education is under severe threat. The book does a great job of surveying the numerous contexts and locations of music education from early childhood to higher education. Through its chapters, authored by a large range of leading academics and teachers, it identifies the range of benefits that music education can bring to a young person’s life. These include the intellectual rigour that comes through engaging with the study of music, the social benefits of participating in musical activities, and the personal development that can occur as a young person moves through the stages of childhood into adult life. Continue reading

One book I won’t be reading …

One book I won’t be reading (and I urge you not to either) is Katharine Birbalsingh’s To Miss with Love (no link provided). I won’t comment on the book (not having read it), but I did enjoy the final paragraph of Fiona Miller’s review which does, for me, summarise the current trend (by some who ought to know better) to run down our state schools with increasing regularity:

The zeitgeist at the moment is to wallow in failure, rather than success, and to prefer anecdote to evidence. This provides brilliant cover for the chaotic slash and burn experiment being orchestrated from the centre by Michael Gove, under the guise of freedom and parent choice. I don’t think Gove or Birbalsingh really know what they are doing but the fiction they are peddling, that young people can’t get a good education in their local state schools , is a dangerous one and parents shouldn’t be fooled by it.

Please, don’t be fooled by it. It is a fiction. This Government’s approach to educational policy is clearly not informed by any meaningful set of evidence. Rather, it is a selective mish-mash of prejudice and a de-contextualised set of international comparisons from whatever country is flavour of Gove’s month. Don’t believe me? Just have a look at the research and evaluation work that they have slashed already.

Martin’s new book

It was great to receive a copy of Martin Fautley’s new book today. Congratulations on this excellent book Martin. There is lots of value here and I know that music teachers will find it really useful. Assessment is such a contentious area but Martin gives clear, practical advice to music teachers  Basically, music teachers should be making much more use of assessment for learning techniques, periodic assessment and looking at how other subjects handle assessment at Key Stage 3. The QCA has lots of good advice about this on the new National Curriculum website. NAME published a very helpful document written byDr Martin Fautley (available from their website), and you could also read the book Martin and I wrote on this. Here’s the link.


Updating that library thing

I’ve had a day of catching up on things that I’ve been meaning to do for a while but haven’t got around to. One of them was updating some of the books I’m reading on the Library Thing website. It’s been a while since I’ve visited the site but I highly recommend it as a way of keeping track of your books and finding out about related reading through other users of the service. They have added a lot of extra functionality since I last visited and increased the number of books you can have on your virtual shelves (to 200), but I’m nowhere near that yet. Anyway, the widget in the right hand margin shows what I’m currently reading. Why not create an account of your own and let the world know what’s on your bookshelf?

A nice surprise …

At the end of the tax year here in the UK, it was nice to receive a royalty cheque for two books I have co-written with my colleague Martin Fautley. Both were for the same published and released around about the same time. Can someone explain to me why the book on assessment has sold eight times as many copies as the book for creativity? Same authors. Same publisher. Is it is a sad indictment on the current state of education in our country?

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