Category Archives: Research

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.

Is Making Music Good for You?

This article was first published in Roland’s Power On magazine in 2011. 

In a word – yes! Whatever your age, participating in music making has many benefits for your health and sense of well-being. Numerous studies have shown that your participating in active music making can have an enriching and beneficial affect on your life at every stage. This short article will explore some of these benefits. Continue reading

Is Moodle making us (and our students) stupid?

Well, not just Moodle I guess, but any technological innovation that is over-enthusiastically and zealously adopted, uncritically, by a school, college or university?

At the university where I work, the technological pace has picked up quickly in recent years. In the last couple of years, a new Moodle platform has been implemented to replace the failing WebCT system that we had; iPads have been given to all staff; new members of staff have been appointed to assist staff with what is hoped will be their ‘technologically enhanced’ teaching; on many courses students themselves are being given iPads for use during their studies; electronic submission of assignments is fast becoming the norm; and I could go on.

But for many of us, the embrace of technology in our professional and private lives is far from ideal and not something that should advance unchecked. Many writers are expressing increasing reservations about the impact of mobile and social technologies and the detrimental effect they play in our lives. This is particularly true in an educational context. If this week is anything to go by, it seems that these technologies are being adopted without sustained critical thought to their limitations and, indeed, the very things that are being lost as they replace alternative approaches.

Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future presents a compelling alternative that we would be wise to consider. In his wonderful blog on this book, Peter Lawler asks the question about whether this might be both the smartest and dumbest generation that has ever existed? Discuss!

Through twelve provocative points, he amplifies Bauerlein’s thesis in a highly entertaining way that I’m happy to blatantly copy here:

1. Virtually all of our students have hours—and often many, many hours—of daily exposure to screens.

2. So they excel at multitasking and interactivity, and they have very strong spatial skills.

3. They also have remarkable visual acuity; they’re ready for rushing images and updated information.

4. But these skills don’t transfer well to—they don’t have much to do with—the non-screen portions of their lives.

5. Their screen experiences, in fact, undermine their taste and capacity for building knowledge and developing their verbal skills.

6. They, for example, hate quiet and being alone. Because they rely so much on screens keeping them connected, they can’t rely on themselves. Because they’re constantly restless or stimulated, they don’t know what it is to enjoy civilized leisure. The best possible punishment for an adolescent today is to make him or her spend an evening alone in his or her room without any screens, devices, or gadgets to divert him or her. It’s amazing the extent to which screens have become multidimensional diversions from what we really know about ourselves.

7. Young people today typically are too agitated and impatient to engage in concerted study. Their imaginations are impoverished when they’re visually unstimulated. So their eros is too. They can’t experience anxiety as a prelude to wonder, and they too rarely become seekers and searchers.

8. They have trouble comprehending or being moved by the linear, sequential analysis of texts.

9. So they find it virtually impossible to spend an idle afternoon with a detective story and nothing more.

10. That’s why they can be both so mentally agile and culturally ignorant. That’s even why they know little to nothing about how to live well with love and death, as well as why their relational lives are so impoverished.

11. And that’s why higher education—or liberal education—has to be about giving students experiences that they can’t get on screen. That’s even why liberal education has to have as little as possible to do with screens.

12. Everywhere and at all times, liberal education is countercultural. And so today it’s necessarily somewhat anti-technology, especially anti-screen.  That’s one reason among many I’m so hard on MOOCs, online courses, PowerPoint, and anyone who uses the word “disrupting” without subversive irony.

I like that Lawler highlights, simultaneously, the potential affordances and limitations of screens  and the experiences that they present. However, I’m sure that there is much here that folk will agree and disagree with. For me, though, point 11 is telling and I agree entirely with him on this. Higher education, liberal education, in fact any education, must be about giving students experiences that they can’t get on screen, not just seek to replicate things on screens in insipid ways. It is just too important to follow cultural or technological norms.

This is particularly important, to me, for processes of initial teacher education. Here, human relationships are central to the effectiveness of the training programme. For me, the university tutor and student relationship is of particular concern. But you could say the same about the school mentor and student relationship, or the peer to peer relationships that students develop.

In one of our sessions this week, an English tutor on one of MMU’s programmes spoke eloquently about how he builds strong relationships with each of his trainees from the earliest opportunity, well before the commencement of the course and the moment that a student arrives on campus. Much of this centred around current students meeting up with and mentoring new students, a Saturday event where various pre-course readings are shared and discussed, and much more besides.

Another colleague at the university whom I know well and respect immensely lectures in human communication. Despite being an expert in these matters, he has chosen recently, like Lawler, to banish screens in their various incarnations from his lecture hall.

Is Moodle making us and our students stupid? On balance, I think it is. Whilst there will be those who argue pragmatically for the benefits of these digital tools (saved administrative costs, ease of access to materials, etc, etc), we must all remember what we are also loosing. Screens divide. They result in disengagement in the learning process.  They diminish the human interactions and relationships that are an essential part of, and integral to (I would argue) the educational process.

Attachment Disorder and the Power of Music

Congratulations to Rachel Wyllie (a PGCE student on our course this year) and Gareth Morewood, (Director of Curriculum Support at Priestnall School and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Manchester) for their excellent piece on attachment disorder in Teaching Times. You can download it here.

This research came out of Rachel’s work towards one of her assignments on the PGCE course whist she was undertaking a teaching placement at Priestnall School in Stockport.  I believe that she has continued to work in this area and has produced some excellent video training materials. I’ll update you when I know more.

Every year I am impressed by the quality of the work that our PGCE students produce in collaboration with the Royal Northern College of Music and our partnership schools. I fail to understand why our courses have been drastically cut from over 60 to under 30 in three years. This country still needs highly quality, appropriately trained music teachers and PGCE courses like these are the best way to produce professional music teachers who are engaged in their pedagogical development and switched onto the latest thinking about how to provide quality learning opportunities for their students.

Music is a ‘human thing’.

In this fascinating interview, Peter Gregson talks about the interface between music and technology, and hows these impact on processes of music education. He concludes that …

… the best thing about music education is simply that it teaches you to think and listen in a sensitive way, and not jump to conclusions in exchange for instant gratification. Real life doesn’t give you 10 points when you cross a bridge. And that is a super-important thing. If we game-ify an art form, we risk losing its most valuable facets.

I found this interview a very rich exploration of highly important themes to those of us who work in music education with new technologies. It is a helpful reminder that technology can often interfere, mask what is truly important, and generally get in the way (both musically and pedagogically). So, choose your tools carefully!

The Guided Reader to Teaching and Learning Music

Bit of a plug here (apologies), but I’m really pleased that my new book has been published today. Routledge have done a great job with this and I’m very pleased with the result. You can order it from them. Here’s the info from the publicity:

The Guided Reader to Teaching and Learning Music draws on extracts from the published work of some of the most influential education writers to provide insight, guidance and clarity about key issues affecting Music teachers.

The book brings together key extracts from classic and contemporary writing and contextualises these in both theoretical and practical terms. The extracts are accompanied by a summary of the key ideas and issues raised, questions to promote discussion and reflective practice, and annotated further reading lists to extend thinking.

Taking a thematic approach and including a short introduction to each theme, the chapters cover:

  • Analysing your own work as a music teacher;
  • Concepts of musicality;
  • Notions of musical development and progression;
  • Pedagogies for teaching music musically;
  • Music inside and outside the school;
  • Formal, informal and non-formal approaches to music education;
  • Productive methods of assessment and transition for music education;
  • Creativity and music education;
  • Supporting the gifted and talented in music;
  • Using ICT within music education.

Aimed at trainee and newly qualified teachers including those working towards Masters-level qualifications, as well practicing teachers, this accessible, but critically provocative text will be an essential resource for all teachers that wish to deepen their understanding of Music Education.

Academic Sources for Music Education Research

Until new legislation for Open Access takes effect, many of the most established academic journals such as the BJME and MER  are still using subscription models. Clearly, this is not sustainable in the current political climate and moves towards Open Access will begin to take effect from the 1st April 2013. But there are many good sources of academic enquiry in music education, and other areas, that are really useful for those wanting to undertake music education research, or write an academic assignment for a PGCE (!). Here are some that I’ve found useful over the years:

Action, Criticism and Theory for Music Education
AERA SIG Open Access Education Journals (very comprehensive list of free journals)
Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
Electronic Journal of E-learning
International Journal of Education and the Arts
Journal of Educational Technology in Society
Journal of Interactive Media in Education
Research and Issues in Music Education
Thinkers on Education

And here are a few links to music technology magazines that those students starting to think about their CDA with a technological ‘theme’ may find helpful too:

Computer Music Journal
Future Music
Sound on Sound

Happy new year to all!

Happy new year to all readers of my blog! I hope you have had a good Christmas break and a restful New Year?

It would be nice to start this year on a positive note. Yesterday, I enjoyed interviewing some of the first applicants for our PGCE in Music  and PGCE in Music with Specialist Instrumental Teaching courses. The day before I enjoyed working with our current cohort in a couple of sessions. Meeting new potential students, and working with current ones, reminds me what a privileged position I’m in to help shape the music education workforce of the future. The long-standing links between my university, MMU, the the RNCM have stood a barrage of political changes in recent years but are still strong. Our course, with around 30 students every year (down from 64 a few years ago), is still the largest in the country and I’m privileged to play a role in contributing to its continuation.

In the other part of my job, I’m very fortunate to be able to work with talented researchers and writers on a regular basis. This year, I’m planning to write three books (all for Routledge). Will Evans and I are writing a book on using your local area as a source for curriculum development; Clive McGoun and I are writing a second book on the themes of collaborative creativity with new media; and I’m also writing a book on lesson planning. So, lots to do and think about in my new shed made out of recycled pallets! (If you are interested, click here to see the work in progress and here to see something approaching the finished shed).

On a more negative note, the current trend to favour Teach First in our media continues. Today sees the publication of an article that really only subscribes to the prevailing narrative of Teach First as an overwhelming success for initial teacher education. I’ve made a few remarks about this in a comment but I’m continually frustrated by the lack of criticality in the debate. I know that it isn’t just me that has these concerns or criticisms. But so many other people I talk to are just frightened to speak out (and with good reason given the new contractual situtation that they will find themselves in post September 2013 if Teach First win the tender to manage their own courses).  Journalists, who ought to know better, fail to read and understand the wealth of public information out there that shows how expensive Teach First is in comparison to other routes and constantly cite Teach First’s own figures for this, and retention, without questioning them rigorously.

This, combined with the continued lunacy of Gove’s educational policies, make me feel that we are in for another tough year in education. I will try and keep positive and apologise in advance for the odd rant. But, these aside, I wish you all a very prosperous and happy New Year.

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

Come and study for a MRes at MMU – and get to work with fantastic people!

I’m really pleased to working at MMU, a fantastic university with a great reputation. However, the best thing about working at MMU are the people I get to work with. In particular, Will Evans and Jane Petrie are fabulous colleagues whom I have the greatest respect for. It has been a privilidge to work with both of them for a number of years.

Research at the newly-named Faculty of Education is located within the Education and Social Research Institute (ESRI), housed in the above building. Here, research professors and others work on a range of research projects. I enjoy teaching on a range of research-orientated courses (such as the EdD and MRes) and have had some great students from the worlds of education, social work and health care.

So, I’m really excited that one of these courses – the MRes – has been rewritten and, from September 2012, you will be able to come to MMU and engage with a fantastic course taught by great staff. I’ve attached a .pdf outlining the course in more detail would highly recommend it to you. Here’s the opening paragraph:

This is a 1-year, full-time programme, comprising 4 taught units and a dissertation. It is a research training programme for students who wish to go on to study for a PhD and for research workers in education and the social sciences. The course can be taken as a free-standing qualification and as a research training programme it covers all key areas of research methods preparation, including: qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, data collection techniques, methods of analysis, developing theoretical, methodological and ‘real world’ skills for researchers. The course structure is designed to provide a collaborative, student-centred approach that makes the best use of digital technologies to increase flexibility, collaboration and insight into the latest research and practice. Exit awards will also be available.