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The formulation of possible selves through music and singing April 21, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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from Sarah Powell

There is a range of research now surrounding the connections between music and the brain and the effect of music on learning. For example, in Australia the work of Anita Collins focuses on what happens in the brain when a person plays a musical instrument. From the UK Sounds of Intent is a project that investigated musical development in children with learning difficulties and subsequently produced resources to support educators.

The work of Kate Stevens, Peter Keller and Barbara Tillman from UWS, and Gary McPherson from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, demonstrates the significant research being undertaken in the area of music and neuroscience. In addition, the recent contribution to this blog from Associate Professor Sue Roffey highlights the reduced emphasis on creativity, critical thinking skills and well being in the new curriculum. Research demonstrates that music (and other arts) has a definite impact on the brain, on learning, on memory, on well being and in the case of my research, identity.

I came from a different perspective in my doctoral research. Rather than using numbers to justify the impact of music and singing, I asked individuals to share their personal stories and because of other research themes (masculinity, success) I focused on males who sang in choirs. So I set out with a different agenda to that of the neuroscience underpinning the research identified above and despite my different angle, it became abundantly clear that music and singing has a profound effect on the identity of an individual.

With this is mind I considered the role of identity from the perspective of possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986). Possible selves are the formulations or descriptions of a future self or selves. They represent desired, expected, or feared future selves, and sometimes a combination of these. The theory argues that a person’s present or current self is not simply defined by their past, but by their perceptions of the future as well.

Possible selves have been described as what a person wants to become, what they expect to become, or what they want to avoid or fear becoming (Cross & Markus, 1994; Freer, 2009, 2010; Markus & Nurius, 1986; Sica, 2009). The past is remembered as positive or negative experiences and whilst these experiences shape the future they do not determine or restrict it. Whilst past experiences cannot be revisited in a physical sense, the associations that are retained as memories remain potent and regulate a person’s desire to pursue or avoid a perceived end point. Strahan and Wilson (2006) suggest that it is not simply the memory of an event or circumstance that has influence. Rather, it is “how the past was recalled” (p.4).

Amongst other things, participants in my research were asked about their past experience of music, particularly during their school years. All were currently involved in music in various capacities and planned to continue in this way or develop their involvement further, and they all described positive school experiences. They identified music and singing as a normal part of their life at home. They had parents and grandparents who enjoyed singing, playing musical instruments or listening to music.

Participants reported enjoying classroom music at school and having numerous opportunities to be in the band or the choir, and many received instrumental tuition at school. Interestingly many participants attributed their present path to their past and their subsequent aspirations for the future. The sense of music and singing being part of the individual was strong:

Singing is quite an intimate thing. You’re revealing a lot about who you are in a sense (Secondary School Choir, Year 12 student).

This attitude was coupled with a very strong enjoyment of singing, communicated by all participants in some way:

I love singing, it’s my favourite thing to do, anywhere any time (Junior School Choir, Year 5 student).

Without question, the ability to produce some beautiful sounds in performance is rewarding, emotionally satisfying (Community Choir, male aged 50+).

The research demonstrated that the identity of these participants was built on family background and traditions, grounding them in something bigger than themselves but still intimately connected. It contributed to self-confidence and healthy self-perception in the here-and-now and it provided an outlet for personal expression and spirituality. It provided purpose and direction for the future, offering choices and opportunities for career and pleasure. It also gave them meaningful spaces to work collaboratively and creatively and to develop deep friendships.

Not only is neuroscience proving that music impacts the brain and learning in positive ways, but people are revealing that music and singing is an integral part of how they define themselves. It has significant ramifications for the formation of identity as well as personal well being and must be part of a child’s education. I will conclude by mentioning the work of Sir Richard Gill who continues to advocate the necessity of providing quality music education to every child, arguing that the impact of arts education is broader than simply teaching music:

The very things that promote literacy and numeracy are the arts, beginning with serious arts education in the early years. If we want a creative nation, an imaginative nation, a thinking nation and a nation of individuals, then we must increase the time for arts education, especially music education. If we want a nation of non-imaginative robots who can do tests, then we are well on the way to achieving that condition (Richard Gill’s Blog, 2011).

References:

Cross, S. E. & Markus, H. R. (1994). Self-schemas, possible selves, and competent performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86(3), 423-438. DOI: 10.1037/0022-0663.86.3.423

Freer, P. K. (2009). ‘I’ll sing with my buddies’ – Fostering the possible selves of male choral singers. International Journal of Music Education, 27(4), 341-355. DOI: 10.1177/0255761409345918

Freer, P. K. (2010). Two decades of research on possible selves and the ‘missing males’ problem in choral music. International Journal of Music Education, 28(1), 17-30. DOI: 10.1177/0255761409351341

Markus, H. & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41(9), 954-969. DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.41.9.954

Sica, L. S. (2009). Adolescents in different contexts: The exploration of identity through possible selves. Cognition, Brain, Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 13(3), 221-252.

Strahan, E. J. & Wilson, E. (2006). Temporal comparisons, identity, and motivation: The relation between past, present, and possible future selves. In C. Dunkel & J. Kerpelman, Possible selves: Theory, research and application (pp.1-15). New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

 

Sarah Powell is Education Content Manager at Musica Viva Australia. She is also a sessional academic in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, and a UWS doctoral candidate whose thesis is currently under examination.

Should Australian schools look to Finland? April 7, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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From Benjamin Jones

In 1988 Prime Minister Bob Hawke opened the National Science and Technology Centre (now called Questacon) as part of the Bicentennial celebrations. Expecting a positive media story for the government, he was instead confronted by 200 protesters angry at budget cuts to science and education. Hawke conceded that the government needed to do more to ensure Australia becomes a ‘clever country’.

The ‘clever country’ has been embraced by subsequent leaders and in some ways, Australia has achieved this goal or at least is heading in the right direction. The proportion of Australians aged 25-64 years who hold a non-school qualification has increased from 46 percent in 1990 to 59 percent in 2006. Those with a bachelor degree or higher more than doubled from 10 to 24 percent over the same period.

Australia’s educational advancements have not been equitable with the primary winners being the non-Indigenous residents of major cities. While 56.9 percent of Australians in major cities hold a non-school qualification, this drops to 45 in outer regional areas and just 35.6 in very remote areas. This more than halves for Indigenous Australians at 14.5 percent. Even in major cities, the inequality is substantial with 37.8 percent of Indigenous Australians holding a non-school qualification compared to 57.1 percent of non-Indigenous people.

Like Australia, Finland also had an average performing education system in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Over a decade-long period, Finland transformed itself and since 2001 is has consistently ranked in the very top tier in all PISA assessments. According to an OECD report, Finland is now a ‘major international leader in education’. The crucial difference between Finland and Australia, however, is that the Finnish system has ‘remarkable consistency across schools’ and there is little variation between students from low and high socio-economic areas.

Educational theorist Pasi Sahlberg’s new work, Finnish Lessons, offers some insights into how Finland turned their education system around and how other nations might do the same. Firstly, Finland looked abroad for the best ideas and was flexible enough to adapt where better methods in other countries were producing better outcomes. Dovetailing this idea, however, is that Finland appropriated foreign ideas into a local setting. Good ideas were adapted and made Finnish.

The second key point is that Finland has a culture that respects teachers. Unlike Australia where some university chancellors want to do away with minimum requirements altogether, Finnish teachers must be high academic achievers and hold a Master’s degree. In return, teachers are well paid and resourced. In a recent TEDx talk, Sahlberg argues that Finland trusts the teaching profession and this trust is the foundational strength of the system. One of the ‘germs’ that is destroying modern schooling is the idea that schools and teachers must be regularly held accountable through standardised testing and inspections. He says the Finnish view is that, ‘accountability is something left when responsibility is taken away’. Teacher autonomy has been crucial in Finland’s success.

One final lesson for Australia is that the Finns do not have a two-tier system. Rather than a large disparity between wealthy private schools and an under-funded public sector, there is a strong cultural commitment to a large public system with high quality education offered to all. Australia, like the United States and many other nations has allowed education to become market-driven. Tertiary education in particular, is seen as a revenue-generating industry rather than a vital public asset. In Finland there is an inspiring, publicly supported, central vision of what good education should look like. This vision is linked to a commitment to social justice and equity for all regardless of wealth, gender or ability. As Sahlberg stressed to John Hattie when interviewed for The Conversation, ‘it’s an inclusive principle’.

In December 2011, the Gonski Review was released. The was the most comprehensive investigation into school funding for 40 years and it highlighted the gross inequalities in the Australian education system. The heart of the review was needs-based funding. In addition to a base level, schools would receive extra funding depending on size, location and students’ needs (factoring in social inequality). While the Gillard government negotiated six year funding deals with NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT and introduced a needs-based system, the incoming Abbott government has only guaranteed four years of funding. It has also rejected the needs-based system as too ‘complex’ prompting a strong reply from the eponymous author, David Gonski. The campaign continues.

There is much Australia can learn from Finland if it wants to also be a world leader in education. It is imperative, however, that we move beyond the empty slogans of ‘clever country’ and ‘education revolution’ and put in place systems that will allow all Australians to have access to high quality education. The challenge is also to change the culture of negativity and present a world class education system as a vital national goal. This is not only a matter of social justice, it also makes economic sense for a small but wealthy nation. The Brookings Institute has researched the vast economic advantages of education. If Australia is to maintain its prosperity into the future, we should look to the Finnish example and ensure our education system is not only high quality but fair.

 

Dr Benjamin T. Jones is an adjunct research fellow in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts, and a sessional tutor in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney. He is also a graduate teacher from UWS’s Master of Teaching (Secondary) program.

 

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