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Objective or Subjective? Can the arts be assessed? June 13, 2017

Posted by Editor21C in Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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By Rachael Jacobs

 As with any subject area arts education must conform to curriculum policies and procedures, including those related to assessment. In subjects such as Dance, Drama, Music and Visual Arts, students’ creative work is assessed formatively and summatively through a range of assessable instruments. However, the assessment of artistic work presents unique challenges, as the processes used are highly dependent on a wide range of interrelated contributions. This leads to wide speculation that the arts cannot be assessed, as all judgements are merely subjective.

 Arts learning is multifaceted in that it connects to the human experience, engages learners in imaginative and aesthetic growth, accesses technical skills and allows for vocationally orientated experiences. It is also creative and dynamic, using assessment tasks to gauge artistic responses upon the learning trajectory. It is arguable that ongoing and regular assessments are critical components of the arts classroom. Students’ creative work is assessed formatively and summatively through a range of assessable instruments, including individual and group performances, journals and logbooks, design portfolios, director folios, script development, improvisation tasks, video production, self-reflection, theatre reviews and interviews. Performance assessments in particular can be complex because of the variations between performance sites, the requirement for ensemble or group work, the nature of the ensemble or group, the access to technical equipment and the composition and reactions of any audience that might be in attendance (Oreck et al. 2003).

But these problems can be addressed through effective assessment task design. The larger issue is the perception that the formal and widespread assessment of artistic creations can result in a stifling of individual expression, imagination, creativity and originality, while not allowing for the fresh pursuit of ideas (Hanley 2003). A wide range of responses are also plausible to a particular task. Despite these challenges, system-wide assessment in the arts is achievable and necessary to establish the credibility of the field and to provide systems for identifying student achievement within the formal school curricula.

One of the biggest challenges identified by Harris (2008) is that ‘creativity’ is not easily defined and is therefore difficult to assess. Assessment in aesthetic domains also utilises personal responses to stimuli, which can be unfamiliar to those more accustomed to assessment tasks with previously defined answers. This is where the duality of objective and subjective constructs comes into play. Haynes (2008) and Ross (1993) describe traditional assessment methods, as identified by Hyde (2013), as being focussed on objectivity, whereby assessors are expected to discard their own feelings in favour of strictly set criteria in which interpretations are not required.

A focus on objective judgments is contrary to arts education, and indeed, the broader aims of education. O’Toole et al. (2009) remind us, “Knowledge and learning are of course never objective nor value-neutral, much though ultraconservative groups and politicians might wish them to be seen as such” (p. 108). Jackson (2006) justifies the validity of creative assessment tasks, arguing that “it should be possible to separate subjective judgments of creativity from judgments of technical goodness and from judgments of aesthetic appeal” (p. 169). Tomlinson (2001) argues for a healthy balance between subjective and objective judgments in order to create informed judgments on performance assessment that provide the most ‘individually sensitive, accurate and comprehensive evidence’ (p. 15) of student learning. Misson (1996) goes so far as to identify arts education as a site for the construction of subjectivity, which he argues operates at the nexus of intelligence and emotion: “thought is charged with feeling, while feeling is refined and strengthened by thought” (p. 11). In this respect, it has long been argued that subjects such as Drama teach empathy (Holland 2009; Trinder 1977). Similarly, Bolton (1984) describes Drama as a process of ‘unselfing’, which makes subjective and alternative responses a valid part of the dramatic response.

The assessor is concurrently an arts consumer, but is more active than other audience members. The ability of the assessor to capture their thoughts on the quality of work as it occurs is vital to the integrity of the assessment process. For example, during a performance, the assessor is required to make judgments about the quality of the work and physically notate their thoughts in relation to given criteria. The assessor makes cognitive links between student choices based on the assessment criteria, balancing their judgements with their own implicit criteria, which are necessarily based on their personal experiences (Baptiste 2008). While an audience member is permitted to make purely subjective judgments, the assessor aims to make informed judgments, which may result in marks or grades being recorded. Teachers in the arts develop expertise in assessing the outcome of the aesthetic process or the manifestation of the individual aesthetic experience. The product is therefore viewed from a number of perspectives and informed judgments are made by the assessor based on set criteria and personal discretionary judgements in relation to, and the quality of, what is produced (Ross 1993).

Leach et al. (2000) argue that assessors are consciously and unconsciously biased by their own values, preferences and dispositions. In this respect, personal responses from both the assessor and the student can widen the possibilities for interpretation (Ross 1993). Rather than command that assessors discard these personal responses, it is preferable for students to be taught to use individuals’ insights to reflect upon, and if necessary, make adjustments to their performances (Soep 2005). Students do not create art solely for the purpose of being assessed; rather they engage in arts education to pursue their own artistic expression. Therefore, students should be encouraged to assess feedback and apply their own artistic decisions to their work. Both students and teacher-assessors should be aware that subjective responses are natural, as they are rooted in “culturally authorised criteria” for judgment of the level of achievement (Ross 1993, p. 164). However, the assessor’s judgement is recorded in quantifiable terms such as grades or marks; therefore, the student has a heightened awareness of the assessor’s responses in the high-stakes assessment environment.

The literature suggests that subjective judgements are endemic in the arts assessment environment and can never be divorced from the process. At the same time, the ‘healthy balance’ (Tomlinson 2001, p. 15) between subjective and objective judgments are ideally what the teacher-assessor should deliver. Subjective and objective perspectives combine to create informed judgements that broaden interpretations on the students’ art. This can be somewhat challenging to those not accustomed to assessment in affective domains, using aesthetically charged mediums. Academic work is traditionally associated with rational and quantifiable modes of thinking, therefore arts educators should take care to make their language accessible and their assessment processes transparent. Arts educators’ challenge to traditional learning and assessment paradigms is also important because it broadens the educational community’s understanding of the nature of learning. Discussing the merits of creative assessment tasks is also important as it allows for the rigour and complexities of the tasks to become visible to those outside of artistic fields.

The challenges associated with arts assessment, like the arts themselves, are heavily nuanced. Teachers and students do not engage in arts assessment to have a complete and full understanding of all its nuances. They engage in the arts to experience the joy of creative expression and artistic creation, to play ‘pretend’ in a range of roles and to build a more comprehensive understanding of the human experience through an array of lenses. There is also joy within challenge; Arts performance assessment contains areas of ambiguity and subtleties that lack definitive answers. The subtleties add to the richness of the field, challenging educators to engage in meaningful discussions in order to find ways to enhance fairness and equity amid the ambiguity.

References:

Baptiste, L. (2007). Managing subjectivity in arts assessments. In: L. Quamina-Aiyejina, ed., Reconceptualising the Agenda for Education in the Caribbean, 1st ed. [online] St. Augustine: School of Education, UWI., pp.503-509. Available at: http://uwispace.sta.uwi.edu/dspace/bitstream/ handle/2139/6714/Cross-Campus%20Conference%20Proceedings%202007. pdf?sequence=1. [Accessed 17 Jul. 2012].

Bolton, G. (1984). Drama as education. Harlow, England: Longman.

Hanley, B. (2003). Policy issues in arts assessment in Canada: “Let’s get real”. Arts Education Policy Review, 105(1), pp.33-38.

Harris, J. (2008). Developing a language for assessing creativity: A taxonomy to support student learning and assessment. Investigations in University Teaching and Learning, 5(1), pp.http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/ fms/MRSite/psd/hr/capd/investigations/vol5/INV%205_013%20-%20Harris.pdf.

Haynes, F. (2008). What counts as a competency in the arts?. In: Australian Association for Research in Education Conference. [online] Brisbane. Available at: http://www.aare.edu.au/data/publications/1993/haynf93103.pdf [Accessed 29 Mar. 2016].

Holland, C. (2009). Reading and acting in the world: conversations about empathy. Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 14(4), pp.529-544.

Hyde, D. (2013). What makes a good secondary assessment? On achieving the aims of assessment. Journal of Education and Practice, 4(13), pp.188-197.

Jackson, N. (2006). Developing creativity in higher education. London: Routledge.

Leach, L., Neutze, G. and Zepke, N. (2015). Learners’ perceptions of assessment: Tensions between philosophy and practice. Studies in the Education of Adults, 32(1), pp.107-119.

Misson, R. (1996). Dangerous lessons: sexuality issues in the drama classroom. NADIE Journal, 20, pp.11-21.

Oreck, B., Baum, S. and Owen, S. (2004). Assessment of potential theater arts talent in young people: The Development of a New Research-Based Assessment Process. Youth Theatre Journal, 18(1), pp.146-163.

O’Toole, J., Stinson, M. and Moore, T. (2009). Drama and curriculum. Dordrecht: Springer.

Ross, M. (1993). Assessing achievement in the arts. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Soep, E. (2005). Critique: Where art meets assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(1), pp.38-63.

Tomlinson, C. (2001). Grading for success. Educational Leadership, 58(6), pp.12-15.

Trinder, J. (1977). Drama and social development. NADIE Journal, June, pp.33-43.

 

Dr Rachael Jacobs is a lecturer in arts education in the School of Education at Western Sydney University.  She is a former secondary teacher (Dance, Drama and Music) and primary Arts specialist.

 

 

 

Are we stifling creativity at the start of the teaching-learning process? December 1, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By Mary Southall

With an ever increasing focus upon the need to develop graduates with high level creative, risk-taking, and entrepreneurial skills, it is more important than ever to explore our approaches to the teaching-learning process. Graduate teachers need to be able to design, plan and deliver exciting, engaging and innovative learning opportunities. This article argues that the approach to planning, whether formal or informal, needs to be considered in relation to developing creative learning activities and creative learning environments. We need to start questioning the processes we use to plan the types of learning environments and activities that encourage the development of creativity. This article explores different approaches to planning and asks, ‘are we using the most effective approaches to planning to ensure creative skills are developed?’

Rationalistic, technical curriculum planning has been the dominant model underpinning planning for teaching and learning for a generation or more in England and Wales (Parkay and Hass, 2000) and involves the use of a linear approach to planning, which begins with the specification of objectives and ends with a lesson evaluation. This dominant or ‘rational’ approach to planning is based on Tyler’s (1949) model of curriculum theory and practice, comprising a systematic approach based upon the formulation of behavioural objectives. This approach provides a clear notion of outcome, so that content and method may be organised and the results evaluated. It considers education to be a technical exercise of organising the outcomes or products of learning, whereby objectives are set, a plan drawn up and applied and the outcomes (products) measured. Snape (2013) provides an example of what he defines as ‘quality learning’ through such a technical, sequenced linear pathway, including: the intended learning; teaching episodes; opportunities for tangibly evidenced student work; and criteria for successful achievement.

Several alternative and adapted planning approaches are present in the current literature, which are particularly pertinent to when requiring a more creative, risk-taking approach to teaching and learning, for example in Technology education. The ‘naturalistic’ or ‘organic’ model, based on the work of Stenhouse (1975) and Egan (1992; 1997), was developed from the apparent conflict between the need to carefully specify learning intentions and the dynamic nature of classrooms, and was an attempt to emulate a realistic planning process based on the ‘natural’ interactions in a classroom. Naturalistic planning involves starting with activities and the ideas that flow from them before assigning learning objectives (John, 2006). Although lacking detail in terms of pedagogical requirements and consideration, this model does resonate with Perkins, Tishman, Ritchart, Donis and Andrade’s (2000) notion of ‘learning in the wild’, when learning settings are recognized as ‘messy and complex’ (Carr, 2008: 36). Perkins and Saloman (1992) argue for the need for learners to experience more ‘natural’ learning environments, with teachers’ planning procedures supporting this notion.

Within a creative or problem-solving learning space – for example, in a Technology education context – ‘wicked problems or tasks’ (Rittel and Webber, 1973) can be set. These are described as ‘problems of deciding what is better when the situation is ambiguous at best’ (Marback, 2009: 399), and support the ‘naturalistic’ model, as wicked problems are not solvable. These problems are contingent problems of deciding what to do. They require continual evolution and, as such, are based upon the continual morphing of ideas and idea development, through a problem- solving process (Kimbell, Saxton and Miller, 2000). Such a ‘naturalistic’ model requires teachers to plan and create realistic design scenarios in order for students to learn the authentic nature of design activity, thus allowing students to experience environments where experimentation and exploration are dominant approaches.

The ‘interactional method’ of planning, another alternative to the dominant model, stresses the interactive nature of learning and, therefore, learning objectives (Brady, 1995; Bell and Lofoe,1998). Whilst the ‘interaction’ model specifies the same design elements as the linear objectives model, the ‘interactional method’ planning process can begin with any of the elements. Based on this model, all curriculum elements interact with each other throughout the design/planning process and, therefore, the design of one element will influence and possibly change the design decisions for other elements. For example, method might be specified first, but altered later as a result of an assessment decision. From a practical perspective, this model makes it possible to specify learning objectives after all other elements have been decided (Bell and Lefoe, 1998).

The ‘articulated curriculum’ (Hussey and Smith, 2003: 360) provides a similar approach to the ‘interactional model’, where the respective elements exist in a state of mutual interaction and influence. Alexander (2000) compares this ‘articulated curriculum’ approach to planning to the structure of a musical performance, where the composition is analogous to the lesson plan, and the performance shifts according to interpretation and improvisation. This ‘responsive’ approach to planning requires the teacher to be vigilant of the learning progression within the class and respond accordingly, and is synonymous with the formative assessment principles of ‘feedback’ (Ramaprasad, 1983). Biggs’s (1999) notion of constructive alignment also supports this way of approaching planning for teaching and learning.

To allow students to develop creative, risk-taking, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, we as educators need to provide authentic opportunities for students to develop such skills. By using different approaches to planning, teaching and learning, a greater range of ideas are produced and consequently new and innovative teaching and learning environments are potentially developed. Arguably by generating a creative input into the initial stages of the teaching-learning process, we are more likely to not only produce a creative output, but maintain creativity and innovation throughout the process. I believe it is important for pre-service teachers to have the opportunity to explore different approaches to planning, to develop their own approaches and styles, and to identify planning approaches that support the nature of the subject being taught.

 

Bibliography

Alexander, R. (2000). Culture and Pedagogy. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Bell, M., and Lofoe, G. (1998). Curriculum Design for Flexible Delivery- Massaging the Model.  In R. Corderoy (ed), Flexibility: The Next Wave. Wollongong, Australia: Australian Society for Computers in Tertiary Education.

Biggs, J. (1999). Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press.

Brady, L. (1995). Curriculum Development. Australia: Prentice Hall.

Carr, M. (2008). Can assessment unlock and open the doors to resourcefulness and agency? In S. Swaffield (ed.), Unlocking Assessment, 36-54, Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Egan, K. (1992). Imagination in Teaching and Learning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Egan, K. (1997). The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding. Chicago: University of Chicago.

John, P. (2006). Lesson planning and the student teacher: re-thinking the dominant model. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 38 (4), 483-498.

Hussey, T., and Smith, P. (2003). The Uses of Learning Outcomes.  Teaching in Higher Education, 8 (3), 357-368.

Kimbell, R., Saxton, J., and Miller, S. (2000).  Distinctive Skills and Implicit Practices. In J. Eggleston (ed.), Teaching and Learning Design and Technology, 116-133. UK: Continuum.

Marback, R. (2009). Embracing Wicked Problems: The Turn to Design in Composition Studies.  National Council of Teachers of English, 61 (2).

Parkay, F. W., and Hass, G. (2000). Curriculum Planning. (7th, Ed.) Needham Heights, MA, USA: Allyn and Bacon.

Perkins, D. N., and Salomon, G. (1992).  Transfer of learning.  International Encyclopedia of Education, Second Edition. Oxford, UK. Pergamon Press.  [online]. Available at: http://www.cdtl.nus.edu.sg/Ideas/iot18.htm [Accessed on 31 March, 2013]

Perkins, D., Tishman, S., Ritchart, R., Donis, K., and Andrade, A. (2000). ‘Intelligence in the wild: a dispositional view of intellectual traits’. Educational Psychology Review, 12 (3), 269-93.

Ramaprasad, A. (1983). On the definition of feedback. Behavioural Science, 28, 4-13.

Rittel, H. J., and Webber, M. (1973). Dilemmas in General Theory of Planning.  Policy Sciences, 4, 155-169.

Snape, P. (2013). Quality Learning for Technology Education: An Effective Approach to Target Achievement and Deeper Learning. PATT conference, 137-145. Canterbury: University of Canterbury.

Stenhouse, L. (1975). An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development. London: Heinemann.

Tyler, R. (1949). “How Can Learning Experiences be Organised for Effective Instructon?” Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. Chicago, USA: University of Chicago Press.

 

Dr Mary Southall is currently the Curriculum Advisor for the School of Education, having worked in the UK as an independent education consultant for over ten years.  Prior to this, she worked as a design and technology teacher in a range of school contexts and was involved in the development of the National Strategies embedded in all secondary schools in England and Wales.

The need for flexible, personalised and responsive curriculum September 13, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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from Steve Wilson

Imagine you had promised your friend or partner that you would go with them to watch a movie each week for a full year.

Imagine then, having made this commitment, that your friend or partner did not consult with you about which movies to watch – they simply selected the movie each week, irrespective of your own preferences or tastes, and expected you to come along.

You might put up with it for awhile. You would likely develop resentment about the situation. Eventually, as an adult, you might confront your friend and explain your feelings and try to change things. If they didn’t change, in all likelihood, you would simply stop going to the movies with them.

For children and young people in schools, the school curriculum is like being forced to go to the movies, to see things they often don’t like or can’t see the point of, but where they do not have the adult prerogative, legally at least, of simply not going to school. Trapped in schools with an unresponsive curriculum, feelings amongst young people towards school can and frequently do include resentment, apathy and disengagement. Every teacher commonly experiences these feelings amongst their children, and not just amongst the children who are the lowest academic achievers.

We should not underestimate the power of an unexplained and unresponsive curriculum as a factor in child and youth disengagement from school. Nor should it be underestimated as an explanation for any perceived decline in international education standards among western nations where, in most facets of life, young people influence and exercise considerable choice in most other areas of their lives except in school.

In writing this piece I am assuming curriculum as a broad entity, ranging from the documents comprising the Australian curriculum and the range of state-based adaptations to it, through to the formal and informal learning experiences of children in classrooms and schools, structured and developed under the auspices of each school.

Curriculum is the key. A cynic might say that curriculum is what education systems DO to learners in schools. A greater cycnic might say that what is done to learners is also being done to teachers. If our curriculum is not carefully thought through and structured, it can act as a straitjacket on teachers and learners, undermining their capacity to explore and engage through education. If the curriculum is over burdened in content areas, over prescribed with mandated teaching points, over tested, over regulated, then it robs learners and teachers of the potential to engage in education with imagination, personal investment, and joy. Learning becomes a chore, for learners and teachers alike. And, often, they disengage as a result. They simply stop trying.

In my many years as a teacher and teacher educator, I have always believed that teaching is among the most creative of professions. There is nothing more satisfying for a teacher than to develop learning experiences that enable children to understand concepts, develop skills and values, develop confidence, and enjoy their learning. The act of conceiving of and creating these learning experiences, ones that you know will bring out the best in your learners, then seeing your creative, intellectual efforts work in the classroom, and seeing children grow and want to keep learning as a result, is the key reward for the teacher.

To achieve this, curriculum needs to be freed up, becoming a crucible for fostering creative imagination rather than a straitjacket encouraging disengagement. We need a flexible curriculum, far less prescriptive than we generally have now, which encourages teachers to engage with and be responsive to the personalities of their students, and which enables young people to become involved with and take responsibility for their learning.

How to do this? We have plenty of evidence that current curricula are generally overcrowded and too prescriptive, so a good first step would be to identify a set of genuinely necessary core competencies, skills, values and content, which are limited and restrained, and which are essential for the social and economic wellbeing of individuals (and through them, the nation). The remainder and bulk of the curriculum should take the form of flexible guidelines which teachers can respond to with imagination and creativity, thereby inspiring their children to become involved and to strive to excel. This is a strength of the current curriculum in Finland, which has been considered the global ‘gold standard’ over the last decade.

We used to have in Australia, in the 1970s and 80s, strong and successful state-based cultures around school-based curriculum development – ones which enabled schools and their teachers to craft engaging and relevant curriculum developed from a clear but limited systemic curriculum framework.

These cultures (like the culture currently emphasised in Finland) had strong expectations of teachers as highly responsible, creative and professional individuals, based on high levels of trust of teachers. Unfortunately, later neo-liberal political ideologies and governance (from both sides of state and federal politics) gradually eroded these cultures. Examining and re-valuing the strengths of these previous curriculum cultures in Australia might be a good place to begin in conceiving how a less centralised, less crowded and more responsive curriculum would work for learners and their teachers.

Secondly, we have plenty of examples of thinking about curriculum, learner motivation and pedagogical approaches which respect the role of learners in learning, and teach us how to be inclusive of the tastes, preferences, talents and humanity that learners bring to their learning and their schools. People who have provided conceptual and practical clarity in their related writings include John Ainley, James Beane, Garth Boomer, John Dewey, Jacquelynne Eccles, Michael Fullan, William Glasser, Susan Groundwater-Smith, Roger Holdsworth, Stephen Kemmis, Tony Knight, Carl Rogers and R.E. Young amongst many others.

These contributions assist us in conceiving of more responsive, dynamic, shared and inclusive learning environments and communities, and of how to create effective and positive relationships between teachers and learners. They show us how these approaches can benefit and stimulate ALL learners – not just the most academically capable.

This, the ‘how’ of curriculum, is just as important as the content it contains. The ‘how’ of curriculum, the way we enable young people to engage in learning, must encourage young learners to make an intellectual and emotional investment in their learning by having input into how it is designed and conducted. That is the real beginning point to their engagement – enabling their committed buy-in to the process of formal learning.

Thirdly, in our teacher professional learning and development opportunities, in both the pre-service and in-service career stages, we need to continually emphasise the role of teachers as professional, imaginative and creative transactors and facilitators of learning. My own suspicion is that too many of our teachers may have come to regard teaching as having become de-professionalised – a profession in which they are simply expected to teach to the dot points the syllabus or school program contains, and to teach to the test.

Those teachers who do feel this way are being quite realistic – an over-crowded, over-mandated, over-tested (and often politically driven and destabilised) curriculum is de-professionalising. We need to give back to our teachers the opportunities and curriculum development skills to create curriculum and learning experiences that capture the hearts and imaginations of our children and young people.

Clearly, some of the above solutions to curriculum may require agitation by the profession and community, leading to macro, politically-endorsed reforms. In the absence of these, there are still very positive things that can be  created by schools and classroom teachers from an over-prescriptive curriculum. Many formal curriculum and syllabus documents are not, on a closer reading, necessarily as prescriptive and confining as they first appear. Many mandated themes, topics or teaching points can be interpreted and adapted by the teacher, who can choose what to emphasise within particular topics, how much time should be allotted, what teaching approaches, activities or approaches to assessment might be used, and what opportunities there are to provide students with learning choices. With imagination and creativity, flexibility, personalisation of learning and responsiveness can often be crafted from curriculum documents which may initially seem too prescriptive and unforgiving.

Teachers who do manage to find this flexibility have the opportunity to create spaces in the curriculum into which they can invite their young learners to discuss, craft and conduct learning activities and the content they focus on. These teachers often feel great personal and professional fulfilment when they do engage with their students around their personal learning preferences, and achieve great learning motivation and improved academic outcomes with their learners – even on tests like the NAPLAN (without them having to emphasise the practising of the test).

Let’s return to my opening movie analogy. Imagine instead a classroom in which children and young people are continually participating by suggesting things to learn, and ways to learn, activities to do, ways to assess their learning, and in which they help their teachers to drive learning and learning outcomes. Imagine the creative energy that might drive the group, and the outcomes that might be achieved. Unlike the movies you are forced, unwillingly, to see, this is learning where you see the point, and want to engage, because it is in some ways your curriculum – as a learner (or a movie goer), you help to own the choices. Our curriculum design must be smart enough to enable learning to be personalised, flexible and responsive. Anything less risks more teachers feeling de-professionalised, and more learners in our schools choosing to disengage.

 

Steve Wilson is an emeritus professor at Western Sydney University, and an adjunct professor in the university’s School of Education. He now lives in Brisbane, Queensland, in Australia.

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.

Expos as sites for learning and engagement July 29, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Community Engagement, Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Social Ecology.
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2 comments

by Karin Mackay  

On a Sunday morning in 2008, I was standing at the front of a small community gallery in the midst of a women’s arts and ecology festival in The Blue Mountains. I was watching belly dancers, choirs and African Drummers and Dancers tell stories of place through movement and song. In the gallery behind me were over sixty diverse artworks and stories about life, love, loss and resilience from the diverse women’s community group I was part of.  This was “Earthspirit” festival day where all were invited to come and view creative work exploring relationship with water, people and place. Surprisingly the audience was not only women but younger guys and mature men, teenagers and young kids.

The opening addresses had just finished. One of these was a poem by an Aboriginal artist about her relationship to ancestral place at La Perouse. The other speaker was a local academic who had been asked to talk about the significance of water. The academic’s talk was not well received…..she lost people midway but barrelled on regardless. I felt terrible for her as I had asked her to come and talk but it seemed like it was not the right venue for her ideas to reach the light of day.  I mused on this, anxious about this mismatch and was thinking how I would reassure her, it was not her fault. Perhaps it was just not a receptive audience. Instead the words that came out of my mouth were very different. I turned to her and said, “This is how learning will happen in the future”.  She looked at me just as bemused as I was about what I had just said. What on earth did I mean? Why would people come to a festival to learn? This is not proper academic learning. Weren’t we just a few women mucking around with art and performance?

I had recently enrolled in a Doctorate with the Centre for Cultural Studies because I wanted to know what kept the women coming along to creative groups at The Women’s Room and what kept audiences returning to the community festival, beyond the superficial aspect of entertainment and curiosity. At the first showing of art works at the galley in 2006, the organising committee expected friends, family and a few curious passers-by to show up. Instead 300 people crammed into a small gallery space and overflowed into the gardens. The six women organisers of the event were totally overwhelmed but also ecstatic and invigorated by the whole process. There had been no plans to repeat this event however, after this success, they wanted to do it all over again.

It began to unfurl for me many years later, that what I had been doing in the community groups and festivals, was not just mucking around but was a powerful and potential site of learning and engagement. My own anxiety and shyness in an academic setting made this realisation slow in coming. It is only now, six years later and after teaching about diverse pedagogies to beginning teachers that I can reflect upon my initial comment and witness the emergence of expos, as valuable and legitimate pedagogical approaches in teacher education. Not only do creative project settings like festivals and expos develop important adaptive skills to cope with a rapidly changing globalised society, but learning in real life community settings develops highly desirable collaborative skills needed in 21st century classrooms.

 The expo format is an emerging assessment tool in several of the UWS academic units I am involved with such as a market place in the M.Ed. Learning and Creativity unit and the inaugural Education for Sustainability Unit Expo held in May 2013. What I witnessed in the organising of both the community festivals and expos in the university context was a nexus of concepts, challenges, ideas, problems, failures, tryouts, adaptions, solutions and hands on skills that culminated in one event. It seemed to be a messy chaotic process in the beginning but through careful planning and scaffolding, discussion and negotiation the expo or festival seemed to create itself into being. The end result was a synthesis of knowledge and responses, addressing and identifying specific problems or themes, which became manifest in a culturally constructed artefact. In other words the learning became visible in a physical three dimensional way and was reflective of who had made it and what cultural, religious and political values and discourses participants bought with them. Herein lays the value of expos and festivals as a legitimate pedagogical practice. Participants are able to construct learning from their own unique cultural and grounded perspective and bring their experiences into the community, opening a dialogue where aspects of “otherness”, diversity and place can be negotiated. Of course negotiation is still reliant on which leaders exert what kind of power and so there is the continual need for both teachers and students to “critique their social and institutional positionings” when engaged within community contexts (Gannon 2010: 9).

Using Expos as a pedagogical tool has the benefit for teachers, students and researchers of challenging us all to adapt content and present this in creative, engaging ways to a highly critical audience. This is clearly one of the important roles for all of us to develop as 21st century citizens where boundaries of supposed static systems require constant and timely adaption. This can be a ‘sink’ or ‘swim’ experience in an expo format. From my intimate experience of failure and flourishing in a community festival context, I have learnt that if people are not engaged they just walk away. You have to think on your feet quickly and find alternate ways that work to inspire interest. Once interested you need to hold an audience’s attention and give them something they will remember while not taking away from the depth of learning you want to encourage. I have also learnt that collaborative practice is necessarily challenging, requiring flexibility, strong leadership skills and mediation in relationship breakdown. It may seem like a tough gig but as evidenced in the recount of my community group experiences, satisfying, invigorating and empowering when it works.

 In a classroom, students may not be able to physically walk away when they feel disengaged but they will walk away mentally and the consequences of disengagement are well documented (McGregor 2011). To engage this generation we can choose to use culturally responsive and adaptive pedagogies to remain relevant in the visually saturated fast paced globalised life that young people are used to (Kea et al 2006). Using adaptive pedagogies is not a simply pandering to the next generation’s needs but a carefully thought out strategy to meditate the parallel words of disembodied cyberspace and the intimate sensory cues that face to face interaction expresses.  Expos allow participants face to face experience of the life story firsthand by becoming fully immersed in the moment, rather than being distracted by the promise of being at a better place in the past or the future by social media (Rushkoff 2013: 118). I also agree with McArthur (2010: 73) who suggests the need for embodied interactions alongside online communication as “face-to-face experience challenges the notion of cultural otherness by confronting students with the realities of one’s essential humanness”. McArthur’s (2010: 74) research suggests that;

Culturally adaptive pedagogy creates collaborative platforms and spaces where students, educators and institutions can begin to envision creative ‘whole world’ solutions to societal challenges via open-ended inclusive methodologies.

Perhaps instead of falling head over heels for the expo as peak sites for learning and engagement delivering an assured promise of open dialogue, congenial collaboration, equitable and deep learning, we also need to be aware that like any pedagogical tool it can be misunderstood or misused. An expo is not the learning itself. It is the container and the outward manifestation of a larger process. The expo or festival is a moment in time and its success is not the result of linear planning but rather systems thinking. When assessing the learning through the experience of the expo, it is important to remember that just assessing the expo moment or event will not be an authentic measure. The value of the expo experience lies in active participation, regular reflective practice before, during and after the event and a recognition that the assessment is for learning rather than of learning (Flowers 2010). In other words the expo assessment design needs to be able to facilitate learning in process, not just an allocation of a mark for an end result.

It is a philosophical leap to use expos in academic settings and one that I welcome whole heartedly. Reflecting back to my initial recount of the academic’s disengaged audience, we too need to heed the lesson of engagement and relevance. Our world is shifting from institutions being the only legitimate sources of knowledge to a radical pedagogy of knowing from below, a pedagogy of the people. In my experience, this pedagogy is still able to provide a critique of worthwhile ideas but the decider of what is worthwhile has shifted and the space where learning happens is not fixed in one location but is agile and flexible. The expo as assessment tool acknowledges that learning is part of life rather than something that only occurs in the classroom. Expos offer a way for us to put into practice theoretical ideas of learning, critique how power is played out, negotiate relationships and develop projects that may become active beyond university and school gates.

My immersive experience in the community Earthspirit festival has helped develop within me, a greater appreciation for expos and festivals as sites of learning and the inherent challenges they ultimately bring. In support of culturally adaptive pedagogy and open ended methodologies my next adventure into this arena now awaits me in the Simply Living Expo at the Winmalee Public School in the Blue Mountains on Saturday, 5th April, 2014. This project crosses the boundaries of community, academia, institution and social media to explore how one community engages in sustainable practice. It is not a research project but a passion that I share with others in my community. In the spirit of open ended inquiry and culturally adaptive pedagogy, I will remain curious and wondrous about what this new experience will unearth and what pathways this will lead me down. I’ll be sure to let you know.

 References

Flowers. R. (2010). Climate advocacy and climate organizing: Should we be interrogating our theories and practices more? CARG Conference, 5th March 2010 Draft working paper for discussion 1. Available at: http://www.ccs.uts.edu.au/pdfs/flowers-2010-carg.pdf

 Gannon. S (2005). I’ll be a different sort of teacher because of this: Creating the Next generation. Australian Educational Research Association. Available at:  http://publications.aare.edu.au/05pap/gan05103.pdf

Kea. C., Campbell-Whatley. G. D., Richards H. V., and Peay, A.  (2006). Becoming Culturally Responsive Educators: Rethinking Teacher Education Pedagogy. The mission of the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (nccrest) http://www.nccrest.org/Briefs/Teacher_Ed_Brief.pdf

McArthur. P. (2010). Creating Adaptive Pedagogy. Cumulis Creative Thinking Conference proceedings. 69-79. Available at: http://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/30857482/Cumulus_Proceedings_Shanghai.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIR6FSIMDFXPEERSA&Expires=1374985425&Signature=2F3Ws5BLlYp7PdF5BP5bM6gDr3I%3D&response-content-disposition=inline

McGregor. G. (2011).  Engaging Gen Y in schooling: the need for an egalitarian ethos of education Pedagogy, Culture & Society Vol. 19, Iss. 1. Retrieved from; http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14681366.2010.510803#.UfStYLF-_VI

Rushkoff. D. (2013). Present Shock: When everything happens now. Current: New York.

 Karin McKay is a Lecturer in Social Ecology in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney

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