‘One of your best ever learning experiences’

Strange to say, I am struggling with this.  Perhaps it’s because so much of my learning has been self-directed as an independent researcher, and I haven’t been in a classroom situation for a while.  I’ve twice attempted to learn Gaelic in a class setting, once joining in BA Scottish Music students, and once at local authority evening classes at the Gaelic School – but neither of those experiences would make it into my “top ten” of learning experiences.  The first was, unfortunately, just a more conversational approach than I have been used to for learning languages – that, combined with the fact that it meant studying through my lunchbreak once a week, which wasn’t ideal.  The second attempt would have been okay if there hadn’t been a succession of teachers, and some very icy weather at night.  And in both instances, although I really did want to learn, I think my timing was bad.  I should have known that my learning goes in waves, and after I’d just finished the PhD, perhaps it wasn’t the best time to start learning a language.  Maybe I’ve learned several lessons from all this, but more about how I don’t learn, than how I do.

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Christine Lagarde official portrait, from Wikipedia

On the other hand, a few weeks ago we watched Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, give a televised speech.  Despite the fact that I have no interest in the IMF and had never heard of Christine Lagarde before, her public speaking was electrifying.  It was her delivery that so impressed me – to be so fluent, and so able to command attention, is a great gift, and I would love to watch some more of her presentations for that alone, quite apart from talking about the IMF!  Her timing was incredible. She looked all round her audience.  There was no hesitation, and if she had notes, you would never have known.  So, it was unintended learning for me, and if I was to think about the learning context, it was probably this: I had the time to listen and pay attention.  The speaker was excellent.  And probably most importantly, from an educational point of view, she was doing something that I was motivated to learn – I’m very interested in public speaking.  Clearly, the best learning is going to take place when the learner has a need to learn. As Phil Race says, two of the five factors underpinning successful learning are wanting and needing to learn.

However, I have to concede that this was probably not the kind of learning experience that I have been asked to reflect upon, and I would need to study her delivery in more detail to learn more from it.  Also, Race’s other points of ‘learning from feedback’, and ‘learning by doing’ were not present, though the fifth one, ‘making sense’ was arguably there, because I have attended seminars about public speaking before, and Lagarde did demonstrate many of the best practice principles that I already knew about.

And now some more reflective reading!

This article comes from a Newsletter published by Newcastle University: Newsletter 01.6, specifically written for MEDEV, School of Medical Sciences Education Development, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University, NE2 4HH.  I’ll print it out so that I can refer back to it.

Focus: Becoming a reflective practitioner

Reflection and reflective practice are two of the key buzzwords in professional and education practice at present. But what exactly do we mean by these …

http://www.medev.ac.uk/newsletter/article/32/Authors: Prof. David Brigden; Mr Nigel Purcell.

The authors cite S. Atkins and K. Murphy’s ‘Stages in reflective practice’, which go into a little more depth in defining the process of critical incident, reflection and ultimately changed practice:-

1. Self awareness

2. Description

3. Critical Analysis

4. Synthesis

5. Evaluation

Conclusion

 

Time for some Reading

I did manage to read Paul Warwick’s ‘Reflective Practice: some notes on the development of the notion of professional reflection’, during today’s lunch-break. However, I’ve wasted quite a bit of my free time feeling ill with migraines this past week, so I haven’t read as much as I’d intended.  I’ll write a few thoughts about the Warwick reading and then maybe I’ll find time to look at some of the other materials tomorrow.  (I’ve found the Reflective Practice wiki – the ‘What is reflective practice’ topic looks relevant, though the sheer extent of it is a bit mind-boggling – and I thought I’d also look at the link, ‘Focus: Becoming a Reflective Practitioner’.  If I get through all that, I’ll be doing well!)

So, first to the Warwick article:-

Warwick, P. (2007) Reflective practice: some notes on the development of the notion of professional reflection

Available at  http://escalate.ac.uk/downloads/3573.pdf

The e-tivities for this week ask us to consider Zeichner and Liston’s 5 key features of reflective teaching (1996), which Warwick summarises  in his chapter.   These are just two of the more recent educators whose work is summarised, for Warwick begins with J. Dewey’s theories from the early 20th century.  Indeed, the overview examines so many authorities that it is a little overwhelming for the emerging teaching artist!

I found it a little difficult relating some of the more philosophical elements of classroom teaching (eg, “moral purpose”) with the kind of teaching I’ve been involved in.   My problem is that there is little continuity in the kind of teaching I am asked to do:-  one-off guest lectures (eg the Scottish song transformations lecture that I did last week); or the bibliographical skills session that I did for the PGCert students last session; or indeed the initial library catalogue and database training sessions I provide for new students at varying levels.   The only continuity I experience is with my church choir, where I have no curriculum development to worry about, and the ‘institutional and cultural context’ is our Christian faith, discussion of which does not form part of my duties as a choir trainer.  Training a choir of adult volunteers is not quite the same as having responsibility for a class.

A reflective teacher examines, frames, and attempts to solve the dilemmas of classroom practice.  I understand this point.  I need constantly to endeavour to involve and engage the class, and to seek to find ways of getting greater participation wherever possible.   I can understand this in the context of my one-off teaching engagements.  (It’s harder when you’re taking a choir-practice, as you can’t rehearse the sopranos and give the rest of the choir something else to practise while you’re listening to the ladies!  You generally don’t want them singing something else while you’re trying to correct or shape one particular vocal line.  The dilemma here is in trying to convince them not to talk amongst themselves when you’re listening hard to identify where something could be improved or corrected!)

A reflective teacher is aware of and questions the assumptions and values he or she brings to teaching.  I see what Warwick (quoting Zeichner) is saying.  If I’m training a class in information-handling skills, I need to take care not to assume that everyone will search the same way as me, or bring the same level of expertise that I’ve acquired over many years.  I need to be aware that there may be issues, eg, dyslexia or visual impairment, making students have to work much harder or try different approaches to achieve the same results.  Or, in the case of the Scottish musicology lecture I did last week, I need to question and challenge my interpretation of the sources and be open to alternatives, notwithstanding the research I’ve spent many years refining.  Again, however, it’s hard to apply this same ideal to choral training.  The closest parallel I can offer, is that I am conscious of my greater musical experience, and I do instinctively seek constantly to ensure that everyone understands what I’m asking them to do on a practical level.

A teacher is attentive to the institutional and cultural contexts in which he or she teaches.  I can’t help thinking it must be easier to understand your context when you’re delivering a larger part of a formal curriculum.  For me as a librarian, being attentive to the institutional and cultural contexts means being aware that this is a performing arts institution, where performance has a greater emphasis than it did in my own university experience, and where research itself is practice-based.  Hardly a day passes when I don’t remind myself of this, so I do think I’ve got a realistic grasp of this concept.   Certainly, I remembered it when giving the Scottish song lecture.

A teacher takes part in curriculum development and is involved in school change efforts.  As subject librarians, we were involved in the curriculum reform process, but because my teaching role is in a ‘one-off’ capacity, in reality I have less involvement in curriculum development than the average part-time, hourly-paid lecturer.  I truly don’t want to seem negative about this, but I would currently struggle to discern a way in which my occasional contributions could be considered in any way to be developing the curriculum.

A teacher takes responsibility for his or her own professional development.  At last, here’s something where I can proudly state that I do, both as a librarian and as a teacher, seek any available opportunity for CPD.  After all, that’s what I’m doing in attending this credit-bearing course.

The RMA Presentation

The Glasgow end of the Bass Culture Research Project is doing a presentation for this week’s Royal Musical Association meeting at Glasgow Uni.  After the team-leader introduces the project, we’re each talking for ten minutes about an aspect of the project that we find interesting.  This is presenting, not teaching – it can be attended by RMA members or staff and students at the University, but it’s not part of a curriculum.

I’m puzzled, now.  The format is essentially, a progress report focusing on the interesting bits.  I don’t need anything written down apart from key names and dates.  Discussion may well arise after we’ve each presented.  But I can’t see a way of making an individual progress report anything other than me, talking.  Really not a flipped classroom opportunity!

BY WAY OF EXPLANATION

I’m feeling guilty.  I fully meant to do more reading before now. However, I’ve had five migraines in nine days.  I never let them stop me doing a day’s work, but sometimes I’m forced to stop reading or sitting in front of a screen too long at night!  Maybe tomorrow I’ll get back to reading…

 

Independent Study for Reflective Practice in Learning and Teaching

Last week’s session was led by Andrew in Mary’s absence, and used her PowerPoint presentation, ‘The Teaching Artist: Reflective Practice’.  As part of this, we looked at John Connell’s poem, I am learner, in which he stresses the important role the LEARNER plays in their education, and how they make different connections and pick up different threads, depending on their own learning journey and prior experiences.

John Dewey, American educationalist, once said that, ‘If we do not reflect on our experiences, we do not learn from them.’  Speaking as a fairly recent PhD graduate, I know this to be true: I am very conscious that I had learnt a lot from my mistakes between the first, unfinished PhD abandoned when I was 24, and the second, completed one when I was 51.  My whole methodology was very different, much more methodical and generally more focused.  Having recently been a student and experienced doctoral study in the digital age, I believe I have much useful experience to draw upon when it comes to teaching others.  When I’m consulted as a subject librarian, I’m a subject expert with skills in bibliography and research methodology, and this makes me almost what in some colleges would be called a ‘tutor librarian’.  At the same time, I have to remember that my study was a university PhD, and I must not assume that undergraduate performers will adopt the same approaches to their subject as I did (and do).

I looked through and printed out the slides of Mary’s PowerPoint, three to a page, so I could annotate it.  I had resolved to watch Eric Booth’s ‘Making Creative Connections, Active Listening and Reflection; Birkenhead and Stevens’ The Performance Reflective Practice Project (2003) was also cited, as was Zeichner as quoted by P. Warwick in 2007, ‘Reflective Practice: Some Notes on the Development of the notion of Professional Reflection’.  We are invited to consider the five key features of reflective teaching as expounded by Zeichner.  As I write this evening, I’ve watched Booth’s presentation but have yet to look for Birkenhead and Stevens’ project.

The powerpoint invited us to consider what reflective practice means to a teaching artist, and what might go in a reflective journal – plainly, reflection is key, and the journal must record more than just ‘what was done’.  I liked the slide illustrating reflective practice as a cycle – reflecting on action, in action, and for action – in other words, reflecting as the teaching is taking place, reflecting after teaching has taken place,a nd reflecting as a way of preparing for future teaching.

As a class, we talked about the slide quoting Confucius – his three ways of acquiring wisdom, namely by reflection,by imitation (the easy option) or by experience, ‘which is the bitterest’.  There was some debate about this last.  I don’t have a problem with the ‘bitter experience’ option – obviously, teaching and learning will employ all three methods at times.  Did I practise better research study methods a quarter of a century later, because I had reflected on what went wrong, or through ‘bitter experience’?  To be honest, I’d say I had reflected on bitter experience, so these two are clearly linked.  Similarly, there’s a place for imitation.  If someone demonstrates a fruitful methodolology or technique, and the less experienced student imitates it, then the modeling/imitating paradigm is serving a valid purpose.  Blind imitation, no.  Thoughtful imitation, yes of course.

The penultimate slide cites another reference to follow up: Kemmis’, ‘Action Research and the Politics of Reflection’, inBoyd, Keoghand Walber, Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning (1985).  I’ll try to read some of these references later on this week.

Another of our tasks for this week, was to explore the resources in the Reflection in Learning and Teaching area on Moodle, and to read and reflect upon some of them.  In addition to watching Booth’s ‘Making creative connections’, I have also watched John Connell’s ‘I am Learner’ blog podcast about his new learning platform currently in development, ‘CommonLearn’ – classroom learning ‘in the cloud’, and looked at Marcia Jackson’s presentation, ‘The Artist/Teacher Identity in the Classroom’, about professional identity management strategies for the teaching artist.  Her statement that ‘Multiple identity roles such as artist, teacher, mentor and researcher add value to the practice of both artist and pedagogy’ was a great endorsement for the multiple identity that I see myself as embodying.  A good place to stop writing and start reflecting ….!

Have renewed passport – can travel!

But in my case, it’s just needed for photographic ID, so that I can fly down to Cambridge for the IAML(UK and Ireland) Annual Study Weekend for music librarians – and whizz back in time for church on Sunday.  My choir always does a special evening service on Palm Sunday – and their confidence depends on the final rehearsal after morning worship.  You’ll deduce that I simply have to be back in Glasgow in time to play for both services!

Having sorted out the passport, I can now book the flights – well, tomorrow, anyway.  And tonight I need to finalise and distribute the order of service to all my choir members, so excuse me … I’d better get on with it!

Reflective Reading

Perhaps typically for a librarian-scholar, my immediate concern was that I should keep a bibliography of any reading I do for this Teaching Artist course.  How and where to keep it, of course, is an interesting question.

I use Mendeley for my bibliographic records, as a rule. And I use Diigo for saving weblinks, appropriately annotated with keywords.  If everything I read is online, then I could use Diigo for the lot – using a specific folder to keep them all together.  It’s not exactly a bibliography, but it would do.   Whichever method I choose, readings made accessible va the VLN are in ‘secure storage’, inaccessible to people not connected with the Teaching Artist course.  But that’s understandable.

The problem is, Mendeley doesn’t record bibliographic data for all websites.  It works magnificently with Copac (the union online catalogue of all British university and national library holdings), but less systematically with other websites.  I could, of course, get round this with bibliographic data entered ‘manually’, ie by me.  However, I can’t share my Mendeley list with more than a very few associates, unless I want paid access to it.  I don’t really want to subscribe just for the privilege of sharing my bibliography!

I could also keep a bibliography on this very blog, of course.  That would be accessible to anyone, and I can copy and paste from it as I require.  Maybe that’s the best answer for now.  Additionally, anything I put in Diigo can be tagged “Teaching artist”, going in a specific folder as appropriate.  That would aid keyword retrieval.

So, what have I read so far?  I followed Andrew’s suggestion to look at Eric Booth’s website this evening – I’m impressed by the results of El Sistema music teaching, even though that’s not the kind of teaching I do.  I sat up and looked when I got to comments about children learning national melodies and ethnomusicologists transcribing them so as to record a repertoire.  (That’s interesting, considering my interests in historic song-collection.)  There’s a lot of admirable work in the El Sistema movement – it’s really very impressive.

The other piece I’ve read this evening was Gregor P. Kennedy et al, ‘First year students’ experiences with technology: Are they really digital natives?’, in Australasian Journal of Educational Technology (2008), 24.1, pp.108-122.  In a nutshell, the authors found Marc Prensky’s 2001 paper on Digital Natives (the generation believed to be familar and competent with all forms of digital technology and learning) – and Prensky’s subsequent writings – to be an over-simplification of the status quo, with students more likely to use a few basic technologies for ‘living’, and some – but not all – technologies for ‘learning’.  It follows, then, that we shouldn’t assume students to be uniformly competent with all digital technologies.  I can well imagine that if a digitally cautious tutor is hesitant in recommending digital resources to a class, then the uptake is not necessarily going to be that enthusiastic.

It’s quite late – I’ll add these two readings to my Resources page, then sign off for the night!

Reflections on a Lecture

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This morning I gave my annual lecture about historic Scottish song-books, to the second-year students on the BA Scottish Music course.  It was the fourth time I’d given it, but each time it changes a bit.  This time I spent quite a long time scanning and inserting musical examples into my paper, and then I had it ring-bound.  This totally removed last year’s unseemly scuffling with oodles of sheets of paper and assorted song-books.  All I had to do was keep the paper with me, and move from powerpoint to piano from time to time.  I had ONE student play a few examples, and I managed to skip bits of the paper when I felt I’d probably said enough about a particular point.  So, it was a far slicker presentation, and I wasn’t glued to my “script” all the time.  (Quite a bit, but not all!)  I remembered to look up and make eye-contact with different students, and I deliberately built in a few questions and challenges, so it was definitely a bit more interactive.

My proudest moment, though, was at the end.  I had tweeted and then blogged earlier in the week, asking trad singers what they looked out for when selecting songs, and I asked if they ever used old song-books.  This was an attempt to find out what was most important to performing musicians, so I could try to relate what I knew, to what they would find interesting.  The responses were more about subject-matter than anything, though, and I struggled to think how I was going to get that into my lecture, when I am more concerned with cultural history and aesthetics than with the subject-matter of individual songs.  Attempting to mention my “mini-survey” at the beginning of the lecture just wasn’t going to work.  However, as I was summing up, inspiration struck.  I told the class about my Twitter survey, and the results.  Then I admitted that I couldn’t tell them which songs had those characteristics (poignant, memorable, featuring strong women or dramatic events), but that I was absolutely sure they’d find such materials in the old song-books I’d been telling them about – so I strongly advised them to go and explore the repertoire.  I must admit I was pleased I’d thought of this on the spur of the moment.  It meant that in summing up, I’d managed to relate my subject-matter with their interest as performers.

Besides posting my bibliography and powerpoint on Mahara, I shared them – and the paper itself – with the course-leader, but I couldn’t resist a follow-up blogpost on Whittaker Live, as well.  I think it’s quite important to let folks know what I’m up to, and how I try to get public engagement with my work.

REFLECTIVE JOURNAL

Reflections on the 21st Century Learner (2014.03.02)

When I and my siblings were at school, exercise books and loose-leaf folders were the primary medium in which active learning took place.  You attended lessons; you did required reading; or for an extended piece of work, you did further reading on your own.  Exercises, whether maths, a language, social sciences or creative writing – or, in my case, music – were written down and handed in.  Once marked, they came back to you with comments and a grade.

No pictures – or very seldom.  No attachments of other text documents or media.   And above all, no weblinks, because the internet hadn’t yet been invented.

Indeed, only grown-ups had typewriters.  When, as an undergraduate, I acquired a manual typewriter, I was avant-garde, and if you think that was advanced, then my attendance at typing classes as a postgraduate was way ahead of my time.   I went to the local FE college for night-classes to do that, entirely on my own initiative.

However, the approach to learning was different, too.  I don’t recall ever having to write a reflective journal, for a start!  What happened between the teacher, the lesson and the finished assignment was pretty much up to the learner.  Sure, I was a frequent library user, but I don’t remember ever logging my own progress, let alone reflecting upon it.

Let’s go back to the ‘no internet’ aspect.   I started a PhD in 1981.  For perfectly valid reasons, I didn’t complete it – it took another quarter of a century before I started again on a different subject.  But it’s the comparison that is interesting.  I am in the fairly unusual position of being able to compare pre-internet doctoral studies with doctoral studies today.

  • No email
  • No drafting and redrafting
  • No saving different versions of a document electronically
  • No digital files, whether audio, audiovisual, image, pdf
  • No internet searching, no full-text databases
  • No online bibliography, whether commercial software,  social bookmarking or even a simple online list.
  • No online journals, books – no online anything!

Characteristics of the 21st Century Learner

Today’s learner has a huge range of electronic resources, requiring them to make critical choices.  Is this website good? Who’s the author, what authority do they have?  (What else have they published?)

They have the potential to produce work which is visually and technically much more proficient, though the content itself will of course reflect the level of their understanding.  However, they can store vast quantities of data, edit and re-edit their own work, use spell-check, and incorporate a whole range of media not available in the pre-internet age.

Moving away from the written (or multi-media) work, today’s learner in the performing arts can record and share their performances, and can participate in peer-review of each others’ practice.  Their portfolio can include not only a digital CV, but also performances and perhaps links to online reviews.

21st Century Learners’ Aspirations

No matter what learning takes place, or when it takes/took place, the prime motivation of learning is surely to gain in proficiency at the chosen subject or skill.  However, today’s digital world makes it possible, and indeed likely, that the learner will have their work mediated in the public sphere at a much earlier stage.  Learning can be purely for enjoyment, of course, but ambitious performers will want their best practice to be visible to others, not only to share amongst their peers, but also to assist employability by demonstrating their skills.

My Aspirations for my Learners

I am not in the position where I require written or recorded work from the people I teach, and my sessions with students are generally one-off occasions, whether in large or small groups, or one-to-one.   If I’m giving a musicology lecture or presentation, then my aspiration is to share my enthusiasm for the subject; to pass on knowledge; and to enthuse my listeners to go and find out more  for themselves.

I also give talks on aspects of research methodology, bibliography, or career paths; in these instances my aim is to encourage and pass on helpful advice without patronising my audience.  The same can be said in my role as a subject librarian, because I hope to encourage students to become proficient in using library resources, whether the catalogue, printed or online bibliographies, or more complex databases.  These are all key skills that will stand our students in good stead in their future careers, when they will have to spend time searching both for performing materials or background information, to help them in interpreting their repertoire, or in writing programme notes.

I want to go beyond finding materials for our students, and to help them learn to do this themselves, encouraging them to have a critical eye and learn to identify good authoritative editions of the music they perform; and furthermore to encourage them in good practice as regards keeping records of useful resources for future reference.  You could call this future-proofing their careers.  I can’t tell them how to play their instrument, but I can teach the essential background skills to keep organised records; save weblinks; interrogate databases or download an e-book, for example.

When I’m taking choir-practices, on the other hand, then my aim is to teach first the notes, and then the interpretation of the notes, so that my singers will know their parts and how they interact with one another; and will feel confident enough to perform in public.

As I explained, I do not have the opportunity to set assignments of any kind, and am often not in a position to assess understanding afterwards, except when I’m working with my choir!  However, I’m hoping that this course will give me some pointers as to how to maintain the attention of a class; and how to make a lecture/seminar/training session  more interactive without losing control of the class.