‘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.

Image
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!