Category Archives: Continuing Professional Development

Is it really me? I’m attending ISME

Up until a couple of years ago, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to attend ISME – the big summer conference of the International Society for Music Education.  However, the music librarian-turned-musicologist is currently brushing up her pedagogical skills with a PGCert in Teaching and Learning in Higher Arts Education.  Attendance at ISME (which happens to be in Glasgow this year) is thus nothing if not timely!

Today, I attended presentations concerning the education of the professional musician – that’s what we spend a lot of time doing at RCS, after all.  The first session was under the aegis of CEPROM (Commission of Education of the PROfessional Musician), about leadership in the education of professional musicians.  There had been a CEPROM pre-conference seminar, and five people gave us summaries of different aspects of that.

  •  Judith Brown (Australia) spoke of developing leadership skills in musicians, of community projects in this context, workplace placements, and autonomy in student learning. In my practice, only the latter is really applicable, but it does tie in with my concern to engage students in their own learning, rather than standing and lecturing them, wherever possible.
  • Pamela Pike (USA) spoke of transformative pedagogy: student-centred, flexible and explorative.  She reminded us that leadership could be facilitative, directive or integrative, depending on the cohort’s place in their learning journey; and that leadership is actually an attitude.  Above all, she said, we must “foster students’ ownership of their own learning.”  (A theme was beginning to come through loud and clear! )  To do this, we should “shift curricular paradigms; engage students in the reflective process; [help them to] begin their professional narrative; and the process should not be separated from the product.”
  • Annie Mitchell (Australia) spoke of leadership in large ensembles and community music.
  • Pamela Burnard (Cambridge, UK) talked about institutional change, and of a positive welcoming of change – the “we’ll find a way” approach, and of facilitating leadership.
  • Glen Carruthers (Canada) talked about the “responsive university”, and how, with declining applications to music courses in Ontario, his university started a degree in community music, in response to students’ need.

There were comments from the floor about mature students, recreational music-making, and an acknowledgement that portfolio careers are now a reality in”the real world”.

Making our way to the International Concert Hall for the main keynote of the day, we first heard Nick Elliott of ABRSM tell us how they try to support independent learning, provide resources, and seek to reconnect the performance and understanding of music.  There are new forms of assessment, accreditation and resources planned.

As with the Teaching Artist and PGCert courses, the ABRSM makes a blended offer of analogue and digital platforms, and Nick alluded to the recent “Classical 100” primary digital resource.

Next, we heard a stunning presentation from Evelyn Glennie, who told us about the philosophy of her own old school, “Every child has a story to tell”, and her first percussion teacher’s openness to creativity.  Delegates were urged to keep creativity and imagination alive in their pupils and themselves, at any stage in life.

As a downpour overwhelmed Glasgow, I went to the Piping Centre for a lunchtime concert which turned out to have been cancelled, then instead went to a five-piano concert, spending some time after that networking over lunch before the afternoon sessions.

Frank Abrahams spoke engagingly about musical literacy and sight-reading, pointing out that the use of folksongs for sight-reading over the years was now becoming outdated as being an idiom far-removed from students’ everyday experience.  He talked about an experiment he’d run with two teachers getting students to pick repertoire for sight-reading, from pop music and hiphop, which the teachers would then grade and transcribe for them. In terms of engagement, meeting students “where they are” definitely has its benefits – though I am left wondering how I could best do this, when I introduce historic Scottish tunebooks to first/second-year students, or demonstrate databases etc.  The “parachute lecturer” (dropping in to deliver single seminars) doesn’t have the opportunity to allow students to collaborate in deciding what they’d like to learn over a period of weeks.

Frank said that getting students to collaborate empowers them. Have them feel the rhythm by moving their feet and counting, and get them to brainstorm what the possible difficulties of different songs might be.  There were challenges in choosing music that wasn’t too difficult rhythmically, and in teachers being willing to shift the power and responsibility to the students.  It means being willing to let go, to an extent.

I attended a talk by Brit Aagot Broeske Danielson about students being involved in a collaborative student project, but unfortunately, moving between sessions meant I missed the beginning of her paper, and struggled to understand what the powerpoint slides were actually about, though the project itself sounded as though it had been highly beneficial for the students.

Karen Burland (Leeds) spoke about research projects she had done and was about to continue, regarding career information for students, what different levels of student found helpful, and how engaged they were in different kinds of training provided.  It seemed as though it was just about as hard to get students to attend careers seminars as it is to get them to attend any library training that is perceived as voluntary or extra.  It has to be timetabled, particularly to get first years to attend, when they are still not really thinking about future careers.  The other strong message was that students welcomed the chance to speak to someone who knew them and their strengths, or alternatively was just a few years further along the same path so that they could see what was possible and achievable (“Idols in touching distance”).  Alumni links are actually vital.

Karen reminded us that not all students became performers or music teachers, so students need other “employability activities”, but perhaps they don’t realise when they’re acquiring some of these – eg networking skills.  Portfolio careers require entrepreneurial skills, too, but students need to be taught them or given opportunities to develop them.

The final session I attended was about programme music, specifically, Rachmaninov’s “Faust” sonata.  This was probably the session I gained least from.  I had expected a presentation about the benefits of understanding the ‘programme’ behind particular pieces of music.  Instead, it was a blow-by-blow account of the programme behind one specific sonata.  There was nothing relating to pedagogical skills or student development, and the presenter would have had an easier time had there been a colleague either running the powerpoint, and/or reading prepared excerpts from Goethe’s Faust so that he could concentrate on talking and playing musical examples.  Additionally, at times I struggled with the assertion that particular musical passages were directly related to specific passages in Goethe’s text.

Tomorrow, I’ll be in the library, but I’ll attend more sessions of ISME later this week.

Learning Overdose! I need an Intervention!

Studious SundayI’ve spent the morning looking at our PGCert Moodle pages, and viewing  DVDs of the Thursday evening online sessions that I haven’t been able to “attend” in person.  (There were actually seven sessions. I’ve reached the fifth one so far.)  And I’ve taken a closer look at the course reading-list with all the online links.  That was quite informative.  Although my absence of “click-throughs” suggests I may not have engaged with the materials provided, in actual fact I viewed quite a few of them when I did the first part of the course two years ago, and they’re listed in my bibliography as evidence of that.  But of course, the click-throughs would have registered on the 2014 Moodle rather than the 2015-16 Moodle pages.  Confused?  Please don’t be!

I had made up my mind that I’d be on the lookout for information about assessment and feedback today.  Going through our course-materials, I soon realised that the subject can be looked at in two ways because we, the students, have to undergo assessment and receive feedback, every bit as much as we have to know the best way (a) to ascertain whether our students have learned what we set out to teach them, and (b) to give them effective feedback.  Jamie Mackay talked to us about assessment modes and criteria in our second online Teaching Artist session, but obviously this is a topic that is interwoven throughout the course.  Thus, in the third session, we learned about assessment in teaching that has been designed using constructive alignment principles: the intended learning experiences should be measurable against the learning outcomes, so that the teacher can assess whether the ‘alignment’ has effectively led to the desired outcomes.

In the fourth online session (28th January 2016), Rachel reminded us that the teacher should review results in an ongoing process so that he/she can determine whether the teaching has been effective and whether modifications or adjustments are required in subsequent lesssons – this is also part of practice-based research, so we’ll need to consider it when we design our projects.  Already, I have tried to elicit feedback, whether from the course-leader, the students, or both, in training sessions that I have given, because my research project will focus on how performing arts students can best be engaged in library/information type instruction sessions. Clearly, if I can identify best practice, then it will give me the best chance of designing learning that students will benefit from.

In the same session, Jamie led a discussion about grading compared to appreciation or guidance, and participants were encouraged to consider occasions when they had received bad, or good feedback, also discussing when each form of feedback was most useful – grading against criteria, showing appreciation to give support and encouragement, or (possibly a little while later), going on to give guidance to help establish the way forward, or the next steps a student might take in their learning journey.  After giving a grading, a student might need guidance as to how they can go on to improve their performance. After a performance, a student might initially just need appreciation and a bit of praise, followed by guidance about aspects that merited further work.

It was noted that there was no point in praising if praise was not merited, if the student was showing a poor or disrespectful attitude, or if improvement was obviously needed.  The important thing is to focus on the work not the person. The work may have been poor – but the student shouldn’t be demolished in the telling.

The same evening, Mary talked about evaluating teaching using the ‘critical incident questionnaire’, and recommended Stephen Brookfield’s book, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher – again, it’s in the Whittaker Library.  Brookfield suggests that when reflecting on one’s practice, one can use four ‘lenses’ – ie, four different sources of information, to evaluate one’s teaching: one’s own observation, peer feedback, student feedback, or by reading the ‘scholarly literature’. (Mary’s Powerpoint slide 2).  It is crucial to find out if your teaching is effective, and what the students feel about your teaching – good points and bad.  For that, you need feedback.

I devised a very simple feedback form for my Scottish music sessions just before Christmas, as I had done for the postgrads when I did a bibliographic referencing session a year or two ago.  In this, I just asked what they liked; disliked; and would have liked more of.  My analysis of the Scottish music class results can be read in my Portfolio for 2015-16.  Brookfield’s critical incident questionnaire asks five questions compared to my three (Mary’s Powerpoint slide 7):-

  1. When in the session did the student feel most and/or least engaged? (a bit like my first and second questions, except that I used the word “enjoyed”)
  2. What action did anyone take that was most helpful/affirming?
  3. Similarly, what was least helpful/affirming?
  4. What was the most important information learned? (this is subtly different from my question about what was most enjoyed!)
  5. Were there any questions/suggestions about the class?  (similar to my “what would you like more of?” question)

Mary explained that an analysis of the answers would help us identify major themes felt by several students, and would help us plan future sessions.  I certainly found this to be the case in my own analysis.

The question of assessment and its purpose was continued in the fifth online session (19th February 2016), when participants were reminded that assessment is also important to learners,  so that they can see themselves making progress – this supports the learning process and lets them see where improvements or other readjustments might need to be made.  Students need to know what was good, but also where there might be gaps, or what needs to be done next or followed up. This is formative assessment, whilst a mark or grade is summative, sets standards, and might be necessary before moving on to a higher level, for example.

PGCert blog books 1I would like to look at the Brookfield book that Mary recommended, but I have also borrowed Race, Brown and Smith’s 500 Tips on Assessment, which looks an approachable book and might give me some more ideas:-


So – How do you Learn?

Back home from Dundee, and with a plugged-in laptop, I can resume my reading and blogged reflections.

Jarvis, M., The Psychology of Effective Learning and Teaching (Cheltenham: Nelson Thomas, 2005), Chapt.4, Styles of Thinking, Learning and Studying (pp.72-94)

British Library Pinterest brain
British Library Pinterest collection: Anatomical drawing of the brain.

The first thing Jarvis makes clear is that popular references to ‘learning styles’ rather blur the finer distinctions that other experts have identified.  According to Jarvis, your ‘cognitive style’ (how you think) is different from your ‘learning strategies’ (how you adapt to the learning tasks you’ve been set), and your ‘learning style’ is actually a catch-all phrase which can be interpreted in a wide range of ways.  That’s a good start!  He goes on to explain how psychometric tests can be used to assess how accurately a particular system of learning styles has been categorised, but says that actually, even using learning styles as a heuristic application (how the individual thinks it applies to them) can be worthwhile.  It can help the learner, and it can help their teacher by giving them insights into how individual pupils or students learn.

Jarvis warns us not to assume that everyone learns the same way as us.  Moreover, he informs us that there is a distinction between people whose learning is ‘field dependent’ as opposed to ‘field independent’ – and reports that even though it could be considered sexist, research has found that there is a tendency for women to be more field dependent – seeing a task in a particular context – whilst men tend to be the opposite, seeing a task in isolation.  Students who are field dependent are more people-focused, whilst the others are more task or problem-focused.  I’m not convinced by this, really.  Does he mean that a woman might, arguably, ask, “how am I going to devise the bibliography for this assignment?” (or, “how are we going to devise this bibliography?”), whilst a man is more likely to ask, “how am I, in general, going to devise a bibliography?”  Maybe I’m taking the distinction too literally, but I struggle to see how knowing about field dependency would affect the kind of teaching that I do.  Leaving aside the alleged difference between the sexes, I don’t really see how I could improve my teaching by recognising this distinction.  Indeed, when I’m asked to provide a ten-minute introduction to resources that will specifically be relevant to a particular task, then that is exactly what the students will be told.  My colleagues and I established a while ago that students were more receptive to this kind of instruction when they had been given a specific assignment.  It would be perverse to take the opportunity we had been offered and ignore the context in which we were providing training.  However, I would always start with general principles then demonstrate relevant resources of the assignment that the students had been set.

Other theorists distinguish between logical and intuitive approaches to problems; between tackling a whole task or breaking it down into bits and doing a bit at a time; between actively learning by experience or by reflecting upon a topic; or between verbalising and visualisation.

Jarvis introduces so very many different ways of looking at learning styles that it is, frankly, rather confusing to pick out particular theories that might be helpful, especially when they’re all introduced in such close proximity.  I can understand the broad distinctions that I’ve just summarised, and perhaps for me, it is enough to recognise that we do all learn in subtly different ways.  Jarvis references the theorists P. Honey and A. Mumford, who revised their Manual of Learning Styles in 1992, and their four scales make good basic sense, describing learners as activists, theorists, pragmatics and reflectors.

Learning strategies are rather different, though.  We’re introduced to deep and shallow learning, and to strategic learning, where students plan out what they need to study (and how they need to tackle it) in order to complete a task.  I think I’m probably a bit like this myself.

What I take from this chapter, however, is basically that it is good if a student has an awareness of how they best learn – and, where a teacher has responsibility for a class or cohort of students, it is self-evidently helpful if they form an idea of different students’ approach to learning and completing assignments.  For me, at the moment, parachuted into class situations to deliver one-off sessions, I cannot possibly know the majority of students well enough to recognise how they learn.  Where I have worked with a particular disabled student, or a student seeking my help with an extended project, and got to know their preferred approach, then that is a little different.  But otherwise, I take Jarvis’s theories as a reminder (a) not to assume that everyone learns in the same way as me, and (b) to ensure that – where possible – I assign varied group activities so that individual students will find something to capture their imagination, whatever their learning style.  Field-dependency or -independency is not something that I’m likely to be able to observe in the context of my own teaching.


IQ versus Multiple Intelligences versus Triarchic Theory

Ah, Saturday mornings! Unusually for me, I had done the ironing in Glasgow by 6.40 am, and despatched most of Jarvis’s Chapter 3 before leaving Haymarket at 9.05.  I’m on my way to Dundee for the Friends of Wighton AGM – what else would I do but take my laptop along for the ride?  (Actually, it feels quite late in the day – I get the 8.05 from Haymarket on my fortnightly trips to St Andrews!)

So, where were we? Ah yes, Jarvis.

Jarvis, M., The Psychology of Effective Learning and Teaching (Cheltenham: Nelson Thomas, 2005), Chapt.3, ‘Intelligence and Academic Ability’

Jarvis begins by outlining the general history and rationale behind IQ tests.  The problem, he asserts, is that it only measures one kind of intelligence.  Having said that, testing has become more sophisticated and trustworthy, and cannot be entirely discounted.  However, it also raises many questions – nature versus nurture, for one.  Various research projects have looked at early-start programmes devised to give very young children an assisted start to their nurture and early learning, as compensation for disadvantaged family situations.  Results do show benefits, though sometimes the benefits have not lasted as the children progress through school.

Jarvis introduces Howard Gardner’s work in researching multiple intelligences, Robert Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence, and some of the subsequent research by other individuals.  This substantial body of work demonstrates that – whilst someone may rate highly or lower on an IQ scale – in fact there are many different facets to intelligence, and it also shows that one can improve ability in different spheres depending on motivation and practice.  Teachers certainly need to be aware of all these different aspects of intelligence, but Jarvis warns against deliberately setting out to address every single mode in a single lesson, which he regards as a ‘crass’ over-simplification and less than helpful.

Gardner’s identification of multiple intelligences certainly explains how individuals can have different strengths, and obviously different learning activities will suit these strengths – so to me, it does make sense at least to vary the activities so that everyone in a seminar has the opportunity to play to those strengths.  Having said that, not all these intelligences will necessarily come into play in a session on historic Scottish song collections or bibliographic referencing practices!  The following is the list of Gardner’s multiple intelligences (Jarvis, Table 3.1, p.25):-

  • Linguistic/verbal
  • Logical/mathematical
  • Visual/spatial
  • Kinaesthetic
  • Musical
  • Naturalist
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal  (understanding ‘one’s own motives, characteristics, strengths and weaknesses)

It seems to me that some of these intelligences might be stimulated in a school classroom, whereas they are clearly less relevant in higher education.  Obviously, students can be encouraged to verbalise what they observe; to look for logical patterns; and to look at the graphic display/musical presentation/bibliographical layout and compare different models. They can be encouraged to move around between displayed items in a comparison exercise, if the classroom set-up permits this.  They can perform the music (but not a bibliographic referencing tool); and can either discuss the music (or research problem, or bibliographical technique) in pairs or small groups, or each spend a few minutes individually contemplating the question before sharing with the group.  I have used all these modes of learning in sessions that I have conducted over the past couple of years.  Short of taking the group outdoors, it’s hard to see how there would be any way of ‘recognising and interacting with the natural world’!   (Having said that, a few years ago I gave a talk to gifted young traditional musicians at Plockton, and I would very much have liked to have begun the session by taking them outside and asking them to imagine what a song-collecting exercise might have felt like in 1815, with no motor transport, no electronic devices –  and clothing and footwear that would have been much less waterproof than Goretex.  I thought better of it, since I wasn’t familiar with the school or its general ethos, and was nervous of taking a dozen unknown teenagers out into a neighbouring field!

Some researchers have experimented with self-rated questionnaires to help pupils/students identify their own strengths.  These are ipsative (assessed by the individual in isolation) rather than normative (comparing individuals against norms in the population – in other words, they are subjective tests.  It’s not something I could see myself needing to do in my current practice.

Robert Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence breaks down different intellectual activities in slightly different ways. He identifies three elements, which can themselves be subdivided.  (Jarvis, pp.57-58):-

  • Componentional intelligence (knowledge acquisition components; performance components – ie ‘counting, comprehension and reasoning’; and metacomponents (‘planning, problem-solving and decision-making’).
  • Experiential intelligence, ie how experience helps us master knowledge and tasks
  • Contextual intelligence, ie, how different cultures may prioritise different aspects of intelligence.

I find this a very interesting theory, but perhaps not so readily applicable to my own practice.  I don’t spend long enough with students, or conduct consecutive sessions, so I wouldn’t be able to judge how their componential or experiential intelligence developed or affected their learning over a period of time. And I certainly wouldn’t have the temerity to attempt to theorise how postgraduates from different cultures might approach bibliographic referencing or research skills, although I certainly already bear in mind that a different cultural background may affect student attitudes to study and research in general.

The remainder of the chapter considers streaming and banding in schools, the question of hot-housing children, and giftedness.  These are considerations for school-teachers, but in my practice, we’re working with young people who may already have been hot-housed, and they are certainly gifted in their disciplines irrespective of their school experiences.  I don’t dismiss these issues, but I choose not to dwell on them today.

Me, a Social Scientist? Educational Psychology on the Menu


Having decided that this weekend is to be devoted to concentrated study, I borrowed several of our reading-list books from the library with the intention of dipping into them for useful material.  Matt Jarvis, The Psychology of Effective Learning and Teaching (Cheltenham: Nelson Thomas, 2005) looks a suitable place to start!

Since I won’t manage to read every book from cover-to-cover, I thought I’d get an overview by looking at the chapter headings, then decide where to start reading!

  1. The Learner and the Teacher
  2. Cognitive Development and Learning
  3. Intelligence and Academic Ability
  4. Styles of Thinking, Learning and Studying
  5. Thinking Skills
  6. Motivation
  7. Emotional Factors in Learning
  8. ICT and Learning (Information and Communication Technology)
  9. Teacher Stress
  10. Education Research

The first chapter looks at different psychological approaches to the roles of both learner and teacher.  Rachel Drury touched on this in the second online Thursday night session for our ‘Teaching Artist’ module, when we were focusing on the Context Setting Study that was part of our course requirement.  Rachel looked at ‘Ways of viewing the learner’, whilst Mary Troup gave a presentation focusing on learning theories.  Mary reminded us that learning theories could be brought into consideration during lesson planning, and also referenced Phil Race (we have four titles by him in the Whittaker Library), who identified ‘five factors underpinning successful learning’: we learn from feedback; when we want and/or need to learn; when what we’re learning makes sense; and we learn by doing.  (Slide 4 of Mary’s Powerpoint.)  This book goes into greater theoretical depth but in a quite intensive, sharply-focused way – possibly more so than we actually need at this stage.

Jarvis introduces us to a range of different psychological theories.  Cognitive Psychology views ‘the learner as information processor’. (p.3) We use various mental processes when we learn, and although some experts think that intelligence is quantifiable, there is also the belief that (a) we can learn thinking skills and (b) different people have different learning styles. Jarvis deals with these in Chapter 4, not here.  I’ve read in the press that not everyone agrees with the idea of different learning styles (eg auditory, visual, sensory, kinetic), but I’ll visit his exposition of the concepts and see what I think.  Jarvis comments that children’s brains develop as they grow up; and also alludes to Jean  Piaget and Lev Vygotsky’s ‘cognitive development theories’, which he deals with in Chapter 2.  Since my teaching is with young adults, and I’ve also occasionally worked with mature adults (I taught English as a foreign language at a summer school for teenagers and adults, and also folk guitar evening classes at a technical college many years ago), I’ve decided to pay more attention to aspects of educational psychology that will help me in these areas, rather than spending time reading about school teaching and learning.

Jarvis next introduces the concepts of Psychodynamic psychology and the emotional learner – which acknowledges the fact that both learners and teachers can have an emotional response to ‘learning situations’, and that these might affect how they react either to the subject matter, or to the individual student or teacher working with them. Humanistic psychology, on the other hand, not only looks at relationships but also matters of motivation and the learner’s urge for self-improvement.

Jarvis next says that the socially constructed learner is a concept connected with postmodernism. Fortunately for me, he goes on to explain that,

“… psychologists influenced by postmodernism, broadly known as social constructionists, encourage us to look for the influence of social, political and historical influences on the development of popular ideas.  Such ideas can then be reframed not as facts but as ‘social constructs’…. it can instructive to think of the ways in which current political and social agendas affect our view of education.” (pp.5-6)

I think I understand this.  Certainly, I can understand how a curriculum can be influenced by political and social factors.  However, whereas Jarvis is looking at the effect of these influences on the learner, I am more familiar with this kind of idea in terms of my own musicological specialisms, in which I look at the way literary and cultural influences affect the music collections being compiled and published.  Thus, I have been applying this approach to the subject matter being taught, whilst educationalists look at the way social and political situations affect students (and, surely, their teachers, too).  Actually, I can see that if we recognise the influence of ‘current political and social agendas’, then we can draw parallels with historical political and social agendas, but I realise that this is not really in any way connected with Jarvis’s psychological theories.

From the student, Jarvis now turns our attention to different ways of viewing the teacher’s role.  Socrates viewed the teacher as a subversive, which would not make them very popular!  Neither would it go down well today.

More interesting is the classification of the teacher’s role as ‘executives, therapists and liberationists’ (p.7).  Skills, knowledge and efficiency preoccupy the former; the ‘therapist’ is more concerned with pastoral issues; whilst the ‘liberationist’ focuses on encouraging the student to become an independent learner.  Since, as I’ve mentioned before, I am usually parachuted into a teaching situation to deliver single sessions, it is hard for me to identify with any of these roles particularly strongly; I don’t have the opportunity to develop a teacher-student relationship with individual students unless they subsequently come and seek me out in the library.  However, I do occasionally go to concerts in which our students perform, or I may exchange a few words with them in passing, so I get to know them a bit better in this way.  It is always gratifying when a student ‘gets’ what you have been sharing with them, and wants to explore the musical repertoire further, or shares some aspect of their studies that they’re preoccupied with.  Jarvis concedes that the three different roles will all be present in any particular teacher’s role, so I don’t feel it’s necessary to define myself and my own approach too precisely.

(In our online session, Rachel invited us to look back at our own school days and see if we could slot any of our teachers into any of these categories.  My own school days are so long ago that I’m afraid most of my teachers were decidedly ‘old school’, telling us what to study and how to do it.  However, independent learning was very much in evidence when I was an undergraduate at Durham.)

Jarvis raises interesting questions about whether teaching can be considered ‘Craft-knowledge‘ or a professional skill, and also looks at the importance of reflective practice.  He differentiates between ‘reflection in action’, and the kind of reflection that takes place in planning a lesson, or in debriefing afterwards, also alluding to mentoring and supervision, and CPD. This blog is itself part of my own reflective practice.  I consider that I am doing precisely what he advocates, since I’m contemplating how theory/research relates to my practice; reflecting on my own personal response to what I’m reading about psychological theory/research; and reflecting ‘on personal characteristics as identified by psychological theory and/or research’. (p.11) I’m not only trying to get my head around the psychological theories, but also asking myself whether I agree with them, and whether they have anything to offer in my quest for the best ways to teach in my own unique situation.



Taking Stock: Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle

PGCert blog books 1At this stage in the year, it’s time to take stock.  I need to reflect on the materials in my bibliography – I’ve read all of them at some stage, and commented on some of them, albeit quite a long time ago.  I need to think again about challenges that arose in my assessed lessons; then, in the light of those challenges, I shall see if particular books in the current  Teaching Artist Reading List might help me work out where I might have done things differently.  Essentially, I’m trying to show critical understanding of my reading, to pick out what it is that is relevant in these sources; and to ensure I’m embedding appropriate teaching and learning theories when I provide instruction to our students.  This will also enable me to justify my own practice in the particular context of library, bibliographic and research/study skills, and a historic approach to Scottish song and other tune-books.

First of all, there are three particular areas that I’d like to remind myself of: Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle; the Constructivist theoretical approach; and the ‘flipped classroom’ as outlined in the One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan.


I found a useful e-book which has chapters on experiential learning:-

Clawson, James G. S. and Mark E. Haskins, Teaching Management (Cambridge University Press,2006) ;  Online Publication Date: February 2010

Online ISBN-13: 9780511617850
Hardback ISBN-13: 9780521869751
Book DOI:

I’m going to focus on two particular chapters, and look at another one in a different context later:-

  • 2. Levels of Learning – one, two and three (Re Experiential Learning) /James G. S. Clawson and Mark E. Haskins, pp.26-33
  • 13. Experiential methods / By Clawson, pp.212-227
  • 14. Enhancing the conversation: audiovisual tools and techniques / Clawson and Haskins, pp.228-241

In Chapter 2, we’re introduced to three different levels of learning:- Visible Behaviour, Conscious Thought (“the things that people are aware they’re thinking but that they do not choose to reveal at Level One”); and “the Values, Assumptions, Beliefs, and Expectations (VABEs) that people hold about the way the world should be. VABEs are often “preconscious” or “semiconscious,” yet they often reveal themselves at Level One.” (p.26)

Teachers need to decide which level to aim at.  If they’re trying to effect learning at the level of conscious thought, are they also expecting the learning to evidence itself as visible behaviour, or as changes to the “VABES” their students hold? 

This reminds me of discussions held many years ago at job evaluation training, when it was asserted that lecturers influence “hearts and minds”, whereas instructors impart practical skills. I find this a rather fine distinction.  I do understand that teaching a student to interpret a Mozart piano concerto cadenza, or analyse a playscript, is a more complex process than showing them how to find a book in a catalogue or access and electronic journal.  There’s much more discernment and choice involved in the former than the latter activities.  However, if I’ve taught a student how to access and cite information, and convinced them that this is the best, most effective way and a good way to go about research in the future, then I have arguably also changed their minds.  Values?  Yes, if they understand the value of doing a good information search.  Assumptions and beliefs?  Yes, if they can appreciate that whilst Wikipedia is good, all the quality resources offered by the library represent a far wider array from which to choose, and the certainty that the authors are experts in their fields.  In other words, they no longer believe that Wikipedia and Google can meet all their study requirements.  I would argue that I’ve therefore influenced the students’ VABES albeit in a different way.

The authors argue that level 1 involves “doing” something, whilst at level 2 people may – but not necessarily – be conscious of doing it.  Sometimes they’re not conscious of doing something until level 3, and the authors also make the point that habit-forming occurs at all three levels. 

The distinction between levels does seem a little blurred, to me. However,  I do see that insight can’t come into the equation until at least level 2.

At this point, the authors refer to Kolb’s cycle.  There’s a diagram, but unfortunately the text is obscured on screen. Still, the narrative explains all. (p.28)   Kolb argues that daily life involves going through the learning cycle many times, in this order:- “Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation.” In other words, until someone has absorbed the general principles, they can’t apply it to other situations.  The authors say that some teachers argue it’s not their place to influence their students’ values and beliefs, but they (the authors) think this final level of learning is what we should be aiming at.

I agree with this.  If I’m showing students different electronic resources, for example, then at the end of the session, I want them to leave thinking, “hey, that gave me some ideas for information-finding skills for my next assignment.”  I would be less happy if they left just with the vague impression that I had shown them some cool websites.

The authors say that to engage with people’s core beliefs, ie level 3, we should ask them directly what they believe about {whatever the subject is we’re teaching them}.  This could go up on the board as the basis for discussion.

Well, what a surprise! That is exactly what I did in my two teaching sessions where I asked students to write their little “dictionary definitions” of traditional music and nationalism in music.  It’s good to see I did something theoretically right, though my reason for doing this was (in my mind) a constructivist approach, by establishing what the students knew before I started leading the session forward. 

If you’re targeting level 1 learning, then you’re targeting behaviours, say the authors. Although they say that sometimes “cognitive analytical skills” are needed before the behavioural skills can be learned. 

Trying to relate this to teaching information skills, I imagine this would apply to showing students how to decide on the best search terms, the ones most likely to be fruitful, before they start searching for materials.  It is harder to separate out distinct steps in classes like the ones I taught about historic Scottish music.  (“How to” is different from “Let’s explore and synthesise our findings”.)

The authors say that experiential programmes (they cite active, outward-bound, team-building exercises, or in a classroom situation, learning to “listen actively”) are generally aimed at level 1, but if the experience affects students on a deeper level by, eg, confidence-building, then level 2 or 3 learning may have taken place. This fits in with my understanding that “how to” instruction is not the same as learning about the history of a genre and how to interpret scores of different eras.

In terms of the Scottish music classes, I think the students who most engaged with the exercises, probably did get the most out of them.  The minority that were restless or impatient, are unlikely to have had their “values, assumptions, beliefs and expectations” changed very much and they would only have learned at the middle level, if they were paying sufficient attention.  Or should that be, if I had managed to engage their attention sufficiently?

“Targeting L2 means attempting to change the way people think. Indeed, that seems to be where most educational effort is expended. Vast lecture halls, textbooks, problem sets, and presentation preparation are largely about augmenting or refining the students’ thought processes”, say the authors (p.31).  To me, this seems fairly obvious.  And then they go on to say that lecturers who influence their students’ VABEs (Level 3) will have the most long-lasting effect, because this will change the way students see a subject, possibly for a lifetime.  Clawson and Haskins also cite McGill and Slocum (1993) who flagged up that an individual’s openness to new ideas is an important factor. 

The paper concludes by expressing the hope that if teachers understand the different levels of learning and what is going on, unseen, in students’ minds, this should help us plan more effective teaching.  I think I can agree with this.  My only slight objection is not with the theory of different levels of learning, but that I have noticed some students are more difficult to “engage” with than others. I’m not sure this is always connected with the experiential learning cycle, but might be for totally different reasons that make the student disinclined to learn at a particular class – whether for physical reasons (health, tiredness, uncomfortable surroundings) or disinterest in the subject.  It is incumbent on the teacher to try to engage the student, but the student is not just a passive empty vessel, so must accept some responsibility.  The student who does not want to learn, is not going to learn at the higher conceptual levels.




PG Cert Research Project

In the next few weeks I shall be beginning to research my project for my PG Cert.  The subject?

I am researching the best ways to teach topics such as electronic resources, bibliographic citation, or historic Scottish music books, in the context of library instruction, in order to get maximum student engagement.

To support this, I’ve obtained a couple of new books for the library:-

  • Allan, Barbara, Emerging strategies for supporting student learning: a practical guide for librarians and educators (London: Facet Publishing, 2016)
  • Bent, Moira J., Practical tips for facilitating research (London: Facet Publishing, 2016) [In fact, I met and contributed a couple of tips to this author for this book.]

Desk research will obviously also involve use of e-journals etc.

Although I paid close attention to, and gained a lot from the IAML UK and Ireland Academic Music Librarians Seminar and Annual Study Weekend, it is significant that no mention was made of pedagogical theory.  My challenge will be to examine the issues in this light.