The following four books have been most inspirational as I have weaved my way through my PG Certificate studies. Robinson writes of the processes of creativity while Mooney draws our attention to the learning environments that we create, encouraging awareness and mindfulness. Rinaldi shares insightful thoughts on the nature of listening, ideas that resonate directly with my creative and teaching practice and Schippers describes the intriguing spectrum of approaches to learning and teaching.
Robinson, K. (2011) Out of Our Minds – Learning to be Creative. UK: Capstone Publishing Ltd.
Mooney, C.G. (2013) Theories of Childhood – An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget & Vygotsky: Chapter 2 – Maria Montessori (Second Edition) Redleaf Press U.S.A
Edwards, C., Gandini, L. & Forman, G. (2012) The Hundred Languages of Children – The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation: Chapter 13 – The Pedagogy of Listening: The Listening Perspective from Reggio Emilia. Carlina Rinaldi. California: Praeger ABC-CLIO,LLC
Schippers, H. (2010) Facing the Music: Shaping Music Education from a Global Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
The Process of Creativity
“I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. There are three key terms here: process, original and value. Creativity is a process more often than it is an event. To call something a process indicates a relationship between its various elements: that each aspect and phase of what happens is related to every other. Being creative involves several processes that interweave within each other. The first is generative. The second is evaluative.” (Robinson, 2011, page 151-152)
I am fascinated by the concept of creativity and Out of Our Minds – Learning to be Creative by Ken Robinson provided me with many interesting ideas to ponder and new questions to ask. The above quote suggests that creativity is a process guided by original ideas that have value. In relation to my learning and teaching practice, this definition led me to think more intently about the creative group music making process. What are the stages that I move through when creating music for children, young people and adults? Furthermore, how does this differ when creating music with children, young people and adults? In relation to my teaching practice in Higher Arts Education, I also asked myself – how do student community musicians begin to create music, together with the people that they work with on placement? How can I support this creative process? These questions have remained a constant thread through my Postgraduate Certificate studies.
It is interesting that Robinson chooses the word ‘value’ in the context of creativity. Value is something that I think about daily in my creative and teaching practice. If a group music making process has meaning and relevance for the participants, including the teacher, then there are certainly aspects of value, which may, or may not, be the same for each person. The word ‘value’ leads me to think about my ongoing work in documentation and how I evaluate the musical processes and outputs of my work. Furthermore, I think about quality of musical experience and what makes for a valuable musical experience.
How do I facilitate creative group music making? How do I reveal the processes involved in work of this nature without allowing the work to become stagnant or fixed? What do I use as my sources of inspiration? These questions underpinned my PG Certificate Research Project.
“Creativity does not always require freedom from constraints or a blank page. A lot of creative work has to work to specific briefs or conventions and great work often comes from working within formal constraints. Some of the finest poetry is in the form of the sonnet, which has a fixed form to which the writer must submit……..These do not inhibit the writer’s creativity; they set a framework for it. The creative achievement and the aesthetic pleasure lie in using standard forms to achieve unique effects and original insights.” (Robinson, 2011, page 152)
During my PG Certificate Research Project, in my planning and delivery, I was always trying to balance opportunities for free improvisation in group music making with flexible structures that could enhance and support group music making. What has always drawn me to the Orff Schulwerk approach is the way in which the creative process grows and how opportunities for creativity can flourish within structure. Furthermore, often it is in the doing, the exploring, the investigating and the playing that the idea is discovered.
“Being creative is not just a question of thinking of an idea and then finding a way to express it. Often it is only in developing the dance, image or music that the idea emerges at all.” (Robinson, 2011, pg.153)
Robinson’s thoughts resonate with my own experiences of being creative. I find myself thinking about ‘play’ and what happens when I allow myself time and space to play around with ideas; time to ‘potter’ with materials.
Robinson’s ideas about “generative” and “evaluative” thinking when discussing creative development have also guided me in my own questioning. As he states,
“Evaluation (of creative work) can be individual or shared, involve instant judgements or long-term testing. In most creative work there are many shifts between these two modes of thought. The quality of creative achievement is related to both. Helping people to understand and manage the interaction between generative and evaluative thinking is a pivotal task of creative development…..At the right time and in the right way, critical appraisal is essential. At the wrong point, it can kill an emerging idea.” (Robinson, 2011, pg.154-155)
Robinson encouraged me to question how I guide Higher Arts Education students in their creative development as a musician, as an artist and as a teacher. Is enough time given to the exploration of musicality, to the generation of musical ideas before evaluation for Higher Arts Education students? Although the evaluation and judgement of ideas is important, this process has to be conducted with great care and sensitivity. Furthermore, if we agree that creativity is a process then we can begin to appreciate that, as with any process, there are many phases which one must weave through. If we do not allow for this then we are in danger of inhibiting or stilting creative expression before it has had opportunity to fully blossom.
What do people need in order to be fully creative? Nurturing creativity in group music making requires the right kind of learning experiences that support the acquisition of skills and knowledge in learning environments that offer time and space for musical play.
“Creative achievement is related to control of the medium……….This doesn’t mean that people with limited skills cannot be creative. There are different levels and phases of creative development. Some people produce highly creative work with relatively undeveloped techniques. In general though, creative development goes hand in hand with increasing technical facility with the instruments or materials that are being used. Here as everywhere it is a question of balance and synergy.” (Robinson, 2011, pg.160-161)
Balance and synergy, providing people with, not only, the tools, skills and knowledge to nurture their creativity, but also, environments that are conducive for learning where time, space, sensitive support and thoughtfully chosen resources are provided is essential.
Nurturing Learning Environments
Creating a learning space that is nurturing and naturally supports learning is an aspect of teaching that circulates in my thinking. Reading about the work of Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori (1870-1952), as documented by Mooney (2013) in Theories of Childhood: Chapter 2 – Maria Montessori, I was intrigued to read about Montessori’s attention to the importance of beauty and order when preparing working spaces for children.
“According to Montessori, knowing how to arrange an interesting, beautiful environment for children is as much a part of teaching as knowing how to select fine children’s books for the library.” (Mooney, 2013, p.40)
The importance of a well thought out space and thoughtfully chosen materials and resources that serve a purpose in stimulating and educating the senses is something that I feel resonates closely with what I want to offer people in my own creative and teaching practice. The Orff Schulwerk approach places great emphasis on high quality wooden instruments and, over the years, I have uncovered many beautiful resources, collected and hand crafted by Orff Schulwerk pedagogues that have been carefully gathered for the purpose of adding meaning to activity; of sparking interest and inspiration.
Montessori advocated for the provision of real, functioning tools for children. She had custom made child-size tools and resources made for the children that she taught.
“Montessori believed that children could learn to use tools safely, and that giving them tools that didn’t really work undermined their competence.” (Mooney, 2013, p.39)
The idea that things should be child-size also extended to the classroom furniture that was adapted from adult-size to child-size. Today, it is common practice to see child-size furniture in nursery and primary school settings but in Montessori’s time this was something rather new. Montessori believed in materials and equipment, needed for learning, being easily accessible for children to reach. She believed in children being allowed to take responsibility for their learning, having the opportunity to gather what they needed, when they needed it. Montessori also believed that “teachers should provide large blocks of time for free work and play and allow children to structure their own time.”(Mooney, 2013, p.42)
Montessori was dedicated to children developing competence and a sense of responsibility and autonomy for their own learning. She respected that children would often be engrossed in a task within their own time frame and was reluctant to interrupt each individual child’s natural learning flow. Montessori’s theories were informed by the careful and diligent observations that she made of the children that she worked with. Montessori “believed every child could learn. She was convinced that if children are not learning, adults are not listening carefully enough or watching closely enough.” (Mooney, 2013, p. 46)
Turning my attention to higher arts education, this chapter led me to reflect more carefully on the higher arts teacher’s role as observer. Do we allow sufficient time and space to observe the varying needs of students? Do we create environments conducive for learning? Do we provide students with the necessary tools for their work? Do we allow for free student directed work? Do we ensure thoughtfully chosen materials and resources? Are materials and resources, needed for learning, close to hand? As I have devised and delivered workshops, as part of my Postgraduate Certificate Research Project, I have often been acutely aware of the shortage of time available to work with students in introducing and developing ideas, practising and reflecting. The heavy schedules of student learners has left me wondering, on several occasions, are we allowing enough time and space for learning to take place? Returning to Montessori’s belief, are we listening carefully enough and watching carefully enough? Taking this belief a step further, what does it mean to truly listen?
The Nature of Listening
The act of listening, an engaging active activity inherent within all humans, is something that I am fascinated with in my own learning and teaching practice. In the Pedagogy of Listening: The Listening Perspective from Reggio Emilia, Chapter 13 of The Hundred Languages of Children – The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation (2012), Rinaldi introduces listening as an integral part of the Reggio Emilia experience and approach.
Inextricably connected to ‘the search for meaning’ (p.233), Rinaldi begins by offering a collection of answers to the essential question what is listening? Rinaldi’s thoughts on this question resonate well with my personal understanding and experience of listening.
“Listening should be open and sensitive to the need to listen and be listened to and the need to listen with all our senses, not just with our ears.
Listening should recognize the many languages, symbols, and codes that people use to express themselves and communicate.
Listening takes time. When you really listen, you get into the time of dialogue and interior reflection, an interior time that is made up of the present but also past and future and is therefore outside chronological time. It is a time full of silences.
Listening is generated by curiosity, desire, doubt and uncertainty. This is not insecurity but the reassurance that every “truth” is so only if we are aware of its limits and its possible falsification.
Listening produces questions, not answers.
Listening is emotion. It is generated by emotions; it is influenced by the emotions of others; and it stimulates emotion.
Listening should welcome and be open to differences, recognizing the value of others’ interpretations and points of view.
Listening is an active verb, which involves giving an interpretation, giving meaning to the message, and valuing those who are listened to by others.
Listening is the basis for any learning relationship. Through action and reflection, learning takes shape in the mind of the subject and, through representation and exchange, becomes knowledge and skill.
Listening takes place within a ‘listening context’, where one learns to listen and narrate, and each individual feels legitimized to represent and offer interpretations of her or his theories through action, emotion, expression, and representation, using symbols and images (the “hundred languages”). Understanding and awareness are generated through sharing and dialogue.” (pp. 234 – 235)
Rinaldi’s thoughts on listening are interesting and thought provoking. The belief that we listen with all of our senses and that effective listening needs to embrace the truth that human beings communicate and express themselves in a multitude of different ways is particularly confirming. This year, my understanding of how listening can be experienced through different senses has developed through my work as a music specialist in Hazelwood School, Glasgow. Hazelwood School offers a nurturing learning environment for students with visual impairment, and, in some instances also hearing impairment, and additional support needs. The young children I work with often experience sound through touch and movement, listening with their hands, faces and bodies. This term, I had the privilege of observing one student listen to the cabassa (a small, hand held, percussion instrument with metal beads) by rolling the metal beads slowly over her closed lips. The mouth area, I am learning, is a very sensitive area for listening. On another occasion, I observed a different student place her hands over her teacher’s throat as her teacher sang. I believe that this student was listening through touch and sensation in the fingers and hand.
Rinaldi’s belief that listening takes time and is full of silences is also poignant. This familiar idea is one that I often forget when teaching. To allow time and space for silence in teaching is essential and is something that needs to be constantly reviewed and considered. Nurturing an inviting ‘listening context’ that provides a foundation for successful and empowering ‘learning relationships’ is naturally core to the role and work of the teacher. Furthermore, appreciating that uncertainty is a part of the listening process, a process that is both questioning and emotive in nature, is reassuring and reminds me that in order to be truly open to listening, I am required to embrace various dynamics.
As I think about how I listen to all of the students I work with, I realise that my listening takes many forms. Listening to and interpreting different forms of communication (musical, kinaesthetic, tactile, visual, aural – verbal & non verbal…..) I notice how I listen through my ears and eyes, my body, heart and ‘gut’ feeling as I search for signs of meaning and connection. An interesting observation is that in order to listen carefully to others, I need to listen carefully to myself. I need to listen to my intuition and judgements, taking care to find balance between certainty and uncertainty. I am learning that I need to listen in a variety of ways in order to gain a fuller understanding and appreciation of what is being expressed.
“Documentation can be seen as visible listening: it ensures listening and being listened to by others. This means producing traces – such as notes, slides, and videos – to make visible the ways the individuals and the group are learning. This ensures that the group and each child can observe themselves from an external viewpoint while they are learning (both during and after the process).” (p. 238)
The value placed on documentation is something that has drawn me to the Reggio Emilia approach. I am curious to learn more about the relationships between documentation, listening and learning in Reggio Emilia. I agree that documentation can be a form of visible listening and is an invaluable part of the learning process. Documenting effectively and unobtrusively in relation to the learning process is one of my recurring concerns; however, stepping back and observing the many forms that documentation can take is reassuring. Furthermore, it is also important to recognise the interrelated connections between documentation, observation and interpretation.
“Observation, documentation, and interpretation are woven together into what I would define as a spiral movement in which none of these actions can be separated out from the others.” (p. 238)
It is important to note that this is something that happens at all stages of the learning process.
“Documentation, as we have developed in Reggio, does not mean to collect documents after the conclusion of experiences with children but during the course of these experiences. Traditionally, the recording and reading of memories take place at the end of an experience and may become part of a collection of archives. For us, documentation is part of the daily life in the schools. It is one of the ways in which we create and maintain the relationships and the experiences among our colleagues and the children. We think of documentation as an act of caring, an act of love and interaction. We believe that both the teachers and the children are learners. For us, within the Reggio experience, documentation is an integral part of the learning and teaching process of the children and teachers.” (p. 238)
Documentation and reflection are inherent within the learning and teaching process, for both learners and teachers. Throughout my Postgraduate Research Project, I have documented through verbal and written feedback, note taking and journaling, photographs and audio recordings. I have also always maintained constant mental documentation as I have processed in my mind what has happened, what will come next and the responses of learners. The constant process of mental documentation may be unseen but it is most certainly always present.
The What? Why? and How? of learning and teaching has, in my mind, a circular quality. Therefore, it was interesting to think about listening, as described by Rinaldi, alongside how we can approach learning and teaching as within a ‘Twelve Continuum Transmission Framework’ as described by Schippers (2010).
The Intriguing Spectrum of Approaches to Learning and Teaching
‘Facing the Music: Shaping Music Education from a Global Perspective’ by Schippers (2010) is an engaging book that thoughtfully explores cultural diversity in music education. Approaches to learning and teaching music, ‘the processes of music transmission’ are presented within this book as a ‘Twelve Continuum Transmission Framework’. The framework addresses ‘issues of context’ when teaching music; ‘modes of transmission’, the intricate ways in which music is taught globally and the ‘dimensions of interaction’ between learners and teachers during engagement in music making. Furthermore, Schippers invites music educators to consider aspects of cultural experience within the framework. From monocultural to multicultural, intercultural and transcultural musical experiences, music education can offer learners a broad spectrum of opportunities for integration within a musical culture. The intention of the framework is to raise awareness and to provide guidance for reflection on both the diversity and unity of music learning and teaching across cultures. Schippers offers case study examples to clearly illustrate his observations with qualitative insight. The epilogue and appendix materials are also of rich value for music educators.
I was personally very interested in Schippers’ descriptions of ‘atomistic/analytic’ approaches to music teaching contrasted with that of ‘holistic’ approaches. Comparisons between ‘notation-based’ teaching methods with that of ‘aural’ traditions, and, observations on the spectrum of ‘tangible’ to ‘intangible’ teaching concepts inherent within music education were also intriguing.
In my preparation and delivery throughout my Postgraduate Certificate Research Project, I was often reviewing when to share the full flavour of a musical idea, a ‘holistic’ approach, before breaking down to individual building blocks, a more ‘atomistic/analytic’ approach. Furthermore, it was interesting to reflect on Schipper’s description of ‘tangible’ and ‘intangible’ because in my teaching practice these two qualities often sit together. In ‘Exploring Instruments’ work, it is common to move from “let’s pass one sound around the circle” – a direct, tangible idea to “let’s make the sound of the wind” – an imaginative, intangible idea.
Schipper’s notion of ‘individual central’ and ‘collective central’ reminded me that musical activity can be an individual and/or community endeavour and an understanding of this is integral to the musical and cultural experience. This book encouraged and inspired me to listen more intently, research carefully, practice attentively, converse sensitively and to think creatively as a music educator. It enabled me to think of the different elements that constitute my creative learning and teaching practice as a series of spectrums. There is a state of constant flux with regard to what I teach, how I teach and why I am teaching the what of my teaching. All depending on the varying needs of learners.