Self-directed, informal learning in Hertfordshire schools has improved motivation as well as musical skills, writes Abigail D?Amore.
Musical Futures was established by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. It aims to find sustainable ways of engaging all young people aged 11 to 19 in meaningful musical activities, both in and out of school. A range of models were developed through action research, and focus on the personalisation and informalisation of learning for young people:
• Integrating informal learning practices into music at Key Stage 3 (ages 11–14), and particularly in Year 9 (age 14), to improve motivation, attitude and attainment among students
• A whole curriculum approach to music education at Key Stage 3 (particularly Year 7 and 8, ages 12–13) that takes school music beyond the classroom and involves students in real musical activity
• Personalising extra-curricular activities for students enabling them to make more choices about the music they engage with
• Developing an online space (www.numu.org.uk) for young people to publish their music, compete in charts, develop customised web pages and connect with others safely.
Hertfordshire Music Service was a pathfinder region for piloting informal learning in the classroom, a model developed by Professor Lucy Green (of the Institute of Education, University of London). Seventeen Hertfordshire schools trialled methods in their music classrooms that involved students in self-directed, informal learning, which reflect the way that young, beginner popular musicians learn outside school.
Students learn alongside friends, on instruments of their choice, primarily by listening to and copying music, and they direct their own learning – how they learn, who they learn with, what they want to achieve and so on, with the music teacher acting as a guide and a musical ‘model’, rather than as a director or instructor. The model starts with students bringing their own music into the classroom, and trying to recreate their own versions of it using their own methods, and moves the students on to composing, and learning music that they may not be familiar with (e.g. classical music).
Far from being a laissez-faire approach to teaching and learning, the results of enabling students to take more control over their musical learning in Hertfordshire have been remarkable. Teachers have seen a marked improvement in student motivation and attitude towards music lessons; behaviour and attendance has improved; students have emerged as having musical skills and/or leadership skills that teachers hadn’t otherwise been aware of. There has been a rise in the number of students wanting to continue with music at Key Stage 4, as well as in those wanting to take up instrumental or vocal tuition, and become involved in extracurricular music activities.
The success of Musical Futures often relies on having a music teacher or practitioner who is willing to take a risk and embrace a slightly different approach to the teaching and learning of music. Students who have been through the process, and other activities developed by Musical Futures, consistently say that it is the ownership that they are given over the music and the learning process that appeals to them, and the fact that they develop skills that they feel are relevant to their lives beyond the classroom. As one Year 9 pupil in a Hertfordshire school stated, “This gives you the chance to prove what you’re capable of.”
The ideas and models developed through Musical Futures weren’t intended to replace existing music teaching practice, but to enhance it, and to ensure that a music entitlement offered by a school meets the needs of all students, not just those who normally engage in music activities. Musical Futures is now being adopted and adapted by schools across the country, and is in an exciting phase where teachers and practitioners are taking the innovation forward.