Listen, Imagine, Compose investigated the pedagogies of composing in secondary schools and was a partnership project between Sound and Music & Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, with Birmingham City University as the lead academic partner. Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
Listen Imagine Compose was a project designed to investigate pedagogies of composing in secondary schools. The project consisted of a series of symposia and action research projects. Six action research projects took place in schools in Birmingham, Harpenden, London, Cambridge and Macclesfield and investigated six key questions relating to teaching composition at Key Stage 3 and 4. Themes included: evaluation and effective feedback; creative strategies for teaching composition; the role of listening in the creative process; introducing young people to unfamiliar aesthetics; creative use of technology; and, how expert composers and performers can be most effectively used in the classroom. Each project team consisted of an experienced teacher, a composer and a music education researcher.
The Listen Imagine Compose research teams were:
Composers: David Horne, Tim Steiner, Fraser Trainer, Kerry Andrew, Duncan Chapman, Jackie Walduck.
Music education researchers: Pam Burnard and John Finney (Cambridge University), Pauline Adams (Institute of Education), Jonathan Savage (Manchester Metropolitan University), Martin Fautley (Birmingham City University).
Teachers: Lizzie Hastings (Sir John Lawes School, Harpenden), Nick Heppel (King Edward VI, Birmingham), Jenetta Hurst (Hamstead Hall, Birmingham), Paul Jones (St Marylebone School, London), Bex Lewis (Parkside Federation, Cambridge), Phil Kennedy (Fallibroome Academy, Macclesfield).
Critical Friends: Robert Bunting (ex-music adviser for Birmingham City Council), Bruce Cole (Chief Examiner, Edexel), Kevin Rogers (Hampshire County Music Service), Alison Cox (Purcell School of Music), David Ashworth (consultant for teachingmusic.org.uk website).
The project was funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and was a partnership project between Sound and Music and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group with Birmingham City University as the lead academic partner.
The following pages are an edited version of the Listen Imagine Compose report executive summary. The full report and findings are also available to download below.
The 2009 Ofsted report Making More of Music (Ofsted, 2009) highlighted a number of issues with composing in secondary school music provision, including:
We know that composing is the area of the music curriculum that is often least accessible for teachers (Berkley, 2001), and that changes to the Key Stage 3 Curriculum in operation during the research period placed increased stress on genuinely creative thinking. The purpose of the LIC project was to address these issues through interaction between pupils and their teachers with professional composers and performers.
This research had a number of overt aims, which were expressed in the form or overarching research questions:
In order to address these issues, six separate research questions were posed - one per team:
Each of the research questions generated their own findings and discussions. Here are three (highly selective) findings from each strand of the project:
Project 1 (Pedagogical strategies…)
Project 2 (Evaluating pupil work…)
What helps students to learn to evaluate?
Project 3 (Role of listening…)
Project 4 (Introducing pupils to unfamiliar music…)
Project 5 (Composers and performers as resource…)
Project 6 (ICT and creative music making)
Taken as a whole, ten significant themes emerged from the LIC project work:
Develop questioning skills: All those working with young people would benefit from doing this. Plan for ‘hard’ questions in advance, especially those at the higher-order end of Bloom’s taxonomy;
Added to asking good questions is the notion of involving all the pupils in the questioning process, not just those who may know the answer;
Consider intentionality: What do young people actually want to compose?
Do more of less: Organise the curriculum so that there are more in-depth composing projects (in which listening and performing will also figure significantly), lasting for longer time-scales;
Value fragile initial ideas: These need nurturing, compositions do not emerge fully-formed, pupils need help to understand this. The next point helps with this…
Deconstruct the composing process for pedagogic purposes: This report outlines ways, and points to references, as to how the composing process can be broken down for teaching and learning;
Deconstruct the listening process for pedagogic purposes: As with composing in item 6, work with pupils on different types of listening;
Do not shy away from challenging music: Pupils might know what they like, but they also like what they know. If they do not know, they cannot like - yet!
Critique - not criticise: There is a difference, it needs modelling for the pupils, but doing so maintains valuing their music;
Should there be an end performance? Is an artist in school project about process, or product? A focus on final performance can skew learning;
Allow time for reflection: When funding artists in schools projects, cost in time for structured reflection for key participants. This makes a significant difference to both process and learning;
All those involved in school-based work would benefit from understanding the learning contexts and accountability cultures of contemporary educational establishments;
Examine the unique context of each school or setting, and, in consultation with staff there, tailor intervention projects to suit needs of users, not demands of providers;
Support the embedding of LIC practice in schools through the commissioning of resources, development of CPD; and involvement of sometimes hard-to-reach classroom teachers;
Support within new and extant networks the dissemination of findings on what constitutes good practice in composer-in-education projects and training for composers and others interested in working in educational settings (beware of seagullism!).
Pedagogy, and pedagogic content knowledge (Shulman, 1986), do not develop easily. This project has shown that skilful pedagogy, of composers learning from teachers, and skilful composing pedagogy, of teachers learning from composers, is a fruitful way of working. For much of their time, teachers will be working solo with pupils, without a composer to partner them. On these occasions, learning from LIC, especially the thematic points from the previous section, will be key to their developing the composing work of their pupils.
Composers too may not work in such planning time-rich environments in future. For them the lessons of partnerships, of building on the expertise of the teacher, and of developing their own pedagogy, again including key elements from the themes and recommendations identified above, will be key to successful work.
For arts and funding organisations, questions of purpose are raised. Certainly end-of-project performances with smiling happy children and glasses of wine for patrons are nice, but are they addressing learning? Is this philanthropic window-dressing, or work designed to make a real difference to the lives of young people?
There is evidence in the LIC project of high-quality learning by composers, apprentice composers, and teachers, and of deep learning by pupils. As a result of this project we would want all those involved with composing in schools, but also with music and the arts in schools more generally, to be aware of what has been learned, and also to build on the very significant work that LIC has achieved.