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The role of musical identities in the changing face of music education: How our learners can surprise us!

Lookup NU author(s): Caroline Preston, Dr Anne Preston


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The recently published National Plan for Music Education states that, “When young people make music together, they work toward a common goal that has the potential to change lives profoundly for the better” (2011:4). The plan supports this vision by proposing a more centralized approach where arts organizations, classroom teachers, specialist teachers and professional performers work in partnership for the good of ‘high quality’ music education provision. This aim encompasses a more specific emphasis on the importance of the socio-cultural context of music education and the significance and transferability of values acquired through music classroom ‘academic’ work in the broader framework of music in society and lifelong learning. Traditionally, approaches to music education have been based loosely around 3 distinct camps: what was practically possible within the context of the classroom; musical knowledge as a product in terms of underlying structures of music and a more holistic perspective, where the acquisition of relevant musical knowledge took place by treating the classroom as a microcosm of music-making practices and values present inside and outside the classroom walls (Swanwick, 1999). A recent addition to this third perspective, and one which has similarities to the national plan, is the Musical Futures model (Green, 2002, 2006, 2008). It is based on an understanding that a student can gain more from musical participation when given greater control over his or her learning. A central challenge is how to integrate such models into everyday classroom practice. This paper explores the micro-macro dimensions of school music in terms of exploring the relationship between the broader framework of music in society and lifelong learning and existing practices in the music classroom. It takes a learner-centred approach and probes the nature of musical knowledge through the co-construction of musical identities. In doing so, it shows how pupils working unsupervised demonstrate a whole range of musical skills and knowledge. It also shows how identity can be used a methodological tool more specifically for uncovering often surprising findings. The extent to which current learner-centred music classroom practices reflect the broader aims of the National Plan for Music Education will be explored by posing two research questions: 1. What can localized formations of learner musical identity reveal about the acquisition of musical knowledge in the music classroom? 2. What can localized formations of learner musical identity reveal about how this musical knowledge is co-constructed in classroom activities? In order to address these questions, the research draws on a micro-analytical framework to studying identity-as-context (Zimmermann, 1998). This approach treats identity as a socially constructed phenomenon rooted in the moment-to-moment dynamics of human interaction. It draws on the notion of ‘discourse identities’ to show how identity is activated, displayed, negotiated and processed in situated experience through discourse. The ‘identity-as-context’ framework enables a view of the development of musical identity during unsupervised collaborative activities in the music classroom. A discourse analysis approach is taken to analyse selected episodes from a series of group work activities. This analysis involves the identification of different ‘discourse identities’ which are then mapped onto the construction of specific roles and relationships in the discourse reflecting different musical identities Findings from the analysis point to a range of unexpected musical identities related to informal musical contexts outside the classroom. The findings also reveal how music collaborative contexts can foster localized identity formations that can extend to broader social relationships and values beyond the classroom. These findings can be used to support the notion that a lot of what already happens in the music classroom reflects the aims and objectives of the New National Plan for Music Education

Publication metadata

Author(s): Preston C, Preston A

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Conference Name: Centre for Learner Identity Studies (CLIS) Fourth Annual Conference on ‘Learner Identity’: Identity, State, Education

Year of Conference: 2012