Soundscapes: Using Informal Learning Pedagogy to Create a Canadian Strand of Musical Futures

By Heckel, Sandie | The Canadian Music Educator, Winter 2017 | Go to article overview

Soundscapes: Using Informal Learning Pedagogy to Create a Canadian Strand of Musical Futures


Heckel, Sandie, The Canadian Music Educator


"In a way the world is a huge composition - a huge musical composition that's going on all the time, without a beginning and presumably without an ending. We are the composers of this huge miraculous composition that's going on around us and we can improve it or we can destroy it. We can add more noises or we can add more beautiful sounds. It's all up to us".

(R. Murray Schafer in Listen (2009), a documentary film)

Introduction

In his foreword to Canadian Perspectives on Music Education, R. Murray Schafer shared some personal maxims that guide his work in music and creativity with children. Included is the provocative statement that, "in education, failures are more important than successes. There is nothing so dismal as a success story" (Schafer, 2012 p.viii). In considering the story of Musical Futures, although believed by many to be a story of success, it is nonetheless one that emerged within a climate of resounding failures in music education. The pervasive problem that spawned the Musical Futures initiative in 2003 was young people's well-entrenched sense of disengagement with school music despite their passionate interest in music outside of school. Particularly, high school students viewed music as an important part of their social identity, yet school music was seen as uninteresting and often unhelpful for learning the types of music students were interested in learning (D'Amore; Green 2008).

Beyond this failure of traditional school music programs to connect with students' interests, there is another increasingly urgent problem facing elementary music programs. In Ontario, for example, People for Education has reported that only 43% of elementary schools have full or part-time music teachers - the lowest percentage in ten years (2016, p.7). Geography is a further limiting factor in equity of access to a quality music education experience - only 22% of schools in Northern Ontario report having music teachers compared to 69% of schools in the Greater Toronto Area (People for Education, 2013 p.l). These findings suggest, therefore, that generalist teachers are primarily responsible for teaching music in elementary schools in Ontario.

At first blush, this may not seem like a serious problem - generalist teachers successfully teach all other curricular areas - math, science, visual art, etc. despite not having specific expertise in these areas. However, when researchers have examined how generalist teachers feel about teaching music in particular, the results have been disturbing. Many teachers, especially those without undergraduate music degrees, or strong musical experiences outside of school, considered music as one of the subjects they are most ill equipped to teach (Bartel Sc Cameron, 2002; Garvis, 2013; Wiggins Sc Wiggins, 2008). Many reported feeling disappointed by experiences in their own elementary and secondary schooling that left them feeling distinctly unmusical.

Instructional Self-Efficacy, Fixed and Growth Mindsets

In my observations, as both teacher and parent within Ontario's education system for over 30 years, teachers who lack instructional self-efficacy in music tend to avoid the subject. They are commonly allowed to do so by administrators and supervisory officers who unintentionally provoke malaise in adherence to arts curriculum by focusing on improving standardized math and literacy test scores such as, EQAO. As a result, music remains essentially untaught in some classrooms and many students fail to receive the full range of musical experience that is promised in policy. Central to this attitude is society's closed mindset belief that, unlike other areas of learning, music involves having a 'gift' or 'talent'. In order to teach music, one must possess this musical gift evidenced by an ability to play a musical instrument and/or sing in tune and have theoretical knowledge of music including an ability to read music notation. Dweck (2002), an important psychologist studying mindsets and how they impact motivation and self-regulation, explained that "when people believe that intelligence is a fixed trait, they often see poor performance as indicating that they lack intelligence, and they often see lacking intelligence as signaling low self-worth as a person. …

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