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Mobile phones in music teaching May 26, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in International education.
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The latest, summer 2010 edition of our popular and highly regarded is (International School) magazine has gone off to the printers, and is expected back around June 4th.

Amongst several fantastic features – including a piece on cultural diversity written by George Walker, former Director General of the International Baccalaureate – is an article by Eivind Lodemel, a music teacher at the International School of Dhaka in Bangladesh.

Eivind writes about the use of mobile phone as a tool for informal learning, and popular music as an essential factor in teaching and has kindly allowed us to reproduce the article here.

“Music is a large part of our students’ lives. Significant parts of their days are dedicated to listening to music on the internet, mp3 players or on their mobile phones. They sing along, learn words, dance to the beat, or attempt to copy what they hear using guitars, keyboards or drums. Others will produce or arrange tracks using computer programmes like Garage Band and Cubase, or on their mobile phones. Students are interacting with music, composing, arranging, performing and appraising, but without any formal framework or instruction. They are taking part in informal learning.

Informal learning
Informal learning is receiving an increasing amount of attention amongst those who think about how we teach music. Our students are taking part in music-making in a new and modern way, and there is a feeling that our teaching should adapt to this new method in order to be inclusive and utilise the skill sets that students possess. But how do we adapt? Will a new method of learning limit our curriculum to the music that students find immediately attractive?
Folkestad (2006) asks the question: ‘Do we deny the fact that popular music is an essential factor of the context of music teaching in school, or do we acknowledge the students’ musical experiences and knowledge as a starting point for further musical education?’ The key to a solution might be the words ‘starting point’. If we can embrace the creative freedom, use of technology, learning by ear and informal approaches our students are familiar with, we might find an effective route into all kinds of musical worlds.

Musical futures
One model of how to achieve informal learning of music in the classroom is Musical Futures, a programme of classroom teaching aimed at students aged 11-14, developed in the UK and based on research by Lucy Green. The programme starts with students in groups, learning a piece of music of their own choice.
They learn by ear using mp3 players or CDs, and the teacher is to a large extent expected to stand back and allow students the freedom to explore the music at their own pace. This can be particularly unsettling for many teachers, but is considered an important part of making students feel ownership and control over their own music in school.
The next units in Musical Futures proceed to introducing other styles of music through the same method. At this point, the students listen to music provided by Musical Futures, but the method of learning the music is still informal, student-led and based on developing aural skills through learning by ear.

Exploring music through mobile phones
Mobile phones have become powerful tools and present a whole new level of opportunities for student learning. If we consider that the average mobile phone now has more computing power than the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) which landed Apollo 11 on the moon, and that most of our students carry one of these in their pocket, the view of the mobile phone as a distraction which only interferes with learning might change.
At the International School Dhaka (ISD) we are currently exploring how we can use the mobile phone as a tool for informal learning, and perhaps take the ideas of Musical Futures a step further. Most mobile phones have the ability to instantly record and play back sound (as do laptops), and this can be the starting point for a range of activities:

•    The teacher can play a number of musical themes, students record these, learn them by ear and arrange them into a piece of music.
•    The teacher can play a theme highlighting a musical technique or concept, students record the theme, and understand the technique through immersing themselves in performance or discussion of what they hear.
•    The teacher can present a piece of music which is to serve as a starting point for student composition, students record and take the recording away to start their work.
•    The teacher can present a piece of music, students record, learn by ear and present in classroom performance.

In order for these activities to make best use of informal methods, it is important that students must be given sufficient freedom and independence with regards to how they use and interpret the initial stimuli. Nevertheless, this model makes it possible for the teacher to influence the learning which takes place; students can be guided into developing skills in arranging, analysis, composition and performance, and there is room to explore a range of musical styles and techniques.
The benefits for students are numerous: they can access the music using methods and technology with which they are familiar; the music is instantly portable and therefore accessible for further study outside of school; and they can develop an understanding of the material at their own pace with a sense of ownership and control over their own learning.

Informal learning and creativity
In International School (is) magazine, volume 11 issue 3, Gary Burnett asks the question, ‘Can creativity be taught?’ An article in Scientific American Mind 19(3) suggests that creativity can indeed be taught as long as students are given the opportunity to take part in open-ended problem solving, and given the facility to instantly capture new ideas.
Based on these ideas, there is reason to believe that the informal methods presented above might be an avenue into teaching creativity in music. Learning by ear and responding freely to initial musical stimuli creates ample space for open-ended problem solving, and the mobile phone can be used to instantly record and capture any ideas or musical responses students might have during the process.
By adopting informal learning and embracing the technology and methods our students know and use, we can give students ownership, independence and freedom in their own learning, without limiting our curriculum to popular music alone. The distinction between music in and outside of school is thus blurred, leading us towards a more welcoming, interactive and creative music curriculum.

Eivind Lodemel is music teacher at
The International School of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

COBIS and ISA Conferences May 20, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Conferences, John Catt Educational news.
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Today is the first day back at my desk following a week on the road at two fascinating conferences, first the Independent Schools Association (ISA) in Bournemouth followed by the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) in London.

Both were extremely well run events and I thank the organisers of both for allowing John Catt Educational to exhibit and let educators know a little more about our publications. It was great to get face-to-face with so many Heads and teachers and governors and to hear the feedback about how useful they find our books.

Our Effective International Schools series was particularly popular at the COBIS conference – no doubt helped by the fact that Adele Hodgson, one of the editors of Effective Marketing, Communications and Development, was speaking to delegates on Sunday on the topic of Governance in schools.

Adele is a very popular and experienced speaker and is a regular presenter at conferences around the world, and I know her talk to the COBIS delegates was very well received.

Both conferences finished with excellent black tie dinners, wonderful ways to round off great events. At ISA, I was fortunate to be sat on a table with, amongst others, Bryan Maybee, president of the ISA and author of Pro Liberis (see last week’s post), and Graham Gorton, chairman of the ISA.

Graham gave a stirring opening address to delegates on the first day of the conference, extolling the need for schools to allow children to flourish as individuals and not be robbed of “the very essence of childhood by constantly judging their development against a target-driven educational system…”

Two very different conferences, but both fantastic opportunities to reinforce our support of the independent and international education sectors.

Pro Liberis uncovers ISA history May 10, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education, New releases.
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This week sees John Catt attending the annual conference of the Independent Schools Association in Bournemouth. It is an especially important conference for us to attend as we have recently published Pro Liberis, The Independent Schools Association 1878-2010.

The book, written by Bryan Maybee, the current president of the ISA, is the result of many hours spent examining the archives of the ISA, looking through the extensive collection of the Association’s committee minutes.

John Catt Educational are proud that the ISA chose us as their publishing partner for Pro Liberis and executive editor Wendy Bosberry-Scott thoroughly enjoyed working on such an interesting history. Here’s what Wendy had to say:

“What started as a private delve into the extensive archives of the Independent Schools Association (ISA) has turned out to be an exciting and informative book, the outcome of many hours work by ISA’s President, Bryan Maybee, with invaluable help from Ruth Howe at the ISA office.

“The result is a wonderful publication, offering a glimpse into the beginnings, growth and workings of one of the UK’s important independent schools associations. Formed over 130 years ago, ISA’s involvement has been crucial to the survival of independent education in the UK and British independent schools, and this book reflects it.”

Pro Liberis was published 4 May.
ISA website: www.isaschools.org.uk

gap-year guidebook travel competition May 4, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in the gap-year guidebook.
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Four months or so ago, we set our inaugural Travel Writing and Photography Competition for the gap-year guidebook.

We invited readers of the guidebook’s sister website, gap-year.com, to send us photography and pieces of writing inspired by their travels – with the winner in each category seeing their work published in the 2011 edition of our ever-popular guidebook.

The response has been excellent, and the competition has now closed. Editorial and production staff here at John Catt have chosen the two winners, which we are delighted to reveal as Rajesh Dhar and Shelley Bullen.

Our winning entry

Rajesh sent us this stunning photo taken on a beach in West Bengal, the vibrant colour of the donkey contrasting beautifully with the mean, moody and magnificent skies.

Here is what Rajesh had to say about his photo:

Digha is a sea beach about five hours from my home in West Bengal and a very interesting place to shoot some travel stuff. I found this horse very colorful and well decorated to shoot. It was a stormy morning with some tourists enjoying the thunder. The sea splashing in the background was creating a very dramatic ambience. Though it was drizzling and I was without proper protections for my camera, I couldn’t stop myself from capturing the moment.

Meanwhile, Shelley’s written piece sums up neatly the impact that a gap-trip can have on a young person’s life and we felt it a worthy winner, as the short extract below demonstrates.

If all my travels have taught me anything it’s that it doesn’t matter how far away you venture or for how long you are there. You could go to Ibiza or India, Southend or South America. Like your Grandmother always told you: it’s about the journey. For most of us our gap-year is our first taste of travel and what’s so momentous about these first few carefully planned yet wildly exciting steps is the mistakes you are inevitable going to make. The traveller’s first trip is one of serendipity. The beauty is in the mishaps, the laughs, the tiredness, the awe, the food, the sore feet, the sun, the rain, the freedom.

During my gap-year I toured Italy by train with three girlfriends on the proverbial shoe string. We started in Milan, then Venice, San Marino and San Marino Republica, the beach town of Pesaro and finally Rome.

We went in search of culture, of a world that existed outside of our own, to catch a glimpse of the famously stylish women and gorgeous men. We wanted to try the food, the wine, walk around the museums and cathedrals. And we did just that…

You can read the remainder of Shelley’s piece, and view some of the stunning entries we had in the photography category, on gap-year.com. Thanks to everyone who entered.