Tag Archives: Literacy

Prosody Revisited

Tidying up at the end of a primary school day, I was delighted when two P5 girls helped out without being asked. For some reason, best known to themselves, they burst into an animated version of Two Little Dickie Birds. Then one suggested, “why don’t we play that song?” I replied,  “we could, but I’m wondering if it’s more of a poem than a song. If we took the words away, would there be any tune left for us to play?”  After a moment’s reflection, one said:

Da dada dada da,  dada dada da  –

Da da dada – ,  da da da 

Dada da dada – ,  dada da da

Da da dada – ,  da da da  –

The inflections in the voice were identical to the version with words.

So, what is the prosodic equivalent of the popular line, “I’m a poet and didn’t know it?”


I spent Friday afternoon at NBHS in a very enjoyable, whole school CAT/CPD event on Literacy. One of the features I especially enjoyed was the cross-curricular nature. I often find myself questioning the wisdom of our discrete Instrumental Instructor In Service days, wondering if so much micro at the expense of macro is a good thing, given the direction in which Scottish Education is currently heading.

The event comprised two sections:

  • all staff – randomly grouped – discussing and sharing what we considered literacy to mean at various age groups from 0 to 25 – led by Karen Haspolat (QIO) and Mary Howie (Literacy Adviser).

  • a chosen workshop from a list of five – I chose How We Learn To Read presented by Hilery Williams

Within a few minutes of discussing our given age group (13-16) it became clear that the definition of literacy was becoming boundless and our post-its included the following literacies: traditional; digital/web; musical; physical; social; inter/intra personal; foreign language; political; sexual (meaning – sense of appropriate behaviour); moral; economic. Many of these quickly necessitated sub categories. Language, for example, distinguished between reading, writing, listening & talking, while Music featured playing, listening, composing/arranging/improvising. Both also contain higher order skills such as critical commentary/review; pastiche; a sense of appropriate register e.g. is this level of irony suitable for a wedding ceremony?; or is a pipe band the best medium for this lullaby? I was very impressed with the presentation of each group’s findings which, without exception, seemed comprehensive – even although the given age range may have fallen quite far outside the area of professional expertise.

How We Learn To Read was entirely hands-on and practical – and fun. Hilery guided us through them with a gentle hand, which sustained a sense of challenge, and an infectious joie de vivre which belied the time of the week and the previous day’s house move! The activities had been very well designed and selected to allow us to discover, often by stealth, how we may have accrued the various literacy skills which we now take for granted. A vital part of that discovery necessitated discussing the strategies that we had used to arrive at our answers. Having turned 49 that day it struck me that my formal introduction to reading had begun 44 years before and that I had very few memories of the process – although I can recall sounding out and seem to remember using a book mark to discourage the eye from wandering into the wrong line. Again, I felt that the cross curricular nature of the teams accelerated rather than impeded effective team-work. Our table featured Art; Modern Languages; Computing; Guidance & Instrumental Teaching.

Throughout the tasks, I tried to keep a corner of my mind free to consider the parallels (no matter how inchoate) between traditional and musical literacy. The first activity involved concentrating on syllabification by means of a jigsaw whose individual pieces contained only one syllable. Within seconds of the pieces being spilled out, I found myself gravitating towards syllables which could only be found at the end of words. Why this should be I remain unsure – particularly as the capitalised beginnings ought to have stood out more. Fortunately our mercurial Modern Languages teacher had already identified and lined up the beginnings and pretty soon we were all able to predict the syllables we needed to find to complete the four words. It was interesting to note how prediction played as much a part as identification in this task. This is certainly a feature of musical sight-reading. Perhaps my fascination with endings constitutes one of the parallels with musical literacy. I would contend that one of the first steps in playing a phrase musically is to make the ending sound like an ending. It is an easier notion to grasp than making the middle sound like a middle or the beginning like a beginning. This has implication for interpretation, performance, composing/arranging. One level of listening would be for pupils to consider what it is about the content of a particular passage that makes it sound like an ending. A slightly more tricky one could include the question, “what is it about the content here which makes it seem that the ending is just around the corner?”

I won’t divulge here the contents of every activity undertaken, lest there remain readers who have yet to undergo them. Suffice to say that there were many more than time allowed and I’d have enjoyed doing several more.

I hope to engage in further consideration with Hilery of the parallels between our respective literacies as I have an intuition that the similarities may well outweigh the differences. More immediately, I’d say I have been inspired to devise more games for lessons as the animation they bring to learning is undeniable.

Games already in use can be seen here:

1    2    3    4    5


Mirror Neurons

These few thoughts began as a reply to a comment of David Gilmour’s on a post. As is often the case, the search for one illustrative link unearthed enough to necessitate a discrete post. The initial aim had been simply to launch one more ingredient into the mix of reflections on literacy currently taking place in the profession. In essence, the question was which, if either, is more literate: reading fingerings off the page or reading the movements of a hand on a video?

Although an ardent fan of traditional musical literacy I’ve lately begun to wonder if pupils might benefit from a supplementary option – watching the hands in a close-up video performance of pieces they are preparing – specifically ensemble material, where the moves they are required to internalise account for only a fraction of the overall sound. Preliminary canvassing of a few pupils suggest that they feel that this might be helpful.

I began to wonder about the role that mirror neurons might play in this and, in my search, stumbled upon this explanatory video. In the year of Darwin’s bicentenary, the question would seem to be, “why look an evolutionary gift-horse in the mouth?”

This train of thought is something of a slow burner, as this letter to New Scientist about this article in Feb 2001 might suggest.


Literacy – The Gr8 Db8

A pupil, who has no problem with musical literacy, would like more detailed fingering on an ensemble part – with nothing left uncertain.

Which of the following two appraoches (if either) would you say is a better example of literacy on the part of either the pupil or the teacher?

Option A:

Include comprehensive fingering on the written part.

Option B:

Upload a supplementary video in which pupil can see the teacher play the part against a recording of the ensemble piece.

Answers on a PC 🙂

p.s. the title of this post is a nod to David Crystal  – author of Txting: The Gr8 Db8

Read his blog here.


National Instrumental Conference 2: Curriculum for Excellence

I spent part of this afternoon with Alan Armstong, Director of Education Improvement at LTS (formerly of HMIe). He wasn’t aware of this nor of the fact that I could, as though by magic, get him to repeat any idea as many times as I needed to hear it. How did this unlikely situation come about? Through the miracle of modern technology.

A Curriculum for Excellence was one of the two workshops I signed up for at the HITS National Instrumental Conference on Tuesday 30 Sept. This session was shared by Alan Armstrong and Aileen Monaghan of HMIe (formerly of LTS). Before the session began I asked if they’d object if I recorded it as an aide memoir – stressing that I hoped to write it up on my blog. They were kind enough to agree. So I placed my Zoom H2 on the neighbouring chair, allowing me to give the talk my full attention.

I had intended to write this up sooner but I’m glad I didn’t because the target audience has changed. Today I received details of our In Service on Monday Oct 20. Feedback from the HITS conference was requested and, as my colleagues were scattered about the other dozen or so session taking place simultaneously, I feel that I should try to make some sense of this session for them – in addition to any readers here. The were slides accompanying the talk and so, rather than attempt a verbatim re-enactment, I shall simply make use of numbered points and paraphrasing so that, on Monday, colleagues can more easily ask me for clarification.

  1. Why change? OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development) report indicates that school doesn’t overcome poverty and disadvantage – as strong as Scottish education is, it does not compensate for the postcode lottery – so some reflection of what schools are for was thought essential – and delivery of the Curriculum for Excellence is the practical expression of this

  2. This reform must come from schools and not be centrally driven

  3. Original draft in 2004 – constant discussions since then – with more detail in the last 6 months

  4. What is going to change? Our pupils will face a future much more prone to rapid change than way in which we (at least the more senior members of the service) grew up. Some will change career several times. We need to provide them with skills for this changing future. We need to prepare them for change? We’re looking for deep and sustained learning which upon pupils will be able to draw whatever the circumstances. The content of the curriculum must be fit for purpose for this changing future.

  5. What will be the contribution of learning and teaching to this?

  6. Is there anything we (instructors) cannot claim to be doing already?

  7. Active Learning?

  8. Choice?

  9. Ownership of learning – encouraging pupils to explain what is and what is not going well?

  10. Encouraging pupils to see the connections between subjects?

  11. Assessment if for Learning is about talking to pupils – letting them express how they think things are going – challenging them – collaborating in finding solutions to problems – is this not already a constant component of lessons and rehearsals?

  12. All teachers (including instructors) are to be teachers of Literacy, Numeracy and Health & Well Being.

  13. School-Community links – concerts?

  14. Collegiate Leadership – Instructors to take charge or their part of the overall picture.

  15. However, the experience and outcomes form only part of the picture

  16. How things are put together matters.

  17. Assessment has to be considered.

  18. So does certification.

  19. The draft of A Curriculum for Excellence was put together by LTS

  20. The experience and outcomes areas have been the subject of much discussion and many checks (Expressive Arts can be found here)

  21. It was launched in January for feedback.

  22. Will the ingredients of this curriculum do what they promise?

  23. Re-professionalise teachers (allow them to take ownership of what they teach as opposed to tight, more schematic approaches of guidelines of 5 to 14?

  24. Will they work?

  25. What CPD will be required?

  26. What changes will be required before the curriculum settles into what could be considered its final form (I don’t believe that this suggests for a moment that the situation will some day be fixed for all time – this would hardly be in keeping with the perpetual change highlighted above)

  27. What do we need in the form of interesting new practice to show others? Do we (Instructors in East Lothian) see ourselves as the provider as opposed to the recipient of new ideas?

  28. Apparently the feedback is already in. Have we missed out here? Does anyone recall being directed to consider and respond to the content?

  29. Some local authorities were given the chance to try out 2 or 3 outcomes – presumably we weren’t in this pilot phase.

  30. Bear in mind that some of these outcomes are broad e.g. a whole term’s work – 2 or 3 years in some cases.

  31. There was also an online questionnaire from LTS. Anyone in Scotland could take part – not solely professionals – I think we’ve missed this.

  32. A report was commissioned from Glasgow University. The time period was short (over the summer) and there were many subjects being considered, so (in Music) they were asked simply to point out flaws:

  33. What’s not clear?

  34. Is more information required e.g. what lies behind it?

  35. Is more exemplification required?

  36. What kind of CPD – nationally?

  37. The rest of the development comes from us – over the next year and beyond – developments will be shared via LTS and GLOW (formerly Scottish Schools Digital Network – each school should have at least one Glow Mentor who can talk us through this).

  38. So the content will be what we can offer.

  39. What was the feedback to LTS from Glasgow University?

  40. People like the broad statements

  41. They feel less secure about the meaning e.g. what constitutes any given level

  42. In general they were happy with the Music outcomes – perhaps the required change will be small

  43. Any Gremlins? The word magic was not popular – too vague – more specifics are required – without being in danger of inviting an over prescriptive situation – Scotland, has had open curricula in the past – relative to other countries – and people are keen to retain this

  44. More generic (negative) points – the CfE document was not easy to navigate

  45. So – what needs to be elaborated?

  46. There will be a fleshing out of points on the curriculum over the next few months – not every single outcome, but where there is a barrier to progress or a lack of clarity

  47. What additional support might be necessary? How will we adapt, where necessary, the content?

  48. How will achievement and reporting flesh out?

  49. Further clarification of music technology required (this would form part of Aileen Monaghan’s contribution to the session).

  50. How will assessment strategies flesh out? People seem unsure of what constitutes a certain level – and this makes planning difficult.

  51. More exemplification required – visual and aural to refine idea of content

  52. How does all this link back to Citizenship & Sustainable Development?

  53. CPD needs – training for non-specialist – how will they cope with changes – particularly when they will be dealing with changes to almost every other element in their working day? Does this apply to musical activity in, say, a primary school over and above that provided by visiting Instrumental Instructors and Primary Music Specialists?

  54. Independent Learning? Surely not an issue for an effective, modern Music Department using differentiation etc.

  55. In Service talks by pioneers of new practice, technology, software, ideas etc.

  56. Interesting that people continue to seek clear explanation, four years down the CfE road.

  57. The big professional judgement at the heart of this is how much to prescribe (given the apparent need for clarity) and how much to leave to the experience and judgement of individual departments

  58. The Four Capacities being at the heart of everything, how do we organise things to ensure that they materialise? By referring constantly – not simply to the headlines but the attributes

  59. Remember to include literacy and numeracy in this

  60. How does it all come together? It’s all about what we plan for children – and not just us – any planned activity – cubs; sport; trips; rehearsals; concerts etc.

  61. Four main ingredients are meant to be present: ethos; curriculum areas; interdisciplinary subjects (in our case – how music links with everything else); personal achievement.

  62. The above four elements are really the definition of the curriculum – but it’s much broader – not just the in-school stuff

  63. We also need to be aware of: challenge; breadth; progression; personalisation; coherence & relevance

  64. this means linking in-school, out-of-school, ethos etc.

  65. There have been many changes in curricular content – in my time – since late 82, I’ve seen the transition from O Grade to Standard Grade (resulting in the disappearance of the non-certificate class); the new Higher Music; Higher Still; Advanced Higher (and the disappearance of the Certificate of 6th Year Studies); Intermediate I & II…… 5 – 14

  66. BUT – this is the first time that the entire 3 – 18 span has been rethought

  67. One result will be that secondary school will no longer be thought of as S1-2; S3-4; S5-6 but rather S1-3; S4-6

  68. The S1-3 phase will be about breadth of education

  69. The S4-6 phrase will be about certification for continuing education or employment

  70. The values will include – effective teaching; personal support for every pupil (we’ll surely be part of this); qualifications

  71. How will schools deliver this? We will be part of this and it will require, for example, specifics of how Literacy, Numeracy and Health & Well Being fit into our lessons & rehearsals

  72. Given the freedoms involved, the manifestation of the curriculum could vary from school to school – surely this, more than any individual component will be the eventual challenge for the Instrumental Instructor.

  73. Two final questions to finish this part of the presentation:

  74. (1) Framework for Learning & Teaching: look at the ingredients for 30 seconds (in one area) and discuss with your neighbour how the instruction service fits into everything

  75. (2) Given that everyone will be a teacher of Literacy, Numeracy and Health & Well Being – how will you capitalize on these three things – either individually or as a network (service)?

  76. What now? Where do we fit into the remaining development? Perhaps not a terrific amount of change in day to day practicalities but certainly more elaboration of our contribution to the three above elements.

  77. New awards in literacy and numeracy will be available – exactly when remains to be settled – early S4 perhaps S3 but, in either case, evidence will be collected from across the curriculum – that includes us.

  78. Scottish Government consultation (online questionnaire) on qualifications remains open online until 31 October.

It’s difficult to believe that what is merely sketched out here was delivered in proper prose in under 28 minutes!

Unfortunately, the batteries in the Zoom H2 packed in 8 minutes into Aileen Monaghan’s contribution – but I’ll try to piece together something in a separate post.

* the definition of literacy is much wider than what might normally be assumed and includes digital literacy (podcasting, blogging, uploading multimedia etc.), musical literacy the ability to give a talk/presentation etc.

The Write Stuff

Imagine if there were a University of Your Favourite Stuff in your street and you walked past it for weeks without noticing it. That’s how I felt when I finally stumbled upon the Guardian’s huge series, How To Write. In all there are 62 articles offering advice from writers of every imaginable genre.

I think it’s a sign of confidence when people give away advice on their trade, in a limited marketplace. That’s why I was particularly impressed with Writing Sketches by Richard Herring, David Mitchell & Robert Webb and Honing a Joke by Richard Herring. This latter one, and it’s insistence of mastery of language, struck me as particularly relevant to recent thoughts, as I’ve been captivated to the point of a couple of thousand words of participation in a debate on literacy, in the widest sense, on John Connell’s excellent blog.

Other interesting pieces in this Guardian series include Wendy Cope on poetry, Simon Jenkins on journalism and Ronald Harwood on stage and screenplay.