What does quality look like in non-formal music education and is it different from the classroom?

This is based on a detailed observational study of music learning in three non-formal music education settings from the ‘Communities of Music Education’ research commissioned by Youth Music (Saunders and Welch, 2012). This is the first time such a study has taken place and it would be great to know what readers think of the findings, please leave comments below.

The researchers found that sessions in which young people enjoyed high-quality music experiences were likely to contain the following elements (the elements in bold are the ones I think might be more prevalent in non-formal music education than in some formal contexts):

i. A confident and musically expert model of session leader/practitioner;

ii. Young people were actively engaged for a high percentage of time across the session;

iii. The young person’s voice was dominant within the session, either being expressed in song or sound, through musical ideas or used to question, reflect and review their own progress;

iv. A musical beginning and ending to the session were evidenced – where the session leader establishes a musical ‘way of being’ within the session;

v. The criteria for success were made explicit (although not always through spoken instruction or ‘teacher talk’) and reinforced repeatedly throughout the session;

vi. The young person’s performance was monitored and assessed and musically informed feedback instantly provided (more usually through modelling) with clear indications of how to improve;

vii. Achievement was celebrated and valued and related to the criteria for success;

viii. A suitably paced session was evidenced – such as a fast paced high energy session that enabled young people to gain mastery of material through repetition, or a more intermittent pace that allowed space for the sharing of musical ideas;

ix. Learning is placed within a wider context of young person’s lives and the potential professional life of a musician;

x. As appropriate, there was a seamless integration of ICT elements in supporting learning or assessment roles;

xi. The session leader sought to widen the accepted discourse of ‘musician’ beyond that of, for example, class music teacher or pop idol.

Whilst the above elements could apply to most music education contexts, the researchers suggest that the following aspects are more distinctive in non-formal music education:

1. Limited ‘teacher talk’ and where it was included it took the form of:

  • Feedback regarding technique
  • Feedback regarding performance
  • Introduction to a wider number of musical genres
  • Introduction to the concept of being a musician

2. Greater scaffolding and modelling and alternative approaches to instruction including:

  • Modelling the techniques of playing
  • Modelling the ways of being a musician (communicating musically)
  • Establishing ‘horizontal learning’ (i.e. peer led learning and less hierarchical relationships) with more able learners
  • Establishing more of a mentoring relationship with less musically confident learners

I think there is also a potentially interesting point here about professional identity (i.e. whether teachers see themselves as musicians, or non-formal practitioners see themselves as teachers) and how this is conveyed in practice with children and young people.

How does this relate to your experiences of formal/non-formal teaching and learning? Let me know in the comments below.

Read more about the issues raised in the Communities of Education report: what does 'joined up' really mean?

To download the executive summary or the full research report please visit this page

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