Learning to perform, or learning to learn?

Process vs Outcome

“A well structured and flexible teaching plan is often derailed because there always seems to be some pressure to get things ready sooner, more quickly, by tomorrow, immediately … Rather than being able to allow things to take their natural course and develop organically and thoroughly in their own time.”

[Paul Harris, The Virtuoso Teacher, Faber 2012].

Herein lies a big struggle – on 2 June, Monkton will be celebrating the opening of its fantastic new Music Centre, and as expected there will be lots of musical performances over the course of the weekend. We have a ‘Battle of the Bands’, a Chapel service with choir anthems, our Big Band playing on the lawns, and a concert featuring our numerous ensembles and several eminent Old Monktonians. And yes, all of this is very front stage; that is, people will be flooding into Monkton, including guests who perhaps don’t know the school, and they will naturally make a judgement on music at Monkton by what they hear.

 All of this does make the job of teaching music quite a difficult one! On the one hand, we want our pupils to give the very best performance that they can. We need to teach them what excellence is, and that to strive for excellence is a fine thing. Personally, I am never entirely satisfied with a performance; I can be delighted with it, but there will always be things which I find that could have gone differently. Developing these critical skills in our pupils in vital. They need to know where there is room for improvement, and ideally to be able to fix these issues themselves. Our teaching needs to be delivered in a way which enables our students to learn to learn, to discover for themselves, under expert guidance, what works and what doesn’t work, what is good and what is less good. And what is excellent.

On the other hand, with a performance just a fortnight away, perhaps there isn’t time for all that – we just need to teach them the notes so that everything sounds respectable on the day. Does it really matter if they don’t fully understand that rhythm, just as long as they can play it correctly in the context of the piece for the concert?

It may well be the case that the audience can’t discern the difference between these two scenarios anyway – the real article versus the ‘carefully prepared to survive the day’ version. But the pupils will. The very best teaching is that which enables pupils to grow and develop, so that they become increasingly inquisitive and ultimately self-sufficient. The most enthusiastic learners will be those who feel able to achieve because they are enabled. In other words, those who discover that they can enjoy the process, take an active role in their own learning, and who are then able to take responsibility for the outcome.

I believe passionately that this should be our principal objective. Whilst aiming for the highest possible standards of performance, nothing should take our eye of the most important element here, which is to enable every pupil to find their own voice. To be a thinking musician, not a participant in a front stage pageant. We are striving for excellence, always, but our performances on 1st/2nd June are in fact part of a much longer term process which our pupils are developing throughout their school careers and way beyond. And although the outcome is important, the process of getting there is arguably much more so!

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