Monthly Archives: September 2016

It’s not fair!

“Life is not fair”. Different people ascribe varied meanings to the statement. In return one often hears, “Deal with it”, and those who respond this way are more likely to be in a position that society deems as privileged.

In our most recent workshop for the Values module we explored social inequality through a devious exercise orchestrated by our multi-talented lecturer. The class was divided between four tables, approximately nine students per table, and on each table was a numbered envelope. We were given a group task “…to create a resource for new students studying at the University of Dundee, using only the materials in the envelope”. The groups were numbered 1 to 4, and it was revealed that we would be receiving marks out of ten for our efforts at the end of the class. There was a noticeable silence when this was revealed because I imagine most of the class would perhaps not want to be put in the position of appearing superior to the others based on a score out of ten. At least not consciously…

Half way through the exercise, as each group revealed their concepts, it became apparent that we had received different materials in each envelope. Groups 1and 2 had similar resources, group 3 had noticeably less, and group 4 the least of all. To put that more specifically, group 2 had ten sheets of coloured paper, sticky tape, paperclips, coloured pens, post it notes, paper clips, letter clips, pencils and pens. Group 4 had one pencil, a few paper clips and some post it notes. The presentations were performed in numerical order and the feedback changed from overwhelmingly positive and supportive, to negative and unhelpful, presented with disappointment bordering on anger (such range!). The negative feedback given to groups 3 and 4 took the whole class aback. My group (number 2) ,received moderate praise, so we quickly disregarded this and carried on creating our design. We didn’t need to worry about the others. ‘They will come up with a creative idea and put themselves back in the good books’, I thought.

While the groups were constructing and discussing ideas, Derek Day-Lewis was engaging with each group, again in numerical order, feedback and support going from positive, through middling and negative, to none. The activity at each table reflected the mood of each group. Group 1 abuzz with ideas and group 4 quietly hoping that it was all over. When we finally presented our finished products the marks out of ten awarded were:

  • Group 1 – 9/10
  • Group 2 -7/10
  • Group 3 – 4/10
  • Group whatever – ?

Once it was revealed that, in fact, it was all a wind up, the release of tension in the room was obvious. The students in group 4 who were neglected and disregarded, seemed disappointed in themselves. Groups 1 and 2 appeared to be performing well, and so went about the task with gusto. Group 1 were being praised for their creativity because they had the resources to design something more effective. Group 4 felt excluded because they did not have the same resources and were being judged negatively on their performance because of that. Once the workshop was finished, the positive effect it had on group 1 was obvious. Despite the knowledge that it was an example of inequality, they were happily chatting with ‘Mr Olivier’ once everyone else had left. Hopefully group 4  weren’t too upset.

The exercise showed how teacher behaviour towards pupils affects performance, and how important inclusion is in making the classroom learning environment one of equality. The task also highlighted some of the problems of inequality in society; those with the most resources received a positive response, those with fewest resources a negative response. Ideas of equality change over time and between different political ideals, like communism and democracy. I look forward to exploring more about the issues that underpin social inequality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Play it!

Like many musicians before me I began my musical journey on the piano. Growing up in rural Aberdeenshire, it was the most popular and widely available instrument; you could find one in every school, village hall and community centre. Like many musicians before me, the piano fell by the wayside when I picked up my second instrument. Eventually, by the time I started my third, the piano had been relegated to the ‘instruments I used to play’ pile. With the wonderful benefit of hindsight, I now realise that I should have kept some proficiency, as it will be difficult to relearn the techniques after such a long time away from the keyboard.nljb33w

The piano is such a versatile instrument which is why I want to start ‘tinkling the ivories’ again. It can stand on its own in a solo performance or as part of an ensemble. It can also be a learning tool for single line musical instruments, such as the trombone or clarinet, and it can be used as an accompaniment. The latter of these qualities is very valuable when it comes to learning songs for a group, or solo, performance. There is another reason to take up playing again. I actually own an upright piano, and I have been putting off playing for too long. I should just sit down and play it!

While I was gaining teaching and classroom experience in a local primary school, I helped put the Christmas holiday play. That year was called, “Pirates vs Mermaids”. It had well written dialogue and was peppered with fun but challenging songs. The backing track for those came on a C.D. and the music was performed digitally (MIDI format) rather than by musicians. Even though the C.D. is a solid base for the songs, it could be more fun, and provide more learning opportunities, if the music was performed by the children as a band.

From my own experience and what I have observed in schools, singing in front of an audience usually comes with a lot of nerves and anxiety. By introducing the choice of playing an instrument, perhaps percussive like a tambourine and maracas or melodic like a glockenspiel and recorder, music becomes about more than just singing along to a C.D. The piano is important in this scenario because it provides the chord structure underneath the sung or played melody. This is why I am motivating myself to start playing again, so I can provide this assistance.

Playing and exploring music in this way is fun, but access to instruments is dependant on what is available in the school. While many instruments are expensive, such as brass, woodwind and strings, others are relatively cheap to acquire and maintain. The percussion section has both tuned and rhythmic instruments, which are sold in sets by educational resource providers, such as Music Education Supplies and the TTS group. Unfortunately, even though instruments are sold at low prices, some school budgets do not extend far enough to reach this aspect of the arts.

I know starting again will be a difficult process, as learning the piano was not easy for me compared to the other instruments I play, but I do love to learn. The coordination required to use individual fingers, on both hands, in the correct order stimulates the brain in a most wonderful way. I will update this blog with my progress as often as possible or when I reach what I consider to be a milestone (if I manage to make it that far without someone calling the authorities about the horrible noises I am making!).

 

Why teaching?

I want to teach because being an effective learner is fundamental to growing up in this rapidly changing world. My time volunteering in classrooms gave me the confirmation that I love helping people learn. To me there is no other feeling like it; the sharing of information between pupil and teacher, pupil and pupil, teacher and teacher, creating a learning zone that is for all. I also observed the changes in teaching methods from when I was in school, which demonstrate what a varied and adaptive profession teaching is. My journey from leaving school to being at the University of Dundee has seen me at two higher education institutes and two colleges, not always going smoothly, but that is a story for another time!

I decided to become a teacher more than two years ago. In those years I dedicated my spare time towards achieving that goal. This involved returning to attain my Higher English, volunteering at a local primary school to gain classroom experience, studying two modules with the Open University (E111: Supporting learning in primary schools and E102: An introduction to child psychology and childhood studies (it is a field that greatly interests me after studying this module)) to learn more about support in the classroom and the curriculum, and lastly applying to the University of Dundee. It was a challenge to balance my work with my studies at the Open University . At times it was difficult, but I learned valuable time management skills that will no doubt prove useful. It has been a long journey and at times progress seemed slow; it took me two years of extra work on top of my education in Secondary school, but the rewards will be immeasureable.

 

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A very important factor in the decision to teach is my love of music. I have played trombone and bass guitar for most of my life. Learning to read and perform music has given me opportunities to play with orchestras, concert bands, brass bands and function bands all over the country. The best times I have had in education involved working with other pupils and teachers in musical ensembles, and I want to inspire young children (and teachers!) to take part in the magical world of music so they can share in that enjoyment.

Lets go!