Motivation and the Drive to Learn

Michael Griffin gets to the heart of advancing educational goals through an understanding of motivation.

Learning Strategies for Musical Success

Why is it that some people achieve so much more than others? This simple question is one of the big concerns for education. Essentially though, it is motivation that underpins people’s choices and actions. Motivation is the fuel of human behaviour; nothing gets done without it. It is motivation that creates in us a desire to overcome obstacles, to persist beyond the boundaries of comfort, and to achieve beyond ours and others wildest expectations. Therefore, an understanding of how motivation works must be an overarching concern for parents and educators.

In her studies on achievement motivation, Harvard’s Teresa Amabile found the greatest motivational factor to be progress. People just love to get better at what they do. When progress stalls, most people give up.

An even greater level of motivation occurs when people believe they can make progress through their own efforts rather than because of external factors. For this autonomous…

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Let’s Create – Not Replicate

This year, in our Captivate String Orchestra, we have achieved much in the performance of the Brandenburg Concerto # 3, 1st movement (abridged). This is a significant achievement for a combined string orchestra with mainly upper primary students that have mostly come out of the String Things Program in Catholic Schools; Western Sydney.

Here is just a short excerpt from that performance:

However, in this blog post, I would like to follow on from one of my previous posts on “Collaborative Learning in Music – Get With the Team”, in which I discuss the opportunities for collaborative learning in our ensembles and explore how we can extend the ensemble learning experience to music creation or composing and then for the ensemble to perform a collaborative arrangement or composition.

What triggered the idea for this post was a project that sort of generated itself. After we performed the Brandenburg at our Captivate ‘Best Of’ showcase, I was looking for an arrangement specifically for our Blacktown Captivate String Orchestra that we could perform at our St Finbar’s Strings Concert in November. I like to either find or arrange pieces that give students a new musical experience and teaches them something about that style/period/composer.

The questions this posed to me and that I wish to share here were:

How do we engage and involve students with composition/arranging and music creation within our ensembles?

and then leading on from that;

How do we shape our ensembles and rehearsals to make the musical arrangement a collaborative process?

and then an extension of that last question;

How can we use technology in our ensemble and music performance to better engage students in collaborative composing/arranging/performing?

I found an arrangement that I had previously published in a series for String Orchestra but when I played through it, was not happy with my original arrangement. This was an arrangement for String Orchestra of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Chanson Triste’ but was too simplistic and did not sufficiently highlight the evocative moods of Tchaikovsky’s masterful melody writing and colourful orchestral texture.

First, we played through the original arrangement as it was and without letting the students know that I was not happy with the arrangement that I had published 10 years previously, so as to give them an opportunity to freely voice their perspective. Some of the violins were confident enough to say that the chords on alternate beats were not exciting to play and did not fully convey the harmonic structure.

Incidentally – 2 students came up to me at the end of one of these rehearsals and asked to be able to learn much more about composition and to actively compose in the music classrooms back at school. (This orchestra consists of students from across several Catholic Primary and Secondary Schools in the Diocese of Parramatta) My response was to give them some modal scales to play on their violin at the end of the rehearsal and point them to Garageband on their iPads where they could layer their melodic ideas and experiment further.

We have 2 very confident (sometimes very confident to share their views) double bassists in the Blacktown Orchestra and their view was that the double basses should in fact play the opening melody. I thought this was a worthwhile experiment, so I took the score from that first play through and wrote the melody into the Double Bass and Cello parts. I then made the melody in the first 8 bars an optional cue and wrote some more rhythmic variation into the 2nd violin and viola parts. Click on the score and recording below to see the finished arrangement.

Unfortunately, this was not really a completely collaborative process but rather the arranger (me) taking on the feedback from students and giving them a voice in the arrangement. Next year, I am looking at the ways we can use embedded media such as QR codes on the music and interactive music software and/or a Wikispace to make the whole arranging/composition process a truly interactive, collaborative and engaging process for students in this ensemble – and by extension, show a new way of composing, arranging, performing and listening to and understanding music for students in our school music programs.

Around this time, I also listened to a wonderful piece by a friend of mine and renowned composer Racheal Cogan who resides in Calgary, Canada. Racheal is a wonderful performer on recorder and uses a range of recorders as sound sources. In this case, the piece Dreamscape, is not a collaboration with other composers but features Racheal’s innovative use of sound sources and the way she weaves the texture is very unique.

Have a listen to this wonderful piece Dreamscape:

And then be aware that the sounds you are hearing are mostly coming from these beautiful custom made recorders by Racheal’s friend Geri Bollinger in Switzerland. The playing techniques that Racheal uses is very distinctive and innovative:

“The percussion sounds are from the recorder. When you strike the holes/keys with the pads of your fingers it’s a very cool percussive sound – but it’s quite soft; in the recording environment it can be made loud and awesome. The bass-like sounds are also recorder percussion from a deep contrabass – pretty cool! These watery percussion sounds move seamlessly out of the real water sounds that surround us a few times in this piece.”

Racheal also uses technology in innovative ways in her composition that allows for greater experimentation and real time improvisation that builds up the composition in a very organic way. Ableton Live is the software of choice for Racheal, as it allows more experimentation and building up of the layers of the composition in real time.

It is this creative use of sound sources and technology that I would also like to convey to our students in our Captivate Ensembles. If we can find ways for students to collaborate and work together in the rehearsal as composers and creators of music as well as working together towards a successful performance then we will have true collaboration in the music learning. Further; if we can utilize technology in innovative ways to give students in the ensemble real time feedback on the musical arrangement or even with an original composition, then we will truly “Create – not Replicate”.

This post is really just an introduction to the ideas of effective collaboration and experimentation in real time collective arranging and composing in the ensemble. I’d like to continue to explore and share these ideas with you in 2016 and perhaps have a discussion in this forum with fellow educators. How do you encourage students to share ideas on arranging/composing/improvising in the ensemble structure? How do you make your ensemble a place for musical experimentation and exploration?

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What is a String Ensemble? – Building our Music Learning Communities

Right at the start, let me say that this post is not just about string ensembles. It is about how we create collaborative learning communities and how we learn together, students learning to make great music together, supporting each other in their learning and leadership teams, teachers and parents sharing in that learning.

Recently, I have been meeting with leadership teams in schools and speaking to our team of teachers about starting up string ensembles across our schools. I should explain that I lead a strings program across 14 Catholic Primary Schools (Click here to read the blog post “Captivate Strings – the How What & Why”) in Western Sydney, implemented in the classroom, in small group tuition and in school based and combined ensembles.

Also, in conversations with parents in our schools, as well as leadership teams, I have found that many people simply do not understand what a string ensemble is. This is not a criticism of parents or school principals – quite the opposite. This post is to support and inform. In our modern learning culture, I believe we are forgetting the reasons that we come together to learn about and make music.

I have said before in previous blog posts that people like myself of the ‘baby boomer’ generation were not necessarily given the opportunities of learning music and playing music in ensembles because society viewed ‘talent’ as: “You’ve either got it, or you haven’t” and music programs and performing arts programs were often based on a selective process on that basis.

A revelation occurred to me last week when we started up the string ensemble for the very first rehearsal in one of our Blacktown area schools. The teacher leading the rehearsal was a very capable and enthusiastic young graduate teacher. We had 29 students (Learning violin, cello and double bass in the small groups) turn up – some very nervous about whether or not they would succeed. My own revelation was that where students and parents do not understand that ensemble playing involves ‘working together’ towards a common goal and that experiencing success in a music ensemble can lead to a ‘love of learning’ and a celebration of learning across the curriculum, then we need to make the collaborative learning more explicit and guarantee success for every student.

First of all, we played this video of the New World Symphony 2nd Movement performed by the Dublin Symphony and conducted by Derek Gleeson and then we all played the open strings part to New World Symphony from our String Things Book 1  Then, some students said that they could already play the simple melody part, so when we played it again, those that felt confident, played the melody whilst everyone else played the open strings part.

Next lesson, we will consolidate the D major scale and move onto this simple arrangement of the Pachelbel Canon.  If you have a student that can play the simple piano part or guitar chords, then that is a way to be able to include them in the ensemble.

When parents came to drop their children off for this first rehearsal after school, they asked what time they should return. We had laid chairs out for parents and said to them: “Don’t come back later, come and have a seat and join us.” They were hesitant at first and when they pointed out that they had younger children, we invited those children to come and sit on the floor.

You might think that this was disruptive to the rehearsal but when we showed the video of the Dublin Symphony performing the New World Symphony and then we played our simple open string version and then added the simple melody, the parents really understood the aim of learning and playing music together and we celebrated the learning. This school community is very multicultural and consists of a number of new arrival families. The love and appreciation of learning is apparent and I believe every subsequent rehearsal in this school will show a learning community coming together in support and celebration of the learning.

By next term, we will progress these students onto Level 2 of our String Things Level 2 books for violin, viola, cello and double bass and then we will perform the higher level arrangement of Largo from the New World Symphony.

We also need to spell out across all of our schools what it is we are trying to achieve with the establishment of ensembles – not as an exclusive club for just those with ‘talent’ but a place where we can discover and grow our music potential in collaboration. To this end, I now include these points in the letters to parents and also in school newsletters:

  • What is a string ensemble? A string ensemble can range in size from 6 to 40 players (Sometimes more) and consists of violins, violas, cellos and double basses playing different parts of the one piece of music that works together to make a pleasing musical arrangement.
  • What sort of music does a string ensemble perform? A string ensemble mostly plays classical or baroque repertoire but can also play modern pieces such as film & TV music. These days, many pop and rock singers are actually accompanied by professional string ensembles.
  • Why play in a string ensemble? These days, you will hear many catch phrases and terms in education such as ‘The Flipped Classroom’ and ‘Collaborative Learning’. Learning to play music in an ensemble with other people involves collaborative and connected learning. Students feel a great sense of achievement by learning to play music as a part of an ensemble and there are many social and emotional benefits of making music together as well.
  • What music will we play? Initially, we will start with music that we have learned already in our group lessons with our specialist teachers. There will be a part for everyone to play and everyone will be able to learn their part. We will play Classical and Baroque Pieces from Book 1 such as The Pachelbel Canon and Autumn from the Four Seasons, but we will also move to more advanced pieces in Book 2 such as New World Symphony and Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring and also more modern pieces and music from film and TV such as Pirates of the Caribbean or The Lion King.
  • How much practise do I need to do? Because we integrate our learning with the classroom program and group lessons through the use of String Things Level 1 & Level 2, you will only need to do a small amount of additional practice for the string ensemble. Your teacher will help you learn your part but you need to practise your instrument for about 30 minutes a day to be able to progress each week both in the lesson and in the ensemble. Playing in an ensemble makes our practice at home much more meaningful – like training for a soccer team, we all need to learn our part for it to work and each week we want to improve to sound better and to support our ‘musical team’.
  • Where will we perform? Our school string ensemble can perform for important school events such as awards assemblies and liturgies. Outside of the school, we will be able to perform at combined Captivate events. Performing music for other people is very satisfying, but can also really bless others. We would like to also perform at community events and perhaps for concerts at Nursing Homes etc.

 Captivate Screen Shot

The Strings Things Teaching Program including original music,
musical arrangements and media are authored, composed,arranged
& produced by Phil Rooke and published by
Catholic Education, Diocese of Parramatta © 2009 All rights reserved

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Musical Playground Duty

A very wise and hardworking stage coordinator in one of our primary schools had the idea of getting our excellent team of string teachers to perform in the playground for end of the school day dismissal – playground duty should always look like this 🙂

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Visualize Your Success: There are no shortcuts to our music learning

No shortcuts

I have the great pleasure in leading a team of about 12 classroom and specialist teachers in the String Things Program across 14 Catholic Primary Schools in Western Sydney. In recent weeks, I have had the task of meeting with lecturers in Universities with a view to finishing my research degree to ascertain the effectiveness of our String Things Teaching method and Flipped Orchestra Resources. Such meetings always give me a nudge to reflect on my own practice as a Teacher Educator and how we can always improve on our practice and implementation. It also challenges me to reflect on our inclusiveness – Every Child Counts –  and how we can not only offer the opportunity for musical success to ALL our students in Catholic Schools but also how we can best offer pathways to extended learning.

One of the practices I have developed with our Captivate String Orchestra is to send ALL the parents a rehearsal summary with links to learning media, what we covered in the rehearsal and what we need to be learning before the next rehearsal. This orchestra is rehearsed in 2 halves after school each fortnight – every 2nd Tuesday for the Penrith/Mountains orchestra at St Mary MacKillop Primary School in South Penrith and every 2nd Wednesday for the Blacktown/Kellyville Orchestra at St Andrew’s Primary School, Marayong (Blacktown) This combined orchestra consists of about 40 students and offers extended pathways of musical performance with repertoire such as Themes from the Moldau, Winter 1st Movement and most recently Brandenburg Concerto # 3, 1st movement (Abridged) I actually do these orchestrations and embed learning media in the shape of the Flipped Orchestra.

Our Staff Orchestra model the learning by performing the arrangement in a previous concert – our staff orchestra is made up of our classroom and specialist teacher.

I find that these reflection emails are useful to remind students of the necessary revision and preparation before each rehearsal and also to ‘engage parents as learning partners’.

Just a few weeks ago, this orchestra performed with distinction at our Captivate Showcase at the Dame Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in Penrith – playing my arrangement of the Brandenburg # 3 Concerto, 1st Movement. (Abridged) Just weeks prior to that performance, I combined the 2 halves of the orchestra in an intensive workshop/rehearsal at Bethany Primary School, Glenmore Park. The feedback from parents and students was so positive and indicative of our collective learning journey – one year 6 violinist was heard to say: “I really didn’t think I could do this, but now I’m part of this orchestra and a very important part”. What a revelation for that student. Some of our older students discovered their gift for supporting and mentoring our younger students in leading the sectional rehearsals.

Here is a direct extract from the reflection and Rehearsal Summary following that workshop/rehearsal a few months ago. The performance at the Joan Sutherland PAC was certainly an exciting culmination and affirmation of these students but for me, the learning journey and discovery of learning potential leading to that performance was just as exciting – AND also, the discovery that there are no shortcuts in our learning journey:

  • Visualize Your Success – We need to see what success looks like. For some of us, we had a pivotal moment in our lives when we attended a concert and heard a certain classical or jazz performance for the first time. For students, you need to take that inspiration and apply it to your learning. For teachers and parents, we need to realize the importance of these moments in students’ lives and look for ways to provide the inspiration or at least point to it. This is why our staff orchestra models the learning. In the rehearsal yesterday, we began by viewing the score and recording of the piece to understand how the music fits together in a ‘musical jigsaw puzzle’ and how we each play a very important part in that ‘musical jigsaw puzzle’. Here is the online conductor’s score that the students access through the QR code embedded in their music
  • Assess your current knowledge/skills – We then played the Brandenburg Concerto as we knew it at the start of the rehearsal and I asked everyone how that compared to the score and recording we had just viewed. We all agreed that there was a gap between where we were and where we all wanted to be – this is important so that we understand and ‘own the learning’.
  • Close The Gap – When we have a desire to reach that level of success and understand that we aren’t there yet, then we need to work out our learning strategies to ‘close the gap’. In our reflection at the end of the day we were all able to agree that we had considerably closed the gap – both as individual learners BUT also in our own collaborative learning community that is The Captivate String Orchestra.I am very much looking forward to what these students achieve next in their musical learning journey. CapStrings1

The Strings Things Teaching Program including original music,
musical arrangements and media are authored, composed,arranged
& produced by Phil Rooke and published by
Catholic Education, Diocese of Parramatta © 2009 All rights reserved

Captivate Screen Shot

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Collaborative Learning in Music – Get With The Team

CapStrings1Welcome to the first post for 2015.  In this post, I would like to examine and explore the reasons that we play music in ensembles. This has in fact been a learning journey for me in my career as a music educator. I think that sometimes we lose sight of the untapped teaching and learning potential of ensemble playing and we forget the reason that we do all the work of establishing ensembles if it is only to have ‘representative’ ensembles to promote the music department or school.

Many years ago, (1987) my first position as a classroom music teacher was at a High School in the Central West of New South Wales. The only equipment was an ancient piano, a drum-kit, a small powered mixing desk and PA speakers, an early model Roland Juno synth, an electric guitar and amplifier and electric bass and amplifier.

BUT……in the storeroom was a collection of old but good brass instruments plus the previous teacher had formed a ‘band committee’ with students and parents and they had purchased additional woodwind, brass and percussion instruments. This was a coal-mining town and many of the boys would leave school at the end of year 10 but come up from the pits on Thursday afternoons to form our brass section. The school secretary played flute and her husband worked in the mines and played tuba.  As the new high school music teacher, I became the ‘custodian of the town band instruments’ and conductor of the school/community band.

There were no ‘private’ teachers in about a 100 km radius, so I would spend another afternoon a week training the primary school students in the beginner band program. Even though I was a string player, my learning curve on wind and brass instruments had to be a little bit ahead of the students but I believe this gave me a better perspective as an educator and conductor.

The purpose of telling that story is to relate how we form music learning communities. To form and maintain that school-community band, we had to hold raffles and bush dances to raise money for instruments. Older more experienced band members would help me with training the younger band members. Boys that would have normally still be in year 11 and 12 were still involved with the school-community band and their learning continued. We had a sense of pride whenever the band performed at civic or school functions that this was very much a learning community; we all ‘owned’ and contributed to the teaching and learning.

Likewise, I (and our team of 16 classroom and specialist teachers) am very proud of the teaching and learning in the String Things Program. (Click here to see the ‘How, What & Why of the String Things Program) We have built this classroom strings program up from just teaching strings in the classroom in 2 Catholic Primary Schools in the Blacktown area to 14 Catholic Primary Schools in the Diocese of Parramatta in 2015 – in the classroom teaching concepts of music, motivating and engaging students with music learning and connecting to other learning areas, then at the co-curricular level offering pathways of extended learning and then at the extra-curricular level with both our school based ensembles and our combined Captivate String Orchestra.

Recently, I was in a meeting with a principal. I explained that her students had been learning with our specialist teachers for about 12 months with their own instruments and it was about time that we formed a school ensemble. To my great surprise, the principal asked ‘why’? I had assumed that the purpose of forming an ensemble was obvious to anyone, especially an educational leader but it was in fact a very good question to ask and this is what prompted me to reflect and write this blog post. I found myself asking if we as music educators sometimes miss the point ourselves and just as this principal was doing, we should take time to reflect on the purpose of the teaching and learning in our music ensembles. The principal did in fact ‘get it’ and I am glad she asked the question to challenge me to reflect on the teaching and learning of ensembles.

 To this principal, I used the analogy of a soccer team.  I pointed out that having the classroom learning to motivate students to want to learn more, offering pathways to extended learning with our specialist teachers, we should then provide a collaborative learning environment with the end result being music performance. Using the analogy of the soccer team, I asked this principal to imagine a teacher forming a soccer team, asking interested students to meet at lunch time and then telling students that they would each be provided with a soccer ball to kick around in their respective backyards but they would not meet together to train or indeed play any matches. What would the point be?

Fortunately, I think that this analogy got my point across but then I stopped to think about a number of times when I might have taught music skills and knowledge to students but not realized the full potential of collaborative learning though a music ensemble or indeed with ensemble performance as a team activity in the classroom where we support each other in the learning.

My friend and leading Music Educator, Michael Griffin points out the great benefits of collaborative learning in music ensembles in his book, ‘Learning Strategies for Musical Success’:

“Formal music lessons seldom include free creative activities, so young people form groups and design their own. They learn musical skills by watching and imitating their peers in jam sessions that centre on play and enjoyment.” (p 112 Learning Strategies for Musical Success)

Michael goes further in the same chapter to say: “Music activities provide an authentic opportunity for group work, for ensemble work will not be productive without respect for one another’s skills. Under the guidance of an astute teacher, students learn to listen to one another with a sense of tolerance, politeness and respect, and make contributions in a safe and non-threatening environment. They develop leadership skills as well as the ability to form empathic relationships. Musicians work on the same project at the same time with the goal of making one another sound as polished as possible This is pure collaboration.” (p 112 Learning Strategies for Musical Success)

I would add that collaborative learning in an ensemble such as Michael Griffin describes, allows students to ‘Take Risks’ in their learning and I also point out in the orchestras that I conduct that we ‘support each other in our learning’. (empathy)

 So…..what can we do to best realize the benefits of collaborative learning through ensemble performance. First of all, I think that teachers/conductors need to realise that we live in a changing world, especially the notion of what a school is and the learning environment is undergoing great social and technological change. When students come to our ensembles we need to remember that they live and work in very different circumstances than we did at their age. Greg Whitby describes this change in our home and learning environments in his book, ‘Educating Gen Wifi: How we can make schools relevant for 21st century learners’

“At first glance, you might think that the world hasn’t really changed much since the 1990s – we had computers, we had the internet, we had mobile phones…… ” (p 91 ‘Educating Gen Wifi…’)

And goes further to describe a direct example:

“I like to talk about a couple of parents I know who have three grown up children and a teenager still at school…………….Their teenage daughter today has had a mobile phone since starting high school, texts friends and family every day, uses broadband internet to download …..This teenager hands her assignments in on a thumb-drive whereas their older children lugged assignments to school on sheets of cardboard. Our world, work and even students’ assignments are becoming increasingly collaborative.”  (pp 91-92 ‘Educating Gen Wifi…’)

When we consider these changes in technology and the impact they have on the way that students learn, we should look closely at how we organize and conduct our ensemble rehearsals; even go further to see how students practice and how we might use this new technology to engage the parents as ‘learning partners’. (Click here to read my previous blog post – Engaging Parents as Learning Partners)  

Last year, I had the idea of combining our 2 regional string orchestras for a Sunday afternoon ‘open rehearsal’. I invited the parents to the afternoon rehearsal in one of our local school halls. Around 40 students were playing in the orchestra and we had around 50 parents and friends sitting in ‘the audience’. What amazed me was that although this was not in fact a performance, how engaged and intensely interested the parents were. We were solidly rehearsing our pieces with a lot of repetition and ‘chunking’. Afterwards, the parents came to me with very astute observations on the learning and very perceptive questions: “What technique can my child practise to reinforce what they have learned today?”

Later in the year, I repeated a Sunday afternoon Open Rehearsal but this time, the parents offered to bring refreshments and we used the kitchen in the hall to serve afternoon tea. This prompted even more Learning Conversations following the rehearsal.

When parents asked me about how they might reinforce the passages we had concentrated on, I was able to point to the resources we already had in the shape of the ‘Flipped Orchestra’ (Click here to read my previous post on the ‘Flipped Orchestra – eLearning Resources to Promote Music Understanding and Motivation) The QR codes on the children’s music pointed them to the video score of ‘Themes from the Moldau”

and also the tuition videos for each part.

These additional online resources are intended to give access to extended learning both prior to and following the rehearsal.

Greg Whitby is telling us that through the use of technology and changing learning paradigms, that ‘even students’ assignments are becoming increasingly collaborative’.  Why don’t we look at learning paradigms such as Problem Based Learning and Discovery Learning as valid and useful tools to further motivate our students in the ensemble classroom/rehearsal? We need to be aware of this ever changing world of technology and also aware that no matter how we have organised and taught our ensembles in the past that our students are increasingly going to turn to Youtube and other online platforms to discover new ways of learning. Let’s look at these technologies and learning paradigms and find what works best to challenge our students in the ’zone of proximal development.’ (A term used by Psychologists to describe the learning that occurs when a task is challenging enough for us to pursue a higher level of skill but not too difficult to be beyond reach)

Lastly, I’d like to put forward the hypothesis that we are in fact rediscovering these ‘new’ learning paradigms such as Discovery Learning and Problem Based Learning. Look back to the introduction to this blog post and you can see that in 1987, we established a ‘Learning Community’ in that Central West High School (and town) We used peer mentoring, problem based learning etc and parents and even community were engaged with the learning. In fact we had ownership of the learning. What has changed is the increasingly swift growth of new learning technologies and the ways that our students are already embracing this new technology.

The biggest point of this blog is that we embrace new and creative ways of using the technology to better engage and motivate students whilst remembering that ‘what was old has become new again’; that we remember that playing music in ensembles has always been about collaborative learning and learning communities.

Summary – ideas and strategies:

·      Explore ways that we can use technology to deliver content and instruction to students in the home environment in the shape of the flipped orchestra.

·      Structure our rehearsals in the shape of the ‘Flipped Classroom’ and ‘Problem Based Learning’ (or discovery learning) to achieve greater learning gains.

·      Select our Repertoire keeping in mind both the idea of a musical exploration (Music from Classical, Romantic, Baroque but also Music of other cultures, Film & TV etc) But also with the concept of the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’; that students are challenged whilst feeling that performance goals are achievable – to get to the next level.

·      Utilize strategies such as ‘Peer Mentoring’ to achieve even more learning gains than just playing the music well; that students develop values of leadership, empathy and meta-cognitive awareness. (To be consciously aware of our learning and ‘that we best learn what we teach’)

·      Use the learning technologies and new learning paradigms to connect to and engage the parents with the learning – such as open rehearsals and ‘rehearsal summaries’. (I send an email to parents following a rehearsal to point out what we have specifically rehearsed, what needs to be reinforced and with links to our online learning resources to support the learning)


I have referenced two books in this blog post by 2 leading educators in their respective fields.

1. Whitby G. Educating Gen Wi Fi: How We Can Make Schools Relevant for 21st Century Learners. Published by ABC Books. Available in ABC shops – I bought my iBook copy through the iBook store and find it a fantastic reference for understanding and implementing new learning paradigms and new learning technologies. Better yet, it gives a great preview of the pre-history of technology in education; what came before – and an update on how new technologies are impacting in society and shaping the way that we teach and learn. Click here to find out more.

 2. Griffin M. Learning Strategies for Musical Success Published by Music Education World, Adelaide, Australia  In this book, Michael shares a lot of the strategies and ideas that he has researched and developed over 30 years of music teaching and leading music learning. He refers to the ‘Growth Mindset’ put forward by Psychologist Carol Dweck and dispels some of the myths of ‘natural talent’ vs hard work and ‘deliberate practice’. There are some exciting revelations in this publication for teachers, parents and students. Click here to find out more about Learning Strategies for Musical Success.

The Strings Things Teaching Program including original music,
musical arrangements and media are authored, composed,arranged
& produced by Phil Rooke and published by
Catholic Education, Diocese of Parramatta © 2009 All rights reserved

Captivate Screen Shot

Posted in Collaborative Learning, Intrinsic Motivation, Music Education, The Flipped Classroom | 6 Comments

St Andrew’s Primary School Christmas Roadshow 2014

choir & orchestra 5The strings program commenced at St Andrew’s Primary School in 2009 and was one of the first classroom strings programs implemented in a Catholic School in the Diocese of Parramatta. Since 2009, all children in year 3 learn a stringed instrument (violin, viola, cello or double bass) in the classroom music program and play in the class orchestra. As well as learning musical concepts and skills in the classroom, there are many learning gains from playing in an orchestra or ensemble – cognitive skills, social interaction as well as problem based and project based learning.

Once students in the year 3 program have experienced performance in the class orchestra, they are offered the option ofchoir concentrating learning a stringed instrument in a smaller group with one of our specialist teachers in the school; eg a group of violins/violas with a violin/viola teacher, or in a small group of cellists with a cello specialist teacher. Once a number of students are learning at a more specialised level in our smaller groups with specialist teachers, then they are invited into the school string orchestra. Or children that do not take the option of playing a stringed instrument can join the choir.

 Every year since Christmas 2010, St Andrew’s Primary School Marayong ‘go on the road’ with their Christmas Roadshow. The program commences at the local shopping mall and moves to the Holy Family Nursing Home in Quaker’s Hill. This year is the 5th year that the students have performed their Christmas Concert at the Holy Family Nursing Home in Quaker’s Hill. The residents and nursing staff have expressed their great enjoyment of this annual event and the students’ learning is greatly enriched for preparing and presenting this concert.

Mr RaczMany thanks to Mr Andras Racz who teaches and conducts the orchestra and choir as well as teaching the classroom program and violin/viola, Mr Andrew Russek: Specialist violin/viola teacher and Mr Brian Strong: Specialist cello and bass teacher. A very special thanks to Mr Adam Fletcher, Stage 3 Coordinator who works behind the scenes with organisational support.

The Choir and Orchestra perform Gloria In Excelsis Deo

The First Nowell

The orchestra performs the Pachelbel Canon

And of course, no Christmas Concert would be complete without Jingle Bells with audience participation.

orchestra 2

Captivate Screen ShotThe Strings Things Teaching Program including original music,
musical arrangements and media are authored, composed,arranged
& produced by Phil Rooke and published by
Catholic Education, Diocese of Parramatta © 2009 All rights reserved

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2014 Captivate Strings Chamber Concert – St Finbar’s Catholic Church Glenbrook

Chamber Concert 2014On Sunday November 9th 2014, our Captivate String Orchestra, Parramatta Marist High Chamber Orchestra and our Captivate Staff Chamber Orchestra performed works by Caccini, Bach, Purcell, Smetana, Dvorak to a very appreciative and sizable audience in the beautiful setting of St Finbar’s Catholic Church Glenbrook. This concert has become an annual event and this is our 3rd annual Captivate Strings Chamber Concert.

The importance of this event is to celebrate and affirm our students’ achievement in the Captivate Strings Program in a less formal setting than our Captivate Showcases and for our Staff Chamber Orchestra to perform and model the repertoire for the following year.

This abridged (shortened) arrangement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto # 3 in G Major, 1st movement, is performed here by our staff chamber orchestra; comprised of our classroom and specialist teachers in the String Things Program implemented across 13 Catholic Primary Schools in the Diocese of Parramatta. This arrangement will be published as an ensemble pack with embedded media such as score/recording video and tuition videos for each part so that our Captivate String Orchestra will confidently perform this work in 2015.

Also, Parramatta Marist High School Chamber Orchestra were invited to perform at the concert

When we combine both of our Captivate String Orchestras, we have a larger ensemble of about 45 members. However, for our Chamber Music Concert, we divide our combined Captivate String Orchestra into the Penrith-Mountains Orchestra which rehearses every 2nd Tuesday after school at St Mary MacKillop Primary School, South Penrith and concists of students that have come through our Captivate Strings Program in the classroom in our Penrith – Blue Mountains Schools.

And our Blacktown-Kellyville orchestra which rehearses every 2nd Wednesday after school at St Andrew’s Primary School Marayong (Near Blacktown) and consists of students that have mainly come through our classroom strings programs in our Blacktown – Kellyville area Catholic Schools.

The learning is facilitated with innovative use of learning media in the shape of the Flipped Classroom – or rather the Flipped Orchestra (Click here to read my earlier blog post on the Flipped Orchestra – eLearning Resources to Extend Musical Understanding and Motivation) The members of our Captivate String Orchestra mainly come through our classroom strings program (Click here to read ‘Captivate Strings – The How What & Why’) though other students learning from outside teachers may also be invited. Both in the classroom program and in the Captivate String Orchestra, students are able to extend their understanding of the music and more quickly learn their part through the use of embedded media such as tuition videos and video scores.

Also, many students in our schools have access to iPads in the classroom and at home and are able to explore the music score through iBooks with embedded media – to better understand how their own part fits within the whole orchestra and listen to each instrument/part separately or together Click here to download the Free iBook from the iTunes store: Themes from the Moldau – a Preview of the Captivate String Orchestra Arrangement – or download the iBook app to your iPad and search the iBook store for the book of that same title.

We always save the best until last in our Captivate Strings Concerts and look for those ‘God Moments’. We need to recognize the Divine in the Everyday in our schools in music, dance, drama & visual arts (Click here to read my previous post ‘Recognizing the Divine in the Everyday’) – anywhere that our students can find that intrinsic motivation to create these special moments in time.

Our staff orchestra accompanies Caccini’s beautiful setting of the Ave Maria – arranged here by one of our teachers, Mr Andras Racz – soloist; Abbey Keane

Let’s continue to reflect on and celebrate our wonderful musical jounrey for 2014 and look forward to some great musical moments in 2015.

Captivate Screen Shot

The Strings Things Teaching Program including original music,
musical arrangements and media are authored, composed,arranged
& produced by Phil Rooke and published by
Catholic Education, Diocese of Parramatta © 2009 All rights reserved

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Recognize the Divine in the Everyday: making the most of our learning opportunities

In 2007, acclaimed concert violinist, Joshua Bell attempted a musical/social experiment. Normally you would pay hundreds of dollars to hear Joshua play with the best symphony orchestras in the best concert halls but on this day, he played the Bach solo sonatas in the New York Metro Subway for an hour. Thousands of people passed by and paid no attention. Some children stopped to listen but were dragged away by their parents. Most people rushing about their daily lives overlooked a great musical and spiritual experience.

How often do we overlook a student with great potential or passion to create music or art in our rush to get through the lesson plan or routine in a school day? How often do students look past an inspirational teacher with a great life story and rich experience to share, because they are focused in just attaining a mark or they might be disengaged with the topic?

St Aidan's Class 2The Strings Thing Program in Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Parramatta differs from other ‘instrumental’ programs because it starts in the classroom with ALL students in year 3 or 4 or 5 (depending on implementation in each school) in our strategic aim that ‘Every Child Counts.’ We do not just identify the talented students and work with them because our idea of what success looks like for each student is not just the aim of becoming a ‘talented violinist.’ We strive to enable each student to realize his or her own musical and personal success. This might translate to just getting the bow on the correct string most of the time and improving their concentration skills in music but also in reading or numeracy etc. Or to improve their social skills to enable them to work in the context of ‘the class orchestra.’ Whatever their own success looks like, we strive to give them the confidence, knowledge and skills to reach their musical and personal goals.

I loved the statement by one of our year 3 students in the strings classroom a few weeks ago. I had been telling them about how reading the music and then coordinating the bow arm and left hand as well as ‘feeling the music’ makes brain connections and makes us smarter. The following week, Miss Year 3 comes into the classroom, puts her hands on her hips and announces: “Every time I come into this classroom, I feel myself getting smarter!”

The other night, I came home late from a parent information night in one of our schools and received a series of wonderful text messages from a student of whom I have had the privilege of teaching violin for the last 5 years. This student had just finished his final HSC exam that day and was about to head off overseas for a well-deserved break.

Daniel - Solo

I first met Daniel in one of our schools where I was working in the music classroom as a teacher educator when he was in year 7 and he come up to me in the playground after I had given a demonstration of orchestral stringed instruments and he asked if I would teach him the violin. We found an old school violin in a storeroom and I would come to the school each week in my ‘spare time’, even though I had finished working in that school. It was a wonderful learning journey for us both – for me to connect to him and his own islander culture and family background and for him to discover his great potential as a violinist. And, let’s not forget that learning is most enriching when it works two ways between teacher and student – the student is most engaged when the teacher connects with the student in their space; in their cultural experience.

With Daniel’s permission, I’d like to share just a bit of that text message because he blesses us all with his wisdom: “I would just like to thank you for believing in me this whole time and blessing me with opportunities that I never thought were possible…………………….One thing that is a highlight for me from the five years of you teaching me violin is that if you truly want to succeed in anything you do, you need passion and you also need to put in the hard yards before you get results.”

 So…. As I pointed out in an earlier blog post “Oh No!! Not yet another blog post about music practice,”  we need to visualize our musical success and aim for it, but when we have a good teacher, a good instrument and the right learning materials, we need to apply our new found knowledge and skills – as Daniel tells us, “………to put in the hard yards.” I would add that an ensemble such as our Captivate String Orchestra also provides us with a great learning journey – much more than just the performance at a concert or showcase but also a collaborative learning experience with our fellow student musicians.

This is a call to our school leaders, parents, principals and especially students to ‘recognize the divine in the everyday;’ in our students and also in our teachers. The next step is to form a vision with what we can do with that first spark of the divine – the thing is to perceive the divine in the everyday and then work towards that vision.

So let’s celebrate the achievements of 2014 and realize our shared vision of what learning and performance opportunities we might create together in 2015.

Merry Christmas – wishing you all a joyous and musical holiday with a special pizzicato Jingle Bells from year 3 St Aiden’s Primary School – Rooty Hill, Western Sydney

 Captivate Screen ShotThe Strings Things Teaching Program including original music,
musical arrangements and media are authored, composed,arranged
& produced by Phil Rooke and published by
Catholic Education, Diocese of Parramatta © 2009 All rights reserved

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Reflecting On & Celebrating Our Music Learning – What has worked in 2014?

Rest PositionIt’s the first week back of term 4 and already we have had a rehearsal of the Captivate String Orchestra – as usual, the Penrith/Mountains Orchestra on Tuesday at St Mary MacKillop Primary School Penrith and the Blacktown/Kellyville Orchestra at St Andrew’s Primary Marayong on Wednesday afternoon. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the students in both these string orchestras on their achievements this year. Each member of the Captivate String Orchestra has demonstrated greater musical understanding and motivation. Parents are telling me anecdotally how useful and supportive the embedded media in our ‘Flipped Orchestra’ arrangements is to their child’s musical learning and motivation. As an ensemble, I believe our intonation and tone production has become more polished and we are progressively playing higher level repertoire.

Which brings me to our next big event. On Sunday November 9th at 2 PM, we will present our 3rd annual Captivate Strings Chamber Concert at St Finbar’s Catholic Church, Glenbrook in the Lower Blue Mountains. This is a beautiful church and venue for a Chamber Concert. Entry is by gold coin donation and it is open to the public as well as parents, teachers and school leadership teams. It is a wonderful celebration and reflection of our musical achievements for the year, whilst also looking forward to new repertoire and another exciting year of music performance ahead. We also take the time to thank our wonderful dedicated teachers as our Staff Chamber Orchestra also perform. And lastly, this performance is a thank you and recognition of the support we receive from our Captivate Orchestra Parents – you bring them to rehearsal each fortnight and support the learning at home – this is also very important in the chain of learning.

The main point I would like to make in this blog post is to find the strategies that have worked for us this year – we have achieved so much in our learning; What has worked? I believe that the first thing we need to do is to motivate students to learn. I’d like to think that in music learning, this is relatively easy to do – it’s such a great area of learning that connects us emotionally. Think of your favourite piece of music and you probably connect that piece of music to a fond memory – a person, place or experience that you remember well. But our music learning is not just remembering our favourite music but also an exploration of new music that we may not have encountered previously. I like to use clips from Youtube to show the orchestra what our performance might look like (it’s important to be able to visualize musical success) eg this wonderful clip of a flash mob orchestra (in the Spanish town of Sabadell) playing the last movement of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy

or even videos from our past performances. (for reflection on our learning) 

Here are the steps of learning in our ‘Flipped Orchestra’ :

  • We need to be intrinsically motivated, or I prefer the word ‘inspired’ to explore the new music in front of us.
  • We can use CDs or the internet (with help from our parents & carers) to find other performances of this new piece we are learning.
  • I was about to say that we need to find a way to learn the mechanics of playing our part BUT before I mention that step, I think we often overlook the skill of ‘sight reading’. I think we should have a go at reading our new piece in orchestra AND also challenge ourselves to sight reading new pieces at home – by ourselves or with friends. This can be a piece from String Things Level 2, or it could be a theme from a computer game that you downloaded from the internet – even better if it’s a theme from a computer game that you listened to and worked out for yourself.
  • We need a way that we can sight read and learn the piece at home – this may be with help from our ‘private teacher’ or with the help of our Captivate Strings Teacher in our small group learning BUT you need to also reinforce this learning with practise at home. This is where the tutorial videos are most useful – accessed from our music with the use of QR codes or from the links sent to parents. (I will also put the tutorial videos onto DVD and deliver to the school office for any student that requests it)
  • It also helps if we understand how our part fits with the rest of the orchestra. We can access the video of the score with the recording of our arrangement
    Or we can download the iBook with active score excerpts                            Click here to download the iBook for Themes from the Moldau.                                                                                                                                              Click here to download the iBook for Winter from the 4 Seasons. Both are free downloads – or search for those titles in the iBook store on your iPad (author – Phil Rooke) to access those iBooks – these are free to the public and can be used as a teaching resource in themselves with the active score samples. I have arranged the score and played and produced the recordings and score excerpts myself.
  • Lastly – we come to the rehearsal with increased knowledge and understanding of the scale, harmony and structure and knowing the right scales and technique to play our part through learning in our small group lessons at school and use of the tutorial video at home. (both collaborative and ‘flipped’ learning)
  • One last but very important point – I am absolutely thrilled and very proud of our more experienced Captivate Orchestra members. Something I have observed this year is that our experienced players (About half of our membership are original members from when the Orchestra was first formed in 2011) are now actively assisting and supporting our younger less experienced newer members. My good friend Michael Griffin relates in his book: Learning Strategies for Musical Success, how he uses this Peer Mentoring as a strategy for motivational and collaborative learning. In his keyboard classroom, students must evaluate their playing in the assessment task against set criteria. Students can elect to reach a pass level or strive for a higher level of achievement in order to become student teachers upon which they then teach other students: “Teaching is a powerful learning activity. Teaching enhances explanation skills and requires a deep understanding of the subject material. Verbal explanation develops deep understandings inherent in declarative knowledge.” p75 Griffin, Michael. Learning Stratgeies for Musical Success – Music Education World, Adelaide Australia 2013

Celebrating our success – This year, the Captivate String Orchestra has:

  • Learned 2 new major works – Themes from the Moldau (click here to view the score and listen to the recording)  and Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring (click here to view the score and listen to the recording) – with demonstrated higher level technical skill and musical understanding.
  • Additionally, our newly formed Captivate Strings Chamber Orchestra also learned and performed a new orchestration of the Bach Double Violin Concerto
  • The Penrith/Mountains Orchestra has also learned the March Militaire by Schubert and will perform this piece with other repertoire at our annual Chamber Music Concert at St Finbar’s Catholic Church, Glenbrook.
  • The combined Captivate String Orchestra, the newly formed Captivate Chamber Orchestra and both the Blacktown/Kellyville and Penrith/Mountains Orchestras presnted polished performances at the Annual Captivate Strings Showcase at Nagle College at the end of term 2. The following week, the Combined Captivate String Orchestra also performed Themes from the Moldau by Smetana and Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring by J.S. Bach (The abridged version from String Things Level 2) at the Best Of Captivate Showcase at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre
  • The Combined Captivate String Orchestra performed at the Penrith Eisteddfod and for the 2nd year in a row, received 1st place in the High School Orchestra Section.

There is much to celebrate in our musical learning and performance. The Annual Captivate Strings Chamber Concert at St Finbar’s Catholic Church on the 9th November will be a great celebration of our musical learning but also an opportunity to imagine what our musical journey might look like in 2015. See you at the concert.

Captivate Screen ShotThe Strings Things Teaching Program including original music,
musical arrangements and media are authored, composed,arranged
& produced by Phil Rooke and published by
Catholic Education, Diocese of Parramatta © 2009 All rights reserved

Posted in Captivate Performing Arts, Intrinsic Motivation, Music Education, The Flipped Classroom | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment