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.
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