Tag Archives: education

In praise of record cards

Photo of index card box with record cards

My index cards. Not throwing them away just yet.

I was on the point of throwing away two boxes of record cards (or index cards) that, if I’m honest, I have rarely used. One of them I have had since 1997. I bought it because I needed some way of learning lots of new vocabulary when I started work in a German theatre. The other I’ve had since 2008 when I started my MA.  Does anyone really need record cards any more, given the enormous amount of amazing technology (most of which I use) that replaces them? I love and am reliant on Zotero, and I am a new convert to Scrivener and I’ll  make a database at the drop of a hat. So what’s the point in record cards?  I have hardly opened these boxes since I started them.

Well, the point is, as I’ve discovered, that record cards encourage me to write things down and catalogue them as I find them, and to start a card for any concept, person or phenonenon that is new to me. The card index becomes an aide-memoire for all the things that I find difficult or interesting. Looking through the cards now, I find that I had forgotten most of it.

When I was on the point of throwing the cards away, my rationale was ‘I haven’t looked at these, so they can’t be that important’. But card after card reminded me of things that I once knew, things that were once very important to me.  One of my favourites was this:

DARWINIAN theory of music” Coined by Subotnik (1987) to mean the theory that the greatest music is what survives. Cf. Leonhard & House 1972:106 “we can rely somewhat on the survival of a piece of Western music as an indication’ of expressive appeal and value”.

As an undergraduate in the days before computers, I did all my revision for exams on record cards, gradually reducing the amount on them until I could remember a whole topic from one keyword.  It never occurred to me to think ‘I guess if it’s important, I’ll remember it’. That would have been, so to speak, a Darwinian theory of learning, and a very stupid one at that.

And as for the Darwinian theory of music (in case there’s any doubt, Subotnik was using the term ironically, whereas Leonhard & House meant it seriously), I’ve been looking everywhere for that quote, but  I couldn’t even remember what the thing was that I was looking for, let alone who wrote it. A routine scout through my record cards reminds me of what I know. Yes, I could do that on a computer, but there’s too much there, and it’s too clever at hiding stuff away that might provide the necessary connections.

So for the moment, Oxfam isn’t getting my card boxes. I don’t know if I’ll keep writing index cards, but I’m certainly going to keep looking through the ones I’ve got.

Musicking – the rough guide


What a fantastic resource this is: a truly whistle-stop guide from the Victoria Sings programme to everything that is current and trending in the world of interdisciplinary music studies (not that this even does justice to the range of things covered here). Thinking about musicking? The origins, purpose, function, results and value of music is one of the best guides I’ve seen to the array of disciplines and authors that are relevant to my subject area of music and dance in educational and training contexts.  The longer I work in this field, the more remote I feel from many of my colleagues, because it’s not a field, it’s a federation of fields like Suffolk seen from above. But suddenly, looking at this page, I don’t feel weird any more, and it’s nice to know that others are trying to draw it all together too.

The main part of the page is a very accessible, concise glossary of terms used across the disciplines (like rhythm, music perception, amusia etc.). But each one is hyperlinked to relevant sources –  currently contains 96 keywords, 185 cited individuals, 160 institutions where research is carried out, 79 periodicals, 55 conferences and 1,922 articles.

Congratulations. This is going straight on one of my reading lists.

It’s not always the way that you do it, sometimes it’s what you do


Fascinating article from the Journal of Experimental Psychology, I like the sound of your voice: Affective learning about vocal signals‘.  We’d all like to think, wouldn’t we, that having a ‘musical’ voice is what counts, and that – to paraphrase the old song – ‘It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it’, a kind of vocal sugaring of the pill.

But it seems from this research that while it’s true that the mere sound of a voice can induce different affects in us – hear laughter, and you have a general sense of wellbeing, hear a scream, and you begin to worry – that’s not the whole story.  The results of this study suggest  that hearing a speaker say negatively charged words (like taxes or divorce) would influence your judgement of the acoustic qualities of their voice to the extent that even if that person were to say relatively nice things at a later date, your experience of the content of what they said earlier has coloured the perceived quality of their voice. The opposite applies – someone you heard talk about love and kittens yesterday could tell you you’re fat and for a moment you might think they’d said something nice.

This seems to have enormous implications for teaching in the arts. However ‘musical’ your voice may be, if what you say is negatively charged, then your listener’s perception of those musical qualities will be overridden by the content. And conversely, it goes some way to explaining something that is beginning to puzzle me in my own research – why is it that the people I know that seem to me to be very ‘musical’ often have very quiet, perhaps even subdued and not necessarily highly expressive voices? Could it be that what they all have in common is that they’re nice people, and that their voice is ‘music to my ears’?

Ten (not so random) books


The idea comes from a post by Simon Savidge over at SavidgeReads Reading me like a book (or ten) – see his post for where he got it from: pick ten books at random from your shelf and tell the world what those ten books say about you.  Ironically, since it was a post about reading, I misread it, and picked a clump of ten books from one of my shelves.  This will hardly be random, because I treat my bookshelves like a kind of two-dimensional Rubik-cube: every now and again, I half-heartedly put books of a kind on the same shelf. When one project or another takes over, I shift them by the shelf-load and put the most relevant ones nearest to my desk.  As a result, here’s ten not very random choices that nonetheless say something about me, I think (if nothing else, it says something about my cataloguing).  I’ll do the proper version another day.

Ten not very random books

Suzanne Langer, Philosophy in a new key:  I dreaded having to read this book for my philosophy of music module, since in my experience, seeing the name ‘Langer’ in any article about dance was usually the kiss of death, both to the enjoyment of reading or dance.  In fact, I ended up liking Langer a lot, and there’s much in her work that makes a lot of sense about music and dance, something that Mark Johnson picks up on in The Meaning of the Body.

Dermot Moran. Introduction to Phenomenology. If this is an introduction, God help me when it comes to the main bit. I didn’t understand a friggin’ word of this. Shame really, because I have a felt sense, as they say in phenomenology, that the ph word is something that appeals to me philosophically, but I can’t understand more than 1% of the books.  A very bright man I met the other day who’s got an MA in philosophy told me the only way he’d understood it was by reading Sophie’s World.

The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought. I think I bought this years ago when it looked like I’d have to write a module I knew nothing about. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. It’s been quite useful, but the thing about modern thought, or indeed any kind of thinking, is that you can’t get a book to think for you.  There’s no such thing as microwave philosophy.

Alex Moore, Teaching & Learning: Pedagogy, Curriculum and culture. I bought this as a quick read to get my head round the issues in the title, thinking it would be dull. Apart from the fact that it’s easy to understand, a great introduction to huge themes and topics, it’s got an openness and freedom about it that makes you excited about teaching and learning. The last chapter is called ‘Working with and against official policy’ – how do you deal with conflicts between your personal standards and an official curriculum, and being ‘subversive’ within the constraints. Fantastic stuff.

Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I bought this from the Tate Modern bookshop (which I love)  after I saw it referred to in Wolfram Fleischhauer’s Der gestohlene Abend. It’s one of those books that you’ve seen referred to so many times that you think you’ve read it, whereas in fact, you’ve only read a two-sentence distillation of the ideas.  Why couldn’t they have given us this to read at school instead of Future Shock and Twelfth Night? Benjamin seems to explain  the 21st century from his 1930s viewpoint as well as any contemporary theorist, and is much more fun to read.

Milan Holas, Hudební Pedagogika. (Music pedagogy). I don’t speak Czech, but having once been fluent in Russian and Croatian, I can kind of guess my way through books in other Slavic languages, as long as they’re on a subject that I already know something about.  From my time as a student in Zagreb, I’ve always had a penchant for  no-nonsense Central European text-books that might not be cutting edge fashionable scholarship, but they sure as hell are choc-full-o’facts and get the job done. What constitutes musical knowledge, teaching and learning is a lifelong obsession (I’m beginning to discover) so I like flicking through books like this to see how other people and nations frame the topic.  Having said that, I bought this years ago, and I’m only flicking through it now for the second time. That says a lot about me.

Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things. Probably one of my favourite books of all time, because it explains in design terms why my parents’ gas hob was so darn stupid, and why I could never work out which knob operated which gas ring, and why it’s so easy to push a door that should be pulled. Donald Norman takes those everyday annoyances in life, and makes you realise it’s their fault for designing it so badly. God bless him.

Paul White, Basic Digital Recording. This came as a freebee  introductory reference text on the music technology module of my MA. One of the great things about doing an MA is that it gives you an excuse to spend even more  time taking your hobbies seriously, and then be given credit for it. What’s not to like?

Ellen Bouchard Ryan & Howard Giles, Attitudes towards Language Variation: Social and applied contexts. Once upon a time, I started a doctorate in sociolinguistics, with the working title Lexical variation in the cooking vocabulary of Serbo-Croat. No, that’s not a joke, I really did. Back in 1982 (for that’s how long ago it was) this was one of the key texts. Language variation and socio-political aspects of language still interest me, and I smile very wryly to myself when I see it at work in everyday contexts. I often wonder if one day I’ll swap directions and do a doctorate in linguistics after all.

Bennett Reimer, A Philosophy of Music Education (2nd edn). I fully expected to hate this book (if you see some of the reviews on Amazon, you’ll hate it without reading it) but in fact, when I came to write my first MA essay (on the philosophy of music education) about the spat between Reimer & David Elliott over aesthetic education and praxial music education, I ended up defending Reimer totally against my own expectations.  As much as Reimer is annoying at times, I find his enemies even more so.  That’s quite something to have learned from a course in educational philosophy, I reckon.

1984 comes to 2010 – schools, IT and BETT


BETT 2010 at Olympia

Spent the afternoon at BETT yesterday, a trade show for educational technology. One reason for going was to drop in on Andrew Holdsworth’s Percy Parker’s Flying Bathtub, just published by Scholastic, and very nice it looks and sounds too.

But most of BETT I found profoundly worrying. I don’t have figures, but it seemed to be predominantly men touting software packages and ‘solutions’ for schools. Every other stand seemed to be about protecting, preventing, surveillance, policing, managing, storing, and even ‘performance managing’. This program will automatically text all your truants and their parents; this fingerprinting device will register your child (“biometric multilesson registration and cashless catering” was one of the more 1984-ish captions), this will keep your children safe from unsuitable internet sites, this hardware will back up all your data and provide a network for your school. Online assessment, online registration, automatic this, multi-that.

With a very, very few exceptions, I had almost no sense of teaching, learning, teachers and pupils, intellectual curiosity, or  any of the rich human interaction that goes on in learning.  Instead, it seemed I was at a trade fair selling expensive ‘solutions’ that appeared to criminalize an entire generation of children, or treat them as a workforce that needed managing, assessing and controlling. An image began to emerge of a child tightly bound in a technological network of biometric data, they and their families summoned and communicated with by text, every online transaction prescribed or prevented, stored and tracked electronically by an emergent army  of male IT personnel, every academic subject reduced to an onscreen interaction with predigested, generic content.  Media-rich, yes, but piss-poor as human interaction.

I’m not usually prone to technological determinism, the idea that society is helpless in the face of the ‘power’ of technology to shape and control it, but I came away from BETT wondering whether we do all this stuff to kids because we can, not because we must. And in any case,  there were plenty of technological determinists touting their wares at BETT: this software will help you build an online global learning community. Really? Anyone who’s tried to run an online forum knows that it’s people and people alone who build communities, all the software in the world can’t do that for you.  Nobody buys a bassoon thinking it will make music for them, but people seem to fall over themselves to buy into technology that needs staff, time, expertise and commitment, not just a power supply.

My final rant? As I was walking around seeing all this stuff about protection, walled-gardens, security, safety and so-on, I had my barcoded badge scanned aggressively and without my permission by at least two staff on the stands, data-mugging in broad daylight.

The bit the Tories left out about teaching in Singapore


Amused, in a despairingly cynical way, to see that the best the Tories can come up with as an educational policy is to give teachers the power to seize iPods. Tories would also “introduce a longer term plan to attract a higher grade of graduate into the teaching profession. [Shadow education secretary Michael] Gove is looking at Singapore, where only the top 30% of graduates are allowed to become teachers.”

The bit they’ve left out about the Singapore system is that the Ministry of Education in Singapore offers a bonded system (the MOE Teaching Scholarship), where they’ll fund the teacher’s entire degree, including maintenance and flights if you study abroad in return for a promise of at least 4-6 years service in the Singapore education. If you fail the degree, or don’t fulfil the bond, you are liable for liquidated damages.

One of Obama’s education advisors has been telling the new President similar good things about Singapore (Obama education advisor thinks U.S. schools could take a lesson from Finland and Singapore) but they seem to have a very different take on the story to the UK tories. How could such a generous scheme get turned into ‘We’ll only let the top 30% of graduates into teaching’, with no mention of funding or context? Or is the power to confiscate iPods the thing that is going to attract all those high-flying graduates?