Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Response to ACARA Draft of Shape Paper for Music

Following the Forum held late in 2010, the collective professional response has been summarised by Anne Lierse.  The submission has been collated and mailed to the relevant government authorities.  Any questions can be forwarded directly to Anne at:  alierse@ozemail.com.au

2.3.4            Defining Music – comment from delegate

            .            Performing, creating and responding to music are the fundamental music processes in which humans engage. The musical knowledge acquired by singing, playing an instrument, creating and composing, and moving to music can be acquired in no other way. Music is a basic expression of human culture.

3.2           Organising strands

                        The language used in the descriptions of music learning was problematic in that there was an unsatisfactory attempt to have a common set of terms for all art forms -- this tended to "de-specialise" music learning experiences.

4.1            There was considerable concern expressed by the ALL of the delegates in relation to each of the 5 arts being taught as foundation subjects from K- 8.  Although in principle they supported the entitlement of all young Australians to engage with all five Art forms, offering all the arts forms with equal time allocation up to year 8 was seen as problematic.  Concerns ranged from finding time on the timetable, the provision of skilled arts teachers to schools in each of the five art forms, and the unrealistic time allocation for effective teaching of each of the Art forms (160 hours quoted which equals around 25 minutes a week). The consequences of this suggested instruction time would not be good for any of the five art forms as the development of competence in each of the Arts is severely compromised. There would need to be a serious dumbing down of content and skill development. This is in conflict with the aims of the Australian curriculum. In addition, this structure does not recognise the inherent differences of the performing arts (music and dance) that require students to develop physical capacities in order to progress. This needs continuous instruction and practice over many years. The performing arts should not be lumped with the other Arts.

Instead, we strongly advocate that there should be a statement that ‘Students should be able to communicate at a basic level in the 5 Art forms and should be able to perform proficiently in 2 or more art forms’.

The following thoughts were expressed the delegates:

.            38 per cent of country Victorian primary schools do not have a classroom music program. Maybe a similar or less number might have an art teacher. How many primary schools have a media, dance or drama teacher? Why is that? It is not practical, possible or necessary to do so. There is ample literature advocating the importance of music to children, particularly young ones and ideally music needs to be taught and reported on as a stand-alone subject. Look at any successful music program and you will find it run as such. At the very least, the visual and performing arts must be separated.  It is completely impractical.

.            Recent research showed that 45per cent of Victorian rural music teachers indicated that they felt music was negatively affected by its placement within a combined Arts KLA. Furthermore, principals indicated that music’s place in the curriculum was often threatened by competition from other subject areas – namely literacy and numeracy. In other words, the timetable is already over-crowded.

            .            5 arts are too many to try and squeeze into an already overcrowded curriculum. Let them start with two and teach them properly with one hour each until grade 6.


            .            There is a need to recognise that music, being a language, is quite distinct from the other art forms it is grouped in with: dance, drama, media arts and visual arts.

            .            It is not useful to be examining the structure and usefulness of each individual tree in the forest when the inherent structure of the forest is so fundamentally flawed. To be proposing the planting of five different species with completely different survival needs within one competitive environment where sunshine, nutrients and water are strictly limited is to doom the entire forest to a slow death or at best, a deformed and sickly growth with the ultimate extinction of some species.

            .            This Draft of the Shape paper condemns children with the potential to take up music as a career to take up lessons with a private teacher at their own expense. This does not happen in maths or history or any of the other subjects. We should be trying to improve the status of music not destroy it.

            .            Schools are not preparing children to take music as a serious study. What messages do you give children about the value of music and the arts if you give then only 25 minutes each week.  The music course offered cannot be serious and rigorous. What opportunity is there for skills development and stylistic engagement? There is a serious risk that music education will be degraded to a play around with pop and rock music experience.

            .            In the late 1960's and early 1970's I was lucky enough to attend a well resourced public high school that considered music important and offered classroom music and performance opportunities in all years. Individual tuition was also offered free of charge for a large number of instruments...  I would not have been able to afford to study an orchestral instrument had this programme not existed (i.e. now). 

The current situation is considerably worse, and I am regularly faced with picking up the pieces for adult and teenage students who suffer from the existing lack of specialised individual and classroom music learning opportunities in schools.  Some of those students - passionate and talented musicians - struggle to cover the requirements of VCE music in schools where classroom music is not offered until Year 11.

The ACARA generalist proposals offer no improvements…

If the ACARA proposals are implemented, even more students from low income families like my own will be deprived of musical education as they are forced to pay for private lessons in areas such as basic music literacy and performance skills that should be covered from the earliest years of school. We desperately need a well-devised, progressive and participatory musical education programme that begins in the earliest school years and gives all students a thorough grounding in musical basics and exposes them to the widest possible variety of musical cultures.  

.            Music and dance are skill based needing continuous sequential and developmental instruction.  Music and art are an intrinsic part of every society on the planet but we are in danger of becoming spectators rather than participators. There is an inherent danger in trying to do too many things and it is simply not possible or realistic to be expecting primary schools to teach these five specialist areas. At primary level any good music program incorporates a degree of dance as does PE. Drama is an intrinsic part of both English and music and media is a part of technology. To offer specialist study in music and art is perfectly adequate for children 5-12 years. Let these be offered and taught by different teachers who know their craft and a wider selection of subjects be made available at secondary level.

4.5 Learning Music K-12

Generally, members attending the Forum had issues with the descriptions offered. There were five major areas of concern

 1.            The emphasis on providing a curriculum that is continuous, sequential and developmental needs to be strongly emphasised. 

 2.            The necessity to have a skilled music teacher cannot be over emphasised. Unless taught properly, damage done to the integrity of the subject perpetuates the low status it presently experiences in so many schools. Poor teaching can do damage to technique, and understanding, and aesthetic appreciation which can be a serious barrier to development.

 3.            The descriptions of music learning for all of the bands seem very general and lacking any real musical specificity and developmental aspects.

4.            In addition, there is insufficient recognition of how the needs of the gifted and talented students can be addressed, nor how the needs of students at upper secondary level can be accommodated.

 5.            Many teachers expressed concern that the issue of participation in choral and instrumental ensembles has been side-stepped.  Delegates saw the place of instrumental and choral ensembles as fundamental to the individual’s music skill development at all levels. This in turn results in the future quality level of ensembles and orchestras and choirs – and the hope of quality outcomes for year 12 music studies.

There are a number of curriculum documents that have been developed nationally and internationally which particularly address the third issue.  I refer to two such documents in particular which offer the essential elements for the development of an Australian curriculum in music classrooms from K - `12

1.            Guidelines for Student Learning K - 3, 3 - 7, 7- 10, 10 - 12, in the National Review of School Music Education (2005)

2.            U.S. National Standards for Art Education: Summary Statement- What students should know and be able to do in the Arts/Music


The US National Standards for Music does actually address most of the issues raised at the Forum.

A brief summary of these Standards for Music Grades 1 -4

The Content Standards are listed under the heading:

Content Standard 1.            Singing alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music from diverse cultures.

Tasks include discussion of pitch, rhythm, timbre, diction, posture, maintaining a steady tempo, singing expressively with dynamics, phrasing, interpretation, memory, rounds, ostinato patterns.

Content Standard 2.            Performing on an instrument alone or with others.

Again there is a list of age related ‘standards’ such as melodic and choral patterns, echo short rhythms and melodic patterns, matching dynamic levels etc.

Nos 3 – 9 Content Standards are titled:  improvising, composing and arranging, reading notation, listening to and analysing music, evaluating music and music performances, understanding relationships between music the other arts and disciplines, and lastly understanding music in relation to history and culture.

Comments from the Forum included:

            .            There is a need for statements of learning standards at every year level. Teachers need greater direction and specificity of standard if adequate assessment and reporting criteria are to be developed. Currently there is much left up to the individual teacher to develop standards due to the breadth of statements in VELS both across art forms and in each year level.

                        The descriptions of music learning for all of the bands seem very general and lacking any real musical specificity -- i.e. these statements seem to "fiddle around" without getting to the core of things. There needs to be outcomes.

                        None of the descriptions of music learning seem to focus on the quality of musical experiences that young people will have -- i.e. there is no overt aesthetic contact / engagement specified.

                        There is no real consideration of age appropriate musical engagement.

                        There is a lack of stylistic definition as far as repertoire is concerned -- i.e. there was a concern that the repertoire could be based on pop music rather than requiring a more balanced stylistic exposure.

                        There were problems with references to "imaginary" !           

            .            The National Review of Music Education highlighted the fact that

specially trained musicians as teachers should be available to nurture

students' development. The fact that in many states of Australia students

are taught by non specialist teachers until their Secondary schooling

ensures the majority of students have neither the skill nor inspiration to

pursue music as an elective throughout their later Secondary years.

                        The question was asked, why re-invent the wheel when there are already good models of music curriculum already in existence that are validated by successful implementation -- e.g. classroom music in Queensland and instrumental music in Western Australia?

            .            There is no reference to a skilled musician/music teacher relationship or to the quality of a student’s musical experience.

            .            It was assumed in relation to music in the Shaping Paper, that the focus was on classroom music ... there seemed no overt accommodation of instrumental music and where "instrumental music" was mentioned, there was no clear indication of what was meant here.

            .            Overall, there was an unfortunate absence of the word/concept of "musicianship" in the descriptions of music learning; there was also no mention of the need in music learning for students to be engaging with skilled musician-teachers.

.            There is no reference to teaching music as a continuous weekly subject and in fact the time allowance for the whole of the arts is very small – with music being just one fifth of that!

.            While so many other countries (Britain, Venezuela, Finland etc) are beginning to recognise the incredible value of music education across a broad range of extrinsic areas and issues we are fighting for the integrity of music education in this country.

 K - 2

                        The early years description of music learning was problematic in that, in music, these years represent the cognitive-developmental period when there should be a focus on establishing musical concepts and skills.  The Shape Paper as a whole has failed to take account of children's cognitive-developmental stages where, in the case of music, more time could be given in the early years and less time in later years where other art forms may come to the fore in terms of time allocation.  The implied equal distribution of time "entitlement" for all the art forms at all levels fails to take account of children's different patterns of development in the respective arts forms.

.            At all levels, proficiencies for music should include: performing, creating, and responding to music as the essential processes. Areas of study would include: aural development, basic analysis, structure and form, the elements of music, notation, historical and cultural perspectives, and informed acquaintance with exemplary musical works from a variety of cultures and historical periods.

3– 8

            .             This age range is far too wide for one band. Paragraph 25 under 4.1 breaks the bands as from K-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8.  This is much more appropriate.

                        Lower secondary levels (years 7 & 8 in Victoria) need a distinct curriculum taught by a skilled teacher with a time allowance with a minimum of 1 hour a week. Without this the likely hood of students electing music in Years 9-12 will seriously diminish.           

            .            The band 3 to 8 needs to be further broken down -- i.e. the notion of the "middle years of schooling" does not apply in all jurisdictions; moreover, in Victoria, this band covers the period when students would generally be taught by a generalist teacher to year 6 and then by a specialist music teacher in years 7 and 8; the descriptions of music learning should accommodate this change in teaching delivery.

.            What proposed is hopeless for secondary level students (from Year 7). It is too late to take music study seriously at secondary level. You need super level teachers to meet the needs of students which such a range of experiences and musical backgrounds. Some students enter year 7 with no music education while some are working as an advanced level instrumentalists.  Students by year 7 have established opinions of style preference many do not want to listen to any other music. Primary Level music education conducted by skilled music teachers opens their minds. Music education must be continuous, sequential and developmental.

9 - 12

.            There seems to be no recognition of or accommodation of the need at the upper secondary level for higher-level music performance skills that generally can only be developed by one-on-one teaching. In this respect, music is a highly distinctive and discrete learning area within the Arts and this needs to be recognised and accommodated. The development of musicianship (aural, theory, musical style), opportunities for creativity, and performance in groups and in solo contexts are crucial for the development of a young performer. This skill development needs to be part of the school music curriculum and plays a crucial part in and complementing the private instrumental lesson in the development of a complete performer.

We note that words such as musicianship, sequential and developmental are not mentioned in this document.

4.7      .            We especially need to consult with and learn from Aboriginal elders and musicians, to devise culturally sensitive ways of learning about their music, so that future Australians (including Aboriginal kids) grow up less ignorant and with deeper understanding of where we all belong in the history of this land.

         .         The problem of including Indigenous Australian music when it may be inappropriate for teachers themselves to be trying to engage this form of music without being fully aware of cultural sensitivities, etc.

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