Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Implications for Enhancing Creativity (T. Amabile)


Creativity is often regarded as a skill, and often misleads many to believe they “lack” or “entail” this component. Teresa Amabile’s chapter on enhancing creative suggests that every human “entails” the creativity component, it is the stage that is provided for them that causes one to believe whether or not he/she has the ability. A simple task such as “brainstorming” is one of the most popular and widely known methods, which in fact has proven to enhance creativity in a human mind. Amabile examines creative-training programs, describing the benefits that these programs can provide for young learners when they interact with one another. Composed of two portions – generation of idea and evaluating the idea, brainstorming suggests an opportunity for individuals to find their ideas. Moreover, brainstorming as described in the article is one of the few methods that allow for everyone’s opinion to count, to matter and not allow for criticism in the moment. It is through the process of brainstorming, that good ideas form, and furthermore, are put into account for. It is after completing the process that will deduce a product. Thus, Amabile argues for Alex Osborn’s brainstorming theory, suggesting that brainstorming allows quantity to stir up quality in the end. Though brainstorming may not always produce the best solutions, it is definitely analyzed as one of the most strategic solution applicable to stimulating creativity in a subject area.

A group process known as synectics developed by William Gordon provides an opportunity for ideas to be thought through, make happen, tested, re-thought, re-made and re-tested. In this process, the creative component is more noticeable, as individuals require careful thought towards the subject discussed. Furthermore, it is necessary for the individuals to comprise their own ideas towards the subject matter in order to provide different point of views. Amabile analyzes and suggests that this procedure not only allows for more emotions to be incorporated, but also stimulates greater directions in the end. Using four stages of personal, direct, symbolic and fantasy analogy, synectics allows for one to be placed in different perspectives of the subject, stimulating more creative elements throughout the process. Yet to be researched on the level of effectiveness, synectics suggested by Amabile can be a useful method applicable in the classroom.

Amabile provides a further analysis of studying creativity via experimental groups that were tested. The two groups analyzed studied the same material; however one was controlled while the other was not. Results not only proved that uncontrolled participants showed significant increase in their level of originality as well as flexibility.

Issues raised in Amabile’s article hint that creativity requires a suitable space for individuals to train and develop on. For instance, many creative programs put emphasis on cognitive procedures, where the focus falls on methods and rules that lead towards generating new ideas. In this case, creativity from a social psychological perspective becomes more limiting. Given the option of “choosing” plays a huge role in a child’s level of creativity, those that had a choice have showcased elements of higher creativity, while those who had no choice, produced less. As well, the concept of “modeling” also has shown through certain particular studies that will improve creativity in individuals. The question then becomes, which methods are most affective for teachers in the classroom?

A section on implications and music education provided by the author, suggests many applications teachers can select from. The first and basic factor is to provide the appropriate atmosphere and environment for creativity to occur, having special programs and/or materials handy for those who showcase special “talents”, can provide a leeway for creativity to be developed even further. Setting aside time in the classroom for “discovering” and identifying is a crucial step, hence Amabile’s suggestion on “quantity” over “quality”. Allowing students the opportunity to explore and find their ideas and answers should be allotted into lessons in order for creativity to develop. Allowing interaction and providing encouragement in the “field of” creativity should be consistent throughout the classroom, so that all students have equal amount of chances to develop their creative mind.


In the later portion of Amabile’s chapter on creativity, the author stimulates many interesting points towards how to teach, rather than what to teach. From an educator’s standpoint, this is an important aspect, and technically speaking, a component of creativity – in which quantity should be applied in the classroom from time to time, instead of focusing on quality. In order to avoid children’s creativity steering in the wrong direction, Amabile provides several reminders, including focusing on intrinsic elements, rather than the extrinsic motive. Students (and parents) are often misguided and simply read final grades in report cards and assessments, comments and the process always seem to be neglected. Through the lens of Amabile’s perspective on creativity, I see the consequences if quality were put as the main focus.

Amabile suggests the more control framed on creativity, the less effective it will be in the end. I definitely see truth in this statement, because creativity is one of the most difficult components to frame a ‘grade’ on. Often, it is purely up to the individual’s mind set, as well as what he/she may be thinking throughout the process of brainstorming and developing their final thought. Similarly speaking, music’s field of ‘improvisation’ seems to fall under the same roof in which it is often very challenging to judge whether or not a piece of improvised music is ‘creative or not’? Yet, improvisation allows for an individual to explore, apply brainstorming ideas to, and ‘evaluate’ from different perspectives whether or not his/her ideas followed through. In this situation, the idea of quantity is applied first, rather than looking at the final product itself.

I think this is an element that requires a lot of balancing in the classroom, for a classroom still requires a structural framework. However, once a teacher neglects the idea of creativity, quality has fully taken over quantity. I say this because creativity is a component that eats up time and requires planning on the teacher’s behalf. In many situations, it may be disregarded in order to keep up with scheduling and curriculum demands. Thus I say it requires strong classroom management and proper balancing techniques. Amabile suggests however, the consequences in the long run should creativity be neglected. This can close up doors to many individuals, especially those who show lack of confidence to begin with. In other words, teachers should be more considerate when planning around their lessons, in order to accommodate all different learners in their classroom, fitting creativity as an “essential element” into their lessons.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Summary: Music, Talent and Performance, A Conservatory Cultural System

In the book by Henry Kingsbury, Music, Talent and Performance: A Conservatory Cultural System, I have chosen to focus on the chapter, The Parables of Talent.

The chapter opens with the phrase, "The linking of esteem between the person attributed with talent and the person or persons making the attribution leads to an observation that bears on the positive value placed on being "talented", the notion that talent is a "gift" to be envied or coveted." Kingsbury continues to elaborate on this idea, by insisting the moral obligations of musical development. The young person's talent is an attribution which demands development which benefits not only himself, but the community in which he is affiliated.

What does this statement mean? How does one relate the aforementioned information to one's personal experience and talent?

I see these comments as the introduction to my own personal realization of the "burden" of living with the label TALENT. Along with my ability to gracefully interpret great works on my major instrument, the piano, I soon also realized that with great "talent" came much responsibility. The ability of my younger self to confidently perform the works of Chopin was environmental, I was born into a musical family; however, my skills were reinforced by my long hours of practice. Once my true ability was realized by my family, the constant pressure to perform before random visitors to our home or at church increased; I received threats that God would take away my talent IF I refused to perform. Kingsbury states that from the Western biblical perspective, a musician's "talent" can be seen more as a property which belongs to a "cultural ideology" than as a property or characteristic of the individual.

Kingsbury writes that the manifesting and assessing of musical talent are greatly influenced by social powers and authority. He provides the examples of the college-aged student who has the opportunity to audition before the "critical ears" of teachers or who participates in a recital with highly competitive peers; these are considered, resources for the situation. These resources include the support and encouragement from the student's teacher, the student's general social maturity, and the music-technical and emotional preparation for the performance. Kingsbury concludes that the student may perceive this situation as adverse, nevertheless, that student has access to resources for dealing with these situations.

Drawing from my own experiences, I too see talent to be influenced by social powers. When I began to study piano, "formerly", at the age of 6 years, my music course commenced as the other first-graders in my teacher's home-studio; however, what distinguished my progress greatly from my colleagues was the fact that my family, who too were musically trained, were heavily involved in my music studies. These social powers, as referred to by Kingsbury, my family/community, provided the resources for further development as a musician, to eventually surpass the skills of my peers.

The other spectrum of talent, according to Kingsbury, comes from the numerous accounts of adults who experienced negative encounters with music as children. Due to the lack of support, these "untalented" adults, report themselves as "unmusical". However, Kingsbury believes that everyone has the capability to make music; the creation of music can be as simple as humming, while waiting for a bus.

Those granted permission to "participate" in music making is extremely subjective and selective. Society decides what music is and who can participate, creating parameters of what is considered, as appropriate for "human consumption". I, as a piano instructor, observe various levels of abilities; however, I also understand that ALL students need encouragement to help them reach their own potential, independent of the skills possessed by other students.

In short, the label of "talent" is an ideology ascribed by society, without the acknowledgment of a student's background, sufficient access to quality music instruction, a supportive environment, and finances. These resources, in my opinion, are factors which assist in shaping and directing the young mind and ability for future success.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

“Reaching and Teaching all Instrumental Music Students” – Kevin Mixon

(Published in Partnership with MENC)


This book addresses the needs of “less than ideal” teaching and learning situations in real classrooms. Mixon addresses the variety of learners, lack of equipment, and a host of other topics that other textbooks may overlook.

The book begins with the four components of recruiting: skills assessment, instrument demonstration, information letter, and tone production assessment. These methods all serve to make the students and parents aware of the individual musical needs of the students. Mixon gives tips on making recruiting accessible to students, like using previous students to demonstrate instruments and using musical instrument games to quickly assess their levels of ability.

There are specific relevant sections that go beyond pedagogy though, such as what to in economically disadvantaged schools where the school owns all the instruments and it is not safe for the students to take them home to practice. The author stresses the importance of relationship building with the students in order to recruit them to the program and maintain their interest.

There are sections about teacher demeanor, avoiding boredom for the players, parents, and performance. Here Mixon writes about the culture of music in your school and how we as educators need to show our enthusiasm about our subject matter to be an agent of change. He gives many tips on how to deal with colleagues and parents and how to perform successfully through public venues.

One important issue he addresses is the consideration of students living in poverty and diverse cultures. Revolving enrollment and cultural learning styles are key factors when teaching in a less than ideal situation as well as using cultural relevancy to foster meaning in music making. He suggests phasing in new students and even simplifying the parts to ensure they can participate as soon as possible.

Mixon dedicates a whole chapter to parents and the interpersonal skills required when interacting with them. He stresses the importance to maintaining a positive relationship with parents where students and their needs are the main focus. He even includes part of a research script where students talk about their teacher calling home and how it improved their marks. The author broadens the scope of parental influence to administrators and community awareness to include all people who have an influence on the students’ experience in musical education.

There is a brief section on pedagogy used to maximize rehearsal time and minimize disruption, such as lesson planning and the rehearsal space itself. Mixon uses a system of coloured cards to monitor individual behaviour and a cup of marbles to maintain group behaviour and remind the educator when to call home for certain students.

The chapter about teaching for different learning styles encourages the music educator to move away from traditional lecture-style teaching to incorporate all types of learners, such as audio and visual, in the lessons. Mixon gives strategies for specific concepts, such as tuning, and ways we can correct or teach them for different learning styles.

The chapter on exceptional learners contains a condensed version of the pervious chapters but through a lens that focuses on these specific students. He encourages educators to consider what would benefit the students most when it comes to instrument selection and modifications of the curriculum, such as colour coding notation or using visual aids.

Mixon gives step-by-step instructions on how to introduce musical notation to students depending on their instrument. He advocates singing in solfege syllables and “air playing” to get students used to breathing in time with the beat. Similar to these instructions, he also offers a guide to teaching improvisation and composition beginning with rhythms and progressing to melodies.


I enjoyed reading Mixon’s book and found most of it relevant to my own teaching position. I particularly liked his chapters on recruiting and maintaining interest in band, as I am currently in the first year of a band program at my school. I think his disclaimer in the introduction about how these ideas are for “less than ideal” teaching situations and not “urban” school is extremely poignant, as all of these concepts can be applied to teaching in any music classroom. Every school has its share of exceptional learners and economically disadvantaged students and every music teacher should consider these factors when beginning or building on an existing music program.

There were a few issues I noticed as perhaps underdeveloped or requiring further explanation. One is the letter home to parents. Mixon offers a template letter to send home that I find rather difficult to read, as a majority of my students’ parents/guardians are English Language Learners themselves and struggle with reading for meaning.

He also says that he gives out his home number to parents in case they can’t reach him at school or do not have email access. Even though he states that you have to determine your own comfort level with this, I can’t advocate this practice for anyone. Aside from the possible issues with students and/or parents abusing the connection, I think it is important for teachers to maintain a certain level of separation between school and home. I think that if you blur the lines between these two spheres of influence it could lead to a higher burn-out rate of teachers. I think there needs to be “down-time” where teachers do not think about school and can take care of their own mental health.

Another method in the book that I questioned was his approach to classroom management. He uses these systems of cards and marbles in a jar and when you “lose your marbles” out of the jar for misbehaviour he calls home. I haven’t tried this strategy in my classroom, but I think the more mature students would be offended that I was using a more junior strategy to cope with classroom behavious and the more immature students will find it funny that I am trying to manipulate their behaviour with marbles. Then again, it does serve as a nice visual for behaviour students who have a difficult time determining what is appropriate in a school setting. When you have a class with several behaviour individual education plans or safety plans I think you need to tailor your strategies more to their needs and try as many different ones as you can until you find something that works.

Although I have questioned a few of Mixon’s strategies, I think it is fair to point out that they have worked for him for the last few decades and could possibly work for other teachers too. Perhaps one year I will have a class that will respond positively to these ideas and the strategies presented in this book will become more relevant. I think what is important here is that he is creating and re-inventing positive ideas that he has used in the classroom and he is sharing them with the music educator community. I believe it is important to work together to ensure our students have an authentic musical experience in the classroom and the only way we can attempt that is by collectively sharing our thoughts and strategies as Mixon does in this book.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Focusing on Music Pedagogic Culture (L. Bartel)


Our changing and shifting cultural patterns has created a great impact in school culture. Through the eyes of Deal and Peterson, both authors strongly believe the changing effects of society’s beliefs, values and traditions are key essential to the structure of school culture. Bartel’s article on the culture of music pedagogy helps educators think and re-think whether or not ‘culture’ is defined the same way in each school system. Furthermore, does the culture defined in school help shape pedagogies that teachers follow in their daily practice. To better understand the concept of ‘pedagogical practices in a school culture’, one must first understand the idea and definition of ‘culture’. For the purpose of the article, Edgar Schein’s definition is applied, stating that culture of a group is “A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems” (Bartel, 1). While the term may seem lengthy, Schein’s perspective targets the ‘evolution’ of culture, indicating that if humans are not aware of the culture they live in, culture will end up directing them.

In order for music educators to be fully aware of the culture they teach in, Schein raises several factors that can serve as a guide in the school system, including observing behavior, the ‘norms’, values, and philosophy. Bartel analyses Schein’s theory furthermore, by providing a set of ‘lenses’ for teachers to use when applying pedagogy to culture. The first (important) lens is the Role of the Teacher, meaning the role that the teacher plays in the classroom is the initial starting point for shaping culture amongst the student body. These can be as simple as taking attendance, and can be as large as goal setting for the entire semester. Depending on the school system and school environment the teacher is in, his/her role may differ, however it is up to the teacher to take the first step in diagnosing what is required to create a good cultural system in the music classroom.

Lens 2 naturally would be the role of the student, or more specifically Expectation of the Student, because a classroom entails a two way street, where students need to play their part in responding to the goals established by/with the teacher. These tasks include meeting the curriculum requirements and developing skills to be able to make music on their own. Naturally these two tasks will include sub-factors such as practicing skills, motivation, leadership skills and much more. This not only will create more rehearsal and learning experiences during class, but will also help induce more positive communication amongst peers, teachers and parents.

Lens 3 and 4 involve Teacher-Student Relationship as well as Preferred Repertoire. A teacher-student relationship must be healthy in the classroom in order for a positive learning environment to be created. Once a teacher understands his/her student body, and as students get to know the teaching style and atmosphere of their teacher, a positive relationship is formed. Knowing so, lens 4 will start to shape as the music teacher and students create together become a task both parties enjoy. Therefore, when lens 5 appears, Evaluation and Assessment, teachers will be able to accommodate and modify their system of evaluation in order to prove student success as well as leave room for improvement, allowing students to strive towards the next goal. Lens 5 as described by Bartel is a key turning point that can steer in the wrong direction should teachers make assumptions or have preconceptions about their classroom and the abilities of their students. Thus, lens 6 and 7 reminds educators to evaluate carefully the Value and Purpose of Music as well as The Appropriate Response to Music. Depending on the culture that the school is set in, values towards music, and the purpose of music making will alter. Not allowing culture to take over the system is important, yet keeping in mind the demographics of the school culture can be useful for teachers when designing and planning their curriculum.

The final and 8th lens described by Bartel is Musical Knowledge and Skill, which is a concept that teachers should be aware of, yet probably one of the hardest to tackle. The term ‘music’ becomes a big key word, whether or not teachers acknowledge it, without doubt, not every student will become the 'world stage performer’. Having said so, each student does have the ability to make music, therefore teachers should avoid jumping into the pool of pushing their students towards the big performing venues across the world. Using these 8 lenses (beliefs), teachers will be able to use them in their particular cultural zone. There is no ‘specific’ way to teach music, however there are similar factors that will influence how teachers teach music. These are the cultures that shape students, and should be constantly revisited in order for culture to be a part of the classroom, rather be the controlling affect of the classroom.


I really enjoyed reading this article because of the wide range of perspectives it showed. After reflecting on the 8 lenses, I realized however it does have its restrictions – essentially restricting educators to think about the purpose of teaching, and how to teach it without letting cultural effects take over their classroom. I think it is a hard task to sustain and manage, simply because there are so many influencing factors that come from culture today. More so at a younger age, when children are exposed to so many media impacts, they can very well come to class the following day with a new trend that can spread amongst the student body within seconds. Standing the grounds from the teacher’s perspective becomes such an important task, yet at the same time it can’t create an even bigger barrier between student and teacher, cutting off positive communication and damaging the classroom atmosphere.

I paid attention especially to lens 5, in which the discussion on Evaluation and Assessment was raised. Even though a standard grading system is implemented in many school boards, there are too many individual cases that I have seen where students don’t quite fit exactly into the rubric of a level 3 or level 4. What happens to the grade of these students then? How is there overall average affected? More importantly, how does this affect their self-esteem level in the long run? Specifically speaking towards the music grade, I think it is one of the subjects that are hard to achieve in the first few years, simply because it requires a certain amount of time in order to achieve a good sound, play the average repertoire, etc. Students will easily feel ‘bummed out’ when their violin still doesn’t sound in-tune, or their fingers can’t move as fast to play the pop-tune they chose. How do we grade these students then? Standard evaluation perhaps focuses too much on the end product of the task, instead of looking at the progression and the procedure it takes in order to work towards the final product.

Lens 8 also brought me to think more critically about the purpose of teaching music. 8 out of 10 children begin music lessons because to their parents, it is almost a ‘norm’ to do so. Moreover, another ‘norm’ that has become popular in the last decade is ‘examination’. Parents send their children to lessons, with an undermining idea that they will go test for such and such grade by such and such time. Teaching at home privately and at music studios have brought my attention to how parents seek out new music teachers nowadays. Besides looking at the qualifications of the teacher, they will also ask through inquiry when their child can prepare for such grade, or how long does the teacher think their child will need before they go for the next exam? Should this be the fundamental to teaching? Personally I think this an example proving Schien’s theory when culture has managed humans. In order to avoid it in the future, standardized testing shouldn’t be the only thing that is brought up in conversation between teacher, student and parents. Rather, encouraging music making in and outside the classroom, for learning, for practice, for leisure can be a task teachers should consider more and more when communicating with students and parents.