Formalised learning and the benefits of learning have been the focus of many enlightened generations. In 1908, in his Theory of the Moral Life John Dewey wrote
“Education should create an interest in all persons in furthering the general good, so that they will find their own happiness realized in what they can do to improve the conditions of others.”
Dewey, J. (1908) Theory of the Moral Life, New York: Rivington Publishers. p. 98
The purpose of my particular research, has been, perhaps, a little less altruistic, but still within the ethos of Dewey’s early 20th century proposal. The position of Lecturer in an arts educational establishment has allowed me to observe current practices, wonder at the efficacy of expecting some form of autonomous behaviour from young learners, and challenge myself to find ways in which I can improve their exposure to the benefits of autonomy through delivery of singing lessons in a musical theatre department.
Why do I feel that my research may lack Dewey’s education-as-altruism tenet? I do strongly believe that learners benefit from having a clearer understanding of what is expected of them. I feel morally obligated to support their understanding. I also feel that learners gain insight when they can ascertain why a task or technique might be beneficial to them or at the very least have an opportunity to decide for themselves that which may aid them. The primary reason for researching the challenges of autonomous practices, however, lies in furthering my own understanding of the structure and delivery of modular content that I am contracted to deliver. I am documenting and researching for growth in myself.
Failing to find reasonable benefit, clear gain or good cause for implementing tasks that elicit autonomous behaviours would give a clearer justification for allowing teaching to return to a behaviourist model of delivery. Singing lessons could be much simplified by just telling students what to do, how to do it and allowing them to repeat until mastered. My aim, however, is to make clearer our present position with regards what autonomy we expect of students at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and how we ask it of them.
If I believe, as Dewey did, that education should improve the condition of others why am I so concerned over the details of aspects of how we achieve that goal? What has drawn me to question autonomy and its usefulness? The answer was somewhat unclear to me at the outset of my research. What I was aware of were doubts over the actual benefits of various educational terms, structures and principles (Autonomy and Independent Study). I was somewhat hesitant to ask students to commit to tasks that I wasn’t certain they understood how to do, or I doubted that learners had a clear understanding of how to reproduce tasks on their own. I also carried a certain historic and very personal sense of having been unable to decipher what was really required of an undergraduate when studying in an arts education myself.
My difficulty as a 17 year old student had not been with workload, engagement, new vocabulary or in my relationships with my lecturers. I had struggled, instead, with the sense that there was an unspoken and unknown expectation of me. It appeared possible that despite being bright, keen, talented and a hard worker, undergraduates can sense that degree-level arts educations require more than good behaviour and dedicated scholarly graft and yet still not know how to engage. My feeling now, as a lecturer, 25 years later, is that I didn’t lead my own undergraduate learning and possibly my lecturers wanted me to. It may be that I thought that learning was what happened when someone else told you what to do.
When this research began I felt that the introduction of autonomy as a concept and the practice of independent study were covert ways of we in higher education absolving ourselves of responsibility for student progression. When I began questioning my practice, when I was looking into topics that I felt I would benefit from researching, my initial feelings around autonomy and students’ Independent Learning time were hesitantly cynical. I thought negatively and judgementally about the high level of staff expectation. It seemed that students were given tasks or time to research without an understanding of how to engage productively. I think that I became irritated with how inefficient and counter-productive the structures appeared. I would hear staff joke about setting self-led tasks for any amount of reasons other than intending to support learner independent development. Autonomy seemed to be the principle one trotted out as a lecturer when there hadn’t been enough preparation done, when staff hadn’t planned well enough in advance or when timetabled activities had to be cancelled, and the students would simply be issued a directive to fill the time meaningfully, as if this were the way of allowing personal responsibility to be experienced.
Looking back over this past year of shifting values in my own teaching practice I think that my views are now a little more balanced. I understand better the justifications behind staff (for good or bad) setting time aside (whether planned or not) for learners to engage in self-led tasks. What I still question though, is whether self-led tasks are the most efficient and beneficial way to introduce autonomy as a subject, a practice, a philosophy or a learning style.
It is conceivable that I chose to research autonomy to decipher what I missed out on educationally. If so, there is a risk of drawing personal conclusions when observing the current cohorts of learners. In an effort to avoid confirmation bias in my findings I have opted to document what I actually do, ask and expect of learners and then gain feedback on the process from them. My hope is to offer a model for scaffolding the introduction of an autonomy that benefits all of our learners, so that they will find happiness in what they can do to improve the conditions of their and others’ progression.
My current assumption is that taking responsibility for their own learning is vital to the long term development of a student’s artistic career but what responsibilities specifically help build autonomous practice and why do we value independent learners?
Why do we value independence and self direction in learners?
Future challenges from industry professionals when graduates are creating, auditioning, building, costuming, lighting, amplifying, casting, rehearsing, writing, choreographing, characterising, being directed or collaborating on professional work within musical theatre may need to elicit genuinely communicative and deeply considered responses. As a professional artist our graduates will require the ability to present themselves, in a variety of situations, as flexible, creative, reflective and assured. Helping deepen their sense of ownership over their learning could allow this responsibility, communication and sharpened response to increase. My aim; to challenge learners within a framework that they understand, can respond to and control.
My delivery of modular content is currently limited to the planning, structuring and delivery of singing lessons. Can this traditionally Behaviourist model of delivery change to allow greater self-led learner response and create more opportunity for individual responsibility?
In an effort to ascertain what current undergraduate learners believed they knew about autonomy a colleague posed the question to undergraduates and collected their responses. Answers showed a range of mis/understanding.
What is autonomy?
Of the 18 Students asked… Answers were;
- 8 – I don’t know.
- 4 – The opposite of collaboration.
- 3 – Learning for yourself, actioning PDP content on your own.
- 3 – Something to do with anatomy
Carter, E., MT CCS RCS Lecture 09.11.14 – What is autonomy?
There appeared to be a lack of understanding over what autonomy is, how autonomous behaviours are learned and what the concepts actually require. If autonomous practices are being adequately taught, supported and explained wouldn’t there be more evidence of autonomy in learners and at least an understanding of what the definition of the word is? There seemed a disparity between what we as lecturers want to occur in learner’s progression and the level of it occurring. If autonomy is what we want of our undergraduate learners how do we explain it, how is it framed and why do some learners seemingly attach such low value to understanding and experiencing it?
What responsibilities specifically help build autonomous practice?
There are many effective ways that higher education can build autonomous practices in learners; effective two-way continuous feedback built on relationships of trust between learners and lecturers, learner collaborative practice, Choice modules, Reflective practice and journal documentation, Peer assessment, Self assessment, involvement in decision making around the creation and delivery of curriculum, monitoring and assessing programme delivery, dedicated Independent Study/Learning time and student representation on official Institutional matters.
Young artists choosing to study in the arts may respond to these opportunities for growth or disengage with them, the act of responding in itself (or choosing not to) displaying some autonomy. Learners quickly experience the obvious differences between their prior modes of learning (at school) and those required of them at a higher education level, but are these new ways of thinking, doing and working discussed in such a way that learners understand and benefit?
At the core of the notion of autonomy are the learners’ ability and willingness to make choices independently. Focusing in on the tools by which this is achieved (clarity in learning outcomes, routes to meeting these learning outcomes, coaching learners in how to plan, study, sets goals, visualise outcomes and improve communication) could help to develop independent student capacity to make relevant links between art forms, synthesise learning and make more informed decisions on what they themselves can research will be needed for them to feel success. There appears to be staff/student discussion occurring when tasks are set but what could encourage more self-direction?
Do we as lecturers think that learners know how, what and why to do tasks that we set them? Does a perfunctory explanation of a task give students an understanding of the way to gain the most from their learning? Could it be possible that we separate the learners into those that are willing to learn (because they understand how to meet the demands of a task) and those who are not yet ready to learn (when they don’t know how to go about tasks we set them)? If we as lecturers assume student disengagement means a lack of readiness to learn could we be creating obstacles for learners just to see who will respond and prove themselves worthy of more or deepened learning?
With the current social emphasis on educational outreach, access and equality staff face the challenge of preparing arts education for a generation of learners that may not have been prepared for Higher Education in the way that we might expect. This assumption that students should know how to lead themselves may create the first barrier to a learner discovering autonomous behaviours.
My current belief is that asking students to do things outwith their sphere of knowledge (asking them to show individual commitment and autonomy) is done by lecturers as a challenge to learners. The tasks that we set students allow them to experience confusion or doubt which we hope will lead to the learner showing either maturity (in asking for more guidance on the brief) or displaying independent thinking in meeting it. The other variable, however, is that the learner attempts the task at the level of academic ability they entered higher education with, may fail to meet the unspoken directive to display autonomy and loses confidence in their ability and decision making, resulting in less assertive engagement overall. If this continues and learners fail to understand the difference between being taught and ruling their own learning they may struggle to maintain progression.
“it is a misconception to assume that learners necessarily enter a learning experience with a high level of self-direction already intact. “
If part of my original desire (to clarify the definition and requirements of autonomy) came from experiencing a personal lack of self-direction, the impulse to rectify my lack of understanding felt even more directionless when I began to try and make sense of what our institution means by it. I discovered that the definition of what is required is not clear. The establishment has no guiding documentation on the topic. Education as a whole seems to have many differing concepts variously related to or feeding into Autonomy, but which ones relate to Arts Education?
The debate that educators have been engaged in over the past two decades seeks not just to address the semantics of the definition of what the term Autonomy is but to clearly define the concept in its various uses and guises.
Is autonomy a personal human trait, a political measure, or an educational move?
Is it a learning process, with specific phases, in which the learner assumes primary control? (Tough, 1979). Is it a situation in which the learner is totally responsible for all the decisions concerned with his [or her] learning and the implementation of those decisions (Leslie Dickinson), a recognition of the rights of learners within educational systems, (Phil Benson), is it a matter of the learner’s psychological relation to the process and content of learning’ (David Little), or as Holec stated ‘the ability to take charge of one’s own learning’ (Henri Holec)?
Clarity came with the discovery of an article on life long learning by Mocker and Spear.
Mocker and Spear identify four categories comprising lifelong learning:
formal, where “learners have no control over the objectives or means of their learning”
(translation = students have no say over the purpose or the process)
nonformal, where “learners control the objectives but not the means”
(translation = students have a say over the purpose but not the process)
informal, where “learners control the means but not the objectives”
(translation = students have a say over the process but not the purpose)
self-directed, where “learners control both the objectives and the means”
(translation = students have a say over the purpose and the process)
(1982, p. 4).
So what do we expect/require of our students and how do we explain our belief that learning should be directed by the individual?
Which of these categories describe the way our students control their learning?
Researching the course documentation for Musical Theatre, then for the School of Drama and finding no clear explanation I looked into the Royal Conservatoire mission statement, ethos and still with very little clear knowledge of our process on this I began questioning staff.
It would seem that we expect learners to discover it for themselves when they arrive. I have yet to find evidence of structured discussion on the subject being held Conservatoire-wide, across departments in any formalised manner. There are, of course, dedicated staff interpreting, leading, directing and encouraging learners to discover self-direction, but, from admittedly only a short period of research time, it seems difficult to ascertain what we as an establishment actually do to embed these practices or allow student understanding of them. Autonomy is mentioned at a modular level as part of what we expect learners to begin displaying, and as a goal on graduation.
Is this representative of the difficulties surrounding the issue? I believe so. How do our students know what we mean? How do they experience personal growth without knowing what the word, concept and practice mean to them personally? If no clear definition is made will they continue to see the philosophy of autonomy as a measure employed by staff to renege on their teaching responsibilities and instead vaguely suggest that students should merely work harder?
These questions have yet to be answered. My current research hasn’t provided satisfactory evidence of a unified or cohesive strategy. Perhaps the nature of supporting learning in so many arts forms and the structures that produce them demands an open and non-definitive approach to defining how autonomy is broached as a topic.
Future research will be undertaken to discover more. Plans include undertaking outreach work with Lifelong Learning department to discover more about current levels of autonomous philosophy in schools, installing a self-direction pilot programme within the School of Drama Junior Conservatoire (to help bridge any gap between current learning delivery in schools and arrival at a higher education arts establishment), presenting findings at Learning and Teaching Conference to gain more feedback from Conservatoire staff and implementing a Freshers week workshop to discuss concepts, individualisation of learning outcomes and learners familiarising themselves with reflection, autonomy and Independent Learning.
The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) is a national arts institution delivering vocational training and teaching for Dance, Drama, Music, Production and Screen. One of the aims of the curriculum is that it allows learners to;
“take responsibility for managing and evaluating their own learning and be resourceful, independent and effective in their approach to managing their life and work”
Graduate Attributes, RCS CURRICULUM (RCS, 2015/16)
In achieving this aim, there are opportunities for students and staff together to individually tailor the learning to the needs of each learning artist. As a member of staff in the Musical Theatre department, my role has been to offer modular content that introduces learners to the skills associated with musical theatre as a multi-disciplinary art form and encourage them to begin making educational choices of their own.
The career of an artist working in musical theatre in the 21st Century will require a broad skill set, an actively creative versatility and an ability to translate what is asked of them into emotionally intelligent, physically embodied and intellectually responsive artistic communication. Making sure that my teaching is effective, relevant, understandable and accessible for all learners who study musical theatre at the RCS ensures that they have the best possible chance of forging an artistic career.
I have recently been exploring the impact of my delivery on students’ studies at the RCS. This exploration has allowed me to gauge the barriers to learning for students striving for multi-disciplinarity. In turn, this has prompted me to look into my own teaching practice and examine what I can change to help learners manage and evaluate their learning and introduce autonomous practice and its benefits to our diverse learners.
This research documents what may be required of students in higher education with regards to autonomy, specifically in a Conservatoire setting. This will inform the efficacy of my own teaching practice for those learning alongside me, but will also provide a body of research that can be used to increase awareness of and strengthen strategies for teaching and supporting students studying in Arts Education. My belief is that empowering, enlightening, challenging and allowing each other to grow creates deeper, stronger, more resilient and interconnected human beings. It seems appropriate to believe that we cannot expect to achieve these strengths without learners deciding to achieve these for themselves. Whether those strengths result in a learner being employed in the artistic industries or not, I look to help create modern artists able to manage, evaluate and respond to the current workplace.
“Musical Theatre is currently the fastest growing performance genre internationally. It is therefore appropriate that the Conservatoire offers high quality […] HE training.”
Programme Rationale, Junior Conservatoire of Drama. RCS, 2015.
“In this ‘creative’ and ‘created’ economy, older features of working life including the career pathway, the ladder of promotion, the role of bureaucracy, the ‘narrative sociality’ of a life spent in a stratified but secure workplace have been rapidly swept away to be replaced by ‘network sociality’ (Lash 2000). Work has been re-invented to satisfy the needs and demands of a generation who, ‘disembedded’ from traditional attachments to family, kinship, community or region, now find that work must become a fulfilling mark of self.”
McRobbie, A., The Decline of Political Culture in Speeded Up Creative Worlds,Cultural Studies, 16 (4)
My concern is over how we help support learners fulfil their hopes of preparing for their workplace.
If artistic industries offer school leavers the chance to help define themselves then we have a responsibility to support current graduates eager to transcend the drudgery of low paid, temporary work with little or no recognition of the self or creative input. We should resist the cynical believe that modern performing arts training has simply shoehorned itself into degree-level structures just to continue being commercially lucrative. As lecturers we can influence learners ability to respond to whatever work life awaits them if we allow them to experience comfidence in their own ability to lead, direct and control their decision making.
As Lash and Urry suggest
‘People are obliged to take control over their more flexible work lives… being constrained to reflect upon one’s social conditions of existence ‘
Musical theatre reacts to many different art forms, cultural idioms and musical genres. The golden era of musical theatre productions that brought together highly skilled, professionally trained dancers with dedicated character actors and singularly trained singers has developed into a more demanding industry now that the art form requires advanced levels of ability in all of these skill sets from one individual artist. Add to this the current trend for having actors who dance, sing and play musical instruments in the production and we begin to see the complexity involved in training such artists to be industry-ready. While we cannot see the detail of how musical theatre will next evolve, we address the difficulty of supporting the learning for this multi-disciplinarity by letting learners take control of their own journey; allowing individual focus and depth to be decided upon by the learner.
My research has allowed me to see ways in which I can simplify and support that process while allowing personally relevant educational moments to occur, but has also brought up many challenging questions of how we fit vocational training into a modern degree level experience. The movement away from the student/lecturer model has brought both enlightenment and confusion/resistance. Questioning current student experience of studying at the RCS, clarifying the autonomy they display and understanding how to better their ability to direct their learning has exposed a level of misunderstanding over them leading their own learning.
Brockett and Hiemstra also point out that if being able to assume greater control for one’s destiny is a desirable goal of adult education then educators of adults are to “help learners become increasingly able to assume personal responsibility for their own learning” (p. 27).
It appears from my research into how autonomy is introduced that their other observation may also hold true “that such learning takes place in isolation. In order to truly understand the impact of self-direction, both as an instructional method and as a personality characteristic, it is crucial to recognize the social milieu in which such activity transpires” (Brockett and Hiemstra, 1991,
This project was aimed at exploring the following key research questions:
– Is it reasonably practical to expect Autonomy for learning from undergraduate learners?
– What are the benefits and challenges to staff and student learning within a conservatoire environment?
– How do I currently instil these practices in learners through our curriculum delivery?
– What kind of autonomy is required, is it apparent/transparent and can/does it effectively influence and allow learners to become artistic leaders?
Observations and implemented delivery – How do I currently instil these practices in learners through our curriculum delivery?
PREPARING TO INTRODUCE AUTONOMY
Having both peer- and tutor-observed teaching studio sessions throughout the year, being critically assessed on teaching practice and having the space and time to reflect on the experience, I grew much more aware of the strain and anxiety inherent simply in the heightened nature of being observed. This provided me a rudimental opportunity to consider what the learner is able to respond to under pressure. Standing in a room for a weekly singing lesson with only one other person can heighten any interchange or cause anxiety in meeting expectation. Add to this that, for the learner, the other occupant of the studio is critically observing them and the stress increases. If this observer has also mastered the elements of whatever the discussion centres around, then we can start to understand the levels of strain a learner might experience.
As I grew more aware of the possibilities for mental anguish it felt essential for me to adapt my practice to overcome these mental barriers, both for myself and for the possibility that learners might experience them with me too.
Allowing an outside observer into the studio to comment on the relationship between learners and myself was stressful. I worried whether the dynamic would evidence the care, attention and thought that had been invested in my preparation. Would the learner feel held and supported, or simply doubly ‘watched’? Would they be able to rise to the challenge of continuing to make their own decisions, or would they collapse and need me to lead the lesson? I was concerned that the added elements of pressure would return us to previous teaching styles where I dominated the room and made the learning happen.
I found myself imagining that the observed sessions would result in recreations of some of those weeks where my confidence and trust in my ability were shaken. I prepared for this bleak and thoroughly negative outcome in three separate ways;
1. Creating equilibrium in the room.
2. Allowing the student to lead the outcomes.
3. Honing my ability to pose Socratic Questions (open and closed questioning)
My hope was to lead where needed without commanding the space, structure the session without over-ruling the needs of the learner and create an environment where the occupants of the room were considered equals sharing the learning process with one another. This particular desire became so much stronger as I practiced it that my ‘teaching’ started to feel more like a Conversation Among Equals.
I formed the opinion that this change (facilitating the room, their learning needs and asking pertinent questions) contributed enormously to allowing learners space to experience leading and directing their own learning.
I took responsibility for creating the physical environment amenable to allowing equality in status. Choosing a studio with a grand piano allowed flexibility in sitting or standing as required by what the learner needed. Studios containing an upright piano created barriers and tension. The physicality of playing a piano placed against a wall meant I could rarely watch the student. Always being turned to one side, away from the student meant that there was very little eye contact or observation possible. This felt like a divide between learner and lecturer; lecturer turned to one side simply listening and judging, the learning trying to achieve open and honest sung text communication with the side of the lecturer’s head or back.
1. Creating equilibrium in the room.
- Space planning (see above)
- Weekly triage. (Separate, sift and select from the learner’s vocal, emotional and psychosocial experiences of the week.)
One of the earliest changes that I made to weekly sessions was the introduction of a immediate short discussion with the learner. Previously I had used these first few minutes of each one-to-one session to deliver a vocal warm-up but now I allow them to have taken care of that themselves, autonomously.
In this ‘triage’ the learner is asked to tell me how the week has gone, what has been required of them vocally, and we ascertain how they feel they have coped with their workload.
The concept, well-used in medical practice, allows the lead practitioner to ‘tune-in’ to the nuances of what is occurring for the person they are listening to. The associations we make with the word ‘triage’ are, of course; emergency, trauma, warfare, and anxious decision making. Although the process can sometimes feel as vital, the reason behind its introduction into sessions came out of my feeling a need for space to calm and focus both the learner and my ear to what they bring in.
Not dissimilar to the psychodynamics of ‘check-in’, initially I am actively listening to detect any fatigue, vocal pathology or disengagement in the larynx through the learners’ spoken voice. I am primarily creating an opportunity for reflection-on-action during their week. I am also holding the space open for the learner to build valuable decision-making skills on what they believe they need, are ready for or interested in discovering.
While there are times that I have asked the learner to have made this decision before they come in for their session, the knowledge that this time will always be set aside prepares the minds of both of us to help support their needs. I am aware, however, that often I’m just working with whatever they bring into the room, reacting to their immediate need or psychological state.
The nature of singing lessons allows an intimate and close bond to be established. The students don’t have many regular one-on-one lecturer/learner learning environments. As with all young artists the emotions and frustrations of what they are experiencing and trying to achieve seem particularly fragile when in a small room attempting to achieve them. For some it could equate to a therapy session, and although I do give pastoral care, I remain aware that my role is to help them angle their distress or fear or excitement towards something outside of themselves and useful to their progression.
Depending on their age, focus and learning style sometimes it takes many weeks for a learner to start being capable of making the decision of what focus each weekly session will have. I haven’t looked for reasoning behind this phenomenon, perhaps this would further and deepen future research. School mentality, immaturity, wanting to be helped, a resistance to decision making or perhaps simply having less ability to know what to do might all play their part.
I now use triage because it allows me to collect a brief vocal history of the week and decide what I think we should work on. Then it is up to the learner to make the final decision. Once this pattern is understood the learner and I share the decision making on their weekly progress together. In itself it seems a small adjustment, but it appears to sharpen learner preparation for each session when they realise that their singing lesson is not run by me, for me or to benefit me.
Creating equilibrium in the room radically altered the perception of the dynamic. Spacial equality, levelling the dynamic, creating conversations among equals, learner feedback was positive, comments were numerous on how much easier the process was when I could pay full attention. I regularly asked for feedback on when they felt most supported or when they felt most exposed. Simply considering the facilities of the room had allowed us these easier conversational learning moments.
- harnessing physical facilities
My next realisation was in our use of the mirrors provided. Once selecting studios with grand pianos was initiated I started being able to stand or sit with greater ease, the rooms being larger to accommodate such large pianos meant here was also floor space. Once I realised that standing room was available I chose to stand more with the learner, and we began to be able to sit or stand together. When we were stood the mirror became a much more valuable teaching tool. Instead of just telling the student what to look at or for, when I was stood I was up on my feet in front of the mirror together with them. With both of us looking in the mirror demonstrating the discussion of the outcomes felt a great deal more natural. Simply having someone share the floor with them, share the exercise or share the discomfort of repeatedly and lengthily gazing in a mirror made the learners feel supported.
“It has to be when you stood with me. Once I stopped laughing it was SO much easier to work out what to do when I could see you do it next to me in the mirror.”
“It’s always easy to find better [acting] choices when you’ve got someone’s eyes to look into or avoid.”
Simple physical facilitating seemed to increase trust and comfort exponentially. Two chairs, a music stand capable of extending up to eye-level and some floor space. Oh, and the desire to listen rather than tell. That’s all it took.
Creating equilibrium in the room.
- Space planning
- Weekly triage
- Harnessing the facilities in the room
Acknowledges the barriers to learning that learners might experience
Facilitates the session without over-ruling
Creates an environment where the occupants of the room are considered equals and learners experience leading and directing their own learning.
I was focused on creating as few divisions between the learner and myself as possible. It felt the most efficient way to allow less distinction between learner and lecturer. This was aimed at displacing the idea that the student was in the room with the expert to listen and follow.
Further inquiry revealed literature that was critical of aspects of my equalising system and questioned the status of those that allow learning to occur under this collegial (non-authoritarian) construct.
“In this approach the educator would be seen as a colleague of the recipient of instruction, as an equal […] neither party has a position of power over the other. The provider of care and the recipient of instruction are as equals. They meet and share a common concern for the intellectual and vocational well being of the person seeking assistance. Together they discuss the situation, consider the options available and reach a decision as to the most appropriate and desirable course of instruction.
Problem: Educators are not the equal of the recipient of education in so far as knowledge and skills. They do not see themselves on equal footing with those who they teach”
Shannon Kincaid, Ph.D., The Profession of Education: Responsibilities, Ethics and Pedagogic Experimentation. Chapter 3 section 1
Kincaid is right. Learners do not share the level of my knowledge (yet), status (yet), my confidence in experimenting or my lack of shame when effort doesn’t produce perfection. Recipients of true educational moments are, of course, hanging from every word and desperate to master whatever the guru holds as treasured wisdom. This in essence is an inequality. What does not seem correct however, by constructing an apparent equal plane on which the learner and the lecturer share space, is to then judge that sense of equality to be wholly false, not to be trusted or relied on. Creating a relationship with a learner that is dependent on a shared ability to say, feel or think freely fostered moments of real shared practice. Learners discovered how not to be ashamed, feel hesitant or apologise for their current ability, but to open, trust and know that they would be held whatever happened. My observations were that by removing obvious elements of the client/practitioner model the learner and I shared practice. By working together there was no apparent leader and follower and that from this the learner became more empowered to experiment. I didn’t remove the actual fact of my observation, I believe that I diminished some of the negative associations with it. This allowed the learner to feel more in charge.
REMOVING THE DIVIDE BETWEEN LEARNER AND LECTURER
There are numerous behaviours that I’ve observed in myself which should probably be noted. Documenting one’s own teaching when installing new practices is nerve-wracking. At first I dismissed some of these behaviours as displays of nervous energy, thinking that they would dissipate when the practice became much more embedded. As I continued observing my new teaching practices through the filter of audiovisual recording I also wondered if there were a few mannerisms explained by my reluctance to commit anything to be recorded until perfected.
Having spent many years in recording studios and booths as a recording artist I learned the benefit of protecting myself by not allowing sub-standard renditions to be held. They are immediately discarded. Recording my teaching practice didn’t allow this indulgence.
I have begun to wonder if these behaviours have always been there, they are just now confirmed. Perhaps they are a symptom of the human inability to produce a flawless sound-bite, unrehearsed, under pressure. Whatever the reason, this now enables me to dissect raw footage and see what I might, if pressed to have to categorise them, term subversive tactics.
Quantifying the value of these behaviours is outwith the remit of this current research. Further discussion and probing is needed to find balanced reasoning behind any perceived ir/relevance or in/efficacy. They are noted not only because one should observe not just the positive outcomes of change but the changes themself, but also because I find them interesting to ponder. While it can be documented that I find these observations uncomfortable and exposing I find myself hesitant to dismiss or discard them altogether.
Hesitation in responding
Struggling to find vocabulary
Admitting lack of clarity
Playful mockery of self and learner
Wilful disregard for correctness – either social, technical, or relational.
Acknowledgement of inability
Apparent lack of preparation
Playing Devil’s Advocate
Pretending not to understand
I conducted a small feedback gathering session earlier this year. I was interested in the prior learning brought to the studio, how it is handled, and how the learners feel about their progression and relationship with their voice. There were two comments made that pricked my ears. Perhaps these comments explain my now desire to subvert or dismiss, perhaps my need to equalise, rebalance, adjust or simplify the learner/lecturer relationship precedes them. I’m not certain.
I was let in on student perception of me. It smarted. Not in a bad way, but because it almost made me laugh at how I view myself and how some students saw me. The two comments were
“so when I found out that I was moving to you [as my singing teacher] I was scared. You were always really serious and aggressive.”
“I’d never had a technical teacher before I panicked cos [sic] you’d hate what I did”
Discovering that there was fear attached to some student perceptions of me was alarming. I discussed this with a few colleagues and then again with the learners. It seems that within minutes most had changed their mind on what they previously thought, but it got me thinking about the dynamic in lessons. Was I perhaps causing undue stress in learners? Was any seriousness or perceived singular focus on technical voice use making learning more difficult or could it possibly be of benefit; were learners spurred on to take their progress more seriously because I did? Was my apparently frightening demeanour a challenge or a useful tool?
It would seem that my tactics could be an elementary form of reducing the effects of any obvious hierarchy existing between student and teacher.
PUTTING AUTONOMOUS BEHAVIOURS INTO PRACTICE.
When I was being observed teaching created a useful reminder of the nature of how it feels to be put under high-stakes pressure. When an outcome is preciously precarious, no matter how well prepared, how well thought-out, how balanced and careful the approach, the brain and body can easily fall prey to doubts and worries, breathing becomes difficult and the ability to simplify and focus on the task is impaired. Though I discuss this tirelessly with learners with regards to their preparation for characterised sung text, I was reminded of how important these bite-sized repetitions actually are when I had to refocus on delivering sessions that were suddenly ‘high-stakes’ for me.
Learning Outcomes and rewriting objectives
In order to structure the limited time available in each weekly singing session, and to clarify the overall purpose of the sessions I decided to focus on the Learning Outcomes for the Voice module that singing lessons sit in.
LEARNING OUTCOME 1 DEMONSTRATE AN ENHANCED UNDERSTANDING OF INDIVIDUAL VOCAL PRODUCTION.
LO2 DEMONSTRATE AN ABILITY TO DESIGN AN INDIVIDUAL PROGRAMME OF EXERCISES FOR THE FURTHER ENHANCEMENT OF VOCAL DEVELOPMENT.
LO3 SHOW AN ABILITY TO REFLECT CRITICALLY ON PERSONAL STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES.
At the beginning of the year I decided, when I had received the names of the learners I would be working with, to send them a welcome email, introduce myself and ask them to consider specific areas, goals and a focus for us to work toward.
“Let me welcome you back. I wonder if I can ask you to each email me a paragraph describing what you think you are interested in covering personally, and are hoping to gain from the learning outcomes of the module?
I like to work with specific issues and tailor the curriculum around them. I want you all to feel that the learning is personal and relevant, so a few words letting me know your fears, your goals, any repertoire you want to look at, what you have been working on (anything that gives me an opportunity to focus the sessions on your needs).
I hope you have a restful few days of summer break left before returning, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland”
The introduction of this email is a tool I will continue to use. Some of the learner responses were detailed, personal, showed reflection, clear and deliberate processing of what the outcomes of the sessions should be and focused the minds of both the learners and myself on individual and shared goals. Those responses that were less specific or where the learners had set only general goals were useful for me to read to then give learners the chance to better understand the process of setting goals, knowing what the learning outcomes meant and what their role in achieving them could be.
- REWRITE Learning outcomes
In the first week of delivery I decided to ask the learners if they would allow some time to sit and rewrite the learning outcomes (LO) of the module. We talked through what each LO might mean to them, to me, what were the possible benefits of achieving its aim and if it covered what the learner personally felt they individually wanted to achieve. Once we had discussed their goals I asked them to write out each LO and reword it into language and a justification that was purely their own.
What occurred in these moments was doubly transformational. I began to see how vague and incomplete the nature of a learning outcome could be, and the learner began to see how they could help themselves achieve incremental progression.
I now begin each session with a clear introduction to the intentions of the session and quickly engage the student in some autonomous decision-making around the content that we will be working with. The learners are then given weekly opportunities to reflect either on the topic proposed by me, agreed on by us both or suggested as a rewritten LO by them. For learners that feel indecisive or overwhelmed with the amount they would like to explore I suggest areas of interest, normally breathwork, tonal warmth or resonance. (I’m keen to catch these moments when they do allow me to suggest or offer options. There are certain aspects of helping learners take control of their journey that reduce my input, or steer me away from areas of their vocal work that I would always like to explore, and often these are not the exciting, immediately stimulating or ‘sexy’ topics so I grab the opportunity to experiment whenever the learner feels ready and open to allowing the suggestion. Historically I would have tried to press these topics harder, sometimes even strongly advising students hellbent on high effort, high impact voicing to wait a while).
For those learners that embrace the decision making process we have also installed the mid-week follow-up email and with ‘triage’ they quickly begin to take full responsibility for what they want, when they want it and what they want it for.
Part of the challenge in one-to-one teaching, for me at least, is in trying to keep track of what you and your learner have set as tasks for each other. Following up on those tasks, and tying the work done (by the learner in the task) back into the work of the next session feels like a major opportunity to structure, scaffold and test the budding autonomy of the learner.
In the studio during sessions I write hand-scribbled notes of what we have discussed, but only really in bullet-point form, and sometimes only a word or two to describe the sense of what we have talked about. With so many scribbled notes each week, and so little time to write them out in full, I discovered that emailing the learner as quickly as possible after the session actually saves time. Not only does it immediately elicit a response from the learner (still buzzing from all the endorphins released during a singing lesson), they still have the sense of urgency and the drive to engage with whatever we have just collaborated on. They even have time to research and spin off into rich territory that feeds their imagination. They can discover other works that relate to or contrast, they find artistic and social commentary that gives them more threads to weave together into the character they create in song.
The longer I leave this email, the more their attention is required elsewhere, the less they feel attached to the learning experience and the further down their list of priorities the task goes. If I fail to send the email altogether, I actually need to put time aside out of the next session to discuss what we have both found and worked on, whereas if the email goes out straightaway, it generates an email conversation over the week that means we are both able to pick it up and put it down at our leisure, but it is all there documented. It’s simple really.
I don’t know why I hadn’t tried it before. I think I probably resented having to spend such a lot more time working outside of the studio, when I could be driving home to avoid the traffic. Now I find that I send a few before I move onto the next student, I send a few at lunch, I mail quite a few straight after I finish at night, and wait until the traffic has calmed a little, then I’m thinking of all the resources that might help the learner all the way home on the 90 minute commute. It’s brilliant.
This is an example.
LESSON #8 from Sunday In The Park With George – Stephen Sondheim (George has travelled from New York to Paris. We find him in an industrial area on the banks of the Seine where, originally, one of Georges Seurat’s pointillist paintings was set. He is reading from an old grammar book.) (Excerpt from email to learner)
The responses from the learner are sometimes more easily broken down into bite sized chunks, simply because they don’t take the time to look through the printed music, or their notebook, but they do scroll through their email threads to remind them of impending tasks. I can harness that habit simply by sending them a brief description of what we talked about. They can do what they like with it, but it seems that they do more than when they just write down the tasks in the score or on their notebook in the session. Result; more autonomous behaviour.
Deciding what they personally would like to work on in terms of repertoire that engages with the focus of their needs gives them full control of their learning with me. I’m convinced that it allows confident, mature and responsible decision making to lead them through an autonomous process. There has, to date, been only two students who have railed against the process. Their concerns and journey are documented earlier in a previous post. Reference will be made to these again later. I’ve found that the midweek email focuses the learning and the independent study. By the time the next session arrives the learner not only knows what they want to explore, they know why, how and they have linked it either to previous learning (with me or performance class or rehearsal) or to a personal sense of lacking something. Both situations make the learning moment much more vital for them. They are more convinced of why the topic is important because they have come to the decision out of personal need or lack.
- Welcome email
- Rewrite the learning outcomes
- Mid-week email follow-up
- encourage learner control
- allow decision-making
- set challenges to link to other learning
Structures the limited time available,clarifies the overall purpose of the sessions
Consider specific areas, goals
Allows learner to relally reflect on the Learning Outcomes
These simple shifts in responsibility create space for the learner to display their own level of engagement and self-leadership.
The triage simply focuses their reflective prowess and ability to articulate their need.
In one session the observing Tutor noted that
“This reflective process helped the student identify the gaps in their performance and the goals they are working towards as part of their broader learning and performance challenges, as well as firmly placing the student in the centre of their own learning, with you taking on the role of facilitator of learning rather than the more traditional deliverer of teaching. Throughout the session you engaged the student in a series of questions to help them get to the essence of what would improve their performance. You employed open questions when asking the student to explore their experience in more general terms and introduced closed questions where you wanted the student to be very clear about the changes they were making.”
Tutor feedback on an observed session
My focus on autonomy and scaffolding learning experiences for learners had, thus far, been focused on reducing extraneous talk, refining my ability to ask pertinent and easily digestible questions and committing the learners to an action. Once the balance of power switched from me as ‘lecturer’ and them as ‘passive learner’ (which took some convincing and hand-holding for some more than others) to one of
“an environment where the student and I are both practitioners together’’
(Gordon Adams – Lesson #12 Context setting paper 2015)
the results were positive when the learners were comfortably in charge of the pace, direction and focus of their learning. These, for me, seemed the first steps in displaying autonomy for learning.
Learner responses are more engaged simply because they understand what is being asked of them a little more clearly.
Assumptions on how, why or for how long things need to be engaged with are dispensed with; I ask them what they have understood about what we have covered, I invite questions that challenge me to redefine everything that feels unclear for them, I ask them to summarise back to me as if I am the learner, then I ask them if they can reproduce what we have done together on their own.
I am much more specific about creating a space for them to tell me what challenges will disrupt that recreation, what will stand in the way of their doing it on their own and how they will effectively deal with those challenges. I’d like to learn more coaching models to support this, but at present am just learning to listen and ask.
“Throughout the session you engaged the student in a series of questions to help them get to the essence of what would improve their performance. You employed open questions when asking the student to explore their experience in more general terms and introduced closed questions where you wanted the student to be very clear about the changes they were making.”
Tutor feedback on an observed session
Responses to these overly simplified questions were, at first, dismissive and evasive. Perhaps I seemed patronising and annoyingly interested in committing them to engage, but as the Tutor observing the session said
“the session organically developed along this theme, and you supported the student throughout with enthusiasm, passion and clarity of purpose. It was clear from your exchanges that you had already built a strong level of trust with the student.”
Tutor feedback on an observed session
It can seem exhaustingly detailed to constantly repeat what has already been said in a session and most learners have had to adjust to the slower pace of apparent progression in each session, but what they now acknowledge is the ease with which they personally progress individually outside of each session.
INSERT AUTONOMY QUESTIONARE QUOTE
Singing lessons have had, historically, the feel of an escape from learning. They are a moment of abandon, of play, of non-thought, of expression, sometimes even therapy, but all these things still within the context of learning. I was anxious not to disturb that sense of free experiment by constraining the learners within the confines of some pseudo-corporate commitment pattern, but building relationships of trust has been key to getting them on-board.
“Through this balance of open and closed questions, you were able to relate the student’s experience to the key techniques and terminology outlined in your lesson plan without making it feel that the session was prescribed in any way. Whilst you appeared to do this with a natural flow and ease, you have clearly put a lot of effort into developing this approach and maintaining the level of responsiveness throughout the session takes a great deal of focus and discipline. At each point where the student tried a new approach, you remained non-judgemental which appeared to help the student to reflect in a genuine way. This pattern of ‘change something – reflect, change something – reflect…’ created a cycle of incremental enhancements in the student’s performance, confidence and knowledge of how subtle physical changes affect not just the voice but importantly the characterisation of the performance.”
Tutor feedback on an observed session
“At times where the student asked a question, you provided clear answers but also brought in other questions that they might consider, again shifting the focus from you back to them. I particularly thought that the question ‘Did you feel that you lost or gained anything in making that change?’ demonstrated the manner in which you were able to make this an autonomous experience for the student. Other effective questioning approaches you employed were to begin a sentence and invite the student to complete it e.g. ‘You want to add a bit of that because…?’ In each case I didn’t get the impression that you were leading the student to the ‘right’ answer but rather towards making a choice about how to continue exploring their learning.”
Tutor feedback on an observed session
Tutor feedback drew attention to a shortfall in my lesson plan in the actual level of detail about what occurred in the observed studio sessions. I had initially really struggled to compile a lesson plan document because of the very nature of sessions being so unpredictable and responsive. I hadn’t wanted to expose my teaching as simply reactionary and unplanned, but from a deeper understanding of the benefits of dealing with the reality of what occurs in sessions I now feel more confident in my belief that I work primarily from a carefully synthesised portfolio of approaches, garnered over many years of having working in different art forms.
I have a palette of responses, I mix colours from many different techniques, I apply brush strokes in various styles and ultimately I am working in mixed media, on many differently absorbent surfaces. If this felt unstructured and chaotic when approaching the writing of a lesson plan, it was because, although there are certain key points that need discussion over the three years of an undergraduate degree in Musical Theatre I have been uncertain of where to timetable these sessions, depending on the level of an individual’s previous absorption, synthesis and prior knowledge. I have also been firmly of the mind-set that I prefer not to be the brand of singing teacher that decides on a technical or holistic topic for the day and covers it with each and every student, regardless of its efficacy or relevance for the learner.
Previously I had felt anxious about structuring and documenting any one particular session as I wasn’t convinced that I believed topics could be treated as some prescriptive box ticked in curriculum coverage, so while
“it is clear that your teaching context is less rigid and defined than this, [i]n this context you have created an environment where the student can address the challenges they actually face right now with the pieces they are working on”
Tutor feedback on an observed session
and especially now as the emphasis on autonomy means that the key points are decided on by the learner in consultation with me as their fellow practitioner, it was suggested by the observing Tutor that
“[w]hilst it is hard to pre-schedule this experience, you might want to try writing the lesson plan retrospectively to analyse what you actually did in relation to what you said you would in the plan.”
Tutor feedback on an observed session
I think it would be useful to write up a lesson plan which describes what I actually did in the session. When I have documented enough of the varied approaches to what is brought into the room, perhaps I will have enough material to publish a book.
I shouldn’t have doubted the learners’ ability to respond. They are clearly a lot more capable of delivering under pressure than I seem to be.
Peer feedback from the Voice department saw through the under-evidenced theoretical parts of the lesson plan and past the educational incoherence (in the lack of planning) to the strangely homogeneous nature of what Voice users/lecturers do to elicit response. For me the benefit of peer feedback is that greater working understanding of the actual knowledge-base means that more can be critiqued and commented upon. The last time any peer observation was engaged in, my peer (line manager) was interviewing me for the position I now hold. They weren’t, at that time, my peer, they were my prospective employer and of course now that relationship brings the added worry of the observation being able to either justify or undermine your line manager’s decision to continue giving you work, so I was pleased that my lesson plan delivery, my approach, my focus on autonomy and
“the unfolding of this in practice was extremely evident and clear at all times, resulting in very impressive teaching and highly successful learning. Each identifiable theory was present in your lesson[,] you clearly evidenced a deep understanding of the effectiveness of these theories in practice in a moment; you had complete ownership of these theories and approaches – they belonged utterly and completely to you. [Y]our planning documentation reflected your deep commitment to creating what you considered to be the most appropriate learning environment for this type of learning activity. Your focus on active reflection, positive reinforcement, questioning, guided learning, shared experience, discussion, and more, was wholly appropriate and expertly executed throughout. Every moment in the lesson counted. The relaxed focus was wholly appropriate for the stage of learner. The lesson proceeded in what felt like a spontaneous manner, but your level of expertise in the subject specialism is so extraordinarily high, it was clear to me that you were gently guiding the learner towards their next possible moment of understanding.”
Peer feedback on an observed session
I have discovered that within my contract of employment reference is made to the intended on-going peer observation of my work, and I wonder if part of my initial reluctance to allow any peer or tutor observation of my teaching (indeed it was the reason that I withdrew from study when I enrolled on this PgCert course the first time one year ago) comes somewhat from not having had regular observation throughout my tenure. When the time came for this observation to happen this year I was intensely anxious. I felt that I would finally be discovered a fraudulent sham of a teacher and some kind of cretinous charlatan. I didn’t want to be observed. Indeed I feel that being observed changes the very nature of ‘doing’, but I do recognise now the benefit of having done so. I think I can now stop expending energy worrying about whether my practice is ‘up-to-scratch’ or relevant or ‘industry-worthy’. What I can do is focus my energy on delivering easily understandable and ‘easy to replicate’ tasks that build learner confidence so that they feel personal progression. Peer feedback has allowed me to accept that
“[a]t a subject level, the progress the learner made during the session was clear to both
parties, understood by both at every step of the way, and instruction given for next time was very clearly focussed (with an invitation to send an interim ‘check-in’ video during
the week – an impressive addition, consciously designed to consolidate, extend and
Peer feedback on an observed session
- Video feedback and midweek follow up
Asking learners to email self-recorded video footage and allow tutor follow-up on the tasks set for the week is the greatest implementation of change I can acknowledge through having looked at the current state of my practice. This addition began simply enough as an email contact between singing lessons.
Part of the challenge in one-to-one teaching, for me at least, is in trying to keep track of what you and your learner have set as tasks for each other. Following up on those tasks, and tying the work done (by the learner in the task) back into the work of the next session feels like a major opportunity to structure, scaffold and test the budding autonomy of the learner.
I write hand scribbled notes of what we have discussed, but only really in bullet point form, and to be honest sometimes only a word or two to describe the sense of what we were talking about. With so many scribbled notes each week, and so little time to write them out in full, I have discovered that emailing the learner as quickly as possible after the session actually saves time. Not only does it immediately elicit a response from the learner (still buzzing from all the endorphins released during a singing lesson), they still have the sense of urgency and the drive to engage with whatever we have just collaborated on. They even have time to research and spin off into rich territory that feeds their imagination.
They can discover other works that relate to or contrast, they find artistic and social commentary that gives them more threads to weave together into the character they create in song. The longer I leave this email, the more their attention is required elsewhere, the less they feel attached to the learning experience and the further down their list of priorities the task goes. If I fail to send the email altogether, I actually need to put time aside out of the next session to discuss what we have both found and worked on, whereas if the email goes out straightaway, it generates an email conversation over the week that means we are both able to pick it up and put it down at our leisure, but it is all there documented.
It’s simple really. I don’t know why I hadn’t tried it before. I think I probably resented having to spend such a lot more time working outside of the studio, when I could be driving home to avoid the traffic. Now I find that I send a few before I move onto the next student, I send a few at lunch, I mail quite a few straight after I finish at night, and wait until the traffic has calmed a little, then I’m thinking of all the resources that might help the learner all the way home on the 90 minute commute. It’s brilliant.
Excerpts from online blog at scotchcornered.wordpress.com
This in turn has made the reflective ability of the learner greater in studio sessions because they already know what they want to bring in, focus on and why. It means that they are taking the reins, but it also means that they are more easy to draw reflection from as it has become a more integrated part of their journey. I’m pleased that this was a success of the observed session and noted in Peer feedback…
“By asking the learner to spontaneously feedback on a task, you as a teacher are demonstrating personal confidence, but also confidence in the learner, empowering
them to appropriately self-reflect and evaluate for themselves. You listened patiently
and intently to the response on every occasion, and used questioning to illicit further
and deeper learning. You guided the learner towards finding for themselves their own
next steps, but of course, the high level of expertise in your subject specialism means
that these questions were very precisely chosen and worded. Feedback was therefore
a balance of learner evaluation, teacher reinforcement of the learner’s feedback, and
teacher feedback. Next steps were very clearly explained and derived from the work
just presented and the evaluative discussion. The lesson was built on the learner’s
response to the work carried out. This was pitched exactly at MA level and was very
impressive. Again, your documentation detailed your aims for this aspect of their
learning experience, and it was clear you knew exactly how to make this happen – you
evidenced again your plan to design and deliver a learning activity which ‘fosters an
environment where the student and I are both practitioners together.”
Despite the challenges the observed sessions afforded me, and in spite of the change being ‘watched’ causes, I learned to believe more in the delivery of the process I’ve constructed. The Peer and Tutor feedback has highlighted the need to be more theoretically sound and I agree with needing to document that. The greatest learning of this experience, for me, though, has been to believe in what I do and keep building on the trust between the learners and myself. Continuing to ask questions about what they know, how they will manage a task on their own and how they will overcome hurdles that might challenge their ability to reproduce what they have just done with me seems the simplest way to build autonomous adult artists that create their own path.
Encourages learners to manage and evaluate their own learning
Allows learners to be resourceful, independent and effective in their approach
Individually tailors the learning to the needs of each learning artist, encouraging them to begin making educational choices of their own.
Acknowledges the barriers to learning that learners might experience
Structure the session without over-ruling
Create an environment where the occupants of the room are considered equals where learners experience leading and directing their own learning.
Allow learner to make the final decisions, sharpen learner in and for each session
Brockett and Hiemstra, Kidd, Dam, Holec, Tough (all modern academic proponents of the various and numerous descriptors, terms and parameters for various forms, uses and benefits of autonomy) have documented much over the past twenty years since the term was adopted by educationalists.
“It has often been said that the purpose of adult education, or of any kind of education, is to make the subject a continuing, ‘inner-directed’ self-operating learner.” (p. 47) Kidd, J.R., How Adults Learn (1973).
However, in describing the nature of self-education, Gibbons and Phillips (1982): ” Self-education occurs outside of formal institutions, not inside them. The skills can be taught and practiced in schools, teachers can gradually transfer the authority and responsibility for self-direction to students, and self-educational acts can be simulated, but self-education can only truly occur when people are not compelled to learn and others are not compelled to teach them–especially not to teach them a particular subject-matter curriculum. While schools can prepare students for a life of self-education, true self-education can only occur when a person chooses to learn what he can also decide not to learn.” (p. 69)
Using the related concept of the “autonomous learner,” Moore (1980) has described such an individual as one who can do the following: “Identify his learning need when he finds a problem to be solved, a skill to be acquired, or information to be obtained. He is able to articulate his need in the form of a general goal, differentiate that goal into several specific objectives, and define fairly explicitly his criteria for successful achievement. In implementing his need, he gathers the information he desires, collects ideas, practices skills, works to resolve his problems, and achieves his goals. In evaluating, the learner judges the appropriateness of newly acquired skills, the adequacy of his solutions, and the quality of his new ideas and knowledge.” (p. 23)
Another view of self-direction that stresses the phases of a learning process has been offered by Knowles (1975). His view has been perhaps the most frequently used in the adult education literature to date: “In its broadest meaning, ‘self-directed learning’ describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” (p. 18)
As has been noted earlier, most efforts to understand self-direction in learning to date have centered on the notion of an instructional process in which the learner assumes a primary role in planning, implementing, and evaluating the experience. Yet, this view becomes weakened when considered in relation to semantic and conceptual concerns such as those raised by Brookfield. One of the first authors to address the confusion over the meaning of self-directed learning was Kasworm (1983), who stated that self-directed learning can be viewed as a “set of generic, finite behaviors; as a belief system reflecting and evolving from a process of self-initiated learning activity; or as an ideal state of the mature self-actualized learner” (p. 1). At about the same time, Chene (1983) addressed the concept of autonomy, which she largely equated with self-directed learning. In this article, Chene distinguished between two meanings of autonomy, where one view is psychological and the other “is related to a methodology which either assumes that the learner is autonomous or aims at achieving autonomy through training” (p.
One of the key aspects to consider in defining Learner Autonomy is whether we view it as a means to an end (learning a foreign language) or as an end in itself (making people autonomous learners). These two options do not exclude each other, both of them can be part of our views towards language learning or learning in general.
My belief that learners would experience leadership for themselves, become better equipped for a career heavily dependent on self-mastery, motivation, ambition and creative independence has not always been unchallenged. Documenting one’s own teaching when installing new practices has required strength, flexibility, openness and an ability to react to disappointment and learner confusion.
Principles of learner autonomy could be:
Autonomy means moving the focus from teaching to learning.
Autonomy affords maximum possible influence to the learners.
Autonomy encourages and needs peer support and cooperation.
Autonomy means making use of self/peer assessment.
Autonomy requires and ensures 100% differentiation.
Autonomy can only be practised with student logbooks which are a documentation of learning and a tool of reflection.
The role of the teacher as supporting scaffolding and creating room for the development of autonomy is very demanding and very important.
Autonomy means empowering students, yet the classroom can be restrictive, so are the rules of chess or tennis, but the use of technology can take students outside of the structures of the classroom, and the students can take the outside world into the classroom.
(For an introduction to learner autonomy, see Reinders (2010).)
All from Anglisticum website
“Self-education or, The philosophy of mental improvement”, by William Hosmer: ” The common opinion seems to be that self-education is distinguished by nothing but the manner of its acquisition. It is thought to denote simply acquirements made without a teacher, or at all events without oral instruction . . . Besides the absence of many, or all of the usual facilities for learning, there are at least three things peculiar to this enterprise, namely: the longer time required, the wider range of studies, and the higher character of its object.” (p. 42) Hosmer (1847)
Autonomy and self-direction from the learner don’t equate to less preparation required of the lecturer. I find that more time is needed, both in and out of the studio, to meet the quickly advancing expectations of progressing learners.
When the working vocabulary and physiological understanding of the voice begin to make more sense to the learner (perhaps because exercises have been broken down into component parts, detailed hand-outs have been explained and tasks have been set, learners feel followed up on in midweek emails on the exercises and reflection seems required for the next triage) the level of engagement with increasing their voice control doesn’t seem the only element of their practice to increase.
Learners become eager to continue the progress that they feel individually outside the studio when they return the next week. Studio sessions become not just a time for them to demonstrate their their newly found prowess, detail or difficulty. Learner confidence and sense of ownership over their voice, their learning and their relationship with me and (I discovered) other lecturers also increases. I found this an interesting side effect of increased autonomous behaviours. The learners’ sense of entitlement also sometimes took a step up in intensity.
Increases in a sense of entitlement can challenge and benefit both the learner, the lecturer AND the confidence of both of their processes.
Some studio sessions took on a somewhat challenging tone as learners flexed the powerful muscles of their new sense of progression and entitlement. This felt particularly difficult early in the process of change for me. My teaching practice was changing and their vocal process was evolving so it was challenging to have to meet a bristling energy of confrontation or line of questioning. Some learners began to respond to the sense of there being two equals sharing practice by showing behaviours that I wasn’t quite prepared for. I would like to look at two examples.