An ambitious collaboration between The Muse Community Music Trust and Whītau School is making sure every child in the school receives a comprehensive Music education, beginning when the children are new entrants, and supporting the children’s music learning until they graduate at the end of year six.
Principal, Sandra Dentice, has been a music specialist teacher and is enthusiastic about the obvious benefits for children learning music. The school has provided opportunities for music making and learning, through ukulele and recorder classes taught through the Christchurch School of Music, and through Kapa Haka and other cultural activities at the school. However, providing a comprehensive classroom music programme requires specialist teachers, which public schools are not resourced for.
Local Primary Music specialist, Loren Easterbrook, who runs the junior music programme at Medbury School, was an occasional tutor for The Muse Community Music Trust, before heading off to Melbourne to attain her Masters in Teaching. On her return to Christchurch, as well as taking up the role at Medbury, she has taken the lead on a programme by The Muse to improve access to quality music education for children.
Over the years, there have been many attempts to try to improve music teaching in primary schools but all approaches have ignored the fact that music is a specialist subject, requiring years of study to become a good musician, and then further training to learn to teach music. Instead of resourcing schools to provide this, we have lowered our expectations of what children will experience at Primary School.
“Music is such a treasure in the lives of everyone who had access to high quality music education. I really felt strongly that this should be available to everyone and the best place to do that is within a classroom where everyone can participate and learn musical skills to a high level.”Loren Easterbrook
The Muse Community Music Trust, along with many other music advocates, believes this is selling our children short. There is much evidence that learning music enhances other learning and participation in music making has enormous social and well being benefits.
The Muse has teamed up with international experts in the Kodály approach to music education, and has begun training music specialists in this rigorous, transformational approach to teaching music. Each year they host international experts to teach a two week course, in January and April, where musicians and teachers from all over Aotearoa come and improve their musicianship and learn how to be the best possible music teachers they can be. Students work towards achieving the Australian Kodály Certificate, a three level qualification, recognised all over the world as the gold standard for Kodály teaching. This year The Muse offered level one courses for Secondary and Primary Teachers. Each year, they hope to extend their programme.
The Kodály approach is built around singing games that children love, within a highly structured programme that allows the children to sequentially build skills and understanding, becoming fluent, life long musicians who can read, write, sing, play and compose to a high level. It is an approach that leans heavily on the abilities of the teacher, who must be an excellent musician, as well as have a thorough understanding of best practise teaching pedagogy.
Whītau School will become an exemplary school. The Muse is providing a Kodály trained teacher, Nikki Berry, to teach all the year one and two children for 30 minutes once a week, while providing resources so that the classroom teachers can learn alongside their students and continue to provide musical experiences throughout the week. The Muse will continue to train teachers, so that there are enough specialist teachers to work with all the children as the programme grows, and the children graduate to each new class. Loren Easterbrook will mentor the teachers to ensure the programme is the best it can be.
A requirement is that the classroom teachers participate, instead of using this opportunity as ‘release time’. This means that the specialist teachers are not necessarily Primary School teachers, as long as they are trained to the level The Muse requires. The classroom teachers have the opportunity to learn alongside the children. After four sessions, teachers are noticing the children benefiting, in managing their social interactions, impulse control and language skills.
“Games have rules, and children understand this, so they can learn within a playful setting how to make the games go well and not slow down the class”, says Nikki. “The content changes quickly, so children need to pay attention, and they soon learn this. Music adds another dimension and is a marvellous motivator. Whether the games are cooperative or competitive, the children want the games to work, and they all become collaborators. For the teacher, the game is an excuse to learn the music. For the children, the music is there to enhance the game. If we can frame most of the learning within games, and keep a lovely flow to the class, the children stay engaged, and everyone feels good about the learning.”Nikki Berry
The Muse believes this approach is the most cost effective way to provide quality music education within primary schools.
“We want to show the government what could be achieved, by resourcing specialist teachers in primary schools to teach one thirty minute class a week to every child” says Nikki. “ The Queensland Government has recently agreed to fund specialist music teachers in all Primary Schools. We believe this should be the model in New Zealand schools. Our intention is to show how music enhances social development, literacy and numeracy.”
At the same time, The Muse acknowledges that there aren’t yet enough trained specialist music teachers in New Zealand, which is why they are also putting their efforts into bringing the training to Christchurch each year.
“Really, there should be a pathway for musicians to learn to be excellent classroom music teachers, and classroom teachers to become excellent musicians, but currently no institutions in Christchurch are providing this.” says Nikki. “Our summer school provides both these options, with options for people at all levels, including beginner musicians”.
The Muse would welcome collaborating with tertiary institutions to make this possible. “In the meantime”, says Nikki, “we are just making it happen, because we can”.
For those children not lucky enough to go to Whītau School, The Muse is offering after school music classes, taught by Loren and Nikki on Friday afternoons. See their website or phone them for more information. themuse.org.nz/music-classes 0800 The Muse.