xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: NAPLAN and the Sound of Music.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

NAPLAN and the Sound of Music.

Various research programmes indicate that standardised testing regimes focussed on Literacy and Numeracy have had a detrimental impact on other areas of the curriculum. It is unfortunate that in many schools music is one subject that is seen as “not very important” in the scheme of things. Yet, the research is clear that music can not only benefit NAPLAN results but has benefits for children in all learning areas and throughout their lives.

 In 2009 the Cambridge University Review of Primary Education found that “standardised testing has narrowed the curriculum” and that the arts, science and humanities had been eroded by the strong national focus on testing literacy and numeracy. The powerful British Office of Standards in Education (OFSTED) agreed, stating that “music in particular has a vital role to play in primary education.”

In November, 2012, The Whitlam Institute at the Sydney University, in conjunction with the University of Melbourne, released its study on The Impact of High Stakes Testing on School Students and their Families. This was a comprehensive study based on over 8000 responses from educators around Australia. In May of 2013 the ongoing study also canvassed the opinions of a wide range of parents. Echoing the Cambridge Review, the Whitlam Institute’s chief finding was that NAPLAN “is having unintended side effects of narrowing teaching strategies and the curriculum.” The study revealed that high stakes testing impacted on schools, their students and their families. There was

1. A narrowing of teaching strategies and of the curriculum
2. Negative impacts on student health and well being
3. Negative impacts on staff morale
4. Negative impacts on school reputations and the capacity to attract and retain students.

 More than 4000 teachers reported NAPLAN had affected the style and content of their teaching. Over 5000 teachers reported NAPLAN had led to timetable reductions of other subjects. Leading researcher, Nicky Dulfer said, “We are narrowing the curriculum in order to test children. There are ways that we can support numeracy and literacy without limiting children’s access to other subjects like music, language and the arts.”

In view of its research findings, the Whitlam Institute argued as a part of its submission to the 2013 Senate Enquiry into NAPLAN, that “In brief, we note the strong concerns we have for the high stakes nature of the NAPLAN testing regime. While literacy and numeracy skills are fundamental and build a strong foundation for further learning, we believe that educational reform should place an emphasis on fostering much broader learning goals and outcomes.”

 Australia’s leading music educator, Dr Richard Gill, has continually advocated that a good and continuous programme of music in schools would be beneficial to all students in all areas of learning. Dr Gill firmly believes that singing should be the basis for all music education and should eventually lead to children reading music, playing an instrument and eventually composing their own music. Of course, an unintended and unfortunate consequence of placing Specialist Music Teachers in Western Australian schools in the late 1970s was that, apart from the very early years of schooling, there is now almost no daily classroom singing at all. In earlier times every class started their school day with a variety of songs.

 In late 2013, Claire Rogerson, of Wollongong University, released a very well researched paper providing plenty of evidence to show that music in schools would not only benefit NAPLAN results but many other areas of a child’s development.

 The intrinsic importance of music education

Her paper is entitled, “Problem Solving: Solutions Associated with Music in N.S.W. Schools.” Although WA compares more than favourably with N.S.W. as far as music education is concerned, Ms Rogerson makes some very valid points for upgrading the quality of music in our primary schools. Under the heading, The Relevance and Importance of Music Education, she challenges the view that music is not an important part of the curriculum and that it takes time away from more important subjects. She quotes studies by Letts (2007), Butzlaff (2000), Gadberry (2010), Kalish (2009) and Miller and Hopper (2010), which all say that music provides students with a range of skills and attitudes that are not developed in any other subject. Skills such as flexibility in thinking, innovation and unique problem solving techniques can be easily integrated into other subjects to increase student learning.

She points out that both music and English are represented by formal, written notation reading from left to right. She quotes research by Butzlaff (2000), showing that the stronger the engagement with music the greater is the achievement in English. She also quotes Kalish (2009) to show that music develops analytical skills not developed elsewhere that “can be the difference between a child understanding a concept straight away or having to reteach the concept three or four times.”

The Kalish study also reveals that music enables children to self-monitor more effectively. Ms Rogerson cites research by Gadberry (2010) that skills fostered by music extend well beyond the classroom and blend in to life skills such as citizenship, volunteering, better memory capacity, increased self-confidence and school spirit.

An Integrated approach to the arts.

Addressing problems relating to Restrictions of the Curriculum and Timetabling, Ms Rogerson acknowledges the well-known complaints from teachers about the crowded curriculum and severe time constraints. She notes that pressure from NAPLAN has resulted in at least 50% of the time being devoted to literacy and numeracy in most schools, with about 1.5 to 2.0 hours left for The Arts, including music. “Why,” she asks, “do teachers ignore one sixth of the curriculum for ‘more important’ subjects?”

She urges teachers to consider the most appropriate and effective learning styles for their students, which generally involves some form of creative integration and movement. She cites Boswell (2011) and Davies (2010) who have shown in the UK that the integration of creative arts across the curriculum helps minimise the time spent solely on the arts. Gallion School in Becton, London, has successfully integrated the arts into the everyday curriculum. 80% of the school’s curriculum content is taught through music, visual arts, drama and dance. This in turn engages the interests of the students, encourages their creativity, develops the different learning styles of all students and makes the curriculum much more accessible, even to those students who do not have English as their first language. She maintains the success of Gallion School demonstrates that literacy and numeracy cannot develop to their fullest if the skills needed to apply them in real life are not present. Music benefits all curriculum areas for all students.

In focussing on NAPLAN and Standardised Testing, Ms Rogerson observes that most Australian schools devote most of Term One to NAPLAN testing and as a result all other subjects are compressed or pushed aside. However she says research by Anon (2001), Johnson and Memmott (2006) and Olsen (2008) indicate that direct parallels exist between music participation and improved standardised test scores. A study in the USA concluded that student’s involvement in any form of music education is more beneficial than no involvement at all. The higher the quality of the music programme the higher the academic achievement. Johnson and Memmett (2006).

 This idea had already been addressed by Caterall, Chapleau and Iwanaga (1999) who discovered that despite socio economic differences, students participating in music education programmes dramatically increased their test scores. Music promotes inclusive education. In addition, Olson (2008) noted that music is the only subject in which students of any ethnicity have equal opportunities for success. With NAPLAN it is quite the reverse. Ethnicity and language background are key determinants of success or failure in NAPLAN tests.

Ms Rogerson again poses the question, “With the abundance of evidence showing music education has benefits for all curriculum areas, can the importance of music education really be disputed?” She concludes that without continuous and quality music education in primary schools “teachers are limiting students and not providing challenges that encourage the attainment of goals and potential. It is the range of creative skills, attitudes and values that are developed through music that make it such an integral subject in the primary curriculum. If these values are developed early enough, teacher will set up positive habits of learning that students can carry through to their high school education.”

And into the rest of their lives!

As usual, Pasi Salhburg, Finland’s visionary education leader, commenting after the 2013 release of the 2012 PISA test results, puts everything into beautiful perspective: “Finland should also continue to let national education and youth policies — and not PISA — drive what is happening in schools. Reading, science, and mathematics are important in the Finnish education system but so are social studies, arts, music, physical education, and various practical skills. Play and joy of learning characterize Finland’s pre-schools and elementary classrooms. Many teachers and parents in Finland believe that the best way to learn mathematics and science is to combine conceptual, abstract learning with singing, drama, and sports. This balance between academic and non-academic learning is critical to children’s well-being and happiness in school. PISA tells only a little about these important aspects of school education.”

Shouldn’t ‘play and the joy of learning’ also characterize Western Australian primary schools? Shouldn’t Western Australian principals and teachers, like many in Finland, agree that the best way to learn mathematics and science is to combine conceptual, abstract learning with singing, drama and sports? The research says a resounding Yes to both questions.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I would love to hear your opinion! If for some technical reason it won't let you leave a comment, please email me at bourke@iinet.net.au