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A Reflection of an Arts Educator During Lockdown by Priya Gain

Updated: May 13, 2020

I am a passionate arts educator currently in lockdown at home with three children ranging in age from 8-13. I have been interested, as both a parent and a teacher, to observe how the field of education is responding in these times of uncertainty and in supporting children having to learn from home.

I have been lucky to enjoy some rich discussions with other arts educators over the last couple of weeks: teachers who work both mainstream and Māori immersion teaching contexts. We have observed and discussed the proliferation of online material that has already been set up and grappled with how our new context can quickly compromise key principles of what we know is good, effective, arts based pedagogy.

We have discussed the fact that in some educational pockets, technology seems to be “leading effective pedagogy by the nose”, when it should be the other way around. We have observed that online teaching is its own specialism. It is so important to go slow, and in a critically reflective way, as we shift into this new mode of delivery. A number of us arts teachers believe it may be better to conceptualise “online learning” as “setting learning up from home”, rather than expecting all the learning to be happening during the online contact time.

With colleagues working in kura kaupapa contexts, we have talked about not rushing to fill the “not-going-to-school void”, but instead focusing first on new in-bubble rhythms and whānau connection/wellbeing. I have found my colleagues’ use of the metaphor of the harakeke plant valuable – focussing on whānau, connection, and the older generation’s role of nurturing new growth.

As a classroom teacher, I have reflected on the value and effort we put into setting up the culture of our classes at the beginning of each new school year. Schools always prioritise, in the first few weeks, establishing rituals and routines in order to support children to feel secure and enable them to anticipate what the day is going to look like. This is so important for our children right through their primary years. We also invest in developing relationships within the class community. We talk about respect and responsibilities within the learning environment and the importance of caring for one another. We use social constructivism and relational based approaches to learning in order to support children to feel empowered and enabled to take ownership of their learning.

In these times of uncertainty, and in our new whānau-based home learning environments, we can draw on and apply these same key principles. Now, everyone is having to learn to move around each other successfully during the school/work day. This is like establishing the culture of a new class. Everyone requires different roles and responsibilities depending on their age and stage. Whānau negotiation of spaces and timetables and access to resources like digital devices requires us to really hone our relationship skills, our ability to listen to each other and to be observant of where everyone is at. For example, my tweens are learning to sense when it is a good time to offer to make a pot of tea or to play a game with their younger brother. I have learnt the benefits of having a loose structure or rhythm that allows the children to anticipate a next thing. For example I have wanted to ensure that after school times/holidays/weekends feel different to school/work times even though we are not having a change of physical space.

From my background as a playcentre mum, and an Orff-inspired arts educator I also aspire for learning activities to be centred on:

· Relational learning – developing an ensemble community consciousness through family based/collective music making

· Elemental experiences– simple, close to the earth – lots of foundational musical activity that use the voice (speech/language and singing) and body (dance and embodying rhythm).

· Place based learning with a focus on our home context, and our surrounding natural environment.

· Child centred and socially constructed learning, which give children plenty of opportunities to respond originally and creatively through the arts

· Teaching as artistry; providing plenty of opportunities for children to develop their sense of aesthetic and artistic judgement.

· Play based learning where musical improvisation and musical play are essential at all stages, growing in musical sophistication over time.

Here are some of the in-bubble musical activities that we have been enjoying as a family, based on these principles. I hope they inspire others to reflect on their own creative responses as arts educators at this time, to be innovative and to hold effective pedagogy as central to the learning we are setting up for our children to do at home. I encourage all teachers to reflect on what they hold as key values of their teaching practice, and to engage in critical conversations, as we find our way in this new educational landscape.

1. 11am weekday bubble baths for my 8 year old. Midday bubble baths are pretty special on their own but at this time RNZ Concert also play a children’s broadcast programme. So this is a time of listening, musical appreciation and restful water play. I have enjoyed listening to these too, reminiscing hours spent on the floor of my Dad’s study as a youngster listening to records of Tubby the Tuba, the Nutcracker, Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, the Mother Goose Suite and so much more.

2. Non-verbal percussion based conversations. These can be fun if there is a bit of restless energy. Using body percussion, or my kids like creating cup patterns, one person “asks a question” by creating a questioning rhythm, and the other person “replies” with their own rhythmic creation. These can be quick or also expanded to using vocables or un-tuned percussion play. We have also tried this activity successfully on recorders. With younger children doing this activity as echo-play as a starting point is very satisfying for them – I play something and they echo – adding their own style as the grow in confidence with the idea. Eventually they will enjoy freely improvising their creative responses.

3. Twice weekly nature beauty challenges. These have been in the form of scavenger hunts that require the children to get outside, observe nature closely and at times patiently, and to invite/cultivate/create beauty in their day by responding creatively in some way to something in their environment. They find things and do tasks and then take a photo as evidence of completion (using a device such as a phone), so they can see what each other has found and done. We have had haiku of favourite spots, lots of observational drawing, and some great photography – the children are really thinking about how to frame things, and noticing that photography makes them observe more detail and look at things in new ways.

The technology is a great tool for taking photos and sharing but the activity is about being in their environment and paying attention to it. Children need to develop artistry in a range of ways and the material that the children are creating in these activities will offer many starting points for cretive music and movement work in the future. This is a great time to get out an observe the environment.

4. The importance of simple good quality songs that children and parents can quickly get a hold of. A lot of Orff vocal repertoire also have in-built opportunities for echo-play and improvisation eg. creating different body percussion parts.

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