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Blog: Steven Berryman on research-informed music teaching

Dr Steven Berryman, Director of Music at City of London School for Girls, calls for more music teachers to engage with research: 'a vital tool in our work'.

Dr Steven Berryman, Director of Music at City of London School for Girls, calls for more music teachers to engage with research: ‘a vital tool in our work’.

Being a research-informed teacher is increasingly the norm.

Social media allows us to engage with colleagues from across the globe, engage in debate about best practice, share teaching approaches and discover new resources. Social media also allows us to engage with academics and researchers from a variety of disciplines who are keen to investigate aspects of education that can further improve the outcomes for learners.

We are now expected to be research-literate, able to navigate the ensuing flood of material that includes items such as articles, blogs, reports, videos and podcasts and to discern when something is worthy of serious consideration or of dismissal. Research that is relevant to education includes not only that within one’s own subject but also associated disciplines and areas that are relevant to the practice of teaching (such as psychology).

Finding a journey through this huge array of research material is daunting, particularly for the time-stretched music teacher.

My research journey

My own journey with research started with my undergraduate studies, continuing to postgraduate studies for MMus and PhD. Doing a composition PhD meant I was doing practice-based research – and debate on whether composing/performing can be considered research continues (for example, see Ian Pace’s blog post here).

Steven Berryman conducting a chamber choir at Great Hall, Guildhall, London © Clive Totman
Steven Berryman conducting a chamber choir at Great Hall, Guildhall, London © Clive Totman

What interested me particularly was the teaching of composition. Exploring articles in the British Journal of Music Education encouraged reflection on my practice as a teacher and it remains an ongoing interest for some academics (for example, see Tine Grieg Viig’s article here).

The research into compositional pedagogies and the assessment of composition continues to inform my teaching and work with teachers. I have been thrilled to meet teachers on the CPD courses I have delivered and to have visited other schools to meet teachers and facilitate reflection on how we teach composition.

My working life

Research permeates my working life in different ways. I work at a school that embeds research into the professional development of all staff. Collaborative enquiry groups are an important part of ongoing professional development and action research forms part of daily life.

My school recently launched a research journal, CLSG Research & Learn, to celebrate the first wave of research projects undertaken by staff. Engaging with research has instigated many interesting professional conversations and we find some articles challenge our ideas about what is effective in the classroom while others can confirm what we are already doing.

I thrive on this professional dialogue, always seeking out new ways to encourage the best outcomes. Music education has a considerable body of research and offers music educators a wealth of material to provoke discussion, reflection and challenge.

The Chartered College of Teaching

As a Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching and a participant on the Chartered Teacher Programme, I wholeheartedly support the College’s mission for teaching to be informed by the best available evidence – and this evidence can come in the form of published research in journals and books but we can also benefit from the immediate sharing of good practice on social media and blogs.

Music teachers at the launch of a Chartered College of Teaching Music Network
Music teachers at the launch of a Chartered College of Teaching Music Network

I enjoy reviewing books and software and a few of these reviews have been for the College’s member platform (for example, here). The College brings research to life in their Third Space events – where teachers can meet researchers and practitioners to explore ideas published in the College journal – and I attended an enjoyable day in Oxford exploring the development of effective learners. It was at this event that I discovered the work of Voice21 and a growing interest in dialogic teaching. Classroom talk has now become the focus of my Chartered Teacher Programme research project as well as the collaborative enquiry group I lead at my school.

Part of the research project involves writing a literature review and the Chartered Teacher Programme provides the opportunity for the literature review to be read by an academic. Paul Warwick – who has significant expertise in dialogic approaches – reviewed my work and gave very helpful feedback. As part of the programme, we develop research competencies through a series of online modules on engaging with research, devised by the College with the University of Birmingham. These were a revelation for aspects of research I had not encountered before. I felt more confident searching for materials, evaluating their quality and relevance and how to form effective research questions.

A Visiting Research Fellow

As a Visiting Research Fellow in King’s College London’s School of Education, Communication and Society, I have been able to maintain my own links with active research by contributing lectures and joining the ongoing discussions in my areas of interest with postgraduate students and other staff in the department. My connection with the department affords me access to the extensive library resources; preparing and delivering lectures has strengthened my own understanding of arts and cultural policy and social research methods.

The most enjoyable aspect has been supervising students undertaking research for their MA. My experience as a teacher has been of value as much of their research has involved investigating aspects of work in schools. I contribute to the Education in Arts and Cultural Settings MA and this course has direct links with my own work as a music educator.

Visiting Dubai College to work with music teachers on the new A Level specifications
Visiting Dubai College to work with music teachers on the new A Level specifications

My time at KCL has helped to develop new research interests and I am currently undertaking an ethnography of a project at the Royal Albert Hall. I will have the opportunity to share my initial findings with colleagues at KCL in Summer 2019. As a teacher, being connected to a university enriches everything I do in the classroom; I can see the continuum from the youngest pupil to postgraduate, seeing the bigger picture of how what we do in the classroom will connect to the future studies students might undertake.

The RSA Evidence Champions Network

I am excited to be part of the Royal Society of Arts‘ Evidence Champions Network where ‘the RSA is working with Arts Council Bridge Organisations to champion the role of evidence and evaluation in improving the quality and impact of arts and cultural education’.

To quote the Network’s web page, ‘In its first year, the Evidence Champions Network will connect 100 artists, educators, evaluators, cultural organisations and funders who want to support better use of evidence and evaluation in arts and cultural learning. Through the Network, Champions will develop knowledge and skills in evidence rich practice and help spread the word about its value, convening online and in regional hubs, to support practitioners across England.’

Most interesting for me is how this Network now connects all my strands as an educator, as a researcher and as a practitioner of education projects. I look forward to seeing how it develops and how engaging in discussions with colleagues in non-school settings, I will be able to strengthen my approach to music education in the classroom.

An exciting time for teaching and teachers

It is an exciting time for teaching and teachers. With the Chartered College of Teaching, we have the encouragement and opportunity to engage with educational research. Through their Chartered Teacher Programme, we can further our expertise in how to evaluate what we read and use it well to guide our professional decisions. I have discovered a huge web of research that connects to my classroom practice not only through the Chartered College but also through the Evidence Champions Network, my contributions at KCL and my ongoing work in the classroom by engaging in formal and informal discussions with colleagues.

I implore my musical colleagues to reach out and engage with the Chartered College of Teaching. Join and be part of the professional body that is regaining the agency of teachers and teaching. Music particularly needs strong classroom-based advocates to ensure our curriculum remains an essential component of every child’s education. Research can be a compelling advocate for retaining music in schools and being literate and curious of this research can be a vital tool in our work.

Header photo: Steven Berryman conducting Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ Symphony (November 2016) © Clive Totman

About the author

Dr Steven Berryman is Director of Music at City of London School for Girls and a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Education, Communication & Society at King’s College London (2017-2019).

Dr Steven Berryman is Director of Music at City of London School for Girls and a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Education, Communication & Society at King’s College London (2017-2019)

He previously taught at the North London Collegiate School and the Junior Academy of the Royal Academy of Music. Steven has examined and moderated for GCSE and A Level Music and contributed composition chapters to two study guides for Rhinegold Education and a chapter for an edited volume from Routledge (2016). He has been a Teach Through Music Fellow and a Teacher Advocate for Music Excellence London in addition to education projects with the Learning Departments of the Royal Opera HouseLondon Philharmonic Orchestra and NMC Recordings.

Steven studied composition at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Cardiff University, gaining a PhD in 2010. Cypher (2010) was selected by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for performance in their Welsh Composers Showcase and was performed by the orchestra in 2011, conducted by Jan Van Steen at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay. In 2011, North London Collegiate staged Steven’s musical theatre work for a cast of over fifty girls, Juniper DreamsOpera Holland Park commissioned Steven to transcribe arias by Donizetti for a dance performance, Dance Holland Park, in June 2012 and, the same year, he worked on music for two plays: Jamie Zubairi’s one-man show, Unbroken Line (Ovalhouse, December 2012), and Corpo: Lixa da Alma (Cena Internacional Brasil, Rio de Janerio, June 2012). Versa est in Luctum was performed in Washington DC in January 2013 as part of the New Voices @ CUA Festival and, in September 2016, LSO Community Choir and students from City of London School for Girls performed Steven’s O Come Let Us Sing as part of Old Street New Beginnings, celebrating fifty years since the joining of the St Luke’s and St Giles’ parishes.

Steven is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Freeman of both The Musicians’ Company and the Worshipful Company of Educators.

Website: www.steven-berryman.com
Email: info@steven-berryman.com