Sunday, October 25, 2015

Learning, Teaching and Musical Identity: Voices across Cultures

Edited By Lucy Green (Book Chapter: Continuity and Change By Sophie Grimmer)

The bond between the master (guru) and disciple (shishya) plays an important role in the training of the arts in India, particularly the Indian classical music. The guru-shishya parampara has enabled the oral transmission of knowledge through generations in both the Carnatic and the Hindustani forms of music. The word parampara literally means ‘uninterrupted succession’. According to gurukulavasam traditionally the disciple becomes a member of the guru’s household, living with him, practicing his art and also running errands. Typically, they are ranked higher than the biological parents, the guru becomes a metaphysical entity representing God. The central idea behind this ancient pedagogical model is that the student imbibes the atmosphere of art and imitates the disciplined lifestyle of the guru thus internalizing the knowledge and the contextual information. The student emulates the guru by ‘becoming absorbed in him or her’ (Weidman 2006: 276). Quoting Naresh, a student from the study,

The guru never used to tell the shishya, “come ill teach you”….You live the music and after a point of time, you literally live the music.

Thus, it also provides a social context for the two modes of transmission, cultural and cognitive. (Booth 1996) The author argues that although ethnomusicology has contributed enormously to the structure and the cultural context in Indian music, why is it still problematic to implement such knowledge in the field of music education? The process of training in India has invariable undergone significant modifications with time, in response to dramatic societal changes and diverse pedagogical approaches in modern India. However, the guru shishya parampara still persists among independent teachers in a modified and much adaptable form, holding on to the essence of the apprenticeship model. Musicians learning this traditional art still believe in the model, the relationship between the guru and the shishya, their bond, adapting to the lifestyle and practice habits of the guru and emphasize that all of the above combined, help in creating successful performers. Thus the fundamental principles are kept alive in spirit if not in practice.

An ethnomusicological study of investigating the process as an insider, by becoming participant observers in the field, brings much insight into music pedagogy. In this process the not only the structure of music is apprehended but also the socio-cultural context of learning, performance and teaching in future is addressed. In the present scope of the study, the researcher chose to adapt a ethnographical methodology to facilitate a broader understanding of the bonding relationship between the teacher and the student in the Carnatic music context. Here the textual content is predominantly religious, emphasis is given on ornamental material and improvisatory boundaries are defined more prominently in the renditions of the compositions. This has given rise to different pedagogies and associated networks.

The shishya embodies the music of a particular bani (school, style or lineage) through blind imitation of the teacher, over an extended period. The lyrics (sahitya) forms one of the structures while the ornamentation (gamakas) forms the individual rendition styles. Through the study the researcher found that in most of the cases the learners are seduced by the intoxicating qualities of their guru’s style that gives the learners an intense thirst for the art. Thus, the trust comes naturally, implicitly and wholeheartedly which leads to absolute surrender. They do not question the instructions or the process, aim for perfectionism, keep high expectations, develop meticulous attention to details, develop careful organizational skill, and meticulously plan exercises all of which becomes a part of the teaching learning process. Talking about the emotional attachment, the students find it extremely difficult to explain in words. The process transcends in them a spiritual yearning of the becoming one with the other, an intense love or the sense of belonging, be it the art or the guru that then appears one and the same. Students reach this point of their educational path only through unquestioned and complete devotion and trust. Their sole purpose is not to contribute to the art but rather to preserve the uniqueness of the art through complete and holistic understanding of its content, form and structure. Post this stage comes a time when the student is essentially on an autonomous journey, gradually becoming an identity of the artform, taking a step ahead towards contributing to the form and practice improvisation when the guru is in a position to guide, mostly relayed vocally, now having intimate knowledge of the student personally and musically. These lessons are personal to the extent that the same content is improvised for two different students, depending on their understanding.

While dialogues during lessons are essentially sung, the social relationship outside the class is mostly informal, the subjects touching the art, stories of their origin, other musicians of their art form, their mannerisms and techniques, habits and practices of the guru’s guru and so on.

The changing times and pace finds few students ready to dedicate the duration and intensity of training through this method. However, the process is preserved in the hearts and minds of the present gurus while they are constantly trying to find a balance and improvise on the pedagogy of the apprenticeship model to suit the present time and requirements. The contemporary student is encouraged to feel a part of the ongoing history of teaching and learning and become a part of the broader cultural picture of oral tradition.

- coutd

Monday, October 12, 2015

Review of 'Situated Learning and Education 'By John R. Anderson, Lynne M. Reder and Herbert A. Simon


The paper critics the four central claims of situated learning in education specially in mathematics namely, (1) action is grounded in the concrete situation, (2) knowledge does not transfer between tasks, (3) training by abstraction is of little use and (4) instruction must be done in social environments. The authors argue that further research in cognitive psychology find stronger and productive links between psychology and mathematics as compared to that of situated learning as also supported by Lesh and Lamen (1992 p. 18-19). At present, two movements, situated learning and constructivism guide the educational research. Constructivism being primarily a philosophical concept whereas situated learning having empirical consequences. Situated learning (Lave 1988; Lave and Wenger 1991; Greeno, Smith, Moore, 1992) emphasis they learning takes place when present in a context and it stands true for all aspects of education. This movement have brought light to what is learned in the classroom and what is needed outside, in the larger world. However, the authors argue that not all claims of situated learning are accurate thus discussing each of the four claims with empirical data.

Claim 1: Action is grounded in the concrete situation

This being the central concept of situated learning, the authors believe that it is exaggerated to all forms of education, especially mathematics. A frequently cited example if Carraher, Carraher, and Schliemann’s (1985) account of Brazilian street children who could easily perform mathematics related to sales were unable to solve similar problems in a school context. Thus, the real life situations do not generalize to school context. And surely, the converse does not stand true. Thus it calls for closer analysis and a need to achieve balance between generality practiced in schools and its applications in the real world scenarios. In other words, it stands for contextualization of learning stated much earlier by (Godden & Baddeley 1975; Smith, Glenberg & Bjork 1978). There are also examples of divers where learning takes place across contexts and of failures of context sensitivity that often frustrate researchers. Thus the concept of learning being bound to the context, depends on the kind of knowledge. One general result is that knowledge is more context bound when it is just taught in a single context (Bjork & Richardson-Klavehn, 1989).

To Lave’s (1986, 1988, p. 195) comment of school-taught mathematics serving only the arbitrary class structure, the authors sternly argue with numerous studies showing moderate to large correlation between school achievement and work performance (Hunter & Hunter, 1984); Bossiere, Knight & Sabot 1985). They also suggest further research on the hypothesis “context-independence of mathematical knowledge”.

Claim 2: Knowledge does not transfer between tasks

This claim is actually corollary to the first to which the authors refer Weber in 1944 and Fechner in 1858 who demonstrates large, modest, no or even negative transfers in psychology. The relationship however depends on the experimental situation and the material learnt prior to it, the amount of practice and the representation of the transfer task. Recent studies show failures as well as successful transfers of knowledge. Transfer between tasks is a function of the degree to which the tasks share cognitive elements (Singley & Anderson 1989). Also, a number of studies point out that transfer is enhanced if exposed to multiple examples. (Bransford, Franks, Vye & Sherwood 1989).

Claim 3: Training by abstraction is of little use

This too is a corollary of the above-discussed claims. However, it has been extended into an advocacy for the apprenticeship model (Brown, Collins & Duguid 1989) where the claim that the most effective training is real apprenticeship in their real world environments. The stronger version challenges the school based abstract learning. The authors argue that this has more to do with the design of the classroom and method of instruction than the idea of the instruction itself. Alternatively, they also state with reference to an unpublished research that abstract instruction leads to successful transfers as compared to concrete instructions. However, this might be true for mathematic knowledge. Theories in cognitive psychology suggest ‘learning by doing’ which suggests a balance between abstract instruction and concrete instructions of learning. This is supported by an experiment performed by Scholckow and Judd (Judd, 1908; Hendruckson & Schroeder, 1941) where two groups practiced throwing darts on an under water target. One was exposed to the abstract knowledge of refraction along with practice, while the other only practiced. Both did equally well. However, when changed the task and decreased the distance of the target underwater, the first group did better.

Claim 4: Instruction must be done in social environments

Another aspect to situated learning is ‘co-operative learning’ as an instructional tool (Johnson & Johnson, 1989). Co-operative learning is alternatively known as ‘communities of practice’ or ‘group learning’ which differs from tutoring in the aspect of people of the equal status work together. However few studies have successfully shown the superiority of co-operative learning over individual learning (Solomon and Globerson, 1989) where a number of detrimental effects like free riders, sucker and ganging up exist. It is because of these reasons it is difficult to practice as an academic panacea. However, there is a gap in structuring or scripting the co-operative learning aspects to make it effective which may lead to benefits of motivating and sharing of goals. Supporting the argument in colleges group projects are increasingly becoming popular.


Studies in cognitive psychology show knowledge to be partly context-dependent and also partly context-independent. There are drastic failures as well as dramatic success in knowledge transfer. Abstract as well as concrete instructions both help in the leaning process. Some may benefit hugely by the social contexts and the environment whereas it might be difficult of few others. Thus the concept of situated learning seems biased or ignores a few phenomena in cognitive psychology that has earlier been proven empirically. The authors thus suggest further research to identification of circumstances when broader or narrower contexts are required to narrower or broader skills for effective and efficient learning. They further state, even through situated learning has helped in raising awareness and consciousness to learning methods, it might misguide blind practitioners when they choose to implement the methods in all circumstances, contexts and learning environments.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Review of “Situated Learning in a classroom community” By Eliza Pitri

Literature Review and Introduction

The journal is penned by an art teacher, working with elementary school children aged 7 to 10 where she encouraged children to work on history, art history and community life for purposeful art making, more specifically on a project based activity on Olympic games.
Brown, Collins and Duguid suggest that most teaching practices face limitations when they assume concepts to be naturally abstracted from the situations in which it is learned. They are also looked upon as supplements to the concepts. Lave (1997) challenge the idea of separating the subject from its process and application. According to Duguid (1989), Learning = activity * context * culture. If not, education defeats its purpose of application of knowledge.
Situated leaning means to place knowledge and application to a context, a place and time, influenced by the environment. The concept of situated learning is embedded in constructivism (Stein, 1998). It conceives of learning as a sociocultural phenomenon rather than a decontextualized body of abstract knowledge. Situated learning differs from the other kinds of experiential learning in it being grounded in everyday practices, acquired situationally and deeply embedded in the socio cultural context.
Lave and Wenger (1991) note that, “the generality of any form of knowledge lies in the power to renegotiate the meaning of the past and future in constructing the meaning of present circumstances” (p.34).

The Experiment

The author went ahead to design a project to give children an opportunity to learn through activities rooted in their social and physical environment and calling it a socio-constructivist situated approach to learning. They define planning as an essential starting point but do not specify the goals for them. Instead they discuss about the various goal possibilities as a result of the various planning and decisions. Thus the hypothesis was flexible and adaptive to the needs and interests in the present context of time and place, for the children. The children were picked from a peer culture, scouts, where their friendship developed outside an educational concept.
Once a week art classes took shape on the concept of Olympic games. The concept was chosen based on the children’s activities, interactions and conversations. Observations of children, the identification of peer culture lead to insights of their interests, everyday questions, concerns, likes and dislikes. The children researched on the array of themes, posters, history, articles, and mascot on the Olympics. With a set of questions the children narrowed down on the mascot that further led to more questions on the subject. Post the research, they were asked to design a mascot for the Olympics to be held in their own country.

Ecological theorists like McCabe and Balzano (1986) and socio-historical theorists like Lave (1988) all focus their attention to knowledge being implemented in activities embedded in socially constructed domains, ecological approaches or physical environments. The author suggests that the role of the teacher here is to facilitate social interaction, purposeful discussions, constructive conflicts and environmental stimuli for triggering children.

As Denzin (1977) points out the socio-cultural world has patterns of interaction and communication that link individuals to the experience. Thus a very important aspect of the social environment is communication. In this experiment communication formed a network of sending and receiving ideas through negotiations, visual expressions and debates.


A number of American communities have made serious efforts to recreate successful educational approaches from other communities (Cadwell, 1997). The author concludes with the benefits of the situated learning in a classroom that initiated student interaction, communication, triggering negotiating capabilities, and contextualizing the problem prior to finding solutions along with the importance of teacher intervention.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015



Keywords: child-art, indigenous art-education, home-learning, narrative illustrations, community learning

How do social environments with their diverse contexts, influence interpretation of stories and art making? And how do children from different art-education backgrounds respond to stories and interpret them through images? This paper discusses experiments conducted with two groups of children, each representing different socio cultural, education background and learning patterns. The groups explored belong to the indigenous home learning pattern and formal art education in schools. The study sets out by narrating the same story to children belonging to these different communities followed by analyses of their interpretations and representations of the story. The first group in this experiment has children from the indigenous tribe of Madhya Pradesh, the Bhils, whose exposure to art is from an early age, in a home learning setup within the community. The second group consists of children belonging to an urban area, Mumbai, who have been exposed to the art education curriculum in schools.

The study investigates the associations and forms of expressions that are represented in the illustrations by the children. In the case of Bhil children, art is a way of life, and it is closely related to their culture, beliefs, practices and this reflects in their reception of the narrative itself. Their focus on the story as a whole stems from their idea of art as a narration technique or story-telling method. In contrast, the group of children from the urban areas gave attention to details in the scenes, rather than the narrative as a whole. The research further explores how the different social environments and their diverse contexts; one very closely connected to nature and the other the contrast, have an impact on the reception, understanding, visualization and representation of the same story.