Using music to tell the stories of local histories

Issue: Volume 101, Number 10

Posted: 10 August 2022
Reference #: 1HAVPX

An Auckland school is combining Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories, the arts, and digital technology to bring their community together in developing a resource for the school – the sounds of their shared histories.

Abi, Ella-May, George, Sasha (Creative), Yuna and George are developing skills and knowledge necessary to create a soundscape.

Abi, Ella-May, George, Sasha (Creative), Yuna and George are developing skills and knowledge necessary to create a soundscape.

Bayswater School in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland uses innovative learning environments (ILE) to teach, and takes pride in being forward-thinking in their student-centred approach.

The school’s recent Creatives in Schools project is one such innovative project, allowing ākonga to experience the joy of being artists while also upskilling kaiako in the arts.

As a multicultural and inclusive school, principal Marianne Coldham says the introduction of the Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum content has brought with it a plethora of opportunities as it embraces the histories of all people who live in Aotearoa.

“It enables us to refine our local curriculum/marau ā-kura to reflect the histories of our community. It will help ākonga understand there are multiple perspectives on historical and contemporary events and help them develop their critical thinking and inquiry skills.”

In terms of the histories they connect with, Marianne says the stories will come from tamariki, from whānau, from the community, and from reading and research.

“Children are learning and discovering through class programmes with guidance from kaiako using Dorothy Heathcote’s Mantle of the Expert dramatic inquiry approach, and both the ‘Understand’ and ‘Know’ elements of the Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum.”

The project is enabling ākonga to consolidate their ideas and complete the trio with the ‘Do’ element: thinking critically about the past and interpreting stories about it.

“This project is a meaningful, authentic, and creative celebration of Aotearoa New Zealand’s history.”

An idea springs forward

Marianne says initial motivation for the nature of the project came from discovering some teachers were leaving teachers’ college without an arts skill set that enabled them to feel comfortable teaching music.

“It started off as an opportunity to have somebody come in and upskill kaiako in teaching music, but also then connecting that to storytelling and to Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories.”

During term 2, ākonga focused on learning about music and how it can work to tell a story or add a mood or effect to storytelling. This initial music journey was combined with the theme of ‘Planet Earth and beyond’ which used the Mantle of the Expert approach to engage student learning.

This approach to learning uses inquiry but also incorporates drama and imagination. As ‘experts’, ākonga engage in role play to investigate what is required for a fictional commission.

 Nellie recording the voice over for her story and soundscape.

Nellie recording the voice over for her story and soundscape.

The use of the dramatic inquiry (role play) allows the children to encounter authentic tasks and learn in a way that seems like ‘play’. This helps to incorporate the ‘Understand’ and ‘Know’ elements of the Aotearoa
New Zealand’s histories curriculum content.

Another Mantle of the Expert inquiry at the school, and a first connection to looking at histories, was about land use. Ākonga were given a commission from a ‘shady’ company wanting to build a fun park on an area of land.

They researched and discovered why building a park would be detrimental to the environment by focusing on relationships between different groups and the use of natural resources.

When it came to presenting their findings, whānau came in and pretended to be members of the company board, so there was full family engagement.

This same concept is being expanded in term 3 to accompany the schoolwide theme related to Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories.

Using music to tell a story

The Creatives in Schools project will see all ākonga create a written piece, either a story or poetry, that tells either a personal, local or a wider piece of Aotearoa New Zealand’s history.

Ākonga will then develop a soundscape using percussion instruments to complement the story.

The school is focusing on percussion rather than tuned instruments, but if ākonga are able to play tuned instruments, they can. The school has purchased several instruments, so ākonga have a greater variety to play.

“The children have been learning about rhythm, beat, composition and timbre, so that they know how to tell a story even with percussion instruments,” says deputy principal Claire Edwards.

All soundscapes and stories will be shared with whānau and some of these will be included in a performance put on in term 3.

The next step will be incorporating digital technologies to record the presentation for a collection of creative pieces telling either a personal history or an Aotearoa New Zealand history.

The school has been able to engage in the project through Ministry of Education funding, and they say this not only supported them to commission a creative and purchase equipment, but also allowed for release time for a teacher to coordinate and manage the project – something that can be hard to achieve in smaller schools.

Claire urges other schools to investigate the Creatives in Schools funding as the use of art, along with dramatic inquiry, has proved to be a valuable tool in discovering and elevating local histories.

“We are able to see things from different perspectives because art can be subjective, and it can also be objective. So, the children will be able to view things from other people’s perspectives and learn how to present that to the world. Our children are creative, so we are happy that we can give them the skills they can use to do that,” says Claire.

Uncovering the stories

Ākonga have already been looking into their own histories and whakapapa and will build on this by learning the stories of others in Aotearoa.

The process of ākonga learning their own histories has been guided by visits from whānau and using the dramatic inquiry.

Ākonga across the whole school were first hooked into the inquiry process using the sophisticated picture book Taniwha by Robyn Kahukiwa, which sparked discussion about what is considered taonga.

“Students went on imaginary journeys to look into their classmates’ histories, what was important to their ancestors, and where different people have come from,” says Claire.

“After that we were able to do more meaningful work on their pepeha and where they themselves have come from.”

Claire enjoys the way that dramatic inquiry and using the Mantle of the Expert can assist ākonga in understanding multiple perspectives. She says it allows them to think about other stories that may not be initially seen when looking at evidence or writing about histories.

Nate and Caiden working collaboratively to develop their soundscape.

Nate and Caiden working collaboratively to develop their soundscape.

The creative element

A key part of the school’s journey with the Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum content, and Creatives in Schools project, is using instruments and music to accompany storytelling.

The school recently tapped into whānau links, commissioning a parent to create a traditional Māori instrument for them, a pūkāea, which is a long trumpet traditionally used at events and welcoming.

The instrument arrived in time for their Matariki celebrations and was gifted with the name ‘Matariki and nine rings to represent the stars.’ A ceremony to celebrate and bless the gift included burying the wood shavings from the kauri instrument beneath a new kauri tree planting.

“We’re hoping that part of the creative project will become the children learning how to play so that they can use it where appropriate in their storytelling,” says Marianne.

As well as ākonga learning to play, teachers will also be tutored in the use of the pūkāea.

The ākonga have also expressed their enjoyment in creating music.

“I love finding the right music for the right pictures. We looked at the picture and it was cloudy, so we found the right instrument for that. If the person in the picture is sad, we might find sounds that are sad,” says Mae, Year 5.

Upskilling for kaiako

Teacher development has been a big part of the project. When the school’s creative teacher conducted lessons for ākonga during terms 1 and 2, teachers would also attend to discover the music.

Sasha Gillies, the creative at the school for this project, understands some teachers may have been initially reluctant.

“In my experience as a creative at Bayswater I’ve learned that allowing children to be creative can look and sound chaotic, which is maybe where teachers lose the courage to try it in class.

“But when sitting and really watching and listening to the soundscapes the children have worked on, I’ve seen how engaged they are, and how well they’ve thought about the different elements of music they wanted to incorporate.”

This view is shared by other teachers at the school, who are delighted with the progress of ākonga.

“One of my special moments was watching two little girls (who have trouble focusing in class) really engaged in their music. They played me their piece. It was lovely. But what was even lovelier is they played it again for another teacher and it was exactly the same! They had really written a piece and performed it accurately and beautifully,” says kaiako Norah Wilson.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:18 pm, 10 August 2022

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