Professional Learning Through Creativity and Improvisation

Professional Learning Through Creativity and Improvisation

by Liz Mason, Elementary Music teacher

Holidays allow us an opportunity to rest, rejuvenate and become re-inspired. This sense of renewal arises differently for each individual but is the result of having the time to pursue personal interests in a state of flow. This summer I was lucky enough to be one of a hundred participants in a week-long course on Creative Music and Movement held at the Orff Institute in Salzburg every July.

Orff Schulwerk (Orff School-work) is a model for music education which was first pioneered by Carl Orff, a German composer who is most famous for writing Carmina Burana. He developed his model in the 1920’s and based his approach on the belief that people learn music best through playing, dancing, creating and improvising. With these beliefs at the core of this approach, it is hardly surprising that barely a minute of the course was devoted to sitting down or writing, but was rather spent singing, dancing, playing and creating in collaborative groups. 

The participants originated from a wide range of cultures and contexts. The language of instruction was English, and while most people came with a good level of language proficiency, I was in awe of those risk-takers who were learning in an unfamiliar language. Despite this, their ability to engage with the material was rarely hampered through lack of understanding, as much of the Orff technique is based on echo, imitation, improvisation and physical movement, all of which are accessible to language learners. Many music teachers from around the world were in attendance, along with dance specialists, early childhood and elementary classroom teachers, university lectures and people who “just wanted to have fun”. Again, this diversity demonstrates the broad appeal of the Schulwerk and attests to its flexibility in the context of music and movement education for any age group.

To say that the time spent in Salzburg was simply inspiring would be to diminish the experience. Every teacher was a master Orff practitioner, whose names usually feature as the ‘keynote presenter’ at other international courses and conferences. Their personal approaches differed greatly, whilst still being underpinned by the Orff philosophy and techniques. This insight in itself was empowering, as it demonstrated that there is not one ‘right way’ to teach and that effective teachers are continually refining their craft while being guided by their own beliefs, embodying their strengths and sharing their passions in their endeavors to engage and extend students.

Despite the individual approaches to the workshop material by the course teachers, the common values they exemplified very much align with my own personal teaching philosophy and lend themselves to authentic application in the context of inquiry. Each creative experience presented was open-ended and allowed for individual interpretation of the material. There were no “right” or “wrong” creative ideas, but a wide range of different ideas which all offered interesting perspectives to share. Learning was also very spontaneous; despite the teachers having clear pathways for the inquiries, these pathways were allowed to take twists and turns as the participant’s input was woven in and expanded upon.

The Orff Schulwerk approach was founded on inquiry and is still being used in a way to empower children to find their own creative voice. As I return to school with my artistic energies restored, I will be guided by the core values of the Schulwerk; that inquiry is fundamental to learning, music-making and movement is a social experience, and student voice is to be valued and celebrated. I will hold these reminders at the forefront while preparing to help my students find their creative flow.