In the educ5252m module I’m doing at Leeds Uni we’ve been looking at various learning theories. What has struck me recently is the way that behaviourist and constructivist theorists and supporters like to throw mud at each other, rhetorically. So, we get a lot of words like ‘mere’, ‘only’, ‘relativist’, ‘dry’, ‘simplistic’ used of each theory by various commentators with, for the want of a better phrase ‘the other view’. I’m also struck by the way that each side imagines a typical classroom in which one or the other way of thinking ‘dominates’ (you see that work a lot). Whilst I think that in ITE courses you hear about both sides, there is a kind of constructivist consensus, behaviourist approaches are also used, and approved. In an effective classroom there is what I would judge (this is my partly informed reckon) to be a healthy mix of methods designed to help students with factual recall, but also to build up more complex understandings and structures in which that knowledge is used.
In such classrooms there’s not often much worry about whether knowledge ‘comes first’, though you often hear online that it has to, it comes at the same time. It seems to me that knowledge is communicated as it is constructed (AFAIAC). What looks like ‘merely passive’ behaviourism can often have surprisingly active effects, and sometimes the most interactive and collaborative learning can leave students cold. Context is everything in this regard.
Anyway, I was moved to write this because I have had a behaviourist/constructivist perfect harmony moment myself this week. I’m learning my guitar scales, with the good people at jamplay.com, as well as music theory with Guiseley Music Centre (which is AMAZING by the way, my kids love it). I started with the A-major pentatonic and then, when I felt fairly confident with it’s five (count ’em!) positions, I moved on to the A-major pentatonic. This was mechanistic, repetitive stuff. I used the knowledge of my jamplay endorsed teacher and drilled, and as I did I started to learn the mechanics of the positions.
Then, last night when I got to the 5th position of the A-Major pentatonic scale I noticed something odd, and remembered something that had happened the last time I was practicing with the very patient Boo Littlewood. He and I were playing an A minor pentatonic and he had told me that if I played the same shape further up I would still be in the correct key. It kinda worked (as we played I worked out that there was a slight change in the shape) . This new almost position 1 shape is position 4 in the minor pentatonic I later learned. Anyway, because I was so pleased with tweaking this shape and making it work higher up the fretboard, and because it sounded so great playing with Boo, I remembered it, and was pleased to see it there at position 4.
But, that’s not the odd thing that happened. I picked up the Major pentatonic sheet and looked at the shapes that its positions made on the fretboard. To my surprise, I saw my ‘minor pentatonic position 4’ shape, the one I’d worked out for myself under Boo’s tuition. This time it was no longer at position 4. In the major pentatonic scale that ‘shape’ works at position 3. Then I noticed that position 1 of the minor pentatonic is exactly the same as position 5 of the major pentatonic. Then the whole world shifted on its axis…. because I realised that this was because A minor is C major’s relative minor. A is a 5th up from C. I’m still playing in C major if I play A minor pentatonic.
Now, depending on your musical theory knowledge that is either going to confuse you or seem dreadfully simplistic. The music isn’t the point however. The point is, for me this was was key learning moment. I understand something about music theory that I did not before. How anyone could tease out the behaviourist transmission and drill from the intuitive constructivist playing along and even throw in a couple of pragmatist ‘affordances’ of the new positions, I do not know. Each of those theoretical lenses might be useful in understanding different aspects of how I learned. I think you probably have to try and use all of them to really grasp how I did it.