Teacher Hub

Meet the teacher - Emily Wilson, University of Melbourne, Australia

Written by Anna Gower10/01/24

Dr Emily Wilson is a Senior Lecturer and Head of Music at the Faculty of Education at The University of Melbourne, Australia. She has worked there for the last 8 years following 10 years in classroom and Head of Department roles in secondary/high schools in Australia and the UK.

The teaching spaces she works in are very distinctive and were purposely designed for the teaching of music for pre-service teachers, and for in-service teacher workshops; they are also used by groups of children from local early childhood centres, and primary and secondary schools.

The space is open and flexible, especially designed to encourage music making and to facilitate an immersive music making experience for all learners. Purposely designed, the space is an important element that is used to communicate the pedagogy for teaching and learning across the department. Chairs, tables and resources are on wheels, visible, and used as needed. In line with Early Childhood pedagogies - in particular the Reggio Emilia approach - the environment is very much intended to be the "3rd teacher".

The space consists of two big music classrooms with a concertina wall which is usually open but can be closed if needed. However, as much as possible, this is used as one big teaching space with groupwork happening in different areas of the single space rather than in breakout rooms.

All of the musical instruments are out in the classroom so that adult students and visiting school groups know what to expect from their time there. There is an explicit invitation to play everything.

There are also several pods set up as silent workstations using Roland HS5 mixers and electric instruments. These silent work spaces create a psychologically safe space to make music, where students can work without being heard by everyone. This can be a great way to boost confidence with trying out musical ideas and enables playing within a smaller group in a noisy space. They also allow for effective supervision by the teacher who can see everyone working within one space and offer personalised support as needed. (Although the Roland HS5 has now been discontinued, see this article on a viable alternative mixer - Ed.)

There are some challenges working in this way. For example, adult learners want flexibility, but the pods are set up with electric instruments so it can be tricky to make those work for a mixture of acoustic and electric instruments. However, with the big open teaching spaces it is always possible to find a corner to work in, which is helped by good acoustic treatment in the ceiling which lessens the sound levels in the room.

This set up, with smaller groups working within one space, is a good way to model music making in a typical Primary School where break out spaces are unavailable and learning happens in just one classroom. The ‘band in a box’ set up within the pods also requires consistent management of cables and instruments.

Whilst this is an amazing space to learn in, it is aspirational and doesn’t always match the realities of the schools, particularly for generalist Early Childhood and primary teachers. They can’t always see how the learning they are experiencing can work in their current context, especially if they have limited access to space and musical instruments.

On Emily’s wishlist is to build resources for more digital technologies to support Secondary pre-service music teachers. An ongoing challenge is time and balancing essential content with depth and teaching for musical and pedagogical understanding.

One piece of equipment that Emily couldn’t live without is her whole class set of ukuleles. These are great for building skills and confidence for pre-service teachers across early childhood, primary and secondary. They are versatile, encourage singing and playing at the same time, and if you don’t have a piano, can be a great support for music teaching.

Emily also loves using a Handpan in her teaching, another fun, accessible and versatile musical instrument!