Asking the Right Questions

question mark by Karen Eliot cc’m really keen on reflective practice – that reflecting and thinking about what I’ve already done impacts, and hopefully improves what I will do in the future. This falls into the lovely messiness of action research/action learning, it’s difficult to know which questions you are going to need to ask until you’re in the thick of it. This can be difficult sometimes, it’s not about being prepared or unprepared, but when in practice, unexpected things happen, which requires the practitioner to be flexible, but also to think about it all afterwards.

That’s what I want to do now (the Christmas break and the New Year seem a good time for reflection and resolution).

I have some questions about my practice. I’ve worked with a wide variety of groups, from tiny (just a couple of people) to large groups of over 50 people, and everything in between. Most of the time it’s in the 12-20 number range. Some groups are more diverse than others; some groups meld together well, and others don’t, or is it simply that some groups include people who find it harder to relate to others socially?  One of the fantastic things about group singing is it is very inclusive and is an activity that different people can share.

The facilitation of a singing group is very important to ensure everyone does feel included.

How do I feel about using the guitar? Does it get in the way?

How could I change my introductions/patter etc? Can I be clearer when giving instructions. I have an invitational style, and perhaps people need something more directive.

How do existing members of the group react to larger numbers? Generally people like being in a larger group if they are not confident singers, but in some settings, it can put people at a distance which limits the connection I can have with each person.

I spend a lot of time seated, especially when working with the older old who are often less able to stand up (I think it’s important to be on the same level, and not looking down on / talking down to participants) and I think this can give me a sense of being rooted to the spot (not in a good way!). How can I vary this?

How do I combine leadership with joint exploration of a song? I want participants to interpret the songs and music in their own way – I don’t have strongly developed ideas of exactly how I want something to sound. Perhaps I should develop this more!

I feel most comfortable when facilitating unaccompanied singing. I think it’s time to write arrangements of my own to cater to this need. Interestingly, the unaccompanied, harmony songs seem to be the most popular, the ones we keep coming back to, as opposed to the guitar-accompanied songs in strophic form.

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Reflective practice can be difficult. The questions I ask myself force me to acknowledge the truth of my practice, and sometimes the truth is hard to swallow. The important thing is that I am asking the questions, and if I don’t know the answers, then I am working towards them at least. By blogging them I hope the exploration can be shared with others practicing in these kinds of contexts, and help develop an honest community of (reflective) practice.

3 thoughts on “Asking the Right Questions

  1. Chris Rowbury

    Hi Rachel

    Yes, I’m a great believer in reflective practice and asking the right questions.

    What I find interesting though is how to assess the effects of any changes we might make? We need to have a clear way of judging how our efforts impact on any particular group. If our goal is to get the group to perform better, say, then the proof is in the outcome.

    But if our aims are more nebulous – e.g. making people feel more comfortable; increasing the size of a group; introducing musical accompaniment; etc. – then how do we evaluate any changes?

    I’ve often used questionnaires with my groups, but always find that there are as many opinions as there are choir members!

    In the end, I reckon that I’m a benign dictator and people are signing up to be part of my approach and vision (which doesn’t suit everyone). So although I do reflect constantly on my own practice, at some point I need to go with my gut instinct.

    How do you evaluate your performance and effect on a group?


  2. Kazz

    I think they’re great things to ask yourself. I think the best thing to do first is step back and evaluate it in a more detached way (i.e. not emotionally).

    As Chris said, questionnaires are a great thing to do. Feedback is crucial as I’ve been discovering recently. The key thing to keep in mind is to work out what you want to know. Only ask relevant questions, and very focused questions. If you were to ask ‘how to do you feel during one of my sessions?’, you would probably get a very vague answer back! Perhaps even do a different questionnaire for each group if you’re worried about your wording or topic being suitable for one and not another.

    The most effective way of evaluating your performance and effect when working with people is to ask the people to give feedback. And also evaluate how you’re feeling during it all. If you feel comfortable and are enjoying it then you’ll be motivated to do a better job.

  3. Rachel

    Thanks for your comments.

    I think in answer to the question ‘how do we know our changes are having an effect?’ the answer is keep reflecting, keep talking to the participants.

    Action research is a method of research in which the researcher is also an actor. We cannot write ourselves out of the process, so why not acknowledge we are part of it?

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