University of Cambridge > > Pedagogy, Language, Arts & Culture in Education (PLACE) Group Seminars > Assessing complexity: A cultural historical activity theory analysis.

Assessing complexity: A cultural historical activity theory analysis.

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Cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) is increasingly being used to examine the complexities of music teaching and learning. Drawing from recent research into the assessment of individuals’ achievement in group composing, this seminar will present the ways in which CHAT was used to analyse and illuminate complexity in teaching, learning and assessing composing.

Firstly, two closely related activity systems, social jamming (akin to shooting hoops or kicking a ball around), and group composing (akin to playing an actual game of basketball or football) are explored. Then the activity assessing composing will be examined within the context of the assessment of group composing for New Zealand’s secondary school qualification, the National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA). Several interacting and/or nested activity systems, including facilitating productive groupings, teaching music, and teaching group composing will be explained. Following this, the ways in which these activities were mediated by teachers’ assessment conceptions and identities as teachers and musicians will be discussed. The present seminar will conclude with a discussion of the potential of CHAT for further music education and assessment research.


Dr Vicki Thorpe is a lecturer in education at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. She received her PhD in music education from VUW in 2015. Her research interests include the assessment of group processes, creativity and informal learning in secondary music, composing pedagogy, teacher practice and professional learning, cultural historical activity theory, and collaborative action research.

In a previous role Dr Thorpe was a schools advisor, supporting the professional learning of secondary music teachers in the Wellington region. She was a national moderator of senior secondary music performance assessment and a materials developer during the implementation of New Zealand’s secondary school qualification, the NCEA . A singer and pianist, she taught high school music in New Zealand and Australia for a number of years, and is a Sibelius music software author.

This talk is part of the Pedagogy, Language, Arts & Culture in Education (PLACE) Group Seminars series.

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