The notion of teacher expertise within an informal learning realm: the case of Miss Lewis.

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


This paper will focus upon the informal learning (IL) pedagogy of one secondary school music teacher, Miss Lewis, along with student reactions to her approach. IL can be understood as something which is ‘never organised, has no set objective in terms of learning outcomes and is never intentional from the learner’s standpoint’ (OECD, n.d.: n.p.). This definition depicts a phenomenon which contrasts against the intentional learning often expected of formal schooling. The IL pedagogy adopted by Miss Lewis was based upon Green’s (2002, 2008) research into how popular musicians learn. The innovative approach was initially funded and promoted by Musical Futures, and continues to be advocated by the organisation. IL can be seen as a potential solution to some of the problems within music education which are often attributed to formal, traditional pedagogy, including a lack of student motivation (Green, 2008). However, a gap in the literature was identified relating to in-depth understanding and knowledge of IL as a problem-solver in practice.

In Green’s IL model, the role of the teacher was ‘to establish ground rules for behaviour, set the task going at the start […] then stand back and observe what pupils were doing’ (Green, 2008: 24). This involved a radical reworking of the teacher’s role into a more passive facilitator, as opposed to the presentation of an expert teacher often imagined within well-structured formal school lessons. However, Allsup (2008: 5) noted that the ‘topic of teacher expertise bumps up against the values of IL’. Therefore, teachers are likely to feel discouraged from displaying specialist, powerful sacred knowledge (concepts developed by Bernstein, cited in Wheelahan (2012), and Young (2004)) whilst implementing IL, in attempt to break down traditional teacher and student hierarchies within the classroom. This could result in a reduction in the perceived seriousness and therefore value of a lesson for students, potentially leading to a drop in motivation, according to the subjective task value theory (Eccles, 2005). In consideration of the literature, it was of interest to explore how these tensions might have developed or resolved. Study of how Miss Lewis implemented IL within the classroom was able to provide insight into this area, as large amounts can be learned from a particular case (Stake, 1995).

The case of Miss Lewis sits within a larger three-year study which sought to develop understanding of how Green’s model of IL was perceived. A qualitative, interpretative approach was adopted, and the research was conducted in two phases. The first phase involved semi-structured interviews with three key figures who had played an important role in the development and dissemination of the IL approach. The second phase involved four case study secondary schools based in England, where co-research elements were adopted to potentially enrich findings. In Miss Lewis’s school, the following methods were used to collect data: a semi-structured teacher interview; music lesson observations; document sources; semi-structured student group interviews; and informal discussions with students. Data was analysed thematically, utilising an approach developed by Braun and Clarke (2006).

Although six music teachers had participated within the four case study schools, it was found that Miss Lewis had adopted and embraced IL values and approach to a greater extent. Projecting an identity as a ‘non-expert’ was often something that Miss Lewis relished within the classroom. She felt that this had provided her with a sense of freedom to be increasingly creative and learn alongside her students. However, the IL approach was not always positively received by her students and did not align with some aspects of the wider school ecology. Thus, although IL can be seen as a potential solution to some of the problems of school music, tension and misalignment had indeed occurred between student expectation of a teacher expert and Miss Lewis’s practice.

It will be proposed in this paper that by adopting an IL approach in attempt to solve existing problems, new ones had been created in the case of Miss Lewis. Thus, it is believed that this presentation will be of interest and benefit to both practitioners and researchers. Knowledge gained from the case of Miss Lewis is able to contribute towards in-depth understanding of Green’s IL theory and can inform development of wider IL practice for teaching students across various age-groups and subject areas. Implication for policy will also be proposed relating to a need for increased advocation and support for a greater balance between IL and formal, traditional pedagogy within education.


ALLSUP, R., 2008. Creating an Educational Framework for Popular Music in Public Schools: Anticipating the Second-Wave. American Educational Research Association Conference, 24-28 March 2008. New York [online]. pp. 1-12. Available from: [Accessed 23 February 2016].

BRAUN, V. and CLARKE, V., 2006. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology [online]. 3 (2), pp. 77-101. Available from: [Accessed 25 May 2018].

ECCLES, J.S., 2005. Subjective task value and the Eccles et al. model of achievement-related choices. In: A.J. ELLIOT and C.S. DWECK, eds. Handbook of Competence and Motivation. London: The Guilford Press. pp. 105-121.

GREEN, L., 2002. How popular musicians learn: a way ahead for music education. Ashgate: Aldershot.

GREEN, L., 2008. Music, informal learning and the school: a new classroom pedagogy. Ashgate: Aldershot.

ORGANISATION FOR ECONOMIC CO-OPERATION AND DEVELOPMENT, n.d. Recognition of Non-formal and Informal Learning [online]. Available from: [Accessed 30 April 2019).

ROSS, M., 1995. What’s Wrong With School Music? British Journal of Music Education [online]. 12 (3), pp. 185-201. Available from: [Accessed 31 July 2015].

STAKE, R., E., 1995. The Art of Case Study Research. London: Sage Publications.

WHEELAHAN, L., 2012. Why knowledge matters in curriculum: a social realist argument. London: Routledge.

YOUNG, M. F. D., 2004. Bringing knowledge back in: from social constructivism to social realism in the sociology of education. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
Period3 Aug 202021 Aug 2020
Event titleBritish Educational Research Association: Principles into Practice, Practitioner Research Event Series
Event typeOther
Degree of RecognitionInternational