Mountainview High School - An innovative and multi-levelled approach to music and performing arts
Mountainview High school is a co-educational secondary school in Timaru catering for Year 9 to 13 students. It is a school that prides itself on providing unique learning experiences for all students by offering highly engaging courses and learning programmes. One of their most successful programmes of recent years is the MPR (musical production) course. Performing Arts, Music and Drama are Mountainview’s areas of strength and its innovative MPR course is a point of difference amongst other schools in the area.
Mountainview High School has always been known to be a drawcard for performing arts minded students, and since 2016 teachers Brent Duncan and Catherine Smith have ensured that the school remains innovative by developing the MPR (musical production) programme. In 2016 the decision was made to change the junior timetable from a traditional timetable to 50 minute ‘pods’ for optional subjects and 100 minute ‘modules’ with two teachers, for core subjects. This shift allowed for the drama and music teacher at the time to merge their 50 minute pods and thus began the making of the MPR course. This meant that the preparation of the school production could now be run as part of the timetable rather than extra curricular - giving huge opportunity for a variety of students who previously couldn’t commit to a production that was rehearsed and run outside of the normal school timetable.
Previous to the changes to timetable in 2016, the curriculum and pedagogy at Mountainview High school had been quite traditional in nature, with the structure not having been changed for a number of years. This change gave teachers a chance to work collaboratively in nature and experiment in delivering students a new learning experience across the curriculum.
Currently, MPR is a year long course, open to Year 9 to 13 students. It is run with 2 teachers in a 100 minute module and generally attracts around 70-80 students into the course every year. Senior students have the opportunity to gain 20 credits over that year which can come from a variety of standards.
During the year, two shows are produced and performed. The shows have ranged from Moana to Westside story, and the current one being School of Rock. It is highly student agentic, with students being involved in all aspects of production.
Student impact and student agency
According to both the staff that lead the course, and the students involved, the success of the MPR programme is that it is fully student-led, from the acting itself, to the band, the tech crew, stage management, choreograph and costume design. It is a course designed to foster student agency. There are no barriers to students co-constructing the development of the show with their teachers. In fact, when the show Moana was being put together, they incorporated the help of a student to work through the language of the film. “Students describe a sense of growing confidence which helps them engage and determine their own learning steps. They also describe taking this confidence with them into the rest of their learning and other areas of life.” states MPR teacher, Catherine Smith. With this approach teachers involved have witnessed high levels of engagement of students, low pastoral issues and high attendance. Whanaungatanga is a special aspect of the course, with students feeling a deep connection with both other students and staff and a sense of belonging.
Another highlight of MPR is the interaction between junior and senior students. Connections and trust between year levels is evident and there is a real sense of belonging felt by all students. Senior students have the chance to lead the way, however there is no exclusivity and every student has the opportunity to gain any part in the production. As Principal Kenny Diamondstated “seeing Year 9 all the way up to Year 13 students working collaboratively in a project-based environment is what has made this programme so successful.”
Student engagement is a key feature of this course, which runs on from the fact students are at the forefront of all key elements that make up MPR. The programme attracts a wide variety of students and in this lies the beauty of the course. Both teachers are really keen on ensuring the course fosters the joy of learning amongst the class.
“I love seeing the genuine joy of learning in these students. So much accidental learning is occurring, especially in the way of soft skills - teamwork, time management and work ethic whilst also encouraging students to articulate themselves through art” says MPR teacher Brent Duncan.
Below are the top tips that Brent Duncan, teacher in charge of the course, believes have been essential to the success of MPR.
- Be brave! Logistics behind implementing a course like this can seem daunting and tricky. Gaining rights, organising important equipment, hiring gear can be challenging but the benefits to students of a programme like this outweigh the challenges that go with it.
- Be innovative and an advocate: Don’t let the systemic/structural aspect of the school deter you - again be brave, advocate for your subject. There are many challenges to running a course like this, particularly logistically. Strong collaborative relationships and sharing the workload are what makes it work.
- Strong, collaborative teaching relationships are key: Teachers who are teaching a course like this should complement the course and each other, and have a high trust working relationship in order to make it work. Being prepared to learn from each other and take risks is essential for the continued success and development of the teaching programme.
- It’s ok to make mistakes: making mistakes is critical for continued development in a school setting. Don’t be scared to try new ways of doing things. Failure can be a big driver for better things
- Student voice is essential: “Student voice doesn’t become real, unless they think you are listening, and they only think you are listening when you become a learner with them. When they are singing, I am singing. When they are acting, I am in the process with them. We are all in the moment together. It all becomes real to the students. True collaboration happens when the outcome relies on both parties - risky, but rich” Brent Duncan.