Working together – changing roles

In a 5-day workshop for opera language training in Russian, incoming teachers and students from Riga, together formed the teaching group. The Italian group of teachers and students were learners, together. Later on, the Italian group visited Riga to teach Italian, and the roles changed. This situation created an open learning atmosphere, for all.

Outcome A learning community bringing students and teachers together

This setting, with a focus on learning and less on status or position, created a stimulating atmosphere, and a space for optimum learning. The fact that different levels in Italian/ Russian, joined in the same classroom seemed to contribute to the lively atmosphere as well. Instead of fixed standards as measures for learning, a shared striving for excellence was the driving force in the classroom. The not too surprising choices to start and to end the week with a concert became landmarks of this learning and teaching approach:

The fact that students who were visiting as part of the teaching faculty sang for the group of teachers and students who were the ‘learners’ created a wonderful comradery. The final concert became a celebration of learning, as all the participants performed, independent of (study) level, Susanne van Els explains.

All involved experienced the whole group as a ‘learning community’.

Participants at the European Opera Academy project working togheter
Photo: Susanne van Els and Roberta Faroldi

Description A strategic partnership

The European Opera Academy (EOA) is a network of music (and drama) academies from all over Europe which offer an opera specialization. In a Strategic Partnership project, the EOALAB, some EOA partners and AEC developed the model of shared education.

An extra benefit of the EOA network could be to share teacher expertise among the institutions. One of the working groups in this project looked at ‘programme-based teacher exchange’. The academies of Riga and Parma developed a short-term exchange programme, which would fit the Blended Intensive Programmes (Erasmus + 2021-2027).

Students as teachers and teachers as students

Inspired by the strong focus on learning that a shared education environment provides, teachers of the working group decided to participate ‘as learners’ too, when the original language of the partner institution was subject. Then, it was inevitable to understand that participating students could change roles as well, depending on which language was taught. In this way, both teachers and students involved in the project acted as students and teachers. In ‘a Russian week in Parma”, the Parma group acted as learners and the Riga group as teachers, and vica versa in ‘an Italian week in Riga’.

This setting, with a focus on learning and less on status or position, created an inspiring atmosphere.

A flexible learning situation

“This was the most active teaching and active learning that I have ever been involved in.” (Participant in the project)

The interviews conducted after the project had ended, had the character of enthusiastic brainstorming. It was undeniable that the week had been a celebration of learning. This was also very clear from the wonderfully open and passionate atmosphere in which the final concert was presented.

Participants described the event as being without judgement, without worries and without the burden of expectations that they normally felt in artistic projects.

Participants at the European Opera Academy
Photo: Susanne van Els and Roberta Faroldi

Working methods

The sessions and lessons were organised in various ways, for example as

  • one-to-one
  • one-to-one with active audience attendance
  • group work with the whole group
  • break-out groups
  • duo work

Also, the sessions included explanation, demonstration, home-work, video and audio material, copying, developing method and tackling problems together.


Practical advice The teachers as key

It seems that the key to an active learning attitude on the students’ side is, in general, in the hands of the teachers. Teachers should open up, by taking the role as learners themselves, and in ‘not having all the answers’.

Using a variety of methods and varying organisation of lessons helps keeping students active. It is also important that students understand that they learn a lot when listening to others, or when helping other students.

Side-by-side playing – side-by-side learning.

Working together in looking for material, searching for solutions, but also making music together makes a huge difference. A general understanding of being part of a learning community, as a class, as a conservatoire, as musicians in general, is very helpful.

Want to learn more about the project?

Youtube: EOALAB – Collaborating across Europe to innovate Opera education

Visit the European Opera Academy webpage
The EOALAB project will present its outcomes at the AEC Congress 2021.