Success in effectively engaging a child or young person in your workshop or activity can be one of the greatest accomplishments, failure to engage on the other hand is one of the biggest barriers to a successful project and, when working with Children in Challenging Circumstances (CCC), this is undeniably tough. Children in Challenging Circumstances often struggle with the social dynamics of the traditional, group structured, workshops, as they invariably have lower attention spans and worry about how they are perceived by the rest of the group. These things, coupled with low self-esteem, have a massive impact on how easy it is to engage them. Children who are often dealing with a huge amount of personal pressure in their home lives are sometimes unwilling or unable to participate fully in another setting.
soundLINCS’ music delivery with the Nottinghamshire Youth Justice Service has raised the question of what is the best way to achieve this engagement and participation with young people, especially with irregular and varying patterns of attendance due to the nature of court orders. This in turn demands a flexible, swift, approach to the sessions to help meet the needs of the young people. Participants focus and behaviour can begin to wane as part of a group dynamic, leading us to explore 1-2-1 workshops between our Music Facilitators and these young people to see what effect it had upon involvement.
Our Youth Music Fund C programme is a 3 year long project delivering music workshops and training focusing on the ‘Inquiring Minds Process’. This is taking place through work with CCC across 5 diverse strands; looked after children, youth justice services, paediatric services, young parents and children with special educational needs, including those who are hearing impaired.
I recently went along to one of these 1-2-1 sessions between 14 year old Alex (name changed) and our Music Facilitator Eddy to see how they were going and if it had helped Alex to develop and engage more with the activity.
Alex had previously been part of That Summer Music Thing earlier in the year, a 6 week project for small groups of young people to explore brand new music concepts and instruments. Despite displaying his passion for music in these sessions, particularly DJ’ing and Electronic Music Production, Alex struggled to engage well. He appeared to suffer from low self-esteem and confidence so could not integrate well into working as a group, instead being easily led into disruptive and brash behaviour. This eventually led to his exclusion from the group. However having expressed a desire to keep exploring music technology, the 1-2-1 workshops were established for Alex with Eddy.
From the moment I arrived it was clear to see that Alex was more comfortable and at ease with the new format, instantly appearing more pro-active and inquisitive with Eddy and the equipment, asking for explanations about what every bit of kit did as Eddy unpacked it. He told me that he was really enjoying everything that they had covered so far in the sessions, particularly the DJing, which he felt confident he made had very good progress with. He explained that he had really struggled with group work in the past because he felt unable to concentrate, as if he was being watched and judged by other members of the group.
Alex, alongside Eddy, began to work on their collaborative piece using a Macbook loaded with Cubase production software, an Edirol Audio Interface and various samples to create an original music track in the style of some of his favourite Grime artists. His passion for this genre of music really seemed to help Alex to open up. He was reluctant to even offer name ideas for his own track but then when listening to his favourite rap artists on YouTube he was offering in-depth critiques and reviews of their work, which he could then quickly apply to his own composition.
Whilst Alex was engrossed in the inner workings of his track, his Support Worker, Chris, told me that he feels the sessions have had a notably positive influence for Alex and that his concentration is better with music technology than in any other subject, with him regularly happily participating for the full 90 minutes whereas his attention often wanes after around 20. He feels that it allows him to display his intelligence in a non-academic way, as Alex often appears alienated or put off by more formal education. Chris also told me that because Alex relates so well with Electronic Music Production that a lot of the learning he takes from the sessions is transferred or applied to other subjects like Maths and English. For example, Chris will often find himself framing a Maths question about multiplication as if it was dealing with a number of samples in a Cubase track.
Speaking to soundLINCS Music Facilitator Eddy after the workshop, he told me that whilst Alex shows a lot of bravado he is obviously a very intelligent guy and a really quick learner. However his low confidence is really notable, he will try and then give up on things if he does not ‘master them’ quickly. He said that he felt the switch to 1-2-1 sessions had been invaluable for Alex as it had removed any temptation to show off or disrupt peers and created a much better focus. Eddy suggested that Alex particularly embraces 1-2-1s due to the time and focus that he receives from Eddy. This is something that is lacking in his home life as 1 of 7 children in a very disruptive environment.
Having seen a 1-2-1 in action and the transformation in Alex, I really believe that they are a fantastic method for engaging young people who may struggle to participate in other workshops. soundLINCS and the Youth Justice Service have really embraced the format and are now running 6 different 1-2-1 sessions across Nottinghamshire, with great results! Our plans for further work in this sector are linked with embedding Arts Award into delivery and working with Nottinghamshire Music Hub to identify existing instrumentalist tutors who would be interested in expanding their work into 1-2-1s with the Youth Justice Service.
However I can’t help feeling this leaves us with questions to discuss. Are the benefits of funded 1-2-1s with the Youth Justice Service great enough to merit the financial responsibility attached? 1-2-1s are of course not new, with Music Services having been delivering such sessions since time immemorial. But, is it time for a bespoke instrumental service for Young Offenders? Join the conversation and let us know what you think in the comments below.
by Sam Cullington