REFLECTING ON THE SCHOOL YEAR

It was great to read Jackie Schneider’s fantastic article about her work this year (https://primarymusicmatters.wordpress.com).  I’m taking a break from teaching and won’t have an ‘official’ opportunity for evaluation in September, so a similar post seemed like a good opportunity for reflection.  Here are my WWW and EBI for the last academic year at RAAS (a state boarding school for 7-18s).  I noted a fairly even split between curricular and co-curricular features; do other music teachers find this, and does it also apply to subjects such as PE and Drama?

What Went Well

GCSE composing

Having previously embedded music technology and explored different teaching approaches for composition, we finally reached a point where Year 11 composition controlled assessment ran smoothly.  The pupils were able to use GarageBand and Sibelius confidently to create scores, and we made a point of identifying compositional devices when analysing set works so that they had a collection of strategies to employ.  Unlike some previous cohorts, I think that this majority of this group finished the course feeling confident about their ability to create original music.

Graded exams and practice opportunities

We added a ‘performing exam’ day as part of the Year 11 mock timetable.  Rather than doing mock recordings after school, all pupils had an official exam time.  The mock performances were pretty stressful, but the final recording day two months later on was a notably better experience than in previous years, since the pupils knew exactly what to expect.  It was definitely worth having the extra day off-timetable!  We also funded 15 individual instrumental lessons for Pupil Premium Year 11s.  This had a huge impact on their performing submissions, therefore increasing confidence with composing and listening tasks.

Several peri teachers were interested in the Trinity Rock&Pop syllabus, so we worked together to introduce these resources.  Trinity gave us a CPD session and a huge number of pupils took exams in March, many for the first time.  I entered myself for Grade Two Drums.  Yes, it was money out of my own purse and yet another work commitment, but it meant that I got to grips with how the Trinity exams really work, rather than just delegating the whole session to peri teachers and admin staff.  And doing the exam put me back in the position of a pupil, which is useful occasionally.  Teachers often forget how scary exams are!

After several mediocre attempts to increase pupil practice, I finally used open bribery in the Summer term:  We targeted a group of 13 pupils in Years 5-10, most of whom were Pupil Premium or preparing for an ABRSM exam in June.  Those who succeeded made fantastic progress and it was genuinely a pleasure to take them out for dinner to celebrate.  The social element of a meal out allowed the pupils to share their experiences with one another and also to compare the different cultures that they experience away from school.

Performances and events

Dusk, a May concert for Year 9-13s as an ‘exam antidote’, had been a firm favourite for two years.  Particularly important was the environment that we had created; candlelight, hot chocolate, the sun setting around the Chapel as the pupils performed acoustic music of their own choice.  Since it became a spiritual event almost by accident, we worked with the Chaplain this year to curate two similar events.  Soulstice (Christmas) and Pulse (Valentine’s Day) both included an mixture of music and readings from pupils and staff.  These events were beautiful and had a considerable impact on the people who were involved.

A total contrast was the new Year 8 inter-form music competition.  Whereas the Year 7 competition has focused on singing, with a large element of teacher direction, the Year 8s were given a fairly free rein around the theme of musicals.  Some excellent adjudication from the pastoral team really helped to make this event a success.  Year 8 music timetabling increased to two lessons per week, which led to a big increase in overall progress throughout the cohort.  They will also have two lessons per week in Year 9, so I anticipate a much larger KS4 group in the future.

Ten Pieces

I was initially cautious about this resource, but all of my KS2 classes enjoyed the film (which we watched over two lessons) and it prompted lots of questions and ideas.  As a result, we used GarageBand to make arrangements of In The Hall Of The Mountain King, wrote original compositions for body percussion and arranged for each class to attend a demo session with at least one instrumental teacher.  The pupils’ enthusiasm for classical music and orchestral instruments was phenomenal, and I hope that the KS3 Ten Pieces is equally exciting.

Even Better If

A Level

This year was our first AS cohort, so we have already reflected on how delivery could be improved in the future.  Greater use of intensive projects would be beneficial.  Splitting the week into composing, listening and performing meant that the students were juggling many small tasks and sometimes lost confidence.  I’d also prefer to focus on performing early in the course, using it as a gateway to introduce the composing and listening skills required.

Marking

This was a bigger battle than in previous years, despite having fewer classes!  I kept postponing it in order to deal with ‘more pressing’ issues, then felt hypocritical expecting pupils to meet deadlines but not giving prompt feedback.  A few years ago, I had a system of marking for 20 minutes first thing in the morning:  Reinstating that strategy would certainly have helped.

Activities/links

The variety and uptake of activities was lower this year, particularly amongst KS2 pupils.  There were several reasons for this, but I do think that collaboration with other local schools and hub partners could be key to providing productive co-curricular opportunities for more pupils.  My own participation in the local schools network decreased this year and I missed that interaction with other music teachers.  However, we often produced a higher quality of music in ensembles and concerts this year, so there were benefits for those pupils who did get involved; hopefully they will return with their friends next year.

There are more details about what we got up to on the RAASMusic Facebook page, but the photo I’ve chosen is purely personal vanity.

exam certificate

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