A reflection on the Model Music Curriculum

I write this fully aware that there is probably enough noise already around the new Model Music Curriculum. In addition I have already seen a number of very well written and insightful blog posts from a range of phases and contexts. I wanted to make a small contribution beyond my Twitter replies and retweets.

The emergence of this document has brought a huge amount of dialogue in the music education community. It would be foolish to not celebrate the spotlight that has been put on the subject and I feel this has been a real bonus. There have been many conversations happening over a number of platforms with lively debate about music education and the agreement of the entitlement of all young people to a broad, inclusive, robust and rich music curriculum. There are many music educators out there who are isolated in small or single teams so this dialogue has so much value.

From its controversial inception some years back, the authorship of the MMC has been and remains a little unclear. It is clear however that it has been designed to assist music teachers rather to prescribe, but will that be the legacy of this document? Can we be sure that this is not set out as some kind gold standard of music education? How does that translate to the designer of a music curriculum in a school? There is a huge range of content, especially in terms of repertoire. Some of this is so exciting to discover, some of it very ill judged (thanks to Nate Holder for his clarity in calling out some huge oversights, of which many have been corrected). There was an initial danger for the first few days of there being too much debate about the choice of artists and composers which belittled the debate a touch, but then who doesn’t love talking about their musical preferences?

The more I reflect on this document the more I feel my core reaction is that the use of the heading ‘curriculum’ is rather disingenuous. A curriculum does not and should not stand alone, it does not stand still. An exceptional curriculum should be organic and live. Ours at BCCS starts with questions: What is the intent and who is the scheme it written for? What is the prior learning? What are the planned outcomes? It is so unique to our context. The cohort within our school is certainly evolving and the curriculum is under yearly review to evolve with it. Our curriculum revolves around core concepts, threshold concepts in essence. The music making is the centre piece of this, not indicative content or topics. There is room built in for autonomy for the different music teachers in my team and their classes. But what does that look like in smaller departments with mixed resourcing and less curriculum time than others? Could this document have a role as a piece of evidence to push schools for equity in terms of curriculum time and funding? But has it missed a trick in not positioning itself more around skills, pedagogy and a roadmap to enable schools to write their own more carefully. A model example could have been a part of that?

Saying that I have appreciated reading some aspects it and considering it alongside the curriculum in my department. It has made me ask questions, it has already made me review why I do some of the things the way I do. I do however recognise I have enormous privilege here: 3 hours a fortnight music allocation for key stage 3 and three amazing teachers in the team to share ideas and nearly 20 years tried and tested classroom experience. How does this document fare in another context? How does it fare as a starting point? How inclusive is it in the face of a music classroom in 2021? Where is the research and evidence? How does it fare in the primary sector? The jury is out for me at the moment and I will consider this further.

In summary I feel that the ‘how’, the ‘when’ and the ‘why’ in curriculum design can be equal to the ‘what’. I do have concerns this the ‘what’ part seems to be too centralised here. It is definitely time to come together, support each other and build the very best curricula possible for our students. How can we now keep these conversations going? I have seen some brilliant webinars, discussions and blogs out there the last month from lots of individuals who have inspired me greatly. A pretty good starting point?

LG

Being an anti-racist: Intention has to equal impact

Since posting a black square on my Instagram feed last week I have reflected a lot on my responsibility and previous failures as a privileged white female to call out racism and truly acknowledge the existence of white supremacy.

This post isn’t about virtual signalling or tokenism, to be honest the last thing anyone needs is another white woman’s voice on this. But it doesn’t feel right to say nothing. I needed to visibly acknowledge that I have not been enough and pledge to do the following:

-to inform myself, to read, to explore further into black artists, writers and composers

-to sit in my discomfort, look these issues in the eye, be verbal and active about them in my life without hiding behind the safety of ‘I don’t want to get it wrong’

-to listen to and raise up black voices wherever I can

-to raise my daughter consciously and deliberately to both read about and discuss race and inequality

-to donate to a charity that champions, promotes and celebrates diversity of race within the arts

-to look at my role with more scrutiny and invest my energy more throuhouly in decolonising the music curriculum

-to set an alert on my phone next month to remind me of my commitment to this and to take further and better stesp.

LG

The best advice I received as a music teacher

This is a post I submitted as part of #ReLearnMusicTeaching on Twitter. This has been a super collaborative blogging effort I have occasionally contributed to during lockdown. It is a sequence of posts that discuss and unpack each of the tasks in ‘Learning To Teach in the Secondary School’. I have enjoyed reading the posts hugely. The post on the 5th June asked ‘what piece of advice have you been given that has made you the music teacher you are today’. My response is below.

The best piece of advice I ever received as a music teacher was given to me in my second job, three years into my career. The advice was given to me as part of an observation by a senior member of staff and that advice was simply ‘please be authentic’. 

In that observation I was trying so hard to be something I wasn’t. It was obvious and I was awkward, uncomfortable and the lesson was too. I have reflected on the word authentic many times and have since held this as something I value and have encouraged in the teachers I have mentored over the years, encouraging them to bring their authenticity and not try to imitate mine or any one else’s around them.

There is no right answer, but I take it to mean the following:

-Being an active musician in my lessons, performing and improvising, making mistakes. Leading by example and not purely by direction.

-Being honest when I am not an expert. Listening to those around me, students included as no one can be an expert on everything.

-Admitting when I have got things wrong, musically or as a teacher. Being human is about mistakes and our responsibility as teachers is to model that and how we can solve them.

-Not trying to be something I am not, owning my musical abilities and styles (and lack of them!) with strength and pride.

-To have the faith to do things my way. Not trying to imitate another teacher, jump through hoops or use resources that I feel I ‘should’ use. The best lessons are always when I truly believe in the content and value of them.

 

LG

Planning During a Pandemic: Part Two

The last time I posted I was hugely overwhelmed by the recent lockdown and scrabbling about trying to find a personal and profession pattern to live by. As Twitter buzzes with opinions on lifting restrictions, I have been thinking about how things have progressed since then so here are a few thoughts.

I know I am in a position of privilege on pretty much every level, but it has been hard. Juggling two full time jobs in this house and a toddler has not always brought out the best in anyone living here. But we have found a pattern and a way to muddle along together and ride the emotional peaks and troughs.

When thinking about a blog post I thought about the ‘upskilling’ I have had to do in order to support my students. I can be reluctant to take the plunge with new things when I haven’t really thought about their potential. I am guilty of overthinking. The pandemic has certainly forced my hand. Google Classroom is now my main tool, I can see so much more potential in it and hope I can develop its power once I return to school. I use Loom to set lessons up for Key Stage 4 and 4, I use Google Meet to talk to colleagues and host meetings. I am exploring Soundtrap for composition, Music First for supporting learning. I have played my flute several times rehearsing for a school project. I have joined the National Music Teacher’s Association and started listening to some of their podcast series. I am contributing to a collaborative blog instigated by Steven Berryman called (Re) Learning How to Teach Music in the Secondary School. I am in quite exalted company there, but am very much enjoying the connectivity and time to reflect.

So I was wondering, has this period of bizarre lockdown accidentally become the best CPD I have ever had?

LG

Planning during a Pandemic

Writing a blog post is probably the last thing I ‘should’ be doing right now. In the midst of being locked down at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic I have been juggling setting work, trying to support students remotely, get to grips with new resources and apps. All around having a 3 year old at home full time and a husband who also needs to work from home full time. I am conscious of not complaining too much. So far we do have our health, a salary, sunshine and a garden. It could be worse. But it’s hard going and I fear I have too high expectations of myself right now.

I think the thing I am finding the hardest after getting work done is sustaining connectivity with students and my team. Music is such a social subject and I am already missing the students, the ensembles and the musical conversations. I keep seeing some amazing ideas for virtual ensembles online so am feeling both inspired and overwhelmed by the options I could try. Please do let me know what is really working out there for this! Ideally something sustainable and musical.

For now I think expectations of staff, students and families have to be realistic. I am setting work to structure and give some direction and connectivity, but equally trying to not to throw all manner of new things their way. We risk a gimmickry overload. Checking in with colleagues and then with our most vulnerable students has to be a priority. One day at a time, this could be a long haul.

Would love to hear some top tips to sustain a musical community!

Keep safe and well.

LG

Key Stage 3 Music Curriculum Planning

This year, like many schools we have been part of a real focus on curriculum planning within our departments. Planning a curriculum has always been something I have enjoyed, thinking about the students I teach and crafting a curriculum to inspire them and progress their musicianship. There are so many examples out there, but I truly believe the best curriculum is one where you have your own unique students and their needs at its core when you plan it.

 

So what is the purpose of a key stage 3 curriculum? I believe stage 3 music should stand in its own right, however it is an option subject and every student should have the right to access a relevant key stage 4 music curriculum should they wish. With that in mind you cannot ignore the need to plan a rich key stage three pathway to prepare students to access it. For true inclusion we have a responsibility to provide this pathway without the need for external support away from the classroom.

 

We are now told that knowledge is the new centrepiece of a good curriculum, but for music that is something that takes a little thinking about. On asking colleagues (and Twitter) I have thought a lot and focused this planning on ‘knowing how’ alongside ‘knowing that’, trying to balance the inherent skills that are needed for real musicianship. This balance of knowledge, theory, technical skill, practical aural music making and exposure to a range of musical styles is an art I’ll admit I am yet to master. 

 

In music we have the joy of selecting themes from a vast range of musical styles to engage and inspire our students, broadly these are the titles of our schemes of learning. In our department we aim to view them as the catalyst through which musicianship is taught. Broken down throughout our schemes are then core musical concepts and these are threaded through the key stage 3 programme of study. In maths students teach core concepts this way: algebra for example is not just covered once but revisited year upon year securing and deepening understanding. This is similar to how we have crafted our music curriculum. Chords for example are introduced and explored through performance and composition in year 7, understanding primary chords and their function. Year 8 sees them identify them as major and minor as well as 7ths as well as understanding their role within accompaniments and ensembles. In year 9 students look at them as devices such as diminished 7ths and how chords can be used in diatonic and dissonant harmony. All under the umbrella topics of ‘Pachelbel’s Canon’, ‘The Blues’ and ‘Film Music’.

 

It is all a work in progress at the moment and will evolve further this year. I am keen to deepen theoretical knowledge and especially challenge in year 9. I’m very happy to share and discuss planning ideas as we continue this work so feel free to get in touch.

 

LG

My Music Classroom 2020

It is now the end of February 2020 and I am very aware that it has been a long time since I last blogged here. Like many I have been meaning to so many times, but taking the first step back into it has been harder than I thought. Time has been one restraint, but also I have had some fear of putting a voice out there when I have seen quite a lot of arguments and negativity online recently. I figured neither are good enough reasons really so have to just bite the bullet and get on with it.

Since I was last here a lot has happened. I am still at the same school and it is changing rapidly, something I will blog about. I am now also a mother, my toddler turns 3 soon and I came back from maternity leave four days a week which has been a fantastic decision for me and my family. It has allowed me to remain as a Head of Department and feel fully part of school life, while having a precious day with my daughter to offset the large amount of evenings I have music events. The transition has not been as easy as I have just made it sound, but it is working for us right now.

Things that I plan to blog about in the next few blogs include some of my thinking about deep knowledge in music, some reflections on a recent mock deep dive experience with an HMI, some thinking about oracy in the music classroom and linking it to deep musical understanding and some thoughts about inclusion and pupil premium. I might include some bits on issues that interest me such as women in leadership, equality, well-being and parenthood if such crossover is allowed in the world of edu-blogging. Advice on that welcome!

Thoughts coming soon.

LG

A reflection on my summer resolutions 2014

This time last year I wrote my first ever blog post and came up with some resolutions for the new academic year as inspired by #mufuchat. You can read it here.

1. To keep singing at the heart of my classroom

I definitely kept putting singing first this year, although there is still work to do. Every one of my classes sang this year and even my year 8s and 9s in the summer term, which I have to confess was a first! I piloted some ideas for the launch of SingUp Secondary, which built up my repertoire a little and all my exam classes sang their set works at some point. Some of my favourite lessons on the year came from doing this with sixth form.

This year I plan to encourage more musical communication through singing, trying to embed sung responses when working on compositions. I also want to build up a formal shared bank of singing resources for the department as I rely very heavily on my ‘bank’ of songs I have acquired over the years and know my NQT has sometimes found it hard to choose pieces. Time to freshen up the selection!

2. Not to let exam board requirements dictate non-musical teaching

I taught at least half my year 12 set works via practical work shopping, the vocal pieces were certainly easier, and this felt a little daunting in places as in previous years I had done this for a couple with practical here and there. I worried they were not getting the core content written down and formalised enough. However by exam season their knowledge of the set works was certainly not diminished and I was impressed by their responses in essays. This is certainly something I will be taking forward into the new academic year.

3. To use assessment to critique meaningful musical learning and not for assessments sake

By using Edmodo to give feedback and by using a lot more video evidence my use of assessment is certainly more musical in spirit and is directly impacting on musical progress. I can see this in every lesson. I am however still reporting in levels and completing the half termly data entry using levels. I still feel I am doing the latter for assessments sake and have not managed to connect this to the musical feedback and dialogue that is happening in my classroom.

4. To encourage and inspire high quality listening in students of all ages

I have set a lot of listening homework this year and encourage the students to follow the department twitter account and #bccsplaylist to increase their exposure to more music. Sixth form students have also kept a diary of their listening as a weekly task and this was invaluable in writing the AS sleeve notes. I have tried to do more active listening in class at key stage 3 and tried to encourage ‘listening to’ as opposed to ‘hearing’ the music. I edited a resource that was shared with me a few years a go to create our own literacy mat. I have laminated a set of these in A3 and have them around the room to encourage more extended responses. These have been some simple, but effective ideas but I would like to formalise some more for the new year.

Resolutions for next year still pending!

LG

 

Life without tables – one year on

A tweet came up in my Timehop today that read ‘I’m bored and ready for a change in my classroom layout, but am I brave enough to ditch the tables?’. Turns out I was and my first class in September arrived to a very large space with all the instruments set up ready to play and no desks. The aim of doing this was to put musicianship at the heart of the room. A room that says ‘we make music’ NOT ‘come in and get a pen out’

The best thing about doing this has been how quickly and naturally the lessons move into practical work and the amount of music making in each lesson has increased. End of lessons can seamlessly move from practical into a plenary. I have also become better at setting more musical starters: clapping, singing and musical warm ups. Listening activities have become much more open ended without a book to take notes so I have really tried to work on the ‘pose, pause, pounce, bounce’ approach to encourage whole class listening. This has resulted in some amazing responses from students, but none of this is formally evidenced. Is that a problem? There’s another blog post right there!

The main issues have arisen from GCSE and A Level lessons where there is a more formal need for worksheets and note taking. Even with practical interspersed this has become clumsy and students are uncomfortable so we are often moving the keyboards to enable them to use them. They are also very grumpy about moving the furniture. As a result there is a regular mess in the room where things are not put back. Things have a less formal place and despite the lower amount of breakages things are constantly being moved and lost.

Despite the mess and lack of order I would not go back now. Having the tables was far too restrictive and I love how naturally my classes move round the piano for singing or shift into groups to discuss an extract. It does make my lessons feel so much more organic and musical. To be honest I am not sure anyone should never trust an ordered or tidy music department.

LG

#summer10

I have seen a few other educators doing their #summer10 plans for the holidays so thought I’d share my own to kick start the break.

Rest – First on my agenda is making some time to rest. After and exhausting summer term that seemed to be relentlessly busy I am looking forward to drinking hot cups of tea, sleeping in a little, spending time with friends and family and recharging the batteries completely.

Proms 2015 – I bought my Proms guide a while ago and have already enjoyed some cracking music. I am off to the RAH next week and have my concerts set to record many on BBC4. It is the best possible timing for a feast of music!

Blog – In the summer term I completely neglected my blog. I became a twitter-lurker too, reading and not engaging. With the extra time in the summer I plan to give my blog a boost and engage more with other music educators from whom I have learnt so much over the last year. This goes hand in hand with the next item on my list.

Reflect – Having time to reflect is valuable and this will be the starting point for my work this summer. Coming out of a busy year the summer break provides a unique time to reflect on my department and learning schemes. This summer I want to reflect on assessment and Key Stage 4 provision in particular as well as the new years resolutions I made earlier in the academic year on this blog.

Plan – Planning is one of my favourite aspects of the job and I love crafting learning schemes and resources at a leisurely pace. Having time and space to do this often means my work is at its most creative. This summer I hope to plan for a number of classes at school plus this week I am working and collaborating on a new city-wide curriculum that is to be rolled out next year in Bristol.

Read – I love reading. Every term I promise I will read some fiction, but it falls by the wayside and I spend a long time limping through books and backtracking pages when I have left too long a gap. I already have a pile of books to work my way through and will enjoy some complete escapism.

Life MOT – Like many other teachers the summer break in particular is a chance to get things in order from car insurance to household jobs. This summer will see a new patio for our garden as well as a good declutter of the house.

Shaun In The City – I love living in Bristol and plan to make the most of what’s on over the summer including this fantastic charity trail. Shaun hunting is definitely high on the agenda for August!

Preparing the Decks – I am sure this will resonate with many music teachers, but I will be in school for a number of days getting things in order: getting the pianos tuning, refreshing displays, throwing away old headphones and sorting and re-stickering the shelves. There are many small pleasures in there, although that may just be me.

Happy holidays!

LG