Category Archives: Classroom Pedagogy

Are we the gatekeepers?

In a recent curriculum conversation with a colleague I was asked about the role of our curriculum and our roles as music teachers in being the gatekeepers of the knowledge of music history. Principally two questions were asked of me: what music did I choose to introduce to our students to through our curriculum and secondly how did I ensure that our students were exposed to the best of what has been written in the course of music history

As musicians we are all very opinionated about what we perceive to be the best or most important pieces of music. In addition judging the composers to whom we feel we owe our students an introduction. Just look at the launch of the Model Music Curriculum (my thoughts on this can be found on my blog HERE) On its launch Twitter was alight with people who were incredulous that a particular composer was missed or that a particular work was included. So is there a set canon we ‘should’ expose our students to? In English is it the teacher’s responsibility to introduce Shakespeare as a central figure of literature? So with that is Beethoven therefore a centerpiece of an effective music curriculum? I cannot get this question out of my head.

A curriculum is so much more than a list of pieces to study, but that being said the music we choose does tell our students a lot about what we value and choose to lift up. We do hold a responsibility to educate and expose our students to high quality musicianship and compositions/performances and we commit to that in our curriculum statement of intent. At BCCS we are very aware that all our curriculum staff are white, classically trained musicians. To effectively serve the community of our school we have to work hard to explore and show the immense value of music from a range of contexts, not just those in the European classical canon. Despite what our exam boards would have us believe, music goes way beyond the eurocentric collection of pieces presented in the set works. But saying that the exam classes explore some significant and ground breaking works: The Rite of Spring, Pierrot Lunaire, Brandenburg Concertos to Jerry Goldsmith, Miles Davis, Kate Bush and Courtney Pine. So who gets to choose what is deemed ‘the best’ and how to we tread the path of our great responsibility here? And in a subject where we hear of relentless cuts to curriculum time and subject carousels, where and how do we possibly fit it all in?

Last year I had the great pleasure of meeting with inclusion advisor Manu Maunganidze* who challenged me to be bolder in allowing students to drive the curriculum more through bringing their musical experiences into the centre of the curriculum. This has contributed to the curriculum planning I blogged about last week and our department’s mission that we have to be humble in admitting that we cannot know it all and that students bring so many musical experiences and interests into our classrooms beyond our own. We do have a unique position to harness this as our super power as music educators. This is more than about engagement, but goes deeper into creating a rich and truly diverse curriculum that challenges and inspires the students in our care, while learning and improving ourselves as musicians and educators. And I am sure our students can only benefit from that.

LG

Manu Maunganidze works with the Global Goals Centre, NYCE (NYCE.org.uk) and advises cultural and environmental institutions on inclusion and equality issues.

Thoughts on music curriculum design

Curriculum design is something I have always thoroughly enjoyed and in twenty years of teaching in four different departments I have never tired of re-writing and tinkering with the department curriculum. In my mind it is the core of a successful department too. Get this right and the rest follows in terms of co-curricular engagement. 

Recently at BCCS we have re-centred our schemes around new concepts. Several years ago our schemes were quite traditional: Blues, EDM, song writing, Minimalism and the like. Three longer topics a year has always been my personal preference as it allows for deeper learning, time for development of skills and time for meaningful musical progression. Half term projects are, for me, too tokenistic and don’t allow time to really drill down into the guts of the learning.

Something we have been thinking about a lot is the decolonisation of our curriculum. As Nate Holder has shared as part of his inspiring and important work – ‘diversification is not the same as decolonisation’ and there is much work to do in terms of giving students authentic and rich musical experiences that are not purely moments of musical tourism. So as we evolve our schemes we are now centring our curriculum around broader concepts: ‘Music as social justice’ ‘Reinventing the blues’ and ‘Creating musical ensemble’ are some of the initial headings. 
Each scheme has a core musical product/assessment task, a set of theoretical concepts to embed, a list of knowledge to cover, plus key assessment strands (ensemble/performance/improvisation/compositions etc) but the content is very fluid and that is what we are currently exploring.

Reflecting the student community is important here too while also accepting our teacher responsibility as the gatekeepers/enablers of some musical knowledge. It is important we as teachers are expert in what we do yet equally acknowledge that we also have much to learn and our students often come in to our classrooms with musical experiences beyond our own. ‘Music as social justice’ for example can cover a range of genres: reggae, ska, mento, rock, punk and more. Dipping into Shostakovich can sit alongside Damien Marley and Dave while lyrics can be toasted or sung while looking at effective text settling over chords or drum patterns. Reinventing the Blues starts with very traditional blues and then evolves through jazz among other genres while spending time understanding chord construction and extensions beyond our previous centralisation of the 12 bar chord progression.

This is all very much a thinking process and a starting point as opposing to a finishing one. Covid has meant that the schemes have had to be rejigged to cover some lost threshold concepts, but has also encouraged some creativity. But this a shift and a beginning I am excited about. Not sure it’s perfect, but rethinking and exploring is part of the fun.

LG

How important is the product?

This year since returning to a classroom of live music making post-covid, one thing that has struck me is how many key stage 3 students have become very nervous about performing in front of their peers.

Like many in my role I have always have my fair share of students refusing to perform to the class or asking to show ‘just me’ at break. My common practice is to stick to my guns, kindly acknowledging students anxieties but giving an appropriate insistence towards performance. Body language, placement of the performer in the room and firm but kind expectations from the teacher can help to encourage the younger performer through an anxious situation towards performance and the opportunity to celebrate their achievements. Obviously it goes without saying that for some this would be inappropriate and knowing the students is key.

But since returning to these kinds of projects, performing in front of the class appears to have become a lost habit at key stage 3, I have had countless students this year becoming incredibly anxious about doing it and pushing back with genuine and valid stress about the situation. It is going to take time to grow the experience back to being normal and is all part of re-establishing the rituals and habits of the music classroom. On unpicking this with some students one of the main barriers seems to be the pressure of the ‘one shot’ nature of the performance and the fear that an assessment moment hangs on the performance. Students are anxious that they will not play their music perfectly and will therefore ‘fail’ the assessment. There is much to unpick here.

In my music classroom a key stage 3 music assessment is not (usually) solely based around assessment of perfection and accuracy. We assess composition, improvisation, quality and development ideas (our schemes of work have a number of core skills we are assessing each time and these skills are shared with students) Therefore performance is a tool in communicating the work, not the centre of the assessment. I have been talking this through with my students a lot recently in the hope that it places the moment into context. I explain that watching an exceptional moment of ensemble work or composition during a rehearsal can tell me so much more than a seemingly flawless performance that maybe hasn’t progressed in a few lessons beyond playability.

I think moving forward I plan to continue doing as much performance in class as possible and also removing the pressure of having a ‘final product’ from their shoulders. In terms of assessments I genuinely find I get much of the evidence I need from in class rehearsals and watching students communicating and improving within these rehearsals. It is about being as explicit as possible with what I value and what I am looking for. Which leads me to question – how important is a final product anyway?

LG

#CanDoMusic

I wrote the following post in September last year and wanted to pop the post here too. I plan to go deeper on some of the points covered over the next few months.

What does rebuilding music at BCCS look like after the last 18 months? 

@MrsGleedMusic @BCCSMusic

Music during the pandemic

The last 18 months have been the quietest period I have ever known at BCCS. The biggest loss of all has been the lack of communal music making. Our team of 28 peripatetic instrumental teachers have done a phenomenal job of keeping online lessons going and curriculum lessons have by and large adapted well to non-specialised rooms and bubble protocols. But we have missed our BCCS music community. The joy of singing together, coming together for concerts, in-class performances and celebrating music communally. The whole school community is excited to reset and rebuild music this year.

What does a musician look like?

We believe that a thriving music department starts in the classroom by engaging every student that walks in the door.  This is where our efforts to rebuild have started. After some planning in the summer term, we are reshaping our curriculum work as part of our plans to decolonise our schemes. We are now centering and empowering student experience in the composition process. Year 9 for example are currently composing drum tracks and we are encouraging them to use their authentic musical tastes to drive this work, listening and copying music of their choice while we as teachers model technical skills and exposing them to a range of music to compliment as opposed to delivering a predetermined ‘right answer’. Already students are exploring grime/90s rap/lofi/punk rock and trap to inspire their drum track writing. Creating a classroom that is relevant and richly authentic with student experience will be key along with exposure to a range of styles, skills and musical concepts. This will be our passion: that as we come back to specialist rooms we promote students from all backgrounds to see themselves as a musician and see themselves within a relevant and exciting curriculum.

Threshold concepts

Next will be curriculum planning and revisiting the mapping of key concepts. Last year we had to adapt our key stage 3 curriculum to non specialist rooms, therefore our curriculum for this year needs to address how this has shaped our current students’ progress. Some of our most important threshold concepts from years 7, 8 and 9 need monitoring and securing. It cannot be a matter of just resetting the schemes. Our year 8s this year for example have superb skills in listening and appraising, dictation and understanding of many core concepts through the use of ukuleles and boomwhackers (I never thought I’d teach these whole class, but that’s another blog post). They have done a lot of solo and whole class work. But the students have not had a consistent opportunity to work in small groups in the classroom, to actively engage in busy lessons of ensemble music making. We have planned to redress this in our curriculum this year, to monitor and reshape the planned learning and threshold concepts to support our students as they progress beyond the curriculum followed last year.

Depth and Breadth

We are proud and fortunate to offer a range of co-curricular music at BCCS, a music specialism academy in Bristol city centre. Securing and building on this will be key now. Our aim has always been to plan for depth and breadth for all the students that come into the school. 

Depth refers to an offer of high-quality music experiences within ensembles with challenging and exciting repertoire. At BCCS this means hitting the ground running with our symphony orchestra, chamber choir, string quartets, senior jazz group and improvisation ensemble. 

Breadth refers to an offer of a range of immediately accessible ensembles such as big school choirs, steel pan ensembles and DJ club. Alongside this is The Noise, an ensemble for our beginner wind and brass players (year 7s are offered a scheme of free lessons and an instrument to kick start instrumental playing) Our role as a department this September is mapping students in to these ensembles immediately, sending the emails home and inviting students to the ensembles. We also use our department Instagram and Twitter feeds to promote music. But in our opinion, nothing beats a personal invitation, so the music team are all working hard to encourage all students towards the ensembles both in and out of the classroom. Engaging the whole school community is important, SLT and tutor teams are also invaluable in the process. We are working especially hard to engage, excite and challenge our neurodiverse and PP students in this process along with all special interest groups as this is a particular priority after the last 18 months.

The Future

The future hopefully has many concerts to look forward to, we cannot wait for our students to be performing together again. We plan to have students performing in assemblies and to re-energise the staff choir to sing together again, celebrating community music making. We hope all of year 7 and 8 will sing together on stage in our December and personally I cannot wait for this moment. In the planned concerts we will hopefully see the year 13 prefects stage-managing, guiding the younger students. Also year 10s and 8s playing alongside each other in concert band, music making growing friendships across year groups. We have planned for other workshops and events to galvanise the community: our MOBOs event, woodwind and percussion masterclasses, rap/MC workshop and our house music competition. Maybe a show or a combined music event celebrating music across our Trust. At this point it does feel so exciting. Time to celebrate, include, inspire and collaborate. Time to get back to doing what we do best. Making music together.

LG

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