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?