A Day in My Music Classroom (2)

Classroom Pedagogy
The rationale behind these posts is linked above.

Morning Rehearsal: Gx Choir

After morning registration my day starts with Gx Choir. This is our open to all year 7 and 8 choir, previously known as Girls’ Choir. After some feedback from our students in 2021 that some in our community felt uncomfortable with the binary gender naming of the choirs we evolved it to become Gx Choir (the other being Bx Choir).

Gx currently has 122 students on the register, but after some disruption of rooming over the last few weeks I have around 80 students in the room this morning. It is still a lot of students to be out of tutor time and I carry the responsibility heavily to ensure it is an inclusive and positive community rehearsal. I have a band to accompany them made up of sixth formers, which is a proven way to really create a good energy in the room and an instantly stylistic backing. We are working on ‘Unstoppable’ by Sia today, which was chosen by some of the students. Letting them take ownership of the repertoire has been a real eye opener: my role then involves typing up the lyrics for the board, adding some changes in texture for interest, ensuring the band have the right key and structure and if I’m feeling really crazy I’ll add in a few harmonies here and there! It’s a good rehearsal and I’m pleased with their sound. It takes about 10 minutes to do the register, the biggest downside in having morning registration rehearsals!

Today had four taught lessons and 2 rehearsals so below I have decided to reflect on just two of the lessons below.

Period Thee: Year 7

Year 7 are continuing with their ‘Exploring Musical Sound’ topic (mentioned in my previous post) This lesson they are working on their compositions which will be assessed towards Easter. Much like at GCSE type composing brief, I have given the students the task of composing a piece of music for the opening of a TV show. I have said it should include a synth ostinato along with a range of imported and edited audio sounds to create a kind of collage effect and have a simple structure to include an intro and outro.

In terms of prior learning the students have spent their previous lessons exploring techniques and processes in Soundtrap, along with listening and debating pieces of music with a range of sonorities and textures. Using dictation and singing we have also looked at how to compose an ostinato and this knowledge/skill builds on the melody writing project they had in October.

I love this kind of lesson. Over the years I have learnt to ‘hold back’ as much as I can as the students start to create. I have scaffolded the task and made the main components explicit, but these opening stages are where I try to allow them to lead and keep my role supportive. In a couple of lessons time I will put the main success criteria on the board to secure progress, but for now the main brief is enough to get them going in the right direction. This is so different on how I used to teach in my early years of my career, I would micromanage them so much more and steer them towards my intended outcomes.

For the rest of the lesson I am dotting around the class quickly, answering questions and listening in to their work so far. I come across some students who are struggling with resilience, cross that their piece isn’t ‘sounding good’. I reenforce to them that ideas don’t just ‘appear’ immediately in music: they need to evolve, they may try a few things that sound rubbish before they hit upon one they are happy with. They look a bit sceptical, but I send one pair of students to a keyboard at the front to improvise some ideas and set a timer for 5 minutes. I tell them to not worry about recording or inputting, but compose something they like. This seems to work as after 3 minutes their hands fly up to show me and they have a corker of an ostinato pattern. With time running out I input it into Soundtrap for them, keen to capitalise on the moment. They listen back with some smiles ‘Miss, can I show my Dad?’ one asks. As the lesson ends I tell them I will have a listen to their pieces over half term, Soundtrap makes this easy. That will help me plan and intervene next steps for them.

Period Four: Year 11

Year 11 are working on their compositions again. I am not keen on an afternoon composing lessons for them, but rooming decrees that this must be the case. I have 5 students who want to work on a piano or guitar, many others on Soundtrap and a couple on MuseScore. After a quick-fire vocabulary silent start they all disperse to their working areas so the whole class are spread over two floors. Again, not ideal. Having said that are you really a music teacher if you don’t have a student sat on the floor in the foyer/hall at some point?! I have 4 students on my ‘must visit’ list today, in an hour that should not be ambitious yet it feels it.

I drop in one students one at a time, constantly reinforcing the need to ACT ON FEEDBACK. I am like a broken record on this, I know I am. Yet to their credit none of them roll their eyes at me. It is a challenge I face with young composers, especially when composing over a short timeframe and to a criteria. They often get drawn into ‘continuing’ or adding more sections to their music, while it is much more efficient for them to act on their feedback explicitly in order to increase their marks. As I have blogged before, in our department we are reflecting a lot at the moment on metacognition. I really think we can be doing more to improve students metacognition in composing further down the school to enable them to be much more competent on how to improve their work without quite so much scaffolding from me. This will be a process over a few years, but right now the deadlines for exam coursework are looming.

When the lesson ends I am upstairs with a student and have to hustle everyone back down stairs for a rushed plenary and pack away. As the students leave I make a note yet again to drop some emails to students and families to update on progress after an after school meeting. I need to keep on top of these, some compositions are flying along and some really need to build up the pace to secure completion to a good standard.

If there is anything above that is of interest: schemes, repertoire, resources or questions then please do not hesitate to get in touch: mrsgleedmusic@gmail.com

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