A solution to help ‘students who are not actively playing or writing music’ to find confidence in the understanding of music theory and language

This amount of learning is vast for an 11-12 year old student. That every single individual learner is engaged and wanting to do more, is awesome. The learning potential of this approach with the addition of Kahoot is amazing!

When I think back to my own high school music studies, I felt the freedom to compose and had the confidence to perform, but I struggled to describe my music and developing confidence in music theory was a real challenge to begin with. This memory has always given me determination to understand the needs of my students and to find the level of ‘breaking-down’ each requires to grasp a musical concept. Having said that, I was an active musician, rehearsing, performing and composing regularly. The challenge for a ‘students who is not actively playing or writing music’, is significantly greater.

I’ve written a lot in the last couple of years about the two GCSE Music pathways we offer at Manor CE Academy, York. Ultimately both cohorts achieve the same AQA GCSE qualification, but one course is designed for musicians and the other for ‘students who are not actively playing or writing music’. The two groups learn in completely different ways. All can access the full range of examination marks, but their approach to musical understanding is very different, with the ‘students who are not actively playing or writing music’ relying more on technology to learn and perform.

One of my major development projects in the ‘Music Production Via Technology’ pathway is finding methods for students to truly understand how music works and how it is described by listening. Importantly, they don’t have the opportunity to ‘internalise’ music as is one of the key benefits of playing an instrument. 

The biggest successes until recently were my ‘WordWall’ and ‘Tune of the Week’. Wordwall became a visual focus for all music students from years 7-11. Its prominence, covering the whole of one of the classroom walls, showing its importance for use and the coloured categories for each element helping students to see terms in their element categories. This tool has always helped with spelling and to help students to learn which terms are related to each element. However, it is just words on a wall and teacher explanations and demonstrations are needed to bring it to life. Brilliant for a whole class demonstration, but limited if used alone for students’ independent further study, other than as a starting point for things to look-up.

‘Tune of the Week’ was instantly successful as it took away the stigma students have of approaching musical styles they don’t normally listen to. Students became quickly aware that the first thing they would be asked to do at the start of a new week of learning in music was to listen. It developed a curiosity of what the next piece to explore would be. In addition, by studying the same ‘Tune of the Week’ as students in other year groups, some students began to have musical conversations between age groups, which is great for building a musical community bothered about what they can learn together. 

‘Tune of the Week’ was also successful by students using the TOTW template to answer questions each week. Students ‘knowing where to look’ and how to read the questions are aspects I’d overlooked before. Students quickly became more confident about writing down musical language. Together with the WordWall they found they ‘knew where to look’ more quickly, which is so important when searching through the 516 possible answers. 

Each week the activity is marked by student/teacher discussions, which in a 1-1 situation would be fine, but the waiting time for others is far from ideal. Students keep the record of the wrong answer and type the correction in the next column. A conditional formatted cell turns red or green to allow us to quickly see students who need more support. As useful as all this is, the activity takes 20 minutes each week so takes up a significant period in the first of the week’s two GCSE lessons. A restriction is that all students are given the same help, the same feedback and the same time to read and answer questions. The listening materials on Spotify, without lots of editing preparation, can only be played as full tracks, which is often challenging for ‘students who are not actively playing or writing music’ to unpick, as they ultimately will need to do for their GCSE exam. It certainly isn’t as ‘broken-down’ as would be preferred. 

Students learn simple musical terms first, then recognising them into the element categories. It is one challenge to learn the right word in the right category and to correctly define it by listening in a musical moment, it is another to have the confidence to write it down, and further to have the confidence to write it in a concise, meaningful, grammatically-correct sentence. 

A better, new solution using Kahoot!

The addition of the Kahoot app, has been a further significant advancement in the last three weeks. 

I took two decisions. Firstly to convert my ‘Tune of the Week’ GCSE resource into Kahoot quizzes and then to expand the method into the KS3 programme to help students to grasp key terminology earlier. I’m also currently working on the possibility of a solution useful from year 3 to 16 that could be rolled out into primary schools to support them. Into the future, this would be the ideal solution to support each individual student’s progress in music. 

Kahoot quizzes are easy to programme. Each 10-question Kahoot takes between 15-30 minutes to programme, including the time it takes to add YouTube video links. There’s a really helpful bank of Getty Images photos to quickly search for within the app and it’s easy to find suitable images. For specific theoretical ideas I want to show, just as I would draw on a white board, I can draw on my iPad with an Apple Pencil and then upload the image to the question.

The opportunity to display part of a video or a fragment of a notated score helps students to focus on the aspect they’re trying to understand.

I’ve upgraded my Kahoot membership to ‘Premium’ to be able to offer challenges to 2000 people at once, which although so far used only within my own academy, will eventually be offered to colleagues across the trust and beyond (at no charge). The premium membership also gives me additional question types, including the ability to request a specific, correctly-spelled, typed answer in additional to the multiple choice selections. It costs me £48/yr.

Students must type the answer with the correct spelling to be successful. It is possible to program a range of possible answers.

The greatest feature however, is the ability to select a very specific start and end time for my chosen YouTube clip. Using this, in addition to giving my students a full length clip to play, I can isolate a specific few seconds clip to focus their listening on the required aspect in the question. For example, in a focus on a classical piano sonata I wanted my students to be able to recognise specific melodic devices such as: scale, sequence and arpeggio. I chose excepts that gave students clear examples of these. Once discovered within the quiz, immediately students chose to discuss these using the appropriate terminology and discovering their meaning inspired them to try to use them in composition ideas. One improvement I will suggest to the team at Kahoot is to allow students to re-listen to the shortened clip when reviewing errors – currently they can only listen once and then listen to the whole YouTube video.

In the first week, the Kahoots were instantly appealing to the students. We always talk openly about how helpful the different resources are for learning and this new approach has been positively received. However, students’ experience of Kahoot-type quizzes before had been seen as a ‘game of chance’, which was fun because you could choose a crazy nickname to appear on the big screen and have some kind of online game-play in a school lesson. For this reason it was initially a challenge to encourage students to actually read the questions and answers, rather than just guessing the answer and watching the game unfold. I tweeted to suggest a period of time could be programmed into the game to prevent students from answering without thinking time. This was echoed by others online. 

But there was enough in that first week to suggest that this could be a very helpful tool, if I could solve the timing problem.

That solution was found by using the ‘student-paced challenge’ option. Rather than starting the quiz all together in the lesson, students received a link from me through Showbie a couple of days before the lesson. I could programme sufficient information to allow the students to begin independently and despite not sharing this plan, many students engaged without prompting. When I explained to the students that the question timer had been switched off, it was greeted  with much appreciation. Students told me how frustrating it had been that they didn’t have time to read and think before answering. The ‘student-paced’ option had majorly ticked the ‘differentiation’ box, as all individuals could take the amount of time they needed. Some students asked questions to confirm they had understood what was being asked and results were much higher instantly. It also became possible to be a ‘reader’ for those students who had that as an exam concession without the need for additional TAs.

Puzzles challenge students to sort information into a correct order to prove understanding. In this example the challenge is to sort the 4 2-bar phrases into the correct structure.

Another great part of the new challenge format is the instant opportunity to review the questions and audio clips they hadn’t understood. For many, this was the first time they’d understood what a sequence was in music and they now had an example to revise from. When played other examples, they could now identify all the melodic devices with more confidence. 

We’ve yet to test it, but the additional challenge to repeat the quiz 7 days later sounds like a good idea to consolidate learning. 

I tweaked a few things by the end of the 3rd week of testing (based on students’ feedback). The most helpful is routine. The successful routine for the KS3 experience is as follows:

All students arrive with better punctuality, looking forward to their music lesson

All students know the expectation to enter and begin their Kahoot at their own pace, recognising that the knowledge they’ll develop will help them in the practical work 

Students have 10 minutes to complete the quiz and revisit any problems, ask questions etc. (note the reduction in time from the original Tune of the Week)

I use the Apple Classroom app to lock all student iPads, which is their cue to move to sit at the front of the class

I model the practical task, directly based on the understanding developed in the Kahoot. This part of the lesson is short but allows time for whole group discussion with merits given for students who can confidently describe key aspects using the correct terminology

A set period of time to complete the practical task (15 mins max). The first 10 students who complete the work to the required (high) standard receive merits and become ‘Mini Mr Lowes’, spreading out across the room to support those who need help or have questions. Mini Mr Lowes may choose to develop their understanding further by solving problems with others or attempting more advanced tasks. All students have opportunity for feedback and help within the lesson. The environment for learning is electric and absolutely every student is on task.

We repeat the Kahoot at the end of the lesson to consolidate learning, as another chance to win merits and enjoy being able to confidently answer together. This is a choice for students – some prefer to continued to develop their work.

The lesson ends and it is a genuine challenge to get students to leave for their next lesson!

Students’ focus at the start of GCSE music lessons is improved by having the student-paced Kahoot at the start.

The most exciting aspect is the amount and depth of musical learning made possible for all learners. To show an example of this, these are the concepts covered in last week’s 1-hour music lesson for year 7.

  • Understanding a bass guitar, including discovering how it’s different to an electric guitar
  • Understanding the role of a bass guitar in a band, including how the bass player will listen to others to make their part ‘fit’
  • Understanding how to read bass notes from a lead sheet
  • Understanding and reading bass notes written on staff notation
  • Understanding note durations and rhythms including relevant terminology
  • Understanding metre and beats of the bar including helpful methods of counting
  • Understanding quantisation values and using them appropriately
  • Engaging in critical listening and based on findings, making musical improvements
  • Performing to a given pulse
  • Recording a musical part to fit dynamically and rhythmically with other parts
  • Editing a musical recording using technology to adjust note lengths and velocities
  • Understanding the process to develop a high quality music product
  • Understanding a positive workflow with frequent listening at the centre
  • Understanding the construction of a popular song
  • Understanding methods to develop work together as well as independently

This amount of learning is vast for an 11-12 year old student. That every single individual learner is engaged and wanting to do more, is awesome. The learning potential of this approach with the addition of Kahoot is amazing! 

More to come I’m sure…

Students at Manor CE Academy discussing analysis of Copland’s “Saturday Night Waltz” using Kahoot!

Using real-world knowledge to inspire confidence and ambition in music

‘Data’ is probably the least favourite word in a music teacher’s working life. Often ‘data’ relates to a series of numerical values and the need to find a ‘best fit’ to ‘make the data work’, rather than considering the real-world situation of each music student.

In the last few years changes in education have brought us ‘life without levels’, ‘9-1 GCSE grading’ and ‘flightpaths’ etc. These seemingly constant changes, have triggered some very helpful discussions with senior colleagues. Rather than requiring endless additional work, it’s created a genuine opportunity to question ‘What are we really trying to measure?’. It was a surprisingly easy conversation and presented a very simple outcome. ‘Knowledge’ was all that was needed. We need to get to Know each of our students as quickly as possible when they arrive at Year 7. It is helpful to Know about the types of musical experiences they’ve had in earlier life (or not had). We also need to Know about their home-life, their strengths and weaknesses, their ambitions and the things they worry about. However, little of this knowledge can be discovered through testing or by studying data from other subjects. We need to create opportunities to get to Know each student, to create a strong and positive, trusting, working relationship with them. A relationship in which they’re not afraid to give an answer or to question something they don’t understand. A relationship that inspires them to be confident and ambitious in their musical development. We want them to be passionate and independent in their own work and to have outstanding skills in communication and collaboration with others.

Rob Heath (@robheathmusic) tweeted recently about the challenges of grading performance skills, which has inspired me to write about this topic as soon as I could.

When I announced my intention to blog about assessment, Ally Daubney kindly directed me to the ISM Webinar from 2015 presented with Martin Fautley. It was fascinating, and very encouraging that many of my own decisions in curriculum/assessment design followed suggestions they made in the session, as well as giving me ideas to explore going forwards. If you’ve not heard it, definitely have a listen (https://www.ism.org/professional-development/webinars/a-guide-to-progression-curriculum-and-assessment)

In the Webinar, Martin spoke about ensuring the purpose of assessment was ‘what they learn’ (or Know), ‘not what they do’. They also challenged us to return to our values in musical learning. [for interest… during the session I listed these as my core values: understanding with enough confidence to create and share knowledge with others, creativity, functional understanding of how and why the different elements of music ‘work’, individual spirituality and reflection in approach, collaboration, internalisation, improvisation, application, control, invention, development, quality in production values and critical listening.]

The biggest challenge to overcome is time – the actual number of hours and minutes I have available to work with the young people. At this point it seems helpful to describe the context I’m working in. Going back 7 or 8 years, we were a Specialist School: Performing Arts and with that focus and extra funding had an amazing 3 hours/wk to teach every KS3 student in music, dance and drama. With the end of that funding and pressures elsewhere in the curriculum, our KS3 time was reduced to 2 hours/wk, although a new additional rotation subject was created to provide students with development in 2 essential key life skills; cooking and singing. This effectively ensured music education could continue to be 1-hr per week, although due to staffing and timetabling restrictions the hour unfortunately couldn’t be regular, making consistent progress more challenging. The singing part has now been lost to create more time in maths and English responding to the challenges of progress 8. Three subjects (music, dance and drama), does not easily split into 2 hours, but the collective impact we can have as a team on the lives of these young people far far outweighs personal ambition for any of the individual subjects.

Designing an inspiring and practical assessment model for KS3 Music

In music I have 19 hours per year to inspire each of my 468 current key stage 3 students. I teach all 468. Returning to the purpose of this blog post, designing an assessment model based on the values mentioned above, the DfE national curriculum programme of study and importantly, considering my own well-being and work/life balance, has to be approached passionately and positively. I also have to understand that that I might not be able to include everything as I want to, as there is a bigger picture to make it work within.

‘High Expectations’ as described in the first of the government’s teacher standards, is not enough with the given timeframe. ‘Sustained and exceptional expectations’ is required of all learners to instil the level of desire required to make any sort of comparable progress with students who have the luxury of a regular weekly hour.

Specific extra curricular activities are not an expectation within my teacher’s contract. However in addition to the 19 hours/yr, a possible 12 hours every week are available at lunch or in ‘after school’ time, to create more opportunities to develop relationships with our young people. In wanting to maximise how I can use those times, the assessment model has to not create marking in the lunch hour or in the time between 3.20 and 5.30 every day. When I first began in my teaching career (in 2008), I delivered the same ensembles programme every week and crammed in as much as possible, but, as popular as that was, it didn’t have the flexibility I now require to support the additional demands at GCSE and to lead the faculty.

To design this assessment model I’ve therefore had to think very critically about what I’m measuring and how much can be measured given the time available. It’s challenged me to develop more open-ended tasks, only limited by each student’s ambition. The way I approach differentiation has also changed with more projects having the same starting point, then having flexible directions and outcomes to suit the progress of the variety of abilities.

I’ve also been forced to develop how and when I assess students, considering the encouragement they each need as well as the type of informative feedback I give them. I’ve found the most helpful feedback is verbal as it’s then a real-world relationship-building conversation. That method of feedback is also instant, and if a student needs to make slight adjustments to improve quality or understanding, that change can be modelled there and then within seconds.

Students in KS3 all make different patterns of progress. Therefore it’s important that I’m flexible to be ready to assess them at any time of their choosing within a lesson. Usually when I’m not leading a whole class discussion or modelling an example at the front of the class, I use a countdown clock to indicate the time left in each assessment period. During that time students may approach the teacher’s desk with one of two purposes. To request support, guidance or clarification about something they’re learning, or to show me proof of understanding (and to receive the next challenge). This proof doesn’t necessary always relate to achievement of ‘a box’, but often it gives me the opportunity to celebrate with them on achieving something they could not ‘do’ or ‘understand’ before. When a student does achieve ‘a box’ I can instantly record that on my master sheet (as below) and the student has a place to colour-in that box on a course sheet, (like the one in the post title image), in Showbie on their iPad, enabling them to keep track of their own progress. Incidentally, all the course documentation for that unit of work is also instantly available to them in the same area on their Showbie app.

The amount of different musical concepts that students are learning in these projects is extensive, however if I try to measure too much, I’ll spend more time ‘measuring’ and they spend less time ‘doing’ and therefore have fewer opportunities to explore, reflect and understand. Therefore I minimise the points of assessment to give them clear outcomes to aspire to, and focus on helping them to discover what they need ;to learn with confidence in order to sufficiently understand and control each outcome.

Similar to Martin and Ally’s example, as a school we adopted a 3-stage assessment model for ‘life without levels’. In our case, the 3 are: Developing, Securing & Mastering. There are aspects to understand that ‘everyone’, ‘most’ and ‘few’ can access and these feature in the 3 stages respectively. However outcomes worthy of ‘a box’ are often:

– Developing – using relevant skills and showing a basic working knowledge

– Securing – the above, but with sufficient understanding and skill level to control the outcome with confidence

– Mastering – having complete control of the outcome to the point where something new can be developed or transformed into something new

I designed the statements to define each ‘box’ using the exemplar materials provided by PiXL. I adapted the language to help students to understand the types of understanding they needed to be confident in before they could achieve each box.

The master sheet excerpt (shown above) is a real-world document, with names omitted for obvious reasons. It demonstrates the amount of knowledge I can expect to accumulate about a class after their first six key stage 3 lessons. The bracketed/numbered sections are as follows:

1. Each student’s perception of their previous experience. If they had a music lesson every week at primary school or had weekly singing they ticked the middle box. If they have been learning to play an instrument, with or without a tutor, or have played in the past, they tick box 3. Otherwise they tick box 1.

2. The first two lessons are baselines. The first, a test exploring each student’s awareness of music by listening to musical changes, instruments, melodic shapes and rhythms and considering their awareness of notation and other musical terms. The average score is around 24/50. ‘Generally’ (and cautiously), students with scores below 24 will need significant extra support and additional encouragement when they start to create, with greater support being required as the score gets lower. Students scoring 30+ tend to have had regular classroom lessons previously and students who have also studied an instrument with a tutor score 40+. Only one student has achieved the top mark (50/50) in the last 4 years and it is unusual. The second baseline is a performance baseline. Students are given the letter-named notes of the “Happy Birthday” melody, a keyboard/piano with a guide of how to find the keys and 30 minutes to practise. After this independent period, we video every student giving their best performance. The range of outcomes is fascinating and a helpful indicator of the real-world musical starting point for each individual student. The students achieving ‘S’ at this point have been able to give a controlled performance. I recently posted a video on @DaveLoweMusic twitter of “the amazing” Sam from this year’s year 7. Sam’s progress is amazing from the ‘developing’ performance in week 1.

3. The codes along the top represent the boxes students are trying to achieve. D,S and M represent the difficulty of each box. When achieved, conditional formatting turns the developing boxes blue, the securing green and the mastering gold. For reporting purposes and when reflecting on progress it’s therefore instant to see where everyone’s up to.

To define the progress made by each student during the KS3 course, the boxes achieved have to be considered together with the latest product as created by the student. This ‘product’ could be as a performance, composition or combination of the two. I’ve found video evidence to be most helpful as long as you have a secure method to store the media and permission from each parent. Video is far better evidence than audio in being able to see the level of assurance and confidence each student has.

To be continued… developing knowledge for exceptional GCSE progression coming soon.