VIPs in Music

Most surprisingly, students continued to develop their music work when they arrived home and continued to ask me questions until 8pm on Friday night and then again this morning. That doesn’t normally happen!!

In last week’s #PTProject2021 article I mentioned the importance of independence in a student’s approach to learning.

On Monday (8th March 2021) we returned to face-to-face school lessons for all students, having been at home in remote learning for UK Covid Lockdown 3 since the 5th January.

I’d learned so much, and been so inspired by the incredible developments my year 9-11 GCSE students had made in remote learning. I fell swiftly back down to earth in the first KS3 lesson on Monday morning. It was carnage! Not behaviourally, although this particular group can be challenging. But the learning environment was a mixture of students who (for many reasons) hadn’t found or been able to access the remote work I’d set in the previous 2 weeks since half term, or they had become completely dependent on the adults in their life during lockdown. There was a lot of noise, a lot of panic, worry, frustration and very little learning could happen. It made me realise, these kids needs greater encouragement and a ‘reset’ to their approach of school life. In context, this was their first lesson since returning.

Mr Lowe feeling completely inspired following a day as a VIP at the sound stages and back lot at Universal Studios Hollywood – awesome!

After much thought over Monday night, on Tuesday morning I taught another similar group, also year 8 (31 students, aged 12-13). I opened the lesson with this question… “What is a VIP?” This instantly got the students’ attention, all of them! They visibly began to imagine and confidently told me it was a Very Important Person, which I reminded them that is something each are to me as I teach them. However I’d decided to create a status in the lessons to name students as VIPs, which as with the term known to them would come with lots of perks or benefits. I asked them what else the ‘I’ could stand for that could be relevant to me as a teacher. Their answers were brilliant; instrumental, irritating, ignorant… but eventually they reached the correct answer… INDEPENDENT!!

We discussed how they did depend on adults at the moment for home, food, clothing etc.. but in the future, they would be independent and organise these things for themselves. Independence we found was a bit like feeling a sense of confident freedom and I explained that this very much how an ‘independent learner’ feels.

The most helpful starting point for ‘how to be independent’, can only be determined by the student. They have to choose to ‘have a go’. Then if they are missing specific information or understanding, they of course can ask at any time, but it’s far more positive to say “Can you give me some advice to help me to play this rhythm in time?”, as opposed to “I can’t do it”. The confidence then begins to grow.

My agreement was that students who hadn’t started yet at all, or had done the first analysis wrongly would do the first task with me. If they got it perfect, which did require some questioning on their part, they would receive a merit. All students who had completed at least one task remotely (independently) in the previous 2 weeks were immediately given the VIP status and given the challenge that if they could solve the next part of the project independently, they would receive 3 music merits. They weren’t completely left with no help as I’d prerecorded my teaching and modelling to my on-demand YouTube channel. This announcement was met with great happiness and then silent determination across the class as they went straight to work without prompting. As I started to teach those needing the most encouragement, I explained that if they could have determination in their learning it was possible to complete the initial task I was helping with and earn the VIP status in time to also achieve the more advanced challenge. Two students made this amazing progress within the hour.

The environment was incredible. Every student on task; listening, reading, inventing, exploring, recording, editing, questioning, calm and so many were successful.

I ran the VIPs approach with Year 7 yesterday. On a Friday I teach 4 hours back-to-back of year 7. (120 students aged 11-12). If anything, the outcomes were even better for the morning classes. I’ll need to add more support for some in the afternoon, but I also have to remember Friday afternoon is always tough – it’s their 24th and 25th lessons of the week and they’re very tired by then, especially in this first week back after lockdown.

My promise to the students at the ends of the classes was to mark their work before I went to sleep on each day. It took until 7.30pm last night to mark the latest work by the 120, and the year 8s I also taught yesterday, but the progress and enjoyment was incredible. Most surprisingly, students continued to develop their music work when they arrived home and continued to ask me questions until 8pm on Friday night and then again this morning. That doesn’t normally happen!!

‘Music VIPs’ has been a amazing tool for this week – it will definitely feature in all my KS3 work from now on. 👍

This is the Year 7 project I’m teaching as we transition from remote learning.

This is the Year 8 project.

On the original set from the TV series “Friends” (Warner Bros. Deluxe VIP Tour)
Surrounded by the original work of so much film history and amazing creativity – in the vault when visiting as a VIP guest to Paramount Pictures – incredible privilege!
Mr Lowe at Sony Pictures

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!