‘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.