From the archives – From Good to Outstanding

In 2012 I started to write some reflections on what went on in my classroom on my blog Mrs Gower’s Classes. Mixed in with student work and the nitty gritty of day to day life in the music department, they tell an interesting story of 10 years working in Music Education in the UK. 10 years on, I am collating these so that they exist in once place.

To launch my new project ‘Music Now’ which will be a collection of these blogs, I am sharing the very first post I wrote reflecting on an INSET session I led for fellow teachers entitled ‘From Good to outstanding’.

Of course, as was the trend, arts subjects and PE were grouped together for staff training sessions like this and hilariously, at my school the seating went in order of priority of subjects with English, Maths and Science at the front, Humanities and Languages then Art, Drama PE and Music squished in at the back!

There were some positive outcomes from the session and we did decide to try to work more closely together as a group of teachers to try to avoid feeling isolated in our own smaller departments. It was good to work together in a group, rather than be lectured from the front by someone more familiar with core subjects than Arts and PE.

So to kick off the Music Now Project, here is the very first blog I wrote and you can read the original post and access the audio referred to in the article here.

At our INSET entitled ‘from good to outstanding’ at the start of term, I was asked to teach a lesson I had done previously to try to prompt discussion about what is an outstanding lesson in an arts subject. The group consisted of teachers from art, drama, music and design technology.

The thing is, the more I think about it, the more I am wondering whether there is any such thing as simply an outstanding lesson. My new scheme of work with year 7 has been about so much more than just individual lessons week on week. The projects develop organically, I start with an idea of what I think we will do, but the students have been so creative that it seems to grow and change according to their responses! So if you asked to show one outstanding  individual lesson, I don’t think I could do it. I could direct you to groups of students working feverishly on creating and performing music, learning together regardless of ability and prior experience. I could show you how I’m trying to encourage them to describe the music using relevant vocabulary and teasing out exactly what they played and the relevance of this to the piece of music as a whole. I could tell you the level at which they are working and you’d see me suggesting ways they can move their learning forward as I work around the class or groups. But whether they could tell you their level or not (and whether this matters) is a whole other blog. If outstanding teaching includes a 3/4/7 part lesson, complete with planned questioning, a ‘settling’ starter activity, mini plenaries and EVERY activity closely linked to National Curriculum levels then I’m afraid I fall at the first hurdle. But you can listen for yourself if you click on the D year learning journeys for the house music composition task on this blog.

Back to the point. I was given 45 minutes and I wanted teachers to experience a lesson from a student perspective. Can we remember what it’s like to be put on the spot, asked to improvise, contribute an idea, perform in front of peers? Do we ever really consider what students are experiencing in our lessons? Are they learning? The track above is the outcome we produced in our 45 minute lesson. I explained how this piece of music would then form the basis of the next point of study. In this case I identified ‘the elements of music’ traditionally our first year 7 project (not any more). How could we use the piece we had just created to learn about what the musical elements are, what they sound like and how we can manipulate them to create new sounds?

We never did discuss what was outstanding about that lesson. However it did open up a discussion amongst us about why as creative subjects we aren’t leading on creativity across the school. Fear of missing targets, of having to produce work that stands up to the ‘work scrutinies’ that SLT carry out periodically and the worry that we won’t tick the boxes were just a few issues raised. But one outcome was that we have pledged to try to work together more to look at what our subjects have in common and how we can learn from the approaches we use to offer a truly creative experience for our students. I’m looking forward to seeing how this moves forward (once the coursework is in, moderated, collated, sent off, breakfast, after school and weekend revision sessions are over and the exam season finished). Will we manage it? I hope so.

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