From the archives: From Good to Outstanding, April 2012

My current mission is to revisit old blog posts from when I first started writing to see how much has changed in music education since I wrote these early articles.

This post entitled ‘From Good to Outstanding’ was first published in April 2012 on my classroom blog mrgsowersclasses (original link here)

Re-reading this I wonder why in this INSET task they grouped the arts subjects together-highlighted in bold as it jumped out at me. I wonder if more could have been learned in cross-subject groups, in days where these subjects were far less marginalised than they are today. I don’t remember us sticking to our plan to share better across our subjects. There was no formal follow up to this session so I don’t know if it had any impact other than have a chance to make some music together and maybe challenge some myths about what we did in music at the school. A missed opportunity like so much in-school INSET time can be? Maybe.

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 me 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 some of the recordings that have survived on my original classroom music blog mrsgowersclasses accessible by clicking here 

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.

Creativity and music education part 1

This year I submitted the session outline copied below, to the Music Education Expo, Manchester and was fortunate to have been chosen to deliver this presentation alongside fellow freelance music education consultant Alan Cameron at the event in October.

I didn’t end up giving the presentation as I was working elsewhere, but I am looking forward to wrapping this work into a new creativity pilot project that I will be working on in 2019.

As I was reading Martin Fautley’s latest blog and subsequent comments and discussion which calls asks for some consideration of similar points in the context of KS3 music in the UK, I was reminded of this report and the presentation and workshop I had planned to give.

It got me thinking about how much attention we pay as music teachers to how we can create and nurture an environment in which both students and teachers can explore creative approaches to music education – both in teaching and learning – and navigate the barriers that are thrown up along the way.

So I’m off to tackle my farily extensive ‘creative education’ reading list for the Christmas holidays. Any suggestions for what should be on it?


The 2014 UNESCO report entitled Nurturing creative thinking (Kampylis and and Berki) identifies the following suggestions for ways in which creativity in education can be re-examined:

  • what students learn (e.g. a diverse range of skills and subject content following their own learning pathways);
  • how they learn (e.g. learning approaches and methods such as problem-based learning, constructivism, self-organised learning, instructional design, game-based learning);
  • where they learn (e.g. in any location within school buildings, foyers, lounges, common spaces and corridors, home, a youth club, or indeed in the street);
  • when they learn (e.g. after formal school hours and at any age);
  • who they learn with (e.g. not only with teachers and classmates, but also with a range of other people, such as peers, experts, and people near to or far from them, and by themselves with self-organised learning methods, etc.); and
  • for whom and why they learn (e.g. not just for themselves or for future employers, but also for their fellow citizens, society and industry, and for the world as a whole).

As part of a new partnership announced in 2018, Musical Futures International and Soundtrap have been exploring their shared vision for expanding opportunities for teachers and students to better embrace creativity and collaboration that starts in the music classroom but that isn’t limited by location, space or how people engage with music learning.

A synergy of hands on, engaging, practical music workshops and new ways to collaborate creatively online using cloud-based platforms across a range of devices has opened up new ways to embrace self taught learning within the more formal structures that traditionally exist within music education.

This session will explore through a practical workshop some of the points raised in the UNESCO report and model ways to start to acknowledge, use and nurture them in the classroom.

2) A practical workshop will establish key musical ideas from within the group and model the building blocks of composing and improvising. This will then lead to a practical example of how these can be supported and built upon using music technology both within the classroom and in students’ own time.

3) Delegates will be provided with a resource to use with their students to build on the learning from the session. There will be an opportunity for discussion and the sharing of ideas for how this might have an impact on classroom practice and to address some of the challenges that are raised by the UNESCO report.