Key Words – “caught not taught”?

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Musical Futures International offers teacher professional development and workshops across the world – find out more here

A few months after I wrote my blog about Key Words and the value of using these in context as opposed to focussing on the elements of music as distinct entities, I started to work on a new Musical Futures approach for primary teachers and students which eventually became known as Just Play.

At the time, my role was as Head of Development for Musical Futures in the U.K. and my remit was to work in partnership with Musical Futures Australia to develop an approach to support generalist primary teachers to deliver whole class music making with their classes.

The resulting training and resource offer has since been adopted as one of the key Musical Futures approaches and is currently being delivered to over 2000 teachers across Australia as well as in Asia, UAE, New Zealand, Europe and the U.K.

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Confident Kitt

My second school visit this week was to Wymondham to visit Musical Futures Teacher Kitt. I was looking forward to seeing how he’s been getting on in his first Head of Music role. Kitt spent his second placement at Monks Walk and he has always been committed to embedding Musical Futures approaches, pedagogy and ethos into his teaching, giving it a personal twist to suit his own teaching style and musical values.

In both schools I visited this week, I was impressed not just with the engagement of the classes we watched but also the consistency of expectations and musical competency the students showed. They all participated, performed, shared, played informally to each other, talked about the work and stayed on task. For the majority of the lesson they were engaged in musical activity whether this was warm ups, rehearsing in groups or listening to each other. There was no written work in either lesson, no painful Q and A about the elements of music, however there was clear musical progress made and no question at all that they were learning-I could feel it, see it, hear it. It was in the conversations between the students during group work, the nodding of heads in time to the pulse, recognisable musical outcomes, ensembles coming together.

This week I saw Musical Futures teachers with a very clear understanding of what they were teaching, how they wanted to facilitate learning and why this made sense in the context of their personal musical values, their departments and tailored to suit the demographic of their students. But I also saw how embedded Musical Futures is into every year group, it’s definitely not a “MF-style 6 week rock and pop project” in these schools!

In just 5 weeks at Wymondham, Kitt has gone into his new role with a clear vision. Desks have gone, new equipment prioritised, ordered and set up, other staff supported to bring in MF approaches with all year groups.

This is what we have been looking for

But I was most impressed by what happened at the end of the day. MF Australia director Ken and I delivered a practical session after school to 6 local primary school music co-ordinators, a music hub representative, a woodwind teacher from the school who stayed unpaid because she was interested and 2 6th form girls who thought they might like to be primary school teachers.

We worked through a couple of the Musical Futures: Just Play resources and at the end discussion started about how this group could make Just Play possible for their schools. What really seemed to resonate with the group was that because JP is scaffolded for generalist teachers it has the potential to be sustainable, for the primary children in feeder schools to then progress through to an established and secure Musical Futures experience that really does build on what they can already do and have learned. Imagine what impact a shared cross-phase approach or pedagogy as opposed to a transfer of information between year 6-7 could have.

Credit to Kitt for pulling this group together and generating such interest in only 5 weeks in the job and for engaging his classes impressively quickly in a new approach, so different from what they were doing before.

I love the idea of local clusters of schools coming together to design, create, drive and sustain an Musical Futures cross-phase approach that works for them. I’m hoping that I’ll be back in Norfolk soon to work with teachers who are doing it for themselves.

Baseline-Ours or Theirs?

As the new school year is looming, there’s lots of talk about baseline testing for music. What ‘tests’ do people use, how do they convert test scores into levels/grades/whatever the heck they are using in the post-levels era?

It seems there’s a real market for the perfect baseline test, one that solves all the problems and provides the solutions.

In this post I reflected on the minefield that is often the start of the year 7 experience in music. But whose baseline is it anyway?

mrsgowersclasses

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What happens when you get to year 6? Chatting to a friend with a child just coming to the end of primary school they told me how suddenly everything changed. Gradually the topic work that brought together geography, history, art, science decreased and the volume of homework grew and grew. Sheet after sheet of mock questions came home, there were extension groups that meant missing younger years doing class assemblies, RE and topic left to PPA cover and the child grew disillusioned with school and increasingly stressed about the pressure they and their teacher were under. Tales of being shouted at by the deputy head and behaviour in class deteriorating worried the parents, yet there wasn’t a thing they could do. As a borderline level 6 student the pressure was on. When I asked the child about the last term before the SATs he can only remember literacy, writing and…

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Do you have to be a musician to teach music

As Musical Futures launches their “Just Play” pilots designed to be led by generalist primary music teachers (no musical experience required!) in Australia and Scotland in the next 2 weeks, I’m revisiting a debate that always raises controversy and rightly so!

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Emile Holba

And do you have to be musical to teach music. Is there a difference?

I want to try and clarify my stance on this by looking at some of the things I have taught and seen others teach over the years and in particular how it has been taught.

Fresh from Uni I was armed with a music degree and having had plenty of opportunities to perform in a variety of musical contexts on several instruments I certainly thought of myself as a musician at the time. However, I don’t think, looking back, that I was particularly musical. As part of my PGCE we did some improvising and without notation, I froze. I certainly didn’t consider myself to be any kind of composer and singing without the comfort of the formality of a choir with a conductor and the music was my least favourite activity. I shied away from conducting…

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