I want to focus on one particular class in this blog, looking retrospectively at the first 12 lessons I have had with them, the music we have created and how I have used assessment, formative and summative. I want to apply some of the points that Martin Faultley raises in his excellent blog about assessing without levels to see whether there are aspects of this that I could have included and if so, how I may have done it differently.
Class: Year 8
Demographic: In the context of our school, in this class there are an unusually large number of students with SEN and students eligible for free school meals. 2 new students have joined the group since September about whom I have received no music-specific information.
Last year: their teacher was absent for most of the summer term, they had a variety of cover lessons most of them involving written work.
You might not think much of the recordings, but the progress they have made as a group in terms of confidence, key skills (using pulse, timing, basic instrument skills, ability to engage in whole class warm ups), completing ‘prep’ tasks getting to know me and vice versa has been really encouraging. It hasn’t been easy and I have been tempted to give up at various stages along the way. I’m proud of them though.
Of course I have given each student a level and a target and set and marked written work in order to stick a yellow sticker in their booklets to show that I’m using the school marking policy. But if I take levels out of it, I want to identify exactly what I did. I must have been constantly assessing, diagnosing, differentiating, problem solving and trying again. Have I followed an AFL process or created an AFL ethos as we have worked through the tasks and is there anything here that I could work up into a new approach to assessing music lessons in my department? Or is assessment so intrinsically bound into the practical, informal approach I use, that separating it from the musical ‘process’ is impossible? Maybe I’m not assessing enough or in the ‘right way.
Just what is the ‘expected level’ for these students?-that’s something I have never been able to firmly pin down in my classes. If a grade 5 flautist tries out the guitar what should I expect them to be able to do? Should every year 7 student be able to play in time to a pulse? I have some that really can’t manage that, yet if they have had no musical experience of pulse in their primary school, should I allow for that? How do I know if it’s a lack of experience and practice or an issue with keeping a pulse..or singing at pitch…or having some basic instrumental skills (but what might that be on piano, guitar, clarinet, djembe?). How can I assess creative skills such as composing and improvising, without any basic skills, what baseline do I use as a start point (because I REALLY dislike having to use Fisher Family Trust and CAT/SAT scores/spelling ages). I can get some baseline data of my own, but it’s gonna take a few weeks at least to create a piece of music to assess. And so it goes on. And on.
PS Levels are here to stay in my school. Official.
Oh and I have 2 jobs, 3 small children and nowhere near enough time to research and think as deeply about things as I would like to so if I am way off the mark here I hope people might put me straight.
The next step for me is to mull this over while I do some thinking about the #mufuchat topic for this week-the place of ‘classical music’ in the classroom. But I’ll be back!