The other session I led at #mf2 was about assessing Musical Futures (OK, I can hear the collective groan now). In Australia, assessments seems far simpler. Teachers devise rubrics and assess students against these. I felt quite envious that they don’t have to deal with some of the issues we do as teachers of music in England. I won’t list them here as they make me depressed and I’m coming back from this trip with so many ideas and positive thoughts about music in schools that I want to hang onto those rather than dwell on the frustrations I’m coming back to.
However, as I led the session, I realised that whatever we have thrown at us to cram into our teeny hour per week (literacy, numeracy, key words, levels, speaking and listening, DIRT, marking policies and on and on it goes…) we MUST look first at what already exists in our lessons before bringing some new piece of paper or work book so that we can say we’ve complied.
One of the examples that came up in the session was of teachers asking students to fill in a log sheet. This could have their lesson objective at the top and at the end of the lesson they could make a note of what they have done. This is a great idea and I’ve seen it done a lot in the UK.
However, I’ve also seen how this can make more of a burden for us as teachers if it’s scrutinised too closely by an observer.
What happens if the students veer away from their original objective as so often happens in Musical Futures lessons? It’s usually quite a good thing, they start with one intention then realise they need to address something else first, so we help them to do this. The conclusion that ‘they didn’t meet their learning objective’ could be damning if that’s a non-negotiable for the observer. If they hadn’t written it down, the observer may have talked to the group about what they want to achieve in the lesson and what they hear could be far more complex and sophisticated than they are able to write down underneath the date.
Similarly, I find the ends of the lessons to be the most productive time in my lessons. The faffing with instruments and equipment is done, minor squabbles settled and they are often producing some quality work. So if this is the case, why stop them, give them a piece of paper and tell them to fill it in unless you are sure that it’s going to help them in the next lesson?
There are still rooms to be tidied, decisions to make amongst the group about who is doing what before next lesson, so often they will scribble a rushed few words dump their sheet and disappear. Again, the observer could argue that the quality of their written work, spelling, literacy isn’t acceptable in that lesson, that’s not what we want either! There may be better ways to do it. Get it recorded or videoed, they may record it on their phones so they have a marker of where they have got to and what they have achieved. Or why not play dangerously and every now and again just let them work right through. They can share what they have done verbally with anyone that wants to know! I’m a fan of regular performances as well, but not at the end of every lesson. I’ve heard too many forced Q and A sessions where a teacher is desperately trying to to coax a keyword out of the class in response to a group performance and ends up giving them the answers as they dash out of the door because they are out of time.
These are examples of music teachers trying to prove what they already do well. I’m wildly generalising, I’m sure there are some real quality examples of these log sheets being completed to a high standard and impressive quality discussions and performances at the end of every lesson. But in my classroom I find the hour goes too fast and I can’t get my students to recognise the value of this when they could still be working on their piece. We do it in other ways, at various times in a project they complete an online questionnaire or do a piece of written feedback, but it’s given time and importance and I explain how it will be used to help me plan or support them better or to assess how they have understood the musical processes they are going through.
So the next time you are told to include something in your lessons that could be in danger of getting in the way of musical learning that’s going well, stop and step back. There’s a chance it’s already happening and you might be able to tease it out, rather than invent something that creates more work for you and doesn’t do much to move their musical learning forward. If it’s not there then there may be a way to do it, but let’s look inwards at our musical practice first before we look outside the music classroom for solutions.