Don’t be shit: towards an ever-better KS3 programme


As Hanh Doan pointed out in her recent article for Music Teacher mag here, the best thing we can do to safeguard the position of music in schools is to stop moaning and not to be shit.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that my quest to not be shit is a never-ending one: one of the consequences of this is that I re-jig my KS3 programme every single year. While being a firm believer in ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, I do always want to tweak and improve. It is one of my little pleasures. I LOVE a little curriculum tweak.

‘Isn’t that an awful lot of work?’ I hear you ask. Well, no, not really, because I don’t write much down at all. Lesson plans, shmlesson shplans. It is an exercise in seeing the wood despite the trees: a map rather than a sat nav.

I’ve written before about our KS3 jigsaw, although it didn’t look as pretty as this last time I posted it: Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 16.12.18

This is a carefully-thought-out list of priorities, really… what we’ve decided is important enough to include in our precious KS3 curriculum time. As the years go by, I am ever-more aware that we cannot afford to waste any lesson time on things that are not musical. If the students are coming into my music room, I want them to be actively engaged in music while they’re there. Not colouring in an orchestra diagram, writing out a table of note-values, literacy or numeracy tasks, discovering things for themselves (yes, they might discover an E flat minor chord by accident, or I could just teach it to them in a hundredth of the time), answering ‘guess-what’s-in-my head’ questions, or doing endless self-assessment, peer-assessment or evaluation (yes those last three things are quite nice, but really not of enough value to spend precious time on them in music lessons – besides, they get an absolute bellyful of them elsewhere).

The great thing about this jigsaw is that it focusses the mind not on what students will be doing in lessons, but what they will be learning. One big consequence of this is that I have moved almost entirely away from a chunkular, topic-based, cook’s tour kind of KS3 scheme of work. You know, the sort of thing that goes 1. blues 2. junk percussion 3. musicals. I thought for a while that it was a growing aversion to genre-based SoL (remember that initiative in about 2008 that said that EVERYTHING had to be rooted in a genre, with loads of context, and you weren’t allowed to do a topic on a musical feature, say, ostinato? That. OK I do have an aversion to that, or maybe an aversion to being told I’m not allowed to do something…) However, I have come to the conclusion that it’s an aversion to music teachers saying that they’re doing keyboards, or doing musicals. What are you doing with the keyboards? And why are you doing musicals – what will the students actually learn? 

So, what does our KS3 curriculum look like now? Here it is:

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 16.13.08Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 16.13.22

I have written before about Musical Futures Just Play resources and how brilliant I think they are. Other essential things mentioned in the overview are resources for playing by ear from Lucy Green’s brilliant book Hear, Listen, Play! which comes with audio for various pieces, some of which are specially-composed, riff-based ones like Link Up, which I do with Year 7s in the first term, and some classical ones like Für Elise, which I include because kids just love being able to play it, and I just love telling them that it is not, in fact, pronounced Furry Lies.

Classroom workshopping is taken in its entirety from Musical Futures resources, and the reason it’s there is because it does a lot of great stuff in a very short amount of time (much like Just Play). It gets students feeling the music, watching for cues, developing ensemble skills, learning how to compose and improvise, and understanding structure, all at once. It takes a bit of practice to facilitate it well, but it’s well worth the effort in terms of the leaps in musicality and confidence that students demonstrate. Body percussion stuff is derived from the inspiration of the wonderful Ollie Tunmer at Beat Goes On – check out the website for great resources and ideas, or, better still, get your local hub to get him in to do a workshop. The resources we use in Year 9 for band skills stuff are from Trinity Rock and Pop. Songwriting follows the MF SoL, which never fails…

Homework… the latest

I have written before about the changing face of homework in my department. Teacher input in homework is now entirely front-end: that is to say, I put quite a lot of work into sorting out homework resources in advance, and then that’s it. No marking, no feedback. We used to spend HOURS marking and giving the most amazing feedback ever on extended homework research projects (the best of which were amazing, but the general standard of which was pretty crap). Not any more – partly because one of my departmental colleagues now has a small baby, and the other is a head of year and spends most of his time chasing up behaviour incidents. None of us has time to produce detailed homework feedback that then doesn’t have any kind of follow-up.

So technology and a bit of forward planning has come to our aid. I use Office Mix (an PowerPoint extension that is quite addictive – the only downside is that it won’t run on a Mac) to create bespoke videos. Here’s one I made on how music is put together:

As a school we have recently got ourselves Show My Homework. It is brilliant. It was devised by a teacher (I hope they have made an absolute mint from it) and systematically eliminates every single crap homework excuse in existence. Homework is there on a to-do list when they log in (there is a phone/tablet app too) and parents have a log-in too. All the resources they need are there. Awesome. Through SMHW I can set a homework task to watch the video, and then answer a set of multiple choice questions on the content. This is marked automatically, and students can see straight away how well they have done (as can I, and their parents). So, a lot of front-end organisation, but after that, no hassle whatsoever. Time spent doing the prep is paid back in spades later on.

So, the knowledgey, theoryish, part of what we do at KS3 is covered by the homework, then followed up in lessons with related practical work. A little bit of flipped learning, really.


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