I haven’t blogged for a while about what’s going on in my classroom and department, so now we’ve finally reached the summer holidays, I thought it might be a good time to share my thoughts about what we’ve done and what we’ve got planned for 2018-19.
Last August I wrote about our plans for the year 17-18. These involved a fluid approach to SoW planning, without fixed-length projects, and the intention to try and keep plates spinning with regard to instrumental skills, singing, and musical understanding. A lot of what we tried out, we liked very much. The changes we have made for next year involve – as ever – moving some things around, taking some things out, and putting others in.
Last year’s curriculum map
Next year’s map
What’s changed, and why?
- We want the beginning of Year 7 to be even more explicit about establishing routines and some basic knowledge and skills. Early on we do a 3-chord mashup based on Next to Me by Emeli Sandé (C and Am with optional G – perfect for ukes and also for getting straight into playing inversions on keyboard, with just a thumb to move from C in second inversion to Am in root position).
- Playing Link Up (from the Lucy Green book Hear, Listen, Play) was too challenging for the first term – it is a brilliant thing to do, but we needed a more basic play-by-ear melody, which is why we’ve gone for Oh When The Saints first. There are still plenty of ways to differentiate this for the ablest (different key, add an accompaniment).
- We were also surprised at how difficult it was to do classroom workshopping (MF-style) so early on, and felt that this would actually be more beneficial later in the year, once routines have been established, rather than trying to establish the routines through the classroom workshopping.
- Just Play is still something we love very much indeed, especially now there are even more playalongs to choose from, particularly easy ones with just 3 chords. It is a great way to build up skills in a hugely differentiatable way, while building and maintaining good routines for practical work. We wanted it to be something that percolates through the whole of KS3, and so, along with singing, it runs alongside everything else we do. This might be as whole lessons in between other things, or parts of lessons where there is a split between JP playalongs and other work.
- We actually decided we wanted to be a bit more upfront about teaching the basics of rhythm and pitch notation. We acknowledge that fluency of notation-reading is not really achievable on one hour a week unless you make it an absolute priority, and build things up so that students practise between lessons. I don’t believe it is feasible if what you’re trying to do is provide a really broad KS3 curriculum; however, we wanted all our students to understand the basics and to be able to work rhythms and melodies out. So, Underground Music (a John Paynter project that is as old as the hills… well, it’s certainly from the early 80s, when the up-to-the-minute place for music teachers’ resources was something called Music File) has officially returned. It involves performing a rhythm piece by Paynter called And All Stations To… before creating and notating a rhythm composition based on tube station names. It’s simple but effective! For pitch notation we use Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know, which has just the right level of difficulty, and again is easily differentiatable for those who might already be fluent readers.
- Last year the Hamilton effect transformed the work we were doing on musical theatre. Alexander Hamilton has proved an incredible song to do as a classroom performance, with everyone learning how to play it and how to sing/rap it. The kids adore it and it covers some great technical points about how a chord sequence can be used effectively in songwriting. This, and a subsequent rap composition, has taken the place of our old musical theatre project that used the chords from Michael Nyman’s Time Lapse. The old project was simply too long, and when doing it with multiple classes, we began to feel somewhat tormented by the Time Lapse chords… we also didn’t feel that our students actually learned enough from the project – so it had to go. Doing a rap composition has enabled us to focus on creating a good accompaniment out of chords, with variety in texture, and thinking about lyrics and rhythm over the top without the complication of melody.
- Oh my word our students have LOVED doing Für Elise by ear! I wish I could email Beethoven and tell him what a hit he has with the youth of today. They love it as much as they love Hamilton! This is why we’ve put The Entertainer in as an additional play-by-ear, although other pieces may get tried as well, depending how the spirit moves. We have found it really beneficial to pick apart the thought processes that go into working out a piece by ear.
I don’t know who came up with Mad T-shirt – I first came across it on one of the GCSE groups on Facebook – but whoever you are, thank you. It is a great way for GCSE students to form (or consolidate) a mental schema for their knowledge about musical dimensions. We have adopted it for GCSE (we have made it OCR-specific), and thought it would be a great idea to have a KS3 version to use right from the start. This is how it looks:
We plan to use this as a knowledge organiser for KS3 music. It is on the walls in all of our teaching rooms, and a full version (which includes all the definitions) will be available to students via their class OneNote notebooks. Individual sections will crop up in slides for all our practical work, and feature heavily in Do-Nows (see below).
A whole-school priority next year is going to be classroom routines (to be quite frank, we’ve had a dip in the standard of general behaviour at my school, and a whole-school focus on this is very welcome). One of the things that is going to become ‘standard’ is the idea of the ‘do-now’ – an activity that students get on with as soon as they come into the room. We have ‘Star Trek bells’ at our school (in other words, there is no lesson changeover time, so as soon as one lesson finishes, the next one theoretically begins immediately, even though in reality that involves 1,700 people moving around a very large site) so students tend to arrive in dribs and drabs, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that it’s better to get them into the room rather than hanging about in the corridor until they’re all there.
We saw this as an opportunity to do some good spacing and interleaving of some core knowledge, and also drip-feed some wider listening in to our SoL.
I have already compiled quite a large collection of these. Some of them have specific pieces of music (as per the example above), while others are adaptable for use with any piece of music that the teacher can choose to go with the lesson (or provide wider listening):
Students will answer either on a random-name-picker basis, or with a whole-class answer (i.e. holding up their fingers to show the answer to a multiple choice question).
I have so loved using a melodica in my teaching this year! It is invaluable when I want to lead a whole-class performance from anywhere in the room – students can see what my fingers are doing, and it is loud enough for everyone to hear. It is also a whole lot easier to hold up in order to model fingerings/hand position/chord changes than a standard keyboard.
A little tour of my not-so-new room
I have been surprised at how many people have commented how much they enjoyed my previous classroom-tour video. So here is another one, for the ‘new’ room that I have been teaching in this year. There are a couple of good home-made (and student-proof) storage solutions here!