A Wall of 2 Sides – increasing students’ learning ambition in Music

One wall in the Manor music department is more important than any other.

Side A – The Wall of Fame

The Wall of Fame is a visual display to celebrate the achievements and progress of Music students choosing to study for graded exams. Students have a choice as to whether or not they would like to be included on the wall. On entering the academy, or completing their latest grade, exam students use a board in the music room to write down their details of instrument, grade and result. For GDPR reasons they must also sign and date to confirm they’re happy for this information to be displayed. A new coloured slip is then created and added to the Wall of Fame. The slips are in the three colours to show whether a student has received a pass, merit or distinction in their grade. This encourages discussion between students at all levels about the aspects of exams they struggle with.

A student must achieve at least a ‘grade 1 pass’ to be added to the board. When they achieve a higher grade, the previous slip is removed and they move up the wall, attempting to reach grade 8 by the time they leave us after year 11, which is usually achieved by 2 or 3 students each year. Through our tutor team, students are encouraged to develop technical competence and musical understanding, rather than focusing on taking back-to-back grades, but the most committed and passionate students can make an incredible amount of progress in a relatively short period and we are constantly challenged to create higher expectations.

Students walk past the ‘A side’ of the wall every day, whether they have a music lesson or not. Students are proud to have their achievements shown and they are encouraged to move up the wall during their time with us. Community is so important at Manor and students are encouraged to build good relationships with other musicians in the academy, no matter what year they’re in. Younger students see our higher grade students as role models and as they get older, or more advanced in their studies, they aspire to become leaders themselves.

As a leader in music it is great to celebrate with them in this way and so important that I keep track of where everybody is up to. It also helps when planning our extra-curricular programme.

Side B – The WordWall

I created the first version of the WordWall as a result of a piece of action research in my NQT year at Huntington School, York. The enquiry was looking at how we could help students to use appropriate vocabulary in their learning. The ‘wall’ began with around 200 words, but has evolved over time and its use has inspired students to be more ambitious in their studies. The latest version of the WordWall (shown above) has now developed to over 500 words. The terminology hasn’t changed in the last ten years, but the depth of understanding we are now seeking has increased greatly. This is incredibly exciting. It is not really creating more work for us, but a greater opportunity that allows us to understand more music and in more detail. The expansion challenges students to be more passionate and determined in their approach to the study of music than ever before.

How does it work?

The WordWall is fundamental in every lesson and makes musical language the starting point, reference point and focus. Towards the bottom of the wall, the ‘elements of music’ are printed in bold. These categories of musical words have a column each and are printed onto different colours of card. Elements that are closely related to each other are given a similar colour, for example ‘pulse’ and ‘tempo’. Students find it helpful to remember terminology in categories rather than individual words, just in the same way as they recognise foods as fruits, meats and breads etc. Above each element, there is a list of related ‘musical words’. The order of the words is important in each column. Dynamics, for example, are ordered from top to bottom as loud to soft. Below the elements in bold, there are words to remind students of their meaning, but these are not then used when students give answers. They just act as a safety net.

Lessons often focus on experiencing and discovering what a word means, before then having opportunity to explore how it feels to sing, perform or compose with that concept in mind. Students are encouraged to think of each term in its category or context and discuss an alternative or combination of words (or devices). This approach ensures that students are not just learning words, but understanding tools to use, which is great for composing.

The concept of printing key terminology to stick on a classroom wall has been around for years, but this is not a poster… it is an entire wall! It is very much an evolving resource as students discover more helpful ways to order the information too. The ultimate aim is to be able to describe any piece of music, from any year and from any culture or country.

I recently spoke at the Education Expo conference at Old Trafford, Manchester. During the panel discussion, a delegate asked how I even begin to plan to teach the increased depth of content in the newly reformed GCSE curriculum. I explained that, in the lesson time we have available, it is just not possible to teach every style and genre of the last 400 years. The students would also not be inspired to learn in that way. However, I can encourage my students of how to listen, how to analyse and crucially, how to discover the terminology that all of our music has in common to the point where they can confidently understand it and create their own.

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