A new tool with value for students to track their investments in musical learning

When filming the recent BBC Inside Out programme, I was drawn to consider the challenge of student accountability. In particular, that Key stage 3 students are rarely challenged individually to prove their understanding or progress. Using the traditional (non-iPad) approach the whole class listened to the lesson, but weren’t each expected to show understanding within the hour. In reality it is a great challenge to continually assess understanding for each of 30 individuals when only seeing them once a week at most. In a further conversation with visiting colleagues from a local independent school on Friday, we reflected on how often students in this age group are assessed in pairs, which so often doesn’t given teachers a true reflection of each individual’s development.

Over the last 2 years I’ve been working on a new approach to track musical progress for students in years 9 and 10, which will eventually be for 9-11. (And I hope ultimately for students in years 3 -11).

Much of this system had been hidden so far to allow me to test its usefulness, but it’s now live, with my students fully engaged. Early indications have shown them having much intrigue and the tool has created much positive conversation about the development of learning.

The more we attempt to test our young people, the fewer opportunities they have to explore and create music, so I’m thinking more and more about which systems we use in our schools and which add true value to learning. If there isn’t a value and it’s just a mechanism for teacher accountability, it needs to stop. However if the value genuinely helps to support and inspire the student, it’s worth the investment.

For this solution to be successful, it must therefore be simple, openly understandable for all stakeholders with little guidance and create no cost or time to operate.

I was partly inspired by an old toy coin sorter, similar to the one in the picture below. This visual ‘money box’ was, other than being a gadget to sort your loose change (as you watched each coin roll down the slide at the top), an encouraging way to see your savings grow. In the same way students are encouraged to see their learning or understanding grow, but it’s often difficult to see an overview, progress and impact of their development all together.

A key feature of the design was to be able to see the different components at the same time as the overall impact.

The Progress in GCSE Music chart is the overview for each individual on their GCSE Music course. Importantly it is just a single A4 page. The lower table shows every key assessment point. Note, there aren’t more than these in the 3-year course to maximise ‘time doing’.

The image at the top is a quick look-up of my musical flightpaths. Based on their unique musical starting point, students begin on one of the coloured lines. Musical developments are not linear. The lines simply reflect the fact that students, as they learn, should understand more over time. The variation in rate of change between different lines reflects the change in rate of progress within the 3 years that students I’ve taught developed when beginning from the different starting points. How quickly and deeply they learn is a personal choice, together with how well they are supported and how much determination they have to develop. Their individual ‘feeling’ at each moment in the course also has a significant impact on how much progress they can make. I was recently inspired by a workshop with Hywel Roberts and from subsequent student discussions, decided his ‘3 states of student interaction’ was a key inclusion on the chart. We can change how we think, but it’s much harder to change how we feel as so many live factors contribute to this.

The three ‘states’ I ask students to reflect on are:

Dependent – they are here (in the class), but completely rely on the teacher to share knowledge

Bothered – their learning and the ultimate outcome matters to them, they challenge ideas and question things they don’t fully understand

Independent- they may still ask questions whenever needed, but have the confidence to develop their understanding alone and by collaborating with others.

At every assessment point, my students see the circles on the coloured lines as stations (as similar visuals appear on the London Underground Map). They can see the continuous opportunity to progress as indicated on the chart and notice in particularly the possibility of moving up (or down) to another line, also then being reminded of where they’re heading.

I previously resisted from GCSE assessment in year 9, feeling like students had completed an insufficient amount of the course to be tested, but through my examining work, I’ve now enjoyed work across the whole assessment range, proving that there is great value in marking early work as if it’s the final submission. It inspires a deeper teacher/student conversation about music complexity. In fact, this deeper discussion has led me to change my approach to composition and performance teaching to include extra work on: development with musical devices, textural variation, modulation, structure, multipart harmony, shaping for expression and extended instrument techniques. I had considered many of these topics to be beyond GCSE in the past, but greater student ambition has encouraged the change.

The sheet is specifically designed for use on an iPad. The colours are a key factor, but the ability for students to change their shading colours is a helpful method to ensure they know where their up to. These are all stored and editable on their secure Showbie platform, making it possible for the teacher to quickly see overall class progress, but without the need to show everyone’s data to everyone.

One response to “A new tool with value for students to track their investments in musical learning”

  1. Wow! That’s so interesting & amazing to think of what earlier experiences can lead to… e.g. Memory of money box; coin sorter. What a useful, helpful, positive tool

    Sent from my iPad



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