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The week that Ofsted came…

June 9, 2013 6 comments

As a school we had been expecting a visit all year. Hit massively by the AQA debacle last summer our results had unfairly tanked. A pupil from year 11 robbed of his opportunity of an NHS apprenticeship made national news and despite remarks moving the school out of the National Challenge bracket our school dashboard told a woeful picture. At no point all year did we settle that this was an accurate picture of the school and since the start of the year we knew to gear up for a inspection which really was going to be us v them. Or so we thought…

This year a key priority this year has been at least 3 levels of progress for all students. To highlight, where appropriate and pupils are capable of more they have been pushed further. We have worked to “narrow the gap” for pupils underneath their target and still continued to push the most able.

Every member of our staff new key headlines from our Achievement and Attainment 2012, from our School dashboard and areas of strength from the RaiseOnline report. Every member of staff was able to talk about this in the context of their role both in and outside of their classroom, departments and pastoral teams.

We didn’t have a meeting specifically on this at any point. It was spoken about in meetings all year when it was relevant and where it had provoked our response.

Two weeks ago another school in the local area offered representatives of their senior leadership to come and talk to staff. Three meetings were hastily arranged for the Tuesday following their inspection. It was our turn to receive the baton.

Share your experiences.

There were plenty of messages from those meetings, many of which are repeated later in this post from my own experiences but a flavour of some at the time that struck me were things like:

  • Differentiation by method, delivery and appropriate challenge, not by outcome
  • Fully utilise opportunities for literacy and/or numeracy
  • Knowing the positive pictures your data demonstrates with an emphasis on your current data for Summer 2013.
  • Be aware of the extent inspectors will talk to pupils to get impressions of the school “over time”
  • Within one hour of arriving at a local school all but one inspector was in a classroom. The classroom judgements matter. The picture of individual grades averaged out obviously wield influence but also the little things like pupils using displays, routines, behaviour for learning.

So Tuesday started like any other day. Normal lessons planned. House viewings arranged. Preparation for a meeting that day completed the night before with a colleague. Lesson 3 that day a planned mock-sted style meeting with the School Improvement Partner, myself and three other staff identified as having driven elements of Teaching and Learning, had been arranged in order to aid preparation for the impending inspection, but also to inform our SIP over how the Teaching and Learning infrastructure worked. This meeting proved to be a lynch pin of what was to follow as feedback was shared to all members of staff involved in meeting the inspectors.

Rehearse key meetings to ensure you present the positive pictures of the less obvious, less tangible parts of your school.

On leaving the meeting feeling positive, having learnt a lot and looking happily at 2 hours of Year 11 gained time I casually strode into a colleagues classroom to apologise for being late to a meeting with her in order to arrange a resource for our OTP session Thursday. Completely dead pan she turned her head and whispered quietly “Well I don’t think we’ll be going now, as we’ve had the call.”

Have a go plan. Myself and a colleague had already put together our go plan for the day the call came. I immediately went to see my department in order to ensure they knew, had my phone number and had a chance to arrange planning time.

One member of my PA team is a PE teacher and was out on the field teaching. I went to see her to tell her. It made me realise that not all staff are right next to their email, or have mobile devices to receive such news. I didn’t want her or any of the PE department walking in 40 mins behind anyone else into the middle of a flurry. As it turned out it was near the end of the lesson anyway and we had some quick discussion as the pupils walked in to change.

As a pro-active middle leader I had an idea what my evening was going to look like, however little idea of where I would be when. Therefore I checked all department members had my phone number so if they wanted to run something by me they could. I ensured I arranged a time after school for some face to face discussions around planning and reiterated the school lesson obs checklist to each teacher to see if there was anything missing, or anything they may need help putting together.

Once I’d seen my department I went to Reprographics to check in with them. It’s easy to forget the ramp up doesn’t just hit teaching staff. Equally it was important to ensure any member of staff with a name badge that was half dog chewed or slightly stained had the opportunity to receive a new one. From a safeguarding perspective we ensure all members of staff have photo ID school name badges on at all times. It was crucial to check everyone had one.

Have your evidence ready to go.

We knew as a school what evidence we wanted to present in order to showcase our school realistically and positively. I know that may sound a bit oxymoronic but we know our strengths and areas for development. We wanted to show we have clear SE practises to identify and measure our improvement but we also want to showcase the story the dashboard cruelly ignores. There was no delay in sending off our School Self Evaluation Summary to the Lead Inspector and there was no confusion over what needed pulling together for the inspectors room. It already existed, even if it wasn’t all in one location.

The inspectors were very impressed that every department had it’s own SEF. 3/4 examples were made available to the inspectors to look through. They at no point took what we were saying as red. They looked to triangulate their judgements from what was evidenced, what was seen in the classrooms and what they saw out in the wider field of school life. We did not have it easy. They checked that our evaluations were where we actually were as a school and pushed for next steps.

A key part, for us, was that all documentation was ready to go, there was no quick scurrying off and fabricating a report. In essence the evidence supported where we were as a school, not as a sell, but it matched what they saw and the judgements they themselves made.

Lessons are so much more than a singular grade

Lessons are more than just learning experiences. They are opportunities to showcase Behaviour and Safety and contribute to “over time” judgements that contribute to the effectiveness of Leadership and Management.

Routines are the best and easiest way of showing that this is what always happens. In my observation feedback the inspector stated her impression of my behaviour management and the department ethos was shown in how the pupils arrived, put their bags and coats in a specific part of the room, took out their pens and planners and placed them in a specific part of the room and came a sat in a circle without having to be told anything more than “right – let’s go, start as normal.”

Progress over time

From feedback from my own observation and those shared by colleagues it became apparent that impressions were taken to inform an over time grade.

One teacher received feedback that there all/most and some LOs were about quantity of task rather than amount of challenge. It seemed examples of differentiation by outcome immediately capped the teaching and learning judgement for over time. It left the wrong and sometimes inaccurate impression.

Inspectors seemed to have particularly been excited by differentiation by delivery. Allowing top end pupils the challenge of tackling the work with minimum teacher input, whilst those needing more support to “narrow the gap” in terms of their progress towards the targets they were under achieving on received more teacher support. This by no means meant the higher ability were left untaught. They however deepened their independent skills through learning a different way. Their levels descriptors require them to create solutions and evaluate practices, skills they need to practice from hands on experience of DOING rather than copying. Lower ability pupils needed more repetitive modelling and got it. High ability pupils were not forgotten, just were given opportunities to be more responsible for picking up misconceptions themselves.

I also want to emphasise this in the context of singular lessons. Rather obviously this cannot constitute the whole curriculum experience for higher ability kids. Just an opportunity grabbed where appropriate.

A work scrutiny was called on the second day to match examples of practice seen on the first in terms of the quality of marking and feedback overtime. The teaching and learning grade is no longer based solely on the lessons seen in that specific context at that specific moment.

Inspectors took examples of planning offered in lessons with them when they left. This was to help place the 25-30 minutes of the lesson seen in context of the one hour lesson but also to be shown to other inspectors to triangulate if the quality of planning was representative of the school.

Inspectors looked at the data sheets to inform the overall teaching and learning judgement. If pupils were not making enough progress towards their target then this would influence the judgement. We fortunately had a 4i’s sheet that gave information and intervention details for pupils below target. This was very well received.

The school had three minimum requirements for all teachers and all lessons

  • A lesson plan (5 min lesson plan or alternative. This was left up to staff to choose how they format their planning)
  • A 4i’s sheet. Identifying pupils from data who require an Intervention. Information about the pupils and an expectation around the Impact the intervention will have. Identification, Information, Intervention, Impact
  • The data context sheet. Centrally produced once a term with Reading Ages, Cohort coding and subject specific data over the year.

As blogged by @huntingenglish today http://huntingenglish.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/the-ofsted-uncertainty-principle-and-holding-steady/, inspectors did not want to see constant measure of progress.

A clear message from feedback to myself and colleagues was that Assessment for learning is when teachers take a measure of learning and utilise that information to inform the planning of their immediate actions, correct misconceptions and influence their future actions. Assessment for learning does not demonstrate progress if every 5 minutes pupils have to stop progressing in order to measure it. This seems to be a shift for inspectors as now showcase lessons “for the inspector” are viewed dimly. My feedback specifically mentioned this point as I was complimented for avoiding this and delivering a lesson that could “have so easily gone wrong however it is clear it is what you always do because they pupils were so used to it.”

Everyone makes a contribution beyond their grade

Not everyone of course is observed during an inspection but it is easy to become obsessed by a grade. However due the nature of our school site and BSF just nearing completion (but without signage pointing you to different classrooms. We don’t even have numbers on doors yet!) pupils delivered the inspection team from one lesson to the next. During this pupils were politely and kindly interrogated over their opinions, thoughts and impressions of the school. The influence staff members have had on these impressions are less tangible but just as important a contribution.

The meetings with inspectors of Newly Qualified Teachers, Middle Leaders and key Senior Leadership groups successfully showed all staff have been following the journey dictated by our key school priorities. All groups spoke about identifying Pupil Premium Pupils and their provision, the interventions put in place for key cohorts, the leadership and management of implementing our School Improvement Plan. All groups spoke the same message because this sis truly what we are all working to and this showed very clearly that what we said we were doing, we were doing.

Finally, and most importantly stay nimble.

The inspection team we had wanted to hear about what we were doing to improve they school. They offered the opportunity to present evidence that may have been missed. They wanted us to go to them with things we felt they may be missing. They were in essence, thoroughly reasonable. You never know with a section 5 who may need your support when so build into your days time to sit in the staff room and talk to people, I found out about so many people who needed something from sitting and talking. We were all able to chip in with other people’s experience of the two days by constant communication over email, text and face to face.

Present solutions. In my meeting with an inspector we demonstrated an area for development and demonstrated we already had a plan ready to go in September to help move things forward. This was very well received.

I will be blogging more about my specific experiences over the next week or so. It was tiring, exhilarating and everything in between. If its you next week. Good luck!

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Categories: Columns, Ofsted, Section 5

Pedagogical Big Mac 2 Years On – Part 3 – Questions Answered (?)

June 2, 2013 Leave a comment

2 years after my first Guest Editorial for teachingmusic.org.uk my second is about to be published. However, looking back on my pedagogical big mac how did I come to write it and how have things changed now?

This part looks at one thought provoking reply I received and never answered. Now two years later I give it a go. Feedback in bold – replies in normal font.

——————-

I enjoyed reading your piece and found it entertaining and puzzling in equal measure. You make many, many excellent points throughout but seem to suffer from the very infliction you rail against.

This is completely accurate and shows my blatant hypocrisy. Topic – keep things short. Word length – let’s not go there.

I was wondering what a more heavily edited version of your editorial would read like? What, in a nutshell (or a tweet), do you think the problem is?

In a tweet I need summary, links or insight starting with 140 characters not an essay and a never ending list of questions.

Is it about simplicity? Do teachers really just want a simple idea that they can work with and ‘deliver’? Are music teachers really not concerned about models of curriculum development or teacher development that they can draw on to improve their work?

I don’t personally want simple ideas that I can regurgitate. However, I do want a hook. I want to be motivated to read more rather than just given a chunk of text. I should be careful speaking on behalf of all music teachers however I would imagine a significant majority of music teachers are concerned with finding more out about models of curriculum and/or teacher development. I would suggest that those who do not however, do not because of how vast the whole debate can seen. Bitesize pieces surely make it easier for everyone?

Is it about equity and access? Do teachers feel their voice is ignored or, even worse, they just feel patronised as you have done on occasions?

I do think it is very much about access. Differentiation for those with limited time rather than limited intellect. I have anecdotal evidence of colleagues feeling patronised. I have heard even more anecdotal examples of colleague who feel some are out of touch with the classroom.

Is it about priorities? Are music teachers really so busy that they can’t find time to think about the questions you raise? (After all, you found time to write your excellent piece?)

I did find time. Excellent point. One I should perhaps have taken more time to reflect on at the time. Things can be very important but easily forgotten. Marking is very important but very easy to fall behind on. Planning is very important, yet I know a number of colleagues both music and otherwise who “wing it” because of other things that need the time more.

Is it about policy? Are you, and other music teachers, concerned about the impact of policy decisions are, or have been, taken already?

I would say some are however I get the impression large proportions of music teachers don’t really pay much attention feeling there is nothing they can do about it.

Is it about a perceived gap between theory and practice? Do music teachers really not want to think about what they do, celebrate successes and make things better when required?

Definitely there is a perceived gap between theory and practice. In my experience a lot more value is placed on ‘doing it’ rather than ‘thinking about it’ in school environments. I’m sure music teachers do want to think about what they do. However can they if the are left confused, demotivated and frustrated from reading large chunks of text that at 1am make no sense and make them feel like they are doing things wrong?

Is it about a lack of confidence in our subject? I’m not sure there is any other curriculum subject that would put up with being treated like Music has been in the last yearor so. Are music teachers feeling marginalised and under-represented?

I do not believe it is about a lack of confidence in our subject but more about a lack of the confidence required to identify mistakes and move forward from them. Some texts I read are brilliant at prompting the mind to think about moving on, however with that comes an acknowledgement you haven’t been doing it already.

So, finally, is it about a lack of credibility or care from those who purportedly represent music education at a national level? Are music teachers struggling to find appropriate ways to make their voices heard?

I believe there is a lack of credibility from anyone who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. Yes I’m aware readers may grown at this phrase but I look up to people who can do it. There are huge amounts you could in theory get done in a one hour lesson, but in practice this can difficult to achieve, or at least more difficult. Think of unexpected fire alarms. Notes from Year Leaders. Requests for work for those pupils isolated. A new TA in the room on cover as it’s exams. Room changes. Groups of kids on the corridor needing a nudge to their lesson. Those who represent music education at a national level need to do more to reach out to teachers. When I went to the NAME conference a couple of years ago there were 6 teachers sat in the room for a break out session where those in similar fields got together. Surely this is an area for significant improvement?

Or is it all of the above? Or is it something different?

I see your point. It’s all and non. In writing it perhaps the angle I was going for was to get people thinking. Maybe that’s ultimately the most hypocritical thing about my piece. However at least it was aimed in the other direction this time.

I loved the questions. A great way for giving feedback and deepening thinking. I may not have responded at the time but I did nick the idea in a lesson a couple of days after you sent it and still use it now!

 

Categories: Columns

Pedagogical Big Mac 2 Years On – Part 2 – Then and Now

June 1, 2013 Leave a comment

2 years after my first Guest Editorial for teachingmusic.org.uk my second is about to be published. However, looking back on my pedagogical big mac how did I come to write it and how have things changed now?

This part recaps how I felt then, and how I feel now.

—————–

” I have no idea what is going in the world outside my classroom and the more I read about these issues the more confused I am getting”

Then: I found sources of information sometimes difficult to find and difficult to digest in isolation

Now: I pick things up constantly, follow specific blogs (bottom right of the homepage) and constantly find, get nudged, and advertise things on twitter.

“whether I have bitten off a little more than I can chew only 7 weeks after starting a new job.”

Then: I had but it worked. Hairspray was a massive success, as was We Will Rock You and Grease after it.

Now: Still biting off more than I can chew. Still love it.

“Equally I am facing the anxiety of planning for a yr 8 options evening Thursday night whereby it is up to me to lead the selling of Performing Arts BTEC to the masses to recruit. For numbers mean legitimacy – rightfully or wrongly no one wants to lead a department that doesn’t prove popular at options evening.”

Then: Fear. Staring into the barrel of my first options evening at the school when I was largely unpopular with pupils due to the fact I was new.

Now: 168% increase in uptake within the Performing Arts from last year. 200% since I arrived.

“Therefore in all honesty I do not have time for long winded theorising on the implications for the future that are hugely important for the subject I adore, and the lives of the pupils who gain so much out of doing them.
I’m a tweet generation teacher – I need my punch lines in 140 characters. I need Big Mac music pedagogy on the go, I haven’t time for 3 courses.”

Then: I don’t want to read your book I’m tired and falling asleep, it’s 1am.

Now: There’s a lot more pedagogy on the go. Both music and general school good practice is more readily available. Equally, and perhaps more importantly, the amount of music blogs I read now that help me understand what others have tried to implement gives me a better swing at it when I do it. I don’t think my piece changed this. However, it certainly has changed!

 “I completely understand the hypocrisy of the above statement knowing full well that I am already on word 493.”

Then: Hypocrite

Now: Probably still… My new editorial isn’t full of ideas. It’s just a rationale of why I did something. However I still think a summative diagram would make me feel better about things!

“I need help – not conjecture.”

Then: I really did need help, I was having a crisis of confidence and losing touch with my practice.

Now: The 5 min lesson plan is a brilliant example of how having something to try makes a quick and real impact in your teaching. I still think we need to work more at this as music educators. However, I realise now the power of the questions rather than just the supply of an answer.

“This is where music education has gone crazy. The teachers are the ground troops – we need the information, knowledge and expertise these giants of music education have to offer. However there is a touch of David Starkey around at the moment in the form of these greats forgetting their audience.”

Then: I felt academics were not standing side by side with teachers

Now: I feel the gap has moved closer but am still passionate that this gap needs further closing.

“The Conference got so frustrating; I am ashamed to admit I did what I see kids do on a daily basis. I ran away.”

Then: Sorry NAME. It wasn’t all bad, just not for me.

Now: Membership cancelled and can’t say I’ve suffered for it. I still campaign, still send feedback for curriculum reviews, still read widely and have a very active local subject leaders group to share good practice with, talk about resources, ideas and assessment strategies.

“At the conference I was left aghast as no one asked why there were only 6 secondary school teachers in the break out session where those with similar areas of employment got together. I wonder how many there were in the other sessions?”

Then: I felt this was shocking and time should be spent addressing it.

Now: I’ve met several music teachers who don’t know who NAME even is! However all are on twitter.

“Twitter is full of ideas – it’s incredible, not just a discussion there’s actual action.”

Then: Tweeting as a teacher was new, exciting and inspiring

Now: Tweeting as a teacher is old, exciting and inspiring. The main reason my practice improves and it’s the kids in my classroom who are feeling the benefit of my humble twitter account.

…To Be Continued…

Categories: Columns

Pedagogical Big Mac 2 Years On – Part 1 – The Power of a Tweet

May 31, 2013 Leave a comment

2 years after my first Guest Editorial for teachingmusic.org.uk my second is about to be published. However, looking back on my pedagogical big mac how did I come to write it and how have things changed now?

This part looks at how a simple tweet led to causing quite a debate!

——————–

2 years ago I was on a train reading a Guest Editorial on TeachingMusic.org.uk and getting increasingly irate as I got nothing from it that could help me in the classroom the next day. It didn’t fill me with optimism or inspiration, just despair. It went on forever and all it did was make me angry. So in response to how I was feeling and to pass the time on the train I wrote this:

https://foxymusiced.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/i-need-big-mac-music-pedagogy-i-havent-time-for-three-courses/

I had casually made the decision to link my blog and my twitter account so completely automatically a link to the blog post was sent out on twitter. This one tweet changed my professional world!

After a retweet from @drfautley my PGCE Course Leader I began to get some attention from twitter.

For example

@mickblake: http://t.co/QTI8sOI amen fellow someone who gives a damn….

Then out of nowhere I go a message via my new page at teaching music.org.uk from @davidashworth

“Hi Foxy – and welcome to the site!

Just found your ‘big mac pedagogy’ blog via Twitter. This is really good stuff.
Can we use a version of this for our guest editorial spot for April or May?”

This could potentially get a little awkward. The platform for my Editorial is the very page that left me so frustrated I wrote it… However I decided to go with it and 2 years ago I delved into the MusicEd punditry business.

I received some incredible feedback. I got emails, DM’s, tweets, blog responses. Gaining virtual plaudits (and notoriety) was an immensely fun experience. The contacts, the conversations. It changed my entire professional outlook.

“Dear Toby,

I really enjoyed your blog; it was honest, funny and relevant. Most importantly it’s that rarest of things in music education at the moment, an authentic voice from the coal face. I echo your feelings about Music conferences being potentially awkward spaces for music teachers; I sat through a conference at the IoE late last year about the future of music education, and when the absence of teachers in the crowd was politely raised, the questioner met with a distinctly frosty response from the stage. As a teacher who really struggled in my first job, the key thing is professional isolation. In order to reflect on things that happen, and to have a motivation to read widely and discuss contemporary issues, you need colleagues, sounding boards. I struggled just to keep going, often running the dept on my own; like you, I had no motivation, let alone time to keep up with the wider zeitgeist. I did care, it just passed me by, especially with no team to share it with. Think about nurses; they must suffer from the same kinds of issues in terms of being too busy to keep up with the latest research in the Lancelet; but what they do have are colleagues, big teams of like minded, supportive staff. I definitely benefit from being part of a small close-knit team in the music charity I work for. We need wider teams of musicians from different backgrounds working together in schools throughout the week; not just one-off summer projects, e.g. the ubiquitous African drumming for two days in July. That’s why musical hubs – as recommended by Henley – are potentially a great idea. It links people in and increases the offer for all students in music. And it also goes a long way to helping classroom teachers care about keeping in the loop. Good luck with Hairspray!

Jonathan Westrup – A long time ago”

Thank you Jonathan!

I also got feedback to make me think.

“Hi Toby,

I enjoyed reading your piece and found it entertaining and puzzling in equal measure. You make many, many excellent points throughout but seem to suffer from the very infliction you rail against.

I was wondering what a more heavily edited version of your editorial would read like? What, in a nutshell (or a tweet), do you think the problem is?

Is it about simplicity? Do teachers really just want a simple idea that they can work with and ‘deliver’? Are music teachers really not concerned about models of curriculum development or teacher development that they can draw on to improve their work?

Is it about equity and access? Do teachers feel their voice is ignored or, even worse, they just feel patronised as you have done on occasions?

Is it about priorities? Are music teachers really so busy that they can’t find time to think about the questions you raise? (After all, you found time to write your excellent piece?)

Is it about policy? Are you, and other music teachers, concerned about the impact of policy decisions are, or have been, taken already?

Is it about a perceived gap between theory and practice? Do music teachers really not want to think about what they do, celebrate successes and make things better when required?

Is it about a lack of confidence in our subject? I’m not sure there is any other curriculum subject that would put up with being treated like Music has been in the last year or so. Are music teachers feeling marginalised and under-represented?

So, finally, is it about a lack of credibility or care from those who purportedly represent music education at a national level? Are music teachers struggling to find appropriate ways to make their voices heard?

Or is it all of the above? Or is it something different?

Best wishes,

Jonathan”

Until now I’ve never replied to any of the comments I received back as at the time it wasn’t important. In my youth I probably had a touch of “well those who like it are like me and those who don’t are who I’m saying it about”. Upon reflection, a little unfair.

So two years on do I still feel the same? What do I think has changed? What are my responses to the feedback?… and how did Hairspray go?!

…To Be Continued…

Categories: Columns

The Expectations Game

June 4, 2011 1 comment

When I arrived at my current post one statement was said to me more than any other. “You won’t get students to stay late or come in during the holidays”. As a Performing Arts Specialist these two things were crucial to the extra-curricula programme I had been planning for the school and left me with a very simple question: Do the students not come because they don’t want to be involved or do they not come because the teacher’s tell them they won’t?

It’s an interesting idea, my former head of department introduced me to the idea that praising a pupil with a specfic behaviour related statement, for example, “you’re always very good at putting you’re hand up” will mean even if that kid doesn’t always do it they will eventual do it because that is what they do for you. They take the praise and will wear it like a badge of honour. I was sceptical, but it works, and continued to work when I moved from a rural back ground to an inner city school. Kids is kids.

Here is a short video I found that sums this up quite nicely:

The model for behaviour is summed up in another video here from Supernanny. Forget Jamie’s Dream School – get Jo Frost on the case. She, with each family, set’s clear expectations for behaviour (sometimes these include the parent’s behaviour as well) and then follows through with them. She has expectations of a 4 and a half year old that sometimes I perhaps forget of a teenager…

To quote a work colleague – pupil’s are capable of making the right decision, if they don’t then there is a consequence.

This for me stretches into all forms of school life. I recently set a homework integral to the lesson pupils were in. They had to go home and print out a chord and lyric sheet form ultimate guitar for a cover versions enquiry. Groups who didn’t complete the homework could not play instruments as they did not know what chords they needed to learn. It was that simple.

Pupils without a pen for an exam, should they be lent one? Why? They are capable of remembering a pen, they remembered their mobile phone. They are capable of buying a pen should they forget.

Unfortunately from wanting the best for our kids I fear the expectation of the pupils delivering the best for themselves is diminishing.

Pupils must face the consequences of the decisions they make otherwise we are failing the facilitation of guiding them to achieve their all.

I’m 4 weeks out from the school production and as it’s a challenging and rewarding experience for the pupils involved and I expected commitment and showed I gave it myself, the whole cast arrived on time for a 3 hour half term rehearsal, with lead parts having been there for 2 hours before the main cast arrived. It just goes to show how if we raise our expectations the pupils will raise their’s.

We’ve gotta stop giving the kids the fish (or letting them borrow it):

FoxyMusicEd

Teaching The Ant N Dec Generation

May 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Kids today hey! I tell you what I remember a time when as a pupil you just learnt, your teacher said “stand up” and you stood up. Your teacher said open you text book to page 38 – you did just that… Not Anymore. Sound Familiar? I hear this quite a bit – and have often been party to discussion as to why this change happened. So here I offer my answer…

What changed for me is that now we teach the Ant n Dec generation. A generation who require a lot more than page 38 ever can offer. A generation that just can’t understand why page 38 was ever created or is still being used today. They need a lot more stimulation as even Daybreak seems to offer them more things to think about than page 38. Why? Cos they’re used to things being a bit more “in yer face”.

I often get asked by teachers who consider themselves too “boring” how they can spice up their lessons, for some don’t understand what has changed in order for this shift to be required. I have taken to showing them / talking to them about the following video.

Take a look at this clip from “I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out Of Here” In this show a set of fading celebrity personalities are put in the jungle and stuff happens. Ant N Dec’s job is solely to do a link between each piece of interesting VT from the day before offering the viewer about 30 minutes of highlights from 24 hours of footage. That is their job – same as my job is help pupils learn about music. However Ant N Dec have realised that saying “This happened this morning” and then three minutes later going “….and then this happened” would equal a pretty boring show, and actually may even lead to them not being rehired for the next series. So what they do instead is this….

Now there are several things to notice. There’s banter, jokes, smiles, props, a cameo from the show medic, a big clock with the time in Australia clear to see (even though the show is watched in the UK), a picture of Australia rotating, screaming to the viewer that the show is LIVE and there’s even a bit of role play.

This for me is a 50 second model of the perfect lessons. Interesting, engaging, full of personality with surprises along the way. This is what the learners of today need. For this is what society, or maybe the just the media, have just offered them. Page 38 really doesn’t stand a chance anymore.

There has however been a very definite shift recently in how much perhaps over stimulation the Ant n Dec generation receive. This can be seen in Tv programmes, Films or even Computer Games. To demonstrate this I choose cite the X Factor as it’s first series was in the year I completed my A levels 2004 and shows even in the time it took me to get a degree, PGCE and get a few years under my belt, times had most definitely moved on.

Take a look at these two video’s one form series 1 in 2004 and one from series 7 in 2010 and the change is remarkable.

2004

2010

The thing is yes times moved on, but the basics of teaching are still fundamentally the same. However like the X Factor we need to add the lasers and the dancers. We need the big booming introduction and several camera angles. I am forever looking for examples of what to do and all of these I post under the “Creative Learning and Teaching” Category on this blog. However one of my favourites is still to use an online stopwatch or countdown timer. It’s amazing how much a great big giant counting down clock does….

So play games, ask the kids to show you new technology they find because one of the things I’ve noticed is while its hard for any teacher to change their teaching style, every teacher I’ve worked with is having a lot more fun being a bit more random and ditching prescriptive schemes of work than they did with page 38 too. They were just to afraid to say and didn’t quite know how to go about it.

FoxyMusicEd

Categories: Columns

I need big mac music pedagogy – I haven’t time for three courses

April 4, 2011 2 comments

Life as a teacher has many stresses attached. Many of which readers of this will no doubt be aware of. The day to day toil with behaviour, marking, reports, planning etc etc. It’s the same old same old, you’ve all heard it, most are living it.

However I have been pondering a far bigger issue than these day to day tasks recently and that is how to stay relevant with the teaching I do and, as a head of department, I promote.

With the E-bacc and a recent AQA poll apparently spelling the end for music education, a brand new curriculum on it’s way, academies being allowed to opt out of the curriculum and do whatever they fancy, a government agenda seemingly focussed up on instrumental learning – I am at a loss with it all. I really am. I have no idea what is going in the world outside my classroom and the more I read about these issues the more confused I am getting.

This for me is where the problem lies.

I am sat on a train heading North to begin a terrifying yet immensely exciting week for the Performing Arts Department I lead. I have somewhat whimsically decided to put on a school production of Hairspray in July, based on the fact that in a pupil voice survey the kids said they wanted more performance opportunities and over 100 pupils wrote “do a musical”. However whether any of them will turn up to the auditions or not is a completely different matter and is bound to cause me a somewhat interrupted night of sleep this evening as a worry over whether I have bitten off a little more than I can chew only 7 weeks after starting a new job.

Equally I am facing the anxiety of planning for a yr 8 options evening Thursday night whereby it is up to me to lead the selling of Performing Arts BTEC to the masses to recruit. For numbers mean legitimacy – rightfully or wrongly no one wants to lead a department that doesn’t prove popular at options evening.

Also there’s behaviour incidents to sort out which require time to sort out. Paper work filed, emails sent, pupils spoken to. The relationship building needed to move these discussions on to fruitful learning require a huge amount of time, patience and effort.

Therefore in all honesty I do not have time for long winded theorising on the implications for the future that are hugely important for the subject I adore, and the lives of the pupils who gain so much out of doing them.

I’m a tweet generation teacher – I need my punch lines in 140 characters. I need big mac music pedagogy on the go, I haven’t time for 3 courses.

It is with huge trepidation that I put these thoughts on paper, and I completely understand the hypocrisy of the above statement knowing full well that I am already on word 493. However, it is true and us music educators need some help in order to help us make the improvements needed to enshrine the place of music in the curriculum fully benefitting pupils in all area’s of their lives and learning, not just in helping them know a certain black dot is one count and on that line it’s a D.

I try to read a huge amount around my subject. I feel it enables me to be more prepared for changes that inevitably with teaching will come. It’s important as trained experts in music education that we don’t just become trained experts in what people thought about music education in the year we trained and were tested on our understanding of these thoughts. However, as a plea to all those who have the knowledge I do not, please think of your audience. I want to get stuck in a try out some answers and for that I need help – not conjecture.

Current thinking over the national curriculum is what? Who knows! I honestly haven’t had time to think about it even though I really want to. On a website recently I read a wonderful article about how the curriculum could be improved and how it’s maybe time we give up the ghost on some initiatives. Brilliant – I’m with you! Let’s do something let’s try something out. However there is no proposal, no alternative, no mapped out idea on what it could look like just a stray thought. I haven’t got time single handedly to sit down and come up with a revolutionary curriculum model, train staff in how to approach it and come up with ideas, and do all the other things I’ve got on this week and have to deal with as part of the scholastic hangover of last week’s exploits.

I need something more.

I love a plan. I’m big on development plans, actions plans, rehearsal plans and any other kind of plan you can think of. I am also a big fan of the plan changing two weeks in because a better idea crept in. I like the idea that things are organic and grow into something. I like tangents and so do the pupils I have the privilege of teaching. However I need the plan to begin with so I have a sense of direction. Somewhere to start is important to me.

Is this a revolutionary thought? The problem is if it isn’t I’m unaware of it and I trawl the internet for articles and to try and keep up to date with new initiatives

I fear the idea of simplifying the complicated may well just be that, for I fear some old stallwarts of the classroom who now write so magnificiently on brilliant practice in the classroom have forgotten about Jacob who desperately wants to sing but doesn’t want to do it in front of people so you spend an hour after school working with him to develop his confidence. Or Michael the guitarist who has recorded himself playing the C chord on a mildly out of tune guitar and wants you to spend time listening to it and re-recording it after working on it for a bit.

It was put to me once that I should say no and spend sometime reading more at the expense of these individuals for the good of a greater number of kids who will benefit from better music lessons. I dare you to try it. It’s too hard.

This is where music education has gone crazy. The teachers are the ground troops – we need the information, knowledge and expertise these giants of music education have to offer. However there is a touch of David Starkey around at the moment in the form of these greats forgetting their audience.

At a Music Conference last year I have to say I raised the point over who were some of these discussions aimed at. It seems we’re forgetting that there IS a reason music teachers in the classroom largely do not engage in pursuing their thinking on what music education is and could be in the future. This discussion needs to involve and have teachers at it’s heart. I am starting to feel like there are some in the academic realm of music education who are just talking to each other and I am fighting for the scraps that I can overhear and just about get a handle on.

The Conference got so frustrating, I am ashamed to admit I did what I see kids do on a daily basis. I ran away. I went home on the Saturday night. The idea of another day being made to feel inadequate over nearly everything I did by writers I idolised was too much to take. The fear of failing or being intellectually mocked for a contribution I made too much to take.

I also experienced my ultimate pet peeve. I was openly patronised. What’s worse is others around laughed.

At the conference I was left aghast as no one asked why there were only 6 secondary school teachers in the break out session where those with similar areas of employment got together. I wonder how many there were in the other sessions?

The problem is, on reading this people may think I’m tarring everyone with the same brush. I am not. I met people with huge expertise in helping me better understand music education and take my practice to the next level, I also met some people I am still in touch with and have really helped me by providing me with an idea or tipping me off about a resource that has proved to be incredible.

I still read a lot and still try my hardest to stay with some of these giants. I largely agree with what they say in their articles and key note speeches. It’s just it takes a lot or effort and sometimes I skip months of important things because I just need to spend sometime doing my job and the reading is too hard at the end of too long a day.

Therefore, with respect, humility and a touch of fear I plea for others like me who want to be better but are already dedicating huge hours to the job already – could we make some ideas a little clearer. Could someone please start giving examples of potential solutions? Could someone please just move on from discussing the discussion and let’s get something real done, something tangible.

I want to be better – I don’t just want to know that I should be.

I’m not just throwing rocks – I’ve decided to use social media to get as engaged with the issues as possible. I have this blog, a new twitter account, have joined some organisations and websites and have started to use one free lesson a week solely to keep up to date.

Twitter is full of ideas – it’s incredible, not just a discussion there’s actual action. However I fear many teacher’s have no idea what it is or feel it’s only their for seeing what various vacuous celebrities are doing with their day – it’s not!

I’m now doing my bit inspired by all those on twitter I have hastily followed.

It’s perfect for the Pedagogy Big Mac 🙂

FoxyMusicEd

Categories: Columns