Music education, high-quality progression and the question of standards

@Johnfinney8 @TTMLondon @EnglishCadence I am happy to report without commonly agreed standards KS1 to 3. That’s what I’m saying.
05:53 PM – 28 Nov 14

In last week’s blog I considered the question of standards in light of a new National Curriculum for Music in England and its revised assessment arrangements; and in particular, in view of the demise of statutory levels of attainment. For the past fifteen years levels of attainment have been the official measure of standards and the markers of progression in music.

The issue becomes more focused with David Ashworth’s question:

‘Can we really say what a given child should be able to do musically at a given age?’ [ #musiced]

At the same time it is pointed out that children at the primary stage may be much more musically capable than is currently realised, and this in the context of Musical Futures proposing a primary Musical Futures to assist in fulfiling statutory requirements.

All this is of interest to secondary school music teachers. Jane Werry writes:

‘What would I like my Year 7s to have experienced/learned before they come to secondary school? I would like them to have acquired a sense of pulse and have an understanding of how this is divided up into metre. I want them to have experienced singing in different parts, and have thought about breathing and tone production. I want them to have used their head voices! I would like them to know a little bit about different instruments and have had some experience of playing something (anything). I want them to know what pitch, tempo, dynamics etc. are and what chords, melodies and bass lines are. I want them to be open-minded about different styles and be prepared to risk getting things wrong.’  []

This week I received news of music-making in a Hertfordshire primary school where Jane’s expectations are indeed being met. In particular, I received a christmas carol composed by a group of year 6 pupils to feature in their Christmas concert.

It’s Christmas Time – melody

It’s Christmas Time

The pupils’ work resulted from membership of the school’s after-school composing club, a voluntary extra to the once weekly curriculum music. I wondered about what had been achieved and asked the teacher whether in her view, and it was a long and wise view, most end of Key Stage 2 pupils had the potential to compose a song like this. The answer was:

Yes, IF-

  1. a) The children have been (widely) exposed to this sort of idiom, ie have experienced and have assimilated. Our song is very like a lot of the Christmas songs that are around in (some) schools at this time of year, every year, so Y6 children are very familiar with this sort of song (words and music), eg regular metre, rhyming patterns, tonal melody, certain rhythmic variations. As far as the words were concerned, I only helped a little bit with the scansion; and, for the tune, suggested trying out different last notes for a couple of the lines so they led on better to the following lines. The starting point was one girl’s spontaneous singing and playing of the first line of the chorus. She completed the chorus, with input from the others, and then two of the others (from group of 5) used the white board to play around with words for the verses – grouping phrases that rhymed. The other three added ideas, but mainly explored ideas for accompanying the chorus. Week 2 (each session is an hour) we pulled the words together and made up a tune – 4 of the 5 created a line each, trying out on tuned perc.
  2. b) There is time to compose – both words and music. See above for the process. How would/could this have worked within a whole class setting in half hour sessions? I’ve done similar when in the hall, because enough space for groups to spread out, but couldn’t do in my current music room.
  3. c) There is a culture of composing – ie experience of the act of composing as well as of the genre of music – it is a normal activity. We do it in class (small-scale improvising to class performance of created ‘work’), and also this group are now on their 2nd batch of 5 weeks in composing club, albeit not necessarily with same children, except for one girl who didn’t come before.

Although I don’t think the song is one of the best I’ve seen from top juniors if one is going for that elusive aspect of creativity/imagination/originality, it’s ok, and they are pleased with it, as also are the head, their class teacher and their peers. It is, one might say, a good reflection of (some of) their musical experiences to date, in response to the set task of composing a song for the Christmas concert.’

So, do we have a standard here? Can we say what all children should be able to do at a given age?

Well, in the case above, the teacher is most interested in how these children are thinking musically, that they are thinking ‘idiomatically’, a marker of musical development, and as evidenced through understanding of regular metre, rhyming patterns, tonal melody, certain rhythmic variations.

The teacher is highlighting the role of composing in the primary school as the place where understanding as well as knowledge and skill is in evidence.

The teacher has expectations for a level of musical attainment reached at the end of Key Stage 2 and the quality of musical thinking essential to this. These expectations are an important marker of musical progress. Might such expectations, or shall we call them standards, be commonly agreed? After all the teacher’s expectations are supported by a disitnguished research study.

@Johnfinney8 @TTMLondon @EnglishCadence I am happy to report without commonly agreed standards KS1 to 3. That’s what I’m saying.
05:53 PM – 28 Nov 14

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