Singing for continuity and progression in year 7

Intorduction

Most year 7 music classes comprise children from many different primary schools. One thing these children have in common is that their music education to date will have featured singing.

But not all children transferring to secondary school at age 11 enjoy singing and children considered vocally able by their primary school teachers may not be vocally self-efficacious. [1] Many children remain ambivalent, unsure, and particularly so as a new life stage is embarked upon in a new place surrounded by new people and in a classroom where ‘the rules of the game’ may be far from transparent.

But I suspect there will be much singing in year 7 classes at this time as teachers recognise this most obvious point of continuity and progression. And, no doubt,  there will be the aim that all pupils will come to feel positive about their singing voices, or as some say, ‘find their voice’.

An interesting case

It was just this that the music teacher in the case I will report on here had in mind. The teacher embarked upon a programme of action research to see if one year 7 class could gain mastery of their singing voice and come to view their voices in a positive way. It was thought that this might achieve a sense of musical achievement shared by all.

At first lessons activities were devised by the teacher and subsequently in response to the ongoing dialogue created between pupils and teacher. Data was collected through teacher diary, recordings of whole class and group vocal work, postcard communications, focus group discussions and written questionnaire.

The research was set in motion with whole class singing of ‘Believe’ by Lin Marsh and as part of the lesson the class were introduced to a series of warm up games and activities designed to help vocal development. The lesson marked the beginning of a series of pupil consultations about how the pupils thought about their voices and the way they were learning.

On a postcard each pupil was invited to respond to any or all of ‘tell me how you feel about your voice, did you like the song? What did you think of warming up your voice before starting to learn the song? What singing experiences have you had already?

Thus a pupil-teacher dialogue had been opened up. The private teacher-pupil line of communication was valued by pupils.

Lesson by lesson the teacher responded to the pupils’ thoughts and suggestions.  At first these related to the conditions of learning. for example, arrangements for sitting, standing and configuration of chairs. From here the dialogue moved to repertoire and ways of learning.

Each lesson began with the teacher telling the class how their ideas were being incorporated into the lesson serving to reinforce the validity of their comments and as a way of authenticating ‘the pupil voice’.

As the singing class progressed so a variety of formats was agreed and reflected upon: group work with pupil choice of material working with backing tracks and without; peer teaching; teacher coaching on vocal technique and all leading to pupils singing voluntarily and with ease, coming to know and accepting each other’s voices in a climate of trust and security.

The teacher writes:

‘As their vocal skills developed pupils exercised greater informed choice about the best approach to learning. They came to realise that working in smaller group settings allowed for more individualised selection of singing repertoire and greater scope for individual voices to claim a space of their own. Pupils who requested to work in ever smaller groups reasoned that this would allow them greater attention from the teacher and would also enable them to better self-assess their singing progress as it would be easier to distinguish their own voice from others.’ [2]

An important role for the teacher was to help pupils understand the ways in which their voices were changing, how these changes could be managed and how to gain greater control over them. The teacher helped pupils to better understand audiational processes, the ways in which they could manipulate sounds in mind, how they could extend auditory memory and comprehend a sequence of musical ideas. All of which we might say is the transmission of ‘powerful knowledge’.

Over a term pupils and teacher had reached a point where the curriculum could be negotiated and where pupils understood that while their ideas were important and respected, their teacher ‘knew good things’ and ‘good places to go’ – ‘Down by the Sally Gardens’, for example.

For now at least the teacher had ample evidence of positive attitudes and improved vocal self-efficacy.

For children moving to new situations, meeting new teachers there is often the mystery of ‘what count as success’? The ‘rules of the game’ are not always clear. In this case the pupils had negotiated and constructed ‘the rules of the game’. The pedagogy was visible to all.

The teacher concludes:

‘The challenge of creating a ‘negotiated curriculum’ demands the sharing of power between teacher and pupil, a mutual respect and understanding of objectives. Becoming a negotiator is at the heart of how I intend to develop and explore my teaching in the future.’ [3]

Action research is designed to bring about change through systematic evaluation and review of intervention strategies. It aims ‘to arrive at recommendations for good practice that will tackle a problem or enhance the performance of the organisation and individuals through changes to the rules and procedures within which they operate’. [4]

This teacher started out aiming to create positive attitudes to singing. In the event a new way of being a music teacher was discovered and how through genuine dialogue all kinds of things became possible.

Notes:

[1] See Baskaran, R. (2013) Children’s Enjoyment of Singing in a Primary School, in (eds) John Finney and Felicity Laurence, Masterclass in Music Education, Bloomsbury.

[2] Man, E. (2013) Developing Positive Attitudes towards Singing in Year 7 through Dialogue and Negotiation, in (eds) John Finney and Felicity Laurence, Masterclass in Music Education. Bloomsbury, p. 122.

[3] Ibid, p.124.

[4] Denscombe, M. (2002) Ground Rules for Social Research: A Ten Point Guide for Social Researchers. Open University Press.

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