I dreamt that I was in a school where Key Stage 3 students were being assessed twice each half term. First came a progress check and the setting of a target, and finally at the end of the half term the students moved up a sub level if the target had been met. This policy applied across the school and was being implemented in the year 9 music classroom in which I was a guest.
It seemed to be a perfect example of assessment determining how teaching was likely to proceed and how the curriculum was likely to develop, and what kind of knowledge was likely to be valued, that is, assessed.
In this class the students knew what chords were and their starter quiz served as a great reinforcer in this respect and they were able to distinguish between major and minor chords. Their keyboard task that followed the quiz was supported by differentiated criteria for success. Expectations were clear, technical rather than expressive. Is more better than less?
Knowledge about chords was strong.
But what was this knowledge for I wondered?
How did it bring about keyboard fluency and some sense of musical completeness, music made well?
This was a concern to me and I thought ‘no meaning without fluency’.
You see, fluency belongs to another kind of musical knowledge and here unwittingly subjugated to knowing what a chord is and how chords work together.
Fluency belongs not to knowing about things but to knowledge felt, knowledge embodied, knowledge experienced.
So today we had the cart before the horse, the cart without a horse, the cart without any wheels. Perhaps the knowledge gained about chords will come to serve musical experience in the future. But if music in the classroom is not a time in itself, meaning made here and now, music experienced, there is loss and lack.
But there are those who currently champion the primacy of knowing about things, knowing facts and there is I detect within music classrooms a trend in this direction, not new, but trending at this time.
Knowing about musical things, knowing this and that about music is indeed a wondrous thing, but it so easily leads the way to what are tokenistic musical activities. These are activities that typically illustrate knowledge about things, about chords, for example. They quickly become activities that are not so much about making music, creating something fresh, fluent and meaningful, but rather a flirtation with such a possibility, a promise of the really wondrous thing that is perpetually denied.
But, my goodness, they know what a chord is, so let’s test that and move up a sub-level.
Awaking from my dream I thought, thank goodness that was only a dream …………. or was it?
Back to sleep and my favourite recurring dream.