A Key Stage 3 tension

The task was an interesting one. Really quite demanding musically and I decided to work on it with two boys and to take a strong lead.

This was the third lesson with this year 9 class and the beginning teacher is establishing an authoritative presence with students who are learning fast that this will be an orderly class where they will be taught well and where they will learn and make progress. [1]

The lesson centred on ‘rhythmic phasing’ through the medium of clapping (after Reich).

In my group I decided that we would work with a simple rhythmic idea and with the expectation that we would perform with some expression and fluency, and in the belief that less is more, and that the phasing concept would be fully grasped.

I worked the two boys hard. We practised the eight beat rhythm again and again until fluent and ease had been achieved. And then into the task of phasing, a one beat shift to disrupt and challenge. Once we were in two parts the state of our musical minds would be tested. Would our rhythmic powers cope with the challenge? Well, we had to work hard at it but in performance to the class we did ok. They were impressed.

The teacher appraised the performances of the class as a whole. Several groups were not fluent and so decided that it would be good to work as a whole class in order to explore the audiation of pulse and to make explicit what this meant. This revealed the need for thinking bodies and gross motor movement.

In this ten minute period the dynamic of the classroom changed. There was a sense of communal endeavour and this placed the teacher in a fresh relationship with the class. A dialogue had been opened up.

I wondered how this work could culminate in an extended whole class performance that would be so well rehearsed that the class called for an encore?

What had become clear to me and the teacher was that there exists a tension between grasping a concept, in this case rhythmic phasing, and achieving fluent and expressive performance. And what appears to be often the case at Key Stage 3 is that grasp of the concept trumps the other. (And furthermore laddered assessment criteria have much to answer for.)

You may recall my blog about the lesson where everybody knew what a chord was but in the process barely anybody performed with meaning, feeling, fluency or expression. [2]

In other words ‘knowing that’ is out of balance with Reid’s ‘occurrent knowing’ as set out in last weeks blog. [3]

Of course, the tension can be resolved.

So take care to place the concept in the right order of things.


[1] In this school music has been reduced at Key Stage 3 to a carousel arrangement as Ebacc subjects have gained in time allocation.

[2] See  https://wordpress.com/post/jfin107.wordpress.com/6564

[3] See  https://wordpress.com/post/jfin107.wordpress.com/6847






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