Top 5 tips for whole class primary music

Today I want to share my top 5 tips for teaching whole class primary music lessons.

In my experience you have to look at the progress and achievement of your lessons over a period of time. It is hard to gauge week on week. This can be for many reasons – the children may have just had a hard day –  just come back from P.E or simply it is nearly lunchtime and they are flagging!

So remember it is important as the primary music teacher to have an overview of the skills that you are imparting but keep the framework of each lesson complete.

  • Take a look at me in action here.

1. Repetition is good for learning

I start each lesson in the same way. The class sits in a circle and we play our rhythm games. Each week the sense of pulse improves, the children become more confident in speaking in front of the rest of the class and any musical or co-ordination skills I have used improve. Before very long the children are desperate to get started and have their favourite games to play. You can develop the games and make them harder but the format remains the same.

2. Keep it fun

In my early years classes I start by playing a game that is simply just ‘watch and copy’. I slowly start by using my hands to touch parts of my body e.g. knees, feet, elbow etc. I increase the speed and then do more things at once maybe by using both hands. By the end everyone is in hysterics as we are all flapping around trying to keep up. I often finish by doing the actions of ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ before you know it the class are singing without even thinking about it on their own. I also use my voice to make animal noises……nothing removes barriers like everyone being a cow or a monkey!

3. Keep the lesson in the present

While you may have goals that you want the class to achieve over a term or semester, remember that it is only the lesson that you are delivering now that is important. Keep it interesting, fast paced and continually praise the achievement made in the last game/activity or the great answer a child has given you. The moment you are teaching something that doesn’t seem relevant or doesn’t link to what you have previously done the children will switch off. You might think it is an ‘important skill they need to learn for the future’ or ‘something will aid them for next terms work’ but if the jump is too big and the children can’t see where you are heading you will loose their enthusiasm and flow.

4. Engage the whole class

If you can avoid it don’t work with just part of a class while others are just left with nothing to do. Chaos will quickly ensue! Either have them working in focused groups or engage everyone together in the process of what you are doing. So for example it might be that in your circle only one person at a time is saying something but if the other 29 have to follow on from the previous person or they keep a pulse going for those who are speaking then everyone is included in the same process even if the actual activity is different.

5. Be aware of the individual needs of every child

Within a class you will have a wide range of people from different backgrounds and with different personalities. Support them all individually to be their ‘best self’ today. A shy person who says one word will have achieved just as much as the confident person who sings a scale in 3rds! The aim for me is never to make the whole class the same but to create an environment where every child can grow and feel supported. From that point great results can be achieved, individually and collectively.

LET ME KNOW HOW YOU GET ON

For more educational insights listen to my podcast Education on Fire

Happy primary music teaching!

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Facebook, Twitter and Social media with your school

Is it ever OK for parents to use social media to express their frustrations with a school?

I have to hold my hand up and admit to doing this, but it was a last resort. Nobody was listening. Communication works both ways and when a school says that you can pop in for a chat with a teacher or the head, that is great – but only if they listen.

 

Rightly or wrongly social media is often a way to be heard. It is a tool when used positively is quick, easy and public. But this is also true when it is used in frustration. If you want to avoid this at your school

  • Think
  • Listen
  • Be authentically true to your core beliefs
  • Show your values don’t just say them

 

Parent Example

During the autumn term of 2016 I had multiple ‘chats’ with more than one member of staff about wanting to know the date of my daughters Christmas performances. I personally think that this sort of planning should be done at the beginning of the school year so parents can book time off work to support their children and the school. We got well into late November and still no dates were set. I am a self employed musician and my diary was beginning to fill up with performances and I wanted to keep the school performance date free. It is very important to me. I know life can be short and I want to share in my daughter’s successes and achievements. I eventually had to make the decision without a confirmed school date. I made an educated guess and turned down nearly £1000 as we made alternative decisions about how my wife and I would work over this period.

I guessed wrong (an expensive mistake) but luckily I was free on the day that was eventually confirmed. I’m sure the school has no idea of the impact their way of organising themselves has on others. They can’t if they don’t listen. There is a lot of rhetoric about community and working together but actions often show the reality clearer than words.

My use of twitter in this case was only to show how disappointed I was that having spoken to the school, no action or positive reply was forthcoming.

 

What happens when you show positivity? 

I have had many detailed chats with the headteacher about education and I have previously fallen for the rhetoric I heard. Last summer I supported them by offering half a day of music for 10 weeks. At the end of the term I asked on multiple occasions for a time to discuss and assess what had been achieved. They were too busy to fit this in – well the school is expanding with new building work going on. However new buildings don’t make a school, people do and this is very clearly put by Janice Mardell in my podcast episode 003 which you can listen to here.

What is heartbreaking is that I offered this help because a visitor to the school had previously said that the school obviously wasn’t very musical. This was so sad because when I was first involved with the school, music was at it’s heart. But headteachers have come and gone and staff have changed. As a result there is no orchestra or ensemble for my daughter to perform in. Her horn lessons have no immediate focus in school, in fact all of her skills and abilities are given to her by clubs and opportunities we pay for outside of the curriculum!

The meeting I was proposing last summer was going to result in me offering my services as a professional musician and educator for one day a week for a year – free of charge – to support music and the creative curriculum. I wanted to do this for my daughter and her friends using the skills I have.

However without a meeting I couldn’t offer my help and arranged my work diary to fit my other obligations that I did know about.

The real sadness for me is that the opportunity was there. During the 10 weeks last summer the pupils got to know me, I was stopped in the street by them to say hello. One of the children of an assistant headteacher was in my class and I was told how much her son had enjoyed it.

Until now I have not used social media to express my feeling about this particular situation, but I wonder if seeing it in a blog will be seen as supportive or negative? Feedback is important to schools and this is a way I can deliver it that will be seen and heard by all.

 

While I want Education on Fire to be positive I also want you to know I understand the frustrations that you can encounter as a teacher or educator. My frustration was both as a parent and educator. My daughter’s school weren’t listening to me and as a result I couldn’t offer my help and support.

What do you do in that situation? Do what you can. I have devoted even more time working on Education on Fire and finding examples of great things that are going on in schools to set your imaginations racing!

You can listen to all my podcasts at www.educationonfire.com/episodes/

 

 

 

 

 

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THE POWER OF THE PRIMARY TEACHER

We must never forget the impact primary teachers have upon the children they teach. The power and importance of the primary years is demonstrated in a letter received by former chair of NAPE, Jeremy Rowe.

 

Dear Jeremy Rowe

Are you the Mr Rowe who was a primary school teacher at William Torbitt School in the early 1970s?  I hope you are, and that I have identified you correctly.

I just wanted to say thank you for being such an inspirational teacher. I was in Class 4R at William Torbitt School, in 1972-3. Back then, I was Cathy Brown, and I was a redhead, (and very well behaved according to friends’ parents).  I am studying for MA B Project at London Metropolitan University and my theme is Valuing Women.  This has made me review the people I have met who I value because of the contribution they made to my life.

I found you to be an imaginative, energetic teacher. You were newly qualified and had brought many modern teaching methods to your classes.  You led us in performing an opera, which really impressed my father!  You played your clarinet(?) and I remember watching you fiddle with the reed when we started singing, before you joined in. You built a library corner outside the main hall in the school, and taught woodworking skills to lots of children in order to get it built.  We learned by doing projects and finding things out through looking at books that you had arranged for the school to borrow from the council library.  I particularly remember looking at Volcanos and Glaciers in the Geographical Project and Anne Boleyn in the Historical Project.

I also remember writing to the Port of London Authority for a project and getting lots of maps back from them.  You also had us write to local supermarkets for floor plans so we could work out whether you could walk all round the store without doubling back on yourself – you complained bitterly that when you shopped with your wife, there were lots of men in charge of the trolley, waiting at the end of the aisles while your wives ran up and down, selecting the goods. You did not like the congestion of other men with trolleys!   I thought it was very daring when you had us open the double glazing in the classroom, stick the plans on the back of the window, and stand on the desks to draw walking routes around the supermarkets.  It was really imaginative, inspirational teaching.

Another time you were teaching us a french song about The Sea.  You were unimpressed with the translation and had a friend re-translate it.  I was terribly impressed that you knew someone who spoke French sufficiently well that they could translate a song!  Probably someone with whom you went to university?  You also introduced storytime at the end of the day, and the first book you read was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I also remember our class having a big debate about the death of Marc Bolan and you contributed with a positive opinion on modern music (totally unlike my parents!)

I hope I have found the right Jeremy Rowe.  Your enthusiasm for teaching and learning has remained with me all my life.

Thank you. Cathy

 

Jeremy comments:

I was working soon after the publication of the Plowden Report, and as a fairly newly qualified teacher, was doing my best to use Plowden principles as the basis for my work. In the early 1970’s I was working a project-based integrated day, with a wide range of arts embedded into the curriculum. Over forty years later, the impact of this kind of child-based way of working is apparent. Here is a lady who celebrates the experiences she had as an 11-year-old girl.

I qualified in the late 1960’s from a 4-year B.Ed course which included a great deal of curriculum development, as well as a high profile given to child development. There was no “induction” in my first appointment as a probationary teacher, it was straight into a large full-time class. I had 42 children in a conventional square-box classroom in a large East London junior school. (This was before my Oxfordshire days) With terrific positive support from the brilliant Mike Windle, my first headteacher, I spilled out into the corridor, and generally around the school. There were no teaching assistants, or indeed any other support people. Ironically, although the work load was huge, it was probably less than primary teachers today as there was complete trust that teachers had the skills to get to know their children fully, and deliver exactly what each child needed.

Here’s a bizarre strategy from those distant days: Mike asked each member of staff to identify areas of the curriculum they were least happy with. He then gave each teacher a post of responsibility for the subject they were least sure of, prompting a great deal of “homework” to get to grips with the responsibility. I was made responsible for boys’ games! (And was never afraid of teaching sports again!)

 

The point of all this is many-fold:

1. To flag up the importance of a thorough training for all teachers, with knowledge of child development enabling them to plan for each child individually.

2. To note the importance of a good project-based primary phase – this is the time when a good teacher can really do a great long-term job for every child.

3. To recognise the huge amount of unnecessary work currently undertaken by primary teachers because no-one trusts them to understand children and work with them, giving them individually what they need.

4. The essence of a good primary teacher is to take risks, and with a good understanding headteacher holding a safety net, anything can happen.

5. No Ofsted, but some excellent HMI’s. In my first job in London I was particularly influenced by the outstanding mathematician, Edie Biggs.

6. I firmly believe I couldn’t have done this without the thorough training I had at Portsmouth Teacher Training college, which included three long teaching practices, the last of which was a full term’s work, fully in-charge of a primary classroom, in a school 100% committed to thematic project-work.

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When 2 + 2 = Maths Sense

A great host in Leeds Trinity University , the perfect partner in National Association for Primary Education and an inspiring maths seminar by Professor Ruth Merttens from Hamilton Trust was a wonderful combination for the students of LTU and local primary teachers in Leeds last week.

I was there supporting NAPE who helped enabled the event to take place. It is this kind of co-operation and support that we hope will serve teachers well and help the NAPE membership grow. The knowledge of all three organisations gave those who attended a real insight into what learning and teaching is all about.

As a parent I had long given up on knowing what the correct way of ‘doing maths’ should be when helping out with homework. I was so delighted to hear Ruth say that consistency is key not doing it a certain way. Having a plan of teaching throughout the school, year on year, where each class can build on the knowledge they have already gained in the same image as before. This is so simple and obvious but not always achieved. The layout of questions and the use of the same terminology or patter is so supportive for pupils.

I felt inspired and wanted to learn more. I no longer felt fear about how maths should be taught but engaged in the wonder of where the learning could take me. If only I had felt like that during my school days.

For examples of this work I suggest visiting the Hamilton Trust website which has a wealth of resources.

A big thanks must go to Associate Principal Lecturer Amanda Nuttall and her team at Leeds Trinity, for being the driving force in making such a great day possible. She is on the National Council of NAPE and it is by working together in such a creative way that I hope more joint events can take place to support both the LTU students and teachers in the area.

I am very glad to say one of the students I met on that day has agreed to be part of the Education on Fire podcast and we will follow their journey from trainee teacher to their first experiences in the profession. I hope this will give some valuable insights for both other students and teachers that have NQTs in their school.

Sign up to the newsletter and we will keep you posted when these bonus podcasts are released.

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The Five Habits of Happiness – Start with Gratitude

How Growing With Gratitude is supporting schools across the world nurture happy, successful and authentic children.

1. An Attitude of Gratitude

Students are guided to regularly think about, discuss and record the things they are grateful for in their daily lives and environment.

2. Random Acts of Kindness

Students are guided to plan for and regularly complete small acts of kindness.

3. Positive Reflection

Students are guided to reflect on and record the things that they are grateful for and any positive experiences they have.

4. Wellbeing Warriors

Students choose to complete a minimum of 15 minutes of exercise, read five pages of a book, make healthy food choices, or complete a mindfulness activity or meditation each day.

5. Operation Home Service

Students are guided to plan ways they can regularly help out at home e.g. doing the dishes or cooking dinner.

It is an easy-to-implement way with simple, ready-made resources that teachers like you can implement immediately in the classroom and that are backed by powerful research. This program works and most daily activities are only 2-10mins long.

 Take a look at www.growingwithgratitude.com

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