Music, Performing Arts and Rosenshine: Present new material in small steps

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Music, Performing Arts and Rosenshine: Present new material in small steps
  • Within your schemes of learning is the direct instruction of new material spaced out across the term?
  • When planning lessons, do you ensure there is a logical flow starting from the core skills or concepts?
  • Do you ensure a good level of mastery, and give students the opportunity explore a concept or skill deeply before you move on?
  • Do you chunk up practical work by structuring the time for the class, with a model provided for each step of the process?

It’s easy to work around a model where most of the learning of content and skills happens at the beginning of the unit, and these are applied throughout the rest of the term. However, Rosenshine encourages us to chunk up this learning, and space it out over the course of the unit.

At some point during KS3, schools will approach ensemble performance in bands. The practical application of the knowledge required for this is complex, including: knowledge of instrumental technique, understanding good ensemble behaviours, knowing how to practice, knowledge of some form of notation (traditional stave, lead sheets, chord charts). All of these aspects need to be addressed individually before putting everything together, otherwise the cognitive load is just far too great (not to mention the incredible noise that is created when a whole band gets together for the first time. This doesn’t support great focus and attention to the task at hand). A more informal model, where students learn by ear and experiment as a whole band, won’t be right for beginner instrumentalists in a classroom environment without practice rooms or suitable equipment.

Start from deciding on the objective you want the students to achieve – work backwards and consider what prior knowledge or skills they will require each time. It’s possible to overlook critical points in understanding, which could lead to a low success rate.

Instrumental security is particularly important as students progress through KS3. In the United Learning curriculum, students are expected to be aware of balance and timing in instrumental and vocal performance by Year 8; if they don’t have basic security on their instrument this is going to be a challenge. In Year 8 they also need know about dynamics and the techniques needed for a wider dynamic range. Essentially, they need the practical knowledge of how to be expressive on an instrument. A great Year 7 curriculum allows students to get a secure grounding in at least two instruments, plus vocal work. Schools approach this through well-planned schemes that make use of thoughtful resources (which particular pieces of ‘real music’ can bring beginner tuition to life?) and include plenty of direct instruction on technique.

In creative work, asking students to compose an entire piece over an extended period of time can lead to students spending a large amount of time doing the wrong thing, being unfocussed or not knowing how to progress. Instead, it’s better to break the task into smaller steps with clear goals, setting timeframes for the students.

A brilliant piece of choregraphy or devised drama will develop from a structure or framework – this is driven by the stimulus itself (a piece of music or text) but then outlined by expert facilitation from great teachers.

And, take song writing as an example: there are multiple ways to approach this as a musician, starting with melody or chords, with a hook, or simply lyrics. The order, for an experienced musician, doesn’t necessarily matter. For students we need to identify the building blocks of knowledge required to construct the song, and present them in small, manageable steps. In this way song writing is initially a composition exercise, leading on to more independent creative work once they have mastered the individual steps. Yes – there are students who will write songs independently, naturally creating balanced sections and chord patterns that link to functional harmony. These musicians in our classrooms have already developed a level of instrumental mastery. For a curriculum to be accessible to all, as an entitlement cultural knowledge, the building blocks of creativity need to be more explicitly outlined.

Share how you review learning – tweet @United_Music1 with your ideas.


Catherine Barker is the Head of Music and  Performing Arts at United Learning. This post first appeared on her blog, Music and Performing Arts at United Learning.

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