Why I use blogging to teach music in a primary school
by Jackie Schneider
Teaching music in a primary school is a very different experience to teaching music in a secondary school. In some primary schools the music coordinator is unlikely to teach music except to their own class. Other schools might employ specialists who come in and teach music to cover PPA (planning, preparation and assessment time other wise known as non contact) Incidentally, this last model may prove problematic as The School Review Board is currently reviewing PPA arrangements and many think it will recommend removing the element of compulsion so heads will no longer be forced to provide it and as a result may no longer need to bring in music teachers. That is probably worth a discussion all of its own on the forum once the Review Board publish their report.
I am a primary teacher and don’t have a great deal of experience of secondary schools so it was a great opportunity to work with Hanh Doan at the Music Education Expo 2013. I visited her at Beaumont School and got to see her in action. It was extremely impressive and gave me lots to think about.
We gave a joint presentation on using blogging to teach music. It was striking how differently we used blogs. For Hanh the blog is a very effective way for her to reach her students directly and to get them to take more responsibility for their learning. The majority of teachers at our session were from secondary schools.
In this editorial I would like to go through the reasons I use blogging to teach music in a primary school and to outline 2 ideas I have to develop it further.
1. Keep a learning log of the lessons for me and the children to refer to
I actually have a sign in my classroom saying “please don’t look at our walls - if you want to see and hear our work go to the blog”. Stuff that matters in primary school is displayed on walls. It sends a message to kids that the work is valued. I do the same with the work we create in music lessons - for example the fragments of pentatonic tunes we create, scraps of graphic scores we make. They are captured and displayed because they are important. We can then return to them the following week for the next lesson. It always surprises me how many children visit the blog in between lessons so they remember where we got to.
2 To help embed music in the life of the school
I want music to feature in lots of lessons so I put up posts showing music from countries that I know classes are studying. I have recently collected songs celebrating world book day, found lullabies to be sung to accompany a class book and pointed class teachers to clips of their children performing.
3. To provide a platform to showcase achievement.
There isn’t a strong culture of children learning musical instruments at my schools so I want to encourage and nurture those that do. I feature them in a series of posts called “Meet a young musician” - the children have complete editorial control. The piece only goes up if they are happy. It is less stressful for the children than playing in assembly and I have been told by several parents it has made their children increase their practice.
4. To get 2 way communication going
We often complain that the children are passive but how much opportunity do we give children to talk to us? I teach over 600 children a week so time is short but the children can contact me via the blog. I have been delighted with the outpouring of comments I have had from them. We’ve discussed best use of music budget, content of lessons, reviewed performances and much, much more. Children who are too shy to speak to me in class think nothing of posting comments, asking questions and pointing to clips. Moderating and posting their comments is not at all onerous and I mange it pretty swiftly using a smart phone. I actually look forward to getting their comments and value their feedback.
5. To bring the outside world into the class to inspire
The blog makes it much easier for me to put our lessons into a wider context. I can show them a clip that illustrates the very thing we have been working on. I can point to further resources and help those children who are eager to learn more.
I have 2 ideas that I would like to develop further to get the most out of blogging
Idea 1 - can we link up school music blogs?
Many primary schools have signed up to a system known as ‘Quad blogging” developed by David Mitchell where schools take it in turns to visit each other blogs to read work and leave comments. It has been very successful for some schools and has made global education a reality as schools communicate with each other across the globe.
I know David Ashworth has written in the past about the value of getting secondary students to evaluate songs primary school children have written. It is a win win situation as the secondary students get a chance to apply their knowledge of song writing to identify strengths and weakness and make suggestions and the primary kids get valuable feedback.
Would it be possible for us to provide links to our music blogs so we can show our students each others music blogs? So far example if I’m teaching recorders this half term could I visit a list of school music blogposts and see if are any posts that feature some recorder skills. My class could then watch, evaluate their playing and leave a helpful comment. How can we link up? Should we create a list on the Teaching Music forum for starters?
Idea 2 - could we find individuals interested in music education to leave comments?
I tend to use my twitter account to attract visitors to the blog. One of my children in year 6 was asked by a visitor for the lyrics of a song he had written because she liked it so much. That child now considers himself a lyricist. Her request had a bigger impact than my in class praise. I am not looking for uncritical praise but helpful comments and challenging questions. It would be so powerful if an adult violinist could leave a comment for the “Young Musician” who is playing her grade 1 piece. It wouldn’t be onerous for the visitor - 15 minutes visit to the site as and when they had time. There would be no child protection issues as comments would be moderated by teacher. It would be great if universities who still do the music teacher training could point their students to school music blogs. There must be lots of people who work for hubs, arts organisations, musicians that want to play a part in developing school music. The question is how we find these people. Maybe twitter? maybe we ask individuals we already know. Is this something we could do here on Teaching Music?
Make no mistake - blogging in the primary school is here to stay and is expanding by the day. The question is will it be used simply for literacy purposes or can we music teachers make it work for us?
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