Reflections on evaluation

Post thirty-nine in our (re)learning to teach music series. This is the first week responding to the tasks in chapter six in Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School. This is week eight of the collaborative blogging. 

Mike Morgan @MikeMMusicED

I always wondered what a ‘non-musical’ task consists of in music lessons. When I first began teaching, I thought pupils had to be composing or performing to be performing musical tasks. The more experienced I became, the more I realised that there are ways pupils can be musical which is accessible. The planning of a composition is a musical process. While the pupils may not be writing music, their thinking in a musical way. The creation of a piece of electronic music on a sequencer is also musical in the sense of being able to manipulate timing, timbres and in some cases, pitch to ensure it is in key. I find it harder now to see the non-musical aspects in lessons as I always think about this in the planning stages. I feel as we become more experienced, we are able to turn tasks into musical experience. Even if pupils are discussing or writing about music, they are still thinking musically in a sense of interacting with the music.

Vaughan Fleischfresser @VFleischfresser

I learned a lot about reflection and evaluation during my time as Teaching Fellow in Music Education at the University of Edinburgh. What really stuck with me was, just as we are uniquely individual, so too is the way in which we reflect and evaluate our teaching. Some prefer to undertake the process as soon after the fact as possible, while some prefer to sleep on it. Whatever the case may be, the important thing is to find the process that works best for you.

In terms of these questions, I believe they are of great benefit to the reflection and evaluation process. Having said that, I’m a believer in the notion that there isn’t always a concrete answer to any of these questions, and that’s okay. Sometimes, for example, you just know that pupils have learned what you planned for them to learn. It might have been a look they gave while performing, or the answer to a question, or the enthusiasm and assuredness with which they approach an activity. These successes and barometers aren’t always easily or succintly expressed, nor do they always fit within the criteria set down as the benchmarks for success. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t meaningful. Sometimes they are more so than the stipulated criteria.

The other question that spiked my interest was – “Did they learn things other than what I planned they should learn? Were these things of musical value? If so, how do I know? What is the musical evidence?” When a teacher gets to the point in their reflective and evaluative journey where they can actually pin down the answers to these questions, they can really take their teaching to the next level. When pupils learn things other than those in the plan, as an inadvertent result of the plan, then the teacher is presented with a wonderful opportunity to really enrich and mature subsequent plans. Additionally, this unexpected learning gives real insight into the interests and learning styles of the pupils. To discover such things through reflection and note them as simply fascinating, rather than actionable, is to miss a wonderful opportunity to improve teaching and learning.

I could continue to reflect on each of the individual questions posited, however for the benefit of time I won’t. To conclude, I will focus on the final question – “How will my evaluation impact upon my teaching of this class?” This is vitally important. It is one thing to recognise and find the answers to each of these questions. It’s another to let yourself be honest and open enough to accept them. It’s then another thing altogether to use them as a force for positive and meaningful change to your practice. There’s no point reflecting and evaluating if it doesn’t enact change, and to enact change, we need to find the time and willingness to let it do so. In the pressure-filled and time-precious environment we find ourselves, ensuring we find the time to reflect and evaluate, and allow the result to enact positive change, is more important than ever. 

David House @House_dg

In yesterday’s blog I mentioned that evaluation is useful for teachers after every lesson, even if only on the way to grab a coffee, and useful to use student voice periodically – perhaps after a sequence of lessons on a given topic. My experience of teaching is that much evaluation takes place in a staffroom context – this might include strategies and approaches to deal with particular students and classes. It is often only through informal conversations that issues are seen to be present across subjects [“they find it difficult to settle to work with you too?”] and can be addressed by pastoral staff in support of subject teachers.

The specific evaluation questions in the book are good, and would form a good basis of a coaching-style discussion [such a relief that we have moved from lesson observation and grading now to detailed professional discussion about improving teaching – follow @ChrisMoyse for excellent advice in this. I would particularly focus on these: “If learning didn’t happen, what was the problem?” – and I would always start with my approach. Was it appropriate, did I set the right tone, how could I have dealt with that interruption in a more positive way . . . etc. This leads directly to “What can I change/try in the next lesson to better support musical learning” – and in doing this don’t be afraid to front up in the next lesson with that in mind: “Listen everyone, I don’t think we were making progress as we should last time and so I’m suggesting the following to help us”. “How will my evaluation impact upon my teaching of this class?” To me this is the key point – I would ordinarily aim to give all my KS3 classes the same musical experience and opportunity, however I am very aware that each group of 31 students has a different dynamic, different sets of existing skills, different interests, and come to the lesson in different frames of mind often dependent upon the timetable and previous lesson.

Ewan McIntosh @ETMcINTOSH

I would say that the question that are being used for the lesson evaluation are fair questions. The thing that I always tend to jot down at the end of a lesson are four fold “What have they learnt? What musical skills have they developed? How do I know? What do I need to do next to move them on?” Evidence that is mentioned in question 2+4 can be problematic sometimes. If pupils are practicing for a performance then there might not be much evidence week in, week out of their improvements as we tend not to record everything the pupils do. However, there will be a video of the final outcome and these collections of videos from their musical school journey will show progression over time. Looking at problems is useful but again is very class specific. One group may complete the lesson tasks to a great standard whilst another might not depending on the day and the time of the lesson. Sometimes a lesson might not go well; it’s just one of those things. Evaluating can mean that task can always be altered and hopefully the learning missed put back on track. Looking back at how you can improve the same lesson next time is easier for subjects like KS3 music where most teachers have multiple classes per year group. Little tweaks can make lots of difference. The impact of the evaluation is that it will allow you to better teach the pupils in front of you and continue to better develop their musicianship as well as your own teaching practice.

Steven Berryman @steven_berryman

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