One Week Done by James Manwaring
by Music Teachers Association
One Week Done, and what a week it has been. I thought I should reflect on this first week back, mainly because we have been off for so long in 2020! There has been so much happening every day at school. Getting through the first week was something I worried about having spent so much time at home. But it would appear I not only “survived” the first week, but I also enjoyed it.
Students love Music Making
My first reflection is that students love Music Making in every form. This week I have taught from Year 3 up to Year 13, and without exception they all enjoyed engaging with music. Whether it be listening, composing or performing; they have had smiles on their faces. Music is integral to their lives and education, and it isn’t just the Extra-Curricular that matters.
Within the classroom children & young people really do want to make music, experience music and see it in action. I have been amazed at how much joy is in the room when music is playing. It is heartwarming to see that they have not forgotten to wonder & excitement of a good quality music lesson.
Students don’t listen enough
It may be that I am just not asking the right questions, but I am finding that students don’t listen to enough music. When asked, most students can’t name a favourite band, artist or song. It appears that music is something they experience in movies & video-games, but isn’t something they “choose” to listen to. I am sure that they are exceptions and I do know that most of the A-Level class do have clear musical tastes.
So this year I am going to target this because I believe it to be important. I spoke with My Year 9 classes about the need for them to really listen to music. I asked them to share music they enjoyed, and whilst like getting blood from a stone, some did have favourites. Deliberate listening is being promoted in all my classes and I hope that in a few weeks time students will start to find music for them.
I also enjoyed using the Classical100 website to give my Year 3 & 4 classes some guided listening at the start of the lesson. They really enjoyed listening to “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, but all thought it was from a movie -which I guess it is, anyway…
Students do want to learn
After several months off, students do want to learn. They are not put off, disengaged or uninterested. They want to get something from school and from lessons. I observed also that students were intrigued and excited by both the traditional music making and the more modern music technology options.
I feel it is my duty this year to really help all year groups to get into all types of music. Whether it be the traditional notation or the DAW. With Year 3 on Friday I re-introduced them to rhythms thought simple clapping games. By the end of the lessons students were standing up and performing short rhythms with a sense of joy and purpose. Give students a “Tah & Ti-Ri” and they will give you something back.
Schools are great places to be
Working in a school is great. Working from home, not so good. I have really loved being back in the school environment and I feel that the students have to. The love of school has been clear in the way in which students have stuck to the rules. Maybe some time away from school has been good for us all to reflect on why we love the place. Not don’t get me wrong, schools have their issues. But in terms of education I think they work better than Zoom or Teams.
But it is also good to know that students are now potentially more independent learners. Having navigated online learning for so long, I feel that my GCSE & A-Level students are more equipped to study at home. If they are ever away from school then they will know what to do in order to make progress. Having a healthy balance of online work at home and in class work will hopefully make for a fuller education.
Extra-Curricular is Essential
This title won’t come as a shock to anyone who knows me well. I believe that what goes on outside the classroom is crucial. I must say that I have had to shift my focus a little more over the last few months. But I still believe schools need to offer more.
It isn’t however all that easy in the current 2020 climate to offer a wide and varied programme. Year group bubbles, small rooms and social distancing mean that Extra-Curricular is tough. The good news is that little and often is better than nothing. Students this week have really enjoyed gathering to make music. They know it isn’t the same, but they still get something from it.
I urge you to keep going with this if you are struggling to get things going. Rehearsals make communities and they encourage our students to take their music making seriously. Keeping with the rules and putting safety first is the number one priority. But after that, just ensure that you are giving something back to the students – they will really value it and appreciate anything you offer.
One Week Done
So One Week Done and I am more passionate about Music Education than ever. I have learnt so much from lockdown and I have connected with so many Music Teachers up and down the country. Twitter is like a big staffroom full of music teachers. It is great to see others overcoming challenges and it is wonderful to be able to support from a distance.
We need each other and as a sector and profession we need to pull together. Students need schools and teachers need to be in school. It is great to be back and I have loved every minute in front of classes this week. It is possible to find a magical moment in almost every lesson or rehearsal .
The moment where a young person smiles because they have just learnt something new.
Or the moment a student plays a chord in a rehearsal and they hear that it fits in with everyone else.
Then there is the drummer who goes for it and nails an amazing drum roll.
Or the Year 7 student who claps a rhythm from the board and realises it is correct.
These magical moments make every week in teaching special. We have the greatest job in the world and we must enjoy it as music as possible. I have that after One Week Done you feel ready for week two. I can’t wait to see what the year ahead will hold and I am sure I will learn more than ever.
James Manwaring is Director of Music for Windsor Learning Partnership, a multi-academy trust in Windsor. He teaches and works with students from Years 1-13, runs an adult community choir and writes a music education blog – manwaringmusic.blog. He has been shortlisted 5 times for Music Department of the Year. He is also a Committee Member of The Music Teachers' Association: www.musicteachers.org