A Bradford primary school wants the world to know its newfound Sats success is down to giving all children up to six hours of music a week
Abiha Nasir, aged nine, walks quietly into the small classroom, takes a seat, adjusts her hijab and picks up the drumsticks. A shy smile spreads across her face as she begins to play.
She was just five when she turned up at Feversham primary academy’s after-school clubs, leaving teachers astounded by her musical ability and how her confidence grew with an instrument in hand. Last year, Abiha successfully auditioned for Bradford’s gifted and talented music programme for primary school children, the first Muslim girl to do so. The assessor recorded only one word in her notes: “Wow!”
Abiha’s teachers say her talent might have gone unspotted in many schools, where subjects such as music and art are being squeezed out by pressure to reach Sats targets and climb league tables.
But at Feversham, the headteacher, Naveed Idrees, has embedded music, drama and art into every part of the school day, with up to six hours of music a week for every child, and with remarkable results. Seven years ago Feversham was in special measures and making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Today it is rated “good” by Ofsted and is in the top 10% nationally for pupil progress in reading, writing and maths, according to the most recent data. In 2011, the school was 3.2 percentage points behind the national average in English. This year 74% of its pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, against a national average of 53%. It is 7.1 points above the average for reading and 3.4 above for writing. In maths, the school was 2.4 points behind the national average in 2011 and is now 6.5 above it. Its results for disadvantaged pupils are well above average.
Warwickshire Music Hub is leading two exciting singing projects this year. The first is a partnership with Ex-Cathedra, supported by funding from Arts Council England. This partnership involves 11 primary schools and around 2,000 children and adults; culminating in a singing day at the University of Warwick Arts Centre on March 11th.
The second project is a partnership between Warwickshire Music Hub, Coventry Music Hub and 4 secondary schools, supported by funding from Youth Music. This project is creating a choir of 100 young people, ideally who are not used to singing in choirs, with the focus of two major performances in 2016.
By definition projects such as these, supported by external funding, are created with very definite start and finish dates and clearly quantifiable objectives i.e. how many children are involved and what rehearsals/events are due to take place. This is all very worthy and very exciting for those involved.
But the big question has to be - what happens next? All too often these excellent projects simply stop once the money runs out because they are time limited. Our challenge is how to create a more lasting legacy and the reality is that money is needed, whether through further funding or sponsorship or simply creating new groups that require membership fees.
Getting the balance between time limited funded projects and creating something that lasts is a challenge - but one that is really worth exploring. The planning has to consider the future and what structures - in this case choral - are already in place.
The primary school project 'Singing Playgrounds' should embed singing within the participating schools but that cannot be taken for granted and so discussions need to take place with the participating schools to see what support they might need to continue the positive outcomes of the project.
The secondary school project is called the 'Joint Choir Creation Project'. Wouldn't it be great if the legacy was to actually create a brand new choir that met regularly after the project itself comes to an end? At the very least the young people involved deserve the option of continuing to sing; whether as part of a school based group or within a singing strategy created by the respective Music Hubs.
This is where working in partnership with schools and other Hubs is potentially so powerful. The reality of creating lasting legacies is that all too often they are reliant on external funding. Our challenge is to create internal structures that are self reliant; and this starts with partnerships.
If your parents forced you to practice your scales by saying it would "build character," they were onto something. The Washington Post reports that one of the largest scientific studies into music's effect on the brain has found something striking: Musical training doesn't just affect your musical ability — it provides tremendous benefits to children's emotional and behavioral maturation.
The study by the University of Vermont College of Medicine found that even those who never made it past nursery rhyme songs and do-re-mi's likely received some major developmental benefits just from playing. The study provides even more evidence as to why providing children with high-quality music education may be one of the most effective ways to ensure their success in life.
The study: James Hudziak and his colleagues analyzed the brain scans of 232 children ages 6 to 18, looking for relationships between cortical thickness and musical training. Previous studies the team had performed revealed that anxiety, depression, attention problems and aggression correspond with changes to cortical thickness. Hudziak and his team sought to discover whether a "positive activity" like musical training could affect the opposite changes in young minds.
"What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument," Hudziak told the Washington Post, "it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control."
The study found increased thickness in parts of the brain responsible for executive functioning, which includes working memory, attentional control and organizational skills. In short, music actually helped kids become more well-rounded. Not only that, they believe that musical training could serve as a powerful treatment of cognitive disorders like ADHD.
We need this sort of proof now more than ever. In presenting their findings, the authors reveal a terrifying truth about the American education system: Three-quarters of high school students "rarely or never" receive extracurricular lessons in the music or the arts. And that's depriving kids of way more than just knowing an instrument.
School systems that don't dedicate adequate time and resources to musical training are robbing their kids of so much. Prior research proves that learning music can help children develop spatiotemporal faculties, which then aid their ability to solve complex math. It can also help children improve their reading comprehension and verbal abilities, especially for those who speak English as a second language.
In these ways music can be a powerful tool in helping to close the achievement gaps that have plagued American schools for so long. It's even been shown that children who receive musical training in school also tend to be more civically engaged and maintain higher grade-point averages than children who don't. In short, musical education can address many of the systemic problems in American education.
Hudziak's research is an important addition to the field because it shows that music helps us become better people, too. One thing is clear: Learning music is one of the best things a person can do. Who knows — running scales may have changed your life. And it could change the lives of future generations too.
h/t Washington Post
Find out why music is so good for your child's development. Click on the link to watch an amazing video about
how music can benefit the brain.
Play some video games
My wife Emma is an English teacher and she asked her class of 15 year olds about how they played video games and what they did to improve. The answers were fascinating. There was general agreement that video games set attainable targets at each level that the players strive for and they constantly raise the bar but only by a sensible and achievable level. A stimulating and even exciting learning environment is created and, guess what, they wanted to practise to improve.
Those of you familiar with the work of Professor John Hattie will recognise his comparison of effective learning with video games. His research focuses on what makes effective teaching and he has created what he calls his 'table of effect sizes' in relation to what has the greatest influence on student learning? Top of the list is Feedback.
He identifies 3 feedback questions and 4 levels of feedback focus and I have tried to explore how each of these might be applied to instrumental/vocal instruction and practise. Let us assume that we are discussing an individual music lesson with a student and a teacher working on the performance of a piece of music.
3 Feedback Questions
1. Where Am I Going? The end result will be the performance to the highest possible standard and the teacher will be modelling the final result to the student.
2. How Am I Going? A practically based lesson will be a constant exchange between student and teacher in which modelling and guidance will take the student ever closer to the 'ideal' performance.
3. Where To Next? Just as in the video game analogy the teacher will recommend the next piece to be studied that will challenge and stimulate the student without raising the bar too high.
The Focus Of Feedback - The 4 Levels
1. Correct or incorrect. The student is corrected when errors are made.
2. Process. The student is guided as to how they can correct errors. Perhaps by demonstration of a practise technique that will help them overcome a challenging part of the piece being studied.
3. Self evaluation and self confidence. The student is shown how to assess their own performance and have the confidence to do so away from the lesson.
4. Personal. The student is encouraged to make the performance their own and consider the subjective aspect of performance i.e. the mood and feeling that is required in addition to simply playing the right notes and observing the musical elements.
How often do we get as far as level 2 but no further in our teaching? How often do we consider levels 3 and 4 to be relevant only to more advanced students and that simply 'playing the right notes' is as much as beginners can manage? When I reflect on my own teaching these 3 Feedback Questions and 4 Levels Of Focus really help me to understand what I need to do in order to be an effective teacher and to ensure that the feedback to my students is the best it can be.
Take 5 for Perfect Practice
How to help your child with their instrumental learning.
Five is a good number in terms of short term memory and motivation. Try remembering a series of more than five numbers and you will see what I mean. A expectation of no more than FIVE activities can be more motivational than too many targets.
1. FIVE minutes a day is a minimum practice for beginners.
2. Focus on FIVE elements within that time. This will include elements of practice such as posture, breathing, tone quality, scales, intonation, specific technical points, dynamics, etc.
3. FIVE days a week and two rest days.
4. Build up the FIVE minutes into FIVE sets of FIVE minutes a day.
5. Make one of the FIVE continuous playing to develop stamina and performance technique.