The tasks (teacher notes)

Lessons and fortnight structure

The sequence of lessons here is based around students having access to dedicated music software environment as they have in our school with Reason and Sibelius installed on dedicated music computers, 12 in a lab, for 24 students to work in pairs.

They have two 53-minute periods a fortnight here, and five periods a fortnight in a music classroom, some of which can be dedicated to small group performance practice (where they can use other rooms too), and some of which can be more focused listening and analysis classes. Which periods are which in the non-music lab classes is quite flexible.

Outcomes and syllabus mapping notes

All of this material relates to Board of Studies (BOS) outcomes but I take that as read, and will not undertake explicit mapping here. Everything can of course be mapped to BOS performance, composition, musicology, aural and ‘willingness to engage’ outcomes. Similar mapping occurs of course with the various Arts objectives and criteria for the Middle Years Program of the International Baccalaureate.

Scheme of work notes

The scheme of work here is in outline rather than lesson-by-lesson detail and is intended to be flexibly implemented according to teacher preference, predilection and teaching style. Other musical listening examples could profitably be substituted. Indeed while teaching I usually come across a lot of interesting relevant material new to me serendipitously, which I can then bring to class, keeping everyone fresh and engaged, especially the teacher.

Listening intentions

The intention is that students be exposed to a wide range of examples of music, some that they may be somewhat familiar with, some that may relate directly to music they know, and other music that will be new to them and hopefully expand their horizons of possibility.

Starting with one core piece of repertoire (‘The hardest button to button’ from the White Stripes), but expanding from this, as far as students are able to and interested in moving.

In-class analysis would take the form of listening and attempting to work out sections of the song, mapping the structure brainstorm fashion, including small group work, and a return to plenary class session. The aim to map out the structure and learn to play the song in a version.

I have been particularly inspired by the work of rock journalist Paul Morley, Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City, and I am intrigued by its possibilities as an educational model. An absolutely exhaustive (and exhausting!) history of all popular music. I have even attempted dramatic reading from this text in class, along with playing its key musical examples to the class (Alvin Lucier’s ‘I am sitting in a room’ and Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t get you out of my head’).

I also use visual examples of many kinds whenever I can in class, as they really engage students (though of course you run the risk of students treating some moments as mere entertainment; ah but I live in hope!) So playing video clips, live concert footage, filmed radio and TV broadcasts, ‘making of’ album videos, and interesting filmed versions of performances (e.g. Vincent Moon’s Takeaway Shows) has become normal practice in my teaching.

Composition intentions

The intention here is to allow students to exploit the natural minimalist possibilities that emanate from current music technology, both in looping and sequencing/sampling software environments. Students in my experience tend to find grooves that work and to develop them often along the lines of techno-related dance music that they have heard, and they can relate what they are learning to examples we have worked on in listening and performance classes.

The assignment is for them to create in pairs a composition three to four minutes in length using a drum groove of some kind, at least one loop, and sampler/sequencer software such as Reason to create an interesting minimalist composition.

They are asked to notate main motifs and create a lead sheet if appropriate. Simply notating motifs and describing the combinations in a structure diagram may be of more musical use in some compositions, so the requirement here depends on the nature of the composition.

Students have access to laptops all the time but not open Internet access. Most audio and video is blocked to student access.

My use of YouTube examples would only work here for students’ access from home, or for teacher access in the classroom. I would have to upload audio files to the school’s own intranet. However for the purposes of this assignment I have assumed (the fiction for my current workplace) that students have open access to YouTube at school.

Performance intentions

After the listening class morphing into creating some rough performance versions of The White Stripes ‘Hardest button to button’, the intention here is to move to creating a small group cover version of a minimalist or post-minimalist song in a small group.

The principle here is the creating of a ‘version’ in a small group, students having the freedom to choose in their group a song from the listening examples, or something related in style of their own choosing. They have the freedom to emulate, or depart from the original style and form: they can do a similar, different, or radically different version. They are required however to use at least one electronic instrument in their performance. This could be a sequence or loop on computer, or percussion device, or other available sequencer or looping device. If students have access they could use equipment of their own. I have for example had students use turntables, or their digital equivalents, or their own laptops for generating sounds triggered live by a USB keyboard.

They may use voices, body percussion, percussion and any available conventional acoustic or electric instruments. Their version may be instrumental.

Group size recommended as three to five people. Could go as low as two and up to six with teacher OK. Some students find it hard to work with more than one other student. Some students can productively work in larger groups. Some will happily work with people they don’t necessarily know very well. Again this all allows for self-differentiation and group formation among self-chosen groups.

The goal is an end-of-term relatively informal lunchtime performance of the cover versions to an audience of the students’ peers. Perhaps over a couple of days depending on the size of the class

My extension and modification teaching philosophy

My intention is to allow for special needs in a definite but low-key way, attempting to build self-differentiation into the program of lessons, to allow all students to both meet basic outcomes for lessons and units, but to enable them to also gravitate to working with appropriate peers with whom they get on well and can form synergistic teamwork relationships, to allow them to meet their needs naturally, and to themselves extend or modify task appropriately.

Some of the thinking for this process relates to the very strong emphasis on personalised learning (UK terminology equivalent to Australian curriculum differentiation) in the Musical Futures and Learning Futures programs in the UK, where students work in self-devised but scaffolded projects in self-chosen groups.

In other words the programming for differentiation allows for all students to self-differentiate. The teacher identifies opportunities available to all, and perhaps prods or encourages certain students to extend or to modify, but not in such a way as to specifically single a student out for ‘special treatment’. Rather to give that student the opportunity to choose to do the extended or modified version of the task, with negotiation and consequent student ownership.

That is not to deny the importance of being explicit with students about their extended or modified needs, and providing appropriate support. See in this case my reference to the actual profiles of the students concerned. But the principle for me is to seek to defer to the student’s own developing perspective of how to manage their own needs, to encourage them to build autonomy and self-motivation, but always with appropriate support.

Special needs student profiles.

These profiles are based on actual students I have met, or on combinations of several students, but the names are fictional.

  • Special needs student (modification):

Tristan is a male student with a bone and joint condition which results in severely limited finger and arm mobility and strength. He is able to use his legs pretty much normally. He has good supportive relationships from peers, who assist him with carrying books and so forth.

He has good social skills. He has developed an interest in drums. He is quite keen on music and is a good listener to music and eager participant in group activities. He gravitates to the class drum kit if ever there is an opportunity to play. He can hold drum sticks in a reasonably functional way, and can create effective beats, although the possibilities for technical development in relation to standard drumming in his case are of course quite restricted.

While his finger and arm is mobility is restricted he can use a standard computer keyboard and mouse, with somewhat reduced facility. The banana keyboard would be ideal, facilities allowing.

He has a realistic, good humoured and philosophical approach to his condition, as he has learned to manage it throughout his life. He is quite articulate about his needs, happy to openly discuss his needs with teachers and peers, and he readily suggests alternatives and workarounds to his teachers and classmates.

  • Special needs student (extension)

Hannah is a female student identified as having Asperger’s syndrome, or of being on the autism spectrum (ASD). She has previously been considered as ‘gifted and talented’ although the current school policy is shifting against so readily identifying G&T students, both as we’ve perhaps overdone it in the past, and also it is a little out of step with the ideals of MYP and Diploma programs in the International Baccalaureate, who discourage G&T programs and thinking.

She is very quick at picking up and running with musical ideas, and can get obsessive at times in pursing ideas. She sometimes finds it hard to work in groups, especially larger ones, and is likely to adopt a randomising approach, more in the way of trying to fit in, but with the effect of distracting students, calling out inappropriately, and tending to exhibit annoyed behaviour, and provoking annoyance in others.

She finds it hard to be disciplined and follow through, say in having music instrument lessons, but nevertheless exhibits quite advanced technique and skill on instruments, and a strong sense of what to play, despite lack of ‘conventional’ focused practice.

She is quite polite and friendly, yet can present as being socially immature, perhaps by many years, and finds it difficult to relate appropriately to many of her peers.

She has been observed to work very productively and quickly in creating music in a small group with one or two others, particularly when working with similarly focused people (perhaps who are themselves bordering on ASD) to whom she gravitates socially.

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