Working at my current school, Rhyl Primary in Camden, has meant making some changes to my music-teaching. For a start both Year 4 classes learn ukulele and all the Year 5 children learn keyboards. As well as this, because of the temporary nature of my original contract, I have not introduced any of the children to solfa because it seemed pointless considering that it would be unlikely to continue when I left. It’s been odd for me ignoring solfa because it has been integral to my teaching for the last seven years. You will see in the following account that I encourage the children to show the pitch with their hands but we do not work with the solfa names or handsigns.
On the 8th of November I took a train to Bradford because I wanted to meet up with primary music teacher Jimmy Rotherham* and see him at work in Feversham Primary Academy (‘fever’ rhymes with sever not as in fever). He has come to national and international prominence as the music teacher of a school where the headteacher pointed to the high-quality and frequent music lessons as the reason for a remarkable improvement in literacy outcomes. The school is in a deprived area of the city with a very high proportion of children who have English as a second language.
There have only been two articles written on this website over the last twelve months. This is because of the upheaval caused by being moved on from my music-teaching post at Manorfield Primary School in Tower Hamlets in July of 2017.
By April 2017 my headteacher at that school had finally stopped hinting and told me that he would be replacing me with two tutors from the Colourstrings organisation to save the school money. This was a massive blow to me as I had spent the last four years building up the level of musicianship right across the school.
It’s the first music lesson of the Summer term for this year group. I need to make sure it’s fun and stimulating and challenging, just like every other music lesson! The class troop in after playtime and some children clearly don’t want to have to sit down after the intense excitement of running around in the noisy playground with their friends. The lesson will appeal to this natural desire to move their bodies and play.
Philosophy for Children (P4C), or some variation of it, is practised in over 60 countries around the world and has a history stretching back over 40 years. The underlying principle is for children and young people to experience rational and reasonable dialogue about things that matter to them and their teachers. All participants work together in a ‘community of enquiry’. The aim for each child is not to win an argument but to become clearer, more accurate, less self-contradictory and more aware of other arguments and values before reaching a conclusion.
From the P4C website
The class sit down on chairs in a large circle.
The class of thirty pour into the room and quickly take up their positions two-to-a-keyboard sat cross-legged on the ground. It’s 9.30 and there is an air of expectancy. Any teacher would recognise that this is a class ready for action! There is a brief moment of fuss because two children have decided to sit with different partners. This is quickly rectified and we’re ready to go.
I can hear the first class of the day approaching. It is a Year 3 class. Now they are lined up outside the Music Room. A boy at the front of the line is singing Kye Kye Kule to me, it’s a call and response song that we sing in the weekly Singing Assembly. Once the children are sat down I pick up a copy of the class register. After singing ‘Hello Everyone’ to the whole class a couple of times I choose a name and sing to that individual child.
What a Difference a Day Makes
The class who are coming through the door on this Thursday morning usually have a music lesson at 9.30 on a Monday. However, at the start of this week I was out of school with ninety Year 4 children at a Singing Workshop in Bow School, our local secondary, led by the Apollo 5 vocal group.
We begin by marching around the room selling Hot Cross Buns.
The class have hardly sat down and I am clapping the rhythm of ‘Lil’ Liza Jane’. By the end of the song the class is singing along. This particular class are very keen singers. I write a simple rhythm (ta ti-ti ti-ti ta) and ask the class to clap it. I am moving along very quickly at this point and many don’t do it. I ask them to do it again. Once they’ve done it I tell them we are going to clap it as an ostinato. Someone asks “What’s an ostinato?” I repeat the question in mock horror and ask another pupil to answer.
This week all the music lessons are based on the ‘Philosophy for Children’ model (P4C). On the website www.philosophy4children.co.uk it is stated that “Philosophy for Children (enquiry based learning) offers a way to open up children’s learning through enquiry and the exploration of ideas. Children learn that their ideas have value, and that the ideas of other children have value too. Through Philosophy for Children they realise that they don’t always have to be right, but they gain the confidence to ask questions and learn through discussion.”