The musical development of the child may be closely observed in many teaching situations suggested in the curriculum. Teacher observation, teacher-designed tasks and the use of portfolios will enable the teacher to monitor the effectiveness and understanding with which various activities have been undertaken. A description of these tools is given in the assessment statement in the curriculum.
In the course of day-to-day teaching, the teacher may observe the children's integrated work throughout the three strands, or in specific strands. This will depend on the learning outcomes that the teacher has planned for the lesson, within a scheme of work. For instance, in teaching a melodic instrument, the teacher's main objective may be that the children will be able to sing and play a number of simple tunes and to improvise melodic patterns at the end of a series of lessons. Within a single lesson, however, the teacher may wish to observe the child's ability to hold the instrument correctly, to listen to and follow directions, to concentrate on a particular task, to work successfully with a partner and to persevere when a situation becomes particularly challenging.
Other aspects of musical work will be less teacher-directed and perhaps will demand more independence, initiative and creativity from the child. In these situations the learning outcomes may be less quantifiable, and therefore the teacher will need to pose a different set of questions in order to gauge the effectiveness of his/her teaching. The teacher will need to show special sensitivity when the creative work of the children is discussed openly. The children will have their own personal pride in what has been created, and while they should be encouraged to discuss one another's work, it should be done in a constructive spirit of generosity.
Such observations feed directly back into the teaching and learning process, emphasising areas of weakness or strength in the children's achievement, providing useful summative information and guidelines for future planning.
In looking at the children's work in each of the three strands, the teacher will also discern the development of the integrated musical elements as they emerge.
Listening and responding
During class work where the focus is predominantly on the Listening and responding strand, the teacher may pose the following questions in relation to one or more children:
- Does the child enjoy the music?
- Is he/she really concentrating on the listening source or is he/she distracted by other stimuli? If the child has difficulty concentrating, is this because of the sound quality of the performance or recording, the communication of the performer, the relevance of the music itself to the listener or some other factors?
- Is the purpose of the listening extract (or performance) clear to the child?
- How does the child move to the music? If he/she is encouraged to move to the music, are these movements natural or inhibited? Can the child move in time to the beat of the music? Can the child coordinate feet and hands, showing beat and rhythm? Can the child show the shape of the tune, for example moving from high to low? Does the child show sensitivity to expressive phrases or sections?
- How does the child describe the music? Does he/she show a sense of openness towards unfamiliar music or towards music of different cultures and eras? Can the child discuss features in the music as well as express preferences?
- How does the child record or illustrate responses to music?
- Has the listening experience any impact on work in other areas of the music curriculum (linkage) or in other subject areas (integration)?
Where the focus of a lesson is predominantly on the Performing strand, the teacher may pose the following questions in relation to one or more children:
- Does the child participate in the performing activity with enthusiasm? If the child shows little interest in the music, is this because of the manner in which it is presented, the newness or staleness of the experience, the difficulty level, or the relevance of the music to the child?
- How does the child deal with the musical elements? Is he/she capable of keeping a steady pulse? of maintaining accurate rhythm? keeping the correct pitch? remembering the words when singing? varying the dynamics or tempo?
- Does the quality of the child's singing or playing change if he/she is performing alone or with others?
- Can the child cope with the technical and co-ordination demands of playing a percussion or melodic instrument? Is the pace of the class too fast or too slow? Is the child progressing at an appropriate rate for his/her age? If the child is learning an instrument outside school, is he/she sufficiently challenged by the class activity?
- Does the child work well with others? Does the child listen carefully to instructions and respond appropriately to the cues of the conductor?
As many composing tasks will involve group work, the teacher will need to visit each group in turn and observe the children as they work. The contribution that each child makes to the group will then become apparent.
At times, the balance within a group may need to be evened out, with the teacher ensuring that each child is given a significant task. When each group has performed its completed work to the class, the children may need to be prompted to discuss one another's work. Each child might also write a short assessment of his or her own contribution to the piece and an opinion of the effectiveness of the group's music. This task can provide valuable insight for the teacher into the composing process.
The following are some questions the teacher may ask of himself/herself or put to the class after listening to the finished result in a composing lesson.
- Had the piece a specific aim -- to accompany a story, to describe something, to amuse, to frighten or to inspire? Did it achieve this aim?
- Was the piece too long, too short or just right?
- Did it sound as if the performers were playing at random, or could some form of overall organisation be detected?
- Did the music contain contrasting sounds or did it sound the same all the way through? Was there any repetition in the piece? Was this what the children intended?
- Did the music involve the use of several instruments or just one or two? Were specific techniques used, for instance sliding across several notes, hopping off some notes or alternating quickly between two or more notes?
- Can the children perform their piece again, making it sound substantially the same?
- Can the children explain how they planned and organised their piece?
- What do the children themselves feel about the piece of music they have composed?
- What is the response of their classmates to the music?