Taking part in pilot scheme turned everything Anna Gower thought she knew about music learning and teaching upside down and inside out. This is from the Guardian…
…I got my first job as an NQT at Sele School, Hertford. I was actually the only teacher in the music department which is quite common for even NQT music teachers.
I was locally involved in the Hertfordshire county music service and became an advanced skills teacher (AST) around 15 years ago. After a maternity leave I went to work at Monk’s Walk, Welywn Garden City, and I was employed as full-time head of music rather than an AST. After another maternity leave I went back to work three days a week, that’s when the county music service (now part of a hub) came back to me and asked to buy my time to do some AST work in the county.
Musical Futures started as a pilot programme to re-engage kids in year 9 with music in schools. If you asked a year 9 kid what their hobby was, music was high on their list, so many of them were passionate about it, but there was a big gap. The same students didn’t like music at school, they found it boring. So this pilot scheme was designed by to find a way to close the gap. It looked at how pop musicians with no formal musical education learn music.
Monk’s Walk became a pilot school in the project. Before the project a typical year 9 music lesson would go like this – the students would be sat at keyboards. They’d be given a sheet to play something like Ode to Joy and many of them couldn’t actually read the notation. The Musical Futures pilot asked us to forget that. We were to ask the kids what they want to play, find and play a recording of it, give them the instruments (we were given a large set of bass guitars, electric guitars and drums) and then to see what happens.
It was truly mind blowing what happened to the first group that went through this. The atmosphere was electric. The students were totally engaged. They realised they needed some skills and wanted us to help them. As teachers we had to change how we worked, we were told to stand back and let the kids find their own objectives and then to help them facilitate it, to help them get where they want to be.
The impact was huge. I was asked to come on roadshows and to stand up and tell other teachers about my experiences and challenges of this new approach. What was left was not a project but a whole approach to music teaching which has been spreading out across the country and internationally.
I’m so passionate about this new way of teaching music that I’ve stayed part of the core voice Musical Futures while continuing to work three days a week at Monk’s Walk. For our last pilot we needed 15 schools but we had 105 applications so we started a co-pilot scheme, putting out the whole project and all the training using social media. Teachers stay in touch on Twitter especially using #mfpilot2013.
It became apparent I couldn’t carry on being head of music three days a week. So my headteacher created a new role for me and I became head of community music. It’s an incredible role and I work closely with many of our 30 feeder primary schools. I was given a blank slate to go in and do whatever I wanted so I’ve brought Musical Futures into every school I work in. I’ve learnt so much about experiencing what children can do. I’ve also set up a reporting network where teams of reporters blog and report on music activities in their school.
My advice to music teachers is to look at yourself as a musician, and most secondary school teachers are musicians. Sometimes you may find that in some ways the pedagogy, the theory of teaching, has actually got in the way of the way you teach. It’s a tough thing to strip away and it’s scary but I want music teachers to remember they are a musician at heart and that’s how they can work as musicians to help their students become musical players. I think it’s vital to go and see how teachers do it in another school…
More (including links to Anna’s recommended resources) at: Why I became a music teacher and my mission to reshape music in UK schools
What do you think about Anna Gower’s ideas on music teaching? Do you agree that music teachers need to look at themselves as musicians first and foremost in order to help students play music themselves? Please share in the comments or on twitter…