Reading Highlights - Teacher and MusicianThere’s a definite theme of assessment in this week’s reading roundup, with Anna Gower’s new catchphrase (‘stress to assess’) being the thread through each article. In particular, there’s a real sense of how external pressures are leading senior leadership teams to sacrifice learning for the sake of assessment, reporting and consistency. Three of the authors in this roundup seek to challenge the uniformity of approach that the stress to assess demands, while the third promotes designing schemes of work in such a way as to make it possible for the teacher to meet a school’s regular reporting requirements.

Anna Gower: Stress to assess

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This post takes Anna’s recently coined ‘stress to assess’ and maps it out against an account of a specific music lesson. I particularly like that Anna highlights the daftness of stopping learning in order to ‘assess’ it. The learning is there to be heard through good observation. Of course, the quality of observation is of real concern for music teachers, especially when observed by non-musicians, as she captures well in this quote:

But wait. I’m a muso though. I knew to listen for this. Had I been a non subject observer perhaps the lack of work on dynamics and tempo may have been an issue?

John Finney: Without the stress to assess

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Posted the day before Anna’s article, John has written this in response to one of Anna’s previous posts. John, quite rightly, praises Anna’s use of what he calls ‘thick descriptions’, writing that more closely resembles fiction than a typical lesson observation. In an age where education is becoming more and more clinical, I find John’s advocacy for personalised, interpreted (perhaps even biased) accounts of lessons to be refreshing. Somewhat ironically, he ends his post by putting this less clinical, more subjective take on observation into an equation:

Describe thickly = interpretation = analysis = ideas and propositions to evaluate and test = a more mature discourse

Jason Kubilius: Personal is political

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Jason’s posts are often some of the most thoughtful that can be found in the music education blogosphere and this account of the Teach Through Music Final Conference is no exception. When discussing the new head teacher champions for music, Jason raises concerns about how a school’s desire for parity across subjects can be detrimental to the arts. It’s a very genuine concern and I’m sure all music teachers have had the experience of looking at a whole school system and wondering how on earth it could work for music. I particularly like the following quote, where Jason challenges the use of the word ‘consistency’ as if it is synonymous with ‘uniformity’:

It sounded like a desire for consistency across the school was just being dealt with by insisting on a uniformity of approach.

Katie Hasler: Six week schemes of work: do they work?

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Katie’s post is another that grew out of the Teach Through Music Final Conference and refers to the talk that Jason gave. This post is a passionate defence for organising musical learning into six lesson projects. Quite accurately, Katie suggests that one of the reasons we have a national tendency towards organising music lessons this way is because schools often organise their reporting systems using six week intervals.

This reminded me of disagreements that I had with the senior leadership team at one of my previous schools where I was delivering a scheme of work that allowed pupils to move at their own pace. Consequently, summative assessments were only possible once pupils had completed their work and I could only report formative assessments until that point. The fact that I was unable to predict when the summative assessments would be ready caused the senior leaders some concern even though they liked the independent and highly personalised learning that was taking pace in the classroom. Eventually, there was an agreement that I would simply report use levels to report formative assessments at the same time as the rest of the school. This narrowly avoided an ‘assessment tail wagging the learning dog’ scenario and, in many respects, links us back to Anna’s new catchphrase – the ‘stress to assess’.