January 16

Teaching students to learn by themselves.

One my biggest inspirations in the world of education is Sugata Mitra. Sugatha teaches educational technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, England. He is also the winner of the 2013 Ted prize for his School in a Cloud Project which won 1 million dollars and it’s currently in full production yielding some insightful results. Considering the impact which the internet is having on our ability to obtain information Sugata argues whether the whole idea of knowledge is becoming obsolete and if so, how does that change the role of schools, teachers and parents. There are currently many buzzwords around this topic such as 21st century skills, lifelong learning and self regulated learning to name a few…

During a number of years I have been implementing into my teaching a project which is entirely lead by the students.  My role is to encourage, scaffold and advice. Students choose a topic they want to do and by the end of term they have to show the class what they have done. The students use digital tools to keep a video diary where they comment on their progress and this forms the basis of the assessment. What I have learned from doing this project is that given the right tools and modeling the appropriate mindset,  students are able to learn  by themselves.

I begin the unit by modeling the mindset:

  1. If we lived in a world where everything was possible, what would you do in music class?

From the responses to these questions we begin the tuning process. What if you only had 6 weeks? what if instead of this you had that? what if you could also work on this at home? what if you had no internet connection at home?The tuning process is very important because it allows the students to project into the future and see what is realistic/achievable and what is not, this is a great way to practice goal setting.

Finally in order to make it fun I wrap it in a challenge box. I tell the students to set themselves a challenge. This really helps me look into my students intrinsic motivation. I can immediately begin to see who are those students that can take an idea and make it happen and who are those students that get really stuck when they have to get creative or when they have to think of what they like.

Finally I set an example by setting myself a challenge as well and updating my students of where I am within that specific challenge.

This is my challenge:

This is a year 9 student talking about her challenge which was to write a short piece for flute with a sad mood.

Some year 7’s describe their challenge

The inspiration behind it all

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December 12

The day Saigon Soul Revival rocked Renaissance

One of my favourite parts of this job is asking friends to come and play for the students. Here’s a flashback of the day Saigon Soul Revival came to school in 2016 to show all students that soul music existed in Vietnam before the war and how it’s currently going through a revival thanks to this band!
Here’s SSR playing  Sầu Đông. Love the reaction of the students to the drum fill at the start.

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November 30

Assessment in KS3 music

Before sharing what I’ve been doing with regards to assessment in KS3 music  I’d like to share a quote I came across with a few days ago by Ron Berger who had this to say about assessment: 

“Most discussions about assessment start in the wrong place. The most important assessment that goes on in a school isn’t done to students but goes on inside students. Every student walks around with a picture of what is acceptable, what is good enough. Each time he/she* works on something he/she* looks at it and assesses it. Is this good enough? Do i feel comfortable handing this in? Does it meet my standards? Changing assessment at this level should be the most important assessment goal of every school. How do we get inside student’s heads and turn up the knob that regulates quality and effort” *added by me. 

Assessment can be a very tricky thing and it’s arguably one of the most time-consuming parts of any teacher’s career. For the amount of time spent on this It’s become my mission to look for systems whereby I can spend more time with the students giving immediate feedback and less time on spreadsheets. Fortunately for me, the music teaching community is incredible and a couple of posts on a Facebook group lead me to some great resources including a webinar by the head of music at Hayes School Jane Werry where she shared some of her ideas and resources. 

I will be referring to year 7 in this post on a unit entitled “Just Play” from Musical Futures. 

In this unit students learn to play 5 popular classroom instruments: DrumKit, Ukulele, Guitar, Bass Guitar and Keyboard. They have to show that they are able to follow visual cues as well as play with instrument specific techniques a medley of songs.  

Technology is a big part in the way this unit is delivered. I have been using seesaw for 1 year now and find that it’s an incredibly helpful application which helps me scaffold critique and reflection skills. I also flip the classroom using play along videos designed by the amazing teachers at Musical Futures which gives me the chance to see every student and provide immediate feedback as they play. The class is divided into 3 sections: 

A brief warm up at the start with a chance to assess some knowledge. The main practical chunk where the students play and I go around giving feedback. Then 15-20 minutes at the end for critique or reflection. 

For the last part of the class I use the learning radar adapted to this unit where the students get to self-assess skills on 3 levels (a post on levels soon!). The 3 levels are: Not yet, can do and can do very well.  This is what a learning radar looks like once its filled by a student. As the unit progresses the students will move the dot according to their performance.

I also get the students to choose reflection questions which I have set and keep in one side of my classroom. I get the students to record their voice in seesaw. This is what a response sounds like:

In this example we’re using Chair Drumming to work on drum techniques and co-ordination. Again credit to the amazing folks at Musical Futures. When you don’t have 13 drumkits (i wish!) a pair of sticks and a chair can get you very far.

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November 6

Blues Mini Concert by Y8’s

This unit develops Students’ understanding of bass lines and chords as a harmonic foundation upon which a melody can be constructed upon and as a foundation for improvisation. Students begin by learning about the history, origin and development of the Blues and its characteristic 12-bar Blues structure exploring how a walking bass line is developed from a chord progression.  Students also explore the effect of adding a melodic improvisation using the Blues scale and the effect which “swung” rhythms have as used in jazz and blues music.

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June 2

Year 9 Remix Finalists

Following the year 8’s was the year 9 remix brief:

To reimagine and recreate Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You as if it had been written by Steve Reich.

In class we began by learning Clapping Music. A piece written by Steve Reich in 1972 which consisted of 2 performers clapping a pattern ad then one of the 2 performers would then shift their pattern to create a polyrhythmic effect. A technique that became known as Phasing. Here’s a visual example:

After listening and discussing it, the students had a go! warning: Performed by kids!


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May 31

Year 8 Remix Finalists

Every year we spend half a term exploring music technology. This year the themes of the Remix competition where: Ed Sheeran, Gustav Holst and Steve Reich.

This year our expert is Benjamin James  who is a professional music producer working in Saigon @ Inspiral Records. He will decide which is the best Remix from an expert’s perspective. The popular prize will go to the remix with most plays. Our winners will also get to visit the recording facilities at Inspiral Records and see how music producers work.


The brief for year 8  was: to create an atmospheric remix of Ed Sheeran’s  ‘Shape of you’ but re imagine it as if it was part of “The Planets suite” by Gustav Holst. They explore Delay effects as well as sampling of sounds related to space travel. Students explored Gustav Holst, orchestral instruments and the orchestra, major and minor chords, riffs and ostinati, and how to make a coherent musical arrangement.

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April 27

Remix Competition 2017 – Celebrating Music Technology

Every year at Renaissance the music department dedicates a term to celebrating music technology. We consider it an important part of 21st century music making and it also opens the door for our pupils to work on music that they are familiar with.

Remixing Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of you’ is the theme chosen by KS3 pupils in year 8 and 9 to work on music technology.

We will be using Soundtrap and each class has a different focus depending on their current topic in music class.

Year 8 is studying Gustav Holst’s ‘The planets and therefore their remix should include elements of Holst such as ostinato and use of programmatic elements to make their remix sound ‘spacey’.

Year 9 is studying Minimalism and thus their remix should follow the question: What would Shape of You sound like if Steve Reich had written it?

Here’s the original video:

Here’s an imaginative take on the same music using classroom instruments:

And here’s an even more imaginative take by Walk of the Earth:


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