Productivity and Workload Management

It’s been a long time since my last blog post – eight months, in fact! – and there have been several reasons for that.

The main reason is that it has been an incredibly tough year.  Actually, one of my toughest years, both professionally and personally.  Without going too much into it, I found myself in a place of struggle and difficulty that I couldn’t get out of.  I was constantly grumpy.  I took everything very personally.  I was, to be quite honest, somewhere between ‘stressed’ and ‘depressed’.

What made me this way was the intense and overwhelming workload.  I was always playing catch up and couldn’t see how I could get on top of it.  This led to some absence from work and a series of counselling sessions.  Ultimately, there was only one way out of this – I had to do something about it.  I re-focused what is important in life and thought about what I need to do make my workload easier.

I started by doing research on ‘productivity’, including a book (and YouTube videos) by David Allen called ‘Getting Things Done‘.  I looked at lots of other approaches to increases productivity and as a result have come up with a system that works for me.

So, here is my system…

Task Management

You could call this using ‘To Do Lists’, which I have used for a long time.  They have always been a good way to keep track of what needs doing.  However, I have always used them when the workload is too much and so it is difficult to cross things off.  One of David Allen’s mantras is:

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This has really changed my outlook with To Do Lists.  I now have a continuous To Do List all the time!

While doing my research, I also found out about something ‘Bullet Journalling’ which is a very involved approach to keeping a diary and a record of thoughts and ideas.  Far too time consuming for my needs, however, one approach that I adopted was the way to use a To Do List:

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from sweetandsugarpearmommy.blogspot.co.uk

Obviously, this is complicated, but parts of it have been very useful.  Here is what I do…

A simple box for a task.  A tick when it is done.  An arrow when I need to postpone it.  A cross when it is no longer needed.

But, it goes further.  In my diary (which I now use ‘religiously’) I have a primary and a secondary set of lists.  Which sounds complicated, but it isn’t.  On a weekly page, I list jobs that need to be done during the week, without specific deadline.  These get ticked off as and when. The next set, is the ‘day-by-day’ system.  I make a shorter, more manageable list on a Post-It and only list what must be done on a given day and take into account whether or not it can be done depending on the demands of the day.

Just to make things sound even more complicated, there is another, even more important, element to my ‘To Do Lists’ – when I do them…

Late in an evening.  Just before bed.  As part of my wind down routine.

This way, I know what I have done in the day and can think ahead to what is feasible tomorrow.  Doing it as one of the last things I do also makes sure I have ‘boxed it off’ and then don’t worry about it in my sleep.  Obviously, I can begin the list earlier in the day (on a Post It) and continue to add to it, but then finalise it just before bed.  The next day, when I get to work, I open my diary and look at my list and begin as much as I can.

Time Management

This is tough.  Teachers have very little time to do anything during the working day.  In my timetable this year I have two days a fortnight where I have two frees back-to-back (as well as other frees across the timetable), but that doesn’t always mean I can get a lot done in that time.  I always think of office workers, those in business, who have an overwhelming workload – they can (and I know they can’t always, but sometimes they can) cancel everything they are supposed to be doing and focus in on meeting an important deadline, locking themselves away in an office and getting it done.

As teachers, we cannot do that.  Firstly, we can’t cancel a class.  They’re expecting us and we’re expected to teach them – no matter what.  Secondly, our line of work (with people, and especially delicate and fragile young people) means that we have to expect the unexpected.  On paper, Tuesday is a straightforward day, this many lessons, this many ‘frees’ and this many books to mark.  And then… BANG!  An incident… a fight or a Safeguarding concern/disclosure… your whole day is then consumed by something beyond your control.

However, I have had a change of tact this year.  I used to arrive between 7am and 7.30 every day and stay until 5pm.  I thought this meant I was doing more at work and less at home.  I thought this meant I was able to spend more time with my family.

WRONG!

What it actually meant was that I was insanely tired all of the time!  I did LOOOOOONG days and this was wearing me down.  I would come home grumpy, consumed by the events of the day and not be able to focus on my family for the time I had with them.

So, this year I do things differently.  I rarely arrive before 8am and have made every effort to leave just after the bell at 3pm (usually 3.15).  This has several benefits.  I am at home more.  My alarms goes off nearly an hour later.  I have been able to pick my son up from school on the odd occasion.  I force myself to be more productive during the school day.  I have energy for my family when I get home.  I see my family in a morning.  I am more productive in the work I do of an evening.  I am a better teacher.  I am a better father.  I am a better husband.  I am a better human being.

To help this and to keep tabs on what time I leave work, I have been keeping a record in my diary.  Below is an example from a typical week.  In this week, I had a meeting after school on the Tuesday and the Friday, and I have an after club until 4pm every Thursday.  Last year, I would have left school at 4pm at the absolute earliest on the Monday and Wednesday and then it would have been after 5pm on the other days.  This year has been different:

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I still keep this record (or track this habit, to use Bullet Journal terminology).  It is interesting.  If I have done a lot of lates one week, I make it my goal to do as many early darts as I can the week after.  Leaving before 4pm (and even 3.30) is now a regular occurrence, whereas last year it was a rarity.

Technology as an aid

I love technology.  I bought a MacBook in April – the best computer investment I have ever made!  It has revolutionised my world.  Better productivity, which is nice, but the functionality is brilliant.  From a musician’s perspective, the standard software is fantastic and the options are amazing.  (GarageBand as a compositional tool for disaffected year 11s is fantastic!).

However, it is my iPad that has had the biggest impact.  Using it to quickly video record class performances has been brilliant.  Even bigger than that, has been the £8.99 app I bought in October.  It has revolutionised my world: workload, marking, assessment for learning, teaching, planning, differentiation… all improved as a result.  The app is called iDoceo and basically is a planner (like the one you will use in school on paper) with a markbook, but Digital and with endless add ons.  Look it up – you won’t be disappointed!  Feel free to contact me about it if you want to know more, I have become an iDoceo Evangelist at school, having done two workshops on it for staff.

Moving into 2017

Here is my ‘To Do List’:

  • Be more positive
  • Be more productive
  • Prioritise – family before work
  • Enjoy life!

Short.  To the point.  Easier said than done!

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A music teacher Manic Monday

It has been a while since my last blog post, but lots has happened (which I will save for another day).  Today, I am blogging because I have been inspired by http://www.teachertoolkit.me and his ‘Day in the Life’ blog, so here is my Monday:

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Before School
Alarm goes off at 5.45am.

After dealing with the boys’ grumpy mood (and making my essential fuel for the day – coffee!) I arrive at school at 7.30am.

I check, delete and send emails.

Then I print and put up some posters to support instrumental learning in Musical Futures Projects.

Discuss today’s lesson plans with my trainee teacher.

Briefing at 8.35am is uneventful, though essential to put the week into context.

Before Breaktime
Registration is at 8.45am.

Period 1: Y11 practical listening lesson on Rag Desh (their least favourite set work). I am pleasantly surprised by some of the work on show. Two guitarists use pitch bends, the structure and their instruments as a Tabla to make an authentic Indian composition.

Period 2: Y7 lesson using ukuleles (led by the trainee who teaches a good lesson). We struggle to get them to sing, but they do a great job of keeping in time on the ukes.

Break time
Catch up with colleagues, as a professional mentor for the NQTs, supporting one of their subject mentors, but I also use the time to catch up with colleagues socially. We’ve a good bunch, here!

Before lunch
Period 3: Y8 lesson introducing improvisation to 12-bar Blues performances, using ukuleles and keyboards. Some talent on show, here.

Period 4: Y10 Rondo compositions. Some are really taking shape. Others may become Ternary instead!

Lunchtime
The busiest part of the day:

A group of year 10s kept behind for not completing their homework, some year 10s coming back for rehearsal, some year 7 and 8s doing some keyboard practice (it is keyboard club!) and some year 8 and 9s doing some band practice.

The 2 practice rooms are in use and in the classroom, two year 11s and my trainee are ‘jamming’ All Blues. I can’t resist the urge and join in with my cornet to improvise along!

After Lunch
Period 5: year 7 composing Graphic Scores to create effective soundscapes. Some very creative work going on!

After School
A meeting with colleagues on how we use differentiation in school, preparing for our Teach Meet INSET next week, takes us to 4pm.

After this, I give my trainee some feedback on the lesson he taught and discuss some targets for the week ahead.

Home time at 4.50pm.

An evening of report writing, to finish!

Reviewing 2015

At the end of 2014 I set myself my first ever proper new year resolution. I’ve done everything I can to stick to it. Mostly, I am pleased to say, successfully.  However, in teaching the unexpected always gets in the way!

So, the resolution ‘to create a better work/life balance’ was the idea, but there wasn’t really a plan of action. I thought I could do that by starting the working day sooner. I did that. I thought I could do more work when my boys were in bed. I did. Except lots of other things were getting in the way.

As a brass band player who attends two rehearsals a week and practices every day for a minimum of 45 mins to ensure consistently good playing. With regular concerts, contests and additional rehearsals cropping up, this was getting too much. With the time I was missing from my family this was becoming a chore rather than an enjoyable hobby.

So, I applied for and auditioned for a change of brass band scene – to conduct a band. I did some conducting while at University (as one of my final year electives) so had some of the nuts and bolts of technique down. Man-management, developing my own musical style and programming concerts wasn’t yet part of the skill set.  I was very pleased when they offered me the position. Actually, quite surprised. They auditioned 8 of us over several weeks and I was the least experienced. We negotiated a fee (which they offered more than I asked) and I began at the end of March. I stopped playing with my band in the middle of May and this has really helped with the work/life balance.

So, instead of an hour a day of practice I do an hour a week of prep and that’s it (sometimes less!). Two rehearsals per week and regular concerts, but far less in between.

With conducting, there are many challenges (man-management, developing my own musical style and programming concerts, as mentioned earlier) but these are things I am learning along the way. The band are very patient and extremely responsive to what I ask of them. All of the skills I am developing are useful in my day job too!

All in all, weekends are totally about spending time with my wife and kids and enjoying the sweeter things in life. Weekdays are about work and band and school holidays are just long weekends. So yes – I kept my resolution this year!

So, what does 2016 hold? My resolution this year is: keep the work/life balance and increase pupil challenge in my classroom. Simple… I hope…

Is there a magic formula to teaching?

If there is, I have yet to find it. I have strategies I use daily, with good success, and have stopped using methods that I know no longer work. What about, then, if someone who is successful in an area outside of teaching has a model which is followed by others? Could that work?  This article on TES seems to suggest so.

I read the article cynically, as I’m sure most people would. However, Alex Ferguson’s track record as an educator is exceptional. His Class of 92 is the evidence of this.

His 6 tips are sound and if we all adhere to them, perhaps that is the magic formula…

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A week (or so) in the life of a music teacher

This last week or so has been busy, as it is for all music teachers and musicians at this time of year. I have been busy in the classroom as well as out of it. Musically speaking, I have been ‘snowed under’ (excuse the pun!)

Starting with the back end of last week, a full day of teaching on Thursday led to a 2 hour show rehearsal and then a Carol Concert at Manchester Town Hall with the band I conduct. Friday was an ordinary, busy, day.  Saturday was a quiet day with my boys followed by a concert in Manchester conducting my band. Sunday was a day at a band concert listening to my old band get us into the festive spirit – great family time (we even saw Father Christmas!)

By Monday, I’m ready for a rest!

Oops… up at 6am, full teaching day (filled with KS3 Assessments!) and then a 2 hour band rehearsal in the evening to conduct. Bed just before midnight.

Tuesday started a bit later (7am) and saw an equally busy school day (more assessments, including GCSE), with 2 hours of show rehearsal until 5pm. Then an hour of private teaching, followed by an evening of paperwork. Bed just before midnight… again!

Another 6am start on Wednesday. A slightly less busy day at school, meetings, teaching (more assessments – can you tell it is nearly the end of term?), lunchtime show rehearsal and leading a CPD session for the NQTs after school.  An earlier finish at school today meant some time with the kids before heading out to a concert with my brass band. Bed just after 11 this time!

A later start on Thursday, 6.45, and a busy day. Two of the Arts department off ill meant the two of us remaining were keeping a watchful eye on two classes all day, our own plus our colleagues’. Another 2 hour rehearsal, until 5, for our show and a quick tea (with some quality, though not much in terms of quantity, time with the family) before band rehearsal. Another post-11pm bed time.

Friday comes and the 6am alarm isn’t very welcome. At work at 7.30 to start the onslaught of winding up the week with 4 lessons, a lunchtime drum club and then a quieter evening with some friends. Bed just after 10pm this time – very rock and roll!

7am start on Saturday (two toddlers and a hectic working week make lie-ins impossible). Lovely family day, doing nothing special, just errands and being together (including lunch out!). Then an evening band concert, bringing festivities to North Manchester! 11.30 bed time before another busy day….

A bit of lie-in on Sunday… 8am! Unheard of! A relaxed morning, doing some planning and prep for the last week and then an afternoon concert with band (when does it stop?) before putting the tree up. Little bit more prep for the week ahead and then bed at 10.30.

Monday, again, and a 6am start. In school just after 7.30 and then a full day of teaching, with a lunchtime rehearsal, observation on an NQT and a meeting with another after school. Some time with my boys before they go to bed and then out for another brass band performance. 11pm bed. At last!

Tuesday was a little later, 6.45am start and a day of teaching, meetings and Carol singing at a local supermarket followed by some private teaching and an evening of paperwork. 10.30 bed.

Wednesday saw another 6am start, arriving at school before 7.30. Three back-to-back band instrument assessment lessons, a lunchtime show rehearsal, a year 11 composition lesson and then revision session. Some marking of year 11 and 10 tests before a cold beverage and a Die Hard film. Earlier to bed (10pm!) – exhaustion really kicked in today. Grumpy and irritable all day!

Thursday was a jam-packed day. 6am start, arriving at school before 7.30 again. Then, a meeting before school, 5 musically packed lessons, a lunchtime rehearsal and an after school rehearsal with pupils ready for tomorrow’s end of year assembly. Left at 4pm, dinner with the family and then a relaxing evening winding down!

A slightly more civilised 6.30 start for the last day of term, but what a hectic day to finish! Playing piano accompanying the whole of Y7 singing Christmas songs in assembly, a Y7 class for their final 2015 lesson and then the big one… a 1 hour rehearsal leading to the end of term while school assembly, which was an hour of music! The kids, as always, were amazing!!

School closed at 1pm and then time for two weeks of family time before we’re back at it in January. Two more band gigs (both on Sunday) and then that’s it…

Merry Christmas musicians and music teachers everywhere!!

What is KS3 music for?

There are two things that we could say KS3 music could be: preparation for GCSE/KS4; or a curriculum on its own.  My belief is that it should be both.

The number of pupils who choose to study music beyond KS3 is low, nationally, so using the course purely to prepare for GCSE seems a little futile. However, only designing a course to last three years and not prepare pupils for GCSE is limiting and rather pointless.

So, what should the aims of an appropriate KS3 music curriculum be? If they prepare pupils for GCSE music then this should include music analysis, performance and composition. Should the weighting be the same as GCSE? So, 40% of the time is spent on analysis and 60% split equally between performance and composition? Would that engage the non-musicians? Would that ensure a healthy uptake?

I feel that the key aims should be: a) create and develop an interest and enthusiasm for the subject; b) build skills as performers; c) develop skills as composers; d) develop a basic understanding of music theory (enough to be able to play from notation, even in a limited sense); e) develop an understanding of how music is constructed by discussing the elements of music.

Here I will outline what approaches I take to embedding these aims.

Creating and developing an interest and enthusiasm for the subject
This is vital if you want pupils to enjoy the subject enough to choose it but also so that they are willing to work well all the way to the end of KS3 (which is historically when behaviour becomes more challenging).

What I do is choose topics and genres that are interesting and design tasks and activities that are engaging. Year 7 is all about laying foundations on using voices, reading notation and basic keyboard skills. Year 8 moves into specific genres (such as Reggae and The Blues) and applies skills learnt in year 7 to other instruments, such as percussion and band instruments (guitars etc). Year 9 then builds on this and allows pupils to find their own interests following Musical Futures band style learning.

The emphasis is on performance and uses composition to embed understanding. The vast majority of the time is practical and there is very little writing (as I have discussed in a previous blog).  The focus is on being able to play music (perform), create music (compose) and know how this has been done (analyse). Notation is used to support this, not the other way round.

Build skills as performers
As I mentioned above, this is an important emphasis for me. They learn to perform as singers at the start of year 7 and move onto keyboards later in the year (this year I will also be using ukeleles). In year 8, we add percussion and band instruments, such as Samba, Djembes and then guitars etc… Year 9 builds on this further. All the way through KS3 pupils are building up from playing a melody to developing ensemble skills and becoming self-sufficient as musicians. This adds to engagement but also works towards GCSE music (performance is 30% of the course there and in honesty I don’t spend that much time on it at GCSE – that’s what instrumental lessons are for!).

Develop skills as composers
This works as a method for embedding understanding of the skills learnt through performance of a style/genre as well as preparing for GCSE music. The compositions are generally rudimentary and emphasis is placed on including idiomatic features of the style being studied or following a prescribed structure and included specific elements (like a hook for Reggae).

Develop a basic understanding of music theory
This starts in year 7, where pupils must follow notation to play melodies on the keyboard. It continues in year 8 when they play more melodies, read rhythms for percussion and start to read tab and chord diagrams. A large amount of music literacy is covered here in a practical, musical context.

At the start of GCSE this understanding is developed further where pupils focus on treble and bass clef notation, simple and compound time, major and minor chords and keys, and constructing melodies through notation.

I know of schools where notation is embedded very early and this works for some. For me, I don’t want that to be a barrier to the engagement. However, with changes in the new GCSE specs looking likely to include even more emphasis on notation I am going to focus more on this during KS3.

Develop an understanding of how music is constructed by discussing the elements of music
This is less obvious in lessons, certainly to pupils, but is developed through peer assessment, when specific criteria is used.  It is also discussed throughout the process in which performances and compositions are developed.

This is learning more by osmosis than by explicit task. Again, with changes to GCSE specifications I may adjust the curriculum to prepare more for this, but try to move as little from the engaging and enjoyable curriculum as possible.

What is KS3 music for?
In a nutshell, a break from other lessons (sitting behind a desk) and the development of skills that are useful at GCSE. In my opinion.

Musical Futures – is it really the future of music education?

Musical Futures has been around for a while now (10 years since its first inception), yet it is still a ‘new-fangled’ idea in many schools.  Having just read Anna Gower’s latest blog post here, I thought I would discuss my own opinions.  Anna is an ‘expert’ in Musical Futures and she explains the concepts far better than I!

When I was training, 7 years ago, I was in a school that was using Musical Futures. The concept sounded great. The delivery was less so. Even then, an inexperienced teacher, I thought it was just a fad. More experienced said the same so I thought I must be right.  Year 9s working in friendship groups unsuccessfully trying to play a song.

A few years later (3 years ago in fact), while researching some teaching methods I stumbled upon some references to Musical Futures that sounded exciting. Examples of great progression, differentiation, independent learning and high levels of pupils engagement. This sounded too good to be true, so I did some digging.

The Musical Futures website was full of ideas, resources and videos. A good starting point.  The more I read, the more I liked it! The key phrase that kept jumping out at me was ‘MuFu is an approach not a Scheme of Work’. I liked that. My first taste was a(n unsuccessful) Scheme of Work, this was a whole new ball game. I decided to give it a go, but with caution and experimentation I quickly decided I liked it.

Anna’s blog uses this quote of one of her ex-sixth form students, which I think sums it up well: “It’s an ideology, a group of people coming together because they want to make things better for themselves and their students”.

So, I decided that starting with engaging, practical warm-ups was important. I have always felt that music should be at the heart of music lessons, like French is in a French lesson. This worked. Pupil response was immediate and positive.

Next, I looked into other concepts. Some things I already did without realising, such as using friendship groups to build confidence; using workshopping to introduce a new concept (though I didn’t give it this name!); learning informally with peer leaders within the class (i.e. ‘Brian, will you show Jimmy how you did that?’).

Looking more into it, and trialling more and more ideas, the positive music-making in my school has developed no end.  I am amazed at the progress in the last year or so, since fully engaging with it.

Last September my head kindly agreed that we should buy in the music service instruments to use this model in its band format with year 9. This is because a) our pupils engage so positively with practical lessons; b) popular music is the cultural norm at our school (very little classical music); and c) year 9 is a notoriously tough year group.

My GCSE numbers are up 50% and music lessons are more musical as a result of all of this and I love my job even more.

As an aside, I want to mention this. We have recently started taking our 4 year old son to Kung-fu. He loves it. He isn’t particularly good, but it is great for burning off energy and instilling discipline.

Anyway, the teaching there is interesting. Progress isn’t always immediately noticeable and there isn’t a lot of correction done of the actions the little ones do. The leader demonstrates (or models) a move and then the group copy. Some more successfully than others. Then they build on this by adding another move. Then another until a whole sequence is devised. The more able then do an assault course incorporating everything they have learnt, with the better ones going first so the others can copy their peers not just the expert. As the group then get better additional challenges are subtly added.

This reminded me a lot of Musical Futures. Teacher models. Pupils copy in own way. Corrections aren’t always made (pupils find their own way!). More able pupils lead the way, modelling to others. Additional challenge is added as and when it is appropriate.

If you haven’t already, look into incorporating MuFu into your teaching – it will revolutionise your world. Trust me!

What did you do with your week off?

A question I will hear what will feel like a thousand times this week.

In years gone by, I felt guilty if I said ‘nothing’ or ‘a bit of this, bit of that’. I have also felt

uncomfortable if

I have said ‘just spent it with my kids’. This time, though, with pride I am telling everyone – ‘spent time with my kids’. Especially, with my eldest son (who is 4).

In September, he started Primary school. He turned 4 in August and started in Reception three weeks later. He loves it. I burst with pride when he tells me about his day and when he shows me what he has learnt. He is now on Phase 2 Phonics (whatever that means, though I am told that is very good). He can recognise letters, saying the sounds and putting them together (blending?) to make two letter words. I love it.

This was his first week off. His younger brother is 2 and so stayed in nursery for the week (we’d be paying anyway!) and mum was at work. We had the best time. Watched rubbish films. Watched awesome films (like The Incredibles – what a soundtrack!!). Went on adventures (which meant doing mundane jobs, but made fun because we were together) and enjoyed being boys together.

Today, he returned to school. I dropped him off for once, because I have had an INSET. This one is one where school is closed to pupils and we are to log 5 hours of CPD across the year. Brilliant. We organised a show rehearsal from 10am until 3pm. Got lots done.

Best thing, this half term, though, has been “being dad”. I’ve done some work, but far less than normal. And I don’t feel guilty. I was organised enough last half term that most jobs were already done and other will get done this week.

For the first time, ever, I am dreading being at work because I will really feel the sacrifice of “being dad”. Time to look after my ‘other kids’ until Christmas!

Half term 1 of 6: DONE

Every year starts the same way: excitement; anticipation; trepidation. Then in a flash, but actually quite a long stretch of 8 weeks, it all halts. A very welcome break from the intensity of the boiling pot, the pressure cooker, the fun factory – the classroom.

This year has been a busier, more intense start than usual (hence no update to the blog for 2 months) for me. There have been a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, we are working towards putting on our first big show (Oliver) in January. From the second week in we have done 2 rehearsals a week until 5pm and additional rehearsals at lunch at least once a week.

Secondly, I have been organising, chasing up and preparing cross-marking meetings and e-meetings in order to ensure better standardisation in composition marking for myself and my pupils in my one-person department.

Thirdly, I have taken on the additional responsibility of being the Induction Tutor for all NQTs at our school this year. This has meant observing, reviewing and supporting 4 newly qualified teachers across different departments. This has been both challenging, demanding and rewarding in equal measure.

All of this has, on top of the usual workload in our first term, has meant I have had a mountain of work to do, besides teach. Instead of being burnt out (which I very easily could have been) I have finished for half term relaxed and happy.  There has been one key to this – organisation.

I read an article in Music Teacher magazine a while ago where another music teacher said they use an app to organise their to do list. I thought I would try it and it has revolutionised my work/life balance.

Here’s how it works. First, being an app it is on my phone, so always accessible and I don’t lose it (like I do a scrap of paper!). I update and add to it, when I need it, i.e. when I remember!

Second, the app let’s me organise when I will do the task. So I can see when I will have a lighter day of teaching and list jobs to do that day, prioritising tasks so they get done efficiently. This is invaluable and takes away the stress of looking at a huge to do list and not knowing when to start.

The best thing is that I can swipe it off the say it is done. That is very satisfying!

As well as this, I have decided that this year I want my weekend. Jobs now get done on evenings when I am not out with band, during frees and in mornings before work (arriving an hour before the day starts properly!). The app has helped me see what needs to be done quickly.

I now spend more time with my young family, get more work done and feel better job satisfaction.

This week – I have short to do list because I have got jobs done efficiently!

Happy half term 🙂

Reducing written work in music

It seems like our most common issue in music is the demands being placed on us by SLT to use written work in a subject that is supposed to be practical. PE have the same problem. So do Drama… Art… DT… so what do we do?

If we want to persuade our superiors that lessons that are based mostly around practical music-making we need to provide tangible and viable evidence some other way. For Art and some DTs (woodwork for example), the evidence of their work is visual. For others it is less so. In food technology, for example, you cannot show visual evidence because it gets eaten (as our food tech teacher describes it!). In Music, like Drama and PE, our work is instant and lost just as quickly!

So how can we avoid writing while still showing progress and having something we can show to SLT and Ofsted when they call?

Audio and visual recording is an easy way to show our work. Capture the live moments. I do this for every assessment. It works really well, because it makes performances feel authentic.  This also allows us to keep a record of our verbal feedback.  I also ask pupils to note down my feedback (which is succinct because it is related to very specific criteria) so they can refer to it in later lessons and projects. This adds some writing, but is in note form.

So, what about literacy?

We have to include literacy in all subjects. It is vital to the development of pupils. If we avoid written work (which as much as possible, I do) what is our alternative?

Oracy
Pupils talk about what they are doing all of the time. Pupils evaluate their own work all of the time. How can we use this to our advantage? To avoid written work and still demonstrate good literacy?

Well. I have a solution. It is isn’t perfect, but it works. Firstly, create a set of marking criteria that highlight these skills. Our school are big followers of the WWW/EBI phenomenon. So, as an arts faculty we have come up with some WWW and EBI statements for use of Oracy (which could be better described as oral literacy).

With these statements I am going to make reference to them once per half term, providing pupils with a clear reference for their strengths and weaknesses in using musical language. They will record my ‘marks’.

To support their conversations, I have displayed a set of statements pupils can use to support their evaluation of work (their own or others). I have called this display Literacy Corner and hope to use it often:

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Literacy Corner on display

If I am avoiding written work, which I am, I need to have something equally robust to show that I am improving literacy skills. This isn’t just to ‘tick a box’ or to please SLT but for the benefit of our pupils.