"He's not so much green as cabbage-looking." "It's enough to make a cat laugh." "Differentiation is by outcome." One of these sentences is clearly the odd one out.
The first two aphorisms, although at first glance nonsense, actually mean something. But I've always wondered what "differentiation by outcome" signifies. Is it enough to say that, like water, pupils will find their own level of learning? Somehow it just doesn't seem good enough.
A folder full of different-level worksheets doesn't seem much better. It's not great for pupil self-esteem and it doesn't do much to facilitate classroom music-making. Perhaps the answer to the pupil who says "I've finished" (and you know they pretty much have) is not to set them more work. It might keep them busy, but it's not particularly inspiring and that's never great for musical development.
But music offers more creative ways to differentiate between pupils. One of them is by using extension. This is not an easy option. It requires careful thought, interaction with pupils and almost requires the teacher to become a "learning detective".
Assessment is at the centre of this approach, as the teacher engages students in dialogue. Rather than rushing to say what we think, spending time uncovering what the student is aiming at consistently leads to better outcomes. This is where becoming a musical sleuth has real advantages as we seek to uncover the music that pupils are trying to create.
Why not set them a challenge: "If you could compose anything, what would it be? What are you most pleased with in your work? What could you do to make your music better?"
Such questions provide valuable starting points, identify the musical aspects that they are most pleased with - always good for building on - and usually reveal untapped creative ideas.
I do not always get this right. The rush to meet exam deadlines and my attempts to offer the best possible musical education to a class full of diverse talents can lead to cutting corners, time and quality dialogue. And, sadly, it is always the music that suffers.
Allowing pupils to follow creative tangents, take risks and not fit into a one-size-fits-all lesson leads to satisfying music-making. It builds musical experiences that endure, and which have lasting echoes. Dare to differentiate.
Anthony Anderson is head of performing arts, a coach, mentor and outstanding facilitator at Beauchamp College, Leicestershire.
Get creative juices flowing with QCDA_Resources' primary composition resources.
Inspire some classical compositions with MissBagpipes' introduction to the musical era.
IN THE FORUMS
Teachers discuss differentiation in the music classroom - do you have any ideas?
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