ICTMusicDT - Musical sleuth

17th August 2012 at 01:00
Become a learning detective to bring out the best in pupils

"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.


Teachers discuss differentiation in the music classroom - do you have any ideas?

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources048.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today