It's a one, two, three, four ..

29th August 2008 at 01:00
A music programme piloted in a West Lothian primary has improved pupils' literacy and numeracy

Zaynah taps her head and then her shoulders, she rolls her arms and touches her knees, executing each action in time to the beats in "Hel - lo Lau - ren", as she sings the greeting to the girl sitting on her left.

Lauren then turns to greet the boy on her left, tapping her head four times as she says: "Hel - lo Kie - ran". Kieran then sends the message of welcome on around the circle, highlighting the beats, like the others, in his own unique way.

This is the beginning of an active learning music lesson. St Nicholas Primary in Broxburn has been running the classes since Christmas and, when P1 left for the summer break, they could feel and show a steady beat.

It might not sound like much but, according to Lucinda Geoghegan, an education consultant for the National Youth Choir of Scotland, this is quite an achievement when you are just five years old.

"It is not instinctive to all children," says Ms Geoghegan, who designed the materials.

Active Learning Through Music has been rolled out to all six primary schools in the St Margaret's Academy cluster. The next step will be to extend it to every primary in the area and possibly further afield, given the amount of interest from other authorities.

Access to specialist music teachers in Scotland is a "complete postcode lottery", says Ms Geoghegan. This programme, while no substitute, guarantees all children some "fundamental musicianship training".

"This is not about a specialist coming into a school and delivering lessons; this is about class teachers and nursery nurses doing it, which makes it more sustainable. Using the programme, everybody can get a grounding in music."

Musical training can also have an impact on other areas of the curriculum, Ms Geoghegan argues. "They learn about language and rhyme. It has been proven that a child who can keep a beat is more successful in language learning."

A "music dyslexic" is how Thereasa McLernon, principal teacher at St Nicholas Primary, describes herself. "It is the one subject from which, if it is mentioned, I will run at 100 miles an hour in the opposite direction," she says.

Using the National Youth Choir of Scotland weekly lessons, which last just 20 minutes, she has gained confidence. "I'm learning with the children and we're having fun," she says. "That's the beauty of it."

As the lesson continues, the activities become more ambitious. Sixteen spots are scattered on the floor in groups of four of the same colour. The children are asked to "walk the beat". They sing the song "Cobbler, Cobbler", stepping on the scattered spots in time to the music. In every line of the song there are four beats, so at the end of each line the children know they should have reached a new set of coloured spots.

"The muscular control and feeling beat with the whole body is really difficult," says Ms Geoghegan.

It is tough to predict who will be able to master the moves quickly, says Ms McLernon. "Children who are good academically have struggled. But the reverse is also true: children who have struggled academically have had great success."

One boy steps confidently along the snaking spots, singing the song in time to his movement. He is autistic and, because he had to repeat P1, he is a year older than the other children.

Head Karen Brown says: "He would not do any writing or any counting, but from counting the beats in the songs, he can now remember his numbers. We have noticed that the basic skills of children who were having difficulty have come on. They have really benefited and it's early days."

This year, packs are being designed for P2, so that the former P1s can continue their lessons.


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