MusicDT - Engage the disengaged

2nd December 2011 at 00:00
Follow these tips and you will never dread period 5 again

It is five minutes to the end of lunchtime and that sick feeling is intensifying. It is Wednesday and the weekly dose of period 5 hell is almost upon me. Sound familiar? Engaging the disengaged in music lessons is probably the hardest part of the job.

Or it used to be. I no longer dread those "awful" classes; I relish the challenge. Through developing your classroom toolkit, those dreaded periods can become a joy.

Too often, classroom disruption and disengagement is linked to learners being too passive. How much do you talk? How hard do they work? Are learners challenged? Co-operative learning is a wonderful tool in the music classroom where learners have to take responsibility for their learning and that of others - and the results are striking. (Find out more at http:bit.lyrwz746.)

You also need to ask yourself: how engaging is the curriculum? Do learners have the opportunity for some degree of personalisation or choice? The music classroom is ideal for giving students scope to stimulate their own creative process.

I discovered Musical Futures ( last year and I have been experimenting with it ever since. The band model is particularly fantastic. I tied it in with pupils making their own record label and playing all the industry roles. They love it - so much so, they have to be encouraged to go home after school.

Then there's NUMU (, an excellent online resource where pupils can upload and share their music. Supported by Musical Futures, each school has its own record label and each child has a login. It is like a safer version of Myspace. I have never seen pupils so keen to improve their work.

If you are still struggling with disruptive or bored pupils, try a "behaviour for learning" placemat. Divide a piece of A4 into four sections with these headings: What I am learning; How I know I am on-task; How I know I am off-task; and Rewards and consequences. Then get them to fill it in while you go over your expectations. This focuses pupils - and others are less likely to be drawn in to poor behaviour.

Most importantly, remember we are now teaching the computer-game generation: keep lessons active, visual and practical with high levels of challenge, but remember to differentiate.

It may be the task is either too easy or too hard - either extreme can cause pupils to disengage. Finally, good luck. Hopefully some of these tips can help you transform what was once a dreaded period into a joy.

Andrew Livingstone is head of music at Royal Docks Community School in Newham, London



What could you do with music later in life? Try a resource from holly harrison to inspire pupils.

In the forums

Do you know of any key stage 4 musical technology courses? One teacher is looking for advice.

For engaging and ICT-based music ideas, read about one teacher's experiences with networked Macs and mass performances.

All resources and forum links are at


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