The best way of interesting pupils in music is through vision, and Hamble College has enlisted computers, digital video and webcams to monitor progress, writes Hugh John
Good ICT in education is a matter of teachers' needs being met by the right technology. Ofsted's Assessment for Learning report, published last March, emphasised the importance of continuous assessment in the classroom. Specifically, its "Good Assessment Practice in Music" encouraged teachers to record, monitor and assess classroom performance using available technical resources. "In the best practice, teachers find effective ways to log this evidence of progress, usually by using audio or video recording facilities, or by saving the evidence on a computer disk," it said.
Formerly, this would have meant recording students' work on video or audio cassette and playing it back to them. At Hamble Community Sports College in Hampshire, the music department has opted for an entirely different approach using webcams, digital video, tablet PCs and computer software to monitor students' progress.
Head of music Adam Brunink adopted these methods partly because of the Ofsted report and partly because - like many music teachers, one suspects - he realised two things: the tapes don't work, and the best way of interesting kids in sound is, paradoxically, through vision. He says: "I started teaching by using cassettes. I was recording and never listening back. We might replay the tape once but I would never do anything with it again because of the hassle of finding the right place."
Even the advent of the MiniDisc, with more sophisticated cataloguing functions, did not allow a teacher to collate students' data effectively.
"I'd have the MiniDisc recordings in one place, the students' marks in another. And if I wanted to add a comment, I'd write it down on another piece of paper and make a reference to it," he says.
Now, Adam Brunink and his colleagues can record students' performance, attendance and personal details on a database to which they can add skill levels and general observations throughout the year.
The software that makes this possible is eSAAMS (Electronic Student Assessment and Management System) which has been developed by education music specialists Counterpoint MTC. It is teacher-friendly and fully exploits the versatility of tablet PC technology.
Here's how it works. Adam Brunink wants to record his students performing a piece of music, in the classroom or a practice room. His tablet PC has a pictorial representation of where each student is sitting and with a click of the mouse he can call up a student's profile. A recording is then made using a webcam or microphone connected to the tablet. The file is stored in Windows Media Player, and downloaded when needed.
Files can then be viewed by the whole class using a projector or by teacher and student together on a PC, laptop or tablet. The software allows two videos to be shown simultaneously and even synchronised, so it is possible to show performances of a piece taken at, say, monthly intervals, or of comparing a student's performance with one by a professional musician.
Clips can be edited, looped or played in slow motion for further analysis.
Adam Brunink explains how it might be used: "If you're talking saxophone, you're talking about posture, making sure they're standing upright. Making sure the fingers are over the keys. One or two fingers will come far higher than they should. So you can point that out to them. I can video a kid playing saxophone with his finger in the air and again with it in the right place. I can say, 'Look, that's what's you've improved on.'
"Kids respond better when they can see. In this visual culture they're so used to watching that they can't listen." Students in Year 7, he says, need to be taught to listen to music properly and "eSAAMS allows us to get into the listening side of it more easily because they can watch it. By Year 9, we can wean them off video and by the time they're doing their GCSEs they're able to listen to music properly."
Adam Brunink was the first teacher to trial eSAAMS and has been using it since last July. It helps that one of the consultants at Counterpoint MTCis Duncan Mackrill. As a former head of music and now a secondary PGCE music curriculum tutor at Sussex University, Duncan is well aware of the need for teachers to give pupils time to listen to their work. He says: "When I was teaching music that just didn't happen. With eSAAMS we've attempted to design something that can capture and collate audio and video and be easy to use." Adam Brunink adds: "If you know how to use Windows you'll know how to use this."
Other teachers in the music department have familiarised themselves with the program and their suggestions have been incorporated into the software.
As for the students: "They jumped at it. First, because of the novelty of the tablet, and secondly, the video aspect - they can see themselves. In the past we've been criticised for not showing students enough of their own work."
eSAAMS attracted considerable interest at this year's BETT show and is now used in more than 90 schools. At a recent residential conference for secondary music teachers in Cornwall, one of the most common observations was: "eSAAMS looks as though it was written by teachers for teachers."
Derek Kitt, county adviser for music in Cornwall, believes that the software "will undoubtedly contribute significantly to students' learning and the development of teachers' skills in assessing students' work".
Good ICT in education is about accountability and accurate assessment. Any technology that offers teachers the opportunity to show students and parents tangible evidence of progress in a subject where that has always been notoriously hard to demonstrate is welcome.
Adam Brunink says: "There's a lot of music software out there, but there's not much that is appropriate for classroom use. There's never been anything like this that helps me to run my lessons."
The kit Tablet PC
Adam Brunink says: "It does everything a classroom teacher could want. I can mark or assess the student, add comments or review their progress. And because it is so easy, I use the record facility regularly. My next scheme of work involves recording students' work every three weeks."
While PCs are "pretty much essential" for performance activities such as music, drama and PE, Duncan Mackrill says there are two obvious drawbacks.
They're still relatively expensive and "if you drop one you've got a problem".
Digital video gives students an objective appraisal of their performance, either as suggested by the QCA in an informal peer-to-peer setting or by comparison over a period of time. Criticism using monitoring and appraisal software is more readily accepted by students than what they perceive to be unsubstantiated opinion from a teacher.
Duncan Mackrill expects the greatest take up to be for the laptop option as many schools will already have them. For high resolution images a video digicam may be preferred to the webcam. eSAAMS will run only on Windows XP.
eSAAMS software: single user pound;495; multi-user pricing available
eSAAMS mobile suites (includes eSAAMS webcam and microphone): single user pound;595; multi-user pricing available
eSAAMS tablet PC (includes Motion tablet PC, Logitech Quickcam webcam, Beyer microphone): single user pound;1,998; multi-user pricing and leasing options available.
Ofsted Good Assessment Practice in Music: www.ofsted.gov.uk publicationsdocs3215.doc
QCA Assessment for Learning: www.qca.org.ukages3-14afl907.html
Hamble Community Sports College: www.hamble-community. hants.sch.uk
Next week: eight-page Music Subject Focus in TESTeacher