When it comes to music lessons, forget photocopied worksheets and other old-fashioned methods. It's time to go digital, says Stephen Barker
Every school will have a learning platform by 2010, so how best to use it? I've always been interested in technology so it seems logical to use a virtual learning environment (VLE) in our music department.
A VLE is an interactive website through which pupils can access a range of lesson resources. We use Moodle, open source software that is free to install and use, as it's straightforward and adaptable to run.
For the past year, we have used the site for all music teaching. I have done away with photocopied worksheets and pupils access resources and objectives for each lesson via one of 15 networked computers in the room, each with its own MIDI keyboard (a piano-style digital keyboard). This encourages them to revisit previous work: keyboard diagrams or pages to help with notation.
I have also asked classes to listen to extracts and answer questions about them online. Each project is supported with web pages that outline what pupils will need to do to achieve a particular level. Having the lesson objectives, criteria for success and guidance openly available has reduced the number of times I hear questions such as: "What was it we were meant to do?"
It's also easier for the more able pupils to accelerate through to extension activities as they don't have to keep coming to me to ask: "What next?"
Completed work is uploaded to the site so that I have access to it, but also so that pupils can show their parents.
Interactive forums give pupils the chance to hear each other's work again and leave constructive feedback.
Supporting audio and video tracks are available for projects. There are websites that offer copyright-free recordings of works and YouTube offers a wealth of resources.
Pupils can then listen as many times as they feel they need to answer questions. Basic compositions are available as MIDI files that can be loaded into a sequencer or score-writing package for the pupils to use and develop. Interactive quizzes test the pupils on what they have learnt or what they can hear in a piece of music without them feeling like they are being continuously tested.
Stephen Barker is curriculum leader for music at the Harvey Grammar School in Folkestone, Kent.