Counting and singing

I’m late writing this week’s entry – apologies – my son got engaged and so the weekend became full of other things! Last week and this week I have been teaching for four days a week as my teacher partner is away. In one sense it has been good because I have really felt involved with the class but it is tiring! The week in school was dominated by two things – one positive and one less so.

Throughout the week we had an organisation called ‘isingpop’ working with us in school; one young man spent the week in school, teaching the children pop songs along with dance moves. On Thursday they recorded a CD and on Friday we performed an afternoon and evening concert in the local church. It was an exciting and uplifting week. The teacher, Sandy, was excellent and the whole school fell in love with him! The children were inspired and this joy and enthusiasm spilt over into everything. Children were singing the songs in the classroom, going home and playing the songs on Youtube and drawing and writing about their experiences. The whole school was united and the concerts united the community – parents and others. It was wonderful how the experience of music spilled over into the whole curriculum. It was special.

I want to tell you about G – a little boy in my class. He did not enjoy the singing at all and would stand in silence looking very unhappy. He occasionally became tearful and asserted that he was not going to sing. During the afternoon concert he did not sit with the rest of the children but sat in a pew between myself and another teacher. She tried to talk to him about the songs but he did not engage and did not seem to be listening to the singing; he was reading the prayer book! There is a recognised condition called ‘amusia’; those who have it possess absolutely no appreciation of music – for them it is just a noise and they ‘do not see the point’. Amusiacs are unable to distinguish one melody from another; the word ‘amusia’ means ‘lack of music’ and this is how G appeared to be during the week. The condition is little known but I believe it is important teachers are aware of it for it is likely there will be a child in many classes for whom music makes no sense. A few years ago I had a trainee teacher who was emphatic that he did not like music – any music – at all and never listened to music. For the majority music is powerful but not for all and we must remember the minority.

The second experience of the week was not so positive. We all had to bring our ‘data’ to the staff meeting on Tuesday. The data came from our online recording system. We use an online system which has broken the national curriculum down into statements. For each child we had to indicate if this aspect has not been taught, taught but not learned, almost achieved, met or exceeded. I then clicked on ‘report’ and it gave me lots of data which told me the percentages of my class at working towards, developing, secure and several other words which together gave me six ‘levels’ to which my class was assigned. This data is to be presented to the governors tomorrow morning. So children are given levels from subjective judgements based on invented statements of progression.

For me this bears no relationship at all to the progress my children have made over the last term – and yes I do think they have made progress! If you were to ask me I could give you a long description of what each child in my class can now do and what they need to work on but, according to my head teacher, the governors want numbers. I have shown her the reading and writing scales from CLPE, which I think are wonderful and use for my own benefit, but the response was, ‘The problem is that they don’t give quantifiable data.’ Why do we have this obsession with counting? Progress in learning does not happen smoothly; it is messy and is influenced by much outside the classroom. Most of these things are not able to be controlled but the skilful teacher will recognise, acknowledge and use them as a starting point. During the week’s experience of singing and performing, the children learned a lot but none of this learning was accounted for by the data collecting system. Recognition of learning needs to take a long term view. I am not advocating that teachers should not be accountable for the progress of the children in their class because of course we must be. However, we can not always put that learning into neat boxes; any attempt to do that gives very seductive data which, in my opinion, is meaningless.

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