Music teachers: measure what you value, not what is easily measured

25th October 2016

Sharon Bruton, Chief Executive of the Keys Federation Academies, believes that music can lead the way in a learning culture. 

Learning in the here and now has become a binary process – essentially information in and information out. The most current agenda item is around mastery, character and resilience, however attempt to measure this third dimension of learning is still simply through a binary process – information in and information out.

The omission in understanding this concept is the “how” we go about achieving this and, in achieving it, how inappropriate it is to measure it as a binary process – information in and information out. The accountability measures fail to understand the multiple dimensions of learning, the complexity of the process and try to define learning as a simple transaction or outcome.

Music and the complexity of learning

So many educationalists feel ill at ease with this definition. Not to avoid accountability, we are all in agreement that some key measures are required. Rather the unease is around this disconnect, the lack of conviction, the lack of acknowledgement of the cause and effect and the complex nature of learning.

However, there is a way. Music, I believe provides the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the complexity of learning.

As a non-music specialist, encompassed in my definition of a “musician” is anyone who engages with any form of music. Therefore, encompassed in a musician are all the attributes that the CBI consistently state they require from learners, to make the workplace of the future.

Have you seen the 2017 training programme from Musical Futures?

How do I know this? Well, music engages the head, heart and gut, or in educational speak, requires skills, knowledge and application which is cerebral, emotional and instinctive. In its very nature it dominates the mastery, character and resilience space as it provides the opportunity to dive deeper and linger longer, to rehearse and practise, to show resilience and recall, to strive for success, be flexible and adaptable and to experience a range of emotions to make it real.

The key showing this, I am overwhelmingly convinced, is not solely in measuring musical ability, but rather the unwritten curriculum, the measuring of learning capabilities; a capacity vital for life.

Getting better each day

We can review all the learned texts, the Dweck “Growth Mindset”, De Bono “thinking hats”, Brighouses’ “Gaps in the hedges”, Clarke’s “behind the scenes teaching and all are key to learning behaviours and opportunities. However, the two that resonate most with me are Ron Berger’s approach to critique, to becoming incrementally better each day, and Guy Claxton’s Building Learning Power, within which resilience, resourcefulness, reflectiveness are clear in music.

Yet reciprocity I believe is the focus. By that I mean interdependence, collaboration, empathy, listening and imitation.

So how do we go about this? Well whichever theory or approach to learning most resonates with you, it is not the quality of the idea so much but rather the success or failure will be defined by the quality of the implementation.

Let me unpack this into practical steps. I believe that within the music curriculum for any age, the approach to measure is not so much the specific musical skills and qualities, but rather what Claxton defines as reciprocity.

How? Well all measures work best in their simplicity and, indeed, by being determined by the learner, self assessed and added to by an independent reference (the teacher).

Simply start to measure the qualitative aspects before the musical input and define this through a simple scale 1-5 or a range of facial expressions to which a number can be attributed. Then measure after the learning experience.

Music in our daily lives

Music is unique in this as its very approach ensures that these elements are integral and embedded as the norm. Music is an aspect of everyone’s life.

It is universal, is constantly evolving and therefore engaging in its very being. It does not need to be created, go off at a tangent, have a special themed week or experience or be a bolt-on to the norm. It is an active and central part to our daily lives and is therefore best placed to be the driver and standard bearer for an entitlement for all.

Yet… it is undervalued… categorised as “non-core learning”.

How short sighted.

What I hope and invite you to take from this blog post is:

  • Clarity that creating a binary measure for the culture of music learning is possible and can be powerful in its simplicity.
  • In using your creativity, see into music and beyond it to highlight those transferrable, less tangible yet crucial learning approaches as key for life; those of interdependence, collaboration, empathy, listening and imitation.
  • In doing so, enable others to look through the lens, to see more deeply into music’s power to engage the whole person and immerse them in learning.
  • To present evidence, through measured outcomes, using the language of accountability, that your approach to learning in music, indeed music itself, is vital to our learning evolution.

Here is the invitation and the challenge:

You need change nothing in your passion, your music or your drive. Rather, analyse deeper, slice differently, show more clearly the transference of learning skills, and make a difference to lives for the future.

Be overwhelmingly convincing that music is at the heart of the learning culture and leads the way.

And that is why we should measure what we value rather than value what is easily measured.


Musical Futures training and CPD programme 2017

Excellent workshops ‑ extremely accessible for all abilities and levels."

Claire Armour, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra