Though this is a predominantly an MYP site, I get 95% of my emails / questions from PYP music teachers.  In particular, most of the questions relate to choosing topics for PYP and how to plan. I’ve decided to make a separate page just on this topic because that’s where the majority of my emails are focused. 

If you want to read my general FAQ about PYP Music, then read below. If you want to know specifically about planning, then please check out the PYP Music Planning page. 

PYP Music FAQs

This is a very rough example of a grade 5 year. We have the skills unit that runs throughout the entire year. This way we make sure the kids are covering the basics. My Wild Weather unit links with the UOI but is on a separate planner because I have a different summative assessment. You’ll see in October, there’s no other unit happening.  This is when we are back to straight skills.  Next, we have the grade 2 – 5 production, which is a singing unit.  After that, we have the collaboration unit.  Again, I use a different summative assessment unit, so I have my own planner.  Now it looks like nothing happens between March and May.  That’s because in this time period, I move back onto the homeroom UOI.  And why are there two tiny units in June? They are my un-used units.  Throughout workshops, and just trial-and-error, I have planners that I no longer use or that have been excluded from the UOI.  I don’t want to delete them because I might need them again (e.g. my wild weather unit was cancelled for 2 years by the homeroom POI, and then suddenly re-instated). June is when reports are already out and there’s not enough time for another new unit.  So I throw all my unused units into June.  

We can’t have a one-unit-fits-all because we are supposed to be hitting all the transdisiplinary concepts and learner profile traits throughout the school year.  For example, we need to have a unit that heavily focuses on risk taking and communication; the next unit focuses on knowledge and open-mindedness.  One unit might work with form and function, while another focuses on responsibilities and connections.  If we had a one-unit-fits-all approach, then we couldn’t make sure we were covering the transdisciplinary student learning outcomes. 

How do you assess in the PYP?

Bonnie plays a lot of games with the students.  Literally, board games and stuff like that.  She’s taken the wooden game called Jenga and has written solfeggi and rhythms on the backs.  When the students successfully pull out a block, they have to sing or clap the rhythm on their block.  Then she does teacher observations and writes down whether the kids were successful or not. She has them do recorder tests.  She does reflection sheets in which the class together come up with criteria of good singing and then puts the kids in groups and has them mark themselves.  She uses a lot of videos and photographs. 

I assess the kids using a colour-coded system. I am a bit of a tech-geek and I use a spreadsheet. I code in formulas that say if the cell contains Y, turn it green; if the cell contains N, turn it red; if the cell contains A, turn it yellow; if the cell contains L, turn it orange; if the cell contains EX, turn it purple.
Y = Yes
N = No
L = Late
A = Absent
EX = Excused
Then I list a series of skills that I want the kids to accomplish. For example, we have the song, “Oh When the Saints” that teaches F on the recorder.  The kids come to my desk and play it for me.  If they can play the song, I quickly type Y into their cell and it turns green. If I have a teacher observation, then I’ll quickly click on the comment button within that cell.  When it comes to writing report cards, I open that spreadsheet and hover my mouse over all the student’s cells.  I can instantly tell, using colours, how often the student was absent, which skills were achieved, etc.  If there’s a little triangle, I can hover my mouse over and read the comment.  For example, I have one student who really struggles with self-management, so there’s a lot of “forgot her recorder” in her row.  

A vice-principal in the IBO once told me that IBO assessments are about photo albums and not photos.  His point was that you can’t assess a child based on one picture; rather, there have to be multiple instances / photos, etc.  For example, I carry a little point’n’shoot camera with me around the classroom and I try to take videos of the kids constantly.  I put those videos on the school server by the end of class so the kids can download them and put them in their electronic portfolios.  When report card time comes, I simply read their portfolios — Everything is present.  All their progress videos; their polishing videos; their final performance videos. Assignments. Tests.  Homework.  Everything is in the portfolio. Then I look at their row in the marking spreadsheet. Though I teach hundreds of kids, it allows me to write really specific goals and strategies on their report cards because I have a lot of data collected. It also means that I have personal connections with the kids because they aren’t just numbers in my grade book — I have multiple videos of them and I can see and remember very specific interactions with them. 

How can I best prepare my PYP musicians for success in MYP and DP?

Wow. What a loaded question. I have a friend who is doing his doctoral dissertation on whether the MYP prepares students for DP, so I know this is a hotly contested topic.  The DP programme is so heavily skills based that a lot of schools run IGCSE before hand, instead of the MYP.  How to answer… I’m thinking… When I did my Category 2 training, Ashley and Danielle addressed this topic. Many music teachers throughout Asian international schools believe that IB music has no skills.  However, Ashley and Danielle assert that if there’s no skills in your programme, it’s because you aren’t putting them in.  But then I question what skills are. Are skills sitting, like mini robots, mimicking teachers and playing music that is totally divorced from their lives outside of school? Are skills creating ensembles and experimenting with collaboration? 

I believe in musiking. It’s life-long and it’s authentic.  Children who hate the trumpet and who are forced to sit through band classes learning classical music over and over may or may not enjoy music when they leave school.  Children who are taught the skills of musiking may continue when they leave school.  So, for me, I want my kids to have the authentic, independent skills needed for putting together their own ensembles once they leave school.  On the other hand, music research has shown that students cannot think critically if they do not possess basic knowledge and skills.  So we need to give the kids a good balance.

* In grade 4, Bonnie looks at my grade 5 planners and figures out what they need to know when they get to me
* In grade 5, I do heavy work on skills using ukuleles and recorders. Then I run the “pretend we are in grade 6” and the exhibition unit. 
* In MYP, we start off every unit with knowledge exercises that are linked to practical work. E.g. in the Classical music unit, we learn Pachelbel’s Canon chord progression and then go searching for current rock songs based on that chord progression.  In the World Music unit, we learn African drumming by playing African drum beats
* When the kids are in grade 9, I bump up the skills portion even more and I add a heavier theory portion.  We still do the creative cycle; we still hit all our Criterion requirements, but it’s 90% hands-on skills
* In grade 10, the kids are using Kamien and are getting a very heavy dose of theory, composition, and arrangement. Now they are ready for DP (which we don’t have at our school yet).  When I worry that my grade 9 and 10 programme is too skills-based, I remember that I always have very positive grade 10 moderation reports; learning how to do the perfect MYP unit is awesome because you take what you learn and apply it all the way down the MYP

Through all of this, I want the kids to be in ensembles, working independently.  This is why our school has such a high rate of Garage Bands and small ensembles.  The kids are so used to working independently in music classes that they have no problem walking into a practice room and putting together a rock band, completely by themselves.  To me, those are the skills you need in life.  When you are a 40 year old going through a midlife crisis and suddenly you want to put together a band with the guys are work, you need to know how to put together an ensemble – not how to play G# on a recorder in a Baroque style. 

Children can’t work independently if they don’t know what they’re doing. First, teach the skills based in knowledge. Try to do this collaboratively. When they are at the end of the unit, let them fly! Give them a student-centred, teacher-independent task that not only lets them highlight their learning, but also lets them have fun. 

What is a PYP music room supposed to look like? Mine looks like any other music room, except I have your fabulous posters up and the UOI connected to specific areas and objects.

While there is no “rule” about what needs to be in a music classroom, there actually is an unspoken rule. Here’s what nobody will tell you out loud:
– Learner profile posters with descriptions
– Transdisciplinary skills
– Transdisciplinary concepts
– Central Idea
– Lines of Inquiry
– Attitudes
– Classroom Essential Agreements
This seems like a lot, but if you look at my graphics page you’ll see that I do everything in a grid because I teach so many classes.

In my MYP classroom, I have:
– Area of Interaction student learning outcomes posters
– Area of Interaction definitions pertaining to music
– Debono Thinking Hats pertaining to music
– Transdisciplinary Skills / Areas of Interaction
– Central Ideas / Guiding Questions
– Learner Profile Posters
– Motivational Posters — Being in an IB music class is really scary because it’s soooooo self-directed. So I put up lots of colourful posters that encourage children, like, “To be successful, attitude is just as important as ability.”
– Theory
***** Ukulele chord, guitar chords, piano chords, and recorder fingerings.  These are REALLY important.  I have a lot of kids who don’t even ask me for help. They simply grab a ukulele and go sit at the back of the room. I have piano players who teach themselves to play by ear because I’ve got root, 1st, and 2nd position chord charts hanging above the piano.  Some people might say that my room looks like a “sparkle box,” but actually my room is a vehicle for child-centred learning.  Everything they need to complete a music activity is hanging on my wall.