The Excel Academy

‘You’ve got the music in you’ English makes waves in developing cultural capital – a window into yesterday…

Quickly approaching the end of the academic year and, it has to be said, we are all well and truly exhausted. It takes a little bit longer to get up in the mornings, a few more cups of coffee before we can figure out what day it is and we are officially in the single digit countdown to the last day. And that is just for staff.

As young people constantly developing and being asked to think, write, read, work harder, students are tired too.

Thus over the last few weeks, I have really been thinking about what we are teaching our students; what will stick in their minds at a time of year when we are lucky if they remember their own names or even ours.

The answer…music.

As a trained musician and singer, for me, music has always been a key to communication. As Shakespeare wisely said, ‘where words fail, music speaks’ and this is a mantra that I really believe in.

Aside from the fact that students need to transfer their skills and make cross-curricular links, it is also about teaching students to travel in time through music and enabling them to gain cultural capital.

After spending an intensely exciting weekend watching The Spice Girls in Manchester, it became apparent that they did not really know who they The Spice Girls were. After being outraged, it came to light that they did not know that they (arguably) massively raised the profile of feminism and girl power in the 90s and drove equality.

As a dug a little deeper, I discovered that they were unfamiliar with The Beatles and when the song ‘Four Five Seconds’ was released one of my students said:

‘isn’t Kanye West nice to help out that Paul McCartney guy…’

I then knew something needed to be done about their musical history. Apart from the fact that these were great British bands, students need to know that our music influenced our history and will influence our future too.

Hence, in my quest of filling the cultural gap, I set out to take English back into history through The Beatles, Oasis and The Spice Girls in order to get students to think about their creative writing, analysing of structure and how they have been influenced by words. In addition, we studied the release of Disney adaptations over the last four years.

‘Help!’

July 2019 witnessed the release of the film ‘Yesterday’ which featured the premise of a failing musician waking up in a world where The Beatles never existed. With Coldplay’s Fix You as the only historical hit, the main protagonist learns to function in this new world. To use this is a way in, students in my lesson, focused on what music meant to them and the nostalgia created by it. They looked at the history of The Beatles and they huge influence and using video clips, Year 9 looked at how lyrics and music present universal issues that are timeless.

‘Maybe I just want to fly…’

In preparation for the end of year exams, I wanted my students to write about being in a crowd or an audience. It came to my attention:

Had they ever even experienced this?

To combat this, I created student tickets ‘Mrs Dudley’s Fabulous Festival’ with Oasis’ Wonderwall blaring from the classroom I showed them how to Mexican wave and, as a class, we physically explored being in a crowd. As part of this, we initiated a discussion about The Manchester Attacks and the community of Manchester uniting together.

Students learnt so much from this lesson that they still talk about it a month later and it even inspired my very own Wonderwall display in the classroom, full of interesting vocabulary from Oasis songs and a tribute to the 1990s. This was initiated by a Year 9 student!

‘Spice up your life…’

In my unfulfilled dream as the sixth member of The Spice Girls, I wanted to create a buzz in spiral preparation to avoid students becoming bored and switching off. Thus, I decided to explore the debate by Caitlin Moran about The Spice Girls destroying feminism and we explored the ‘Wannabe’ music video in screenshots, looking at the cyclical structure and director intentions.

‘It’s kind of fun to do the impossible…’

Finally, we have also explored the modern adaptations of the Disney films: Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Toy Story, Aladdin and Dumbo. Not only are these films iconic but they present universal issues that are timeless. The students found it really interesting to look at different directorial choices and explore them from a media perspective.

Comedy

In addition, I have also planned a range of lessons using: Friday Night Dinner, Gavin and Stacey, The Royle Family and Oliver: The Musical, all in order to spice up spiral preparation for KS3 with the belief that they are learning and developing skills but don’t necessarily need to explicitly know that it is for an exam. Learning is supposed to exciting and will prepare them for the wider world. Will over teaching of exams skills so early on, do this?

In the revolutionised world of 2019, with smart phones, TVS and the crazes of Fortnite and the Vossi Bop, getting student engagement is key. As McCartney puts it, ‘if children are studying the 20th century, I’m in their text books.’

One student said:

‘Lessons about Oasis, The Spice Girls and musicals shows us how easy it is to analyse language and structure without thinking. I felt that the fun sources in the lessons took my minds off exams but also helped me to prepare.’

With the new Ofsted framework allowing more for flexibility and curriculum intent, perhaps this is the way to go, even though it will take time to develop.

As the old quote goes, ‘there is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.’

I, for one, say amen to that!

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