In our school we are trailing a new recorder scheme called Recorder Karate. The idea is that as you progress on the instrument you pass a selection of belts from white to black. It has been very successful but there are some interesting side effects to the scheme.
To start with, the system of belts has worked like a dream, with children desperate to pass their assessment belts. These are not abstract belts, they look like this:
They are multicolored hair bobbles that you can buy very cheap.
The children in Year 3 love to collect them and applaud one another when they pass each assessment. Because of this, it is the best scheme I have used as far as assessment and differentiation is concerned. But if you spend a lot of time on assessment there are consequences and the main ones are less teaching time and loss of motivation when children listen to each other play. If you have a class of thirty and hear everyone play, even if you give each child only one minute of time that comes to thirty minutes of the other children sitting around. We could get them to self assess each other but quite frankly that often ends up in bullying afterwards in the playground. The children are not old enough to fully understand what it means to objectively peer assess without becoming personal. The other alternative is you listen to the children play in a breaktime but music teachers often have choirs and other groups at breaktime and just like any other teacher we should have some time off teaching and assessing for our own sanity! Nonetheless, the scheme has worked well and for the first time I can hand on heart say that I know exactly the ability and progress of every child in the class, what their strengths are and what they need to do to get better.
Other things we need to get right are the difficulty of the belts; just because you add additional notes does not make the piece harder and the lower register is much harder than the higher register. And we had a very pationate conversation about notation in our team. In fact I am going to suggest a new law in Music Teaching where every conversation about music given enough time will end up with an argument about notation! Basically some people think that the harder belts ought to only be achieved by children who can read the notation without the letters put above the notes. I can see some value in this but I also think that we are creating barriers to playing at quite an early age. Are we assessing a musical skill or a reading skill? Some musicians would say the two are linked but I am not so sure.
I will later post the actual pieces we are using for the scheme but first I want to finish it before publishing the content. I still think that the recorder is highly undervalued and should be a compulsory part of every primary school and Recorder Karate is certainly a good way of achieving that aim.