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PGCE Music – The Covid Cohort

By IOE Digital, on 13 August 2020

PGCE Music - Think About Things

By Rebecca Appleby

It is a steep learning curve for everyone when lessons move so abruptly to the virtual world. It took my year 12s longer than you might think to realise that I, another person on a video call, could see them texting each other, even though you would think they would do me the courtesy of trying to be subtle. It also took my year 10s at least three lessons to realise that the trick of joining a call, turning your video off, and then going back to sleep doesn’t work so well when you forget to leave the call at the end of the lesson. I see it as reassuring, however, that my students adapted so well to online teaching that they behaved in their normal, creatively disruptive ways.

We are taught during our PGCE year that our skills in thinking on our feet when a lesson does not go according to plan will be honed throughout the years, but not all years contain the challenges that 2020 has brought. This year has been a masterclass in adaptability; teachers and students all over the country have had to adjust to the school closures, making use of technology, and working to keep young people engaged in their education despite cancelled exams. As trainees, we had to adapt to our placements abruptly ending, and the disparities in subsequent training and department involvement.

The music cohort’s end of year video, usually filmed at the IOE in one day, was converted into an online ensemble project. This adaptation was a welcome challenge for an ambitious group with hugely varied talents, but for many would involve using technology and software they had no prior experience of. Our project was to choose a song, change its lyrics to be relevant to the PGCE and our experiences, and find a way to put it together while being unable to leave our homes to meet in person. As student rep (and self-confessed control freak) I took the lead on the task’s organisation, firstly choosing a song. An Icelandic favourite-to-win Eurovision entry that was never to be because of the pandemic could have seemed like an obscure choice, but I was determined that the synth-y, quirky sound, juicy harmonies and brass dance break would make ‘Think About Things’ by Daði Freyr work. One member of our group, Joe, writes his own hilarious songs for his cabaret act, so he was my first choice for turning this song into a music PGCE anthem. His lyrics included references to the fan messages left on Mentimeter for PGCE leader Ben Hammond, and contained a loving mention of everyone’s favourite part of placement, ‘We had a laugh, as we filled in our ARF’ (Assessment Record File).

With the help of synth and Logic Pro extraordinaire Jonny, who mixed the audio separately to the video to ensure the highest quality, and mine and Zach’s quick arrangements of the vocals, brass and string parts, we divided the group into instrumental sections, and left each to their own devices to record their parts. This part of the project involved each member of the group using music technology to record their audio, no small feat to those who had never used it, and it was their willingness to learn and adapt to our increasingly complex demands, ‘could you add another harmony in here? ‘How many other instruments can you play?’ that added so much to the final product. Filming the video portions on our own, miming along to a click track, could have been an awkward task to fulfil, but the group exceeded expectations, using props (the first time our ARFs had been seen in months) and inventing dance routines. Jack’s video editing and inclusion of all of our names, as well as our band name, ‘The Fundamentals’, after a particularly lively Debates in Education discussion about arts subjects’ positions within the curriculum, made it a personal and special video for us all to look back on.

To end the course with a symbol of our closeness as a cohort, something we may have been afraid we would lose during the lockdown separation, shows the flickers of positivity and unity that can emerge from such difficult circumstances.

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