Assessment for Learning

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To what extent does background music and sound create a positive learning environment which gives children the opportunities to regulate their own learning?

Introduction and Background

Assessment for Learning and background music

Regulating learning

Sound dimension environment

Safe environment

  • Providing effective feedback to students
  • Students' active involvement in their own learning.
  • Adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment.
  • Recognizing the profound influence of assessment on students' motivation and self-esteem - both crucial influences on learning.
  • Ensuring pupils assess themselves and understand how to improve.

The influence music has on learning, has been the subject of many studies for a great number of years. Reports in the media and publications such as The Mozart Effect by Don Campbell (2001) have popularised ideas and beliefs that music can have a beneficial effect upon learning. Serious attempts to establish clear links between listening to certain types of music and the enhancement of learning have been undertaken by Chris Boyd Brewer (1995) among others.

The idea that music can affect learning has always interested me as a teacher and during my teaching practice in Year 1 I was introduced to the idea. During each art lesson a Year 5 class with strong behavioural difficulties would have low volume Mozart music playing in the background as they worked. As their volume increased the music was turned off by the teacher and when they were quiet the music would go back on. I saw how well music worked as a reward and sanctions tool but I was extremely interested in how it actually affected the children's learning and the ability to assess what kind of learners they were.

Shirley Clarke (2008) and the initiatives she has been working towards played a big factor in my interest of how the music promoted learning. In particular, the view of the vitality of the environment that children were learning in and its importance. These elements were key with regards to my views on background music as I believe that music creates a positive learning environment where children feel secure and happy. This ideal is one of Dylan Wiliams Key strands on his “AFL Principles become AFL Practices diagram” (below)

The idea that AFL is one big idea which is created by other smaller ideas feeding off it showed me just how vital music in the classroom could be for AFL in my classroom.

Wiliams (2008) states, “Learners and teachers using evidence of learning to adapt teaching and learning to meet immediate learning needs minute-to minute and day-by-day” is the one Big Idea of AFL. If that is so, then background music and sounds could be an integral factor in the pursuit for a positive AFL based learning environment.

Black and Wiliam (1998) claim in conclusion to their seminal research analysis that where assessment is formative, significant gains in learning result, with greater engagement, self-confidence and a shift in role for both learner and teacher

Action Research Project

This project came about as a result of a confluence of recent trends. Interest has, of course, been growing in the promise of formative assessment as schools have increasingly focussed their attention on learning, as well as their traditional focus on teaching. There has been a notable increase in the number of Northern Ireland schools seeking advice and support in finding out more about how children learn, and how best to support their learning. Formative assessment is an almost inevitable addition to the ‘guest list' of issues that schools are addressing in the learning-centred trend. A number of visits by Shirley Clarke to Northern Ireland to present lectures and workshops on formative assessment has further stoked up considerable interest in schools.

Meanwhile, the Curriculum Council for Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) in Northern Ireland has put together proposals for a revised curriculum, in which formative assessment is to be a key part of school provision. Thus, a combination of interests led to the CCEA funding a 270 Questions of Quality small pilot project with all five of Northern Ireland's Education and Library Boards between February and April 2004. Four of the boards chose to run the project with primary schools only, but I chose to work with a mixture of primary and post-primary schools in Belfast. Six schools were invited to participate by nominating two teachers each to receive professional development training and carry out action research in their classrooms. The schools included one infant school (4 to 7 years), two primary schools (4 to 11 years), two single-sex secondary schools (11 to 16 years) and one co-educational grammar school (11 to 18 years). The grammar school elected to fund a further delegate from its own budget and so we commenced the project with thirteen teachers.

I then made it my quest to use music where ever possible in the classroom and I was met with many positives, however until my year 3b placement I often stuck to the same music; classical. It had not dawned on me that other genres of music may affect the children in different ways whilst they are undergoing different tasks.

This project explores the use of background music in the classroom and how it affects the children as regulators of their own learning; it also shows the research in to background music's role in Assessment for Learning in the classroom.


The data for this research project has been collected over many months but in particular during the Spring Term 2010. I worked predominantly with a Year 5 class in order to gain evidence; however, I also carried a brief study of my theory with a Reception class for a week.

The data is very extensive and I played various genres of music throughout many different subject lessons and transition periods. The key factor to success with regards to the extensive data collection act was that I had to carefully plan when I would play the music and what type of music I would play, well in advance.

I pinpointed my study period to 8 weeks of extensive analysis, in which a different genre of music were played for a whole week and then replaced by a new genre. I chose up to 10 songs for each genre and played them throughout lesson and at different times. I also had a week of no music playing, to see if this had any effect of the children and the work they were producing.

This gave me a lot of time to gather concise evidence in to each type of music's affect of the children and their environment.

I then took my evidence and moulded together different genres of music, according to my findings, to create a learning environment playlist catered to different times of the day and different lessons

List of musical genres and time scales:

Week 1 :Establishing types of music enjoyed by the children and their views on the music previously played by me on the prior school based placement.

Week 2: No music played.

I carefully chose my genres to link to the children's interests and units of work. I chose the Disney Songs as this was the type of music they were most familiar with and the one which they said they would listen to in their free time. The Medieval Lute Music was chosen as it directly linked with my literacy Unit on Myths and Legends - Beowulf. The classical music chosen were familiar ballads to some of the children from television adverts etc; however the vast majority of the CD was unheard of by the children. The Motown music was the wild card as the children had little or no experience of this genre and were unfamiliar with both the artists and songs.

In order to collect the data necessary I made sure post-it notes and cards were readily available for the children to comment on and post to me in the “music comments box”. The children were free to write any comment they thought necessary and they understood that negative comments were as welcome as positive. I also worked closely at watching and observing their behaviour throughout certain lessons, and I often asked my TA to do the same. I made careful notes on the children's behaviour and types of music which seemed more beneficial.

  1. Offered children opportunities to record their thoughts and feelings about the music on post-it notes which were anonymously posted to me in a box. (Appendix 1)
  2. Recorded short interviews about the music played with various children - transcripts (Appendix 2)
  3. Recorded a class discussion on music and learning, where all children were invited to voice their opinions either positive or negative (Appendix 3)
  4. Set up a discussion stations where children could request music to be played in lesson.