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  • Josephine Brereton

The past two weeks have been exhausting, trying to manage AMEB exams, work, a gross cold and rehearsals all at once. I’m so excited to be singing A Sacred Veil by Eric Whitacre in the Opera House on the 7th of September (tickets here: https://bit.ly/3pXW84X ) but rehearsals have been difficult — I do not recommend trying to sing with a blocked nose.


My work at Banksmeadow has been amazing, and I’m finding that the more effort I’m able to put into my lesson plans, the more the kids learn. and the more I enjoy the lessons, but it means that when I’m short on time, motivation and energy, I get into this vicious cycle of not preparing, not enjoying the lesson, and then feeling more exhausted and unmotivated to try harder. I’ve been struggling a lot with imposter syndrome and motivation recently, and I find it hard to pull myself out of these bouts of self doubt. Today was a great day with the kids and I feel a bit better, but I still have a long way to go.

At the moment, Stage 1 is focusing on learning to read rhythms. At Banksmeadow I use ‘beat boxes’ to help the students learn to read rhythms — they look like this:



Each box represents a beat, and the students know how many times to clap per beat by looking at how many circles or dots are in each box. I explained this to Stages 2 and 3 just as I have here and they responded quite well, but I wanted to ease Stage 1 in a little slower.

We began by jumping through 4 hoops laid down on the ground (first guided by me, and then to the beat of a song), before introducing a known rhythm for them to jump to — the first four beats of Bee Bee Bumblebee — which has two notes in the 3rd beat. Most of the kids picked this up pretty well and all got it correct with some guidance. I made sure to write in on the board, so they could visualise what their jumps would look like. Next week I’ll build on this to have them begin reading rhythms on their own (without jumping as well!)

The first 3 weeks we focused more on singing, especially Bee Bee Bumblebee as I’m trying to build their confidence in singing alone, and trying to get to know the classes! I felt in these weeks that I wasn’t doing enough with them. but I think repetition and consistency has actually been really good, especially with Year 1 and Kindy. We learned a few new songs, and built on some old ones, but they’re definitely making more progress now.

All my lesson plans for these classes can be viewed here at the following links:

Lesson One - Bumblebee Beats

Lesson Two - Beats and Hoops

Lesson Three - Rhythm Boxes

​https://bit.ly/3cAtELw


I’m enjoying my choir work with Stage 2 and 3 the most at the moment. They’re really wonderful kids and they seem to enjoy singing together a lot. I’ve had them singing Country Roads by John Denver and Beds Are Burning by Midnight Oil a lot which they LOVE, but they struggle more with the more popular songs I’ve picked like Wait a Minute by WILLOW and As It Was by Harry Styles. I think this is because they know the songs and have more of an opinion about them.


I'll be trying to update more often from now on, hopefully staying truer to the idea of 'weekly' blog posts!


Prac has been such an exciting learning experience and I am really enjoying it, but its also been super challenging. Working 6 days a week very quickly became a huge challenge on both my time management skills, and my mental health. Teachers are incredibly overloaded and even doing just a half load of teaching has been super challenging for me, especially while trying to maintain my usual studio teaching and my choir rehearsal in preparation for Vasks and Mahler.


PART 3: THE EXHAUSTION OF MISS BRERETON

I'm very used to juggling uni and two or three casual jobs, but especially in the first two week juggling end of uni assignments, three casual jobs and full time work (in the form of prac) was absolutely killing me. Not only was I really struggling to adjust to teaching high school (as highlighted in the last instalment of this series) but at the end of each (often quite difficult) day, I had to run off to either a rehearsal or an afternoon of teaching and then spent all night trying to figure out my lesson plans for the next few days. I found this really difficult to juggle, and the pile of things I had to stay on top of seemed to be never ending and always growing. Thankfully I only had about two weeks of this before uni ended and things got a bit easier and another week later one of my schools finished for the term so I had one more evening to myself to plan lessons. Unfortunately as the new term has begun, concert season has also begun, meaning I'm at school all day, and at the Sydney Opera House every night singing Mahler 2 with the SSO. This is such a privilege and I'm so excited to be singing in such an impressive world class venue, but I am so incredibly tired and burnt out. It really feels like a struggle to get through the days and the nights and balance all my lesson planning, my 'real' job, practice and basic self care. In two weeks I'll be at the opera house again singing Brahms' German Requiem which will be lovely and hopefully a little less stressful as I will have finished prac by then.




Getting into the last two weeks of my prac has been very exciting. I feel like I've learned a lot in my few weeks here and I feel a lot more settled in my teaching and in my relationships with my students. I feel much more confident and prepared for my lessons and I am finding that students I previously struggled a lot with are warming up to me and I'm able to influence them more positively. I'm really excited to be working with Year 8 over the next week, as they've just finished an example on guitars and reading tab, and are ready to start learning about chords!! I love teaching students about chords because it means we can start jamming and playing music they know and will really love. Its lessons like these that I hope will make students fall in love with music and learning music.


I'm also really excited to restart at Banksmeadow Public School this term. I'll be working with the Stage 1 classes, Support Unit and Preschool. I'm really excited for this and I think it will be a very different experience to the work I was doing with the Primary students. I'm excited to be able to teach through games and play and I think that the primary students will really benefit from choir and singing together, and I really look forwards to interacting with them in this different format. A lot of my older students in year 5 and 6 can be quite rowdy, and I'm a bit worried about how this may present in such a large group environment and how I'll manage it. It will be really nice to have the other teachers there to supervise a little bit so I can get some feedback and support, but I'm worried that I'll get a little bit overwhelmed by all the students. I still need to prepare my program for this term, especially since I'll have to prepare about 3 different lesson plans each week, one for early Stage One, one for Stage One and one for the Support Unit. For last term, I was able to used a modified version of the same lesson plan for each class, but I think I will need something a bit different this term. For the first week or two I might try a similar approach, using one lesson that I can modify a bit for each class, and then I'll see what needs changing.


I've learned a lot on this placement, and even though it has been super exhausting it has also been very rewarding, but I'm excited for it to be over so I can get back to working and use all the new skills I've learned to benefit my own students. I'm also excited to get back to some bass guitar practice! Its going slow at the moment but I'm still so happy and obsessed with this gorgeous instrument!

Enjoy xxx


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First things first -- We Don't Talk About Bruno presented by Tutti Music Academy is complete!! The students did such a brilliant job at helping me put this together and it was incredibly well received by the students, parents and audience at the presentation night. I was so proud of all my kids, and I hope you enjoy this video too! You'll find part two of this riveting series below the video.




PART TWO: THE START OF PEX2


PEX2 has been so rewarding and challenging so far. It started a bit rough in Week One, and I found that I really struggled with the difference between teaching primary and middle school students, especially year seven.


Year Seven is so similar to primary in many ways, you have to communicate so clearly with them and be sure to fully explain all instructions and concepts to ensure their understanding, but they have this growing need for both individuality and belonging and I found it so hard to approach this in my teaching. Teaching a group of students whose names I don't know was hard enough as I didn't know them and didn't know how to approach them as individuals, but because I couldn't help them with this students took their own measures to stand out as individuals. I found that the more I was able to get to know them and support them in this, the more students seemed to respond to my instructions and actually enjoy the lessons I was teaching because I was able to differentiate more and cater to each students personal needs.


They also have a very different attitude to music. My primary classes are designed to be largely focused around actively making music and learning theory through playing and discussing (teaching from behind your instrument style). In high school, the focus seems to be largely on starting with theory and writing (which does seem to calm students but doesn't seem to particularly interest them) and then finishing the lessons with 20 minutes of practical on whatever instrument they are learning that semester. Students in my PEX school were studying the orchestra for theory while learning keyboard for the practical component, but there was rarely any overlap in these aspects of music study, and little to no composition. The Stage 4 NSW Music Syllabus does encourage teachers to integrate these aspects in their classrooms, but I found it really difficult to do this within the program the school had designed. In their study of Morning Mood by Greig, I tried to have students move between playing the melody and listening to the melody, but in the set up of the school this is quite impractical, as the keyboards are located in a different room, and aren't set up in a particularly group 'friendly' way, and are certainly more suitable for individual work and practice.


I think this program could be improved if more keyboard friendly orchestral pieces were used for study that it would be easier to integrate theory and practical. In my first lesson I taught at the school, I tried to teach Haydn's Surprise Symphony to Year Seven using boomwhackers which didn't go well, as they didn't know me and were just a bit too excitable at holding giant whacking sticks. I think if I tried it again now that I know the classes and have a little more experience with them it would go over better, but the classes consistently struggle to stay focused with instruments in front of them. Both these pieces would be fantastic to plan integrated lessons around, however if I were to redesign the course, I'd change some of the other repertoire chosen to be more 'playable' by students.


In my own musical journey I've been inspired by my Popular Music Studies course and the amazing students here at my prac school to pick up bass guitar, and am continuing my tradition of buying instruments at the end of term and learning them over the holidays. I really love the bass guitar so far, and I found that in the Popular Music Studies course it just felt really good in my hands and was a really fun challenge. So I bought one from the Gladesville Guitar Factory (who are absolutely fantastic and have been amazing to work with over the past year or so - if you want a guitar go check out their website https://guitarfactory.net ) and have been spending the last few days teaching myself.


This was my first attempt at making music with my bass guitar and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, and I'm super excited to slowly improve over the next two weeks. Unfortunately, I was a bit too enthusiastic to start with, and my fingers are very blistered, so I'm taking a little break for the rest of the week to let my fingers heal, and then will be back at it! Enjoy this little clip and standby for instalment number 3: The Exhaustion of Miss Brereton.




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