Pupil Premium: Ukulele Group Project – Evaluation

Written by: Gabriel Nacu At a Secondary School in Stevenage Summer Term, 2015 Tutor: Gabriel Nacu During the summer term 2015 I ran a series of Ukulele workshops with the aim of improving communication and social awareness amongst a group of year 7 students who were unable to fully integrate into a classroom environment due to a lack of self-confidence, an inability to listen to authority figures and an overall lack of motivation. Music as a subject is often neglected when other core subjects such as mathematics or English literature take priority. It is easy to overlook the benefits that music can have to a student’s wellbeing and progress in other subjects and areas of life. These benefits can include:

  • An increase in self-confidence
  • An increase in social awareness and courtesy
  • An improvement in attentive listening
  • Actively improving the pursuit of alternative hobbies and interests

The ukulele workshops replaced the students’ fifth lesson of the day and was held each Friday during term time.  Ukuleles was chosen because they are relatively inexpensive and easy to store at the school and they are also easier to play for smaller fingers, as bigger instruments (such as guitars) require bigger finger stretch. The main activities of these workshops were designed to improve a student’s knowledge of chords, rhythms and repertoire on the ukulele. Repertoire was initially chosen by me, but I often asked the students to tell me the songs they would like to do in class. Song choice often brought up contemporary music artists such as Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and George Ezra. By allowing the students to choose their own songs (under my supervision and critique), I managed to ensure their interest developed over the weeks. Over the course of 7 weeks, the students showed signs of development in a variety of areas compared to when they had just started the ukulele workshops. At first, many were quite shy to demonstrate anything they had done on the ukulele to each other in class. But as the weeks went on the students would often volunteer to stand in front of the class when demonstrating a chord or rhythm, overcoming their initial fears of self-doubt.  While “Sir, I can’t do it” was often a common response in the first few weeks, I managed to work with those students individually in order to boost their confidence. By the last few weeks, these students were seen enjoying learning tougher songs and playing with their peers. In the beginning I often had to ask students to be quiet in an attempt to get them to learn, and they would talk over each other and interrupt each other but it was refreshing to see their attention more focused as the weeks went on. They would even tell each other to ‘be quiet and listen’ when being spoken to. Finally, the students were starting to discover by themselves a variety of ukulele renditions of their favourite songs on YouTube. Some students talked to me about how certain players sounded while playing a Nirvana song that they discovered on YouTube. Students would often cite ideas on what they believed would sound good or bad on ukulele. It was fantastic to see genuine interest and discussion amongst the students, as it really helped them consider by themselves the songs and ideas they wanted to pursue on the ukulele. I feel that these workshops have helped the students to develop their self-confidence, social and listening skills. The last session was a great example of this. I had instructed the year 7s to get into their own groups before choosing songs to learn. The repertoire I suggested was based on the student’s tastes and some chose to learn more complicated pieces that were not even covered in class! While the repertoire was considered carefully under my supervision, this pursuit of song choice revealed the student’s eagerness to learn more, which might not have been achieved otherwise. The continuation of these workshops will prove useful to a student’s overall integration into classroom education, as well as support them in any extra-curriculum activities they wish to pursue outside of school. As a subject, music is an effective form of encouraging self-confidence, social awareness and courtesy and the ukulele as an instrument offers an appealing and accessible way into popular music and contemporary styles. In the future, I would try to integrate other musical instruments into the class to allow the students to form their own ensembles. This could allow for the exploration of different styles of music and repertoire supported by me as ‘band leader’, challenging them with new tasks relevant to their interests. Every student, no matter their background, is entitled to the help and support they need in order to integrate happily into the classroom and achieve their best. If learning music can reinforce areas of discipline, social courtesy and attentiveness, then a student’s wellbeing improved in all areas of life. Be it art, music or any other activity, every child should be encouraged as early as possible to pursue their interests. This could lead to a career in the future or a hobby and passion worth keeping for life.

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