Resource Reviews: A-Star Classroom

Elizabeth Stafford
Friday, October 1, 2021

Elizabeth Stafford reviews A-Star Classroom, a new online resource for non-specialist primary teachers.

Classroom instrument manufacturer A-Star is expanding their offer by launching an online resource hub for non-specialist primary teachers. The online A-Star Classroom will provide fact sheets, videos, lesson plans and cross-curricular activities designed for use with A-Star classroom percussion instruments. Launched this month, the resource will gradually expand with more content added monthly to allow teachers to explore a range of different cultures and sounds with their class.

I started by looking at the instrument cards, which are structured very much like knowledge organisers but are much more useful in that they cover the skill of how to play the instrument as well as facts about the instrument. I can see both teachers and pupils finding these useful, particularly in a knowledge-rich curriculum environment. These are supported with clearly presented ‘how to play’ videos, and the combination of these videos with the cards means that teachers who might previously have wondered what on earth the strange items in their instrument trolley are will have all the support they needed to learn to play and classify these.

I then moved onto looking at the scheme of work ‘A Musical Learning Journey’, which aims to introduce pupils to styles, rhythms and sounds from around the world, with a focus on the interrelated dimensions of music. This scheme of work consists of six lessons each for Key Stage 1 and 2, so could be slotted into a curriculum alongside other schemes of work and resources.

The resources are easy to navigate on the site, which is always a key consideration for time-poor primary teachers! A brief overview of each scheme of work is available as a PDF download, where a lesson objective is listed alongside the skills and dimensions of music covered in the lesson. I found that the lesson objectives chosen didn't always match the criteria for a true objective – some of them were descriptions of the activity that would take place in the lesson, rather than of the learning that would be developed through the activity. The skills and interrelated dimensions listed also did not always map onto the National Curriculum particularly well, with areas like ‘arranging’ featuring in the KS2 skills, and ‘melody’ ‘rhythm’ and ‘pulse’ appearing as interrelated dimensions.

There is no questioning that these are useful things to learn about, but because the terminology is not taken directly from the National Curriculum, I can see how this might be confusing for non-specialists. Perhaps this will be explained for teachers in the lesson plans, which were not yet available to view, or in the teacher videos, of which only one was available.

The pupil-facing videos were clearly presented, and it was great to have some signing along with the speaking, making the videos more accessible. The scheme suggests that teachers can either use the videos to teach the class, or as an example for them to copy themselves. I think it would be a struggle to use the videos directly with the pupils as the pace is quite slow, and the quality of the editing and audio means that the sound doesn't always match the actions. Some of the timing and tuning is slightly out, which, when the activities demonstrated require call and response, is going to cause confusion in the classroom. As an example of what to do with the children, which the teacher could then replicate at a more suitable pace, these videos could prove useful, although some care would need to be taken with the content – I wasn't overly convinced by some of the definitions and categorisation of the interrelated dimensions in the videos.

Backing tracks are also provided to support learning, and although only one set was currently available to listen to, these were of good quality and would provide an authentic backdrop for pupil activities. It is a shame that these are not downloadable so that teachers are able to use these with devices that are not internet enabled, such as a sound system for performances.

This resource has potential to provide an opportunity to explore percussion-based music from around the world authentically, and it will be interesting to see how it develops. In particular, I think there is an opportunity to add true cross-curricular content in terms of geography, science and history (the current extracurricular content is colouring sheets and word searches), and more original musical content rather than relying on the ‘old favourite’ songs familiar to most primary schools. The pricing structure reflects the resource's current limitations, and the instrument pack in particular represents good value for money.