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The Agora Portals Choir, beyond music education

At Agora Portals International School, music is part of our pupils’ comprehensive education. Through music education, the students can more easily develop valuable abilities such as effort, self-improvement, sensitivity, organisation, teamwork, etc. Given its importance, the school is also a conservatoire, an Integrated Music Centre, authorised to teach the Elementary and Professional Diplomas in Music. The Agora Portals choir is part of the school’s educational project in that it provides pupils with an extracurricular activity which enables them to continue with and advance in their music education.

Throughout the last eight years, the choir has given numerous high-level performances both within and outside school, and its participation at well-known places such as the most important auditorium in Mallorca, as well as its collaboration with other choirs and groups, such as the Palma Municipal Band, or the Balearic Symphony Orchestra, stand out. This project goes beyond the pupils’ music education and helps them to develop other skills and areas of knowledge.

In charge of the Agora Portals Choir is Frederique Sizaret, a teacher at the school, who we have had the opportunity to interview.

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Frederique Sizaret, French Mezzo-Soprano, finished her studies at the Conservatoire de Tours by coming top of her class in violin, chamber music, and singing. In 1996, she did a Master’s in musicology, and that same year, became part of the “Centre de Formation Lyrique” of the Paris Opera. Federique’s career as an opera singer took place in Germany, in the Wupretal, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Saarbrucjen, and Stuttgart theatres. When she moved to Mallorca she continued with her musical career, but also got involved in the world of education. Over the last three years, she has worked in teaching, both in individual and group vocal technique, running choir classes, such as the Agora Portals International School Children’s Choir.

 

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Q: How did the idea of creating the Agora Portals Choir come about?

A: All the children at school have one choir session per week. But, very quickly, we realised that some of them wanted more, both on a vocal level and in terms of theatrical expression. Some had the desire to learn to control their voice just like any other instrument, and to develop choreography based on the pieces learnt. So for this reason, we decided to create the Agora Portals Choir.

 

Q: In what ways does being part of the choir benefit the development of the pupils’ music education?
A
: First of all, they develop their voice. Just like any other instrument, the voice requires its own technique, and although it is the human being’s most natural instrument, its technique is closely related to physical and psychological development. A 6-or-7-year-old child sings in a very natural way, and finds within their body the technical resources necessary to a healthy voice. In adolescence, the natural “embarrassment” which appears in many of them causes the voice to close, like the body. Working on the voice regularly enables better control of this “problem”.

Secondly, they develop their ear. Many of the instruments that the pupils play are individual ones. Singing in a choir forces the pupils to be with other voices, and requires vertical listening. In fact, this practice brings out a great deal of happiness in the children, when they realise that they can sing with two, three, or four voices, and control of their tone very clearly improves.

Thirdly, they develop “sight reading”. Often, we work from memory, but as an exercise, I also make the children sharpen their skills using sheet music. It’s something very new for them: choir sheet music contains various voices, an accompaniment, sometimes made up of various instruments, and doing this requires a very specific concentration, both at a purely reading level and at an auditory level.

 

Q: What other areas of knowledge are developed from the music education project?

A: We have rehearsals in groups of three or four pupils to complement the weekly group rehearsals. These sessions enable me to get to know each child’s voice and their possibilities, and monitor their development. The class with smaller groups allows me to teach them bodily and theatrical techniques to help them know how to act in a stage environment. Furthermore, they learn biology: I explain the anatomy of the voice, what happens when we produce sound, what they can do when it doesn’t work, so that they learn to control their voice mechanically and acquire a more intense awareness of their bodies, with which they avoid problems with aphonia or dysphonia in the future.

 

Q: What do the pupils enjoy most?

A: The theatrical aspect is probably what the children enjoy the most! Because they dance, they speak in public, they learn to forget their natural embarrassment, and they sing in front of their classmates. In this sense, it’s difficult to maintain the balance between a classic repertoire (with many benefits for the development of the voice), and more popular songs which allow them to express themselves on a more theatrical level, but which do not produce the same results on a musical and vocal level.

For example, we did a project on a wonderful piece by John Rutter, “Mass of the children”, with the participation of another children’s choir in Mallorca, an adult choir, and an orchestra made up of school teachers. The music was religious, and magnificent, but, although the children did very well, they didn’t enjoy it as much as they do the modern songs. It’s difficult to ensure that they develop their sensitivity in this field!

Agora Portals Choir performing “Missa of the Children”

 

Q: Could you tell us about the musical projects you have done, and what you’d highlight from each of them?

 A: I set three big projects a year: the Christmas Concert, with classic and modern songs; the end-of-year project; and one that’s different each year. We mustn’t forget that the children sing everything from memory, and that each programme is an average of twelve songs, with several voices.

Firstly, I’d like to highlight the project that we did alongside the Blavets de Lluc and the University Choir, which enabled the children in the Agora Choir to meet other children from Mallorca, the Blavets, a professional choir of children who also have music integrated into their curriculum. Similarly, the children had the opportunity to work with an orchestra of professionals, conducted by Joan Company, director of the University of the Balearic Islands Choir. The work was very positive for the children. We joined together all these groups in the Church of Palma, and the concert was a success. We brought together more than 300 people!

Lastly, I’d like to point out that this project would have been impossible without the help of the school, in all aspects.

 

Last year’s project was, most probably, the most ambitious that we’ve done up until now! All this began with the desire to create a programme of songs from Musicals (Matilda, Les Misérables, Singing in the rain, Grease, Sister Act, Lion King…). But singing without moving was impossible. So, we asked a choreographer for help to adjust the movements for each of the songs. The same thing happened with the instruments, the piano wasn’t enough. David León (the school’s music director) helped us by writing a musical arrangement for an ensemble made up of teachers from the school, with violin, viola, flute, oboe, clarinet, and trumpet. We also needed to decorate the stage, which the art teacher, Juta Fita, took care of, creating of two decorated screens with the Primary pupils. In addition, we made use of the technical resources offered in the school’s auditorium. We even had a rain machine! Truly, for me, and for the pupils, this project was a high point in the work of the choir, and it was possible thanks to the help of the entire school.

 

Q: What is this year’s project? When will it take place?

A: Although the idea is still up in the air, this year I’d like to do a project which brings together several choirs of children from around the world, with videos. Thanks to one of my previous jobs, I have contacts who are singers from different countries, and many of them now work with children. The idea would be to choose various songs in the original language, have the children from other countries record them, and on the day of the concert, our choir would sing the same song. As well as including, of course, choreographed dance!

 

Q: What has developing the Portals Choir offered you on a personal and professional level?

A: This work has provided me with a completely different perspective on the voice. I had always worked with adults, and although children have a much more natural voice than adults, every day I have to find different resources to work with them on a technical level: games, images, working on bodily expression, etc. It’s a constant search, but it’s also exciting! On the other hand, developing this project in the school environment has made my work and that of the children much easier: from the start the director and the pedagogy team understood that the music could provide children with a dimension beyond the “classic” education. Considering music as another curricular subject is the best gift we could give the pupils both for their music education and their education as people.

Excellent Workshops based on multiple intelligences

Attention to diversity is one of the challenges of the Areteia Educational Project, which aims to create a context of success for each student, accepting and working on weaknesses, but above all, encouraging the strengths and talents of each student.

In this way, in accordance with the fundamental principle of the Educational Project which states that all pupils can learn, though they need not all do it in the same way, Areteia applies Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences with the creation of the Excellent Workshops.

The theory of Multiple Intelligences developed by Gardner states that there is not one intelligence but multiple types, and that we all possess similar abilities, though some of us are more skilled in some things than in others.

Areteia began this initiative in the 2010-2011 academic year, and with time it has become one of the pillars of the school’s educational project. On the one hand, the Excellent Programmes enable the pupils to learn about a subject, and on the other hand, they enable the development of each pupil’s potential to the maximum, so that through their strengths they reach excellence. Each student is assigned to a Workshop related to the type of intelligence in which they stand out.

Luis Garcia, headmaster of Areteia, helps us to better understand this. “For more than 20 years we’ve been holding events and organising one-time activities to motivate the students to show the best of themselves, and after the successes achieved, we believed it necessary to go one step further and organise these activities within the curriculum and the school day, with the objective of going further in this wonderful task of maximising the best in each pupil. For this reason, since 2011 we have incorporated the Excellent Workshops in our Educational Project and begun to work on them”.

Art techniques workshops

“Outside the curriculum, but at the same time perfectly linked with the pedagogical objectives, on Friday afternoons within school hours we break out of the school structure and work on the workshops. We put the Primary pupils together, and the ESO, Baccalaureate, and Vocational Training pupils together, who are then in turn divided up according to the workshop they’ve been assigned”, the headmaster says.

The choice of Excellent Workshop is agreed on between the tutor, the pupil, and the family, and is supervised by the school’s Psychopedagogy Department. This decision is made during the first few weeks of the year, in which the tutor of each group presents Gardner’s 8 Multiple Intelligences. An analysis is then made of each pupil’s potential to agree on their participation in the most suitable workshop for them.

ESO Science Experiments Workshop

Luis Garcia adds that “year after year we survey the pupils to draw valuable conclusions about the satisfaction achieved in each workshop and, based on these conclusions, we redesign the offer for the following academic year”.

It is difficult to highlight certain workshops above others, though we can confirm that “the Sports; Self-defence; Science Experiments; Rock; and Singing programmes etc. are the most popular, while the Video; Photography, and Radio and Readers programmes are chosen by fewer pupils, but with a higher level of motivation and potential to progress.”

The Excellent Workshops, based on Multiple Intelligences, help to promote the objectives of the Areteia Educational Project, and form a real Learning Community. “These workshops create particularly motivational moments for the students, and also for the teachers, given that they can share their hobbies, tastes, and skills, etc. with the pupils. It is, ultimately, about favouring an experience of being able to contribute, to be useful, to be competent, to be good, and to build.

In this way, the school becomes greater because it provides its participants with happiness and learning”, Luis Garcia concludes.

ESO Rock Workshop

What do our pupils and teachers say about the Excellent Workshops?

  • The Comics Workshop is a space in which a group of pupils who like drawing get together to work on this hobby in a fun way. To do this, exercises are recommended in which they can develop a feeling for human anatomy, proportion, movement, and narrative, which help to stimulate and mould their creative dimension. David Segovia, Teacher
  • The Comics Workshop is a calm space with nice people where I learn and improve in something I like. Miguel, 1st Baccalaureate B pupil.
  • I like drawing and learning from my teacher, I want to be an artist and I love my classmates. Fiorela, 2nd ESO A pupil.

ESO Comic Workshop

  • For me, being part of the Sport Workshop has been a very productive experience, because I see pupils of different ages interact in one learning context, respect each other in the face of differences in terms of ability, and resolve conflicts which arise, with the older ones mediating, so that there is a healthy atmosphere of co-operation. Iván Cortijo, Teacher.
  • I chose the Sport Workshop because it was the one which stood out most to me. In this workshop, I can play and enjoy doing what I like: moving around and playing. And if I’m with my friends, even better. I feel that I’m part of a team. Also, thanks to the workshop I play sports which I wasn’t very good at, like basketball, badminton, tennis, etc. Juan, 4th ESO B pupil.
  • Friday afternoons are different and fun. It’s a way of becoming closer to the pupils, thanks to their aptitude for and motivation to take part in the activity. The environment is great, and students from different year groups interact, so it’s really enriching. Beatriz Moreno, Teacher.
  • In the Redecorate your World Workshop you can be creative and no one judges you. Paloma, 3rd ESO C pupil.
  • Friday afternoon is fun and there’s a good atmosphere. I do things which we never do. Adriana, 1st ESO B pupil.

ESO pupils in the Video Editing Workshop

Quality of education at NACE Schools

At NACE Schools, we meet the needs of 21st-century pupils so that they grow up happy and are prepared to live successfully in a globalised world. The involvement of our entire educational community and the constant improvement made to our procedures and methodologies enables us to achieve the maximum quality of education, which we refer to as Platinum Standard.

Platinum Standard is a tool which evaluates the level and the quality of education of each school in the NACE group, and helps them to improve. Daniel Jones, Chief Education Officer at NACE Schools, created this system with the aim of helping the schools to evaluate the quality of the teaching they offer, and to find the right strategies to improve in all areas of the educational project.


DaDaniel Jonesniel Jones holds a degree in Spanish and French Philology from the University of Nottingham, and a Master’s in Education from Manchester Metropolitan University. He has worked in the world of education since 1992, in a number of different roles: teacher, head of department, and head of studies, among others. From among his roles, his work as headmaster of a British school which in 2014 was named best British international school of the year worldwide, and as chief inspector of British schools in Spain, stand out. He is currently the Chief Education Officer at NACE Schools.


In order to determine this quality of education, the Platinum Standard is based on five key areas: the capacity for leadership and management; the quality of teaching, learning, and evaluation; the progress of pupils; the development of the values, attitudes, and wellbeing of the pupils, which are fundamental at NACE Schools; and the implementation of our value proposition.

According to Daniel Jones, “a key factor in improving teaching quality is the training of teachers to support them in becoming more effective. To achieve this, this year we have focused on the following strategies”:

  1. That every teacher has high expectations of all their pupils, whatever their abilities.
  2. Applying question techniques which encourage reflection and more profound thinking, ensuring the greater involvement and participation of pupils in the classroom, and encouraging debate in pairs and in groups.
  3. Creating motivating classroom projects with ambitious levels of challenge for different pupils, depending on their ability. A good example is the “EcoHomes” project carried out at Agora Portals International School, in which groups of pupils work collaboratively to design and build their own ecological house, and then give a presentation in English about their project. “The objective is to motivate and challenge”, says Daniel.
  4. Carrying out tasks which measure the individual progress of the pupils in every session, to evaluate what they have learnt and see which aspects they should improve each day.
  5. Creating “360 Feedback” methods between pupils and teachers so that communication flows both ways, and also among the pupils.

According to a number of studies, these strategies have a great impact on pupils’ learning in the classroom. That’s why they are being applied to increase and improve the quality of the education of each NACE school. Daniel Jones states that “the quality of the teacher is what has the greatest impact on the children’s learning”.

Similarly, Daniel points out that “every school should know which educational level it is at in order to know how to improve and what to work towards”. He explains that “NACE Schools is distinguished from other schools in its method of evaluation and support, to respond to the needs of both the pupil and the school. Key evidence of the Platinum Standard process is found in listening to the opinions of the pupils, parents, teachers, and management teams through interviews, surveys, and discussions. The aim is to create a 360º opinion system in which the entire school community participates”.

Finally, the four pillars of the NACE Schools value proposition define how we can achieve excellence in our educational project by building on what happens each day in the classroom”, Daniel adds.


  Fig.1: The NACE Schools Educational Project Value Proposition