As educators, we aspire to re-create the experience that made us want to learn more about music. At their most fundamental level, we want our classes to be havens for self-expression, where students feel safe to explore and learn. Here are five simple strategies to help you keep that spark of learning in your classes, with an eye toward children’s developmental levels, the intrinsic need for play, and maintaining control of the class.
Whenever possible, stay at the students’ level. Young children are bound to get distracted, for example, if you need to walk across the room to sit behind the piano. This is why the guitar works so well when teaching music to children. Its portability and positioning is ideal for instruction within the intimacy of a circle. Sit down with students to set the tone that music is something to be shared.
Sometimes nothing is more powerful for spreading the music bug than to watch the depths of human expression come alive in a performance. Sharing one’s passion about something can be contagious. You may try spontaneously playing something you’ve been working on or inviting a guest to the class, such as a peer from the high school or a parent who makes his or her living in music. Save time for questions and answers, and make note of what intrigues your students.
According to the Orff approach, children learn best when teachers create an atmosphere that is similar to a child’s world of play. An Orff-inspired classroom is based on “things children like to do: sing, chant rhymes, clap, dance, and keep a beat on anything near at hand.”(1) Use echo clapping to call the class to attention or teach rhythms, and march together to the beat of a drum. Make instruments available to children that they can easily play, such as xylophones, tamborines, and maracas, in order to access their natural curiosity.
When students’ interests and choices are incorporated into the lessons, they will inevitably be more invested in the class. What do your students know? What real-world examples can they bring to the forum and how can you capitalize on this? For example, older students may be asked to share some of their favorite pop songs. Play them in class and analyze different elements of the piece (instrumentation, rhythm, beat, notation). For a lesson on composers, ask collectively, then write student-generated questions on the board: What do we know (about Mozart)? What do we want to know? And after the lesson, What have we learned?
Try using singing or sound cues to signal various routines in class, such as a chime to tell students when to quiet down for meeting time. Have students choose from a variety of songs in various music styles to use for a cleanup song (one class I taught chose Dave Brubeck’s “Take 5” as a cleanup song). To help students internalize routines and understand desired outcomes, keep verbal instructions to a minimum and instead, model or show students what you want them to do.
i American Orff-Schulwerk Association. “What is Orff Schulwerk?” Copyright 2011