What are the most effective $$$’s you’ve ever spent in your music classroom?
Perhaps it was what everyone seems to have on their mind at the moment- technology! An iPad or an interactive whiteboard or maybe it was a set of xylophones that your students can now play every day, a drum kit, a keyboard lab or a set of music stands. Whatever the case, every school has different needs and students and every music department needs equipment and resources which all cost money- often money that the schools themselves don’t have : (
Last September we had the privilege of working together with ten music teachers in schools throughout the US and helped fund projects which were all specific needs for the music classroom. When we funded projects, we were looking for ideas that could serve the maximum amount of children at a time for maximum impact in the school. We felt that schools who asked for specific instruments ie like a tuba, were not able to serve more than one child at a time, so we tended not to fund such projects.
Using these schools as a basis for my research, I’ve put together a “Top 5 Wish List” for Classroom Music Teachers. In total, we’ve funded 11 projects since 2010 and some schools need the same types of resources, so from these, I’ve narrowed the list down to the top 5 wish list ideas for music teachers. These were the top 5 ideas that music teachers wanted in their classroom to help the maximum number of students learn music in their school. Music Teachers often get very busy very quickly in schools and we know there is usually not much time to network. Hearing about the stories of others can serve as inspiration and a source of ideas for your own music department.
So here are the ideas for the Top 5 Wish List in the music classroom with a story about the school who needed it and how they’ve used the resources:
1. Untuned Percussion instruments such as Egg Shakers and Boomwhackers
We funded a school in NY for this requirement, just last September. The school that needed these had to face running an elementary music program without any instruments because of budget cuts and a reallocation of school funds. 100% of this school community is eligible for the free or reduced lunch program and the students are not afforded the opportunity to attend music classes outside of school.
The teacher Ms Sarullo, told us that having these basic instruments, it enabled all students to play an active role in making music both in the short and long term in the school’s future. These are the types of instruments that students can succeed in very quickly, but still get a musical result with while actively participating.
2. A Listening Centre
Back in 2010, we funded a US junior school where there was no access to listening to classical music. Like the school above, all the students in this school are eligible for the free or reduced lunch program, there is a love for learning amongst the children, however there are just no resources for children other than turning on the radio. With these resources which included a jack box which can attach to a CD player and 8 headphones, the teacher Mrs Hatfield can now seat 8 children at a time listening and doing activities to a variety of musical styles.
3. Djembe Spelling
The teacher who was involved in this project, Mrs Hamilton, came up with an ingenious way of teaching involving her grade 4 poverty stricken students with motivating them to spell words and getting higher test scores in literacy. This urban NY school was given the label “School in need of improvement” due to low scores in math and language. She found that if she used drums (at first they started using buckets then later we helped fund her in getting some Djembe’s ) to spell words- then children had a better chance of remembering the word. This is what Mrs Hamilton said about using the process;
“I would like to help the students improve their test scores in writing, learn to spell, and use the words in their oral language in a motivational way that is native to their culture. Having djembe drums would motivate students to play the letters of the words followed by the definition and a sentence that uses it, all spoken in “oral language” to a steady beat with the rhythm of the letters or words. Students with the drums would be the leaders, while students without the drums echoed with hand held percussion instruments. Then students would switch places and repeat the process. Students would remember how to spell the word because they engaged their kinesthetic mode of learning through drumming, not just reciting the words orally. If students can learn to spell correctly, they will not only increase their test scores, but will communicate more effectively. Their future will be affected because they will reflect their skill on job applications and in their oral vocabulary.”
The teacher on this project, Mrs Black was able to give basic general music education as a whole group, but wasn’t able to offer any ensemble experience because of lack or resources to her school. Having these glockenspiels was a start to creating an orff based ensemble for her students.
5. A Set Of Music Stands
The teacher needing this project, Mr Joyce already had a successful music program for grades 5-12, however has found there has been a very high level of unemployment around his school area for the past 10 years and this has meant that simple resources like music stands can’t be bought for each child. Having the right equipment such as sturdy music stands encourages better playing and motivation.
It’s fascinating to me to note that it tools like the iPad, interactive whiteboards and other technology didn’t even make it onto this list! Although a lot of teachers want these items, we have found that most schools find a way to acquire these anyway- if there’s going to be funding available, it’s mostly going towards technology in the classroom. A simple iPad is also cheap enough for any teacher who is really interested in using them to invest in on their own and then attach it to any projector within the school. This process taught us that it’s the content of what’s being taught, not just the tools that we teach it on that matter. Teachers need to feel comfortable with using the tools they have, and we know from our own experience with these new tools that they take time and patience to learn, so for these reasons we didn’t find ourselves wanting to invest in these items. Having the technology available is one thing, using it well with a maximum number of students is the important thing. So within this small sample of schools, we found ourselves investing in resources we knew would get used appropriately with the right resources.
But now I’d love to hear from you!! What have been the most effective $$$’s you’ve ever spent in your music classroom? Do you agree with this list? What do you think every music teacher should have in their music classroom? Tell us you stories and share your stories of inspiration to help benefit the wider Music Teaching community.