If you’ve been teaching music for long, you’ve noticed that often, it’s those first few moments of each class where you and your students establish the success or failure of your lesson.  Snagging the attention of students as they come in is essential.  I currently teach classes that last 45 minutes.  I have a few students who depending on circumstances could take a full 30-45 minutes to finally transition into music class meaning that my entire class time COULD be spent with this student or that student actively sabotaging our learning …. UNLESS, I can peak their interest just long enough to if not fully engage them, then to at least transition them from active sabotage to interested observation.

Learning how to read my students at the door is critical. I’ve got lessons that I am excited to share with my students, but if they don’t come in ready to receive them, then all my “good” teaching will fall on deaf ears and closed minds……. SO!

The following paragraphs contain some of my every day practices as I am trying to increase the time my students spend on task.

Practice #1 – greetings!

I don’t ALWAYS get this accomplished, and boy, when I don’t I pay a huge price, but my lessons ALWAYS go better when I can greet my students at the door and get a read on how they are doing. When all is right with the world, I get a chance to exchange a word or two with the homeroom teacher, meet new students and give brief instructions to the incoming class.

Practice #2 – play!

ETM (Education Through Music)
Through my study with the Richards Institute, (Summer Colloquium is coming up!)  It would be a great time to begin studying with a great group of folks who care about children!
I have had the opportunity to observe lots of children and and the role and effect that play has on the ability of the child to learn.  I use the wonderful work of “ETM” every day in my class to “grab” the attention of students through playing song experience games.  I highly recommend the study of Education Through Music to anyone who has the opportunity to interact with children whether your interaction be as a parent, family member or teacher.

ETM has a collection of songs that I play with my students at the beginning of each lesson. OFTEN, the song literature from ETM is intentionally my entire lesson, but even when I teach with other materials, the song literature and attitude of play embodied in the song experiences of ETM have a huge presence in every aspect of my classroom.

For example, my kindergarten this year has played the song experience game “the Farmer in the Dell” EVERY SINGLE music class, rain or shine, Halloween, Christmas or Easter.  When I greet them at the door, they very faithfully tell me who the farmer is and they immediately and without my prompting sit in a circle and we begin to play.  This happened because when I introduced the song at the beginning of the year, they found it to be so playful and interesting  that they wanted to do it again.  Rather than steamroll past their request to play a favorite game in order to get to “my lesson” I encourage them and play WITH them and as a result, we create a whole lot more room in our class time together for “my” new material. They are motivated to do it again and the routine is highly reassuring to them so they come in ready to play AND learn.  Plus, as an added bonus, the time they used to spend bemoaning their lack of a turn on a given activity is reduced significantly because they have learned to trust in “next time”.

Practice #3 –  accept!
I have a pet peeve that will surprise none of the music teachers reading my blog.  My students don’t always have a bathroom break before they come to music. UHGGGG!  The way our schedule works it is easier for some homerooms to fit it in than others.  Plus, we all know from personal experience that it is very difficult to attend to ANYTHING no matter how intriguing  if we find ourselves in need of a bathroom.  So I have been working on accepting what I cannot change.  I am learning to accept the fact that my door will always be a revolving one and that I will almost never have an entire class at one time and that I will ALWAYS have to repeat instructions to students who were otherwise occupied.  I’m almost over it…… it’s a good thing that May is coming…
I will admit that I find it most difficult to accept this reality when 6 students simultaneously ask to go to the bathroom when they have been standing outside my door waiting for music class to begin while standing in a  statuesque line for the last ten minutes…. so in the fall, I will be placing a sign outside my door that says something like “Here Early?”  “Go the the bathroom!” or something…. I don’t know.

Practice #4 – chill!

There is nothing more challenging than afternoon classes. K-5, if they are the last class of the day, they will be the most challenging.  A perfect day for me would be one where my conference time was at the end of the day so that I could avoid that last 45 minutes with children all together.  At our school, the last class of the day is also a different grade level every day, and they come with their backpacks.  Backpacks = “school is over”…. My students are hot, tired and thirsty and they have been irritating each other all day long.  At times like this I have a few strategies that I use depending on how the group reads when they walk in.

If they seem restless I might…..

  • Play a BIG game – a known game with lots of gross motor movement, probably an ETM game like Oats Peas Beans or Going Down the Railroad
  • Move to a listening selection like Stars and Stripes Forever
  • Act out a known song experience game like Old Grumbler
If they seem tired I might…..
  • Hand out a listening map and either listen in a whole group with lights low or in small groups with ipod touches and headphones
If they seem hot and sweaty from recess I might….. 

  •   read a book while they chill and take turn getting water.
THESE are the books that do a great job of helping my students transition from WILD to mild without a lot of fuss.  I purposely don’t include them in any particular lesson so that I can toss them in as needed.
About 12 years ago Scholastic published a tape and book version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star that was just lovely.  I am very interested in finding that truly beautiful recording if it is still available somewhere.

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