The next time you walk into your music room, take a good look. What can your students learn just from looking around the room? What can they find to ask questions about? What answers can they find? As I am writing this post, I am surveying my room today with these questions in mind. I see some fourth grade compositions for recorder and drums. There are five pieces, notated in standard music notation. Why only five? Those are the best five out of the class. So by looking at those pieces, students can see what excellent compositions look like. They are neatly written, they use a variety of pitches but stay within the range of the recorder and they include a complementary drum part notated on a separate staff.
Next to these compositions are vocabulary words and definitions printed on commercially available posters. Students can use these posters to look up dynamic markings, tempo markings, articulations, note names, and note kinds. Right in the middle of the board is a poster that shows all six Comer Pathways. I teach at a Comer school, and each student is taught to use their six pathways to learning and development. When I refer to one of the pathways, we can look it up if a student doesn’t know what I’m referring to, and just having the poster there reminds students to use the pathways. On the right side of the board is my “motif wall.” Here I have large cards with musical motifs that I have used in various classes. These motifs help students recall the short pitch sequences, and provide material for warm-up sight singing.
The front of my room has the music standards for performing, creating and responding, more vocabulary words, but without definitions, and the school’s mission and vision statements. There is also a column with my four standards for behavior. Finally, on my white board there are the goals for the day for all classes, and music on staves, usually including a scale and a melody for sight singing. Because there are classes of all grades levels in my room throughout the day, one class will usually see something on the white board for another class. This is good, because students out of curiosity often ask me about something they see. This gives me an opportunity to introduce them to something of immediate interest, and to encourage their curiosity, which is so important to being a good learner.
Here is how I can put my room to use. First, I’ll sing or play a melody that is on the board. I may also have the class sing it with me or to me to practice their sight singing. Next, I may alter the melody, and ask them which word I have posted across the top of the board applies to what I have done. I have the words repetition, transposition, elaboration, simplification, augmentation and diminution posted across the top of my white board. I can also ask each individual student to choose one of the techniques and prepare to sing or play the melody that way. This gives everyone something to do, and gives each student the opportunity to choose how they will demonstrate their learning. I might slow the melody down and ask them if I changed the beat or the rhythm, or ask them to sing it again with a higher dynamic level. If they need to, they can look up the words on the board and then respond. Throughout the class, students are interacting with me and with my room. They are using the room as a resource for information, and applying that information to a performance task that demonstrates their learning to me. It also gives students multiple things on which to direct their attention, though to only one at at time, which keeps them more engaged. Do not underestimate the power you can give to your classroom. Those posters are more than decorations–they are tools for learning.