Keeping Students Connected to and Enjoying Music Class

2011Symposium_1_2Often, a student will come into my classroom drumming a rhythm or singing a tune, or even dancing. Initially, I am glad to see them living with music so enjoyably, but usually, I am compelled to ask them to stop so that we can begin our lesson. Sometimes, the student will reply, “but it’s music, I’m doing music.” They don’t really expect to be allowed to continue on through the class, but the claim to their music is a fascinating one. After all, what math teacher finds students solving formulas or graphing sets of numbers, and has to be told to stop because today they are going to be reducing fractions. We music teachers have the joy of teaching a subject that students choose to use outside our classes. But what should we do when the musical activity they want to engage in is different from what we want or need to teach?

Though it’s not always possible, the first thing we can do is try to incorporate or bridge what we plan to teach from what the students are already doing. I mentioned yesterday that one way of incorporating music reading into every lesson is to transcribe something a student sings and then have the class read the transcription. I have used the music a student is spontaneously singing for such a transcription. The student is usually surprised I was even listening, and even more surprised that I can quickly write the notes for it on the board. Once I’m teaching something the student has brought into the classroom, they can hardly complain about not liking the song.

There’s also an element of being able to think on my feet. If a student is Self-Imagedrumming a rhythm on their chair, I might try to quickly think of a song they know or that I can teach them that fits with that rhythm. It doesn’t even have to be the rhythm that originally went with the song–students are open to remixes as long as it has a good beat. I might even just invite the student or students to perform the song for the class, especially if it does not pull me too far from my planned lesson. There’s a lot about spontaneous music making and enjoyment that I want to encourage. After all, that’s what I hope my teaching ultimately achieves for my students–that they will be equipped to enjoy music making for the rest of their lives.

Another approach, used when what the student is doing really is a long way from what I planned to teach that day, is to ask the student to write a lesson using that song. I ask them to think of things the class could learn from and about the song, and to write the lesson plan. I’ll give the student one of my lesson plans to use as a model. I will also give the student the option of teaching the lesson. Otherwise, I will offer to teach it, using the lesson plan the student has written. Because students are inexperienced lesson planners, I would also meet with the student ahead of time to firm up plans, making sure that the lesson will be what the student has in mind. It also does all of us good to let the students experience a class from our perspective. I find that once a student has taught a class and been in the position of dealing with classmates who are not paying attention to them, the student-teacher becomes a more attentive student when they return to their role as student.

Music really is a joy. While music teachers must be conscientious to teach to standards and objectives, we must also remember that it should be fun. Goals and objectives should lead to better teaching an learning, but not take the enjoyment away.

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