How Can The Future Be The Present? A Strategy for the Music Classroom

2011Symposium_1_2Probably everyone knows that the present is not the same as the future. The present can be seen, and is occurring now. The future has not yet occurred, but will occur. You are reading this word now, but will be reading my next sentence in the future. You don’t know what my next sentence will be until you read it. Or do you? Perhaps you have deduced from the title that I am going to draw similarities between the future and the present, or that I’m going to point out connections between the two. If you have deduced this, then you are already beyond the present, anticipating the future. You may not be in the future yet, but you won’t be surprised or unprepared for it when it arrives. The more accurately you predict what will happen in the future, the more the present is the same as the future.

Accurately predicting the future is a valuable tool in managing a classroom. Great teachers prepare for problems their students will have, and plan solutions to those problems before they happen. Accurate anticipations often are made based on past experience with the material or student involved. If students had difficulty learning how to accurately perform a dotted eighth and sixteenth note combination the last time several times I taught it, I will prepare for them having the same difficulty again if I teach it the same way. Because I prepare for this difficulty, I will plan to teach dotted eighth and sixteenth note differently. Perhaps I will think through the process of learning this and creatively come up with a new approach. Perhaps I will try another approach I know a colleague has had success with, or maybe I will have a student who does not have difficulty teach it to the rest of the class, explaining it the way he or she came to understand it. This would give me valuable insight into how my students are learning compared to how I’m teaching. By anticipating the future and planning for it, my students enjoy greater success, and I am more successful.

The same is true for classroom management and behavior issues. Anticipation enables me to prevent many interruptions and distractions. For example, I anticipatealways have a few students who cannot stay seated for very long. They must get up and move around, or always be in some kind of motion. These students either walk or fidget and eventually tip their chair over, both of which can be distractions and interruptions. Allowing a student who can’t stay seated to walk back and forth in the back of the room where the class cannot see him or her, while all the time continuing to include the pacing student in class discussions and activities, enables everyone to have a more productive class. I accept the exception to requiring everyone to remain seated in exchange for everyone being engaged in planned learning. I don’t have to wait for the child’s movement to become a problem every day; I assume that it will be a problem if I make it one. An order for the student to return to his or her seat has a low chance of being followed. Preparing for this, I provide the student with an alternative way to learn that he or she can follow, and everyone comes out better for it.

When solutions are arrived at before the problems arrive, the quality of educating occurring increases. Students are more willing to persevere and stay motivated when they know their teacher is invested in and has already given thought to what comes hard to them, and what will help them succeed. Teachers can even go as far as imagining conversations or teaching sequences with specific students, anticipating what the student will say and what the teacher will say in the exchange. Such rehearsing makes the situation familiar territory for the teacher even though it is really the first time it has been encountered. Anything teachers can do to make a successful future more certain is undoubtedly worth the effort.

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2 thoughts on “How Can The Future Be The Present? A Strategy for the Music Classroom

  1. I do exactly what you talked about with fidgety or distracted kids and find it very very effective. Since i teach solo piano, not groups, i even find rewarding kids with an activity makes them interested and motivated enough to practise at home more regularly

    • I think we all tend to give a better effort when we are certain of and believe in our purpose. Teaching is often a matter of identifying and framing the purpose. Thanks for your encouraging comment.

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