Reflections on a New School Year

2011Symposium_1_2As the new school year begins, it seems fitting to call to mind the things teachers do to get themselves and their students off to a good start. Students need five things from teachers to succeed in school, and they are never more receptive to them than at the beginning of the year. Those five things are clear behavior expectations, classroom procedures, clear academic goals, interest, and confidence.

The last two things, interest and confidence, are arguably two of the greatest gifts a teacher can give a student. Not all material covered in a class is naturally of interest to everyone, but teachers who make the uninteresting interesting, and the unexciting exciting can motivate students to try things, do things and accomplish things they would not otherwise. Teachers who do this love their content, love learning, and love teaching. They get others excited about what they are excited about; be it grammar, geometry, Gymnopedies or George Washington. Good teachers can make all of this fun without watering it down. The beginning of the school year is a great time to infuse this kind of fun into learning. For music classes, playing singing, rhythm or movement games is a great way to begin. It gets every student in a class doing something active together while providing review and practice of basic musical concepts and skills. Middle school students appreciate the chance to move around while learning, and younger children enjoy the sheer fun of playing a game.

The first three things, clear behavior expectations, procedures, and clear academic goals make the others possible. Theysinging-kids are not always observable to the untrained eye, but are in constant use. They are as important to learning as a good cinematographer and director are to a movie. They work off-camera but provide the direction and structure that keep actors in the right place at the right time, providing them with an opportunity to flourish practicing their art. Expectations, procedures, and goals do the same thing. They let everybody know what is expected, what to work for, how to know what is left to be done in order to succeed, and what success will look like.

Some students will have difficulty meeting behavioral expectations, and will need constant reminders. Giving these students logical reasons why you are expecting what you are expecting can help. No student wants to do badly, but many also don’t want to change their plan of doing what they want no matter what. The teacher must connect meeting behavior expectations and academic goals with student success, and make that success something the student wants. In this way, all five things work together as students desire to do well at what has been made interesting, and in order to do so are willing to meet expectations and goals. When my students say “I want to be able to do that,” then they have the reason they need to meet your expectations because they are now a means to getting what they want, which is what you want. When all of that aligns, it is a beautiful thing.

Procedures include how to enter the room, how to get to seating assignments, and how to pass papers out and how to collect papers. Also included are when to sharpen pencils, how to leave the classroom for the lavatory and then how to re-enter. Another is how to move from one seating plan to another; for example, from rows to group clusters for collaborative work. All of this needs to be practiced until the class can do it right repeatedly. A few minutes of time saved every day by efficient procedures saves hours of time for instruction and learning over the course of an academic year. Procedures also teach students how to be organized and efficient, both skills needed throughout life, particularly in the workplace and in managing a home. When a class moves through procedures rightly, there is time and structure for doing those fun learning activities like playing the rhythm, singing, and moving games mentioned earlier. Building these good habits into the beginning of the year will help keep things running well all year.

Academic goals are now clearly articulated in our Core Arts Standards. Anchor goals and essential questions for each of the four artistic processes provide clear direction for music teachers and their students. As a result of music classes, students will be able to select, analyze, interpret, rehearse, evaluate, and perform. They will be able to generate, develop, evaluate, revise and perform original musical works, respond to music they hear, and connect music and musical experiences.

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