Anatomy of a Lesson Plan

2011Symposium_1_2Teachers seem to write lesson plans for different reasons. Some make plans to guide themselves through the teaching of a lesson, some make plans to document what they did so they can repeat the lesson another year, and some write lesson plans just because they have to. My guess is that most of us write plans for some combination of these reasons. Most lesson plans include at least an objective, steps that will be taken toward achieving the objective, how work will be assessed, and perhaps a list of materials needed. All of these elements answer the question, “what?” What is the objective? What will be done? What is needed? A question that is easily overlooked is, “Why?” Why is this objective being taught? Why is this objective relevant to my students? Why do I intend to have my students complete this step? Why (or how) is this activity related to the objective? Why is this the right time to be doing this?

Let me use teaching a class a new song as an example. General music teachers do this all the time, but for different reasons. Why teach this song and not that one? As the winter holidays approach, I like to teach my third graders the song, “Here We Come A-Caroling” (sometimes referred to as “Here We Come A-Wassailing”). I could teach this song because I like it, or because it is a holiday song suitable for this time of year, but there is a more compelling reason why I choose this particular song. By the time November arrives, I have taught those children numerous rhythm patterns in duple and triple meter, and I have asked them to identify the meter in some of the songs they have learned. This song begins in triple meter (or what some would call compound duple), and ends in duple meter. Because of the meter shift, it provides the children with an opportunity to contrast the two meters, and to experience in one song how each meter has a different feel to it, without making things overly complicated with unusual or mixed meters.

As I introduce the song, I will accompany myself on the piano and sing it for the class. As I do this I will have them Mozart2patsch the beat, because I am using the song to teach meter, not because the song has a particular meter; I want them to immediately have the beat as a reference point for dividing the beat into threes and later into twos. While they are doing this, they are also hearing the song and becoming familiar with it, becoming prepared to eventually sing it themselves. But that is incidental at this point. It happens without my really trying to teach them the song. I am presenting them with tuneful beats divided into duple and triple divisions. That is why I am singing the song to them.

Other classroom activities support my purpose. I tie the learning of this song to Dalcroze activities where the children walk to the beat and bounce a ball on the first beat of each measure as I improvise on the piano. I call out the meter, which changes every few measures. With “Here We Come A-Caroling” the meter change does not alter the beat, or the occurrence of a strong beat on every other beat, but the divisions of the beat change from duple to triple. That the children feel the difference is evidenced in how they toss the ball to the ground on those strong beats. There is more stress on the duple beats than on the triple beats. Many want to skip on the triple beats and walk on the duple beats, which is a way to do it without using the ball. So I teach the song because I am teaching meter and meter changes. I use it at this time of year because it is a holiday song. It serves two purposes, but the most important purpose is that of teaching a musical concept.

Many songs have a function or purpose, but these are not the same as an educational reason. A song may be associated with a holiday, worship, or celebration. It may be a cue for action, as with a cleanup song, a traditional beginning to an event, as the National Anthem is to sporting events, or be in honor of an event, person, or group of people, as the Transmigration of Souls honored those who died on September 11, 2001. Yet we do not teach The Star-Spangled Banner to prepare children for attending sporting events, we teach it for its historical significance, patriotic meaning, and perhaps use of dotted rhythms, triple meter, and clearly arpeggiated chords. These are educational reasons for teaching the national anthem.

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