Successful teaching must include preparing and practicing good instructional strategies. Because a classroom of children is an environment in which students must successfully and constructively interact with each other and the teacher, preparation and practice must address the social and emotional needs of students, and include a level of challenge that helps students respond to questions, provide examples, and make connections beyond the immediate work they are doing. The teacher must create a classroom environment that supports respectful interaction between and among members of the class, and intervene constructively when necessary. Students must be taught and given the opportunity to practice applying new learning and making connections to other activities that relate their learning, to prior knowledge, different content areas, a future career, and/or the world outside of the classroom.
As we think this through, we realize that these strategies work best when the class is committed to common objectives, and are able to pursue areas of shared interests. This can be accomplished in multiple ways. One possibility is for the teacher to establish an objective, and then have students choose how they will demonstrate that they have met the objective. This choice can include choosing the material with which the student works and/or the format of the performance task that the student will complete to demonstrate learning. For example, if the objective is to demonstrate growth in rhythm and pitch accuracy, students could choose to sing, play an instrument, chant, or tap rhythms. These rhythms or songs could be provided by the teacher, or chosen by the student. The teacher might provide criteria that the song or rhythm selections must meet; for example, the song or rhythm might have to have dotted rhythms, or sixteenth note combinations in order to assess the meeting of a learning objective that stated growth in performing those specific rhythms.
Addressing the social and emotional needs of students requires intentional instruction and highly perceptive approach. There are ongoing needs that most students have, such as the need to be affirmed and encouraged, and the need not to be embarrassed or offended, and there are needs that specific students have, including anger management, or fear of failure. The general needs can be addressed by modeling and teaching students how to relate to one another, and praising instances of students succeeding at this. Specific needs can be addressed by adjusting the learning environment to meet the need of a student on an ongoing basis, or for one class during which he or she might be atypically troubled or upset. Making students’ emotional and social well being a priority sets a tone and an example for the rest of the class to follow. Musical interactions such as call and response or drum circles can provide a setting in which students can interact with each other without using words. This is sometimes helpful with students who enjoy making music but who have trouble restraining themselves from putting others down verbally.
Making classroom learning and activities relevant requires investing time to learn what interests and drives your students. A student who aspires to be a science researcher will find different relevancy in music than one who plans to play in the NBA. For one, the acoustical order and properties of music may be a strong connection to his or her interests, while for the other, the physicality and physiology of producing musical sound may be the main interest. There is also the personal touch of simply knowing what your students enjoy and knowledgeably being able to refer to a personal interest of a particular student during the course of teaching. As the interest level is elevated through students being more invested in the content, they will come forward to not only answer your questions, but to develop their own questions and examples. While students can take too much class times sharing all the connections they make, it is a good idea to encourage them to make connections, even if they don’t share all of them with the class. As students are enabled to follow not just the curriculum, but their interests as well, student achievement will grow and diversify.