In the first part of this series, I discussed classroom management strategies. Classroom management includes everything under the teacher’s control that affects the learning environment, and ranges from arrangement of furniture, to routines and procedures, to student behavior plans. All of these things must be part of the planning process. Effective teachers think through the student learning experience, and create an atmosphere that helps, supports, and encourages student learning and success. How and when students will move around the room, where they will sit, and how they will interact with each other are just as important to plan for as learning activities and assessments.
In this article, I will discuss planning what the teacher and student will do within the created learning environment. Broadly, there are three sections to every effective lesson. These are presentation of the task, student interaction with the task, and feedback related to the performance of the task. The first of these, presentation, is especially important because it is during this section that the teacher needs to get the students’ attention, peak their interest, and make what the students will be doing clear to them. It is not enough to simply explain the task. If the presentation is dry and uninteresting, it will be difficult to rescue the lesson and get the students actively engaging with the task later on.
An effective presentation of the task builds value. During this section of the lesson, the teacher shows the class why they are being given the task, and what benefits they can expect to gain once they have learned through instruction, practice, and presentation to successfully perform the task. Students are much more willing to do what you ask them to do if they understand why you are asking them to do the task. Often, you will be stopped in your tracks when you try to explain to yourself why you are asking your students to perform the task. For example, suppose you want your students to compose eight 2-beat rhythms using quarter notes, quarter rests, eighth rests and paired eighth notes. You tell them to think of rhythms that fit that description and write them down in standard music notation on the paper provided. Why do you want them to do this? To assess their ability to write rhythms that are 2-beats? To assess their ability to accurately and legibly write notes? To express a feeling of sadness or happiness with rhythm? To create the first eighth measures of a composition project? Each of these purposes will need to be handled differently by you and the students, so it’s important everyone understand the purpose right form the start.
Why does it matter if music is written down legibly? It’s exciting to hear one’s own musical creation performed by others. If a student is able to write his or her ideas down legibly, then another student will be able to read the notes and perform it accurately, just the way the composer intended. If the notes are not legible, others won’t want to bother trying to figure out what it says, or they will misread what was meant and perform the music incorrectly. Why does it matter if every rhythm is exactly 2 beats long? Music has the beats students enjoy because of regularly occurring patterns of strong and weak beats. When rhythm patterns are of variable lengths, that strong sense of pulse is made unclear, and the music might become less enjoyable. It’s important to write rhythm patterns of equal length so that more people will enjoy our music. Why is it necessary to write eight rhythms? Most music is written in 4 or 8 measure phrases. Getting student used to thinking in 4 and 8 measure time spans encourages them to compose more musically satisfying music, and it allows the music to be long enough to effectively express an emotion. Notice that each reason given is tied to the students’ enjoyment, expression, and/or success. Establishing this value in the task motivates students to become fully involved.
When presenting the task to students, it is also important to use different methods. These include lecture/demonstration, modeling, verbal imagery, and both verbal and non-verbal gestures and instruction. Lecture/demonstration involves telling a class what they are going to do while at the same time doing an example of the task for all to see and hear. In the example above, while describing the task, I would write eight 4-beat rhythms on the board that fit the description. This allows aural learners to listen while visual learners see me do the task, and it allows the visual and aural aspects of my presentation to be mutually reinforcing. Modeling is similar to demonstration, but is more detailed. It includes not only what to do but how to work. I might sit in a chair in front of the class and tap out some rhythms on my lap until I found one I liked. Then I would repeat that rhythm several times while I tried to figure out what kind of notes were in the rhythm. I might talk to myself out loud. “That beat had just one sound in it so it must have been a quarter note. Okay, I’ll write a quarter note down. Now what came next? Okay, that one had two sounds in one beat, so that must have been two eighth notes. I’ll write them down here next to the quarter note I just wrote. Now what came next–two notes on a beat again, so two more eighth notes. Okay, let me see what I have so far. (tap the rhythm written down so far). That didn’t sound right. There is supposed to be a pause between the two pairs of eighth notes. Oh, that must be a rest. I’ll write that in between the two eighth note pairs. Now let’s see how that sounds (tap the rhythm again). Yup, that’s what I wanted. Okay, now i can go on…”
I might use verbal imagery to show students how to write with expressive intent. “I want my rhythms to tell a kind of story of an approaching thunder storm. Gradually the wind picks up until it is blowing fairly steady, then all of a sudden the rain starts falling fast. So I start with quiet slow rhythms and add faster and louder rhythms to be the increasing wind. Then I use steady eighth note pairs for the rain.” For non-verbal instruction, I might have the students improvise a 2-beat rhythm when I conduct two beats. Rhythm is left to the student, but tempo, dynamic and perhaps even emotion is dependent on how I conduct. With my use of non-verbal conducting gestures, students are guided in practice generating 2-beat rhythms with an expressive intent.
In the next article in this series, we will examine the next section in an effective lesson, the students’ interaction with the task.