A Method for Improving Rehearsal Efficiency and Enjoyment

2011Symposium_1_2One of my most often used phrases when teaching musical works to students is that a right pitch played at the wrong time is still a wrong note. While pitches, rhythm and beat are all important, it is often advantageous to teach the rhythm first, separated out from the pitches. This gives the student less to think about all at once, and gives the student the opportunity to learn music the way they learn music patterns, with pitch and rhythm separated. This is true of individuals receiving a private voice or instrument lesson, and it is also true of large ensembles. Sections in a band can play, clap, patsch or chant the rhythm they see in their part. Once each rhythm in a four-part texture has been practiced, putting just the rhythms together without instruments can be a lot fun. Assigning separate timbres to different sections can create transparency and interest. The woodwinds with one rhythm might clap, while the upper brass might patsch, as the lower brass chants. Non-pitched drum  parts are already rhythm only, so the percussionists can creatively find different timbres without playing their instrument. Choirs can have one timbre assigned to each voice part.

Very quickly, rhythm only practice will result in everyone agreeing on a tempo, and becoming more independent in maintaining the tempo. Just the physical movements and transfer of weight that occurs from rhythm only practice instantly improves rhythm and beat accuracy. Students are more free and more likely to want to move their bodies while clapping and patching than when they are playing an instrument. Singers are more likely to be aware of the rhythm and beat while clapping and patching, because they cannot rely on the rhythm of the text to help them with the rhythm. Rhythm only practice causes students to make a more substantial investment in the beat and rhythm, and the fun musical experience it creates motivates them to be even more rhythmically accurate.

After rhythm and beat are secure, the next aspect of the musical work that can be brought in is harmony. Before rehearsing a musical work, conductors analyze the score and from that analysis know what the chords are throughout the piece. Here is where keyboard skills are useful. While your students once again perform the rhythms, play the underlying chords on a keyboard. These can just be sustained if an electronic keyboard is used, or you may need to play a rhythm on the chords if an acoustic piano is used, because the chords won’t Ensembleotherwise be audibly sustained. Next, have the students sing or play their parts at a constant soft dynamic level while you play the underlying chords. If singing, students should use a neutral syllable, not the text. Hearing the chords while they play their parts with accurate rhythm and beat will aid them in tuning, and will train them to audiate chords while they play or sing their individual parts.

When a musician can hear the chords and fit his or her single note into the chord, not only does intonation improve, but music making goes up to a whole new level of enjoyment. It’s like discovering a whole level of the music you never noticed before. By now, the rhythm, beat and chords are established, and any issues with pitches can be resolved. Because the pitches are “lining up” correctly and because the students are hearing and listening for chords, errors will be more apparent to them, and they will be more capable of correcting wrong notes. You will also have an easier time detecting pitch errors, because rhythm and beat errors have been largely eliminated. The music doesn’t sound like a confusing mish-mash of sounds; even when errors are made, they occur within a much more organized and accurate performance. Finding and correcting mistakes is not as stressful or unpleasant, and progress and improvement occurs at a faster rate.

What Happens If Your Student Makes A Mistake?

2011Symposium_1_2There are two things that ought to be closely related, but often are not. Those two things are practice and excellence. I don’t mean that practice doesn’t lead to excellence; we all know that it can and often does. But what I’m talking about is a growing belief among people of all ages that somehow if we can’t perform at the highest level right away, then there’s something wrong with us. When we feel this way, the last thing we want is for anyone else to see us not doing everything perfect. The truth is we humans don’t work that way. We aren’t “plug and play.” Honestly, I’m glad we are made the way we are. I’m glad because the great thing about doing something at a high level of excellence is that we worked hard to achieve. Things that are earned are always valued more than things that come easily. Were everything to be doable at the highest level right away, we would be hopelessly bored with and uninterested in everything we do.

I’m also glad we are made the way we are, because I enjoy watching students grow and improve, and being a contributor to that growth and improvement. Most of us got into teaching in the first place because we wanted to be a positive influence on people, and to help them achieve a better life. All of this depends on change, without which learning cannot take place. The best moments in a class is when someone has just learned something. Yesterday, I was doing tonal patterns with one of my second grade classes. I sang a short tonal pattern, and then individual students were chosen to sing just the last note I had sung. When the student responded with the correct sung pitch, I moved on to someone else with a different pattern. When the student responded with an incorrect sung pitch, I moved on to someone else with the same pattern, and continued doing so until someone got it right. Then I returned to the first person who had sung the wrong note to give them another chance. The student sang the right note this time. I stopped and made a big deal out of the fact that he had gotten wrong at first, but had now gotten it right. “That” I said “is what this is all about.” Realizing you’ve made a mistake, finding the right response, and then giving the right response yourself.” In doing this, I was not only celebrating the correction, I was making the point that mistakes are a necessary part of learning. They are cues that more information is needed, and an opportunity for acquiring that information from someone else and adding it to our own understanding and learning. People who don’t make mistakes don’t do anything, and learn little to nothing. People who make mistakes and just go on without ever learning from them are just as badly off. People who make mistakes and then learn what that mistake was and then correct the mistake are excellent learners, and among the most successful people in the world.

When teachers place students in competitive or punitive situations where mistakes are punished and only success is rewarded, they are undermining the very process by which learning must occur and robbing students of that priceless moment when the mistake has been turned into a victory. The laudable thing is the mistake turned into success, not free success for such quick gain benefits the student less in the long run. This is not to say we encourage our students to make mistakes so that they can then correct them, but rather to make it safe for our students to make mistakes so that they do not avoid trying in order to avoid making a mistake. Students must learn that genuine and sustained effort leads to better results, and part of that effort is solving problems and correcting mistakes.

Next week is our school vacation week, so I will not be posting during that time. Please frequent this site often and enjoy the many offerings in the archives during the coming week, and look for a new posts resuming on February 23.

Using New Learning to Focus and Structure Music Lessons

2011Symposium_1_2One of the risks of begin an arts teacher is that my lessons will be perceived as unplanned and lacking in structure. While I always have both plans and structure to every lesson I teach, the highly interactive nature of a music class sometimes gives the illusion that we are only responding to the moment without an overarching goal. For this reason, I try to build new learning into every lesson or rehearsal. By new learning, I don’t mean just improving performance through practice, evaluation and refining, though this is critical also, but I mean also that students will learn something new that they will immediately begin to use. New learning keeps long-term projects interesting, and helps me avoid just teaching skills without expecting students to use high level thinking and problem solving strategies.

In addition to writing the objective for each class on the board, I also write a list of new learning for each class. This list, which typically has two or three items, tells the students what they will need to know in order to be able to do that day’s class work that I haven’t taught to that class this year. It may be that some students know what is on the list from a previous year of music classes, or from music lessons they take outside of school. These students enjoy teaching their peers something from the list, and are encouraged by the opportunity to do so. I have found that starting a class with the new learning list gets the students’ attention, and putting the information up front at the beginning of class seems to cause more students to retain the learning, perhaps because they go through the steps of learning first and then applying what they have just learned, rather than trying to remember and apply something they learned a week or more ago, or learn as they go when they have become confused. The list also gives me a few concrete things to reinforce with students as I support their learning in small groups during the class. Reinforcing instead of introducing in small groups also helps increase retention of the material.

The new learning list also makes the structure of the lesson highly visible. The new learning items are amusic_words_large common thread that runs through the entire lesson. Activities the students are doing can be seen as opportunities to practice what they have just learned. The new learning is added in to what they were already doing, and so helps to improve the quality of the performance they are practicing, evaluating and refining. It is also helpful if new learning is easily connected to previous learning, either through application or similarities. For example, if the students learned last week that when a note has a sharp applied, the pitch is raised one-half step, and the note played is the black key to the right of the white key of the same letter or solfege name, then they will easily understand this week that when a flat is applied, the pitch is lowered one-half step, and the note played is the black key to the left of the white key of the same letter or solfege name. The half step displacement and proximity of the black key to the white key are similarities that tie the new learning about flats to the previous learning about sharps.

Once students have learned the new material, they are given something musical to do in small groups. The something musical is chosen from one of the artistic processes in the core arts standards: create, perform, respond, or connect. In the example above about sharps and flats, students were given the bass line to the song “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” in three different keys, each with a different key signature. The rhythm of dotted quarter, eighth, and two quarter notes is pervasive. The new learning list was key signature, flats on the keyboard, and dotted notes. Reinforcement occurred as I reminded students that a note was B-flat and not B natural because of the key signature, and when evaluation of performed dotted quarter and eighth note pointed out that they were played as if they were two quarter notes. Because the dotted quarter and eighth were followed by two quarter notes, students could compare the two aurally and visually, and learn to accurately. New learning can be any material related to what students are already doing with which students can create, perform, respond or connect.

What Idle Students in Music Ensembles Should Be Doing

2011Symposium_1_2Classroom management in large music ensemble rehearsals can look a little different from that used in conventional classrooms. The number of students is larger than an academic or general music class, and the nature of what we are asking students to do—make sound—is also different. If everyone were always playing or singing, there would be little difficulty; but what strategy is best for those frequent times when we are working with one section of the ensemble? What are the rest of the students supposed to do? Leaving students with nothing to do is never a good plan, and allowing them to talk quietly until they are asked to play again rarely stays at a quiet level.

This issue comes up because we incorrectly decide that teaching playing skills is why the students are there. Teach notes, teach fingerings, teach interpretive gestures such as articulations, tempo, and dynamics, and we are satisfied that it was a good rehearsal. But if we have properly prepared our students for playing in an ensemble, they will be equipped to do some work on their own; work than can and should be done during those minutes when other sections are playing or singing. Students can “whisper sing” their part. This is done by blowing air through the lips, like whistling, but without making a sound other than the air flow through the lips. Anyone who can whistle will intuitively know how to do this. If it is an instrumental ensemble, the student can finger the notes being whisper sung for added benefit. Students can whistle sing a part they are having trouble with that is unrelated to what is being rehearsed with the other section, or they can whistle sing their own part that they would be playing or singing with the material that is being covered if the whole ensemble were performing. Articulation can be practiced too. Singers can whisper the text in rhythm with attention given to making clear consonants and with precise rhythm. Wind instrument players can practice tonguing with teeth together and the syllable “ta” articulated on the roof of the mouth. I practiced many etudes this way on the train to and from lessons in New York City.

There are also opportunities for students to work within artistic processes other than performing Ensembleduring their down time in rehearsals. Students can be required to have a journal and a pen or pencil. When not playing, they can listen to another section as they rehearse, and write down what is being worked on, what progress is being made, what strategies were employed for each attempt at improvement, and how well each strategy worked. This exercise engages students in evaluation, and also provides a record of practice strategies that they themselves can employ in rehearsals and when they practice alone. It can also be extended by asking students who aren’t playing to suggest a strategy for those who are rehearsing. The possibility of being called upon to do this will tend to focus everyone’s attention on what is going on in the rehearsal, and will further strengthen the learning that came out of writing in the journal. This activity also is an effective way to include writing in band, orchestra or chorus rehearsals without taking time away from rehearsing; remember, you weren’t having these students do anything productive before, so any of these strategies is giving them a way of using their time more effectively, and is likely to increase student learning.

Students whose parts are not being rehearsed can also be included in the rehearsing of other sections. One way to do this is to have non-performing students clap a steady beat, as a human metronome, or perform with body percussion the actual drum parts or rhythm of the piano accompaniment with or without the percussion section or pianist playing. You can also up the ante and have the students do the same with the rhythm of a part other than their own. This develops awareness of what the other sections are doing; an awareness that will result in better ensemble playing when they are added back into the rehearsal. It is very important to me to not waste time. Students should be on task nearly all the time they are in your rehearsal. They should never be sitting idle for long amounts of time within or throughout the rehearsal. Keeping their minds active with musical things is the best use of time in a music classroom.

What Can You Do With A Free Piano Keyboard App?

2011Symposium_1_2For several years, I have wanted a piano lab in my general music classroom for my seventh and eighth grade students. Many of them want to play piano, and with just one acoustic instrument, I just don’t have the resources to teach many of them, and certainly not during a class with only one instrument. While the solution I’ve found doesn’t do everything a piano lab would, it has provided a way for me to teach basic piano keyboard to a whole class of students without a lot of expensive equipment; in fact, I can teach my class keyboard for no expense whatsoever.

I sometimes wonder if technology really has made my life easier, or if it has just given me more things to spend my time on. While the jury is still out on that, technology has made it possible for me to reach most of my students with keyboard instruction. Most of my students own smartphones, and regularly bring them to school. In fact, keeping them off of their phones during class can at times be challenging. Now, when I’m teaching them keyboard, I want them to have their phones out and ready to use. I had each student download a free piano keyboard app for his or her phone, and I also downloaded one on my own iPhone. I use Real Piano, which is a free app available for both iOS and Android. There is also a paid version with more features, but these are not necessary for what I am about to describe.  I also have a Bluetooth speaker in my classroom, so whatever I play on my phone app, the class can easily hear, and other students can share their work over the Bluetooth speaker as well. Because phones can be listened to with ear buds, I distribute music for the students to work on, then with their ear buds plugged in, give them time to practice. I can help individual students by visiting their seats and listening in on their practice using one ear bud held close to my ear, while the other bud remains in the student’s ear. When the designated time for practice has elapsed, students unplug their ear buds, and play their work for the class and me to hear using the Bluetooth speaker.

If there are issues with a student’s performance, a classmate who excelled at his or her performance gets paired up withDance-and-Movement the student who needs further practice. Other students who successfully performed the assignment are rewarded with time to play with their keyboards, ear buds in. My students enjoy exploring and improvising with their keyboard apps, and allowing them time to do so is worthwhile, because it gets them thinking in music, and practicing performing through improvising. Using piano keyboard apps also has the advantage of enabling students to take their instruments home to practice assignments, and because the phones already belong to the students, there is never a liability to the school for damaged or missing inventory.

Another advantage to using phone apps is that the instruments are highly portable. This makes it possible for students to move around while playing, something they can never do with most keyboards, and certainly never with an acoustic piano. To teach intervals, I have students create short musical phrases on their apps, and then “step” their melodies. Ascending intervals are a step forward, descending intervals are a step backwards, and all steps are proportional in size to the size of the interval. For example, if a student plays C, G, F, E, D, C then he or she would take one large step forward, and four normal sized steps backward. Stepping both direction and interval size makes the distances between notes more understandable than just seeing them in reduced sizes, and from left to right. Partners can also give and take dictation. One student steps a motif, and the partner plays it on his or app. If the stepping student audiates what they think they are stepping while they are stepping it, then they can evaluate the notes their partner plays, and valuable ear training is taking place.

Although I don’t do this, one could also have a giant staff on the floor and have students step to where the notes they are playing are on the staff, which would accomplish experiencing direction and interval size, and also serve as a music notation activity. Partners could even notate on conventional music paper where their partner was standing for each note, and end up with a notated transcript of where the student stepped on the staff. These kinds of activities are great for seventh and eighth graders, especially boys, who find it so difficult to sit still, and enjoy the opportunity to move around as part of the lesson.

What Is An Effective Practice Routine for Instrumentalists?

2011Symposium_1_2One of the most daunting tasks for a musician is to make a start at learning a new and difficult work. We all enjoy the ease of playing a well practiced and already performed piece, but starting work on new and challenging music takes an initial burst of will-power and self-motivation. There may be an initial burst of excitement, but as the difficulty of the music sets in, all that ‘s left is to dig in and start “woodshedding.” Be that as it may, it doesn’t have to be as difficult as we sometimes make it. Inefficient or ineffective practice habits can cause music to take longer to learn than it has to, and turn a promising project into a prolonged chore. Here are some practical ways of getting the most out practice sessions, developing good habits and avoiding bad ones. I offer these for clarinet, but the principles apply to all instruments.

Begin every practice session with scale work, beginning with the chromatic scale, three octaves on the clarinet. Practice for accuracy and evenness at a solid mezzo forte dynamic. If the scale is not even, break it into segments, practicing the scale up and down the interval of a triton (c to f-sharp, for example), several times, and then repeat a half step higher (c# to g would be next). Do this until all segments can be played evenly, regardless of what note you start on. Then, expand to a scale up and down the interval of an octave. It may be months before the octave scale is begun. Do not rush the process. Chromatic scale study develops technique inclusive of all notes, and is of tremendous value, even within a small interval.

After chromatic scales, practice one major or minor scale. Play it ascending and descending through the range of the instrument. Be watchful for places where unevenness occurs or where a fingering is awkward, and focus in on that segment of the scale, as with the chromatic scale. Also, practice the scale beginning and ending on each scale degree so that, for instance, a D major scale is played D to D, E to E, F-sharp to F-sharp, and so forth.

Continue with a staccato drill. Playing each note of the chromatic scale for one octave, articulating two sixteenths and an eighth or four sixteenths on every pitch of the ascending one octave chromatic scale is excellent. That can be followed by practicing the first clarinet part for the scherzo from A Midsummer’s Night Dream incidental music by Mendelssohn.

Next, spend time practicing an etude that addresses a known area of weakness. Etudes may address left hand, right hand, staccato, scales, major, minor, augmented, diminished or seventh chord arpeggios, to name a few areas. I like to pick an etude that helps me with something I am having trouble with in the literature I’m practicing.

The last segment of a good practice session is for practicing repertoire. For music that will eventually be played fast,squidward clarinet start slow. If the music has a constant rhythm such as all sixteenth notes, begin by playing one line at a time very slowly. The goal here is to play all the right notes, and to play them with an even tone, an accurate but light touch on the keys with no straining in the hands, producing a smooth legato. Fingers should come on and off the keys at a steady pace, never hitting or banging against the keys or instrument, and hand position must be correct at all times. If a particular fingering combination or finger is problematic, find an etude that addresses that hand and finger combination, and practice it relentlessly until the problem is corrected. Etudes by Kalmen Opperman are particularly helpful for this, because most of his etudes are focused on a particular hand or finger. The four volumes of velocity studies (easy, intermediate, advanced and virtuoso) are highly recommended.

One of the most likely difficulties a player will encounter is rhythmic unevenness. To remedy this, practice one line at a time slowly and with all possible articulations. Use one articulation pattern all the way through the line, and then play it again with another articulation pattern. Continue to repeat the line, each time with a different articulation pattern until all have been used. Finally play all the notes slurred, and listen to the evenness you have achieved. For steady sixteenth notes, articulation patterns include two slurred, two staccato, one staccato three slurred, three slurred one staccato, to slurred and two slurred, one staccato, two slurred, one staccato, and two staccato, two slurred. For groups of six notes, more combinations are possible.

After practicing two lines in this manner, play both lines, one after the other, again with all articulations, and then all slurred. Continue to enlarge the number of lines included until the entire piece or passage has been learned. If at any time you make an error, or notice unevenness, stop playing and go back to practicing slower with all articulations again. Eventually, learning will be permanent, and you will not need the articulations. While overall practice time will vary with age and performance requirements, it is important to include each segment in a practice routine; that is, chromatic scale, diatonic scale, staccato, etude, and repertoire. Following this regimen will result in gratifying results.

What Can L.A. and Math Teachers Learn from Music Teachers About Practice?

2011Symposium_1_2It is always good to read that researchers have found ways in which music benefits brain development, spatial reasoning, language acquisition, and other areas of learning. Such studies have often been sited by music education advocates in defense of maintaining or even expanding music programs in schools. Work has also been done on integrating common core standards into music instruction by fashioning language arts and math objectives into music objectives, making it possible to claim that music teachers are supporting common core. While neither brain research nor utilizing common core in music instruction should be ignored, one area that has not been given much attention but which music educators are perhaps pre-eminent experts is practice.

The very nature of performing arts education demands practice and rehearsal to achieve excellence in performing specific musical works. From the outset, repertoire is selected, and students rehearse in full ensembles, practice in small group lessons, and practice individually outside the classroom setting. Students proceed through each type of rehearsal or practice with clear goals in mind, which may be to improve a specific aspect of performance, such as tone, rhythmic precision, or expressivity, and with specific strategies to achieve those goals, such as to keep the pulse steady throughout, or to infuse the sound with more air to improve tone. Such strategies are measurable and well suited for learning and improvement.

The strength in all of this is that there is ample opportunity, indeed requirement, for practice, and that is directed at things that are clearly stated, easily observable, measureable, and a manageable portion of the overall process of performing music. This last point is key. One of the values of practice is that component skills of a process can be isolated and worked on in a way that they cannot in a performance. When musicians perform, they bring technique, tone, interpretation, and contextual knowledge to bear on the performance, but they do not have the opportunity to improve on these individually. Every student in every discipline needs to practice every skill and process in order to learn every thing that might be taught in school, or for that matter anywhere else. The key is to have students practice the right thing the right way. The two things that matter are what is practiced and how it is practiced.

This is the great lesson teachers in other subjects can learn from music teachers. They can first learn to ask the question, “what skills go into a student Practice makes permanentbeing able to do what I’m asking him or her to do? How can I design practice activities so that one or more of these skills is easily observable and measureable? Once a student has succeeded in doing what I’ve asked him or her to do, do I give the student opportunities to continue to practice so that he or she becomes better at the things he or she is already good at?” To this last point, it is important to remember that if we stop practicing once we “get it,” then we never develop past a novice level of proficiency, and discourage attaining excellence. It is better to do a few things excellently than to do many things adequately. Music teachers know how to isolate skills, practice areas of weakness, and practice beyond initial proficiency and on to excellence.

There are not many things in life that can be stated so emphatically as the necessity of practice. The fact is we are constantly practicing things, whether we mean to or not. Every time we do anything, we are practicing it and all of the skills that go into doing it. That is both the power and the danger in practicing. If we are not intentional and focused about what we are practicing, then It is just as likely that we are practicing the wrong thing as the right thing. A person who misuses a word in a sentence fifty times has practiced using that word, but only learned through practice to use it wrongly. Those who practice two or more digit addition but forget to carry to the next column have practiced addition, but only learned through practice to add incorrectly. Without practice carrying to the next column or using the word correctly, a person will continue to improve at making those errors, and will not improve in writing or adding, no matter how long they practice. The way music educators teach students to practice needs to come out of the practice rooms and rehearsal halls and into the academic classrooms. Music teachers for their part need to be sure attention is paid to designing practice that is focused and measureable, and to use feedback obtained from assessments to drive student improvement.

The Basics of Lesson Planning


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Lesson planning is one of the most important things teachers do. Many methods and formats for lesson planning have circulated within teacher preparation programs and professional development seminars. Today, I’d like to reduce them down to the most essential points, and show you how I go about planning my music lessons.

The best place to start is at the end. After you have taught the session, what do you want your students to have learned or to be able to do? This is called the objective. Because everything you and they do during that class period must be moving toward achieving the day’s goal, that goal must be clearly stated before the class gets under way. Your objective must contain the answers to these two questions:

  1. By the time this class period is over, what will my students understand or be able to do as a result of their time in my class today?
  2. How does their new understanding or ability to do something fit in to the overall plan for the course, what they have already learned, and what I plan to teach them in the future? Individual lessons should be part of a series of related and sequential classes that lead to an essential goal.

The answers to these questions must direct everything else you do, and be measureable.  Every day, an assessment should take place that lets you and the students know where they are in relation to where they started and where they are going. Each individual class must have manageable, realistic goals that balance between challenge and skill set so that students stay motivated and keep moving toward the goal.

Once you know your objective for the class, post it so the students know what is expected. Teachers can hardly expect students to work toward a goal if the teacher is the only one who knows what that goal is. Post the objective in the front of the room where everyone can see it, and make sure every student knows the objective at the beginning of class.

After stating the objective, the next section describes what you and the students will do during the lesson to prepare for meeting the objective. Use three basic steps to learning: learn how, practice with help, do without help. Begin by telling, showing, demonstrating, or describing how to do what you want the students to do. If you are going for an understanding, use your own stories, comparisons, pictures, or whatever it takes to transfer understanding to students, then have students come up with stories, comparisons, pictures, or whatever to practice communicating their understanding to you with prompting if necessary. Next, have students explain the concept without prompting. If you are going for a performance, use the same sequence substituting performing for describing or explaining. The sequence is always this: first you do it, then the students do it with you, and then the students do it. Always find the simplest way to achieving a goal. Keep all learning activities as simple as possible. They must be cost effective. Activities that are time-consuming and complicated but that result in little gain in knowledge or proficiency should be avoided, no matter how clever or fun they may seem.

Generally, lesson plans describe what the teacher will be doing during the course of a lesson, but planning what the students will be doing every step of the way is just as important. Indicate in your plan when the students will be writing, responding, singing, playing instruments, brainstorming, working alone, working in groups, etc. Thinking the lesson through from the students’ view allows you to solve logistical problems before they happen, and forces you to consider what needs to be set up, or what needs to be moved during the lesson. It also helps you be sure you actually have something for all students to do at all times. Plan where you will be and where the students will be throughout the lesson. Always arrange the room so that you can come up along side every student at any time completely unobstructed.

With all of this in mind, here is what a typical lesson plan template might look like:


  1. Objective (Post in the front of the room): (What do I want my students to understand or do to by the end of the lesson?)


How does this relate to what my students have already learned?

How will this be of value or be applied in future lessons?


  1. I do—Teach: show, demonstrate, model, explain, and/or describe what students will do. Describe exactly what you and then they will do.


  1. We do—Repeat step 3, but this time with the students doing it with you. (Use some combination of questioning, discussion, performance, writing)


  1. They do—Repeat step 3 again, but this time have the students do it without your help.


  1. Assess—This can be done during step 4, or it can be a short culminating activity. Every student and you must know how s/he has done before they leave the classroom that day.

It All Starts With Expectations: What Teachers Do

2011Symposium_1_2If there is one thing a teacher must do it is this: expect change. We teachers are in the business of bringing about changes in our students; changes in their behaviors, attitudes, and proficiencies. Daily, we know this to be true, but the slowness with which change often takes place can easily make it difficult to see some changes taking place.  We become accustomed to certain behaviors from certain students. These include regularly making little attempt to be prepared, frequently giving attention to things other than your instruction, often not knowing what to do or showing little or no improvement at all. What change do we expect to find in students exhibiting these behaviors as we continue to teach them week after week?

It is natural to have high expectations for students who are nearly always on-task and show constant improvement, and low expectations for students who are not showing improvement. But we better serve all students if we have high expectations for each of them. We can and should expect that all of our students will do what we ask of them, that all of our students will practice what we teach at least long enough to do it right, and that all students will give their best effort along the way. In most cases, what we teach must include not only what we want them to learn, but also how they can most efficiently and effectively learn. The best teachers I’ve had made it clear what I needed to do in order to learn what they were teaching me. For example, in my college string methods class, double bassist Gary Karr taught us that lower notes required a slower bow speed, and higher notes required a faster bow speed. IfExpectations he just taught it like that, forgetful students like me would have easily confused this teaching, and wondered if slower bow speeds were for higher notes or lower notes. But the rhyme “the lower the slower” forever embedded it in my mind. The late Kalmen Opperman summarized how to play the clarinet with the refrain “push up, close off, and blow.” With this in mind, I had three points of reference to monitor as I practiced, checking my right thumb, embouchure, and breathing. All three had to be right, Other teachers had taught me breath management, but not the others. He also taught me to practice passages with different articulation patterns to achieve evenness. Other clarinet teachers simply told me to keep practicing. Left to my own devices with only “keep practicing” to go on, I made little progress. I needed to be taught what to do when I practiced before I could see my effort result in growth as a clarinet player.

In classes where I am teaching twenty or more students at a time, my students need to practice attentiveness before they can learn or practice anything. They must learn to look and listen, to ask questions as well as answer them, and learn to be a fully participating part of a class. I expect them to practice doing these things everyday, and to use these strategies to learn and practice the curricular content of the course they are in and that I am teaching. None of this happens instantly or even quickly. It will be a process, in some cases a long process of steady growth before the final expectation is met. But along the way, I expect that they will demonstrate growth in all of these areas. Some will not want to try, and that is one of the many great challenges of teaching. I must show them that it is worth their while to try, and to trust my confidence that they will succeed if they do. Every now and then success at something comes easily, but it is never so indefinitely. When someone fails to apply effort, someone else will eventually surpass their greatest achievement. Sooner or later, and sooner for most of us, success is bought with effort, and the greatest of successes is available for a high price in success. I expect all of my students to be college-ready when they finish high school, and I expect my work with students, who range in age from 3 to 13 years, to be an important segment of that preparation. Some days it doesn’t feel like any of that will happen with some of them, but it is on those days that expecting great things is most important.