“Don’t try to fix the students, fix ourselves first. The good teacher makes the poor student good and the good student superior. When our students fail, we, as teachers, too, have failed.”- Marva Collins

Last week I taught each grade level (K-6) for at least part of the class period and many classes I taught the entire lesson. It was great to start taking over the classes instead of just observing. While observing is great, there is a lot in elementary general music that you can only learn by doing. Also, I believe that until you begin teaching multiple classes for the full period you don’t realize how crazy and elementary general music teacher’s schedule is. Last week I taught ten different lessons and taught a few of them multiple times. Through these ten lessons I learned a lot of invaluable information that is helping me to continually grow as a music educator. Below are what I feel are some of the top challenges and most important lessons I learned during this past week in my elementary placement.

Challenges Faced

  1. Lesson Pacing– Knowing how much to plan for one lesson and how long each activity is going to take has still been a challenge for me. I am getting better and figuring out how longs an activity will probably last, but there is definitely still room for improvement. It is really challenging because it depends on each class, how well-behaved they are, how interactive they are etc. I have found that you can do the same lesson 3 times with the same grade level and will probably end at a different place each time. I am hoping that the more I plan and teach lessons I will get better at judging this. One piece that I have found with planning lessons is to always plan for more than you are going to need. It is better to not get to all of your activities than to run out of stuff to do and have ten minutes left in class!!
  2. Adapting Lessons for all Students– Adapting your lessons so that all of your students can learn and succeed is definitely a challenge in the elementary general music classroom. We have such a variety of needs and ability levels that it is hard to individualize instruction for each of them when you have twenty-five kids in your class. One of my most challenging classes is one of my first grade classes. This class has almost thirty students in it and is mixed with sever special education students from the Intermediate Unit. There are around 10 students from the IU that need a lot of extra attention. This makes teaching a challenge because you are trying to make sure you are reaching them while not leaving the other twenty behind. I believe this is something that comes with experience.
  3. Technology Issues– I am a firm believer in implementing technology in the classroom in as many ways as possible to help the students learn. Unfortunately this has been a big challenge for me in this placement. First of all the district does not have much technology and does not put much emphasis on it at all. Thankfully there is a Smartboard in one of my three schools, but other than that there is not much technology to work with. The main challenge is that the school blocks tons of websites. For a lessons last week on instruments I had quite a few websites to play music examples from and all of them were blocked. Also, sites such as youtube and Twitter are blocked as well. This is not something that I really can fix during my student teaching, but it is definitely a challenge that I am faced with during this placement.
  4. Being aware of entire class-While in high school you also have to be aware of the entire class or ensemble I feel it is much more of a challenge at the elementary level, especially in kindergarten in first grade. There are many days where I feel like I need extra hands and a pair of eyes in the back of my head. There is just so much going on in the elementary music classroom and the pace is very fast so it is extremely hard to be focused and aware of the entire class at one time. For example, you are trying to teach a lesson, plus deal with kids mis-behaving, answering questions, and focusing on students that need help or are not getting the concept all at the same time. While I am getting better at this I feel that this is an area that I will need to continually practice until it becomes more second nature.
  5. Different Room Layouts– One challenge of travelling between multiple buildings is that the layouts of each room are completely different. Most of the rooms that I am in are not ideal situations, but some are better than others. This makes for an extra challenge because you have to take into consideration each room layout when planning a lesson. For example, last week I taught a boom whacker lesson and Orff instrument lesson to kindergartners and first grade at two different schools. At each school I had to structure the lesson completely different based on the layout of the room. While this is definitely doable, it just takes more advanced planning and consideration on the part of the teacher.

Lessons Learned

  1. Know Songs Inside and Out-While this seems like common sense I have found that is imperative that you know the songs you are teaching inside and out. My advice especially for new teachers is when you feel like you have practiced the song enough and know it very well, practice it a few more times. It may seem like you know the song, but when you get in front of students and are focusing on ten other things at the same time it is very easy to become flustered and forget. With elementary students when we have to look back for the words or keep our head buried in a book we lose the students and more behavioral problems occur.
  2. Student Involvement– It is very important to keep the students involved at all times during the lesson and not to expect them to just sit around and listen too much (especially younger children because this is when behavioral problems often happen). For example last week I did a few lessons/demonstrations on French horn for kindergarten and first grade. While they loved the lesson I had to continually think of ways to involve them such as asking a lot of questions, letting them ask questions, and letting them predict what would happens if I did certain things. This helped keep them involved and they were more attentive than if I would have just talked the entire lesson. It is easy to get going on a lesson and forget to actively involve the student.
  3. Lesson Setup– Another thing that I am learning is how to correctly or best set up and elementary general music lesson. There is not one way that is necessarily the best, but it is important that you find what works for you and I believe that student teaching is a great time to do that. For me I like to start of each class with either a song we did the week before or a review song of some sort. This gets the students active right away and ready for music class. Then the middle of my lesson is where I put the most challenging activities and teach new concepts. I believe you need to do this when the students are still fresh. Then  end my lessons with either another review song or another fun musical activity that the students will enjoy. As I said there is no sure-fire method, but this is a format that seems to be working well for me.
  4. Limit Number of Directions– With elementary students I have found that it is extremely important to make your directions concise and limit it to 2 or 3 important directions at a time. If you tell the students to do too much at once they will either forget or shut you off after two or three directions. I have found that it is best to give the one or two most important directions first and then after they completed those go on with your other directions. If you find that students are continually not following your directions you will want to reflect and make sure that you are not overwhelming the students with too many directions at once.
  5. Remember Purpose of Music Class-With elementary general music there is so much information that we want and need to cover that we often get going on a tangent and forget the purpose of music class. While part of the purpose is to teach students about musical concepts and help them enjoy music we need to remember that the students are their to sing, play instruments and have fun. It is important to make sure that you have a balance between those activities and talking so that your students don’t get bored. My cooperating teachers are always reminding me “Talk little, Sing/Play/Do MUCH!!!

While I undoubtedly have a tons more to learn and was faced with many challenges this week, I also saw that a lot of teaching comes natural to me  and I am able to quickly think on my feet. I believe that one of the main goals of everyone’s student teaching experience should be to find your strengths and weaknesses and then find ways to challenge yourself to improve in those areas of weakness. So many times I have heard undergraduates  not attempt a lesson because they feel that it is too challenging for them or that there are too many things that could go wrong. These are the types of lessons that I want to teach and think everyone should teaching during their student teaching experience because that is how we learn. I tried a few challenging lessons this week that definitely didn’t go perfect or as well as I wanted them to, but I learned a lot that I probably would have learned if I would have shied away and not taught those lessons. While teaching elementary general music is very different, I am loving the challenge and the experience that I am getting and am looking forward to what else is in store for me during my last few weeks of student teaching.

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