Boosting up the Student-Teacher Relationship. Teaching students how to treat each other and how to treat adults should be always at the top of your list and present in each lesson. With students from low socio economic backgrounds, communication with them and teaching them how to communicate is the difference between life success or life struggle.
- Always greet students at the door.
- Develop a “Band Class Constitution.” Ask students what rules we need to become successful people and musicians. They will be more inclined to follow them if they had a hand in making them. Print and post in the band hall.
- Show your students you support them outside of band class.
Boosting up the commitment level. The Beginning Student is not a blank slate. The way the student’s mindset is before they even touch the instrument will determine their success or struggle throughout the year. It is all about the student’s self-perception of this new skill. It is important to work on their commitment level every day so that you get enough long-term commitment students. Inspire them with videos and recordings of musicians, create student class jobs, student-created lessons; having guest speakers, educational trips, and inviting high school students to come perform are all great ways to boost the commitment level in your beginning students. Constant parent communication is also a key factor.
Boosting up the Musicianship Level. Talk to your students as musicians every day. As a young director, although I showed respect to my students, I talked to them as assembly line workers from the podium: “Push this, do that,” and was not creating musicians and artists to think for themselves. Do we as directors talk to our students, even our beginners, as musicians and artists? Ask them thought-provoking questions like, “where is this phrase leading us to? Why do you think that?” Do not ask “yes or no” questions. Make them think critically and often so they can make music, corrections, and decisions on their own.
Boosting up music concepts and vocabulary terms. There are a lot of music terms, information, and rules in music, and to a beginning band student, this can be overwhelming. For many low socio-economic students, this can lead to quitting or major frustration. One way that I have overcome this problem is by making these music concepts into fun chants, songs, and even dances. Kids love them because they can move, interact with the lesson more and just plain get excited about learning.
Boosting up your routine and keeping the class structure. A consistent class setup, warm up and class routine is extremely important for success. Boost up by adding a different dimension of learning to these exercises. Change the “Concept of the day” (tuning, a rhythm of the day, articulation, etc.) that you can apply to each line of your routine. Ask higher-order questions on the concept of the day and go into critical thinking. Introduce new concepts or skills based on these well-known lines.
Boosting up the feedback. We need to give students fast and down-to-the-point feedback for them to fix and repeat the line or exercise. Students need to know that you are giving them feedback for mastery, not criticism. Give constant feedback with as few words as possible every “rep” to give students the fast information they need to fix or master a certain task without getting in the way of their practice. If you cannot say it in one sentence or less, it is too much information for the student.
Boosting up the accountability and playing motivation. Use positive accountability as a motivator to set up students for success. Never use accountability to tear down a student, the result will leave students to give up or quit trying. Open the band hall in the morning, lunch and after school for students to come practice. It is not that they don’t want to practice, they may not have a place to practice at home. Students need to know that every action they do matters, whether it is positive or negative. We as teachers also need to give feedback and accountability to these actions. Here is where I use a free online student progress tracker called Class Dojo.
Every student needs to feel successful on something in our music curriculum even if at the most basic level or skill. Students need to know that any positive action that they do matters and noticed.
Boosting up the performance presentations. Beginning band students should play individually at least three times within a class period. It needs to be quick with randomization.Develop fun performance days such as Skype with another school on Tuesdays, “Show and Tell” Wednesdays, Perform for another instrument class on Thursdays.
Develop a Beginner Solo and Ensemble contest at your campus and invite other directors to judge. In May, do an “Elementary School Tour” for your feeder elementary schools.
Boost up differentiation learning with Technology. Technology is a great tool for us as educators to use for student learning differentiation. Technology can also help us by making students more accountable.
Apps to check out:
- Tonal Energy Tuner
- Mirroring 360
- Charms Recording Studio
- Smart Music
Boost up your teacher perspective.
- Demonstrate every instrument you teach your students. I was hesitant because I did not want them to hear an incorrect tone, but any tone, even mine, was better than no model at all.
- Approach each class like a laboratory to find solutions. Kids will be excited to try new concepts and know what works and what does not. We want students to be excited about their learning.
- Finally, approach every class like a clinician. Approach your classes as if someone hired you to clinic your students. Suddenly, your pacing, energy and thought process is faster and more effective.
Christina Benitez is going into her 14th year as a band director and has taught 12 of those years in low-socio economic schools. She has had many successful experiences at the high school and middle school levels. She is a two-time Latin Grammy winning producer and audio engineer for Best Children’s Album in 2013 and 2015. Currently, she is the band director at Wertheimer Middle School in the Lamar CISD district in Rosenberg, Texas.
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