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General Music Curriculum

Hey everybody,
I have just recently nailed my first professional teaching job. I will be spending every morning teaching 7th grade general music for the middle school. Then I will spend the afternoons bouncing around between the local elementary schools. I do not know yet what grade levels I am teaching at the elementary schools.
My biggest concern, however, is classroom management, procedures, and curricula for the seventh graders. I had a fairly hard time with 6th grade general music during my student teaching (which I was encouraged was due to the school and teacher, not me) and I want to walk in confident and with everything well-mapped in my head.
I have some fundamental Kodaly training and plan to start working on my levels over summers. With the training came a love of singing and literacy, as well as some great, fun songs and games for ELEMENTARY. I need to figure out how to balance the transition between elementary general music and middle/high school ensemle classes. I know a lot of the kids will be uncomfortable singing, and that many won't have a desire to explore choir/band. However, I also don't want to turn the class into some sort of watered-down music appreciation class. It is not fun or effective for kids.
Any suggestions from all you elementary/middle school teachers out there?
Thank you so much!
Replies (11): Threaded | Chronological
on July 21, 2011 1:46pm
Thank you for the comment, John. A couple of thoughts.
This is my home school system. There is no continuity between the teachers. The choral program is very fine, but performance-based. The middle school choir director concentates more on performance as well, with a popular and dramatic flare. By working with the two, maybe we can make literacy a bigger component of the overall curriculum.
My biggest issues are practical. I am very well trained in methodology and philosophy and I know what I want from my classes. I just need the practical techniques and materials that will translate well to this specific age group. I am very well prepared for teaching the elementary kids thanks to my training. I would also do well in middle school or high school choir using Kodaly for literacy. The traditional Kodaly tactics alone won't be enough here due to the age group, cultural understandings, and the fact that a precious few will have the dicipline to want to learn without carefully-laid stragedies for introducing literacy, appreciation, theory, history, etc.
Thanks again!
on July 21, 2011 6:59pm
Well put, Andrew, and I love your attitude and approach.  But don't get fooled into thinking that Kodály is nothing but "sol-mi" and pigeonholing it as only suitable for the younger aged students.  As I'm sure you'll learn, it's a complete and comprehenseive method and methodology (and materiasl) that INCLUDE literacy (built into the methodology, not a separate add-on), appreciation (using real music and not made-up "exercises"), theory (starting with solfege to develop the inner ear and not imposed intellectually), and history (to some extent, since the published materials cover a rather wide range).  My wife used it (but not necessarily the beinning stages of it) in her youth choir, ages about 8 to 18.
The problem in most music education curricula (including ours here, I'm sure) is that students are "exposed" to the basics of Kodály, Orff, maybe Gordon, maybe solfege in one form or another, and so on, and then left to pick what to use for themselves.  And the probable reason is that too many college music ed professors are not experts in those systems beyond the beginning stages themselves.  Which is why 6th graders in Hungary have better musicianship than college sophomores in US colleges!!
All the best,
on July 23, 2011 9:50pm
This will be my second year at the Elementary level.  I have to tell you that while all the Kodaly and Dalcroze etc in the world is great methodology for teaching... the reality is that you will have to find out what works best with your specific group of kids.  EVERY single class of kids is different - even within the same grade levels.  For instance - I worked at two elementary schools in my district.  One was 60% free and reduced lunch (aka poverty) and the other was 85% free and reduced (aka P.O.V.E.R.T.Y).  There were just lessons that I could not do with my "promise land" school as it was called.  No matter what method or philosophy I tried - it didn't matter.  Those kids hated music class, did not want to play, did not want to sing. 
So I decided that I was going to play their game if I wanted to get anywhere with them.  I had them listen to music that they liked, watch videos on YouTube (the greatest tool ever!), etc.  Then we discussed and discussed and discussed the components of the music and it made class sooo much more interesting for them.  While you may not have the poverty issues I am dealing with, you will just kind of have to feel out what will, and will not, work with each class.  If you try to plan it all ahead in advance you will go crazy when there comes a day that it all goes awry.  You will have good and bad days, some lessons will be finished with ten minutes left and some wont be finished for two class times - and you can't plan for that kind of thing very well. 
I am not really saying "fly by the seat of your pants" but I kind of am.  Have your lessons planned, and then go in expecting the unexpected and be flexible with whatever happens during the class period. 
As far as what to actually teach the students... well all I can say is content content content!!  I spoke to my high school and middle school colleagues and they said - the kids don't know the notes.  "They don't know what crescendo is, or diminuendo - so when I say go to bar five and draw in a crescendo from the F to the C - they have no idea what I mean."  Those teachers don't have time to teach the students musicality and really hone their skills as an ensemble when they are busy teaching them the content they should have had solidly learned four years prior.  I am not sure what your education classes taught you but speaking from experience - confidence is not built in the kids by simply telling them they are great.  It is built by their successful experiences.  Whatever you do - you must set them up for success, and when they fail - and they will fail - let them know that it is okay and that they just need to do it again - but better.  I instill a lot of encouragement and confidence in my students and really try to get their internal motivation going. 
By the time the kiddos get to the middle school level they (ought to) know most of the content they are going to need to know for literacy purposes - the ensemble setting is where they really apply that knowledge and hone those musicality skills hardcore.  I don't teach above 5th grade so I'm not much help with the middle schoolers.  I can say though that you must must must make it relevant and rigorous for them to be even half interested in what you are trying to teach them.
I'm not sure if any of this is helpful to you but they are just things that I wish someone would have told me. 
- You will be exhausted and sometimes frustrated
- You need to expect management issues
- You need to expect that the kids are going to test you to no end
- Have your management plan clear in your head before you walk in
- Kids are not stupid - they know when you do and do not like them - they can read your energy very well
- Kids say the darndest things!!!
- Have your classroom rules posted clearly on the wall by the board
- Be consistent and insistent with the rules - if you are not consistent they will figure you out in a heart beat
- Be fair and honest in your consequences.  The time matches the crime.
My last bit of advice that I had a hard time with but now understand how incredibly important it is - have as much fun as you can.  Don't lose sight of the kids who love music and love you.  The kids will really attach themselves to you and those kids that you have a less than positive relationship with shouldn't take more attention and energy than the kids who love and enjoy what you are doing.  I got upset a lot last year, my temper was teeny-weeny.  This year I refuse to yell, I refuse to get mad at the students.  I am going to place all of the due responsibility back on the student because it is not worth my time to get mad and angry with them.  They need to learn cause and effect, action and reaction, responsibility. 
Some key phrases I use:
"Hey good news - you get to come eat lunch in my room!"
"Bummer... I guess you'll have to be spending recess in the office."
"Hey I didn't really like the choices you made today sooo I'm going to have to do something about that.  Try not to worry about it" - then you send them on their way and delay the consequence for a day or two - works like a dream.
"I respect you too much to argue with you right now - so come and talk to me after school or before school.  Your choice."
My classroom rules: (based off of Love and Logic)
1. I will treat you with respect so you will know how to treat me
2. Feel free to do anyting in the class that does not cause a problem for anyone else
3. If you are causing a problem I will ask you to fix it
4. If you cannot or will not fix it - I will have to do something
5. What I do depends on the specific person and specific situation
6. If you have a problem with my decision come and talk to me a designated time (before school, after school, recess)
Again not sure if any of this helps you but I didn't have anyone to help me out...
Dave W.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on July 26, 2011 6:07am
Thanks for the advice. I'm starting to piece some ideas together.
I still need some practical advice about HOW to teach certain aspects of the class to this age group, and WHAT specific materials seem to work well.
I'll supply a little more background.
My music education training included Orff, Dalcroze, and other methodologies, with Kodaly as an emphasis. I never said that I would just sing or just use the Kodaly method. No music teacher would. My professor said, use the elements of all the methods you can find, just use them as a Kodaly teacher for continuity. Also, there is no 7th grade choir at the middle school, yet band starts in 6th grade,. So teaching fundamentals of literacy and vocal technique is fairly impotant if delivered in a way that is interesting for the kids. The elementary system is broken, with two or three teachers bouncing between each school, and none of them using the same methods or ideas of teaching. So my job will be to, most likely, teach these kids from almost scratch in 7th grade.
Examples of curriculla, materials, and specific unit/lesson ideas for 7th graders would be most appreciated.
Thank you all for the feedback.
on July 26, 2011 12:32pm
Andrew:  I would agree with your professor with one VERY important qualification.  "Use the elements of all the methods you can find," ONCE YOU KNOW THOSE METHODS INTIMATELY FROM THE INSIDE, AND NOT JUST THROUGH AN INTRODUCTION TO EACH OF THEM!
He or she is advocating eclecticism.  Kodály was truly eclectic, since he studied all the methodologies he considered and analyzed their results before he made his choices.  When you can do the same, then of course you can pick and choose.
All the best,
on July 27, 2011 11:41pm
Well like I said for 7th Grade I can't really be that helpful except to say that in my district we have a curriculum to follow and my colleague just picked units out of that curriculum: guitars, drums, recorders, etc.  I think if you get creative and figure out how your students work and what they are interested in, then creating some of your own lesson plans (wich any teacher will do whether or not they have a curriculum to work with) will be a beneficial thing.  Mostly because you can tailor it to your specific group of kids.  I did that ALL THE TIME this past year and it was a lot of fun to try and figure out something to do with them that was my own idea and that they would enjoy. 
As far as the elementary thing goes I toootally understand what you are saying about multiple teachers at one school - that is the way it is in my district.  The only thing you can do with that is figure out immediately what they do and do not know then go from there.  Never assume they know something - you will get a lot of really blank stares if you are just using jargon that they have never heard before.  Remember you are coming fresh from college and academia - these kids are blank slates relative to what you know so keep the musical language at the elementary level and explain things a lot.
I would suggest a lot of folk songs ( make up your own bordunes and accompaniments ), there are a TON of lesson plan ideas on line - just google it.  And depending on the grade(s) you are teaching you can do some of the same activities multiple times - the kids get a kick out of it. 
Do you have a mentor program where you are?  If you do then that mentor should be able to give you some materials to work with, and ideas for different lessons. 
The curriculum we use is the McMillian-McGraw-Hill curriculum.  Not the greatest in the world, did a lot of tweaking to the lessons, but it gives a good basic structure and song list to work with.  Another FABULOUS curriculum is the Core Knowledge Sequence.  Has a great book of folk songs and a set of grade-by-grade Sequential Content that the kids should know.  If your district has a set of standards and benchmarks your students should know I would get a hold of that and start designing a few lesson plans around those. 
I know how you feel Andrew.  I was in the exact same position last year (what do I do, how do I do it, when do I do it, etc...)  Trust me after a month or two - you WILL get the hang of it.  Unfortunately going off of what John has said... basically you just have to get your feet wet and dive right in and do what you know.  As you figure things out it will become easier to know where you want the students to go, and how you want them to get there.  Also the more you do it the more skilled you will get with the different methodologies should you continue to research and implement them.  Be creative and thoughtful.  Plan something that has an intro, a call and response, a movement, a performance, and closure.  "I do it, we do it, you do it" is kind of the model I go after.  Use guitar, piano, xylos, glockenspiels, drums, etc.  I would encourage you to email your main elem principal and figure out what your schedule is exactly - and what specific grades you will be teaching.
Where are you teaching - what state?
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