One of the biggest challenges teachers face, regardless of the subject, is trying to keep students engaged in their learning. That being said, there are definitely some perks to being a teacher of the arts, and plenty of ways to keep kids impassioned and enthralled by music as they further their education.
1. Keep the classes consistent
Kids thrive in a structured environment. This doesn’t mean doing the same thing every day- It means creating a framework for how the class is going to go, and then building something new off of that framework for each class.
Having scheduled times where you work on different aspects of music will keep the kids (and their brains) moving throughout the class. For example, most classes have some type of warm-up exercise in the beginning - a 10-15 minute activity that the kids can do on their own or in small groups. The warm-up activity is part of your framework, but the content of the activity should be mixed up every day, keeping it new and fun for the kiddos.
2. Make sure classes have an equal amount of both solo AND group activities.
There are some things that kids need to learn at their own pace, like reading standard notation or time signatures. Also, solo activities are a good way to allow students to express their individuality without feeling overshadowed by other kids.
That being said, also have time set aside where the kids can collaborate with one another and learn how to build something together- like a song or a project that they can present. Incorporating both solo and group activities will teach kids what it’s like to have to do things on their own, but also how to work with other people- both are important fundamentals.
3. Incorporate technology into the class
It’s the age we live in, and let’s face it, kids go crazy for techy things. Depending on the age group, you can utilize technology in different ways. When working with smaller kids, a specific section of the class should be set aside for “tech-time”, when they can use tablets or computers to play educational music games or apps. If you let them have their techy toys the whole class, they may get distracted.
Older students can use technology to create a presentation or even mix their own music. You can also let students use a camera (or a phone) to make instructional films and tutorials for future classes or record each other performing.
4. Provide opportunities for the kids to show off their stuff!
Having a quarterly or end of the year class recital or concert is a good way to let each individual shine in their own spotlight. If your school has a delegated performance area, then use that- it’s good for kids to step outside of their day-to-day routine and try performing somewhere new and exciting. If you’re homeschooling, or don’t have a stage or performance area, then make one! Pull chairs out, decorate, and invite family and friends.
Oftentimes, younger students will be too shy to get up in front of people to sing or perform. Although stage fright is something that is usually overcome by facing the crowd and making yourself do it enough times, you don’t want the shyer kids to feel unsafe or targeted. Motivate the child to put themselves out there by helping them with their project, providing advice and encouragement, and even offering to let them work with a partner. If the student is painfully shy, and getting up on stage is going to bring them to tears, then offer them an alternative way of expressing themselves. They can create a physical representation of something they’ve learned in the class that can be shared at the recital, like a chart of different chords or notes, or a recording of themselves performing instead of doing it in real time.
5. Include modern music from all over the world
Kids aren’t big on the whole “old lady with a ruler” thing. Although an appreciation for classical music should be taught and encouraged, you don’t want other styles to get swept under the rug in the process. Each day, you can present music media from a different part of the world; let the kids vote on their favorite one at the end of the week!
Share music with your class, and teach the kids to share music with each other as well. During quiet activities, play classical, indie, or relaxed music in the background. Every Friday you can let each student come up and play a snippet of their favorite radio hit or favorite “song of the week”.
6. Get up and move!
Designate a section of the class to physical activity. Let the kids dance and clap to music. This will help them build physical coordination to music and rhythm while getting out some energy. Have the kids stand in a line and let each student sing a note, moving up the scale. Younger kids will have more fun jumping while they sing their note. You can also divide the class into sections and create different harmonies or sing a song in a round.
7. Learn by methodology
Kids have trouble focusing with materials sitting in front of them. They often try to jump ahead or get distracted by whatever you just handed out instead of listening to you explain it first. So before handing out an activity or a worksheet, give instructions before giving the child anything to hold. If the activity has something to do with reading or identifying music, hum or clap the tune that you’re going to be working on first, then have the kids do it with you, and then pass out the music so that they can follow along with their fingers.