Hi! This is Tanya from Teaching Music: Tanya's Kodály Aspiring Blog.
I will be straightforward with what has been preying on my mind recently; the focus on standardized tests and the de-valuing of any school subject that is not included in the state tests. The idea of "the arts for art's sake" seems to have fallen out of favor. There has been a lot of turmoil in my district lately and I am anticipating that music teachers in the district will have to justify the worth of music education even more than usual. While we urge the pendulum to swing back towards valuing the ideas and subjects that make us human, let's discuss how we can better promote all the wonderful things happening in the music room!
Today I'll be focusing on a few ideas to promote your music program within your school community. When the going gets tough in school districts and program cuts are proposed, does your school community know enough about the value of your program to keep it off the chopping block? Articles on research that report the impact of music on brain development, test scores, and career readiness are wonderful to share but they won't save the music program unless the community is personally invested.
Make Music and Make it Meaningful
Yes, this is an obvious objective! However, it's something that could get lost if you are required to state and re-state your learning objectives several times a lesson, engage students in higher-level thinking activities, and include writing activities, (not music composition; writing.) It is challenging to fit everything in. Additionally, it seems like outside forces are suggesting more of a music appreciation approach to elementary music. While an understanding and appreciation of music is important, singing and playing music in music class trumps everything else. According to Kodály, "Often a single experience will open the young soul to music for a whole lifetime. This experience cannot be left to chance; it is the duty of the school to provide it." (1929)
Amen to that!
School Day Performances
The other morning, a 6th grade teacher who is new to our school came to the music room a couple of minutes early to pick up her students. As the students were lining up she remarked to me, "Wow, they can really sing!" I thanked her for the compliment but thought to myself, "well, of course they can sing!" It's important to remember that other teachers, administrators, and school personnel have a limited view of what happens in the music room. Once a class has a piece performance ready, why not share by inviting their homeroom teacher, an aide, or the principal to the music room for a two minute performance? This also gives the students an incentive to really polish that 3-part canon or class composition with instruments. If possible, invite a class of younger students to be an audience. At my school each homeroom used to pair up with another "study buddy" class. Each younger student would be assigned an older student mentor and the classes would have a once a month activity time together. I remember 5th graders sharing their Tinikling routines with their kindergarten study buddies; it was hard to tell which class was more excited, the performers or the audience.
Concerts and Programs: Preach with the Choir
Do you have grade level performances attended by parents and families? While you have a captive audience, take this opportunity to communicate what students have been doing and why. This can be done verbally at the performance by you, the music teacher.
A project I plan to repeat this year is to create a Powerpoint or iMovie to show as families file in to the gym before the performance begins. The Powerpoint slideshow will include pictures of students rehearsing for that performance along with an audio track of students discussing their favorite song of the concert, their favorite rehearsal memory, or why they enjoy making music. This does take some extra planning but the validation of students' musical experiences is worth it.
Arts Nights, Singing Games Night, and Informances
I know I always appreciate something more when I've experienced it first-hand rather than only by observing. Singing and playing music is a type of fun many adults may not experience with their kids. For several years I've put on a 1st grade Singing Games Family Night in September. During this fun and slightly hectic event 1st grade families participate in several singing games and dances. It's a wonderful opportunity to get adults involved in making music and playing with their children. Another school in my area has a family arts night led by the music, art, and PE teacher. The teachers chose a theme that aligns with the social studies curriculum and invite students and families to create art, make music, and play a physical game.
Meaningful student recognition
The idea of student stickers came from a 1st grade teacher in my building. I noticed several of her students coming to music with labels on their shirts that said things like: "I was a respectful partner during shared reading!" or "I completed my page of math carefully today!" She keeps a pen nearby and writes these positive comments on address labels and then sticks them to the front of kid's shirts so that their parents don't miss it. I created some labels myself specific to the music room. Each first grader who sings a song solo receives one of these stickers on their shirts:
The children wearing their solo singing stickers just beam with pride. Many students go home and sing for their parents and family. Children are proud of their singing skills and families see the resulting confidence and joy!
I have also sent positive notes home when a student has done a consistent, excellent job in the music room. (What a shocker that must be; a positive note home!)
When your students participate in all-state choir, solo and ensemble, or another honor ensemble outside of school, be sure to recognize them publicly at the school recognition assembly or during other school-wide announcements like newsletters and video or audio intercom addresses.
School Newsletter and School Website
The school newsletter and website provide another avenue to let parents know what is going on in the music room. Many music teachers have their own school music web page where they can post music news. (My school web site is under construction.)
In addition to teaching, we need to let others know about the music learning taking place every day in the school. I've just scratched the surface of ideas to advocate for an elementary music program. If you have had success promoting your music program please share your ideas!
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