Fostering a student-centered environment in the music room

Hi everyone! This is Aileen from Mrs. Miracle's Music Room. Today, I'm blogging about something that has been on my mind quite a bit lately as I've been planning lessons: how to foster a student-centered environment in the music room.

Fostering a student-centered environment: Great ideas for the music classroom!

There are so many things that I love about the Kodály-inspired classroom...but at times, it can feel somewhat teacher-centered if taught in a traditional way. Sometimes, students DO need a whole-class approach. They need to sing together as a community, they need to prepare and practice rhythms and solfa together, they need the teacher to share musical knowledge. However, at some point, in order for students to transfer their knowledge, the teacher does need to step away and become more of a facilitator. So how do we do that in a Kodály-inspired classroom? Here are my favorite strategies!

#1: Rotating Centers
Several years ago, I began experimenting with centers in my classroom. I had seen them done well in my daughter's Kindergarten classroom, and thought I would try it in my room. It has been a wonderful journey, and a great way to not only foster a more student-centered classroom, but to provide time to work with and assess students one-on-one while the other students are engaged in exciting activities! With rotating centers, I typically have four centers around the room that are focused on practicing the same concept in different ways. For example, for ta and ti-ti, I might have one center at the SMART board, where students are throwing a squishy ball at the board and then reading patterns, another center in which students play rhythm patterns on non-pitched percussion, a third center with worksheets for ta and ti-ti, and the last center with me, in which each student individually reads five patterns. Every five or so minutes, I have students rotate to the next center until they've been to all of the centers. It does have a much more student-centered feel to it, because instead of you teaching the students, students are often teaching each other! Whether they are explaining to each other how to play High D on the recorder, or reminding each other that la is a step above sol,  it's a really awesome thing to step away and let students process the information and teach each other! If you're looking for more information about centers, here are several blog posts with more details about using centers!

#2: Floating Centers 
This is something new I tried last year. The idea is similar to rotating centers, but I often have six centers instead of four, and students get to choose which center to go to, when. I only ask that they visit at least three centers during the class time (and will give them reminders every so often as they do that.) As the students are at centers, I've been working with students who are struggling with a particular concept (depending on the concept of the centers), and it's been GREAT to have that time to figure out where their breakdown of knowledge is! If you want more specifics on how I did this for ta and ti-ti, check out this blog post.

#3: Small group work
I have done a few small group activities recently that really felt student-centered. Even though I may give somewhat specific directions to the small groups, there is something about having students work with a few other students instead of as a whole class that does not feel quite as teacher-directed. One of these was Cori Bloom's dice activity for listening. You can view it by clicking the picture below.

My former student teacher Emily did this a few weeks ago with the fifth grade. In the first lesson, she did it as a whole group activity--she rolled the die and then the students discussed it as a class. I suggested in the next lesson that she try it in small groups, and we were both floored by the difference! Kids were getting much more of an opportunity to talk to each other about the song in a small-group setting vs. students having to raise their hands to contribute! I think students also felt like they had more ownership because they were holding the die and the listening sheet instead of it being in front of the room, and they were actively participating in the small group discussions. It's a great activity for ANY listening lesson!

Another small group activity that I just did this week was having students compose rhythm patterns with fruit. Student work with small groups to compose a 4-beat pattern--I just asked that it had one watermelon (or tika-tika) in it. Again, I gave them pretty specific directions, but because they could talk to each other and make decisions as a group, it felt much more student-centered! Here is a picture of one of the patterns:

Fostering a student-centered environment: Great ideas for the music classroom!

Click here to read a blog post about a similar activity for ti-tika (using raspberries.)

#4: Creative movement
I have done some creative movement here or there over the years, but after going to my good friend Andrew Ellingsen's creative movement session at the MKMEA conference in Wichita, I was inspired to really dive in, and I am so glad I did! I've been having students be each other's mirror as we listen to music, and now I'm having students do complementary shapes with each other. The feel in the room is quite a bit different than a traditional lesson, because they are continually making decisions every few seconds as individuals and with their partner about what they are doing next!
Even though creative movement isn't necessarily a goal of a Kodály-inspired classroom, I find it fits into the curriculum rather nicely. It gives students a brain break, it gives them opportunity to listen and respond to many different kinds of music, and it teaches students about musical terms, such as complementary, that fit well into any discussion about ostinati, counter-melodies, etc.!
If you ever get a chance to see Andrew present, you should definitely go!! He is amazing. If you're looking for accessible creative movement resources, I've heard this book is outstanding...

...and the Eric Chapelle CD's, like the one shown below, are also really easy to add into a lesson!

#5: "Reward" Day
This summer, I read this book about behavior management in the related arts classroom:

I really liked his idea about giving points to each class, each lesson, and then having a reward when they get a certain number of points. My reward for them this year (which happens maybe once every quarter) is that they get half of their next class as a "reward" day, in which students get to choose what they want to do. Sometimes they choose games like "We are dancing" or "Ye Toop Doram," sometimes they choose iPads, sometimes they choose instrument is totally up to them, and it is very student-centered! I love hearing what they are the most excited about, and although I am all about teaching them musical concepts, sometimes they just need to play and have fun!

If you're looking for more ideas for a student-centered environment in the music room, check out my good friend Nyssa Brown's blog. She is the first person to really motivate me to explore how to make my lessons more student-centered, and she is an amazing educator and person!

What are your favorite strategies for fostering a student-centered environment? Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!


  1. Thanks! I needed this encouragement!

  2. When you let the students choose their centers--have you had it happen that too many of them gravitate towards just a few and those popular 'centers' get over-crowded? Thanks for sharing some great ideas!

    1. Yes, that does happen, so I sometimes give parameters. Like, one of my centers was iPads, and I only have 8, so I couldn't have more than 8. Another was instruments and I could only have 6 kids on instruments. This seemed to help a bit!


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