Every elementary music teacher has a different style that makes his or her classroom unique. Despite the endless ways to give students a quality music education there appears to be a prevalent dichotomy that has risen among elementary music teachers: Written work vs. making music.
While written work isn’t usually what you’d think of when thinking of a music class, it certainly does have its advantages. Using written or board-based work allows students to work in a format that they are already used to and appeals to visual learners. It also allows students to work at their own pace giving students who need that extra bit of time a chance to finish. On top of that Written work can reinforce visual recognition of vocabulary and is an excellent way to keep a tangible record of student progress.
That being said, written work also has its drawbacks. First of all, it can be time consuming if it’s not set up properly, and that can be a problem if you only get to see your students once a week. Secondly written work often gives you papers to grade, circumventing one of the greatest benefits of teaching music. Also, written work “isn’t as much fun” and may feel too much like “regular school” as opposed to making music. And finally, using mainly written work doesn’t give the students material to perform at a concert.
Making it Work
If you plan on doing written work in your music classroom, then it is necessary to create a system for doing so in advance to save time during transitions. Having materials laid out and using student helpers is crucial for achieving this. One of the best ways to use written work in the elementary music classroom is for a short review or exit ticket so that the student’s have tangible graded artifacts.
Making music is what music class is all about and is exactly what you’d expect to see when you think of a music classroom. One of the greatest benefits of actually making music, be it singing or playing instruments, is that it is fun! Making music involves the body and appeals to kinesthetic and auditory learners alike. Making music also allows students to work together and produce a result in an ensemble setting allowing students to actually apply musical concepts in a meaningful way. Another great benefit of making music is that it creates a “musical product” that can be showcased in performances for students’ families and the community.
It may be hard to think of a drawback to the music making process but there are a few. First it can be difficult to grade musical performances for several reasons. One, there is a subjective element to evaluating music, what one may consider a terrible vocal tone may be considered great to someone else, and two, it can be difficult and time consuming to evaluate your students individually. Music making doesn’t usually produce a tangible product unless of course you record it. Because of this it is usually difficult to convey the hard work you and your students put in except for during performances. Lastly, because making music is a non-visual activity it can be difficult to convey the changes students need to make to improve.
Making it Work
Because having your students make music is an essential part of teaching elementary music, it is important to have a good system of evaluating and giving feed back to the students. When assessing your students, using a rubric is paramount because it gives them a way to grasp how each element of their performance is evaluated, be it timing, pitch, or tone quality. Also, assessing students in small groups or individually prevents some of the more meek students from hiding in the background. To give stark, and accurate feedback, get permission to record student performances both in class and on the stage so the students can evaluate themselves.
Finding The Right Balance
While both written activities and music making activities have their own individual merits, but they work best when used together in the right amounts. The ratio that comes to mind for me is about 80% music making activities and about 20% written activities. The activities should also complement each other. For instance, the students can play a game that involves them standing on a line staff on the floor to represent a note for the students to play on a xylophone, and then afterward they can take a 10-note quiz for note naming. The point is to find the best balance for your students and your situation.
Now I want your opinion on this. Do you use more written or music making activities? What percentages? How do you find balance between the two? Leave a comment and let me know.