Here are the “nuts and bolts” of my attempt at small-group instruction in the music classroom:
I divided the class into 6-7 groups of 3-4 students each. At first I just tried to have 2 boys and 2 girls. Since I had most of the students in the previous grade, I was able to place students in groups with personality and general ability in mind. After getting to know the students better and seeing how they worked in their groups, I moved them around a little. (More on this later.)
This was very tricky with only 25 minutes per class. I usually had 7-minute rotations with the following schedule:
Day 1: Lesson, Station Introduction, or new song + 1 or 2 rotations
Day 2: 2-3 rotations
Day 3: 2-3 rotations + a “debriefing”/review (if time)
I usually started each class with a quick warm-up activity (3 minutes).
I placed the stations around the perimeter of the room with the middle of the room open for larger group activities, like music games and performance space, and for “spillover” space to give some groups more room if needed.
(The order of the stations had more to do with very practical constraints (like where the instruments could be stored and where I could plug in the computers) than a “master plan.”)
Station 1: Computers
I tried a variety of activities at this station, including a computer program called Music Ace that tracked each student’s progress through a series of lessons on music staff reading. Students also worked on research projects and composed music using several different programs. (One of my favorites was a now-nonexistent online program called Aviary Roc. It…well…ROCKED!)
Station 2: Video/Audio
One of the first things I bought for the classroom was an iPod, which I used at this station as a video watching/listening station. Along with the music that came with our textbooks, I loaded ALL KINDS of music and videos, including some age-appropriate music videos, “content presentation” videos, and concerts I found from various sources. (It was my way of “flipping” the classroom internally.)
The biggest obstacle was the headphones. Traditional listening stations offered by typical school resource providers STINK when it comes to music. They usually are only monophonic and make everything sound as if you’re listening in a box. (I’ll have to post on my solution to this later.)
Station 3: Reading
The students read from my library of music related books and, for my older students, articles I printed to help them with their research projects.
I also used this station for independent practice of some of the concepts presented either at the video/audio station or at my small-group instruction station.
Station 4: Instruments
The students played a variety of instruments. Most of the time, I had them practice something that related to what we were discussing at that moment (for example, so-mi patterns or a rhythmic pattern). The students used music stands with sheet music or melodic pattern “flash cards” to play longer patterns and pieces.
Station 5: Writing
At this station, student practiced writing rhythm patterns or notes on a staff using dry erase boards (or paper if it was something I wanted to use as an assessment). Later, I combined stations 4 and 5 and have the students compose something that they performed on the instruments. (As my learning goals evolved over the years, students composing became a staple at these stations and started to take over the other stations as well.)
Station 6: Small-Group Instruction
This was were I spent most of my instructional time. I used this station to present new lessons, assess learning, and more individualize instruction. I kept color-coded file folders on the wall behind me with notes and various assessments organized by each class. (This may also be a more detailed post later.)
When students were working on projects, I used this station to mentor students and student groups and helped them with finding more resources, developing their product, or “counseling” students on how to work in a group. (maybe another post?)
Station 7: Musical games and projects
Most of the time I had students play musical games. The songs were the literature used to teach various musical concepts and music literacy. Games were a great way to repeat the songs until it was internalized without it becoming boring. I also used this station as an additional computer station when we were creating projects.
Hindsight and If-only’s
If (or when) I have a chance to teach a music class again, I would focus more on dynamic grouping of students. I think I had the students spend too much time in the same group. I would pull them from the stations to work with me at small-group instruction, but the groups stayed consistent most of the time.
Also, I would have the activities at each station connect more seamlessly. The students spent too little time at each station for there not be more consistency among the various activities. Toward the end of my time as a music teacher I started this, but it was still a little disjunct.
I also may reconsider the time spent at each station. 7 to 10 minutes is not enough time to complete an activity worth doing. Some of my students benefited from the quick rotations, but many students needed more time.
I think the best way to accomplish this, and at the same time address some other issues, is to have more dynamic, student-directed procedures. Instead of having students move from one station to another in a set sequence, I think the students should be responsible for deciding their own order of stations. This is one important element of Marriott’s What are the Other Kids Doing?, a book mentioned in a previous post, that I was not able to enact but is a crucial step in encouraging independent, self-directed learning from my students.