Reply To: Differentiated Instruction in the Music Classroom

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For something like an ostinato, a way of differentiating instruction could be to have a speech or vocal ostinato that they say/sing while playing…. the students who are getting it quicker can opt to just audiate the speech/vocal ostinato when they feel ready, while the kids who need the additional help should continue to say the speech ostinato out loud. When I have my students say their ostinato out loud while playing (either with rhythm or solfege syllables, or if they haven’t learned those yet, a pattern that takes words from the song), I notice that they almost always have much more success. Some kids don’t need this, but others definitely benefit. You can also go around as the students are playing and give additional guidance to those who need it by doing hand-over-hand with them so they can feel the ostinato, or play it along with them on the xylophone bars from the opposite side if they need a visual cue. Of course you can’t help all the students at once, but if you repeat the song/activity a few times you usually can get around to assist the kids who need it. And things like seating students who need more help closer to you so you can easily assist and they can see/hear better, and/or seating them next to kids who have higher aptitude, etc. are also technically differentiating instruction–preferential seating is a common modification that is included in some students’ IEPs for academic disabilities, so I think it would definitely qualify as a method of differentiating instruction if you were to do this in music. You probably are already doing some/all of these things, but I just want to point out that this IS differentiating instruction whether or not we recognize it as such.

For additional classroom activities with rhythm beyond your LSAs, just continue to keep the kids’ aptitude in mind. You can do individual rhythm echoes as part of games (in between turns of the game–the kid who is “it” would echo a rhythm), or in between repetitions of a song when you’re teaching or reviewing a song, independent of and in addition to the LSAs. If you’re working on a particular rhythm for an ostinato, make sure you include frequent repetitions of this rhythm pattern for whole group patterns, as well as giving it individually to the students who need more work with it, while giving more challenging rhythms to the higher aptitude kids when it is their turn. This is actually often a more productive way to give students rhythm practice than LSAs, because you’re not tied to the specific easy/medium/difficult rhythms that are in the rhythm register book; you can pick rhythms that you know your kids need extra practice with. If you have a stretchy band/coopera-band, that is a fun way to get in extra rhythm practice–the class moves to the beat with the band while singing a song, and then when the song’s over they can continue to tap the beat while echoing rhythms–and you can point to individuals to echo, or choose colors from the band (whatever color a kid is holding) for those students to echo, etc. There are some activities that are difficult to differentiate–such as working together to sing a song or perform an instrument part where everything is playing the same thing–but if you have those breaks in between repetitions of the song to focus on specific rhythms, you can include some differentiation within those activities. I’m thinking that even in a math, reading, science, social studies, etc. class there are always some activities where all the students are working on the same thing–like in reading, even though the students are reading books on their own level with their reading group, they may also be reading a book all together as a class. It’s more difficult to differentiate with a performance-based subject like ours, since all the students perform together at at least certain points during the class (and if you have different groups of students practicing different things all at once, it just creates cacophany and confusion)–it’s not like you can spend your entire class period doing individual, independent things like you can with reading or math. Plus, we only have 40 minutes (or whatever your weekly schedule is) per week to work with our students, and we don’t get additional support to help kids who are lagging in music like reading and math teachers get (help from basic skills teachers, pull-out to resource room, additional tutoring after school, etc.). You have to be realistic and do what you are able to do.