Addressing Different Entry Points into an Orchestral Lesson
August 22, 2014 at 7:05 pm #40622
Hello fellow Orchestra Directors,
Let me preface this by saying this is my first year teaching. I am teaching a high school orchestra class, a high school guitar class, a high school show band, a high school vocal music class, 1.5 middle school instrumental classes, .5 middle school vocal class, and 1st and 2nd grades. My middle school classes are going pretty fantastic because they are all starting from scratch. I even feel like my high school vocal music classes and my guitar class are progressing along better than my orchestra class, and my degree is in instrumental music and I am a violin player. My problem is that I am trying to pace my lessons for the middle of the road, but I have two students who have not even played an instrument before in the class and the other students are kind of at an intermediate level. I gave a diagnostic exam of what they know on paper, and I can hear things that I can attempt to fix in the more experienced players to make them better. How do I get the two students that don’t know anything about instrument playing to get up to speed with the rest of the class? I said I will not leave a student behind in my class, and I mean it. However, I am a little stumped. Should I give them related material from the Essential Elements Book One to get them through and jimmy it to fit with what the other students are doing? Help!October 16, 2014 at 7:55 pm #42074
You have quite a lot on your plate! I think that it would be helpful to give the students who haven’t had a lot of experience playing their instrument the related material from the Essential Elements Book One, especially if that is the method book you use in your instrumental music program. I also think it is a good idea to give them a diagnostic exam to determine what the students know, and what they don’t know. It also wouldn’t hurt to assign them some supplemental assignments that pertain to what they are learning in the class, to see if they are really grasping what is taught. This may also help you figure out what they need the most work on. Also, once you discover what they need the most help with, and you are having trouble explaining or demonstrating something, it doesn’t hurt to seek help. Try to contact people you know in the field that may have more experience than you. Youtube string tutorials may also be an effective way of reaching out to your students, in an attempt to using an educational tool that they are familiar with. You may also want to consider giving them private lessons outside of class, if at all possible. Perhaps if you don’t have any time during the school day, if you are able to, and parents are willing to accommodate, you could have lessons with them before or after school, to catch them up with the rest of the ensemble. I think you have a great attitude by saying that you will never give up on your students! Keep trying!October 19, 2014 at 9:35 am #42158
Do the students play the same instrument? Have you offered private lessons to the students? If you have and it’s not an option, I believe that having a “lunch bunch” would be a great opportunity to try out! What is a “lunch bunch” you say… well it is when you offer those students extra help throughout the week during lunch. I know that you might have to cut your lunchtime down, but it could potentially help these two students.
What grade level are we talking about? 6th-8th? Are you the only music director in your school district? Another idea that could work is have either the other music director or even the best player in your orchestra (obviously a student in the same section) work with them during orchestra rehearsal. This would give them extra help during the class period. The only problem with this option is you need to choose a responsible student that can help assist. If you find someone that will mess around the whole time can just create more problems.
I do like the idea of having them work through Essential Elements Book 1. If you assign these to the students, they can practice them at home and possibly play them for you during the “lunch bunch” or the other experienced student. If they have not made it through the EE book, I think it is a good opportunity to clarify and enhance the problem spots in their fundamental skills.
I hope these ideas help you and best of luck on your first year!!October 21, 2014 at 9:49 pm #42219
I also suggest the “lunch bunch” it is very effective if the players are willing to do so. Also if the students have study hall during your free period/time if you have one you could pull them from there if this is allowed in your district. I think you could also have a sectional with you and just these students maybe one day a week while you have the other students break into small groups and practice independently on things like bow technique/dynamics/other small things that will make them better musicians in the long run. This way the intermediate players wont get too far ahead because they are reviewing and your beginners can catch up.
Good Luck!October 23, 2014 at 12:07 am #42297
A way that getting the students up to speed could be made a lot easier if you can assign your best players of the instruments the new students choose to help the new students in their learning process. Through this “study buddy” system, you can assign materials from essential elements at an expedited rate, because the study-buddy will be able to help them learn more quickly. If you allow the new students to work together with their study-buddies for 10-15 minutes outside of the ensemble during some of your earlier rehearsals, and then have them join with the group the rest of the time, you may find that they will fairly quickly catch up with the group. This allows you to not waste precious rehearsal time with the majority of the group, while your best players can catch themselves and the new students up at the same time, and eventually, they will (hopefully) not need to be taught separately from the ensemble for too long.October 23, 2014 at 12:39 am #42298
I hope you are figuring things out with your two students and the rest of the orchestra. I agree with many of the previous posts’ ideas. I think encouraging them to take private lessons could not hurt. Seeing as you are a string player, I am sure you could help them a great deal with more individualized attention. If you have the time, I think meeting with them after school or before school, for even just twenty minutes, could help them make great gains in their skills. Or having these small sessions during a class while other students have sectionals would be a more efficient use of your limited time. You could also have your highly skilled players mentor them while you rehearse with the rest of your group, seeing as you know that you can count on your highly skilled players to get their work done. Even if you had to take small chunks of all of these ideas, I think expediting their progress is very possible. Another idea is to have the two struggling students play modified parts; they will still be able to grow their skills while playing with the rest of the ensemble and if success came a little easier to them, you would not have to spend as much rehearsal time working specifically with them. I am not sure what your music looks like, but modifying parts so they are simpler but still fit within the original context is possible. You can also encourage their musical growth by assigning them videos to watch online for beginning string playing. If there are other music teachers in your district that would be available to help, certainly take advantage of the opportunity for them to help instruct. I would also make sure that you are not forgetting to encourage development of their aural skills by using solfege exercises.November 4, 2014 at 8:24 pm #42564
Awesome replies in addressing differentiation in the string classroom!
In addition to what’s been mentioned, I’d also suggest reading about the topic of “differentiation” and perhaps consider attending local Conferences. Terrific ways to gain additional perspectives!
Hope this helps…. Good luck!November 9, 2014 at 8:16 pm #42682
I’m in a very similar situation to you! I am in my first year teaching, and I’m also struggling to plan rehearsals and lessons which are interesting for the advanced students but within reach of the beginners. This particular group is a middle school string orchestra, and the students (who all meet at the same time) range from 6th grade to 8th. Some have zero experience before this year, and others have been studying privately for 5 or 6 years. I’ve done a lot of arranging to accommodate the beginners, and I’ve gone so far as to write out parts which are exclusively open-string pizzicato. Even these parts can be challenging for these kids because they have to remember string names, count rests, keep tempo, etc etc. I have done a lot of sectionals, in which I break up the students into several different categories, depending on the day: instrument groups, skill level, grade level, etc. In this case I elect group leaders to run the rehearsals, which (thankfully) can run simultaneously in practice rooms. As part of this, though, we need to discuss what makes a good leader, how to practice, and how to stay on task–all good skills for the students to learn and talk about. The more experienced kids are also working on a totally separate piece which is appropriate for their level, and so when I need to focus on the others, they have some challenging music to work on together.
I am frequently overwhelmed because there’s so much I want to/need to teach the beginners, but when I take the time during class to pull them aside and do a lesson, I feel as though I’m neglecting the advanced kids. They don’t mind, since they like the independence, but there are many skills and techniques I need to develop in them, as well. A few of the less-experienced ones are able to meet me for one-on-one lessons in study halls, which has been invaluable. This also gives me a chance to encourage them, and work on exercises which are tailored to them specifically and which support the work we’re doing in a large group.
Another strategy that I’ve found successful is to have the whole group together in one room, but rehearse certain sections of music with certain groups of students. I ask those who aren’t playing to listen critically and offer suggestions for improvement. They like the chance to be the “teachers,” and they’re (usually!) constructive in their comments. I have a larger goal to develop their analytical listening, and this is one step towards that goal which helps us improve our repertoire at the same time.
In the time since your first post, Ruiza412, have you found anything that works particularly well for your kids? I’m doing a lot of trial and error, and I’d be happy to swap stories of triumphs and disasters!
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