General Music for Middle School Students Offers Rewarding Teaching Experiences

The new book Middle School General Music is a guide for middle school general music teachers looking to create a participatory, motivating music program for adolescents. The book lays a proven path for music teachers. Written by Elizabeth Ann McAnally, an MENC member and in-service teacher from Philadelphia, PA, the book is subtitled “The Best Part of Your Day.”

“I wrote this book to share strategies that really work for middle school general music,” said McAnally, who also writes and speaks on the subject of urban music education. “My suggestions are not the only way, but there is nothing in this book that I have not tested and refined in my own classroom with diverse groups of students.”

The book is organized according to the nine National Standards for Music Education, and each chapter presents tips and lessons for helping middle school students meet high standards in their understanding of music. The book also includes a list of suggested resources.

The list prices for Middle School General Music are $55 hardcover and $21.95 paperback. MENC members receive a 25% discount off the list price. Visit Rowman & Littlefield Education for more information and to order.

In an interview McAnally answered a few questions about her book.

Q: In the preface to your book, you write that when someone first suggested to you that you teach middle school music, you said “No way.” You came to see that teaching on that level was a great match for you. Why do you think some music teachers have that initial reaction?

A: Because it is a time of transition for kids. They are moving from little kids to adolescents. There is a certain amount of turbulence with that, unpredictability. Some teachers have difficulty dealing with that. I find it kind of funny, though. At one time I taught K–6 music, and I enjoyed that. When I moved to teaching older kids I was terrified until I realized that middle school kids do a lot of the same things toddlers do—banging on tables, tapping kids on the shoulder. I realized middle school kids are toddlers in bigger bodies. It is much easier to work with them when you remember children are still children.

Q: Do you believe middle school general music is necessary?

A: Middle school music is absolutely necessary. In many cases it is the last time students will be exposed to a wide variety of music, learn about music, and think about how music can a play a role in their lives beyond school. We already have the kids in band, the kids in chorus. We need to teach the rest of the kids that they can be musical for the rest of their life. It is also a way to keep boys singing as their voices change.

Q: What was your primary goal in writing this book? What group of music teachers are you trying to reach?

A: I want to share strategies that worked well for me, through trial and error, in the classroom. It is difficult to find material of this type and I believe it fills a gap. In middle school, teachers get busy with conducting ensembles and just working a very full schedule. This book will give them new ideas and ways to energize their music programs.

Q: You wrote this book around the National Standards for Music Education. Do you think most teachers use the Standards in preparing for their classes?

A: The Standards are really a unifying feature for music teachers, and they should be used. They are based on observable skills, and they urge teachers to teach skills like learning to compose and how to listen to, analyze and describe music. The Standards also give teachers a way to look at their programs seriously, check the balance and find any holes in their program that might need to be addressed.

Q: Any final thoughts for your colleagues in the profession?

A: Teaching is not an easy job and you may not be in the school that is perfect for you. Look to find solutions where you are. If you are patient, the school that’s the best fit for you is out there.

We all know teaching is a physically demanding job. Find ways to reenergize. Also, you might be the only music teacher in your school. Connect with other music teachers. MENC offer ways for music teachers to connect. Find out what other teachers are doing. Learn from their problems, from their successes.

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Roz Fehr, August 5, 2010 © MENC: The National Association for Music Education