Teaching Strategies for More Inclusive Practices for Strings Students

Teaching Strategies for More Inclusive Practices for
Strings Students

Insights into Teaching Strings while Embracing Diversity


By NAfME member Margot Mezvinsky 

This article will also appear in the August 2018 issue of Teaching Music magazine.


Teachers need to be sensitive to a student’s background, culture, language, and traditions. When we embrace diversity, the classroom becomes a safe haven and a stimulating environment for learning. Here are some tips that have helped me in my work in the 10th-largest school district in the United States: Fairfax County, Virginia. We serve a diverse student population of more than 188,000 students. Some 54,000 students receive classes for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

When students first enter the classroom, create an inviting environment for everyone. Stand at the door and greet them in several different languages—e.g., “Hello, Hola, Bonjour, Shalom!” Try to learn “Hello” or “Welcome” in as many languages as possible. Your best resource is the class: There may be a Vietnamese student, a Turkish student, or an Iranian student who would be pleased to be asked to teach the class how to greet someone in his or her home language.


Multi-Language Lesson Plan

Post parts of the lesson plan on the board in a different language. Talk to your school’s ESOL teachers, use Google Translate, and ask students to help with translations. In the beginning, students may be hesitant to share with the class. They often feel that they will be viewed as “different” from their peers. After the teacher praises a student, it soon becomes easier for them to express themselves in their native language. Once they see that you will be asking them regularly how to say something in their language, students will expect your class to be multilingual. Since Italian is the universal language for the Western music world, many students may be able to see how their own language is similar.

“When we embrace diversity, the classroom becomes a safe haven and a stimulating environment for learning.” – Margot Mezvinsky. Photo: Bryan Ranharter

A simple multilingual lesson segment is available for download as a PDF. Post this on the board, or place the information up using a projector, and then engage your class.


A Multicultural Approach

Another strategy is to personalize the titles of pieces using students’ names. “Mary Had a Little Lamb” could become, for example, “Akram Had a Little Lamb,” “Mariela Had a Little Lamb,” “Mohammed Had a Little Lamb,” “Margarita Had a Little Lamb,” and so forth.

You can also change the words in pieces to include foods or other items from different cultures. For example, “Hot Cross Buns” could instead be “Hot Tamales,” “Hot Pot Stickers,” “Hot Kabobs,” “Hot Wontons,” etc.


International Night

Get involved with your school’s international night, or start one at your school. Teachers can audition students to perform something from their home countries. Students might sing, dance, play an instrument, or perform something unique to their native land. Organize a buffet of international foods in the cafeteria made by students’ families and others in the neighborhood. A small group of orchestra students can perform in the hallway as people are entering and exiting.

A large ensemble or a small group of students could learn a piece of music from one of the community’s ethnic groups to be featured on the program. Students could dress in the traditional costumes of their homelands or in clothing their ancestors might have worn. Decorate the stage and cafeteria with flags from all of the countries represented. Invite members of the community to share in this international event!


Share Stories

Since all of us in the United States have different backgrounds, discuss your own roots with your classes. Students may be surprised that your family is made up of several different nationalities. Give your students an assignment of talking to their parents about their roots and asking whether anyone in the family played an instrument. What are the musical instruments native to their country? What are the musical traditions in their culture? I have many students who are proud to say their families came from Bolivia, Jordan, or El Salvador.

By sharing your own roots and having the students talk about their backgrounds, it becomes clear that we are all from different places and are now happy to be living where we are. Whatever brought us all here, we need to celebrate the fact that our country is filled with great diversity. Have your students take home the Family Background worksheet, which is available as a downloadable PDF. Have them complete it, and then ask them to share their responses over several days in class.



YouTube clips can help show our students how music is being performed around the world. The young musicians and teachers shown are good models for students to emulate. After gathering information about your students’ backgrounds, show them YouTube videos of other states and countries. There are many orchestras that are playing the same repertoire as your school, and there are American schools with diverse populations. There are youth orchestras all over the United States and in places such as Venezuela, Panama, and Afghanistan. Watch some of these videos as a class, and then discuss what you see. Students are often thrilled to see young people like them playing an instrument. From this, students get ideas on how to improve on their instruments and observe that, in the music world, we are a people of every race and religion.



Multicultural Concerts

In your winter and spring concerts, play pieces of music that originated in your students’ countries of origin. There is plenty of American and European music, but search out music from other continents such as Central America or Africa. Method books are now taking into account that our classrooms are made up of people of many different cultures. Students are interested in all styles of music. The downloadable PDF includes a list of examples from different areas and cultures.


Include All of Your Students

Perhaps some of these ideas will be a catalyst for you to think of other ways to enrich our changing school population all around the United States. Our schools’ ESOL students bring an exciting dynamic to our classrooms. Their input can enhance the learning experience for us all. Moreover, by embracing diversity in the classroom, you are teaching a lesson of tolerance. Students can come to appreciate more fully other cultures, religions, languages, and ethnic backgrounds. By making these changes to your teaching, you can make your classes more inclusive.


About the author:

Photo courtesy of Margot Mezvinsky

Margot Mezvinsky teaches strings at Braddock Elementary and Greenbriar East Elementary Schools in Fairfax County, Virginia. A NAfME member, she can be contacted at margotmezvinsky@gmail.com.


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