Responsive Classroom is an approach to elementary education that leads to greater teacher effectiveness, higher student achievement, and improved school climate. Inspired by elementary classroom teachers, the RC (Responsive Classroom) approach recognizes that knowing our children developmentally and culturally is an essential part of teaching. RC creates an equal balance of social and academic curricula and employs this balance with students through an explorative and process-driven approach similar to what general music teachers employ in their own classrooms. RC and music education have many similarities and these sessions encourage teachers to both recognize these similarities and consider new ways to connect their classroom with the greater school community.
Responsive Classroom in the Music Room: A Beginning of the Year Primer
by Matthew Stensrud
Over the past few years, I’ve fielded many queries from new and returning teachers, all sharing stories that their school is moving toward Responsive Classroom school wide and wondering what that means for the music room. The short answer = it means great things! But, there’s a little more to it than that. So let’s take a quick trip through some tips for implementing some ideas of Responsive Classroom into your music room and, more specifically, what that means during the first six weeks of school.
Your students deserve an open and welcoming space to play, share, create and learn. When setting up your classroom, flow is essential and usage is key.
Flow: Are instruments accessible? Is there a clear space for gathering? Will your procedures for going to the xylophones, passing out pencils, or lining up be successful in your current space setup? Do you really need that large wardrobe when students could use that space for learning? Are you maximizing floor space and minimizing distractions? Have you gotten rid of all the chairs (your answer better be yes)? These are important questions to reflect on when creating your space.
Usage: Each item in the classroom must have a purpose. Haven’t used something in over a year? Probably time for it to go. Never referenced that poster? Replace it with something student created. Books behind your desk collecting dust? Time to declutter your space. Make sure your classroom is dedicated to your students and their success – each item is for them. If it isn’t, think about tossing it.
Managing flow and usage minimizing student distractions, allows more opportunities for students to help craft the decor, and is more welcoming for students.
The first six weeks of school is all about procedure. Within your lessons, whether it be body percussion, a singing game, a movement activity, or an instrument piece, spend the first six weeks building in additional time for procedures.
Here are some questions to consider: How do students enter the room? How do they get the hand drums? How do they sit at the xylophones? How do they move from the whiteboard to the circle? How do they pass out pencils for a written activity? How do they line up at the end of class and what do they do when in line?
Have answers to all of these questions. Model the answers. Ask students to notice what you modeled. Ask students why your modeling was important. Have a few students try it. Then have the whole class try it. Then repeat. And repeat.
Perhaps the expectation is for students to move from a circle to the whiteboard when they hear the chime. Model the procedure. “What did you notice my body do when I played the chime?” “Why did I walk instead of run?” Ask a few volunteers to practice. “What did you notice them do when I played the chime?” “Why did they move silently?” Then have the whole class practice. And then practice it again. The next class period, a few students forget. “What did you notice most of us do when I played the chime?” Then practice again. Repeat the practice until success, each time. “I noticed most of us remembered that the chime means to move to the whiteboard. Let’s try it again so all of us can be successful. Listen for the chime.”
In Responsive Classroom, this is called Interactive Modeling. Different from regular modeling, the teacher does not tell students what to do. The teacher demonstrates, then asks students what they noticed. Immediately, students understand why the procedure is important to class success. Then, a few students try it out. Students watch carefully to see if these students follow the teacher’s modeling. Then, the whole class gives it a try.
Students taking ownership in the classroom is known to increase productivity and decrease misbehavior. At the beginning of the school year, think about your hopes and dreams. Then think about what your students’ hopes and dreams might be for music. Spend some time finding out what these hopes and dreams are.
Maybe students share them aloud. Maybe they write them down. Maybe they draw pictures of what they hope to do. In my classroom, each class shares via words and pictures and the final product is a class collage. The collage finds its place on the wall of my classroom and there is stays for the rest of the year. Occasionally, we reference our hopes and dreams, checking in on our goals. Sometimes, I even create new lessons to meet my students’ hopes for the year. Imagine the look on a student’s face when their dream comes true in the classroom. They feel valued and respected – because they are.
Want more information? Check out the new book Responsive Classroom for Music, Art, PE and Other Special Areas. I was fortunate enough to contribute to the book and highly recommend it as you get acquainted with Responsive Classroom in the music room!