Teacher Skills and Learners
The teacher that I observed for this project is quite competent. I appreciate many of the things that she does in her classroom. As far as musical skills are concerned, this teacher is very comfortable using vocal model and her singing voice. In each opportunity that I had to observer her, she used her voice as both an instructional tool and as a model for her student to emulate. Her piano skills are not utilized very often. On 10/21 she accompanied them on piano and the students did not sing to her standards. Perhaps her self-proclaimed deficiencies on piano are the reason for the limited use of piano accompaniment or perhaps it is the nature of the class and position of the piano. When she accompanied them, they didn’t sing as loudly or as well. She is very competent in detecting and addressing musical errors.
The pacing of her lessons is pretty much on track. She is flexible enough to react to what the students are doing. For example on 11/18 she noticed how energetic the class was and immediately reacted to begin the lesson with a movement activity that they enjoyed. While there was no content here that I could see, it was a testament to her flexibility. Generally, the pacing of the lessons is good but sometimes the transitions are abrupt and the parts of the lesson don’t always seem to correlate. Although I did not get to observe the class for five consecutive classes, from what I saw, there was adequate repetition and reinforcement of concepts; I saw two different lessons that worked with melodic direction and contour using same and different.
This teacher’s presentation is strong. She always projects energy, confidence and a strong sense of authority. She never comes across as mean but she is always in control and the students respond to that authoritative demeanor. She is quite good at discipline and classroom management although sometimes I feel that there are extra measures she could take to ensure better classroom attentiveness. Often times she has the students sitting for long periods of time. Not only have they just come from lunch but their attention spans are not long enough to have that long of instruction be effective. I think that if she planned a few more movement-based learning activities that some classroom management issues would be solved. Usually, I feel that she is very prepared. Although sometimes her lesson plans seem sort of hodge-podge. However, I believe that that is more due to the reality of her time and the necessities of preparing for a program than it is a reflection on her ability to plan effectively.
In regard to the students, they are very responsive to her instructions and are often very excited for classroom activities. I feel that the climate in the room is one of fun, which motivates the students to want to learn. They are doing well and improving in matching pitch (assessed in the opening activity) and are growing in their knowledge of melodic direction/contour as well as tempo. Overall, the students are learning concepts, improving skills and behaving in a way that is conducive to engaging learning experiences.
II. Lesson Process and Instructional Effectiveness
The lesson process and overall instructional effectiveness is not as strong as the skills of teaching but I think most of that is due to the reality of teaching in a program that is expected to put on a Christmas program and to meet a certain level of performance. She uses some great strategies though. On my first observation, 9/24, she used word associations with her fourth graders to teach them rhythms (as a counting system). However, I also don’t feel that a lot of her instruction is sound before sight or at least I wish that would experience it more before the notation is introduced. In that same observation they were to play rhythms on instruments but they were simply reading off the board. I had trouble knowing what purpose this was serving except perhaps to improve reading.
For the most part her lessons have obvious objectives, although, sometimes I have trouble recognizing the content in a particular activity. I love that she has them move when they are really energetic but rarely does she incorporate any content into that activity. I hesitate to be too critical though because this is another situation in which reality (classroom management) is dictating her lesson activities. I feel that they review a sufficient amount without over-doing their attention spans. I would be able to comment better if these observations were all consecutive but my impression is that the students are retaining concepts.
The learners really enjoy this class. They are all very engaged and participate fully in classroom activities. They are provided many opportunities to participate in class and they interact when given the opportunity. Even something as simple as the opening activity provides opportunities for interactions in music class. In the opening activity, the students are asked to respond in their singing voice when their name is intoned. Some attempt to echo the intonation but others improvise and she allows this. The opening activity doubles as a great assessment tool for pitch matching and the development of the singing voice.
The instruction I observed through these observations was pretty effective overall. The teacher does a great job of providing positive reinforcement although I am not sure that I heard her offer a lot of feedback that was constructive. Again we have a reality problem. Unfortunately, the reality of her situation is that most of the feedback she is able to give is disciplinary or positive reinforcement of good behaviors. It would be ideal to have the time to provide constructive feedback based on more than behavior but this is a constraint of reality.
The students are being provided with a variety of musical experiences in this classroom. For example, on 10/7, the teacher utilized movement, singing, playing, notating and reading as experiences for the learning of music. However, if I look at all of the observations, singing is most often used as the pathway to music. Moving is utilized a lot but often there is no content associated and it is for more management reasons than anything else. The students are getting opportunities for varied experiences but the balance still tips in the traditional way of singing being the main medium of instruction.
Overall, I think that the teaching that I observed is excellent. While there are many things that I as an outsider can comment on as “not ideal”, she does a wonderful job considering the realistic implications of her job. I think that this classroom is a good example of how to incorporate what we learn in college. Unfortunately, we probably will not be able to create an ideal curriculum. We will probably have to devote several classes to performance prep (like the teacher I observed) but it is a balancing act between what the reality requires and what the students need.