Overcoming Music Teaching Challenges: Useful Music Instructional Strategies

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Plan and Prepare

In the past, I have worked for school districts that have required me to travel either between buildings or even have assigned me to a cart for the entire school year. What does this mean? I did not have a permanent classroom to set up and store my lesson plans, music, instruments, etc. Therefore, I had to either carry everything with me which was impossible to do or I had to plan ahead for the next day. Sometimes I would be at three different elementary schools during the week and sometimes even two per day. I learned very fast how to get organized and plan my music instruction accordingly using various strategies I have learned along the way.

I knew I first had to come up with a system of organization for my lessons and activities. I did this by using binders to store my lesson plans and worksheets for the various units and content area. (refer to my other article Teacher Organization Tips-Storing Lesson Plans, Worksheets, and Activities for more information) This way here I could have them easily transported wherever I went and they would be ready to use. I would then check my schedule and plan out how I was going to adapt each lesson depending on the grade level to be taught. For example, one day I would be teaching a 3rd grade class, a Kindergarten class, then a 5th grade class and then I would have to travel to the next building. Being aware of my schedule ahead of time and having my plans set would be more time efficient and I could then begin to gather my materials specifically for those lessons instead of carrying them all at once.

Gathering Your Music Teaching Materials

The next step is to gather all of the materials you will need for the day (or for each class in my situation). If you are another type of specialized elementary classroom teacher, you may want to make a checklist of the music teaching tools and materials you use on a daily basis and always have them available as well as more lesson specific materials. Such items might include writing paper, construction paper, writing utensils, chalk/wipe-off markers, crayons/markers, glue, scissors, etc. This way you are prepared just in case you have class time leftover or want some flexibility in your music instruction.

The one “staple” I use while teaching Music on a cart is my CD player or laptop. I always have songs recorded so that if I don’t have access to live instruments, especially a piano or keyboard, I will have an accompaniment. A guitar is also a great Music resource that is relatively portable to use as an instrumental accompaniment when you are a traveling teacher. The other important supply on my cart is some small type of Music game. Whether it is Music Bingo, or it is a crossword worksheet or even a flashcard game, it is a great filler if you are waiting for a classroom teacher to return to their room or if your lesson ends short. I sometimes even bring my sticker box or treat bag for prizes and to reward great behavior and participation.

There are also smaller instruments that can be easy to transport that are very common to many music lesson ideas such as: maracas, egg shakers, rhythm sticks, jingle bells, triangles, finger cymbals, wood blocks and any other small percussive instruments. Orff instruments such as the xylophones, glockenspiels and even some kind of drums are more difficult to transport and you may want to ask a few students to help if necessary for a particular lesson.

As long as you have your plans organized, your music teaching tools by your side, and your materials set up, the battle is half over.

Adopting Classroom Rules and Classroom Management Skills

The next step you need to take as a traveling teacher is to somehow obtain good classroom control and management. I have found that students often times will take you more seriously and be more attentive if you teach within their comfort zone of their general classroom. Most times, the classroom teacher will have a set of rules established for both behavior and consequence and you can just adopt those rules to apply to your class as well. In addition, you can adopt any behavior management ideas or routines which will help you in accomplishing your teaching goals for each class.

For example, when I was teaching 4th grade Music on a cart, the 4th grade teachers all used a ticket system to reward positive behavior and participation. The students’ desks were arranged in groups of 4 and each group was to work together and to either complete a task or have excellent behavior and they would be able to put their names on a ticket to go into the class jar. At the end of the week the teacher would pull out a few tickets for students to win prizes or for that group to get extra free time, an extra snack at snack time, etc. I then adopted this system as well and I hardly ever had discipline problems.

Just because you are not in your comfort zone, does not mean that you cannot take complete charge of your students and your teaching environment. Their classroom becomes your classroom so to speak.

In order to be a successful traveling teacher all you need is a little extra preparation time, good organization skills, a few good music teaching tools by your side, and well…a keen sense of creativity and flexibility. Good luck!