Lucia Schaefer here from the kodaimusic blog (https://kodaimusic.wordpress.com). It is such an honor to be invited to take sometime today to talk about Responsive Classroom on the MUSIK blog. Thank you for this great opportunity! In my last post on my blog I outlined the philosophy of Responsive Classroom (RC) as well as its foundational elements. (If you don't know anything about RC, you may want to jump over to my blog and read the summary before diving in to this post.) I admit that it is a lot of material but I truly believe there is a way to authentically integrate the RC model with the amazing music instruction we are all already doing in our rooms.
You may be thinking, “that’s all well and good but I have *insert absurdly short amount of time here* to get my students where my curriculum and State Standards say they should be. I cannot afford to spend any time on this!” I would respond to that by saying you don’t have time not to. In this post and those that will follow, I will walk you through how I have implemented RC in my room. My hope is that I will inspire you to consider using RC in your room. Let’s start with the four key domains of RC.
1. Engaging AcademicsAdults create learning tasks that are active, interactive, appropriately challenging, purposeful, and connected to students’ interests.
If you are an Orff person, you are probably already doing this in some form. Any activity where you take a concept (like quarter and eighth notes for example) and put it into practice via composition or improvisation is purposeful learning that is appropriately challenging. Can anyone say #rigor?! Admin never seems to come for my observation on those days but that’s a whooooole other post. If you are a Kodaly person like myself, you might struggle with integrating improvisation into your lessons (I know I do!). I would recommend taking Orff Levels to fill this gap when you have some time. I’ll write another post soon about my journey in merging my Kodaly training with my Orff training.
Another layer to this is Culturally Responsive Teaching. If we are taking into account the cultural backgrounds of our students and adjusting our instruction accordingly. Then we are connecting to our students. This does not mean we abandon everything about our curriculum of course. But I do encourage you to consider the inclusion of the musical backgrounds of your students a social justice issue. Social Justice in the music room is yet another topic for a separate post so I’ll leave it at that for now.
2. Positive CommunityAdults nurture a sense of belonging, significance, and emotional safety so that students feel comfortable taking risks and working with a variety of peers.
We are way ahead of our General Education peers on this one. Music is AMAZING at accomplishing this. Think about the circle games, singing in rounds, and playing instruments. Every activity in our room naturally creates a sense of belonging. In addition to this, wee encourage risk-taking in a safe environment through the careful scaffolding of improvisation and composition (again, go get those Orff Levels!). Finally, our students have to work with varied groups of students every day depending on the outcome of that lesson’s activity so all of these boxes are checked!
3. Effective ManagementAdults create a calm, orderly environment that promotes autonomy and allows students to focus on learning.
This one can be a little more difficult. While you may be thinking about behavior management, this domain has to do with the physical space of the music room. Music teachers have a lot of stuff. Like….ALOT. I have spent an uncountable amount of hours telling students to stop touching things in the music room. RC is adamant that anything out and/or in view is for student use. That means that the conga that can’t go anywhere else, the orff instruments that are not meant for the Kindergarten but you will use them in the next block and yes, even your guitar on the stand in the front of the room are fair game.
The simplest solution to avoid having these conflicts is to remove the object that is so tempting to touch. This is a true story; I had an upright bass in my room due to the string program at my school that didn’t have a cover. In every single class, every single day I had to tell students not touch it. Then one day I asked myself “what the **** am I doing??!” It has been said that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” I was definitely driving myself crazy with this bass in my room! I removed the bass and replaced it with the cellos that all had covers. Now that I don’t have to fight that battle anymore I am much happier and the kids are more focused.
When a student opens the bin with all the beat buddies, goes behind a curtain to find the shakers, or plays my guitar, I have to remind myself that it is not their problem that they want to touch with all the cool stuff in the music room. It is my job as the adult to take a critical look at my room and ask myself “how can I remove all distractions from learning?” Every few weeks or so I take stock of my room and make adjustments as needed. Now in my room everything is in a bin with a lid. Anything that is not in a bin with a lid is covered by some kind of sheet or curtain. All horizontal surfaces are clear of clutter and everything that can be is put out of sight in a cabinet or closet. This was a huge undertaking that required me take stock of all the materials I had. It’s almost winter break and I am still in purge-mode. As painful as it was to say goodbye to things I had been hanging on to for five years, it really has paid off in terms of my own emotional state in my room and I highly recommend giving it a try.
4. Developmental Awareness
Adults use knowledge of child development, along with observations of students, to create a developmentally appropriate learning environment.
This is another hard one. There are teachers out there who are able to manage and track data for every student they teach across the 5-7 years that they teach them. While I aspire to do this I am no such teacher. What I can do though is research what is developmentally appropriate for my students and do my best to assess them using the benchmark. This applies both to what I expect from them musically. and what I expect from them behaviorally.
There are two books that have had a huge impact on my teaching. The first is Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind. and the second is Yardsticks by Chip Wood. The first is an invaluable resource for educators who are working with high risk students. A few months ago I wrote a whole post about self-regulation and how poverty impacts brain development. That post was primarily based off of this book so jump back and check it out if you haven’t already. The second book gives a wonderful summary of each age-group emotionally, socially, and academically.
Combining the information of the two has helped me better understand what is reasonable to ask of each age group. Maybe that dance that should be appropriate for my third graders according to the curriculum really is too ambitious. Or perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect kindergarteners to be able to sit and listen to a song tale without any pictures to ground them. These are just a handful of the many realizations I have made this year about my instruction. As a result, I am a happier and more successful teacher, and my students are happier and more successful as well.
In my next post I’ll take a deep dive in to the classroom practices that facilitate the domains covered above. I hope this post has given you a good jumping off point when reflecting on whether RC has a place in your room. Come and visit at kodaimusic.wordpress.com to get more information on Responsive Classroom as well as other topics such as self-regulation, arts integration, and much more! Hope to see you all soon,