2011 MTNA Conference – Tuesday Morning: My Students Aren’t Listening! Is It Me or Them?

Four young ladies from the MTNA Collegiate Chapter at the University of South Carolina presented this engaging session. They began with a simple, but lively rhythm activity that involved all the attendees.

Michelle Wachter, Abigail, Birling Wylie, Anna Hamilton, and Sarah Evans, advised by Dr. Charles Fugo, comprised the presenters. Michelle began with a brief history and overview of educational psychology. Educational theorists discussed included: Edwin Gordon, Emile Jacques-Dalcroze, Jean Piaget, David Elkind, Robert M. Gagne, and Jerome Bruner.

The next portion of the session, Potential Distractions, was presented by Abigail. She invited us to think of something that has happened in our lesson that caused a disruption in the flow. Then she asked us to turn and share our story with the person next to us. The best approach to avoiding disruptions is to be preemptive. She recommends:

  • Establish a routine.
  • Create a musical environment.
  • Begin with an easy musical activity.

An activity prior to pulling out the book helps focus the student and prepare them for the work that they’ll be doing throughout the lesson. Despite our best intentions, outside distractions often detract from the focus of the lesson. To deal with outside distractions:

  • Reassess pacing – consider whether you are moving too slowly or too quickly from activity to activity.
  • Redirect with a smaller and more clear objective.
  • Share lesson plan and order.

Abigail shared that often excitement in the moment can cause us to tune out important information. She gave illustrations of students who might stop in the middle of a piece to ask a question about the pedals, or to look more intently inside the piano.

Sometimes students ask to play other pieces:

  • Evaluate level of engagement.
  • Reassess pacing.
  • Create a musical environment for every piece – they want it to sound musical.

If a student asks when the lesson is over:

  • Reassess pacing.
  • Share the lesson plan and order (this is what most students are accustomed to in their school classrooms).
  • Be mindful of outside distractions.

Ideas for ending the lesson:

  • Make the ending clear.
  • End in a musical way.
  • Encourage students to tell parents about the lesson.

Abigail makes the new concept of the lesson a really big deal so that the student is clear about what they learned that day and can relay it to their parents if asked.

Anna showed a video clip to illustrate how she uses an opening activity each week to begin the lesson. She also uses a similar activity to end each lesson. Another video clip showed a young student and Anna waving scarves while doing an imitative singing exercise to introduce the student to stepwise melodic patterns. Then they went to the piano and played some of the little exercises on the piano.

The next clip was of a young 6-year old who was doing an improvisation activity to end her lesson. After a few measures, the student stopped playing. Anna encouraged her to continue but she refused. After demonstrating an idea and reminding her that she used to make music just fine. The student indicated that she was nervous, so Anna let her play at a separate piano and then she was willing to continue. Now seven, the student has continued composing and improvising and has even had some great opportunities with other musicians.

Anna showed several other clips working with students and dealing with distractions in the lesson. She said that it’s most effective when working with young children to focus on just one thing at a time. One of the greatest advantages that we have today is the ability to create resources to use with our own students.

Anna illustrated this by having a volunteer from the audience join her at the piano for a song she wrote to introduce loud and soft, forte and piano to students.

The session concluded with a list of available resources on the market for young children and time for a few questions from the audience.

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