Hey there! I’m Aoife. Also known as @littlemsfox on the gram, where I document my journey (sometimes sailing, sometimes battling) through the highs and lows of my first year of ‘real teaching’. A big part of the first year I think is finding your own niche as a teacher and learning what works for your personality and your class. Someone asked me recently to describe my teaching style in one word (yes… one of those questions) and a dozen adjectives flashed through my head before I landed on it.
Music has pretty much encompassed my entire life and has DEFINITLY shaped who I am. I started playing my first instrument at the age of 8 (the trusty tin whistle, of course) and had reached uirlis no. 4 by the time I decided to study the subject in college. Now believe me, I’m not a musician, or a performer, or ANYTHING close to it (MAJOR performance anxiety alert…story for another day!) buuut I can use it well enough to enrich my teaching, and here’s the thing…so can ANYONE, musical background or not. Fact.
I could go on all day about the benefits of music in the classroom (the list is endless) but let me start by breaking down how aon duine can use it to cultivate a positive atmosphere and approach to behaviour management.
So why bother? Because it’s FUN. Music naturally grabs and engages children of all ages. Find the right style and you can spin it for any class, young or old.
Take the time to suss out the interests of your kiddos. Ask yourself (or better yet, ask them) what are they into right now? Baby shark?! Roll with it!
Teacher: ‘Baby shark!’
Class: ‘Do do do do do do’
T: ‘Baby shark’
C: ‘Do do do do do do’
And so on and so forth.
This can be done with any song. Personally, I prefer using songs to the more traditional ‘call and response’ chants (eg. ‘One two three, eyes on me’) as I find the melodic aspect of them more upbeat and engaging. I’ll sing a few lines, or maybe a verse…which gives any distracted monkeys a chance to refocus!
Huge fan of rhythmic clapping right here…let’s face it, anything that saves the voice is a WINNER. Try clapping one rhythm first and maybe two or three after that (gradually getting more difficult) and vary the dynamics of the claps between loud and soft to keep all the attention focused.
Recently, I’ve started to jazz this up a bit more. We’ve been doing crotchets and quavers (beats/half beats, kit-tens/cat, cof-fee/tea, tee-tee/ta) so to test them I might say the rhythm, e.g. ‘tea tea cof-fee tea!’ and they will clap it back to me.
I’ll then pass the rhythm to someone who’ll call out a rhythm which everyone will clap back. So everyone is focused and ready. Boom.
Feel like spicing it up a bit more? Add in some body percussion. Every single class I have taught have gone wild for this. Every. Single. One. Throw in a few finger clicks, knee/chest slaps, foot stomps and you will have full concentration as they do their best to keep up!
Vary this in difficulty- A ‘We Will Rock You’ clap and leg stomp is great for little bodies, while a more complicated sequence will keep your olders engaged.
Everybody dance now!
Using dance as an attention-grabber kind of happened by accident for me one day when I was using mime mirrors, I was stretching my arms out in front and the class were following my movements and suddenly a silent Macarena happened. Not sure how, not sure why, but we’ve been boogying ever since!
There is endless potential for creativity with this one- why not try a variant of ‘pass the rhythm’ where someone has to invent a silent dance move…keeping errrrbody on their toes!
Is it just me, or do your class seem to listen more when you’re singing?? In a similar way to attention grabbers, sometimes I like to sing my directions or remind my kiddos of expectations through song. For example (tune of Frere Jacques) ‘whiteboard marker and eraser on the floor, sitting straight, eyes on the board, eyes on the board, ready to go, ready to go’
It has a bit more presence and oomph to it than simply giving out instructions and even if you need to sing it twice, the class will join in and you don’t really feel like you’re repeating yourself (as much!). I like to change up the songs I use as well to keep it fresh and interesting.
The expectations we set for voice levels in the classroom are SUPER important. It’s very unfair to tell a child to ‘sshhh’ or be quiet and not show them what dynamic level (see what I did there) you expect their voice to be at. Don’t get me wrong, I have definitely done this myself in the past and have learned the hard way that it does. not. work.
One way that I find does work wonders is by using actual music to set an expectation for voice levels. I find it beneficial for the children to hear how loud or quiet they are expected to be. I use Spotify for classroom playlists and the children know that whatever music is playing, it must be heard clearly by everyone in the room and so voices need to be lower than this. This takes practice, practice, practice at the start of the year but is SO worth it. It is also a great way to teach kids about dynamic markings so if we are doing writing, voice levels will be ‘piano’, but might extend to ‘mezzo forte’ during golden time!
Once the class are used to this, varied tempos could be added in. Slow, soft music for reading time, upbeat, lively music for Art and a little bit of moderato in between for Maths!
So there you have it- a good long ramble on my top tips for using music as a tool for classroom management! What I love about all these techniques is that in a one-stop-shop you are helping children to enhance their focus, rhythmic ability, creativity, musicality, collaboration aaaand meeting behaviour expectations.
All tied up in a nice neat bow. Not to mention the best part- having fun!