Reflections on Creating a New Music Program – Mat Pechtel, Music/French Teacher

Thanks, Mat, for sharing the learning from your year!

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This year has been a whirlwind of activity and learning. I feel like this year has flown by, and I have had many challenges, successes and failures throughout the year. Having never taught purely music before, I didn’t really know what to expect coming into this year with the task of starting a music program. I went to a wonderful PD in August that was all about teaching elementary music, and that was a HUGE help, not just for the resources I received from it, but to get myself into the mindset of a musical educator, including gaining confidence in my singing abilities.

The beginning of the year was a little bit chaotic. The music room was occupied by 2 grade 5 classes as they waited for the portables to be completed, so I was traveling class to class with my computer and speakers, trying to sing songs with students and teach them musical concepts. Doing this in their usual classroom space was very challenging, especially for the students in grade 7, who had not had “music” class since they were in grade 4.

Once I moved into the music room, things started to feel like a real musical space. I left the space wide open, with no chairs unless they are needed, and have tried to create a welcoming environment where students are able to express themselves musically without judgement. The acoustics in the room are wonderful, and I am able to hear every voice in the room while we are singing. Having a dedicated musical space has also helped students with their musical learning, as they aren’t in their “usual” classroom, and are instead in a space filled with instruments, posters, and things that are all focused on one thing: Music.

After doing primarily singing and working with dynamics for the first few months of the school year, we were lucky enough to order a class set of Ukuleles for the music program, and a few weeks after returning from Christmas Break, we began to learn the Ukes. I chose Ukes for the playing portion of the instrument for a few reasons. Firstly, I play the Ukulele and had used it in the music room before to accompany songs we had sung. Secondly, I feel that recorders are overused in music classrooms and don’t really translate into future learning unless the student decides to join the school band and play a wind instrument. Ukuleles are easy to pick up and learn, inexpensive (many students have purchased their own and bring them to class), easy to maintain, and are something that students play outside of the classroom. Not to mention 30 ukuleles playing at the same time is much more tolerable than 30 recorders.

My biggest challenge this year was developing effective ways to assess student growth. Music is a very performance based subject, and I don’t think that paper and pencil tests on musical concepts is the best way to do it. I would rather students demonstrate for me their understanding of a concept through singing or playing, than be able to write down that they know that “forte” means loud. I began to record videos of every class singing various songs, and have used these as my assessments of each student. During class time try to listen to every student as they sing or play, and have the video as evidence for the future. Also it is a great way for the students to have instant feedback on their singing and playing, because we are able to watch and listen to what they have done seconds after they finish the song.
Assessing Ukuleles has been a little bit different, as they are starting from scratch in learning them. I would teach a few notes or a song to the students, give them time to practice and then they would come play for me when they felt they were ready. No “playing tests” or anything, just showing me what they were working on so I could track progress. I ensured that I saw every student at least once every 2-3 classes, and then could track their growth throughout the term. By the end of the Ukulele unit, I had students lined up waiting to play for me, some even multiple times per class, when they figured out a part of the song we were working on. They really surprised me and bought into the music program, taking ownership of their own learning in the musical environment.

Overall, this year I have taken chances, made mistakes, and grown in many different ways. This year has reinforced my love to teaching, and music, and I am looking forward to taking chances and growing the music program at Greystone over the years to come.

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