Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Structuring A Centers-Based Approach for Recorder

This year my goal for the school year was to begin implementing more of a centers-based approach to my instruction, but I knew that I would be too overwhelmed to do it with all grades, so I decided to focus on my 4th graders to help them with their recorder.

The reason for starting there was that I felt I never had enough time to do it all! Ain't that the truth...Never enough time to do recorder and doing whole group instruction, test for recorder (I do Recorder Karate), and teach new concepts (time signatures, key signatures, and other music vocabulary.) To design lessons that were whole group instruction for each would be ridiculous and I didn't have time for that! Then I started wondering, does it all have to be whole group instruction with me in the front delivering lessons all the time...? Of COURSE not! There are so many wonderful activities, technology, etc that can teach the material for you and kids can learn a new concept independently! So last year I came up with this plan or how I would structure lessons and I love how it's going so far!

***Something to keep in mind.... I see the same group of kids every other day for 30 minutes.***

Lesson 1: Teach Day--This is where I give whole class instruction to teach certain skills, new terms and symbols, play through songs together as a class, split into groups for additional group practice times, etc.

Lesson 2-4: Centers Rotations (3 days, 2 centers/day, approx 10-12 minutes at each center) The centers I use are as follows...

  • SmartBoard Center
  • Pitch Name Center
  • iPad Center
  • Rhythm Center
  • Group Practice Center
  • Teacher Center

*NOTE: Each center would switch out and change each time we'd do a new round of centers. I have blog posts that share ones I've been creating.  Also note that kids are split according to what belt they are currently working on

**The Teacher Center was where I could give more individualized instruction for kids. It was a help time if they needed it, but if they did not need my help, I used it as additional testing time for those kids who cruised!

Lesson 5: Testing Day--This is when I would have kids do group practice for the day and I would go from group to group to hear kids play songs and pass to the next level (if they were ready). If students were not ready, then they used the day as practice.

What I found to be crucial to success was to have expectations VERY clear from the beginning, laying out what they need to accomplish at each center (some centers would sometimes require kids to turn in something-so that held them accountable). Clear directions for each center are also very important.

The students are thriving in this structure! I found kids are motivated to do the activities at the center (it honestly feels like "free time" for them) and they are excited to come to ME for help and instruction. And they are satisfied that if they are not ready to test yet, they know what they need to do to prepare and work towards testing day! Students advance rapidly when I am able to give them more individual instruction (almost like private lessons), plus being able to give them the time to work on skills and to test if they are ready is a bonus.

As a side note...

When beginning recorder I found this quote that has been driving their practice time and our whole approach to recorder...I mean how many of these little guys think that when they pick up the recorder they are going to be like Mozart and be an immediate virtuoso?! Then reality sinks in and oh my goodness...this was a lot harder than I originally thought. So kids now have this quote in the back of their minds driving them through those hard times.

"In this room we don't do easy. We make easy happen through hard work and learning."
      -- found on venspired.com by Krissy Venosdale

So when kids struggle and they say things like "This is too hard!" I affirm them and say, "YES! It is! But with your hard work, you are making easy happen!"  It's fun to start looking back to the beginning and remind the kids, remember how hard it was to hold the recorder at first?! Is it easier now? YES! Because you did the hard work! I love it! It's teaching them what you need to do to be successful on an instrument. Practice! Practice! Practice!

Bottle Cap Rhythms

I'm in center creation mode! My 4th graders are in the midst of Recorder Karate for the remainder of the school year and I am approaching how they learn recorder through a centers-based classroom. It is my hope to one day begin implementing the same approach with other grade levels when learning about a certain concept that they have time to work in centers to independently learn said concept.

SO-I am a Pinterest freak! I love finding new ideas and using them or modifying for my use in my classroom. I found a picture of Bottle Cap Rhythms on Pinterest, but it only linked to a picture. So, to whomever thought of this, THANK YOU! I am excited for my students to use them as part of their centers this week!

How to make:

1.  Bottle Caps:
Where did you get all those bottle caps?

  • I sent an email out to the staff here at school requesting that any bottle cap that they use that they would send them my way.
  • I slowly collected them for a month, and I have MORE than enough. I'm going to save extras for other possible centers ideas with pitch names or music symbols, etc.

2. Labels:

  • I used the typical Garage Sale dot stickers from Office Depot to write the rhythms, time signatures, and bar lines on.
  • They fit PERFECTLY onto water and pop/soda caps.

3.  Storage:

  • I used your typical pencil box to store all the bottle caps and directions in. I used a half sheet to print directions and notation values onto.

How To Play

It's pretty straight forward, I created some directions for kids with the backside showing the notes they can use and their values.


1.  Choose a Time Signature and place in front.
2.  Create rhythms using the bottle caps as notation.
3.  Use Bar Lines to separate measures.
4.  Use the Double Bar Line to finish your rhythm.
5.  Make sure that each Measure (space between the bar lines) has the correct number of beats that matches your time signature.
6.  Clap and Say your rhythm.
7.  Play again!

*I will be adding a step for recorder where kids choose a pitch and play the rhythm on the their recorder.

Notation side of directions with the values to assist kids in accurately grouping notes into measures.

Example of a created rhythm for students to clap and say/play.