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!


  1. I have used centers in my classroom and it's honestly one of my favorite times of the month! Though I have never thought of making a teacher center. I'll have to experiment with that some time.

  2. I've wanted to use centers with my 4th graders(I see some of them for one hour a week, and those who do not play a string instrument I see for 2 one hour blocks per week).
    Do you teach how to complete each center, or do the small groups just read the directions on their own?
    Thanks for sharing your passion!

  3. I love your blog! I also teach Recorder Karate and I am SO SO stuck on how to provide for small group practice time without overwhelming the room with cacophony! Do you have any suggestions or successes with this? I love your centers idea, but do kids only have one center where they can practice their song?