A school district in the area where I live is planning to change from a traditional 5th grade pull- out beginner program to a 6th grade beginner start. A friend shared that the band teachers in this neighboring district are very upset and are resisting the change.
This got me thinking. What is the resistance? Do they not like the plan? Do they not like change? Are they afraid of losing teaching positions? I am sure each has their own reasons for wishing to stay with a 5th grade start but it led me to think of student success or failure in the traditional schedule.
I should preface the rest of this post by saying that I have taught traditional 5th grade pull-out beginners and with a daily 6th grade start and I overwhelmingly support a 6th grade start if it is done correctly. I will never be convinced that seeing a 5th grader two times (60 min per week) each week in small groups is better practice than seeing a 6th grader every day (205 minutes per week) in large homogeneous or instrument-family classes. I am strongly bias in support of a daily beginner band class with like instruments.
A primary reason for my support is the higher rate of retention and consistent student success we are able to achieve with daily instruction. The traditional beginner schedule does work for some students. When a student is on their own to practice and learn 5 out of 7 days they can be successful. But how?
What kind of student is usually successful in a traditional beginner two pullouts per week program?
The child who...
has a place to practice at home.
is encouraged to practice at home-even required to by parents.
has a home routine that supports homework and practice with designated work times.
is provided private lessons.
has a parent who provides supplies and materials.
has a parent who reminds them to bring their instrument to school or may even bring it to school if forgotten.
The successful child...
has a parent who values music education and understands the time and energy it takes to become a skilled musician.
has good school attendance and is present on the days there are band lessons.
is asked to play for family members and friends at home to show the skills they are developing. has a parent who attends performances and helps their child be there on time and ready to go.
So what is the picture of an unsuccessful child in a traditional beginner program?
The unsuccessful child...
does not have a place to practice.
is not encouraged or not allowed to practice at home. They may live in an apartment. They may have a parent who works a night shift.
has no homework or practice routine at home. They may have to watch younger siblings. They may have to prepare dinner or do other household tasks.
does not have private lessons.
does not have the correct supplies and materials.
has a parent who doesn't value music education or band.
misses school and misses band lesson days.
has a parent who doesn't attend concerts and does not help the child attend.
These roadblocks to at-home practice and preparation keep students from developing basic skills for success. And so these children drop band after their first year. These children need music. These children need band in their lives. When a student does not practice at home it does not always mean that they do not care or do not love music. There are things going on in student's lives and living environments which we know nothing about. Students who have little to no support at home deserve the opportunity to be as successful as a students in a supported environment.
It is clear that when students do the majority of their playing and learning at home, success often hinges upon the amount of support the child receives. There are exceptions, of course, but it would not be a stretch to guess that many band directors grew up in an environment with several of the "successful student" characteristics. When this is the case, we often impose our version of reality on our students. We see their experience based upon our own experience. We determine a system, schedule, policies and learning environment based on our own middle class privilege. Two years ago I had no idea what white or middle class privilege was. Now, the more I examine many of our teaching practices and norms I find it everywhere.
It is challenging to learn to play an instrument but the difficulty should not be because of a student's home environment. Please take time to reflect. Is a child's socio-economic status or living condition preventing them from reaching success in your program? I just ask that we all take a look and do what we can to remove those roadblocks for our students.
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