Issue 2: The First (Wider Opportunities) Class Lesson of the Year

Hints and tips for helping things go smoothly…

Every year, I remind myself of the Golden Rules, and every year, by about half-term, I wish I had remembered them and stuck to them. This year, I promise myself, will be different…

Ideally, you want to avoid situations where the children will find it difficult to maintain a high standard of good behaviour. The combination of a class of children and a large number of musical instruments is similar to a lion taming act at the circus; everything may well all go exactly as you intended, but it doesn’t take much to derail the plans, and then the change from order to chaos can be sudden and swift!

Here are some of the things that help a lesson to run smoothly:

If you are working with the class teacher, try and get some time together before the first session to talk over how the lessons will run.  You can then sort out how you can work together in the lessons.  It is easier if the school teacher can help with “crowd control”;  after all they know the children better than we do!  But they can also co-lead acitivities, and help the children with holding instruments correctly or using the right fingering.  If they have been involved in the lesson, they will feel more confident leading the mid-week support session.

It is massively easier to lighten up after you have established the ground rules, than to regain control after the event!  I always want to start off with Fun and Jollity and Having a Good Time.  However, I have learned over the years to be totally ruthless about Not Playing and Not Talking.  One very experienced reception teacher advised me to “Never smile before Christmas”:  I know she was being “tongue-in-cheek”, but there was a glint of steel in her expression as she said it!

The start of the lesson is crucial to how the rest of the lesson will go.  If you can have some kind of routine, and set the expectations for behaviour right at the beginning, then things should go more smoothly.  Ideally the children should know exactly how they are expected to enter the lesson space and where they are to go, so that they are ready to begin without fussing.  This isn’t always easy to achieve and, believe me, bitter experience has shown how important the first five minutes are!

It is important to keep the lesson running smoothly; if the CD player doesn’t work, or the interactive whiteboard suddenly goes fuzzy, you will lose the class if you spend too long trying to fix it.  Switch to another activity; a rhythm game, or a bit of “listen and copy” can always usefully fill in a few minutes while someone else wrestles with the technology.

Name badges are great!  Try and get them organised early on, in advance if possible.  You need the children’s names to be written or printed in big, bold, clear letters.  At several schools, I discovered that the names had been hand-written in a beautiful italic or fine copper-plate script which is impossible to read except when you are nose-to-nose with the child.  I didn’t have the heart to say anything, so the badges were pretty useless for those classes.

Once you have managed to get the badges made, the next thing is to make sure that the children do wear them every week.  It is so much easier, and so much more effective, to call out a child’s name (to praise them, let them answer a question, or ask them to stop doing whatever it is they are doing!) than to point!

Make sure that you don’t spend too long sitting down; move on to another activity before the children get uncomfortable and fidgety.

To quieten a class, try doing a “listen and copy” activity such as clapping a rhythm.  Once all the children are copying you, make the sound of your clapping quieter and quieter, for example, tapping your fingers together, or clapping without letting your hands touch, until everyone is quiet enough to hear the next instruction.  Raising your voice tends to just add energy into a situation rather than calm things down.

All suggestions for helping lessons run smoothly welcome!


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