Image Map

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Teacher Tuesday: music lessons for testing season

Testing season is just around the corner at my school, and I know many others are in the thick of it as we speak! Testing season is hard. It's hard on the kids, first and foremost, but it's hard on the teachers too. Often times music teachers deal with modified schedules, weeks of missed classes, mandates to have quieter classes, and other constraints on our teaching. Not to mention dealing with kids who are just out of sorts and plain old cranky.

The most important component of successfully teaching music during testing season for me is reading the mood of the class when they show up at my door. Some classes show up antsy from hours of pent-up energy. Others show up completely drained. Some are frustrated or even in tears because of a difficult test. Others, honestly, show up completely "normal". I try to have a few options prepared for the beginning of class so that, depending on the overall mood of the class, I can respond appropriately to draw students in (and hopefully improve their moods in the process!).

For the class that is drained:

I try to have some calm music ready for a class that shows up exhausted. These kids need time to regroup and recharge without being asked to think or do anything that requires their energy. Usually I will announce SQUILT to start (Super Quiet Un-Interrupted Listening Time), and if I think the group can handle it I usually let them choose to either stay in their seats or spread out on the floor. Any slow, peaceful piece will work for this- classical or new age instrumental styles are perfect. Try Bach's Air on the G string:

After a few minutes of SQUILT, I have them move with the music. For the Bach example above, I had them mirror me as I showed the melodic contour with my arms, then had them make up their own movements when the melody repeated. For this type of activity, having them all mirror the teacher first helps give them some ideas of what they could do. Have them all face the same way so nobody is looking at each other. Closing their eyes in another option but it can throw some kids off when they can't see. (Pssst, the great thing about the video above is that it shows the melodic contour along with the sheet music, so I like to show the video after the movement activity and have a short discussion at the end!)

For the class that is antsy:

I keep a playlist on iTunes full of a wide variety of music specifically for this purpose. I have the students spread out and then I tell them to move in ways that match the music- the most creative and appropriate (matching the music) dancer wins! Then I start playing something from the list, and I change the song every 20-30 seconds. I have everything from The Nutcracker to dubstep, the theme from Jaws, and Native American flute music. It's great because it helps get out some of that pent-up energy while getting them to use their creative thinking skills (the complete opposite of what their brains were probably doing during the test!).

If the class is engaged enough to feel comfortable dancing in smaller groups, it's even more fun to split the class in half like a dance battle! Every time the music switches, one side starts dancing and the other side sits down. Make sure you don't have too many self-conscious kids if you do it that way though!

For the class that is frustrated:

If the students are in a bad mood, it's time to get their minds off of the test and onto something FUN! Try rhythm chairs. Have the class stand in 2 lines (to make 2 teams), with 4 chairs in a row at the front of each line. Tell the class that a chair is a beat and a person is a note, then write a 4-beat pattern on the board. The teams race to get the correct number of people in each chair. So if you have ta-ta-titi-ta (1,2,3&4), they should have 2 people in the third chair and 3 people in each of the other chairs. Try throwing a whole note up there and see how long it takes them to figure out that someone needs to lie down across all the chairs! Or put it in 3/4 (you'll want to make the time signature clear) and let them figure out that they need to remove a chair (or else it looks like a rest beat). So much fun and it's a great way to get in some more rhythm practice too! Because it is a team activity, it's a great way to get everyone to experience success. If you're worried about students being on the losing team and getting discouraged, just have one team and make it race against the clock!

Those are some examples of things that have worked well for me, but the main idea is to be sensitive and responsive to the mood of the class. Of course as teachers we always try to do that to a certain extent, but I think it is infinitely more important during testing season! If you have other ideas that have worked well for you, I'd love to hear them in the comments!


  1. Hi! I nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award! Check out the post here: ~Molly

    1. Wow Molly, thanks so much! I'm honored. I'll be on the lookout for some more great blogs to nominate so I can pass the favor along... Thanks again for the shout-out! :)

  2. Great suggestions! I know tat I will be reading this post again and again in just about two months:)

    Te testing season is so difficult on both students and teachers. Fatigue and exhaustion are real issues around that time. Planning for that time wisely makes such a big difference in your music program.

    Thank you for sharing your ideas,

    1. Our testing season has started quite early this year because the students are taking two different standardized tests (each of which are to be taken 3 times a year) this year! There will be some group of students testing for all but two weeks every day between February and May!!! It really is exhausting for everyone.