Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Teaching a New Song - Preparing the Teaching Plan

I hope you understand that this sounds more complicated than it is in practice, especially after doing it a few times. Once I really learned how to do this, teaching new songs became a breeze! Honestly! I know it sounds complicated though. Brace yourselves, this is a LONG post.

When I sit down to prepare to teach a new song, I get my songbook, notebook paper, a pencil and the list of questions I posted earlier. These questions help guide me through a study of both the words and the music of the song. I take notes as I study the song and write down the ideas that come to me. With knowledge that I gain from the study, and having learned the song myself, I create a plan to teach it to the children.

I first plan an attention getter. It might be an object or a picture or a question suggested by the words, message, or the setting in the song. I might use a puppet, a costume or simply ask the children to close their eyes to listen to some part of the music. Whatever I choose must be short and lead right into the song. I also try to make sure that whatever I do relates directly to the message of the song or there is a risk of it being more a distraction than a help. Attention getters are important because, without their attention, children tend to just let our teaching wash over them. We need to help them accept their role in learning and the first step is to engage their attention. If a student is interested and willing to participate, it is much easier to teach them.

I next write discovery questions that will help the children listen to the song in order to answer the question. We’ve been taught repeatedly that “children learn a song by hearing and singing it over and over again.” (2010 Outline for Sharing Time, “How to Teach a Song,” pg. 27) So, in my mind the value of discovery questions is that children listen to the song, or parts of the song, several times in the course of discovering answers to the questions. Other activities can accomplish the same purpose as questions. I just give the children the opportunity to hear the song several times. As I write the questions, I try to phrase them so that the children have to listen closely to the song to find the right answer and cannot just give a standard answer. Sometimes I challenge the children to sing the answer back to me. I try to write a question or plan a listening experience for each of the most interesting things I discovered about the song in my study. I usually end up with several questions about the words and melody and a few ideas for experiences with interesting rhythms, musical elements or dynamics in the song. When I have diligently studied both the words and the music I end up with a lot to choose from, particularly for the songs that seem hard to teach.This means that I have more material to use on subsequent weeks as we sing and review the song.

After I have planned the listening experiences, I ask myself how I might further involve the children. I try to think of activities that allow the children to hear and interact with the song. Rhythm activities, moving with the melody, rearranging pictures or even themselves, using puppets or costumes, all get the children actively involved with the song. I try to use methods that allow all the children to participate together. Each time I prepare I challenge myself to remember the youngest kids. It is so easy to overlook them. They don’t read; they often need to be told something more than once, and they need to move! I find it much easier to prepare for two groups, but my primary is currently combined, so I need to find appealing activities that can be appreciated by both the older and the younger children. This is a challenge and I’m afraid that I don’t always meet it.

Essentially, my teaching plan almost always includes using discovery questions or some kind of directed listening and then I try to plan one or more activities that use additional methods as well. If the song is relatively easy, the kids will have learned the song with the questions and these additional activities begin the process of review.

I write out my plan so that I will remember what I want to do. Then I gather or make any visual or music aids that I need to reinforce or accomplish the activities that I have planned. I try to review my plan and practice singing the song throughout the week in advance of teaching the song. If I think my plan might seem confusing, I write some simplified notes to give to our pianist so that she has some idea about what I am going to do. Then she can anticipate what is coming up without trying to read my mind! Sometimes we laugh at the end of the day, because it doesn’t happen as planned. She still has to be pretty good at reading my mind.

There is a reason why I haven’t posted complete ideas about teaching songs. I almost didn’t do this blog at all because I am reluctant to interfere in your own creative process. Haven't you noticed that step by step plans often don’t work like we want them to? I assume that is why the church doesn’t publish them much! Each of us has the responsibility to teach the children under our stewardship, to receive inspiration about what to do and to function under the proper keys of priesthood authority. But I also know that ideas beget ideas. So, I offer mine, along with the explanations of methods, as something that you COULD do if you wish and hope that you will adapt and modify and suit things to yourself and to your primary.

I’ve mentioned before that I keep ideas for teaching on a master list, adding to it when I find new ideas and methods that I hadn’t considered before. Chorister blogs have been a real blessing for my list! I regularly study the methods section of Teaching, No Greater Call, thinking about how the methods suggested in this manual can be adapted to teaching songs. I also review the Sharing Time Ideas in old issues of the Friend magazine and think about how I could adapt these ideas to singing time. When I’m ready to create my teaching plan, I review the methods on this master list and decide if one or more would work well with the song. Doing this review helps me plan a variety of things and keeps me from doing the same activities again and again.

It didn’t make sense for me to just put my master list all at once on the blog. My intent has been to explain each of the methods I regularly use in a separate post. So please be patient and you will eventually see the entire list. Meanwhile, you can see the posts under the “teaching methods” label and a number of methods under the “reviewing songs” label. I use many of these reviewing methods when I teach a song as well. Look under the “song presentations” to see some abbreviated examples of parts of this process.

Lists of ideas, including mine, for choosing and reviewing songs are easily sorted through and picked over. It is still fun to look at cute music aids like puppets and posters even when you know that you may never use something like that. However, teaching a song seems intimidating and we wish someone would just give us a formula. The church HAS offered a formula and it is spelled out in the new 2011 Outline for Sharing Time on pages 26 and 27. The formula is simple. Attract the children’s attention, direct the children’s listening, involve the children, and sing, sing, sing. This same message has been taught for many years. It seems they want us to fill in the blanks ourselves. The blanks are big. I admit it. I can testify that if you learn to follow this basic outline you WILL be able to help the children learn the songs.

I'll post a couple of examples of this process over the next several days, so that you can see a model of how this process looks on paper. Please feel free to use the examples however you wish, but I really hope that you will see through to the process and how I use the process to create a unique plan to teach a song.


Diana said...

Wow! Thank you so much for sharing how you prepare to teach a song. I've printed out your post and I know your ideas will be a great help to me as I prepare myself to teach a song.


Kathleen said...

Diana, I'm glad you found this helpful. I hope you'll keep participating and share your ideas as well.

V said...

Your article is really well written. I especially like the idea of incorporating more discovery questions. One of the difficulties I have in introducing a new song to younger children for the first time is getting them all to echo. Many of them keep trying to sing along before they even know the song. Do you have any suggestions?

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