Many urban teachers shy away from employing Orff Schulwerk in their classrooms because of classroom management issues. When you add up crowded and insufficient settings, lack of adequate materials, and dealing with children who’s needs are challenging to address, some teachers may elect to pass up one of the greatest approaches to teaching and learning. Indeed, with movement and instrument playing, the Orff Schulwerk teacher in all types of schools must have special management strategies.
One key to success is to think through to the desired outcome of each and every endeavor. When addressing a new activity, the teacher must fully understand what is desirable and appropriate, and what could hinder the favorable outcome. Only then can the wise educator clearly articulate expectations and procedures to students.
For example, I have a procedure for what I call the Grand Orff Experience. By this I mean when singing, dancing, and playing instruments occur simultaneously. Planning how we put away instruments, scarves, costumes, props, etc. is as important as the activity itself. It begins with the very first time we use any type of instrument or prop. I teach the students how to remove/replace bars, for example, or where to return the scarf box. This careful teaching is a process! It usually takes many classes. After these mini-steps are solid, we are ready for the Grand Experience. I hold up a sign before we begin that reads: Cooperation: 1. Clean up; 2. Quiet voices; 3. Sit down (stop playing).
I show the card and explain that when I hold it up, it is time to stop all activity and put things away. If they need to help each other, they must do it in a quiet voice. After they do their own job, they immediately sit on the rug, ready to listen. If a student continues to play an instrument, roams around the room, or starts any off-task behavior, I can point to the appropriate number as I move in proximity to the offending student or students. They usually fix the problem immediately and I have to say nothing, saving them from embarrassment in front of others. After each activity, I hold up the sign! The sign saves my voice and my sanity!
Another key element of success in any music program is the teacher’s ability to find the gifts within each child and develop them. For some students, this is an easy task. The beautiful voice and the lovely demeanor are the joy of any music teacher. However, all to often the talents, interests, and desires of our students can be hidden under the cloud of misbehavior or uncertainty on the part of the child. What are some ways we can see through the fog? How can all students shine? How can the teacher be at peace with some challenging students?
The secret is a keen sense of observation through which we can open many doors for our students and ourselves. The teacher must be a people watcher and pick up subtle clues as to ways a child may flourish and contribute. As a mentor teacher going into the classrooms of first year interns, I often had to demonstrate how to engage the most difficult child in a music class lesson. I remember once I said to a boy who had been a behavior concern, “You’re a drummer, aren’t you?” “Who me?” “Come and play that rhythm you were tapping on the desk for the song.” Voila! The child shone and the poor behavior vanished. It is great to follow-up with a phone call to the parent to promote this new relationship.
One of my most gifted interns had a particularly difficult class. When a lesson was not working and she had to change gears, she plopped on a CD that included wholesome lyrics in rap. The next thing she new, the worst boys in the class were up and dancing. The first step toward the students was made…an entry point was found of common ground upon which to embark.
Taking the time to acknowledge a job well done is another key to success. Sometimes a bit of drama on my part adds to the fun! I have been known to throw open the outside door of my classroom and yell out, “I have the best students in the whole wide world!” I have even called the principal on the spot to tell her what a wonderful class they just had. She loves to “tell their business” on the PA system, lovingly getting into the act. The classroom teachers beam as well, when their class is acknowledged in such a public way. The giggles and hugs when the students exit says it all; it is evident that they feel good about the teamwork and success achieved in a mere thirty minutes.
Orff Schulwerk is a most valuable and enabling force. The options for student input are varied and allow the student to cultivate a variety of talents and skills. For those who can take our OS Teacher Education training and turn it into a gold mine, the experience of teaching in an urban school is rewarding and satisfying. Yes, you work hard, and there still may be a student who responds to very little…but the number of children that you do reach will be astounding!
Editor’s note: Alice’s wise words are excerpts from her OPUS (Orff Programs in Urban Schools) column that appeared in past issues of Reverberations.