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Differentiation. Woo that is a scary word… especially if you teach elementary music. We tend to sit through lectures and professional developments about differentiation and shudder in despair.
I can’t do that, we think. This doesn’t apply to me.
Well…. Yes and no.
Now, some lessons really don’t lend themselves to differentiation. Some do. And when you think about it, you already do differentiation. Even when you don’t realize it.
Here are some easy-peasy differentiation ideas. Some of them are things you already do, just need to be more aware of them. When you are aware of them, you can make sure to point them out (to the kids and administrators!). Others will take more effort, but none of these ideas are difficult or time consuming.
This is an example of differentiation that you already do. If you use any kind of dances or movement activities, you use differentiation.
Naturally, when preforming dances, students who are struggling will do less and students who are doing a good job will start to add more to their moves. Think about it—if the child is struggling to do movements while walking in a circle, they are naturally going to just walk instead. That is automatic differentiation.
Now that you know that is differentiation, you can use it consciously!
When I teach students a new dance, I tell them ways they can make it easier or harder. Like if we are walking in a circle doing a dance, then I’ll tell them to make sure to do the walking and not worry about the rest.
If students are doing a good job, I’ll ask them to push it harder—how can you make this movement look like the music? What could you add to make it better?
You can also observe them throughout the class and put them into teired groups either for part of the class or for the next class. You can give them different ways to do the dance, and they can perform it for the other groups. Have each group add extra movements, but change the difficulty of each of the dances. This way they will each look different– without them knowing that some groups are more advanced than others.
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There are two different types of instrument lessons. There are instruments to accompany songs or books. Then there is recorder karate or rainbow ukulele.
As for the first type of lesson, there are ways to make it different. If a student is struggling with a rhythm, you can have them just play the downbeat, or you can put them onto a different instrument that may be easier.
You don’t even have to sort them– you can just say, “OK guys, if that’s too hard, then try playing the steady beat on mi and sol. If you think this is too easy, then try playing this rhythm on different notes.”
To tier it up, you can have them sing the song while playing the instrument. You could have them make up their own accompaniment. If you want everyone to play the c-e-g-c on the quarter notes, you could have more advanced students play different rhythms one the same notes.
Recorder karate is literally made for differentiation– students who understand more quickly move quickly.
Singing may seem like it is hard to differentiate, but it is not.
How do I tier a song down to make it easier? Easy. When teaching, you can break it down with solfege and rhythmic notation. When singing, you can have students sing on “loo” instead of with the words. This is helpful, especially if the song is in another language. (These are all things you can do in your whole group lessons!)
To make songs harder, you can add dynamics or phrasing. Ask students to make up movements to go along with the song. You can do the song as a round, and allow students who are excelling fend for themselves while aiding the other group.
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Now this is a form of differentiation that you have heard of before.
But good news—you can use this is the music room.
Here are two easy ways to differentiate with centers:
- Flashcards: There are lots of centers activities including flashcards—singing the solfege on them, reading rhythms, performing rhythms, etc. You can use two sets of them—or three or four. You could have students play rhythms on one note of an instrument, and to tier up you could play the same rhythm on different notes. (Check out some rhythm flashcards here)
- Working with students: When I do centers (and how they advise to do them in professional development meetings), I always have one center that is an activity with me. Sometimes we practice writing rhythms or melodies, identifying notes on the staff, composing rhythms, etc. Sometimes the students really don’t need me, but I station myself there anyway. These are ridiculously easy to differentiate, and allows you to see more easily who understands the concepts.
How many are you already doing?
Probably all of them.
Anyway, those are some really easy ways to differentiate. Most of them are already being done, but when you realize that, you can point them out to students and write it into your lesson plans to help emphasize that you are doing those things.
This year, I plan to dive deeper into differentiation (which, of course, also includes better assessment… yuck…), so look subscribe for more posts about differentiation and other music teaching stuff.
How do you differentiate in your music class? Do you find it easy or difficult? Let me know in the comments!