Differentiation, Elementary Music

Super Simple Differentiation through Music Centers

I know, I know, differentiation is a nasty word. And centers– depending on your view– can be right up there with it.

I hear about centers and differentiation in meetings all the time, so you probably do too. And you either think 1.) That’s not for me, I’m the music teacher OR 2.) Cool! Let’s try it.

Thankfully for you, I am the second kind of person.

And through some serious trial and error, I have figured out ways to differentiate while using centers in my elementary music classroom in super easy ways. Because when we teach 650 students or more, we don’t need to make things more complicated than they already are.

If you missed my previous differentiation posts, be sure to go back and check them out! In this one, we talk all about differentiation that music teachers naturally do, and how to be more intentional with those things to help your students succeed. In the more recent one, we talked about how to separate students into groups (which is super relevant here!) and the three types of differentiation.

Super Simple Differentiation through Music Centers. Looking for a way to help students who are struggling with rhythm? Or push students who are ahead of the rest? This differentiation guides helps you find easy ways to makes your elementary music lessons more or less complex to accommodate a variety of learners! Becca's Music Room

There are four main ways that you can differentiate with centers– make it harder, provide scaffolding, tiered activities, and teacher led groups. And no, these are not official terms. They are Becca terms.

Make it Harder

This is not an official term, since I am pretty sure that I just came up with that. I do not know of an official term, but if you know of one, please let me know.

Sometimes in centers, I will use progressive tasks– they start easy and get harder. Students who are struggling can focus stay on the easy task as long as they want, an students who are ahead can breeze through the first task and go into the second one.

This is really great for you, because you don’t have to sort out different activities for different students– they will be able to do what is best for them.

Ideas for Make it Harder:

  • Task cards with increasing difficulty
  • Playing rhythms from rhythm cards— start with an easier set or cards and get harder
  • Treble Clef dice activity— students start with one of the easier version and go to a harder one (my kids love these activities!)
  • Have students pull slips of paper with letters on it out of a cup and put bingo chips onto a treble clef. The first set can be just one letter, and the second set could be words or measures that go with a song you are working on.
  • Have students play melodies on xylophones. They can go through cards with just letters first, then notes on the treble clef. They can use melody cards like these.

Provide Scaffolding

Scaffolding encompasses many different things. We as music teachers tend to think of scaffolding mostly as spiraling curriculum so that students have an easy transition from one concept to another. But it also means providing supports to help students with an activity– think graphic organizers or extra tools.

Of all the differentiation, I am probably the worst at this one, even though it is probably the easiest one.

Some ideas of scaffolds or extra help include:

  • Providing heartbeat charts for students creating rhythms instead of a measure card (There are heartbeat charts in the free resource library– sign up for access to it here! If you already have access, then you can click the tab at the top of the page and download them!)
  • If students are researching, you could give a graphic organizer with some of the parts already filled in.
  • Providing answer keys in an envelope so students can check their work (more about that below…)
  • Providing pictures along with words on matching cards or activities like these.
  • Providing extra help from the teacher

A word about answer keys… I got this suggestion from a training. As soon as the lady said to provide answer keys, we all lost a little bit of respect. “But they will just look at the answers!” Someone said. Her response? “When you have the students do another activity or have them come for small group time, you will see if they know the material or not. If they cheat but they learn the material, who really wins?”

Since then, I’ve been providing treble clefs and rhythm value charts and things like that inside of envelopes for students to reference. I want them to be able to get to work quickly– and also get it right. If they are just matching random things (especially with my matching games!) that don’t go together– they are not learning. I’d rather them use the answer key to help them learn it correctly.

I see it like when I am doing a puzzle, and I look at the picture on the box as I am doing it. It’s not telling me how to do it, it’s just helping me out.

Super Simple Differentiation through Music Centers. Looking for a way to help students who are struggling with rhythm? Or push students who are ahead of the rest? This differentiation guides helps you find easy ways to makes your elementary music lessons more or less complex to accommodate a variety of learners! Becca's Music Room

Tiered Activities

We talked a lot about tiered activities in the last differentiation post, and also in this post about my favorite treble clef activity.

Tiered activities basically means that some activities are harder than others. This is really great in centers because you have students in different groups, so you are able to split up the activities in different stations.

A few ideas for tiered activities in centers:

  • Have one set of students play rhythms from flashcards and have the other set make up their own rhythms to play. (You could use these and these.)
  • If working on treble clef, one set of students can identify one note while the others find words (such as egg) on the treble clef. You can check that out in my TPT product here.
  • Have some students matching notes on the staff while others match notes and staff and recorder fingerings. Or have the second group write notes onto the staff because that is more difficult than matching.
  • Have both groups play a game like Kaboom!, but give one group more difficult rhythms. (You can get levels 1 and 2 in my TPT)
  • Have students create measures of rhythms with words. (Kind of like in this or this) You can give the lower group only one beat rhythms to manipulate and the higher group one beat and two or three beat rhythms. They will have to work harder to make sure they have the correct amount of beats in the measure.
  • When playing instruments, you can tier up by having staff notation and tier down by having just the letters or the letters inside of the note heads.
  • Have one group finding all of the letters in words on the treble clef and the other group coming up with their own words (like BAG or EGG or FADE) to put onto the treble clef like on this.
  • Have students play hands together instead of alternating hands on the xylophones.

The possibilities are truly endless once you start thinking through it. Remember, you do not have to come up with 50 different activities. You just have to find a way to make one activity more simple or more complex.

Teacher Led Groups

This is my person favorite way to do my differentiation– through groups led by me.

If you have read my post about setting up centers, you will know that I have six groups and three activities. One of those activities is always at the “teacher station” AKA my front carpet.

What we do changes every time. This is usually the instrument group (I do not trust my students enough to put instruments in any other station!). At this station, I usually have two or three different tiered activities we can do that are easy. The group that needs the most help gets the most help. The highest group gets almost no help at all.

Having these groups has truly changed my life. I love it. I love it because you can be really hands on with the kids, and you get to know them better because of it. I always take an observation grade during this time, and it is so much easier to grade 6 kids at a time than 32. And the kids always tell me that that was their favorite station.

As far as differentiation, sometimes we do different activities, but most of the time I just give different amounts of help/structure to each group. And yes, more or less help does count as differentiation.

Also, the teacher group is usually my instrument group, because I want them to play instruments but don’t trust the kids to use instruments in other stations.

Some ideas for teacher-led station:

  • Rhythm review: low group can review each rhythm, medium group can play rhythms or do dictation, and the high group can use rhythms cards to create their own rhythms
  • Recorder practice: Allow students to practice on their own while you assist and assess.
  • Xylophones: I like to give students cards with letters to play first, and if they finish that, they continue with cards that have notes on the staff.
  • Have students figure out the rhythm or melody from a song you have been working on (Like in my Ickle Ockle lesson)

So those are the main ways to differentiate through centers! I promise, it sounds like more work than it actually is. If you can get students pretest and sorted into groups, you have done almost all of the work. Just add in one or two of these differentiating techniques, and you will see a difference.

How do you differentiate during centers? Let us know in the comments!

Want to get access to exclusive FREE content? Sign up for the free resource library! Once you sign up, you’ll receive the password to the library, and you will be able to download monthly freebies to help you teach elementary music! Sign up here!

Happy teaching!

Super Simple Differentiation through Music Centers. Looking for a way to help students who are struggling with rhythm? Or push students who are ahead of the rest? This differentiation guides helps you find easy ways to makes your elementary music lessons more or less complex to accommodate a variety of learners! Becca's Music Room
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Differentiation, Elementary Music

But how do I actually differentiate in the music room?

If you have been to any meeting, any class, or had a discussion with any teacher in the last five years, then you would know that the hot topic is differentiation. I hear it all of the the time. And last year I thought, there is no way that I can differentiate in the music room.

Turns out, I was wrong.

Now, music teachers are constantly differentiating without realizing it. I have a whole post about that here (which is really great if you need to prove you differentiate on your TKES!). This post is about being intentional with your differentiation.

As far as differentiating goes, we are certainly at a disadvantage. I teach 650 students– and I know other teachers who have even more. Most of us see our kids once a week. And we don’t have any MAP testing or iReady or whatever programs and tests your state uses to tell us what the kids know.

So… how do you actually get started with differentiation? How much work is it to differentiate? And when do I have time to do it? Let’s talk. Because I promise, it is less work than you think it is.


But how do I actually differentiate in the music room? This is a step by step guide to how to differentiate in your elementary music class-- from gathering data to grouping students to ways and ideas for differentiation. Becca's Music Room

So where do I start?

The first thing in differentiation is finding out what your students currently know– AKA a pretest. You can do this via paper and pencil, or through observation (I talk about a lot of different options for assessment in this post).

I started at the beginning of the year with a (short) pretest and interest survey that covered the major concepts we are working on this year. If it’s the middle of the year, don’t stress. You can also go unit by unit.

For example, my fourth graders have been working on treble clef notes for a few months now. And some of them are still not totally getting it. So, I gave them a super short quiz which told me how much they know and what some struggles are.

You can actually get that quiz in the free resource library– if you have signed up for the library, than you can click the “Free Resource Library” tab at the top of the page. If you haven’t, then you can signup here to get the password. Once you have the password, you can download anything that you want from the library– and check back, because I add more resources monthly!

You could even just use an assignment that they have done and use it as an indicator– even if it is not a quiz. I did this last week with my fifth graders and their write the room activity which told me that they needed some help with differentiating between the brass and woodwind families. It wasn’t an official “assessment” but it game me the information I needed!

So I have data… Now what?

I am a fan of simplicity when it comes to differentiation.

I take out three sticky notes. Then, I write an X on one, a – on one, and a check on the other. Then I divide the number of questions by three. This gives me the ranges for each sticky note. (I like to get these with the lines on them.) So if I had 12 questions on a quiz, students who got 1-4 correct would have an X, 5-8 correct would be a -, and 9-12 correct would be a check. I also like to put a star by anyone who got 100%– more about that later.

But how do I actually differentiate in the music room? This is a step by step guide to how to differentiate in your elementary music class-- from gathering data to grouping students to ways and ideas for differentiation. Becca's Music Room
Setting up my sticky notes. I write down the ranges for how many questions students get right. On this one, I went ahead and split each sticky into groups.

These sticky notes are the basis of my student groupings during centers. I like to have six groups, so I will split the names on the sticky notes into two groups. Each sticky note represents two groups. If they are not even, then I will adjust them (or if I have students who should not be together, then I will adjust them). In general, I will put – with X or checks, but do not put checks with X’s.

But how do I actually differentiate in the music room? This is a step by step guide to how to differentiate in your elementary music class-- from gathering data to grouping students to ways and ideas for differentiation. Becca's Music Room
An example of (fake) students in groups. You can see I moved one person of make the groups more even, and I made sure to put a check by their name to remind myself that they scored better on their test.

It is also how I decide who gets which activity when I am doing something like my treble clef dice activity, which has many different versions for different levels of understanding.

But how do I actually differentiate in the music room? This is a step by step guide to how to differentiate in your elementary music class-- from gathering data to grouping students to ways and ideas for differentiation. Becca's Music Room

So I have groups… Now what?

So now you have to decide how you are actually going to differentiate. There are three main ways that you can differentiate in the elementary music classroom.

Sidenote– you do not have to differentiate every. single. day. I probably do portions of lessons that are differentiated once or twice a month. Because if you are having a drum circle or playing Lucy Locket… how are you going to differentiate that?

Ok. So. On the days that you do want to differentiate (intentionally), there are three main ways: chunking, centers, and tiered instruction. (Although when you think about it, it’s all tiered instruction.) We’re going to talk about each one so that you know what they are and how you can do them.

Chunking

Chunking is basically the concept of not making students do things they already know how to do. If you have a few students who are a bit ahead of the others and have proven they understand the material, then they can have an alternate assignment.

I did this in January with one of my treble clef activities. On the pretest, I had 1-5 students in each class who got 100%. Instead of continuing to make them practice every day, I had the other students working on treble clef activities, and they worked on their recorder songs. They were still working– even still working on reading because they had to read recorder notes– but they were not bored while going over material they had down.

This is not something I would suggest doing with every activity, but it is good every once and a while, especially if you have been working on the same unit for a while. (Plus it makes the other kids work harder because they want to play recorder too!)

Centers

Next week’s blog post is going to be a deep dive into differentiating with centers, so I am not going to go super in depth here. But there are a lot of ways you can differentiate during centers. It is a great way to give students activities tailored to their skill level without them noticing that different people have different activities.

My centers differentiation is really just in one of the groups. One group is always the teacher group, and that is where I assess and differentiate. Sometime I have different lessons for each group, but most of the time, it is pretty much the same, but with different levels of guidance. So the group where everyone understands may not get any help from me while the group that is struggling will have a lot of remediation.

I really love having a teacher group for centers because I feel like I can give more attention to each student. I actually know my students and their musical capabilities much better now than I used to.

Also read: Music Center Classroom Management for “Bad Classes”

Tiered Instruction

The third main way to differentiate is through tiered instruction. This just means that students are doing different activities based on their levels.

If you are just getting started, this is where I would start. I would pick a concept, pick two activities and split the students up based on data from whatever quiz or observation you have.

One thing I will say is try to find things that are equally fun. Don’t give one group a worksheet and the other one a game. They don’t have to be the same, but they do need to be equally fun.

A few examples are:

  • Have one set of students play rhythms from flashcards and have the other set make up their own rhythms to play. (You could use these and these.)
  • If working on treble clef, one set of students can identify one note while the others find words (such as egg) on the treble clef. You can check that out in my TPT product here.
  • Have some students matching notes on the staff while others match notes and staff and recorder fingerings. Or have the second group write notes onto the staff because that is more difficult than matching.
  • Have both groups play a game like Kaboom!, but give one group more difficult rhythms. (You can get levels 1 and 2 in my TPT)
  • Have students create measures of rhythms with words. (Kind of like in this or this) You can give the lower group only one beat rhythms to manipulate and the higher group one beat and two or three beat rhythms. They will have to work harder to make sure they have the correct amount of beats in the measure.
  • When playing instruments, you can tier up by having staff notation and tier down by having just the letters or the letters inside of the note heads.
  • Have one group finding all of the letters in words on the treble clef and the other group coming up with their own words (like BAG or EGG or FADE) to put onto the treble clef like on this.
  • Have students play hands together instead of alternating hands on the xylophones.

Those are just a few ideas to get you started, but you get the point. It seems sooooo daunting– “I not only have to come up with lesson plans, but now I have to do twice as many!”– but once you start thinking of ideas, it is much more simple than you think.

Also, if your school groups students into classes based on ability level, you can differentiate for whole classes. Even with whole group lessons, I will adjust based on the collective understanding. For example, last week my students did an Orff arrangement of a Japanese song called Star Festival. One group did a great job with four different instruments and different patterns on the xylophones. In another class, it was a hot mess. So I ended up making the arrangement easier for the second class (I took out the glockenspiels and changed the xylophone part to hands together on the steady beat) and they were much more successful. And yes, that counts.

So how often do I have to differentiate?

That totally depends on you! Personally, I think as music teachers, we don’t need to do this every day. I do centers once a month with my upper grades, and I usually do one other differentiated activity in the month– but it depends on what we are working on! Right now my fifth graders are working on Orff skills and drum circles, so, frankly, I am not worried about differentiating right now. Music is inherently differentiated (don’t believe me? Read my post about the differentiation you are doing without realizing it here.)

With my younger students, I really don’t differentiate much at all. That may sound bad, but it’s the truth. I am much more concerned with them singing, playing, listening to music, and more.

Some lessons also lend themselves better to differentiating than others do. That’s why I keep going back to treble clef activities– they are so easy to differentiate!

Basically, you know your students. You know what is best for them. So you should do what is best for them. Sometimes that means tiered instruction, sometimes that means centers, and sometimes that means whole group drum circles. Do whatever is best.

But how do I actually differentiate in the music room? This is a step by step guide to how to differentiate in your elementary music class-- from gathering data to grouping students to ways and ideas for differentiation. Becca's Music Room

Do you differentiate in your elementary music classroom? How do you do it? Let me know in the comments so that we can have even more ideas!

Happy teaching!

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3-5, Differentiation, Elementary Music, Lessons

Elementary Music Lesson: Treble Clef Dice

Are you looking for a new way to practice the treble clef? I was too. I am always looking for new ways to practice, preferably with little to no set up. This treble clef dice activity checked all of those boxes, and the students loved it.

If you have been reading my blog, then you may have noticed that I am getting more and more into differentiation. Music teachers differentiate all of the time (read about that here), but I am trying to do even better. This was one of the EASIEST ways to differentiate. Ever. Like, so easy.

I have seen a ton of classroom activities where students could roll a die to practice a skill, and I really wanted to do one as well. So I downloaded some dice clip art and made a few different worksheets so that it can be differentiated.

So, you can go download some clipart, or you can purchase my product off of TPT here.

In my product, there are 6 pages. One is just lines. One is just spaces. One has lines and spaces. One has words that students can spell (like ace, bag, etc). One allows students to make their own words with the letters from A-G. The last one is blank.

You can get some cheap dice at the Dollar Tree, or on Amazon like these.

If you prefer to watch or listen, you can watch my YouTube video below.

Also read: DIY Music Manipulative: Treble Clef Battleship

Treble Clef Dice Activity + free treble clef quiz. Looking for a fun way to practice the treble clef in you elementary music room? This dice activity is engaging, fun, and differentiated, plus students get to practice the treble clef. Becca's Music Room

Treble Clef Dice Activity

For this lesson, I gave a really quick pretest the week before. This allowed me to separate students into groups. You can get a FREE treble clef quiz in my free resource library. If you have not signed up for access to the library, then you can sign up here.

Once I had graded the quizzes, I split the class into categories. I do this very simply. Just put an X, a -, and a check mark. I usually just do this on a scrap of paper or an extra long sticky note like these.

Split the number of questions into the number of groups you are making. For this lesson I did students who got all 10 correct, 6-9 correct, and 1-5 correct. Yes, I know this isn’t even, but I wanted to give something different to kids who had 100%.

It seems like a lot of work, but once the pretest is graded it only takes a few seconds to split them up.

Treble Clef Dice Activity + free treble clef quiz. Looking for a fun way to practice the treble clef in you elementary music room? This dice activity is engaging, fun, and differentiated, plus students get to practice the treble clef. Becca's Music Room
Here is an example of how I do student groups. If I am actually putting them into groups, then I will still make this chart first, then separate them.

 

Then we did our dice activity. In these activities, the students roll a die. Each number coordinates with a letter on their recording sheet. On the sheet, they will record answers. They write the letter on the line and then put a whole note or solid dot on the treble clef.

I used three different recording sheets to differentiate. You could just use two, but I went with three. What did they get?

  • X got the sheet with both lines and spaces but only one letter.
  • — got the sheet with words for them to find on the treble clef. They had to practice putting the notes in the right order, which was a bit of a struggle for some of them.
  • Students who got 100% on the pretest got a worksheet where they had to come up with words using the letters A-G and then put notes on the treble clef to correspond with them.

Once they were finished, students turned in the sheets and went to get their recorder.

Also read: Assessment without “Assessment”

Treble Clef Dice Activity + free treble clef quiz. Looking for a fun way to practice the treble clef in you elementary music room? This dice activity is engaging, fun, and differentiated, plus students get to practice the treble clef. Becca's Music Room

 

So that’s it! It is really not complicated when you try to explain it. I hope that you found the piece on differentiation helpful. I feel like it is one of those things that sounds intimidating, but it’s really not– it’s all about giving kids what they need to succeed.

To help you, you can get a FREE treble clef quiz in my free resource library. If you have not signed up for access to the free resource library, then you Sign up here.

You’ll get the password to the resource library, plus I will send updates once every other week.

Get my version of the treble clef dice activity here.

And let us know in the comments what your favorite treble clef activity is!

Happy teaching!

 

Treble Clef Dice Activity + free treble clef quiz. Looking for a fun way to practice the treble clef in you elementary music room? This dice activity is engaging, fun, and differentiated, plus students get to practice the treble clef. Becca's Music Room

 

FREE treble clef quiz for elementary music, beginning band, choir, or music theory class. Just sign up for the free resource library! Becca's Music Room

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