The music classroom is a unique learning environment where all the students work together to master the task directed by the teacher. Students work cooperatively to perform a rhythmic/melodic pattern, choral/instrumental arrangement, movement pattern, or vocal warm ups. Rarely do students have an independent task that does not require the efforts of others in the class or rehearsal to ensure success. Participation is vital to the learning process. But what music teacher hasn’t ever struggled with a student that simply doesn’t want to engage or participate? Teaching a music class or directing an ensemble rehearsal with 40-60 students while keeping them all engaged is the challenge music educators face daily. When you consider the variety of interests, abilities, and motivation in any ensemble or class, engaging ALL students can be “overwhelming.” The “8 C’s of Engagement,” as researched by Robert Marzano, can be divided into four areas of focus for the teacher.

HIGH EXPECTATIONS — Creating an environment of high expectations and rigor within the classroom while still providing successful experiences for the students is important at every level. Students want to know that the effort they are going to invest will be of value and integrity, but they also want to experience success. Discover where your students are at in terms of their abilities and meet them there. If your students are new to you, get to know their skill level and interests and build from there. Then incorporate challenging learning activities and quality literature into the curriculum to foster their sense of purpose in the lesson/rehearsal. Checking for understanding along the way will also engage your students and foster accountability. Asking “Why?” questions, and inviting students to explain the answer or technique in their own words creates a team environment. If the teacher does all the teaching, students begin to sit back and wait to be taught, rather than engaging in the learning.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS — Creating Interpersonal Relationships breaks down that invisible “force shield” between the student and teacher. Taking time before and after class time to talk with students will open the door to a more caring and respectful environment. Asking your students what they did over the weekend, what activities they are in outside of school, or what their favorite movie is sends a message that you are investing in them as a person. Taking time during class to share a “high or low” from the weekend or long break will create a respectful atmosphere among the class. Give the students one minute to pair-share and then invite them to share their own or their neighbor’s thoughts. This activity may take time away from the lesson or rehearsal; however, it will create a classroom where students feel important and valued. When students feel valued they will be willing to take risks and participate in the learning process.

DEEPER LEARNING — Creating a sense of curiosity for the students engages them and builds a desire for deeper learning. Allow your students to be artists and guide them in making artistic choices when the opportunity is present: “What instruments might we add to this song?” or “What do you think the lyrics are saying and how does the composer want us to express them?” or “What kind of articulation is necessary?” Asking open ended and higher level thinking questions will engage your learners to actively participate in the music making. Also, making connections in the lesson/rehearsal to prior knowledge and their lives outside the classroom builds the sense of purpose for the learning. As music educators we know that the music experiences we provide connect with all their learning in and outside the classroom but we must make those direct correlations known to our students. Finding ways to show music theory similarities between the classical repertoire and a current day song will spark their interest. Other examples of real life correlations might include:

Signs and Symbols – driving, reading road signs, look ahead
Dynamics – noises in your home, what do you hear that is Forte/Mezzo Forte, etc.
Lyrics – vocabulary meaning and connection to personal life
Vocal Technique – using athletic similarities, i.e. throwing a Frisbee, bouncing a ball, energy in your sound = energy to tackle
Rhythms – math, patterns.

STUDENT DRIVEN — Finally, giving students choices allows them to own the learning process. We all know that it is good to guide the choice making process with children and teenagers. Giving choices does not have to mean free range. Provide opportunities throughout the lesson for students to choose how to rehearse a piece or what parts of the piece need work. Make room in your programming for a student choice selection. If current music doesn’t fit the concert style, present the choir two pieces and let them choose. Allow the students to have input in the order you perform the songs or invite them to create movement for a particular selection. When the students are invited to be a part of the creative planning, they become much more invested in the performance.