Empowered Music Students

How Checklists Can Give Students Ownership in Music

Holly Gage is an elementary and middle school band director in South Dakota. She has taught in a variety of settings in both South Dakota and Washington DC and during that time has worked to make her classrooms student centered. Holly likes to use checklists in her band room to give students ownership of their music making. Here are three types of checklists that Holly will use with her students.

Checklists for Student Ownership

Student-led Sectionals 

While Holly agrees that having a section leader is great, she has found that giving students a checklist helps empower the entire section. The checklist will contain a clear objective, one that is obtainable, as well as options to help students determine how they will achieve their goal. It might include tasks like tuning specific notes, working on rhythms, or identifying key signatures. The checklist gives all students in the group a voice by asking if all students feel they have improved, what they need to keep working on, and what they need to ask the teacher about. This checklist requires students to work together as a team to help each other. 

Teaching Beginners How to Practice 

Holly has also created a checklist to help beginning instrumental students learn how to practice, using a checklist she calls “Purposeful Practice.” There is a paper copy of the checklist taped in each student’s folder, and they learn the steps together in class. Step 1 includes clapping and counting rhythms, step 2 is air playing the song, and step 3 is to play the song. Next, Holly teaches students to identify any “hot spots,” or areas of difficulty. The students then will isolate and play the difficult section several times until they can play it correctly. Finally, students play the entire piece again. By teaching the students how to practice, Holly helps them become independent musicians. 

“Teaching them how to practice helps them become independent. At the end of the day, we don’t want them to need us anymore!”

Students Who Need Accommodations 

Holly originally created this type of checklist for students with IEP’s or 504 plans, but she does not limit it to use by only those students. Anyone can benefit from having support, especially since music rooms are often big spaces with a lot of noise! Holly will talk to the Special Education teachers at the beginning of the year to find out what accommodations her students require, and how she can best meet those needs. She has found that many students have trouble breaking down step-by-step tasks and following classroom routines. To help with this, Holly will place small checklists in a student’s folder or instrument cubby to help with the daily routine. It might include steps like putting the folder on the music stand, taking out the instrument, and getting the music in order for rehearsal. By detailing these steps, Holly helps the students decode the expectations for class and reduce potential stress. Students don’t have to worry about what their classmates are doing, and can focus on playing their instruments.

She will often create a separate checklist for concerts. By printing the concert program and adding notes about where the student goes on stage, how they get there, and what they do when they finish playing, Holly takes away some of the student’s anxiety. Teachers can also incorporate pictures or instructions in a student’s home language to help even more. 

When asked what advice she would give other teachers looking to incorporate checklists into their classes, Holly recommends taking the time up front to create the checklists and having a good relationship with the special education team. Creating the checklists takes time in advance for the teacher, whether making a list for each sectional group or individual students, but in the end it will also save time. The classroom becomes more efficient because the teacher can get more accomplished when the students are self-sufficient. She also advises teachers to assume nothing! Use bullet points and the least amount of words to be as clear as possible. 

Check out the full interview here, where you can hear more details about Holly’s checklists: Using Checklists for Student Ownership

If you would like to connect with Holly, you can find her on Facebook

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