I've been thinking a lot lately about how I use down time in the classroom. As a teacher on wheels, I have come to embrace the fact that my classes are always going to need some transition time. I need time to get my cart in and out of the room, set up my files on the computer, and prepare any instruments or manipulatives that we are going to be using that day. That's what inspired me to write my next installment of Music on Wheels:
Making the Most
out of Down Time
out of Down Time
When we teach music on a cart, there is inevitably going to be a lot of transition time, especially right at the beginning or end of class. We as teachers know that transitions can make or break a lesson. If given no direction, the classroom will devolve into a chaotic mess of screaming children and flying pencils.
... or will it?
This will probably sound controversial to some people, but I actually believe that in the right setting with the right classroom chemistry, down time can be very beneficial. It can give students a minute or two to mentally refocus and go from math/reading/whatever to music mode. They might choose to just put their heads down and tune the world out for a minute. It can be a time to rearrange their desks and books. It can give them time to socialize quietly with their peers. It's a good opportunity to take a water or bathroom break. If we give our students a chance to do these things before we start our lessons, then they are more likely to give us their full attention once we are ready to begin.
As we add more and more rigor into every subject of the day, kids (and teachers) are under a lot of stress to fit everything in. So when I can offer my students a minute or two to relax and chat with their classmates, I embrace those opportunities.
However, you have to know your students and be aware of what they can and can't handle.
Depending on the grade level or just the chemistry of the kids in a particular class, I might choose to give them a little more direction during this transition time.
For instance, for PreK through 1st grade, I work to minimize down time. From the moment I enter the room, those classes know that we are getting started and that they need to be quiet. I usually pick a helper who goes around the room and high fives the students who are quiet with their "five things ready" (hands, eyes, feet, mouth, ears.) This fills the down time while I'm pulling up our songs on the computer.
With 2nd graders, I will often come into the room and give them a discussion prompt. I'll say, "talk quietly at your table to see what you all remember learning in music class last week" or something like that. It gives them time to have a focused, meaningful discussion while I'm setting things up. I might also have one or two students lead vocal warm-ups or a rhythm exercise.
Usually by 3rd grade, I find that the students are mature enough to handle down time. They have to be able to monitor their actions and do what's appropriate. In those classes, I have set the expectation that while I'm setting up for the lesson, they can use that time for bathroom, water, or just quietly sit and talk with their neighbors. So far, it has worked like a charm. I find that when I've given them this down time to relax, they are less likely to interrupt the lesson and therefore we get through just as much- if not more- material during the class period. We have also discussed the importance of quieting down and focusing once I am ready to get started.
It's all about trusting your students and knowing what they are capable of. If your standards are high, you might be surprised how they can rise to meet them.