Search This Blog

Saturday, August 27, 2016

First week strategies that work!

I just made it through my first week back to school and it was great.  There were a few problems with my technology, but thankfully that was worked out pretty quickly.

On the first day of school I introduce my theme for the year.  This year my theme is STRIKE YOUR POTENTIAL.  Our shirts, magnets, stickers, and stuff have lightening on them and we have a brand new lightning plasma ball in our classroom...which draws a lot of students into my room.  In class, we had a discussion about talent.  One does not become talented because of one event.  No lightning bolt comes from the sky to determine who is talented and who is not.  The power is within each student to be successful.  The lightening and drive inside of each of us is what determines how much each can accomplish.

To help introduce my theme, I showed my 'video of the week', which was a compilation of a few different clips.  The whole point was to inspire students to put forth their best effort and act like an 'orchestra student'...which means they are the most considerate, hardest working, most respectful, most responsible..etc.  When they act like an orchestra student we can accomplish amazing things.

There are so many things we have to take care of during the first few days of school.  Instrument rentals, lockers assignments, and seating charts.  All of that takes a full day, but I want to keep students inspired.  While I take care of necessary business, students read short articles about brain development, goal setting and how to achieve goals.  They work with other students to discuss the material and it helps them get to know each other a little bit.   I use material from a book called 'Helping Students Motivate Themselves." by Larry Ferlazzo.  Here's a link to the book on Amazon.  I also use excerpts from the book 'Nurtured By Love' by Shinichi Suzuki.  Students work to set goals for the term and goals for the year.

We start learning basics about playing from day 2.  Here's a quick overview of skills you can teach using no instruments:

3 things you can do with students during the first week that help them master playing position and bowing without using instruments:

1.  Strengthen Fingers.  We start strengthening fingers from day 2...before students bring instruments.  This is super fun and really helps with dexterity.  I have a set of foam Emoji balls that fit perfectly in the hand.  While I blast the music 'Burn Baby Burn,' we do finger workouts using the balls.  Students follow my lead as we squeeze the ball between the thumb and index finger, thumb and middle finger...etc.   We alternate between hands to give all fingers a good work-out.  We toss it between hands to develop coordination, we squish the face with both hands.  There are tons of possibilities..students just follow me and I pretend to be a personal trainer.

2.  Teach students how to hold the bow using thick straws or pencils.  This is super easy and quick:  Students keep right right hand relaxed and floppy.  We pretend water is dripping off all of the fingers. Place a straw in the middle of the fingers, add the bent thumb behind the middle finger, curl the index finger around like a snake, and put pinky on top for violin/viola.  We then do bow games to fun music and students are give an assignment to create at least 10 perfect bow holds per day.

3.  Visualization of playing position.  I am amazed at how much the following strategy helps students achieve perfect position right from the start.  I teach students how to hold their instruments BEFORE bringing instruments to school. This really helps all students focus and not become distracted.  For the violin/violas we practice sitting on the edge of our seats with feet firmly planted on the floor.  I have them feel their left shoulder with their right hand and explained how the instrument would sit on that shoulder.  We practice turning our heads (as if placing the head on the chin rest) while keeping our heads straight and tall.

For cellos, we practice sitting on the edge of the seat with the feet planted.  We feel our knees and I explain where the instrument will sit and be held with their knees.  I have students place their right hands on their chests as if saying the Pledge of Alliance.  They learn that the cello will rest on their chest and they will need to stay strong like superman and not collapse when holding the cello.  They reach up behind their left ear to feel where the cello pegs would be.  Students learn how to adjust the end-pin and how to determine if it needs to be higher or lower.

These strategies really help my students gain confidence and learn more quickly when they bring instruments to class.  It is so much easier to teach proper play position when they have already visualized how it should be done.  Yesterday was our first day playing and I couldn't help but smile as I gazed on the sea of brand new violin/viola players with perfect position.  My cello players looked comfortable and confident.  We began plucking open strings and so far, so good.  :)


  1. Hi Angela, Could you share what the clip was? Would love to see it!

    1. I would share the clip but it was specific to my students/school. The first part was just a little bit of shrek 2 when Pinnochio gets hit by lightning. That's when we talked about how talent doesn't just strike light lightning - you have to work for it. Then I had a clip about fast food - a guy seeing if a restaurant could make their food look like their advertisement. We then talked about standards and to give our best effort from the start. Then I showed a commercial that was filmed in my classroom by Disney that recently aired on the Disney channel for a few weeks. We talked about how amazing things can happen when all put forth their best effort.