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Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, January 27, 2014


Palen Music Center is dedicated to helping children experience excellence, personal growth, and joy through involvement in music. We carry out this mission by supporting area band directors through weekly service, support, educational programs, and quality products. This weekly Quick Note newsletter strives to highlight topics that are immediately helpful in the classroom. Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.


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Are you tired of handing students the same piece of music over and over again? The solution is simple, effective, and it works!
by Janice Bengston

What I tried with limited and poor results:
I spent three years teaching band in a title 1 school outside Atlanta, GA. My student’s, were excited about band, loved to play, but every day I was reinventing the wheel by redistributing music that was lost or supposedly “stolen.” It was time consuming and frustrating. I recognized my students dealt with a great deal of disorganization and general chaos in their home life that naturally carried over into the school. While I was empathetic, I still needed to solve two problems to maximize my teaching time and teach students how to organize and take control for themselves. Problem one: organizing materials for class and home use, and problem two getting lost materials back to the student who owned them.

My first attempt at problem one:
Each student came up with their own 3 ringed black binder and a supply of sheet protectors to keep music, and method book. For my high achieving students, that seemed to work (although there were consistent issues with getting students to remove music from the sheet protector to mark on it and reinsert). Problem number two then emerged: when students misplaced their band notebook, I was hunting through the entire notebook trying to figure out who it belonged to, a time consuming task. Very limited success: I still had many students requesting another copy of the music every day – so the solution was not successful for all students.

Fast forward, now I team teach in Springdale, Arkansas a title 1 school, similar issues with disorganization, poverty, etc. We anticipated it would be difficult to get students to get a notebook on their own, so our plan was to assemble in bulk all the materials our students need to be organized so our classes have maximum time on instruction. Our band notebook includes:

Item Problem Solved Source Cost
3 ring binder with cover sleeve Uniformity, all students obtain School System Warehouse  $1.60
Tab index dividers (5 tabs) Forces organization, uniformity U.S. School Supply, Chamblee GA  36 sets/unit-$20.65
Pencils 2 each (assembled in pouch) 2 pencils each notebook, everyone has a pencil U.S. School Supply, Chamblee GA  144/unit-$19.95
Highlighters 1 each(assembled in pouch) Actively engages students in music markings School System Warehouse  $0.35
Basic pencil pouch (Tears easily, I will probably upgrade the pouch) Keeps pencils/highlighters where needed - no excuses U.S. School Supply, Chamblee GA  25/unit-$13.95
Back pack tags - custom print for school Every student with an instrument tag-no excuses U.S. School Supply, Chamblee GA  order 200-499 - $.99 

Problem one solved:
Every student buys the notebook as a complete package ready to go. This will only work if the teacher makes it important that everyone’s notebook must be kept in the same order, and importance given to the organization aspect. How our band notebook is organized:

Location Items
Front Pencil pouch with items, no pencil = move down a chair
  Now students police each other, pencils not a problem
Front Method book - three hole punched, name on cover
Tab 1 Practice chart
Tab 2 1. Rhythm of week studies
  2. Warm up exercises
  3. Scales
Tab 3 Concert music - in concert order
Tab 4 Small ensembles
Tab 5 Hand outs, staff paper, etc.

Getting students to be consistently organized: 
I normally do a notebook order graded quiz. I put the notebook order up on screen giving students the opportunity to rearrange their notebook for an easy “A.” On quiz day I simply stand behind the class with their notebooks on the music stand and we turn pages together checking, students have to grade themselves and quickly see the serious of keeping your notebook in order.

Giving students practice for efficiency: 
Every day we warm up in Tab 2, in the order things are placed in the notebook.  Rhythm of week.   warm- ups, then scales. It doesn’t take long for students to realize it’s really easy to just flip pages in order. They quickly begin recognize how easy it is to say such and such is the 3rd paper in concert music tab, no one is hunting for the page, no lost music, etc.

Once students are set up and realize I am serious about the organization piece, I have not had to replace a single piece of music this year or hand out – not even one!!  My student’s will now hold and wait when a new piece of music and ask “which tab does this go in and in what specific order?” They want to get it right and enjoy not having to hunt for their own materials.

I would have never believed being so specific on a simple thing like a notebook would have such a big impact on my teaching, but it has. There’s just something about being very specific about order and class uniformity that connects with the students – try it, it works!!

*Note: I buy in bulk to save money.

Janice Bengtson is in her second year of teaching in Springdale, Arkansas and was named the 2013 "Teacher of the Year" for J. O. Kelly Middle School. Previous experiences include teaching band at Trickum Middle School, Gwinnett County Public Schools, GA; Marketing and Public Relations at Virginia Tech; and 20 years as clarinetist with the U. S. Air Force Band Program. You can reach Janice by email at [email protected].

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