lesson planning

Questions a taiko teacher should ask

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If you’ll be teaching more than one session in a school, you’ll probably have a planning meeting with the teachers you’ll be working with. The principal may attend too. Below are 11 questions you should definitely ask. These aren’t necessarily in order of importance, so ask them all! The answers will help you successfully launch your classes.

1. How big is the room where I’ll be teaching? What else is this room used for?

You want to make sure they’re not putting you in an unused classroom that’s full of desks. If it’s a room that’s used for other activities, you want to make sure your drums will be safe when you’re not there. Ask if you can see the room after the meeting ends.

2. Are there any adjacent classrooms?

If a school plans to put you in a room with an adjacent classroom, make sure they understand how loud taiko can be.

3. Is there secure storage? Can I see it?

Note, secure doesn’t HAVE to mean locked. In many schools, the stage in the cafeteria is a very low-traffic area and a safe place to store drums.

4. What time does the school day start and end?

Most school parking lots are bedlam during drop-off and pick-up (about 10 minutes before and after beginning and end of the school day). Do yourself a favor by avoiding these times.

5. Are there English Language Learners in the classes?

As taiko teachers, we’re lucky that kids can succeed in our classes without understanding every single word we say. Still, I find it’s helpful to know if there are a lot of ELL students so I can be sure to physically demonstrate a lot and talk as little as possible.

6. Are there special needs students in the classes? If so, what accommodations do they need?

Make sure you can provide these accommodations and be up front if you can’t. It’s a good idea for students with sound sensitivities to wear their headphones to class.

7. How many students are there in each class?

I’ve had 23-32 students in a class, which translates to enormously different equipment and space needs.

8. How much in-school music instruction have the students had before now?

I’ve had answers ranging from “none” to “multiple years,” which greatly affects my lesson planning.

9. Will the classroom teachers be staying in the room with me and their students? If so, will they be participating?

If you’re not certified, the classroom teacher will usually stay in the room with you, but not always. Even if they stay in the room, they may take advantage of the opportunity to catch up with grading or other tasks. It’s important to know the school’s expectation is of their teachers.

10. Are any of the following scheduled during the residency: fire drills, field trips, assemblies, or other special programs that might affect the schedule?

Schools schedule these kinds of things months in advance, but often don’t think to mention them to a teaching artist. It’s up to you to ask!

11. Do you have a method you use in your classroom for student participation or behavior?

Some teachers use popsicle sticks with student names on them to promote participation, or marbles in a jar as a behavior incentive, or other classroom management techniques. It’s useful to know these beforehand so you can fold them into your classroom management. (See this post for more detail.)

If you have questions or need advice on planning a successful taiko education program, drop me a line. I can help. Happy teaching!

If you fail to plan.…

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Planning your lessons in advance takes time, but it’s time well spent. It’s the difference between mediocre classes and students liking taiko more than recess. (TL;DR? Here’s a template you can use, and see you next post.)

There are lots of different ways to approach planning lessons. Here are two tips I’ve found helpful over the years.

  1. Plan your objective first.

You need to have a clear idea of what you want your students to understand or be able to do at the end of your class. Is this session about kuchishoka? Form? Learning a song? Building fundamentals for soloing? It doesn’t have to be just one thing, but it needs to be spelled out clearly. Begin with “By the end of this class, students will…” and then complete the sentence. (You can leave out the “by the end of this class” if it feels too wordy - I usually do).

2. Keep your students active.

When I was teaching in Japan, I was introduced to this format for lesson planning. I loved it, and still turn to it today. (Here’s an example of a lesson I planned using this format. Both “teacher” and “teaching artist” refer to the instructor leading the class.)

Try using this format to plan your next class. If you see a lot of “listening” or “watching” and fewer active verbs (i.e., drumming, chanting, moving, etc.) change up the lesson so students are more active.

A general rule of thumb: for K-1 students, you need to change activities at least every 5 minutes, or even more frequently. For 2nd and 3rd graders, change every 7 (ish) minutes; for 4th-5th graders, change every 10-15 minutes. Gr. 6 and up can easily spend 45 minutes and more on an activity, as long as they’re actively involved in their learning.

This means you have to have a lot of activities ready for lower grades and that it will take you several classes in a row to complete an extended activity. This is a great approach! It gives students a week to absorb information and experiences before moving on to more complex steps, which greatly increases success.

If you have any questions about a specific lesson you’re working on, feel free to email me. Happy teaching!