Teaching a concept like syncopation and rhythm to elementary school students can be challenging, but Lisa Hatfield, the 5th-grade band and orchestra teacher at Batavia Elementary Schools in Illinois, uses creative elements in her teaching approach. “I love to teach using fun and creative methods — and that’s how I learn, too,” she says. “For a concept like counting syncopation, I use unique aids, such as basketballs and Legos. With basketballs, kids can see, hear and even feel the down (bounce) and up (catch) beats. When we build rhythms on top of each other, I use Legos to show students how they ‘fit’ together.”
Hatfield also arranges current songs and trends to incorporate more advanced skills like accidentals and higher ranges, so students work on them over and over without realizing the repetition. “My class just learned how to play an octave from a TikTok song,” she exclaims.
Her main goal is for her students to love playing their instruments, but “for my sanity, everything I teach must also be personally entertaining, so I like to keep things new and fresh,” she says with a laugh.
Hatfield’s program boasts a retention rate well over 90%. She says that involving other music teachers and older student musicians as often as possible helps create a stronger musical community and promotes how fun and exciting the music experience can be if students stick with it! Some events that celebrate the musical progression throughout all levels include:
- 8th grade ensembles performing and demonstrating instruments at a recruitment concert for 4th graders,
- the marching band’s special meet-and-greet (while autographing posters) with beginning musicians,
- the annual All-City concert that brings together hundreds of grades 5-12 musicians to perform together.
Hatfield has shared her knowledge by teaching courses on integrating technology into school music programs through the VanderCook College of Music continuing education program. Some of her top tips? Create beautiful and environmentally friendly digital programs that the audience can scan with a smartphone, which “allows you to expand the purpose and reach of your program by including pics and gifs of your students,” she says. Hatfield also says to promote fundraisers and events with direct links, so people can dive deeper into your program notes and the history or inspiration behind your song selections. Finally, transitioning to cloud-based content and visual aids for both students and parents “enable you to effortlessly update them from year to year, share with ease and edit them quickly to accommodate different student needs from anywhere,” she says.