A very common program that is run by many junior music teachers is called Recorder Karate. The program is a series of songs that the kids learn on the recorder that get progressively more difficult. After each song that they have completed correctly, they receive a “karate belt” with a corresponding colour.
Recorder Karate is a program that encourages student growth and allows for a highly differentiated music class. Every student is working at their own level and receiving consistent, specific feedback about their progress. You can buy the program online through Music K-8.
The program looks like this in my classroom:
5 minutes- Warm-up/hand out recorders (either a student or I lead a quick warm-up)
10 minutes- Sight reading/song practice (we work together on difficult spots within the songs)
20 minute- Independent practice and testing of students
5 minutes- Sharing/clean-up ( I invite anyone who wants to share to come to the front and be a shining star)
After running this program for a few years, I have learned from some of the mistakes that I have made. I hope some of these ideas will help you with your recorder karate program.
I have learned:
- Never start the program without taking a period to do an activity on building community. When I first starting doing the program, I used to dive right in as I felt that I had such limited time with the students. However, during the program, inevitably someone received a belt before someone else and another student struggled to get through the first song. I learned that if we took the time to do activities that talked about “put-ups” instead of put-downs, this encouraged positive language and the class was less competitive. Now most students will high five each other every time someone passes, no matter what level they are at.
- Feedback needs to be quick and easy for students to understand. I used to give elaborate feedback to students on pages and pages of paper and I realized that all that writing took up too much class time. Also, the students never read it and it was not helpful in moving the students forward. Now I have a simple chart that they refer to regularly and I can see at a moment’s notice where the student is having trouble. Also, I want to get through at least ten students in a period. This requires my assessment to be quick, specific and to the point. (I have attached the template that I use for my assessment tracking.)
- There is only one of me in the room. I have learned to accept the fact that I see my students for 40 minutes and I cannot help everyone every period. I have learned to stress to the class that we are a big recorder learning team and we need to work together. Sometimes I assign people to help others, and other times I do a mini lesson with one group while another group is being led by another student. What I have seen is that for students, sometimes helping another student to improve solidifies their own learning.
- Recorder karate is great to run with one grade while you are prepping your other classes for performances or concerts. Once Recorder Karate is up and running, there is very little preparation for each period. This can be SO helpful when preparing concerts, choirs and all the other performances your students will do throughout the year.
Overall, my students have had a lot of success with recorder karate and it is a program that I would recommend to junior music teachers.