Thursday, October 29, 2015

Differentiating With Student Tutors in the Music Classroom

It can be hard to manage a classroom while trying to give each student what he or she needs. I have developed a recorder program that enables my 5th grade class of 27 students to receive individualized help and learn at their own pace.

Five years ago, my favorite mentor teacher and I designed a black belt system for the recorder. We incorporated 24 folk songs that my students know and love since they started singing them in Kindergarten. The students earn 9 belts culminating with a black belt.

Yarn and beads for the Black Belt

At the beginning of 5th grade, I review the folk songs by singing them, doing the solfa hand signs (solfege), playing the associated song games, and reading the notes. This builds up a great desire in the students to start recorder, which starts at the beginning of the 2nd term, only after every student can read the notes for the black belt system.

I start the students as a group to get them all through the first three belts in the system. The most eager students come to school 15 minutes early to work on the recorder and pass off songs to me. Some students start earning their black belt in a matter of weeks and become tutors in order to help other students learn and pass off their songs.

For the past four years, every single 5th grader has earned their recorder black belt. They wanted to learn even more songs, so we now have 75 songs beyond the black belt. When students earn the black belt, they receive a special black belt chart on the bulletin board outside my classroom. They get a picture icon on the chart for each song they learn beyond the black belt. The students who pass off every available song also use music software to write arrangements of their favorite songs to play on the recorder.

My bulletin board gets taken over by black belt charts

This is a win/win system. The advanced students develop leadership while advancing at their own pace. I also have happy students who are motivated by passing off fun and interesting songs. All students work hard to earn their black belt so they can move on to the extra belt songs and also be a tutor. It is amazingly motivating. 

This student has earned a ton of belts beyond the black belt

My free black belt system has 9 belts (24 songs) and the details of how I run my program. 

My 315 page Recorder Mega Pack has everything you need to further motivate and keep your students learning way beyond the black belt.

This is a HUGE hit at my school and is something that even little brothers and sisters look forward to! It has become a big tradition at my school and is a wonderful way to help every student reach his or her potential.  


  1. I am all for anything that encourages students to help and support each other in positive ways while allowing for differentiated instruction! I use a similar setup for my recorders but it is less formalized than yours- the systems you have set up are excellent! #fermatafridays

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth! I have spent years getting my system the way I want and it is very gratifying for me and the students.