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Guiding Students Through Ukulele Performances

At this point in the school year, my students have been working so hard on their ukulele playing and we have done some informal whole group, small group and individual performances but now it is time for them to perform a song that they choose themselves, work on by themselves and perform! This process and the idea of performing can make students feel extremely anxious (especially after the pandemic where we haven't been doing as much performing) so here are the things that I do in order to help my students feel comfortable and performance ready!

Give students a choice in song selection.

I always want students to feel like they have choice or that they are involved in their own learning process. When it comes to choosing a song for their performance (chord playing) I usually choose a few modern songs that I know they can play at varying levels. If I want to see them use a specific chord, I'll choose songs that have that chord in it but vary from having two chords, three or four, so that students can make the decision themselves about what they feel like they are capable of handling. There will be a few students that say they want to choose their own song that I do not have available, so I make note of which songs they are, look into them and see if the songs are at their level or if there's a way we can modify them to make it closer to their level. Giving students a choice also keeps them engaged, especially during performance practice periods. Yes this is a lot of work but totally worth it.

Outline clear expectations for what practice periods are for and how to use them wisely

My students in Grades 4-6 are not used to having practice periods where they can go off on their own to work on their own song so each year that we do this and each time during the school year that we do, we always go over the expectations for the period. If some students are playing the same song, I encourage them to work together because I find some peer mentorship works really well and frees me up to help other students as I make my way around the room. I model these expectations during the last song we learn as a class before the performance part of our unit. This way they can see that in one 40 minute period, they can make a lot of progress on their song of choice. These expectations I made into a poster that I put up on the screen in my classroom throughout the entire period so students can refer to it and any time AND so I can refer to it if things begin to get out of hand. I also post this in Google Classrooms in case I am away and students are working with a supply teacher.

Mid-way through performance prep, conference with students individually

Usually after one or two performance practice classes, I set up two chairs in the hallway and invite students to show me what they are working on. Working in the hallway is as private as I can get while also keeping an eye on what's happening in the classroom. This is a great opportunity for me to get some diagnostic assessment done and see where they are at. It's a chance for them to let me know what they are struggling with and I can intervene with some tips to make it easier for them. I find this helps me ensure that I really see each student, check in and confirm what I already know from their group playing.

Go over the performance rubric with them and what you are looking for in a performance

I like to show the performance rubric to students at the beginning of this process and during the last practice period. Students need to know what you are looking for and what the expectations are from the beginning. This way they know what goal they should be working towards and it ties into the expectations for the performance practice periods. This rubric I have available to them to look at because I leave it on the board in my classroom and I post it in the Google Classroom so they can look at it at any time. This is the same rubric that I use to mark their performances as well!

Offer extra practice time or consults during recess times leading up to performance day

My junior students like to play it off like everything is okay and they are super confident but I have found that when I offer these extra practice times, they end up coming to look for help and share their troublesome spots in the song they are learning. It is during their recess time so with the weather getting nicer, the chances of them staying in to practice are slim but the ones who need the extra practice usually do come because they know it's like a second consult before performance day. It's important to me that I have this available time for them because I want to make sure that I am setting my students up for success!

Give students options for performing as well

I think first year Gina would have been more of a stickler about students having to perform in person in front of the entire class but I have found myself letting go of that I lot in the last few years. It's super easy to give students options for performing that they feel comfortable with. The options I usually give are perform solo in front of the class, perform with a partner in front of the class, play for teacher at recess or record for teacher at recess. Again, this is a lot of work to organize and set up but totally worth it to get some real assessment on how students are doing. Most students choose the perform with partner and perform at recess options which is somewhat predictable but I do get a handful of them who want to perform solo which is totally amazing! This is all about ensuring the comfort level of your students and at this point of the pandemic, I want to make sure I'm meeting them where they are at with everything that we do. These options I also plan on continuing after the pandemic too!

Be every students hype person and get the rest of the class involved too!

Before the performances begin, I tell my students the most Canadian thing ever which is: "Cheer for your peers like your favourite hockey team scored in the last minute of overtime during the final game for the Stanley Cup." For a very Canadian reason, this resonates with them and after each student performs, the audience is in an uproar of support for the performer. I made these little signs (pictured to the right) for the audience members to show and wave as well which I find helps the audience show their support! You can grab these here to download for free!

I hope these ideas help you guide your students through a ukulele performance! This time of year can be super nerve-wrecking for students and these simple things I implement in my classroom really help calm those nerves and lead to some amazing performances!

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