Submitted by Barb Philipak, Missouri

Idea posted January 8, 2002

Introduction

Before I began teaching, I had never played the recorder before. In my first teaching job, I found out that recorders were in the curriculum for fourth and fifth grades. So, needless to say, I was a little frightened by the fact that I had to teach recorders. However, after creating and using "Recorder by Karate," it is now one of my favorite things to teach!

I wanted to find a really great way of teaching recorders to the kids - all kids - including the special education kids and the hard-to-reach kids. I wanted a way to get them playing at home and keep them really motivated through the whole unit. I also wanted to find a way to let the kids work at their own pace, because I felt that if I tried to keep all the kids together, the ones who were behind would just quit all together and the ones who were ahead would get frustrated for moving too slow.

So, I did a ton of research, reading, and reflection. I remembered something that I had learned through my own experience with piano lessons as a child and also in my own experience with teaching piano. When students practice a new song and they know how it is supposed to sound, they will practice it more and will work harder to make it sound correct. So, I decided to base this book on folk songs that most kids are familiar with. Then, I added the motivation of receiving 'Karate belts' to get the students excited.

I tried this idea and it WORKED even better than I imagined!! The kids LOVED it!! I had kids lined up outside my door during my plan times and before and after school. The response was tremendous! The first year I had 74% of all my students who went on beyond the required purple belt. And, I had 56 students who received their black belt. (At our end-of-the-year Awards Assembly, I made awards and gave them to the black belts. They loved this!)

I had classroom teachers tell me how great they thought this idea was and how the kids wouldn't stop talking about it! I had special education teachers who were in shock at how well their students were doing and how excited they were! One boy, who is ADHD, manic-depressive, and very defiant, ended up getting his black belt. It was really a turning point for him. Another special education student who is LD was getting frustrated and upset, so I created an iconic version of the songs, and after he got his fourth belt, he told me he was ready to try "normal" music with the letter names written in. He also got all the way to black belt! Another student who is normally not on task and believes it is his job to entertain the class also got his black belt. I received a wonderful note from his parents telling me how much they loved the Recorder Karate idea, because their son was more motivated about school and this assignment than they had ever seen before.

The recorder is an invaluable instrument for improving all aspects of musicality and is an excellent pre-band instrument. The hard part about teaching recorders to students is to get them to enjoy it enough to keep practicing on their own. Recorder Karate makes this easy. Kids LOVE it! They will come to you begging to test for their next Recorder Karate belt. The results have been truly amazing. Students are practicing WAY MORE than they normally would AND finally everything that we have taught them about music up until this point (rhythm, notes, staff, symbols, etc.) just 'clicks' and makes sense.

I have all my kids who aren't testing work in groups with specific jobs. Each group is working on a certain song. Some days there are many groups working on the same song, but it varies. Also, my kids who are really advanced help out others... A LOT! I have never had this much enthusiasm about ANYTHING else. I have had SO MANY more kids sign up for band these last few years than EVER before. Our job isn't always about 'teaching a lesson,' it is also to help the kids learn to LOVE music. Learning these songs, getting them right, and getting the recorder belt make it exciting. It makes them motivated to keep playing - and they learn to LOVE it!

How it works

Following is a list that I chose for my Recorder Karate unit. I decided that I didn't want the songs to be too easy - I wanted the kids to have to work for it, but I also wanted the black belt to be attainable. I worked really hard to make sure that my list of songs got progressively harder. I didn't want it to be so easy that all the kids would get their black belt, but I wanted the students to feel success. Also, I was afraid that if I made the songs too hard that a lot of kids would just get discouraged and quit early on.

My most important goal here was that the kids enjoyed playing enough that they actually practiced on their own and that they had fun while they acquired good playing skills. I believed that if they had fun and felt success at playing the recorder, the chance of them continuing with band and choir in middle and high school would be greatly increased!!

You can certainly make up a list that works for you with the music/books that you have available and that meets your goals for this unit. (Hint: One thing that I learned since I was so new at this, was to remember that it wasn't just new notes that made a song harder, it was also the rhythms, length of note values, and meter.)

Details of Recorder Karate unit:

  • White - "Hot Cross Buns" BAG
  • Yellow - "Lullaby" BAG
  • Orange - "Merrily We Roll Along" BAG
  • Green - "It's Raining, It's Pouring" BAG E
  • Purple - "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" BAG ED
  • Blue - "When The Saints Go Marching In" BAG C'
  • Red - "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" BAG F#
  • Brown - "Amazing Grace" BAG ED D'
  • Black - "Ode To Joy" BAG D C'D'

The first week I taught BAG, one at a time, and I taught "Hot Cross Buns" by rote. I started testing for belts at the end of the second week. I did not require the kids to memorize the songs, although a lot of them did anyway.

I use embroidery thread (6-strand) as the belt. I tied the first couple of belts on so they learned how and then I let them tie it on themselves to save time.

I used the following grading rubric:

  • 5 - Plays with very few mistakes and good tone and rhythm.
  • 4 - Plays with few mistakes in pitches or rhythm.
  • 3 - Plays with several mistakes in pitches and rhythm.
  • 2 - Plays with many mistakes in pitches, rhythm, or in fingering a particular note.
  • 1 - Plays with many mistakes and rhythm, poor tone, many starts and stops, and/or seems very unsure of fingers.

If the students get a 5, 4, or 3, they get a belt. If they get a 2 or 1, they have to try again on another day. Also, I usually only let them test for one belt per day. I make exceptions to this when they come to see me outside of class time or if no one else is ready to test (which rarely, if ever, happens).

To do the testing, I did group teaching for about 15-20 minutes, then I had the kids break up into groups of four. Each person had a job: one person starts the group by saying 1-2-ready-go; one person stopped the group if they heard problems; one person was in charge of correcting the mistakes; and one person checked to make sure that the mistake was fixed. While they worked in groups, I heard those who were ready to test. Different groups worked on different songs depending on what belt they were trying for. It was great to see the cooperative learning that happened when many students helped others who were having problems.

Also, I only required them to test through purple belts for a grade (although I didn't tell them this for quite awhile so that ALL of them would keep working). I also made a modified song list for belts for Special Education kids.

This is only a small part of what you will receive in Recorder Karate. There will be many other classroom management suggestions on assessment, 'noise' control, and behavior. There will also be helpful hints, fun ideas, and lesson plans for getting this unit started. There are reproducible worksheets for the students on how to hold and play the recorder. There is also a tutorial for teachers on how to play the recorder. There is reproducible music for each of the songs, reproducible tests and worksheets, and reproducible certificates for your awards.

I hope that you enjoy this book and that your students love playing recorders as much as mine do!!

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