Keep students engaged through rhythm, music, and movement.

Keep students engaged through rhythm, music, and movement.

Have you ever known someone who is constantly drumming, or tapping their pen? My brother, a percussionist, was constantly reminded to be still as a child. When asked to stop, leg bouncing became the next option. What my brother really had was a need to move, and so do the students in our classrooms!

Children thrive in a structured environment. Children also need to move. So why not incorporate rhythm and movement into their learning environment in a structured manner? This provides students with the freedom to move as well as the opportunity to interact with each other in a novel and unique way. Drumming builds a sense of community within the classroom as students eagerly wait, actively listening and focused, to positively reinforce others through rhythm, music, and movement.

The first step for implementation is to decide what type of drums should be used. This really depends on the teacher’s preference and budget. Djembe drums work well and sound great, but are more expensive than a simple hand drum. Djembes are ideal for the one or two drum classroom. Hand drums have a decidedly lesser sound quality, but are less cost prohibitive, and easier to store and manage. The lower price point also allows teachers to provide more students with drums if desired.

Drum management is key. Students are only allowed to drum at specific times during a lesson, when prompted by the teacher (or another student) giving someone positive reinforcement for a great idea or a thoughtful response. For example, if a student makes a connection between a text and the real world and the teacher subsequently praises him or her, drumming students would without hesitation give the contemplative student a drum beat.

Drums can be distributed to the entire class so that each child has a drum, or drums could be given to one group of students each day. This increases student focus and engagement exponentially, as students are literally sitting on the edge of their seats, waiting excitedly with bated breath for those key points in the lesson at which they can drum. Research has proven that music, movement, and learning are indelibly linked. Why not capitalize on that?

How do students know how long and when to stop drumming? That is at the teacher’s discretion. He or she must give “the signal,” and all drumming stops. It can be a look, a hand signal (like a snap), or whatever works best. The signal is an integral part of using drums in the classroom. Without this, students lack direction and structure, resulting in a loss of control.

Drums can be a great tool for classroom management as well. Utilize a call and response technique to get students’ attention and help get them focused and ready to work.  Simply drum four beats of rhythm and wait for the students to mimic the rhythm on their drums. Students without drums may even drum on their desks, chairs, legs, or whatever is available. Continue to drum out and listen for a response until all students are participating and where they need to be. Students are amazingly energized and focused all at once.

Take several minutes for movement breaks throughout the day to rhythms the teacher or a student drums.  Have students move freely through their personal space, or play a variety of sounds on the drum and have students mimic the sound with their bodies. Experiment with different dynamics and techniques by tapping, rubbing, striking, and scratching the head of the drum to keep things interesting. “Brain Breaks” such as this keep students fresh, energized, and ready to engage the next dynamic in the classroom.

The use of drums in the classroom as a focus, engagement, management, and community-building tool is definitely an “out-of-the-box” strategy. Well-trained drumming students benefit from the cultivation of a plethora of skills, the least of which include rhythmic movement, positive peer support, and enthusiasm for learning.