Black Belt Wall of Fame – Recorder Karate Progress
If you’ve followed my blog so far, you know that I work really hard to make students excited about playing the recorder. Students have to really buy in to the idea to want to work on it, otherwise they won’t practice or advance. One of the most effective things that I’ve done is use Recorder Karate by Barb Philipak. Recorder Karate is a book that you can buy and outlines a system to motivate students to play the recorder. When they learn a new song and do a short test they have the chance to “earn a belt” and move to harder music. It’s a great way for them to work independently and with others to achieve their goals. I give them yarn belts to tie on their recorder (belt post here), I post their names on the wall when they earn a new belt (3rd grade wall — 4th grade wall — 5th grade in the hall), and they earn other incentives or prizes when they reach certain levels.
One more thing that I do to try and encourage them to work hard is the “Black Belt Wall of Fame!” I got this frame/graphic of a camera for free from the retail store where I work and hung it in a corner of my room. To make the display a little more festive I tied colorful recorder belts to the twine that I was using to hang the actual frame. I feel like it adds some fun color and also shows kids which belts they need to get to black. You can find a bigger picture of this below.
When a student earns their black belt I give them a certificate, take their picture, and put it up on the wall of fame. When I first hung the wall of fame I only had a couple photos to tape onto the board. Now, I have a ton of kids with smiling pictures hanging on the wall (this picture doesn’t even reflect the 6 or so more that I’ve added recently). I would zoom in on the picture so you can see it better but for privacy reasons I don’t want to show student faces. I take the pictures of students on my iPhone and print them out one by one at home on my printer BUT I’m sure you could use a service like Shutterfly or Snapfish and get quick and cheap prints. Or heck, you could even go to Walgreens (assuming you have one nearby) and get them printed whenever you wanted.
I started teaching recorder at my building two years ago and only taught it to third grade. The next year I taught it to third and fourth grade. This year I taught it to third, fourth, and fifth. I use only part of the recorder karate system each year. They don’t have to try and make it ALL the way through in one year but can spread it out over three years. The hope is that their advanced learning will happen when they are older and more able to handle it. It also means that I don’t have to spend so much time each year on recorder but can teach it in pieces a little bit each year. Since I’ve been teaching a bit at a time I really haven’t had any black belts until now. This is the year that (if students learn and follow the curriculum in my sequence) they’ll get to black belt music and many of them are.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t encourage them to work past what we’re working on in class. They’re allowed to come in and test for belts even if their class isn’t that far yet. IF they want to go home and practice and work ahead, I’m happy to let them try for harder belts. Out in the hallway I have made a display of which belt goes with which song, what you need to learn to get that belt, and the learning goals for each grade. For instance, above the orange belt I have a star with a “3” in it for third grade and little note that says “Our Goal.” Fourth grade’s goal goes with the blue belt and 5th grade’s goal goes with the black belt. I LOVE that anyone can stop my students in the hall (because my principal does this all the time) and ask, “What’s your goal for recorder?” and they can say right away what their goal is.
I don’t have a lot of students with their black belt yet, and so I can print these photos 4×6 and they all fit on the board. The 5th grade class this year had some troubles learning (when they were 3rd graders). I’ll admit that because they were the first class I taught recorder to two years ago, they maybe didn’t get the best instruction (first time teaching that content, first year of teaching period, never played a recorder in my life until then). But my current 3rd and 4th graders are really zooming ahead. I might have to think about making “Wall of Fame” photos smaller so they fit on the board, but that’s a logistical thing that I’ll think about next school year. What a joy that would be to not have enough space to hold the pictures of all your high achieving students!