In order to get class started and to keep class going, I have to engage them with fun and meaningful activities. An ideal class moves from success to success with each activity providing just the right level of challenge. When we can find this level of "flow" between boredom and anxiety, the students forget about all but their most urgent needs (eg. the rare occasion someone actually has to use the bathroom), and we can have a fun, fulfilling orchestra rehearsal. This in turn builds their self-esteem, confidence, sense of achievement, and bit-by-bit even helps them to self-actualize.
The challenge, of course, is that students are at all different levels. I have students who have taught themselves the Can-Can, sitting right next to students who are still not quite sure which finger is "first" and which tape it should go on. After much trial and error, I am discovering strategies to differentiate instruction in order to meet students where they are. Here are a few ideas that are working well so far. I would love to hear others!
Differentiating the page:
For students who struggle with reading, having a different kind of notation can make it possible for them to follow along. Other teachers have come up with creative and beautiful ways of depicting fingerings, letter names, and strings. Sometimes in peer mentoring, students will make parts for eachother to help them learn the song. I may not be able to read it, but if it helps them play the tune I want them to use it. These are temporary solutions, and they are accompanied by continued literacy practice.
Differentiating the instrument:
Taking the tapes off of an advanced student's instrument can provide an extra challenge, whereas bow-hold helpers (purchased or created) for a struggling student can take away an unnecesary source of frustration.
Differentiating the music:
In Drumming Orchestra, it is very easy to give students just the right part to challenge them. Having a drum beat going seems to make endless repetitions of open string rhythms and one-finger patterns more satisfying. In regular orchestra, it seems to work best to teach the simpler part to everyone first, and then to give advanced students a harmony to learn in addition. Playing the piece once through in unison and once in harmony gives the less advanced students a second try at the melody, while the more advanced students are practicing something new. When they choose for themselves whether or not to play the harmony, they usually make the choice that is right for them.
Differentiating the learning target:
Sometimes I give a student a secret goal at the beginning of class, with a signal only we know. For example, if they are working on playing on the tips of their fingers, I will tap my fingers at them when I see them doing a good job. This can work for advanced and struggling students alike, because success for the day is defined as something specific to their needs.