Webster City Middle School vocal music instructor Dane Barner is trying some new approaches with the program to help get and keep students interested in music throughout their school years.
“My main goal is to keep kids in music all the way through,” he says. He has been coordinating efforts with high school instructor Andrew Wotherspoon to help prepare kids for what they can look forward to at that level.
Something he recently tried was letting the seventh and eighth grade chorus students take some “impromptu” solos during the Christmas concert.
“In rehearsals, we all practiced the parts, and that night at the concert, I gave anyone who wanted to the opportunity to come forward and sing the solo parts,” Barner explains. “The kids loved it.”
Letting students have choices in music selection and explaining the “why” behind what he’s teaching are some other methods he’s implementing.
This is Barner’s first year at the middle school. The UNI grad has done some master’s work in choral conducting and is in his seventh year of teaching. He came to Webster City from Danville, where he taught K-12 music for two years. As parents of two young sons, he and wife Annie, a paraprofessional at Pleasantview School, are enjoying being close to family in this part of the state.
“It makes life easier for us,” he says. His family appreciates the family-oriented, comforting atmosphere of Webster City.
“It’s been a great opportunity,” Barner says of the professional learning community at the middle school. “Our team teaching works well,” he says, praising his coworkers in the music department, Lynn Corrow and Jon Jensen.
“My major focus in teaching is always on literacy and teaching the kids how to read music, he says. “Not teaching kids how to read music is like not teaching a first grader how to read a book.”
The teacher pushes students gradually — training them in new skills and seeing them work beyond his expectations.
“I’ve been able to teach farther and get better results than I ever have,” he says. One of his favorite things about teaching is when he is asked a question he hasn’t had before. He’ll then answer and explain to the entire class so all can benefit.
Striking a balance between having fun and meeting learning criteria is a principle on which Barner focuses. He spells out behavior expectations and consequences and strives to instill an attitude of success in his students.
The instructor is also involved with the new Music Boosters organization, which supports both vocal and instrumental music activities at the middle and high school.
“We want people to be involved. It’s not necessarily fundraising, but we’re looking for additional support with some jobs to help make our events better,” he explains. He says numbers are improving as the organization continues to grow.