Humor in the Classroom

One thing that made me think that I could never teach at the elementary level was having to have a positive attitude and being willing to be silly in the class to keep students engaged in some way and get them back on track.  I am normally a very serious person and really struggle to find ways to talk to younger kids because I don’t understand how they think.  When I was reading these stories I started to think about my current mentor teacher, because she does a lot of things like this that get the students to enjoy what they are doing and to keep good relationships with them.  I have had comments from previous teachers and just people that I meet that say I need to not be so serious and smile a bit more.  That is something that I am working on, because I can recognize now some of the things that teachers have to do at times like the over-acting and dealing with the students that like to joke around.  One thing that my mentor teacher does with all of her grades is “sol-la-mi” (salami) and it is a game that they play, where they are practicing solfege and hand signs, but if she sings “sol-la-mi” and they echo it she gets a point and if they catch it and are silent they get a point.  They go crazy over this because she does a really good job at joking around with them because she “hates salami!” and they love the game, especially when they win.  At first I thought this was weird but she does stuff like this all of the time, like picking songs that have something silly about them or a movement that she can throw in because it keeps them interested and enthusiastic about music class.  It might be hard for me to keep up with the energy of the students all of the time and be silly when I need to be, but I think that as time goes on I can become more comfortable with it and just take note of the things that I see teachers doing that are effective.


Orff and Kodály

Making, making up, making sense in Frazee’s book are part of the Project Model of Orff.  ‘Making’ is the setting of goals that are going to be accomplished in the Orff unit and the specific rhythmic and pitch goals that make up the whole.  The ‘making up’ step is where the students are creating their own pieces based on what they have from the ‘making’ portion.  The ‘making sense’ portion is when students can show and explain what it is that they have learned, rather than just performing and forgetting the experience.  Students get the chance to reflect on what they did, and this makes what they did more meaningful and memorable than just doing a game or making a song for just one class.  This kind of reminds me of what we did at the beginning of the semester when we learned ‘John Kanaka.’  We started with learning the song, and eventually ended up playing instruments (unpitched percussion) at different parts of the song and we had the chance to pick what parts worked well with our instruments and explained why we chose what we chose.  In an activity like this, you have to start with what you want them to learn (make), how you are going to get them there (making up), and how you are going to have them show you what they learned (making sense).  I think that in my own classroom I will apply these steps, where I have an idea of what the students are going to need to learn and find good ways to get them engaged in learning so that at the end of the unit they can know and remember what they learned.  I think that allowing the students to be creative in the process will help them to retain more and enjoy learning, and not just having a teacher tell them what to do.

Scott suggests that the questions you pose to students should encourage them to go and solve the problem through discoveries and testing (constructivism).  Learning  in the Kodály classroom is a social thing, where students are an active part of their learning and are having a meaningful experience.  Teachers should ask questions that guide students to analyze their own work, something that can be applied to other real-life situations, especially when problem solving.  Teachers can move from large group instruction and assessment to small groups and individuals and have students create a community learning atmosphere where they are comfortable asking and answering questions.  Teachers should also recognize that sometimes the students can become the teachers and ask their own questions.  Teachers can ask open-ended and really broad questions to get students thinking about what they are doing, and how they can apply what they are learning.  The questions can also be right/wrong that relate to the concrete things they should be learning, and make them conscious of what they are learning so that they can apply it to the open-ended questions they might be asked.  Asking broad questions gives the opportunity for a lot of different answers, and a lot of ways for them to explore things on their own.  Gradually questions can become more complex as the content is getting more complex.

Frazee’s and Scott’s approaches to the Orff and Kodály process/principles are empowering for students because they give them the opportunity to learn skills that they can take in whatever direction that they want.  They can take what they are experiencing in their everyday lives and bring it to the classroom and relate it to their music.  They are actively involved in the entire experience because it is a way for them to remain engaged in their learning, and it makes it a meaningful experience.  In their approaches, they both allow for the students to be the teacher at some point, whether they are helping another student out or they are teaching the teacher something that they did not know.  Being a part of a learning community is much more empowering than having the teacher telling everyone what they have to do and only being able to do what the teacher wants.  Students have a lot of opportunity to express themselves, through improvisation, and the teacher is guiding them in their learning.  We have encountered this with our readings on scaffolding and constructivism, where teachers are helping their students get to a new level and that learning is a social thing that requires active engagement.  Teachers are usually the ‘more knowledgeable other’ and act as models for the students, getting them to work on their problem solving skills.  In our experiences that we have almost every day in class, the teacher scaffolds carefully whatever it is that they are doing and we have learned how to analyze what it is that they are doing and instead of giving us the answers on what it is that they are doing, we come together in small groups and discuss the questions that they have for us.  Everything is based on getting the students to learn how to learn and think for themselves rather than being told what to do all of the time.

Phase 1: Frank Elementary

The Neighborhood:

The immediate neighborhood around Frank Elementary is sort of run down, compared to the areas surrounding it.  The school is located on Priest Dr. and the road that leads to it is very small and causes a lot of traffic, but it is very safe because of the reduced speed and limited number of lanes.  The businesses that are around it are all very close to each other and are mostly Hispanic markets and food shops and auto shops, and they themselves are very old and are in okay shape but still look a little run down in comparison to other businesses in the area.  The school is surrounded by houses on almost all sides, with some Tribe land with properties that block the school from the main road, and these are fenced off but make the school look not that welcoming.  There is not a lot that goes on in the area, most of the noise that is around the school is from the traffic.  The cars that are in the area tend to be older, just like the houses that can be seen from the school grounds and the road that I take when I get there.  From looking at the houses that are in the area compared to the houses that are further away but still included in the boundary are worth a lot less ($60,000 vs $400,000) and there are a lot of properties in the area that are currently up for auction.

The Students:

A lot of the students are from the immediate area and about an equal amount of them walk, take the bus, and are dropped off/picked up by car.  They are almost always being dropped off/picked up by parents or guardians, and all of these students are observed by teachers as they are leaving the school.  My mentor teacher helps with car pick-ups and monitors who each student is going with and knows what their cars and parents look like.  From talking with my mentor teacher, I found out that there are a lot of students that come from broken homes or have something in their personal lives that she found shocking such as a lot of them having parents in jail or being adopted due to various reasons

Boundary and Population Stats:

The people that are in the area are mostly Hispanic, African American, and Native American.  From seeing the students, talking to my mentor teacher, and from online research, the student body is 99% minority, with Hispanic making up the majority.  My mentor teacher said that there are not a lot of people that want their children to go to this school, and will often try to get boundary exceptions to go to other schools because of the area that it is in.  The boundary is very weird, to me, because the school is located so close to one border and spreads out, which is one reason I think that parents choose to send their children elsewhere.

School Programs and Resources:

The school offers free breakfast to every student, whether or not they are on free or reduced lunch, because it is their belief that students that eat breakfast are more likely to succeed.  That being said, the majority of the students are part of the free or reduced lunch plans (free, reduced $0.40, full $2.50), meaning that their family income is low enough for them to qualify and there are a lot of students that bring their own lunches.

The school has its own website as part of the Tempe Elementary District No3 district website, and there are only a few teachers that have their own websites, including the general music teacher.

The School:

The school’s halls are all very welcoming and full of school spirit, displaying their motto of: Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be a Scholar! and the students class projects.  Each classroom has its own bulletin board that they can put things on.  Throughout the halls there are a lot of positive signs and banners for different colleges and universities (I think this is to motivate students).  The administration almost always says the motto when they sign off from announcements.

The school is surrounded by gates and there are some security cameras in the halls so that they can keep an eye out and keep everyone safe, but the cameras are a bit old.  The administration and other members of the staff walk around the halls sometimes, and monitor the students at recess, but the students are often alone in the halls when they are going to the restroom or they take the bathroom pass and walk around the halls themselves.

The district has a handbook for the students and families, for them to know the rules and resources of the district, and the Frank students have to have their parents sign and return a page to know that they understand it.  It is available in English and Spanish.

The school has a dress code to minimize distraction for the students, and are fairly strict in enforcing it, but they have some alternative dress days and on Fridays they are allowed to wear school themed clothes.

The school is going to be rebuilt over the next few years, in the same area to keep the same address, but they are getting all new buildings and parking lot and once the new school is build the old building (built in 1929) will be torn down.  The administration is keeping the parents and community updated as they are going through different phases.

The Music Room:

Frank is a Title I school, so there is a lot of funding for the extracurricular activities like band, orchestra, choir, general music, and other music clubs.  There are a lot of orff instruments that are all grouped together that the students love, there are a lot of African drums, and recorders that are available to the students.  There are also a lot of music symbols and puzzles on the boards that the students get to do and are quizzed on, and the teacher uses the SMART board a lot when they are learning songs to have the lyrics displayed.  The students all have their assigned spots on a rainbow rug with squares in it, and they are very good about sitting in their own spots so that they are facing front and are paying attention.  The school also has a lot of guitars that don’t get used (there is no longer a guitar club), but the teacher recently bought 4 keyboards to have a keyboard club 2 days a week for an hour before school to get some students playing and reading a staff.  She also has a 4th grade choir that comes in before school sometimes to get them ready to join choir in 5th grade.  The students know that there are a lot of other instruments like various hand percussion that are put away in the cabinets that they look forward to for different activities.

My Honors Thesis/Creative Project


As a music educator in the digital age, it is important to be comfortable teaching a variety of music types, including music technology and offering students the opportunity to record and be recorded.  Being comfortable with recording an artist as a soloist or as part of a group and being able to produce a quality mp3 file, or some other type of file such as .wav or mp4, of them is a great opportunity for music teachers to give students a record of their time as a musician and the opportunity to reflect on their own performances. Recording can also be used for audition purposes. Depending on the resources available to individual teachers or the schools that they teach at, teachers will have to be able to evaluate what type of equipment is appropriate for their desired recording subject and what is a good value for their money while still having to be cost-efficient. Some teachers may have the opportunity to work with professionals, and either have them take care of the whole process or be able to personally use their equipment, depending on their relationship and complexity of the equipment. Some teachers will only have access to the most basic recording materials, and will have to use them to the best of their ability to produce what they are wanting to. Some teachers will not have access to either of these, and will have to find the appropriate equipment with the resources they have available. All of these situations benefit music educators, and it is up to the music educator to be aware of the different opportunities available to them and their students.

Plan for Research:

Throughout this project I will be looking at recording equipment and recording techniques for different types of studios and how they can be connected or used with music education.  My goal for the end of this project is to have a database for music educators to have access to so that they can record their classes and ensembles with ease and be able to produce a good quality product.  This project is very experimental and exploratory, and having things stored here is a way to stay organized and begin giving these tools to others.

Children’s Singing

Video 1: Masai children singing

The song they are singing seems to be a call and response with one of the children being the leader that calls something out and the rest of the group joins in and repeats.  There are two parts to the song, with the change indicated by the leader calling out quicker and while the response is happening and the second part has an addition to what was already being called out.  I think that this connects to what Ysaye Barnwell led in that this group of kids became a community that worked together and didn’t need a conductor or anything, they were listening to each other and found a way to work together to have a musical and community experience.  Their voices are all high, but that is to be expected with younger kids and having the higher pitch makes it project more.  They all sound like one, and they are able to stay in tune with each other.  Their voices are not very sing-songy but they are very clear.  They all seem to be enjoying themselves, they are moving and singing together and look like they are just having a good time.

Video 2: PS22 Chorus “EMPIRE STATE OF MIND Pt. XXII” Jay-Z & Alicia Keys

This song was probably chosen for these kids because it is something that they can relate to and are able to enjoy singing.  As the song goes on I noticed that they had movements for the chorus and as they kept singing it they were getting more into it.  The song is getting them excited, and I think that is because it is a motivating song.  The leader is at the piano, and as he is playing he is giving them cues on coming in and cutting off, and just to get them excited and more engaged.  I think that their singing was really good, they didn’t sound like inexperienced kids, they like what they are doing.  It was getting more in tune as it went on, and it was most in tune in the chorus, especially when they were dancing to it and the range was higher, where everyone was comfortable.  At the end everyone was getting excited and everyone was moving, and they ended it and everyone was happy, there was even a kid that did a happy dance and the leader was very encouraging.

Video 3: Children singing at Carden Academy Huntington Beach Music. Carden Academy Performing Arts

The children sing the refrain best because it is the only thing that repeats.  The melody is the same with different words, but they don’t always catch onto that so the teacher does a lot of the singing for them and they just jump in when they get to something that they recognize.  They sang the beginning with a lot of confidence and that kind of went away with each verse.  This shows me that children’s music should be very repetitive so that they can learn it and feel confident when singing.  The students in the video did a good job staying with the teacher, so they can learn it, but they did much better when they knew what was coming up.  Their voices are all very high, and the teacher did not choose an appropriate key because it was a little low for them and she was basically singing to them the whole time.  At the end they were all together, because it was the refrain, and there was a kid that was imitating the teacher and hung over the rest of them just a little.

Video 4: Cantare Con Vivo: Instructor Lydia Mills teaches South American Folk Song

I think that the children are likely to enjoy the song because it has a cool beat and a funny story that they can imaging and (possibly) relate to.  It is repetitive, even within itself, and it is short.  It is like a story, so if they need a way to learn it you could just ask them what would come next.  They would sing it well because it is very simple and the melody is repetitive and it does not require a large range.  Like we do in class, I would ask them to listen as I sing it a few times and each time ask them something to listen for, like “what kind of cat is he?” and “what does he like to do?” until they are all the way through and are singing it because they have already heard it multiple times.

Video 5: Phoenix Children’s Chorus National Anthem at Diamondbacks Game – August 29, 2015

The children’s ages looked like they ranged from elementary to high school, but they were all wearing different shirts, so they were separated and then put together for the song.  They all sounded really good, considering the age range and pace of the song.  The SSB is a song that you start to learn in elementary school, so the kids probably didn’t have a hard time learning it, but it was different because it was a choral arrangement.  The melody was not sung as if it were a soloist, but there were independent parts, and I was a little surprised that the younger kids were able to follow everything (I think they were singing the melody, and the older girls and low voices had different parts).  I don’t think that I have ever heard of this group.

Video 6: Ah Poor Bird!

The children are doing an okay job at first with following her, but then things get a little weird and the kids change it to major when she stops singing.  I think that they do this because a lot of songs are in major and if they aren’t looking for that difference they aren’t going to notice it.  As they become more independent they are gaining confidence, but it is wrong, and once she says that it is a sad song some of them seem to get it and at the end it’s not perfect, but it looks like they are actually trying to make it sound minor.  I think that she was more worried about getting them to sing together and in a round than tonality, and once they were able to focus on the big picture (singing the round).

LAST: Takeaways

I learned that children can actually sing, that you can expect them to try and be successful.  The songs that they sing have to be fairly repetitive so that they can remember both words and melody, but they can do it.  Even if it is just getting them to sing a chorus/refrain while the teacher sings the verse, they can eventually sing the song and be a part of something and successful in what they can do.  They can even move with music, it would make it more fun and easier to remember. It is important to be supportive of children singing, negativity will not get them anywhere, and you have to scaffold it in a way so they always feel like they are actively involved in what it is they are singing.  I like the questioning strategy that we use in class.  It is not good to just throw a song at students, especially in a non-musical way like having them say the lyrics then putting them to a melody, because they won’t get anything out of it, or to get upset with them when they can’t figure something out.  I think that the strategies we have used in class of constant repetition and asking questions are really good ways of teaching students, and not letting them get lost, or making them feel like they are doing something wrong.  It is also good to give students the opportunities to make choices, in class and their songs, because it can make them feel more comfortable in participating and actually singing.  Singing for them is fun.  I don’t think that most of them really care all that much about being accurate, they just want to have fun and create something.  I have forgotten about this aspect of music over the years, and watching these videos reminded me of that.  When a student is trying, they should receive constructive feedback and encouragement rather than get scolded for not doing it 100% correct, like the “Ah Poor Bird!” leader.  


  1. Get the children involved in the learning process:  It is important to get students interested in what they are learning, and making it more accessible to them by having them participate rather than telling them to do something.  At each level they can get more involved, so it always seems like they are doing something and learning more, and the more you see them learning and participating, the more you know about how they learn and their abilities.
  2. Teach them something that they want to know: Teach them something that they want to learn and that they can take to other aspects of their lives, so that they enjoy learning about music and develop an actual interest in it and become more independent.  When you teach them something that they are interested in or related to what they like, you have students that are actually willing to learn from you.
  3. Know yours and your students’ abilities: It is important to start teaching where students are at in terms of skill and knowledge so that you are not boring them or making them not like music, and you keep them at a level where they are confident enough to participate.  You have to know what you have the ability to teach, and learn from the students and what they are like so that you can be confident in what you are doing in your classroom, or work towards learning something that you can teach.