Category Archives: Inquisitive Thinker

Final Reflection

At the beginning of the semester I was uncomfortable when trying to get through the lessons, because I was not used to trying to be playful, and I was also not used to teaching through experience.  At first I was more worried about getting through the plan exactly the way that I wrote it than trying to make it fun and enjoyable.  When I looked back at my first couple of lessons from the first semester I was actually shocked to see how different my teachings got, from seeing everyone being bored to actually being playful and having some fun.  I know that there are some issues still with talking a lot instead of doing, and I don’t always have great questions for learning through discovery, but it’s just something that I need to work on.  The more experience I got, the more I could figure out what kinds of questions were appropriate and where to put them.

I have been trying to not make my lessons so strict, both in my planning, and with the way that I presented myself.  This was a combination of me getting comfortable with the class and the people in it, and observing how my mentor teacher handled her classes.  Her style of teaching is very different than the ways we learned in class, but really helped me with sort of combining the things that I liked about each style and working with them in a way that felt comfortable with me.  As the semester went on and we were all becoming more comfortable with each other in class, our lessons all became more playful naturally, because we were trying to have fun like children and act like them to give each other some “real” experience with having to answer questions, correct things, or fix a student that might not be getting it.

I noticed that I got quicker with getting to the point of the lesson so that no one was completely bored, and adjusted the plan as the lessons progressed.  I still need to work on not “telling” so much, but as I got comfortable with the teachings and watching how they were taught in class, I found it easier to memorize plans and didn’t stumble over when to ask questions and move on, and just trying to figure out a way to say what I needed.  It got better to read everyone’s expressions when I was teaching, and being able to adjust and rethink some things before I said them, and to say them differently to get everyone to stay engaged.

I didn’t sing in this lesson, but over the course of the semester I began to become more confident in my singing, and being more playful.  I might struggle sometimes with making sure that I choose keys that children can sing in (and stay in them throughout the lessons), but this is something that I will still have to work on, when I can.  I find myself wanting to revert back to my “strict” way of teaching, but once I get used to not talking so much (at least in a way that is just lecturing) I think that it will sort of come naturally.  I think that talking to other teachers and watching them and the different activities they do will help me find things where it feels natural to be playful and won’t be forced.

I’m not sure what kind of a teacher I am yet, because when I first thought about being a music teacher, general music was something that seemed scary to me, because I have only been in band programs since elementary school.  Now I really enjoy it, teaching and participating, and this course and my internship have completely changed my view on it.  I was scared that I would not be able to keep up the energy everyday, but I think that as long as I focus on making the learning experiences fun, it will become more natural.

I really enjoy teaching, and think that I can be happy teaching whichever music classes I get to.  From this class I think that I can think of more activities for students, to make sure that they are having fun, but also still learning.  I think one of the biggest things is to remember that children can learn, and the more fun you have, or at least the more memorable you can make an experience, the longer things will stay with them.

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Final Project: Frank Elementary (My Mentor Teacher, 4th Grade Choir)

My Mentor Teacher:

My mentor teacher, Cathy Fletcher, is the general music teacher and choir director at the school.  Before teaching at Frank, she taught piano (she still does), and has always been involved with teaching and sharing music and other arts with students in other jobs that she has had.  She says that she loves teaching general music because “this job gives [her] the chance to personally see to it that the children in [her] school learn about the arts and can participate in music activities,” unlike previous administrative roles that she has had.  Her main goals for all of her students are to: (a) to learn to sing correctly and to play an instrument; and (b) to read regular notation. She has a very large collection of Orff instruments in the classroom that she teaches with, and every class gets the chance to play them in practice to keep a steady beat and the older grades learn ensemble pieces.  They also play recorders, in 3rd and 4th grade, where they get their “karate belts” for being able to read a piece of music. They have practice with reading notes almost every class (she has puzzles starting in 2nd grade to read rhythms and notes and also aural exercises). Everything she does in class is to achieve these goals.

She gets her teaching materials by borrowing from other music teachers, GamePlan K-5 teacher editions; visuals & SmartBoard visuals; songs from Music K8 (a subscription that she pays for) and current folk singers that focus on children’s music; classics that she wants to pass on to another generation (e.g., Puff the Magic Dragon; America the Beautiful).  The school originally had two music classrooms, but she was able to get a bigger room and decreased class size so they didn’t need the extra music teacher. With the GamePlan books that she has, she got whole set and visuals when the fine arts coordinator sent out survey and got money from district to get a set for each teacher, though she doesn’t use the discs.  In her “keep the beat” exercise that starts class, she plays a lot of popular music that the students know, and also introduces “oldies” like Elvis and the Beatles and gives them mini-lessons on them.

When asked about what she wished she had right now and what she would like to change, she said: “I have LOTS of resources (30 Orff instruments; 150 recorders; SmartBoard; 5 keyboards; thirty 3/4 guitars, etc.) so I don’t really wish for anything in the classroom. I wish that there were more parent support for extras like getting the children to before-school clubs and performances off-campus. That’s been a huge frustration.” Frank is a Title 1 school, so she gets a lot of funding and the opportunity to run a guitar club, which was replaced by piano club this semester when the school got her 4 new keyboards.  She did provide seats for the students from her own money for the club, that meets for an hour before school on Wednesdays and Fridays, with 2 different groups of students that come in. On days that I have gone in, there are always students that show up late or not at all to keyboard club or 4th grade choir simply because their parents didn’t want to make the trouble. The school had the opportunity to send 10 choir students to a district choir festival, and the students that were chosen originally almost all dropped out because their parents didn’t want to pick them up from the one performance that it required.  For me this is a bit frustrating because I can see that most of the students want to participate but are held back by their parents.

Even though she doesn’t get a lot of parent support, her “district is proactive about supplying each music teachers with current curriculum and hosting special events for [the] choir. The Frank principal is very supportive by using available tax credit money for things like keyboards. The PTO and the City of Tempe provide support for choir shirts. Most importantly, the administration gives lots of support with behavior issues so [she] feel[s] like it’s a team effort to improve the lives and behavior of all [the] kids.”  I am always seeing her talking to the PTO, administration, and other teachers about what she needs and what they can do for each other. There are some parents that are very willing to help and take their students to things, and it is very nice to see that there is some support there.

4th Grade Choir (meets before school 8:30-8:50 ish)

To help get students more interested in music and in choir (officially a class only for 5th graders), she offers a 4th grade choir that meets before school on Wednesdays and Fridays.  It is a club, where students join voluntarily and with their parents’ permission, and they get to perform with the 5th grade choir at their events.  It is not for a grade, but if they have 5 absences (unexcused) they cannot be in it. She normally starts the year with around 50 students, but the number gets smaller as the year goes on.  This is due to parents not getting the students there on time or making them quit because they don’t want to take them in, sometimes students quit, and others meet their 5 absences because they would rather play on the playground before school.

The choir represents the population of the school, almost all of them are hispanic or Native American, and there are very few African American and white students.  There is only one boy, and he seems to feel like he stands out because he always sits in the back and doesn’t seem like he projects as much as he could. He shows up every time that I have, but each time that I have gone in there has been a student that I don’t recognize because they don’t show up regularly or they show up at the end before I get a chance to interact with them or see them interact with their friends.  One of the last times that I went in I saw a student for what I believe was the first time, and she was not able to sing in tune (I am not sure if this is because of her abilities or because she didn’t know the songs due to poor attendance).

There are a lot of them that don’t show up on time, but usually show up to at least be able to sing one song.  Most of the time they are late because they are getting breakfast in the cafeteria, maybe because it is the only chance that they have to eat in the morning, or they like the socializing before school.  She starts with a few minutes of warm-ups at the beginning, and this gives students a chance to show up a few minutes late without being a big distraction. Not all of them participate in the warm-ups, but there are enough of them focused that by the end most of them are singing and not fooling around.  Some of them don’t participate because they don’t know them that well (as a lot of the time they show up after everything is done) and some of them are afraid of them for various reasons.

There are a lot of students that love choir and plan on doing it when they get to the 5th grade.  There are a handful of students that show up every meeting early because they get to take role, and they want to be able to mess around with the instrument that are around the room, mainly the keyboard and Orff instruments, and sometimes the drums that are in the front.  When they mess with the instruments, they don’t really know what they are doing, but pretend that they do and just have a lot of fun together. There are a few that do have some piano experience and like to show of to their friends and teacher that they can play a simple song (this might be due to the fact that the Mrs. Fletcher is a piano player).

It is easy to see which songs they enjoy, because they pay more attention to directions and sing louder, even sit up straighter or look like they are having fun.  They have been working on a song, “The Clouds,” that almost none of them like, it can be seen and heard each time they work on it because they act like they are distracted (more so than usual) and don’t watch the conductor.  Most of the students don’t have the words memorized and always forget what part they are singing. When they get to “Best Day of My Life” they all get excited and sing everything to the best of their ability, and usually ask for it right when they walk in.

One of the songs that they are working on, “Tongo,” has percussion parts that they all get excited to do because they get to rotate who does what part, although they don’t seem to know the song all that well.  It is a lot of call and response with words that are not in English and some of them struggle with memorization, and cannot keep the tempo consistent with the drum parts. They don’t really seem to care, because they are just having fun.  Upon talking to Mrs. Fletcher about them, she told me that the 5th grade choir does well with the song and that they will handle most of the singing and playing.

When they are getting ready for performances, they go from sitting on the rug and having the words projected on the screen to standing and singing the words memorized, and being conducted rather than having Mrs. Fletcher at the piano.  One of the last times that I have gone in was the first time that everyone (that was still a part of the club) had shown up, even if they were trickling in just a few minutes before being dismissed. When they get closer to performances the students show up more frequently, but they don’t ever comment on each others’ attendance.  They are all friends and are comfortable around each other, and at the end they help everyone find their backpacks and leave talking to each other. Whenever the students show up right before the end Mrs. Fletcher is usually willing to have them sing a song one more time so that they can at least do something.

Professional Development Workshop

I was able to attend the 2018 AMEA conference, and one of the sessions that I went to was “Flying a Plane While Building It” led by Jennifer Howard (high school band and guitar teacher) and Shawna Balzer (general music and choir teacher), both graduates of Arizona State University.

This session was all about how to make it through the first five years of teaching, because there are a lot of teachers that quit before they hit that five year mark.  It is important to not be so stressed about teaching, however hard that may be.  There are a lot of things that aren’t taught in college, and you have to be ready for just about anything, like teaching a subject that you aren’t trained in, balancing a budget and doing paperwork, and how to deal with parents and communities.  Making sure that you have a clear grading policy and standards for classroom behavior are important, and to be able to be able to enforce your policy as if your classes are core classes, you need the support of your principal.

The first thing you have to do when you start is develop relationships with your colleagues and principal and be open with them about what you need, because your classroom is very different from a “normal” classroom.  You can always invite your administrators and other teachers to your concerts and events, and if you don’t reach out to them, they probably won’t show up and might not give you the support that you need.  You should try to go to the things that you are invited to, other school events to show that you also support them.

It will take time to establish relationships, but especially if you are planning on remaining in the same school, you need to work on developing connections.  You are going to become a public figure, so you have to get to know your community and your students, do what it takes to build the relationships you need with their parents because a lot of the time the parents have a big impact on your program.  The community around you is also going to have an influence on your program, like what kind of events you have and go to, and maybe even the kind of music that you program.  It is wise to look at the community around your school beforehand and keep up-to-date on it so that you know what you are getting into and what they expect of you.

You have to keep good records, because it is possible for things to get lost.  Things like keeping planners and lesson plans (even back-up lesson plans), organizing everything (paper, electronics, room, parent communication) and avoiding “the pile” are some tips on how to keep from getting overwhelmed.  Taking pictures of things, screenshots, making copies, are things that can help you in the future should you run into any problems.  Also, having shelving in secondary classrooms so that students have access to resources such as etudes, scale sheets, fingering charts is helpful so that students have what they need and they don’t have to disrupt your class.

With any class you can have students come up with their own goals for your class, and class goals to meet by the end of the year, to get them invested in your class, and these goals go up in the classroom.  This can foster a community environment between the students, and the students and you, and can make your classroom feel like “home.”  Being trustworthy and building positive relationships with your students probably the biggest thing to work on during the first few years so that you have the support and resources that you need to run your program.

Jennifer Howard was my high school band director, and a lot of what I do now and the ideas that I have, have in part come from what I have been able to observe from her.  A lot of what they talked about in this session were things that I was able to see actually happening, as teaching at my high school was one of Jennifer’s first jobs, and during my time there and even after I graduated she mentored me a lot.  At my first internship I saw a lot of what they talked about in terms of building good relationships with colleagues and how those positive relationships can help your program, and on the other side I saw how poor organization can cause a lot of unnecessary stress.  At my current internship I also see a lot of relationship building, especially with parents.  My mentor teacher knows almost every student by name and because she helps with pick-up duty she is a familiar face to a lot of teachers, which gives her some of the events that she wants to have.  She stays pretty organized, and almost always has some kind of back-up plan, or at least knows where to go if she is in a bought of trouble.  This session really made me think about these kind of things, and what I need to do right from the start, and just talk to my next mentor teachers about to really find the right path for me.  It doesn’t hurt to ask when you need something, it is better than stressing about it and not being able to figure it out.

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.

Final Project: Frank Elementary (The School, Revised)

The Neighborhood and Community:

The immediate neighborhood around Frank Elementary is sort of run down, compared to the areas surrounding it.  The area that can be seen from the school and the road that everyone sees when they are going to enter the school, looks very old and not kept up.  There is almost nothing within a quarter mile of the school that looks particularly welcoming. The school is located on Priest Dr. between Baseline and Guadalupe 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 large number of the students are from the immediate area and about an equal amount of them walk (⅓), take the bus (⅓), and are dropped off/picked up by car (⅓).  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. Teachers that help with car pick-ups and monitor who each student is going with and know what their cars and parents look like.  There are a lot of students that come from broken homes or have something in their personal lives that they are dealing with when they go to school, such as having a parent in jail, being adopted recently because of a family issue, and other things that they can’t really discuss. They also come from different levels of household income, and this can be seen from who drops them off (the kind of car they drive, whether they need to walk, when they get to the school, etc.) and how they are dressed.  There is one student that I see every time I go to the school and it appears that he only owns one or two pairs of pants that are in the school dress code, and one of them has a very large rip in it, causing him to have to wear some sort of leggings or other pants underneath to cover up. There are students that get dropped off and picked up by parents in very nice cars, and they are always dressed sharply. These are just some of the extremes that I have observed, most students appear to be of similar incomes and situations.

Boundary and Population Stats:

Most of the children and residents of the area are of hispanic, African American, and Native American descent.  From seeing the students, talking to my mentor teacher, and from online research, the student body is 99% minority, with hispanic and Native American making up the majority.  The school is right in the middle of a Native American community, and some of the surrounding area is owned by that tribe, so there are some centers for the Native American school located near the school.  The area owned by the tribe is not kept well, and the school can’t do anything about it. There is a large hispanic community as well, and these communities have a clear divide, in their events and land. This doesn’t really affect the students and how they interact with each other, everyone generally gets along well.  In an area that offers boundary exceptions, here are very few parents that want their children to go to this school, and will often try 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, 99% (2017) 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.  There are some students that bring their own lunches, or their own snacks to have with their lunch, but the majority of students get their lunches from the school.

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 first room that students and visitors see when they go through the office is the library, and on my way to the music room I see boards full of student achievements and a cardboard cutout of a superhero that students can stand in.  The administration almost always says the motto when they sign off from announcements.

In the middle of the school there is a large amphitheater area where they have assemblies once a month to recognize students and their teachers for their excellence.  They are always stressing excellence in their students and trying to make sure that the students know that they have high expectations for them. Recently some teachers coordinated with my mentor teacher to write a school fight/spirit song for their groundbreaking ceremony for the new school and they had every student learn it, and they still sing it at different occasions like the assemblies.  The school’s administration and teachers are always encouraging the students to be a part of the Frank community, and to get along well with each other, which is one reason they have theses assemblies.

At lunch, though, the students all sit in a single row, all facing the same direction, so their only interaction at this time is with those next to them, and my mentor teacher explained to me that this is the best way they have for getting the students to focus on eating and to keep the noise down a bit.  They get the chance to play together at recess, but a lot of the times they play in small groups. The teachers have tried to implement games for everyone to play together and announce it before each grade is dismissed to recess, but a lot of the time it is hard for the students to stay focused in the games and they leave to do some independent play (or small groups).  On Fridays the school has Jamba Juice come and sell small smoothies for $3 as a treat, and there are a lot of students that are always excited to buy some, even when it is cold outside.

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 and are a bit limited in what they can do.  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 (uniform is certain solid-colored polo shirts and no jean pants) 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.  After the AZMerit testing they gave out some alternate dress days as a reward.

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.  On each wall there is something to help them with their puzzles, like the note names and how many counts each rhythm gets, dynamics and tempos, and solfege and hand signs.. She also has a board with different levels as a reward-type system where a student gets to put their teacher’s star on a 1, 2, 3, 4 with 4 being the highest for their behavior.

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.

Mrs. Fletcher knows every student, and is close with them in some way.  They always say hi to her and are excited when they see her in the hallways.  She develops a relationship with every class and student. When they ask questions about her life or share something about themselves, she responds appropriately, and has pictures of some of her family up so that they can understand when she talks about them.  She tries to never yell/get frustrated when there are students that don’t follow directions, or when a class is being a little rowdy. In each class they start with “keep the beat” and a each class a new student gets to be the leader and they always clap for them, and at the end of each class they have the “best row” from the rug and the student congratulate them on their good behavior.  Most of this is from a point system that she has for completing the puzzles and paying attention, and it is a classroom management strategy that she has implemented.

Each grade level tends to have their own curriculum, that she picks based on what they might be doing in class, goals she has for them, things she thinks they might like, and school events that are going on with a theme that she has songs to.  They do a lot of singing, as a goal of hers is to have them singing correctly (using their singing voices not their speaking/yelling voices, using their head voice, matching pitch, etc.) and make sure that they have fun by adding motions. They tend to respond well to the songs that she gives them, even though they are not all a part of their culture.  Some of them are fun or educational in some way, but even when there are country songs they still sing; almost all of the student body is of hispanic or Native American descent, but from what I can see they love music class and don’t ask for their own cultural songs.  She doesn’t have any composers or cultural things around the room, just the music posters and some pictures of her family around her desk.

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.  

Principles/Ideas

  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.