Reading, Retelling, and Rhythm
This week we started working in a new subject area - reading. Rachel gave me a couple areas to focus on which were fluency and retelling a story. We're kind of in the phase where were just coming up with ideas, trying stuff, and seeing what works.
For retelling we talked about finding the beginning, middle, and end of a story, and using that to guide our retelling of the story. I thought this might relate in general to musical form. I talked to the students about how both stories and music have a beginning, middle, and end. We came up with some physical gestures (hands on head, hands on heart, and hands on floor) to help kids recognize and remember where they were in the story. I also wrote a very short song in three sections and presented that to the students before Rachel read to them.
Eventually we put together Rachel reading the story (a book called "Salt Hands") with me playing the music I had written. Students could use the musical cues and physical gestures to help cue them into the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Students were asked the next day to retell the story and Rachel felt like there was definitely some improvement!
Later in the week, we read a longer book about some boys who live on a farm and accidentally planted pumpkins all over town, which grew so big they took over. (Pumpkin Town!) After hearing the story, the students came up with places they thought music would fit into the story and what it would sound like. We came up with some music together and then used the music to retell the big parts of the story. I had some trouble remembering all the music we came up with, but the students always told me when I played the wrong cue. Next time I'll have to write it all down!
One moment that I knew the kids were really making connections was at the end of the story. Early in the story, the boys throw the pumpkin seeds into the wind, and they fall down on the town. The students said I should drag my fingers up and down the keyboard (glissando) to represent this. At the end of the story, the father of the boys throws some watermelon seeds into the wind and of course they fall on the town. Right away, one of the students said "We should use the same sound we had at the beginning!" (I could practically see lightbulbs over all their heads.)
We also worked on fluency with some poems. I asked students to conduct a beat and say some nonsense syllables in the rhythm of their poem. Then we read the poem together and observed if the fluency and rhythm of the poem had improved. I think for some students this helped, others seemed a little lost as we pushed the tempo to try to get the students to read a bit faster. All of this was done in a group, and I wonder if it would be worth while hearing students one on one with their poems next week. We'll see!
Due to a few factors I had some time off from the classroom this week, so I put a lot of energy into brainstorming and planning. But I've also had some time to reflect. My blogging is usually pretty matter of fact... here's what we did and it went like this and here's what I think about it... so it's probably time for one of those touchy-feely/wear my heart on my sleeve kind of blogs.
So last week and I had a really difficult week with some unrelated professional obligations and had to make some tough discoveries about myself and make some really hard choices. It was emotionally difficult has taken a while to process.
Just as I was feeling my worst, I went to Rachel's class, and had a great lesson with her students. As a special surprise at the end of the day, they all sang their "Start of the Day" song for me at the end of class with Rachel accompanying them on her new guitar. They have been singing it each morning (during a time I haven't been in class) and were really excited to sing it for me. Everyone did a great job and I could tell that the kids were proud of what they had accomplished and Rachel had worked hard to be able to play the song on the guitar. I saw that our ideas of using the song for community building had found some success and I saw the potential for this activity to be successful in future years when I'm no longer in Rachel's class.
So I had a moment where I saw evidence of the difference this initiative will make in the long run and how much joy it brings to our students. And in that moment, it also brought a lot of much needed joy to me.
Lions, and Tigers and Bears
We finished up our animal unit this week with a performance day on Monday. Everyone explained how they linked the sound of their instrument to their animal and then performed their composition. I've begun posting some of the students work and our documentation here.
Overall, I think the composition unit was a success. We successfully got the kids to think about their animals in a pretty abstract and creative way, and integrated music into their science research project. I also think Rachel will be able to do this unit on her own in future. I think we might have been able to streamline it a little more, but overall I think it was pretty effective and reinforced what the students were learning about their assigned animals.
The rest of the week we took the animal unit one step further and the students wrote poems about their animals, much like the "Carnival of the Animals" had accompanying poems. I helped out with this and related it to how I write a song. We talked about rhyming and ways to find words that rhyme, as well as the most effective place to put rhymes in a poem. The students all used at least on rhyme in their poems and they look pretty adorable.
We're taking a little time to plan the next unit which will be working on reading skills. We have a lot of ideas on how music can help with various aspects of reading, but they need a little fine tuning. We'll see what happens!
It was all about animals this week. The kids have been researching animals in science time and afterwards have been making connections of animals and music.
Monday and Tuesday we watched some clips from Carnival of the Animals video. With some introduction and prompting, the kids came up with great connections between the animals they were watching and the music they were hearing.
The rest of the week was really just going step by step in our plan. I've been impressed with how the students have caught on to relating sound to animal characteristics. They really get a chance to use their knowledge about the animals creatively. I'm hopeful this will reinforce what they are learning about their animals and make it a more meaningful experience. The students seem to be excited to do the project and I have observed some creative thinking on their parts.
This unit took a LOT of activities. If I ever do a similar project again I wonder if it might be possible to streamline it a bit... I feel like what we are doing is successful but it does feel a little like throwing stuff up against the wall and seeing what sticks. On a positive note, I think Rachel would be able to teach this entire unit on her own without any trouble if she chooses to use it in the future. (I hope she is feeling the same way!)
Dr. Erika Svanoe
Teaching Artist for Arts Integration Menomonie.