|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
I mentioned in the last Notes from the Teaching Field (November 2009) that I was a high school music director many moons ago and I do plan on writing about some of those adventures later in the year but for now I want to talk about my musical adventures with the kindergarteners. I do find it interesting, after a years long hiatus between my teaching high school band/International Baccalaureate music and today, that now I'm in the position of teaching young kids. REALLY young. Never during my teacher training in college did I ever envision myself as teaching the 'little people' since singing children's songs, dancing, and snack time were worlds I could never really imagined myself in. In fact, when I was a substitute teacher the one grade I never really looked forward to, was...yes, you guessed, kindergarten. Partly it was because I just had no real experience with them and didn't know what to do. I mean handling high school banders surreptitiously stealing into each others hotel rooms after hours on band trips or a cheerleader confiding to me about her 'mistake' the previous night, while no cakewalk, were things I could understand and relate to. But an air infused with flatulence and pee or knowing what to do when one kid cries because another kid breathes on them! Argh! What are you supposed to do with that! Well, now that I'm a seasoned kindergartenologist, I just find it a wonderful circumstance of life that now not only do I teach 4-, 5-, and 6-year olds, but that I find myself thinking why would anyone want to teach any other age?
So what is kindergarten music and what do I do each day with my 4 classes (of approximately 23 kids in each class) for 53 minutes a class? There are 10 kindergarten classes this year and since I do not have a classroom of my own, I travel between each classroom for music (and math games). My lessons are different depending on where we are in the year and while I'm not including everything I do, generally the structure of my time with the kids breaks down something like this:
1. Greeting and overview of the day's lessons
Usually here is where I find out who has a wiggly tooth, whose birthday is coming up, who has to go to the bathroom (or get water), or what they did over the weekend at their country/weekend house. Oh and yes, I do eventually get to say a little something about the upcoming lesson...
2. Sing a song, demonstrate instruments, kids composing their own music and/or playing instruments and/or conducting
This is where the sneaky learning of musical concepts comes in. While I'm not a big singer, I do introduce some songs that teach various musical concepts like soft, loud, fast, slow (these concepts are also covered when the kids learn how to conduct). I just bought two songbooks because one thing I want to do more with the kids this year is to sing more 'contemporary' songs, not just 'children's songs.' (just saw an article about Yo Gabba Gabba, which sounds like the kind of hip thing I'm looking for).
Over the year I do talk about and personally demonstrate each instrument family (those college instrument methods classes come in handy!) and depending on the instrument, the kids get a chance to either press/move the keys, valves, or slide while I play or they get to bang, shake, or rattle it themselves. Also I do teach them the basics of what a conductor does, including showing them a rudimentary conducting pattern (a 'V' or an 'U' since they are easy for most to do) with each student getting to conduct a band (with a REAL baton!) playing different percussion instruments. The students love being in control of the sounds the other students make and have a great time taking turns being the maestro.
Around January or so, I introduce music notation. I came up with a system to get them to learn music notation starting off with using 'X' for play and 'O' for rest. I came up with those because by January most kids are able to write those letters fairly easily. Gradually over the subsequent weeks, I ween the kids off the 'baby-stuff' X's and O's and into 'real' music notes and rests. By the time we get to our mid-Winter break in February, most of the kid's handwriting has improved enough that they are able to draw reasonable facsimiles of quarter, half and whole notes and rests. In fact a few years ago when part of my assignment, along with kindergarten music, was to teach a music class of pre-kindergarten and a class of the self-contained special education kids (for those of you not up on your teacher lingo, it is a small class of students with physical and emotional challenges such as down syndrome), I used a modified version of the 'X' and 'O' lesson which worked quite well and the students were able to not only write their own music but to perform it as well. I also have found that this system of reading and writing notes, reinforces basic concepts the classroom teachers introduce in reading and writing (starting from left to right, sequencing, moving the eye along the page to follow the words, etc.) Of course, not every kid gets it, but most seem to understand the idea. And from talking to the first grade music teacher, they seem to retain some inklings of what I teach them once they reach first grade.
3. Movement: usually singing and dancing to songs from Philadelphia Chickens.
This great book and CD by Sandra Boynton features fun and silly songs sung by people such as Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, and the Bacon Brothers. I have made up some movement/dance to go along with whatever song we do and the kids LOVE doing the moves and singing the songs. So far this year we've done "Philadelphia Chickens", "Be like a Duck", "Cows", and "Pig Island" (one of my personal favorites). Later in the year we'll do "Pajama Time", "Snoozers", "Dinosaur, Dinosaur", and "Jump Rope Jive".
Be Like a Duck music video from Sandra Boynton on Vimeo.
4. Reading a music related story.
I always try to read a story having to deal with music although it is sometimes difficult to find good books dealing with music that work well for a group, over the years I have a number that work well. Some of the many books I have and use during the year are (left to right, vertically top to bottom in the photo): Opera Cat by Tess Weaver and Andrea Wesson, Horace and Morris Join the Chorus (but What about Dolores?) by James Howe and Amy Walrod, Mama Don't Allow by Thacher Hurd,Drummer Hoff by Barbara Emberley, Doddle Flute by Daniel Pinkwater,Mr. Putter and Tabby Toot the Horn by Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard, John Philip Duck by Patricia Polacco, and Music over Manhattan by Mark Karlins.
5. Goodbye song
Generally most students are excited for music and of course when it is time for me to go, I can't give them back to their classroom teachers all filled up with the fun from their musical 'sugar rush'. So I almost always end with a 'quiet' goodbye song which we all sing and clap to. The song I use is called First Cryand comes from a wonderful CD collection called Welcoming Children into the World. I heard about this CD many years ago while listening to PRI's Sound and Spirit one day on WNYC radio. The CD is a beautiful and diverse collection of songs about bringing new life into the world. From "Nursery Rhyme" sung by the Baka Forest people to "Hey, Pretty Baby (Who's My Pretty Baby)" sung by Woody Guthrie to "C'est La Vie" sung by Henri Dikongué to a wonderful adoption song sung by John McCutcheon "Happy Adoption Day", Welcoming Children into the World are mostly songs that are NOT 'children's songs', but songs that kids would certainly like. "First Cry" is sung in Navajo by Navajo songwriter Sharon Burch and the main refrain means "The baby is crying!"
For me the whole idea of kindergarten music really is to have fun (and we do!) but also begin to introduce basic musical terms and concepts. And if they do learn those terms and concepts, that is great; if they don't, that is fine too as long as they remember music as being fun and interesting. One evening I told my wife that teaching kindergarten, with the constant attention needed of me, is like being on stage for 6-7 hours straight, every day. This is in no way to suggest that teaching is all an act (although any teacher would probably admit that some dramaturgical skills are necessary and even required). I think of my teaching self as just a different part of who I am. After teaching kindergarten music for a number of years now, frankly one thing that is amazing to see is just how much they improve over the course of the year. Sometimes it is quite dramatic to see a girl who is completely uncoordinated in September or a boy who barely spoke those first weeks, really coming into their own by June. And this is one of the joys of teaching the little ones.
Another joy can be related in the following story:
A few weeks ago on a very cold day the kids couldn't go outside for recess. On those days, the 250 kindergarterners go to the auditorium to watch a movie. Well since it was my prep period, I was on my way to the computer lab and was just passing through the auditorium as students were gathering and beginning to sit down to watch. Almost immediately frantic waving of arms and trying to get my attention began to billow through a small section. However within seconds, like a flash forest fire, the entire auditorium was ablaze in the wildly enthusiastic chant, "Joe, Joe, Joe..." At that moment I felt what it must be like to be center court at Madison Square Garden during a Knicks game (well, at least back in the days of the 'good' Knicks of the Willis Reed-Walt Frazier-Bill Bradley 70s or the Patrick Ewing-John Starks-Charles Oakley 90s). Anyway, here's what I said on Facebook about it all:
I was very tired at the end of the day when this happened, but indeed I must say that it made me smile and think that that is how everyone should end their work day!
Stay tuned for another installment of Notes from the Teaching Field!
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:01 AM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.