It’s the beginning of February and the days have been mostly grey. The kids in my classroom seem especially squirmy. Nothing will engage them. I notice that they are bickering more often. Even the good students have a distracted look in their eyes. What’s a teacher to do?!!…….. believe it or not, turn the lesson over to them.
Mid-winter is a good time of year to make sure students have a sense of control over their own learning. They are weary of what they “have to” learn and ready to embrace what they “want to” learn. They have spent a lot of time in other classes processing information provided to them through reading, textbooks and teacher instruction. Their young minds are being shaped and challenged by the things our educational system has deemed important. That’s all good, but to develop as complete human beings, their young minds also need to find a voice of their own. They need to find ways to explore their own creativity. Young students need to feel valued for their personal contributions and interpretations.
What better place than the music classroom to let the creative juices flow! Music teachers can provide young students a multitude of activities and experiences in which they can create a personal response. We can give them the power to shape the outcome of their activities. We can celebrate their imagination and creativity.
Here are a few activities I have been doing this past month to provide an opportunity for individual imagination and creative exploration:
Kindergarten: Creative Movement – For my younger students I try to plan thematic lessons. In a lesson that is about BIG and little, I include songs about Elephants and Damsel Flies. After teaching a few songs and activities, I find a piece of instrumental music that has two distinct qualities, heavy and light (for example Music for Creative Dance by Eric Chappelle, Vol. 1: A Tale of Two Villages.) Turn on the music, open the dance floor and let them explore through movement the difference between elephants and damsel flies. Praise their efforts as dancers whose bodies know how to respond by closely listening to the music.
First Grade: Singing games – Some of the best singing responses I get are about being underwater. After singing songs about ships and the ocean – A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea; The Boatman; The Ship – have the students imagine they are scuba diving. Using so-mi melody, have them sing back sing to you (so-mi) what they saw in the ocean. Not only are they explorers, they are soloists!
Second Grade: Body Composing – In a small group of four or five, students use their bodies to create a La-So-Mi melody that the rest of the class can sing. Combine groups for a longer melody, or why not sing the whole class. Be sure to let them know that they have been working as composers.
Third Grade: Create a Dance – Using a piece of music with clear sections (my favorite is Gagliarda by Mannheim Steamroller), assign small groups the task of creating a dance to one section. Combine all the groups for a class performance and praise their work as choreographers.
Fourth Grade: Question and Answer – On drums, recorders and/or mallet instruments, spend some time asking and answering musical questions. At first do the activity as a whole group. Later on ask for individual volunteers. Be supportive of your budding improvisers.
Fifth Grade: Drama Games – Want your 5th graders to check in rather than check out? Try drama games. My favorite is the “Three-Headed Expert.” Soliciting a noun and adjective from the class, three students, saying only one word at a time, share their “expert” knowledge about the topic. Lay down the ground rules first – answers will stay out of the bathroom and your nose as well as no inappropriate violence. Once that is agreed get ready to have a laugh. Answers are a surprise to everyone. Let your courageous actors know that the skills of drama improvisation – flexibility; spontaneity; humor; resourcefulness; confidence; improvisation and ensemble consciousness – will help them be better musicians and humans beings as well.
The music classroom should be place of joy. There is no room for drudgery when you free your students’ minds and bodies to imagine and create. It will be clear skies and sunshine when you do. Everyone will enjoy the “work.”