Reflection is a rare event during the school year. It takes personal time – something general music teachers have in very short supply. But it is mid-summer and personal time is, thankfully, what I’ve got. I have time to consider what went well last year and what was a challenge. My thoughts dwell on the latter.
Last year three of my four kindergarten classes were a challenge. That’s an improvement from my first days of teaching when ALL of my kindergarten classes were challenging. Back then I had no clue about the mind, body and interpersonal dynamics of a class of 5-year olds. During my first few classes, I put them in chairs!! That stopped when the kids were so busy swinging their short legs that I could not get their attention.
Side bar #1: Through a Montana State University program called Northern Plains Transition to Teaching, I came to public school teaching as a second career. With my Master’s Degree already in hand, I was able to complete a teaching certificate on-line while teaching part-time. I had no student teaching experience so the elementary music classroom was a new world to me.
Those first few years teaching kindergarten were exhausting. I would fly through tons of music material in the seemingly endless 30-minutes. It was a real song and dance by ME. Over my 11 years in the elementary music room, I’ve learned to teach differently. I’ve taken on a thematic approach to my kindergarten lessons. I make sure that the students move and I use literature as a way to expand musical learning. I have been known to enjoy teaching kindergarten. So why was last year so challenging? Short answer – more discipline problems and more severe discipline problems. Unfortunately, that may not change. It is up to me, a seasoned teacher, to try new strategies. Luckily, I have some inspiration.
My school has an awesome team of kindergarten teachers. Known as the Kinder Queens, these four women perform miracles with their classes every year. And they do it with a sense of humor, mixed with just the right amount of caring and high expectations. Last year, one of the Kinder Queens, whose class was especially difficult, was doing her final project for a Master’s degree in The Creative Pulse program.
Side Bar #2: The Creative Pulse is a University of Montana summer Master’s Program whose emphasis is incorporating the arts into teaching. Having taught in the program for 12 years and worked in public schools with teachers who have gone through the program, I can verify that it has a profound impact on teaching.
The project involved her kindergarten students interacting with great works of visual art by painters such as Van Gogh and Renoir. Every week the students would analyze a painting and then try out the techniques for themselves. With the teacher the class would consider color, shading, design, proportion, framing. Then they would have “project time” and try for themselves to make a piece of art inspired by what they had observed. Sitting at their project tables, the students would get into discussions, with each other, about how they were choosing to use color, shading, design proportion, framing. Wow! Such insight and depth from kindergartners. And the depth was coming from the students not being hand fed by the teacher. That is my inspiration.
Next school year I will believe in the creative and critical mind of kindergartners. I will try to go deeper; less breadth more depth. Here’s an example. At the end of last school year I was teaching a singing game called Highland Gates, found in Down in the Valley: More Great Singing Games for Children compiled by Andy Davis and Peter and Mary Alice Amidon.
Side Bar #3 The Amidons are the headline presenters for MGMTA in October. You don’t want to miss them!
After teaching the game several times, it occurred to me that maybe the Highland Gates are for a castle, after all the song has English origins. Upon reflection, now I will start the activity with some discussion and imaginative play about castles, moats, lords and ladies. I will ask the students to use their bodies to make a castle with a gate and some windows. And how high will those windows be? Well, the lyrics say to “go up and down the ladder”, so the windows must be high up. Already I can sense that we will all have a richer experience with Highland Gates. It will be more than a singing game, it will be an architectural exploration, mixed with a bit of cultural history. And, most importantly, it will include creative and critical thinking by the most amazing of student – the kindergartner.