Child Driven Learning

Moving past the phase of getting students “culturally adjusted” to the classroom, I’m  now focused on how we learn in the classroom.  I’ve become increasingly aware of (and acutely frightened of) the idea of becoming a talking head teacher.    I LOVE to talk in front of people, often to a fault.  This comes from spending much of my time when I’m not with children teaching adults and performing.   In my experience, adult learners want to spend at least as much time chatting about music as playing it.  Quite the opposite from the young ones.  My 4th graders don’t want to hear me talk about why the treatment of slaves and development of the blues in the Delta made for a far more sad sound than the Carolina Piedmont Blues…..(maybe you do if you’re reading this)  but kids want to jump, sing, write, and be entertained by the blues or WHATEVER.  They don’t necessarily care where music came from (at least not yet), but if it’s fun to listen to it, someday perhaps they will pursue that deeper understanding.  That’s why I sing the “modern” blues song by Bob Reid and Phil Hoose, “I Know Math”.  OK,  form aside, it’s not really a blues song but it’s got the feel and kids love to sing it.  If nothing else it’s wildly cross curricular and sneaks in the idea of the blues:

I Know Math 

From We Are The Children
Phil Hoose ©Precious Pie Music

Now I went to buy a toy it cost three fifteen
I gave her three and a quarter, (If you know what I mean)
She gave me one nickle back I said,”I’ll tell you one time”
“I know math and you owe me a dime!”

I Know Math Ooo I Know Math Yes I do!
Stronger than Karate – Tougher than Kung Fu
I Know Math

Now the teacher asked the class what is eight pus eight
She didn’t think we knew she heard us hesitate
Then the whole class yelled in voice clear and lean
“Eight plus eight is SIXTEEN!)

I Know Math Ooo I Know Math Yes I do!
Stronger than Karate – Tougher than Kung Fu
I Know Math

Now we were behind the score was seven to four but when our turn came we scored five runs more
The other team yelled at least we’re sttil beatin’ you
I said, “Don’t make me laugh cause we’re ahead by two!”

I Know Math Ooo I Know Math Yes I do!
Stronger than Karate – Tougher than Kung Fu
I Know Math

Now the Tooth Fairy knows I get a fifty cent rate
So when I lost two teeth I thought, ‘Hey this is great!”
She left me quarters til she heard me holler
“Get back in this room gal, you owe me a whole dollar!”

I Know Math Ooo I Know Math Yes I do!
Stronger than Karate – Tougher than Kung Fu
I Know Math

So Hey Cashier! Don’t you act so strange!
We can figure taxes and we make change
We know the minutes and we know the hour
and that adds up to a lot of KID POWER!
We Know Math Ooo We Know Math Yes we do!
Stronger than Karate – Tougher than Kung Fu
We Know Math

So now kids had fun singing “the blues” and I can go on and refer to this in the future in another context.

I have quite a bit more to say (and will in future postings) on learning in MY music room but in the meantime I want to share a TED talk on Child Driven Learning. This talk by Talk by Sugata Mitra  really touched on something I’ve been thinking about for a while; the fact that so much of my time in the classroom is spent teaching kids to be good listeners TO ME.  My lifelong goal in the music classroom is to foster a learning environment in which I don’t say a word but kids learn on their own– self driven.  I know it sounds like an odd pipe dream but Sugata Mitra’s experiment exemplifies this idea.
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In short, he placed computers in the walls of buildings (child height) in small villages in India where children had no access to technology or education and suggested that kids teach themselves how to use them without even knowing the English language that the machines were programmed in.   Please watch and feel free to comment.  I’m very interested in others’ thoughts on this.  BY THE WAY, if you would like to hear the tunes to the lyrics I publish, let me know.  I’m game.
– ’till the next post

Symonds school is a “Responsive Classroom” (RC). RC is a social curriculum used nationally (perhaps internationally, I don’t know). It was born in Western Massachusetts some years back. The Northeast Foundation for Children (NEFC) develops RC and promotes materials and workshops that help teachers and whole school communities develop common language and cultures of caring; ultimately a positive school environment that serves as a foundation for more successful academic learning. The Northeast Foundation website states the following:

Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc. (NEFC) was founded in 1981 by a group of public school educators who had a vision of bringing together social and academic learning throughout the school day. We remain dedicated to helping those who want to learn about elementary teaching that emphasizes social, emotional, and academic growth in a strong and safe school community. NEFC is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization and is the sole source provider of the Responsive Classroom approach.

The Responsive Classroom is a general approach to teaching, rather than a program designed to address a specific school issue. It is based on the premise that children learn best when they have both academic and social-emotional skills. The Responsive Classroom approach consists of a set of practices that build academic and social-emotional competencies and that can be used along with many other programs. These classroom practices are the heart of theResponsive Classroom approach:
Morning Meeting—gathering as a whole class each morning to greet one another, share news, and warm up for the day ahead
Rule Creation—helping students create classroom rules to ensure an environment that allows all class members to meet their learning goals
Interactive Modeling—teaching children to notice and internalize expected behaviors through a unique modeling technique
Positive Teacher Language—using words and tone as a tool to promote children’s active learning, sense of community, and self-discipline
Logical Consequences—responding to misbehavior in a way that allows children to fix and learn from their mistakes while preserving their dignity
Guided Discovery—introducing classroom materials using a format that encourages independence, creativity, and responsibility
Academic Choice—increasing student learning by allowing students teacher-structured choices in their work
Classroom Organization—setting up the physical room in ways that encourage students’ independence, cooperation, and productivity
Working with Families—creating avenues for hearing parents’ insights and helping them understand the school’s teaching approaches
Collaborative Problem Solving—using conferencing, role playing, and other strategies to resolve problems with students

Having been a part of a Responsive Classroom community, I will simply say IT WORKS. I might even go so far as to say that implemented nationally, it could save our schools. I’ll talk more about this later.

As you can see from the RC bullet points above, many music teachers would say (and I’ve heard them say this!) “I can’t do this with the little time I have!”. Well, I do, as does our stellar PE and Art teacher here at Symonds. It’s the consistency within and outside of our classrooms that make it all work. That said, how do I practice my first 4-6 weeks of “acclimation” to the music classroom, a place where I see kids 70 minutes a week…? Responsive Classroom stresses that the first few weeks of school are crucial for getting kids acclimated to the “culture” of the classroom. In many cases teachers refrain from any academic content to pave the way for a respectful, orderly, caring and attentive learning environment. This year I have 350+ students this year. 30+ are brand new to Symonds. The returning kids forgot over the summer and the new ones need to learn the crucial routines and expectations.

The music room is a place for order with a cloak of chaos and excitement. Kids have to feel that they can freely, artistically, and openly express themselves but not at the expense of safety and structure. My rules are simple: We must maintain an environment that is Safe, Kind, and Responsible. My first order of business is to establish how we move in our space. We practice, practice, practice how we sit down, line up, move on the dance floor, then we practice again. We also work on how we talk to one another, how we “take turns” talking. The formal part of cementing this understanding involves the signing of a contract. Once we have established as a class what it means to be “Safe, Kind, and Respectful” by naming behaviors and in some cases writing them down, everyone signs a big piece of paper that states “I will help make the music room a Safe, Kind, and Respectful place”. It goes without saying that this is probably more intuitive and more easy established in a grade level classroom than a “specials” room (by the way, I whole-heartedly dislike the term “specials”, and I will touch on that later as well).

So, in short, our first couple of weeks of music class is a combination of a couple of things:

1.Naming positive (and negative when given the chance) behaviors to establish a positive music classroom culture
2. Exploration of the music space
3. Having FUN (and understanding that silliness is fine, but it’s a matter of when to be silly) to establish that hard work can take place in the presence of positivity and a great time.