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Of Rhythm and Blues: The Magical Mystery of the Music Classroom

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Abstract

In this report, I will discuss my observations in Mrs. Collins’s 3rd grade music classroom. In addition, I will describe the social behaviors I have seen inside of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. As a Visual and Performing Arts Major with a Concentration in Music Education, I was enthused to see many real-life concepts and discussions from my courses I inMrs. Collins’s classroom. It may be noted that I had a chance to sit down with Mrs. Collins and learn more about her and her studies. This is her fifth year at this elementary school. Before this, she was a high-school band director and general music teacher for thirteen years. Before this, she taught band at Fort Valley State University. Her primary instrument is the clarinet and she loves to sing with her students.  She is fluent in both classical piano and flute. Therefore, she has a Master’s Degree from Florida State University in Music Therapy. This was important for my purpose because this allowed me to comprehend her teaching style, educational philosophy and classroom management techniques. Her students gravitate towards her sense of knowledge and intellectual challenge tasks. They show their respect by showing patience and attentiveness in the hope that they will be the “Music Class of the Day”. She handles disciplinary issues swiftly without distracting other students and, she encourages her students to ask questions and enjoy the learning experience.

Of Rhythm and Blues:

When I first entered the hallway of Martin Luther King Jr, Elementary School, I felt very nostalgic. The students were very polite to me in the front office. A young man dressed in his uniform greeted me as Ms. Cummings when he read my name tag. He then pointed me to Ms. Collins’s classroom down the hallway. One can say the school structure of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School is deeply rooted in a community-oriented learning system. From what I observed, all of the teachers cooperate and work collaboratively during the school day. They can be seen walking students calmly down the hallway to the next classroom. The demographic makeup of the students in Martin Luther King Elementary is comprised majorly of minorities including African-Americans, Hispanics as well as a small portion of Caucasian American and Asian students. Majority of the students here are from middle or low-class families. As a result, many of them received reduced lunch. Again, I saw seven students wearing worn or larger uniform clothes that were held together with belts or safety pins. Furthermore, the school emphasizes the uniform policy strictly for all students.

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Mrs. Collins’s classroom is set up to be both educational and engaging. She challenges all of her students to be on their best behavior to be the “Music Class of the Day”. The students’ chairs are in a semi-circle in front of a Promethean Board. The piano is beside the Promethean Board on the left and, the instruments are stacked neatly in a shelf in the back of the classroom. Other instruments around the classroom that were displayed two xylophones and three small percussion blocks. Her desk is on the right of the Promethean Board. Around the room, there are many inspirational sayings and music terms. Amongst those I saw, I was inspired by the one that said, “Today is the day that you let your light shine.” Her standards and rules are posted on poster paper on her music staff whiteboard on the wall directly right of the Promethean Board. There are only two small tables: a round one for green thin textbooks and a small square one for two individuals who need extra attention. I sat in the small square one near her desk facing the direction of the students. Many of the students were delighted to meet a college student. Here, I observed Mrs. Collins’s teaching.

Mrs. Collins teaches all of the students in all of the grade levels from Kindergarten to 5th grade in the elementary school. She goes to the previous classroom to walk the students down the hallway to her classroom. When the students come in her classroom, they come in quietly in a straight line until they reach their chairs. They place their book-bags neatly on the floor and their jackets on the back of their chair. Mrs. Collins sets the atmosphere to have a community of learning by playing a greeting song in which every student is recognized. I observed most of the students smiling and singing along. Afterward, Mrs. Collins moves on with the daily lesson. The lesson approach varied for each grade level despite the same standard. The standard objective was M2GM.2: Students will be able to perform a steady beat and simple rhythmic patterns using body percussion (hit, shake or rub) as well as a variety of instruments with appropriate techniques in order to perform instruments alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music. For the Kindergarteners, she played many interactive songs that used hand rhythms in which the students clapped the rhythm. In addition, they watched cartoons in which Mrs. Collins asked about many of the various instruments played and presented on screen. Many of them struggled initially but, when Mrs. Collins went back to review the rhythm notation, they caught on quickly. For the 1st and 2nd graders, they watched instrument videos on Quaver and made instrument imitations with their hands. For the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, few videos were played and, they completed worksheets.

Mrs. Collins’s teaching philosophy is a combination of both essentialism and progressive views in her music classroom. In the essentialism philosophy area, she agrees that “teaching the basics is not an option (Stehlik 2018).”  One of her main objectives is to increase her students’ literacy rate by encouraging and training them to read audiobooks, music directions and lyrics on the Promethean Board. In comparison, her progressive viewpoint drives her to pay close attention to each individual student. She keeps class charts and rewards good students with stars on their name slot. Moreover, she also agrees that “education is a tool for living life to the fullest extent (Edward 2003).” In my observation, I found that most of her lessons and music focused on an underlying real-life scenario. For example, I was very surprised that in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-grade classes, she played audiobooks that talked about relevant social issues such as bullying, feeling left out and being an individual. The one that I observed that really touched the students was the one about a girl who was made fun of that had low self-esteem. In the end, the girl stood up to the bullies by singing a song. As a result, all of Ms. Collins’s students listening gained a greater sense of respect and appreciation for their uniqueness. Her personal mixture of essentialism and progressivism keep the students focused and engaged.

On a few specific days, the lessons were geared towards Motown or the symphony orchestra events. For the Motown, I had the pleasure of leading the class in a song and dance mini-lesson that highlighted the strong and weak beats of the Jackson 5’s hit single, ABC. The students were very attentive when Ms. Collins displayed visuals behind me as I led the selection. This was a kinesthetic hands on activity that involved the Kodaly method in which the students used their body to follow the rhythms (Johnson 2008). All of the students became very fluent in the subject area. This was proven when Ms. Collins led the next selection, My Girl, before the end of the class period. The students knew instantly that the bass guitar line held the strong beats and the percussion taps held the weaker beats in the introduction.  

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When Ms. Collins introduced the orchestra lesson, I noticed a lot students were very disinterested until Ms. Collins started showing videos from the Albany Symphony where Dr. Hillard conducted many energetic and emotional pieces. It seemed that explaining the instrument families and showing them pictures of families was only a partial way of reaching their thought process. For this activity, I was able to play an instrument game with them. The class was divided into two teams. When I called out an instrument name, the students were to go up to the dry erase board and write which family they thought the instrument belonged to. Everything went smoothly until I said the word: piano. A piano the percussion section because there are small hammers that hit the strings in the piano when a key is pressed. A percussion instrument is generally something you can hit, shake or rub (Leonard 2015). Therefore, when I said piano, both teams hesitated a little and wrote “Strings.” At this point, Ms. Collins came over and opened the piano in the corner and motioned the students to come around. This helped her prove her claim about the piano being a percussion instrument because the students actually saw the hammers hit the strings. A string instrument is generally played by the hands or bow touching the strings directly. Anyone can observe this at an orchestra concert. Moreover, this illustration helped clearly demonstrate the importance of knowing the instrument families.

When Ms. Collins introduced the voice lesson, she built the lesson around the previous lessons concerning rhythm, instruments and Motown. Therefore, when students watched, “The Journey to Motown”,Ms. Collins asked the students to identify the different instruments and their instrument groups. This was a very complex way of thinking because it tested both the students’ visual and auditory skills at an instant. She then allowed me to explain and demonstrate the four basic voice types: soprano, alto, bass and tenor. I sang along with many selections from the video and the students easily identified them by the highness and lowness of the vocal line.

Mrs. Collins manages the classroom very well. She works hard to create a productive classroom to build a community of learners by showing and reinforcing good behavior and attentiveness. As stated, her rules are on a poster on the dry erase board. Amongst those rules, the one I observed that seemed to be a distraction in two classrooms was the obviously stressed “No Rocking” rule. The students in two of the classes I observed had a tendency to rock back and forth in their chairs. This rule serves the role as a safety precaution to protect students from injury because when the students rock back and forth in their chair, they are more likely to fall out of them. I witnessed two boys fall out of their chairs. As a swift response to this, Mrs. Collins used a disciplinary technique of non-exclusion timeout in which the two boys sat next to her in front of the screen during instruction time. Another disciplinary method she uses is desists such as “shh”, “calm down” and “let’s pause” when the students begin to become loud and anxious. Her ability to keep a “withit” classroom helps keep the students safe and aware of the lesson.

From seeing my educational studies in action, I learned several concepts from Mrs. Collins. Firstly, you don’t have to be loud to control the classroom when a student misbehaves, parental involvement is a secret tool. Mrs. Collins has a log of all of her students’ parents phone numbers and emails. When she sees them having disciplinary actions, she will make a note and call their parents about the incident. I think this is smart because the student’s behavior can directly be discussed by communicating with the parents and, the students are well aware of this. Secondly, it feels nice to be greeted and, students want to feel like they matter in the education process. The greeting song that she plays at the beginning of class never failed to cheer the students up. The atmosphere would shift from a quiet classroom to an engaging music room. I want to incorporate something similar in my classroom one day as a warmup to make that connection. Lastly, use what students love to teach them what they should know. Mrs. Collins’s classroom reminded me of my own elementary school teacher, Ms. Collins’s (of the same marital name) classroom. In Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, Mrs. Collins blends both contemporary and classical music. The students love it and, they relate to it. This mix creates a healthy balance of the unknown and prior emotional connection. Overall, my experience with Mrs. Collins was amazingly educational, engaging and insightful. I sang, I danced and, I read. The students are very lucky to have her. I felt very nostalgic about my own musical beginnings. 

References:

  • Edward, William (2003) EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY. (2003). S.l.: PACIFIC BOOKS INTERNATION.
  • Johnson, Samantha (2008). The Kodaly Method: Elementary Music Education Studies. Retrieved from https://www.houghtonuniversity/music-dep/3424/research0/.org
  • Leonard, Marcus (2015) Percussion Methods and Lessons for Elementary School and Beyond. US MIL PUBLISHING PRESS.
  • Smith, J (2004) Music Lesson Purposes in the 20th Century Classroom. PHIL HOUSE PUBLISHING.
  • Stehlik, T. (2018). Educational philosophy for 21st century teachers. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

 



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