Music is a powerful tool for teachers to use in their classrooms and for schools to use to build community. It is an art form that transcends languages and speaks to us all individually. It is a natural motivator for many and the possibilities on how to utilize its power across the academic curriculum and beyond are limitless.
Music in the Classroom
For years, I have tried to make music an important part of my classroom culture through listening experiences I share with my fourth grade students. Each day during snack, we listen to a piece of music by a particular composer or from a specific genre: one piece per week.
It is during these times that we can really focus on and talk about the music, practice using music vocabulary and even reinforce literacy skills. For example, we may spend an entire week listening to the beginnings of pieces to discuss the many ways a composer may grab a listener’s attention, just as a writer works to grab and keep a reader’s attention. Often, during this active listening time, we practice our visualization skills and relate that to how we visualize when we read.
Listening in the classroom provides a wonderful pathway to discussing interpretation and individuality as each student will listen with their own set of ears and their own set of background experiences. What one may hear as dark and scary, may sound bold and heroic to another.
Music is also a great way to explore history. Each composer, each genre of music represents a different period in time and perspective on the world (not to mention how music can represent different cultures of the world.) One of my favorite examples of this is Beethoven’s Eroica. We listen to excerpts of each movement and discuss the contemporary happenings in Europe at that time. Beethoven’s desire to create a piece that illustrates true heroism in a time of revolution is evident.
Music in the School
There is so much potential for music in our schools as a whole. For example, it can serve as a community builder at announcements and assemblies.
Each year, my school celebrates a special, yet under-acknowledged anniversary in our country’s history. September 14, 1814 is the date when Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that became our National Anthem while witnessing the battle at Fort McHenry. A number of years ago, I approached my principal and colleagues with the idea of bringing the tradition of the National Anthem Project to our school. The National Anthem Project is something started by MENC, the Music Educator’s National Convention where their main purpose for this project was to get Americans to know their National Anthem and to get them singing it.
Now, every September we have an assembly to get students and staff excited and singing the Star Spangled Banner. Our fourth graders lead the school by reciting original, Patriotic poetry, showing an informative video about the history of the song (created by a past class of students), reciting the entire Star Spangled Banner poem and of course, singing the National Anthem with pride.
A lot of work is done by the music teacher and classroom teachers as they prepare the students for this day. They use literacy time to look at and work with the lyrics of the poem. They identify and study declarative and interrogative sentences from the poem. Social studies time is used to teach about the history behind the song.
Watching the student body sing the National Anthem as an entire school is quite a site. All the teachers work together and in their classrooms to instruct the students on proper etiquette for singing the Star Spangled Banner. Hundreds of kids stand tall, with their hands over their hearts and mouths wide open.
Hearing the entire student body sing the National Anthem with pride is simply beautiful. What a great way to get students on the right track working as a community. It truly sets up the right environment to have a banner year!
In fact, weaving music into students’ school experiences ensures that every day is a banner day of learning.
Elizabeth Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of www.theinspiredclassroom.com, where she blogs regularly on arts integration and other educational topics. Elizabeth is the author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented in her own teaching. She teaches workshops and offers courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum. Elizabeth believes there is a love of the arts in all children and that from that enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.