As a double major in Vocal Music Education and English Education, I am a huge proponent for a more interdisciplinary approach to teaching music. With the idea of cross-curricular education becoming more popular in schools, it is important for us to consider the occasional use of newer methods in our classrooms. Integrating different subjects into your music program, especially writing, will help to increase student comprehension and provide different levels of learning that will help to contribute to your student’s overall kinesthetic experience. Also, providing written evidence of your classroom’s growth and development over time can help you show the school board how important your position is in a time when music is seen as less important than the “standard” subjects.
Research shows that the more often different departments in schools interact, the better the quality of the student’s learning. Just because you will be the “choir” teacher, does not mean you should limit yourself to teaching students only music. However, this can often seem like a daunting task, as we forget or are confused by all of those “rules” associated with English. Owning a book such as the Norton Field Guide to Writing can prove to be an easy resource to answer all of your questions in a timely manner, but remember that not everything your students write has to be in final-draft form! Journals especially should provide a safe zone for students to express themselves and not be discouraged from their endeavors because of poor grammar.
The following are a few quick ideas that you can use to jumpstart reading and writing in the classroom. Please try and enjoy watching your students grow!
1. This Composer Did What?!
Whenever I am rehearsing a new piece, I become more aware of what I am singing when I have a better idea of the biographical information behind the composer. You could easily give an assignment to your students to research the composer and write a paragraph on what they learn. Then, have your students get involved by presenting some of the facts and information they uncover. After all, you may end up learning a few new things from them!
2. A Journal A Day Keeps The Bad Notes At Bay
Journaling for five minutes every day at the end of each rehearsal in the music classroom has the potential to help improve rehearsals drastically! If you have students write their comments, concerns, etc about the rehearsal in one class, then take the time to reread them during the warm-up time in the next class, they will be reminded of their problem spots and be able to alert you to them. If there are any of those pesky problem sections, the whole class can go immediately to them and work through them together. Finally, if you find that students are not as willing to write or voice their responses, offer extra credit or (gasp!) candy as a little incentive. It will work every time!
3. A New Twist On Discussing The Text
In the choral classroom especially, the lyrics are a huge portion of the learning experience. Being able to discuss the text and have the students understand it, however, are two different matters. First, read the text aloud to the class. Then, have them write down their reaction to the text: whether it be an analysis, questions, personal reflections, etc. Have some students read their responses out loud (either to a partner, section, or the entire group). Lead a discussion, but do not reveal your own opinion. Encourage the students to talk amongst themselves. You may be surprised at what they have to say!
4. Giving Them A Voice And A Choice
Allow your students to get partially involved in the selection of music. Ask the students if they are interested in singing a piece by a certain writer or if they have interest in a specific poem. If you do not possess a piece that would fit their request, go fishing! This process will keep your knowledge of literature current and your students will feel more connected to the planning process by being further invested in the program. The more your students understand the context of the writing, the easier it will be for the students to have a multi-leveled experience!