This is the latest in a series of blogs by partners of the Fluency work.
By Eric Trio
Students across the United States have been living in a different world over the past five months. Many have been isolated from family, friends, extra-curricular activities and the list goes on. Their school year was abruptly interrupted and they received their remaining school year education through video meetings, packets of worksheet after worksheet and newer online software in which they had little or no prior knowledge of using. In some cases, there were students who probably received next to no education based on the lack of resources and socio-economic barriers.
Then came summer where many students get physical, mental and emotional rejuvenation through vacations, sports, family/friend gatherings, various types of camps and many other types of activities. While some of the prior list mentioned happened at a limited capacity, none of it was normal and many children did not get to experience any of it at all.
So…where do we go with our students from here? How do we go into a new school year with so much uncertainty and changes to our teaching as we have known it? As I think of all of the time students have spent at home being isolated from their teachers and peers in the classroom, what have they lost most…a voice! I am a music teacher and I can easily take the route of equating student voice to singing and being musical, but it is so much more than that!
Orff-Schulwerk (translation of the German word “schulwerk” is “school work”) is one of several approaches of teaching music to children. It was developed by the German composer Carl Orff (1895-1982) and colleague Gunild Keetman. The Orff method combines music, movement, speech, drama, and creativity into lessons that are similar to a child’s world of play. Folk songs and folk dances from around the world are also a part of the process. Musical concepts are learned through the basic mediums of singing, speaking, movement, and playing a wide variety of instruments. Through the development of musical improvisation, students begin to learn how to create their own music at a very young age. The teacher guides, the child creates and the entire time learning is taking place through a child’s natural sense of play (Keetman, 1984).
As mentioned earlier, speech is one of the foundations of the Schulwerk, so it is only natural to incorporate children’s literature into the Orff-Schulwerk classroom…or any classroom! Quality literature is child-centered and sparks interest in students of all ages (Stephansky, 2011). Geibler (2019) describes how that spark of interest can be determined through the following qualifying factors:
Is this relevant? Will students understand the context? Is it meaningful in their day to day lives? Does it help students find their place in the world? Does the text describe the universal condition in some way?
Is it relatable? Can students feel empathy for the situation? Can they envision themselves in the context?
Does the text stand behind the test of time? Has the text come from an older source? Is it likely to have meaning 50 years from now?
Is the language on a high level and full of imagery? Slang and popular idioms are fun, but not lasting. Words that need explanation, or even better, a consultation with a dictionary will help expand vocabulary. A text that sparks imagination or helps form a mental picture is one that will serve well in class.
Does the text invite further creative exploration? That information may come in the form of a movement activity, a theatrical performance, the creation of a new song or poem, or the invention of a sound carpet (student chosen sounds to help bring the story to life).
Is the text child-like…or childish? Literature presented by the teacher in class should be child-like and rich with possibility. Contrast this with student compositions that are expected to be childish, for they are, after all, children. An example of literature that fits this mold is a book called This is Our House by Hyewon Yum.
Synopsis (macmillan Publishers, n.d.):
A tree has bloomed on a city block outside a house for many years. Inside that house, several generations of a family have grown up. Grandma and Grandpa arrived at the house from a country far away, and Mom and her brothers played on the steps on warm summer days. This little girl learned how to walk on that street, too. This is Our House is a warm story with spare text that follows a family through seasons and generations, from the early days of immigration to the times that made their house into a home.
These are just a few of the elements that can make connections with our students. I also use a spoken chant as I read this story to my classes, “It’s a great big house, it’s a great big house, it’s a great…big…house!” This creates a great thread to connect the storyline throughout. You can also take this in other directions with movement…building different parts of a house: roof, walls, doors, etc. Students can use their body to make shapes around the room of the different parts of a house. This could be extended… “I wonder what you could make with a friend (socially-distanced)?” Elements such as this are endless to provide exploration for your students!
Finally, when you choose that book for your classroom, make sure YOU love it first! That same love will transcend to your students as your passion will shine through. Making positive and lasting connections with our students is a major component in their overall growth!
Eric Trio graduated in 2004 from West Virginia University with a BM in music education and in 2012 from Shepherd University with a MM in music education. He is in his fifteenth year as a music educator where he taught prior as a high school band director, elementary band and strings teacher and is now currently teaching general music (K-4) at St. Clairsville elementary school in Ohio. He is currently working on his certification as an Orff-Schulwerk teacher specializing in movement, recorder pedagogy and the creative music-making process in children.
Eric is a veteran of the Army and Air National guard of West Virginia where he was a member of 249th Army Band for most of his military career. He is a member of the American Orff Schulwerk Association (AOSA) and serves as the current president of the Mountain Laurel chapter of AOSA. He is currently a member of a member Cohort 4 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University).
Geibler, C. (March 2019). Making a Case for Quality Material. Reverberations.
Keetman, G. (1984). Elementaria: First Acquaintance with Orff-Schulwerk. SCHOTT MUSIK INTL MAINZ.
macmillan Publishers. (n.d.). Macmillan Publishers. Retrieved August 12, 2020, from https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374374877
Stephansky, J. (2011). Working Together: Children’s Literature and Elemental Music. Reverberations, 10 (4), 8. https://member.aosa.org/storage/files/shares/oldasset/reverberations/2010-13%20PDF%20Versions/Lit%20and%20Music%20Patschwerk%20summer%2011.pdf