My first experience at Edgemont Elementary was before the semeter even started, when I went to introduce myself to the first graders of Mrs. Amesse’s class. Here are a few of my observations.
Mrs. Amesse is a very experienced teacher! She has been working with this grade for some time and I am impressed with the capable and confident way she manages her class. She makes it look easy. Her students come from a variety of backgrounds and seem to be very bright, if distractible, children. It has been a long time since I have worked with children of that age, and I had forgotten how very young and small they are! Keeping their attention is going to have to be a major focus for me in my teaching, because they seem to have difficulty staying on task for any length of time unless their attention is completely absorbed.
My next visit to Mrs. Amesse’s class was to get to know the students – and of course, we had to do so with music!
Mrs. Amesse has a nice, large classroom with plenty of space for kids to move, learn, and grow. I took some pictures of the room after a day of “indoor recess” due to cold, rainy weather, so the kids had been playing with lots of puzzles, blocks, etc. What fun!
There’s a place for desks…
… a great Smartboard setup…
… a garden station, where a science project is clearly underway…
And my favorite part of the room, a large floor area with lots of room for everyone to sit on the colorful rug!
For this lesson, we spent our time on the rug, playing a get to know you game called Hickety Tickey and another called Al Citron.
This is a great music game to play with young children! The tune is simple, short, and easy to learn. There are two basic ways to teach a new song in Elementary Music: “By Note” or “By Rote.” Teaching”By Rote” comes in two forms: phrase-by-phrase or immersion. For a short song like this, immersion is preferable. One of the fundamental requirements of teaching by rote is that you give the children a chance to hear the song ALL THE WAY THROUGH at least THREE TIMES before asking them to sing it themselves. The three repetitions give the children a chance to become familiar with the song, or ‘get it in their ears,’ before being asked to sing it. The tricky part is, children have short attention spans and will quickly become bored if you just sing to them over and over again!
The solution to this problem is to keep the children’s attention AND help them learn the song more efficiently by asking discovery questions. These can be very simple, but they really work! Here are some discovery questions I used:
“What question am I asking in this song?”
“Will you raise your hand when you hear the lowest note in this song?”
The key to success with discovery questions is to ask them BEFORE each repetition of the song. This is a classic example of teaching through problem solving: you present a challenge or problem, and kids can’t help but try to solve it. It’s human nature. Asking a discovery question before you sing draws their focus, so they really listen as you sing to them. Discovery questions are a great way to get in disguised repetitions (which are exactly what they sound like). Disguised repetitions make all the difference in teaching a song by rote- and they continue to be important all the way through secondary grades and ensembles, as well!
Another good technique for keeping children engaged and listening as they learn a new song is to involve them kinesthetically. I did this by having them keep the beat with me while I sang. We kept the beat by tapping the ground lightly with the fingertips- not heavy, not hard, just a light tapping. Children are naturally musical (they might not know it, but all children have some music in them!) and I didn’t have to explain to them “This is the beat, this is how often to tap,” etc. I just modeled it for them and they jumped right in. No need to overcomplicate things.
After tapping along with me, answering discovery questions, and listening to the song all the way through three times, the children were ready to sing along. They jumped in eagerly and sang along with me: “Hickety Tickety bickety bame, will you please tell me your name?” We went in around the circle to each child, pointing with two hands like an arrow to avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable with pointing fingers. Each child said his or her name, and then we repeated all the children’s names in order. This was extremely helpful for me! I got lots of repetitions and lots of chances to learn the names of each child, and they had a lot of fun tapping, pointing, and singing along while developing their musical abilities.
The second game we played was one that I’ll probably save for older children in the future. Although keeping the beat by tapping their fingers on the carpet was no problem for these first-graders, taking it to the next level was quite a challenge! In Al Citron, children keep the beat by passing an object (in this case, a small plastic cup held upside down) to their neighbor in time with the music. Grab, pass, grab, pass, grab, pass, on each beat. The children knew were the beat was, but keeping everyone coordinated enough to pass and grab and get a cup FROM your neighbor, then pass it TO the next neighbor, in time with the music, was pretty overwhelming for them! One cup had a small star on the bottom; the intention was to sing the song multiple times and I would guess the name of the child who ended up with the starred cup. Despite numerous cup pile-ups, we did make it through the song and the children seemed to enjoy it. The objective of learning names was accomplished, and the kids had fun, but I don’t feel that this song was an effective music teaching experience. Next time I’m playing musical get to know you games, I’ll look for a more appropriate intermediary step, a way to up the difficulty level from Hickety Tickety enough to challenge the first graders without overwhelming them.