At Nathan Hale School, students in fourth grade General Music spend class time refining their musical skills. At this level, they are preparing for the opportunity to join instrumental and/or vocal ensembles in fifth grade. Students sing in unison and learn basic harmonies, read and write music using standard notation, and learn recorder as an introduction to instrumental music. As these students advance to either ensembles or upper-level General Music during the middle school years, I am confident that they have the technical skills to participate in and perform music. However, for the past several years, there is another area of music that has been neglected.
New Haven has adopted the National Core Arts Standards. Several listed anchor standards are addressed during weekly lessons. Primarily, students spend time in music class focusing on the creating and performing processes. What my lessons lack are chances to focus on the responding and connecting processes. This includes:
Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work.
Anchor Standard 8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
Anchor Standard 11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.
At times, my students can make connections from the music we are working on to outside sources. Rarely have I presented a lesson on deeper cultural or societal connections. To remedy this, I turned to the Language Arts curriculum, and one of the core novels that all fourth graders will read –
by Carol Fenner. In the book, Yolonda's brother, Andrew, cannot read and barely speaks, but he can create incredible music using his father's old harmonica. As Yolonda consults the dictionary for the word “genius,” she begins to think about her perception of Andrew. She believes Andrew to be a genius because he can “rearrange old material in a way never seen before.” She realizes that no one can understand Andrew because the other people in his life are not smart enough to do so.