I recently had the pleasure of attending the International Kodaly Symposium (I highly recommend attending the next one in Poland in 2021!) and was able to attend a number of wonderful workshops.
Two ideas particularly struck me.
One was presented by Tess Laird, who spoke about the importance of music advocacy. If, like me, you are the only music teacher in your school, then you need to stick up for your subject as no one else will!
Tess spoke about the importance of advocating music at three levels - the students themselves, the parents and the other members of staff. Advocating with your students is perhaps the most important and the easiest to start with. Ensuring you always engage in best practice and helping your students see the benefits of their learning, helping them realise their progress can be one of the most powerful voices for your subject. The students can't wait to run home and tell their parents all about it!
Advocating with the parents can be trickier, but by giving students homework to sing to their parents, sending home listening tasks, holding performances or open classrooms for your parents can all help.
Advocating your subject to other staff ties in nicely with one of the other big takeaways for me. This was presented by Rosalie Scott, who spoke about her efforts in building a Music Everyday program (and here's the brilliant part) utilising the GENERALIST teachers in her school!
It got me thinking about how many connections there are between music and other subjects. Now, I'm sure we all know the research about how music is proven to be good for our brains, it's a universal process, one that activates many areas of the brain, how it helps us build neural pathways, how singing is good for our mental and emotional health, how it helps with language acquisition etc. etc.
However, how many of our generalist colleagues are aware of this research?
It's important to be aware of our tendency toward confirmation bias - we are likely to know and remember this research because it supports what we already know: that music is good.
However, even if our fellow teachers have heard this before, they are less likely to remember it or to think about how it can be relevant to them.
So why not share some activities with them that show how music can connect to their area?
Music is Science = You can come in when they teach acoustics, or talk about how instruments are made and produce sound (for example twanging different lengths of string, playing bottle flutes or constructing a veggie orchestra)
Music is Technology= Through connections to apps like Garage Band, using instruments as tools (Makey, Makey which links nicely to the engineering side of STEM too, Groove Pizza, or SpecDrums)
Music is Maths = Music is full of patterns! Why not teach your colleagues a song full of patterns and have them analyse the form together. Or why not play a few rounds of Pass The Beat Down The Line and have the students observe the pattern around the circle and make a prediction about who will go out next? (I don't know about your school, but mine is particularly loving "making predictions" and "justifying your reasoning" parts of the maths curriculum at the moment!)
Music is History = Talk to your teachers about their current unit of inquiry and find songs that help to teach about place and time - the Kodaly folk tradition is excellent for this!
Music is Literacy = So much of our whole approach is about connecting sound to symbol - this helps with phonemic awareness whenever we are breaking down a song to work out "is that one sound or two? Is that taa or ti-ti?"
Make your classroom teachers aware of this and provide them with some rhythm flashcards to warm up a reading session with! The visual tracking needed to read the rhythms in time will aid reading fluency as well.
Another great activity for visual tracking can be that old drama classic of performing actions in groups of 4 (eg. tapping head, clapping, snapping fingers etc.) and having the group copy you, but in canon (one group of 4 behind). This is great for storing information in your head even as your eyes are taking in new information.
Music is Foreign Language = Music is often called the "Universal Language" and we are continuously developing new terminology - solfa, rhythm names, Italian terminology like "forte" and "piano" and we also teach a number of folk songs in other languages. Why not talk to your LOTE teacher and swap song lists?
Music is P.E. =
Part of the Kodaly approach involves using folk dances and hand-clapping games that can link to the dance curriculum (the schooling system I teach in lists dance in both the Arts and P.E. curricululm!). We also teach choreographed dances to Art Music, for example the Sabre Dance from Move It. Plus, singing can help develop lung capacity over time. So many health benefits!
Music can help with Handwriting = by introducing fingerplays into the classroom you are helping to build your students' dexterity and maybe even improve their pencil grip! Think along the lines of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" or "Here is the church, here is the steeple"
Music is Emotional Intelligence = music provides human beings with a means of creative expression (any task involving composition or improvisation - a favourite unit of mine involves getting students to write their own verse to Bob Dylan's "Blowing In The Wind")
Musical activities can also tie into the Social and Emotional Learning curriculum. An absolute favourite moment from Rosalie's session involved her bringing out a plastic crocodile toy. Upon discovering that she had bought it at the Super Saver next door, all the delegates immediately rushed out to buy one!
When you push down it's teeth one by one, eventually it snaps shut (but always at a random point!) So you can have your students push down teeth to the beat while singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and then discuss how you felt while playing this musical version of Russian Roulette.
Those butterflies in your tummy are similar to early warning signs that something's not right. That's what anxiety feels like! (At this point I could almost see my generalist teachers' eyes lighting up back home as we are implementing a new SEL program at the moment and this activity is perfect!)
I firmly believe - like Kodaly - that music is for everyone. That includes our other teachers! Try introducing a few of these activities in your next staff meeting and see how they go.
We know how powerful music education can be, now go get your staff on board too!