Students perform their Foreshadowing Song
Teaching Artist Reflection: I can't believe how successful the foreshadowing unit was. The kids actually managed to write song lyrics that preview their focus novel, Esperanza Rising. Eighth graders at the school asked me casually about the music and read the lyrics with recognition, smiling, and said that the song was like a "preview without giving away the ending". The classroom teacher, Ms. Caffarella, and I spent a lot of time, and she did independently of my visits, discussing the concept and taking stabs at writing examples of foreshadowing, but nonetheless, I usually leave the creative door open when working with kids to create rhymed lyrics for the first time. The fact that they managed to rhyme and master a literary device is amazing to me. It also seems to me that basing our project on a book per the classroom teachers' requests was incredibly successful. It focused the students' creative exploration and took some of the creative pressure off in that they had a work of art (the novel)to which to respond. It was also a great way to unify the integration effort in that all teachers involved were "on the same page" quite literally; no one ever really had to explain what they were doing or why they were doing it, in general terms, and we could move into each others' classrooms quite readily because the overriding themes and focus of study were common to all classes. "How" we explored the novel is what differed from class to class. We also discovered that the kids are lovely singers and enjoy acting. Composing with handbells was also a smashing success. Ms. Caffarella also went "all in" and made the experience incredibly rich for the students with all the related activities she planned for them, such as a proverbs unit, studies of the Dust Bowl, a collage of "What's on Esperanza's Mind?", diaries, and various literary exercises.
MCLT Reflection: Students in this class had a tremendous advantage; they like each other. There wasn't a judgmental attitude and, as a result of this, the artistic expressions were quite good. Students were engaged in the novel discussion and unafraid to question each other to gain a better understanding of the book. Also, these students took that comfort level to their artistic expression as well. They acted out scenes, they composed melodies and lyrics centered around thematic elements in the book, and they worked well together. There is a SPED class mainstreamed with this class, so the potential for disharmony was greater, but it never was an issue. All students felt welcome in the discussion and the creative process for the year.
Teacher Reflection: Connecting music and literacy worked better than I expected. Working in the portfolios made the integration fluid and simple. Students were very eager and excited to learn about similar concepts with three teachers. They were more likely to make connections to the text and to themselves by immersing the unit across Literacy, History, and Music. Collaborating with our visiting artists and our music teacher was very natural and a pleasure. Our collaboration made the content rich and meaningful to the students.
What did not work?
Teaching Artist Reflection: I was a little worried about the foreshadowing at first; a "mad libs" exercise I created for the kids was not as obvious and easy for them as I thought it would be. But their classroom teacher took that opportunity to create a graphic organizer for them that took their understanding further. Other than that, I thought that things went incredibly smoothly.
MCLT Reflection: Song lyric analysis was hit or miss. Choosing anything contemporary got too much of the "like/dislike" involved in the discussion and the message in the song was obscured. The students ended up writing great lyrics despite this misstep.
Teacher Reflection: One challenge our class and school faced was in scheduling. A year long program was scrunched into one semester. I wish we could have started our work in the beginning of the year. Also, some of the questions the students had to answer were complex and hard to unpack. Even though we prepped the students at the beginning of the program, when the time came to identify 2 pieces of work that showed progress, many students struggled. I needed to spend a large portion of instructional time explaining what the PAW questions really meant.
What questions do you still have?
Teaching Artist Reflection: I think we could have expanded the musical part of the unit even more with further songs by Woody Guthrie, other Depression-era artists, or other musical connections to the era/culture/subject material in the novel. We did listen to one sones, or Mexican folk song, Rogaciano. But had we had more time, we could have made even more musical connections.
MCLT Reflection: Can we sing in harmony or in counterpoint? All of the writing was for unison voice. I'd love to try and make it more challenging by adding two voice harmony or canonic entrances.
Teacher Reflection: Will there be another opportunity for a teaching artist to visit my class next year?
What new ideas do you have?
Teaching Artist Reflection: See above. I think too that basing such projects on a novel the kids read is a very natural way to integrate and provides a defined jumping-off point and parameters for what will be explored. These connections cannot be planned as far in advance when the kids generate a story themselves after exploring a theme thoroughly, but that is a natural progression for older or more advanced students. I will also be utilizing portfolios in as many teaching projects as possible. They reinforce the concept that all learning is connected in some way.
MCLT Reflection: As with the fourth grade reflection, the story is much the same here. Incorporation of music to help analyze novel and text makes for a potent combination. Students are much more prepared to discuss thematic elements when they have multiple modalities to draw upon.
Teacher Reflection: Next year, I will plan on using portfolios as part of my curriculum in both Literacy and Math. I have learned that keeping work in a portfolio allows students to reflect and learn on personal progress. Even though reflecting is difficult, I found that it is a powerful tool for children to use the see growth over a long period of time.