Teaching Artist Reflection: Asking the students what they wanted to explore, which was forgiveness, and spending meaningful time with this writing-oriented class exploring that idea in essays led to high levels of participation, rich written results, and students' openness towards experiencing operatic scenes of forgiveness and repentance/defiance in The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. They requested that we show more scenes from the operas towards the end of the year, and we happily obliged them.
MCLT Reflection: We had the idea to have Esperanza Rising be a novel for all three grades to use as a starting point. It was a non starter with these sixth graders. As harmonious as the fourth and fifth grade classes were, this class was fraught with issues and disruptions. So, we came upon the idea to have the students choose a topic to pursue. They chose the topic of forgiveness. This led to in depth, heartfelt and enlightening discussions. Following that opening, Lisa came up with using operatic examples of forgiveness with the students. I thought there wasn't a hope in the world to have the kids enjoy an in depth discussion of opera. I was completely wrong. The students loved the finales of both Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. I was delighted with the depth of discussion and writing both the topic of forgiveness and the operas produced.
The learning activities in the program were of great help in developing student writing skills. Students worked on author's craft, which improved the voice in their writing. I also noticed, and students commented that some of the types of author's craft we learned about was on the NWEA tests. Therefore, writing as well as reading skills were enhanced by participation in the program. Students also looked forward to having their wring published online, a great motivator.
What did not work?
Teaching Artist Reflection: For the most part, the students struggled with the non-traditional scoring/graphing process we attempted to use to teach them about musical elements of classical music. Some students had done something similar in year two of this project, and they understood that part of the assignment was creating their own system after some modeling on our part. Students new to our program this year were very much in "rote learning" mode and struggled with the concept of creating and implementing their own key (color-coded, symbolic, or whatever) for graphing elements such as pitch, tempo, and characters present in a two-minute excerpt despite multiple iterations.
MCLT Reflection: Using a universal theme for all three grade levels. The sixth graders wanted nothing to do with the novel that 4th and 5th grade was using. They didn't want Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" either. They wanted greater control of their environment and, thankfully, we were able to find that with them.
Some of the students did not like the novel Esperanza rising, so I could have done a better job of choosing a main novel to work with.
What questions do you still have?
Teaching Artist Reflection: Students seemed to relate to the content of the scenes they viewed from these two operas (Figaro, Act IV Finale, Giovanni, Commendatore Comes to Dinner), describing them as "drama" (Figaro) and bad behavior (Don Giovanni). They never once laughed at the style of the operatic singing, broad acting, and period costumes. I have introduced opera to enough middle-schoolers to expect at least some kids to respond to it in that way. I am very curious about their positive response. Was it the situations in the scenes we watched, which they found relevant and familiar (A criminal will not repent and goes to hell; philandering husband is forgiven by wife)? Was it the several weeks we spent beforehand discussing and writing about the concept of forgiveness? Or was it the fact that they have no vocal music program at their school and are attracted to singing of any kind? All we know is that they were very lukewarm towards Beyonce, Katy Perry, and will i am examples used early in the unit, and VERY INTRIGUED by opera.
MCLT Reflection: How far can the genre of opera take middle elementary school age children? This is unexplored territory for me and, after teaching for 15 years, I LOVE finding out new things. The subject matter is limitless, but the approach has to be well thought out. Find out what makes the kids in the class interested and connect it to an opera in a relevant manner. The potential is amazing.
Because I was new to the program and was unfamiliar with the temperment and abilities of my class, I wonder how planning over the Summer could enhance participation in the program.
What new ideas do you have?
Teaching Artist Reflection: I will try to follow this model of introduction in the future (relating an opera to a thoroughly explored and emotionally charged personally relevant theme) and see if it works again since opera is a wonderful vehicle for both multiple-modality arts learning and classical music study.
MCLT Reflection:See above. No kidding. Look at the question I have and follow it to it's logical conclusion. I will be using thematic units with operatic examples going forward without a doubt. As long as the class is invested in the subject matter, the potential for success is tantalizing.
Teacher Reflection: I would like to see a greater variety of music used in the program.