Friday, March 30, 2012

Travel the USA, Test Drive a book today: Test driving children's books in the music classroom

I like to try out new books with my students when I find myself with a little extra time.  It doesn't happen often..... Most of the time I'm racing the clock and am always behind, but just the other day, I was able to scrape together a minute and was THRILLED to try out a new book with a group of kindergarten students who finished their lesson a little early.

Every time I read a new book with students I am eager to gauge their response. It isn't until I see the book in action with students that I get a clear picture of how I can incorporate the book into our music learning.   Sometimes books that look like they will work great, don't work at all.  I've gotten better at choosing books that will work well with children AND will teach a great musical idea, but my perspective on children's books is only fair to mediocre for the simple reason that I am not a child.

These book "preview" moments are critical to future planning and instruction because it's important to test drive new books when the book doesn't have to carry the weight of your lesson.  Otherwise you might find you and your students left stranded by the side of the learning highway with vehicle that has run out of instructional gas.

Sometimes the vehicle or in this case, the book, is not the problem....... it's the driver!  Books that work for me when I teach, might not work for you. So make sure that you steal a few minutes to try out that book before you teach with it. You don't want to find out during an important lesson that the book you hoped to use is just plain boring........

I found a GREAT book that I love to look at, but this book, doesn't  work with children at and in my opinion the way the text is laid out on the page lends itself to a poor understanding of musical phrasing.   Here is the book that I don't recommend.  I love the song and I love the art work..... BUT, the page turns are too quick for the phrases..... It is almost impossible to use this book while singing with children because you have to turn the page WAY WAY WAY too many times within each musical phrase.  I think the well known and beloved illustrator just wanted to share his wonderful art work..... In my humble opinion, the art work should enhance the song, not distract from it.  I was so disappointed when I tried this book with children and found it to be frustrating because as I've said, I like the song and I like the book.  It's just not a good instructional fit for me.... maybe in the hands of another music teacher, this book would sing.  If you've had success using it in your classroom let me know.

Some books that I never thought would work in music class have turned out to be just wonderful in time. As you know, I'm really working hard on being a better teacher of music composition. A few years ago while at a 75% off book sale, I came across a random book that I was drawn to because of it's title.  Later that week, I read it with my students but wasn't really inspired to develop any sort of lesson because it felt like "just a story".  My students liked it, but I didn't immediately have any ideas.  Well, some time passed.... a year, maybe three and one day there was drama in the music classroom and my 3rd graders needed "just a story".  THIS time when I read it, as I got to the part of the book where Sophie sings her song, I began to improvise a melody that went with the words Sophie was singing.  One moment we were just reading a story, and the next minute we were studying improvisation and composition.  This book has become one of our favorites and always receives several "Do It AGAINS" from the students.   I enjoy this book so much that I sometimes wonder how I missed such a gem of a book, but I have noticed that this book has a seriously slippery selection of syllables synonymous with slip-ups....SOOOO I believe I the first time I read it with students, I was concentrating too much on the reading of the book and not enough on the student responses and what how I might teach with this great book.

I recently discovered this book based on the music of John Denver.  I read it to my Kindergarten and it was a wonderful experience.  My students were mesmerized.  It's not just a book of baby pictures. Each page has a mother and child from a different area of the world AND an animal mother and child from the same area.  Each page is illustrated uniquely enough that I am very curious about the various techniques employed by the artist. I think this book would be a nice part of Mother's Day OR Earth Day and would be another nice example of verse and refrain that has the advantage of being in a book.  The CD that is included has an original John Denver recording and there are even children singing, so I could ask my students to compare an adult voice to the voices of children.  I don't know exactly how or when I'll incorporate this book, but I know it is a keeper, and it will be useful.


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