Going Beyond the Lesson Plan for Quality Teaching

2011Symposium_1_2The first grade class came in and took their seats. I called for them to S.L.A.N.T. and they quickly did so. S.L.A.N.T. is an acronym for sit up, listen, ask & answer, nod when you understand, and track the speaker. I learned it from the book Teach Like A Champion. I then started the song “I Am Standing in the Shoes of John” and they sang it through, but many were out of tune, especially on the highest notes. This is a very high achieving class, and they are used to getting compliments from me, so when I told them their singing was awful, they were surprised. “Yes,” I explained, “it was out of tune. Sing “shoes of John” and I sang the occurrence that falls on re, ti, la in fixed do. They repeated it. We did this several times, and then they all sang it again. It was better, not good enough yet.

Without saying another word, I asked five students who had sung it well to stand and sing the song. I then called on another five who had sung reasonably well to stand and join the first group. They did, and rose to the level of the first group, so that now these 10 sounded excellent. Another four, and then the remaining students. By the time they were all standing, they were all singing in tune, and with the nice clear tone of the first group.

That is what we did to start this music class. Here is what it said in my lesson plan: Review the song, “Shoes of John.” There is a lot of potential packed into that word, “review.” I review to reinforce prior learning, and to informally check for what learning has taken place. When a soft spot in learning is revealed, such as singing a previously learned song out of tune, the review goes deeper, solving problems, correcting errors, and getting the material in the shape I had hoped it would be in when I last finished teaching it. There is a dynamic quality about the process of reviewing that is not adequately represented in the lesson plan entry. It is a changing and developing relationship between my students and me from which a better understanding and higher achievement is built. When that new level is reached, I can go back into the lesson plan, and resume.

Next in the plan was to add a rhythm ostinato, then to add pitches to the singing-kidsostinato sung with solfege, and then to transfer that ostinato to barred instruments. The students quickly were able to sing so re re — in fixed do solfege. Half then sang the ostinato, while the rest sang the song, now in tune. The 2-part harmony was satisfying. We then switched parts with equally satisfying results. Interestingly, when switching to instruments, two of the students dropped the rest on beat 4, though they had sung it correctly. Playing the part on instruments demands more independence than singing with the class, so this error presented the opportunity to develop more independence in these children. Reminding them of the rest, which they had already experienced through singing sufficed to correct the problem. They were able to relate what they did singing to what they were trying to do playing, once the connection was made for them. The song could now be performed with in-tune singing and an accurate instrumental ostinato.

I completed the lesson by teaching them a new song– the Creole lullaby “Crabe Dans Calalou.” First I sang it through using fixed do solfege, then sang short sections and had the children repeat them. The sections they repeated gradually were made longer, until they could sing the whole song. They have had plenty of experience singing fixed do solfege, so this was just another opportunity for them to do so. Because the lyrics are in French, I told them what the song was about, and then taught them the French lyrics. It was easy to connect the French words with English equivalents because many of the words, like papa, maman, crabe, and riviere, are similar in both languages. The first half of the first two phrases are identical both in words and music, and one of the children observed that the music was an ostinato. I acknowledged that it was a repeated pattern, and was glad they had noticed the repetition. Because the song is partly about a father, some of the children were excited to sing it for their fathers on father’s day, which is this Sunday as of the writing of this post. For the lesson plan, I had merely written, “Introduce the song, “Crabe Dans Calalou.” It is teaching that makes the plan come alive. When the plan is solid while still allowing for the flexibility of students shaping and directing the learning within the framework of the plan, learning takes place that is relevant and exciting for the children. That is, I think, the hallmark of quality teaching.

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