Music at PKS

During the 2016-2017 school year, we are presenting a series of posts about the PKS approach to learning. This installment features our school’s music teacher, Andrea Donahoe. Read past installments on progressive education, Mandarin immersion, Habits of Character, social-emotional learning, and art

Q: Why do you enjoy working with children and what your favorite age is to work with?
I enjoy working with children because every day I every day I witness so much joy and beauty, what could be better? I am especially fortunate to teach something I'm so passionate about. The moments when every child is engaged singing or dancing around the room with wide smiles and laughter or the "aha" learning moments that occur, you can't help but walk out of here with a smile.
And I can't choose a favorite age! I've worked with preschool through junior high and I've enjoyed them all. I love being a specialist and working with children over time. I'm new here but I taught in my last school for nine years and knew some of those students since they were born! Being a part of their lives for that long and experiencing their growth transformation is very special.
I do have to say, this is my first time teaching preschool and I am loving it - they're so unexpected! Recently we were singing the song, “there's a spider on the floor, on the floor,” and all of a sudden one of them said, "Oh no, I'm trapped in the spider’s web!" Things I could never predict, and it's so it's refreshing.
Q: We all know music is a critical part of a child’s development. Could you explain why, with a focus on your Orff approach? 

Orff Schulwerk is an active child-centered approach to music education where you take what the kids are already doing when they're born, playing, singing, dancing, speech, games, drama, and beyond. You use that to teach the concepts and the skills in music, which makes so much more sense than anything. Also, music class is not just about teaching students to be great musicians, we are teaching them to appreciate beauty, work cooperatively, and use creativity, while developing their motor skills and often performing tasks requiring independence and higher order thinking skills.
Q: How do the kids learn to talk about emotions through song?
Children appreciate songs and with genuine emotion they can relate to. In one preschool class we’ve sung “Five Little Ducks” for over a month now. As people who are familiar with the story know, near the end, Mama Duck is sad because none of her ducks came back. There's a couple pictures in the book and she's all alone in the fall leaves and winter snow. It is their absolute favorite and every time they want to sing it with the book and every time there is this moment of genuine concern and compassion for Mama Duck and a discussion of where are the ducks and why is she sad and, of course, collective joy and relief when all of the ducks return!
Q: How do you think about approaching music within the PKS progressive model?
I think the Orff approach is progressive in itself. We tie music to things that are happening in their everyday lives. We're influenced by holidays or current events and things like that and tie that into the music room. You don't just sing a song and then move on. You teach the context, we are learning culture and history. 

Additionally, music is everywhere and about everything, so it lends itself so easily to cross curricular connections.  For instance, for the [elementary] “Our City” unit, we made a rhythmic city. We worked on musical concepts, form and rhythm patterns and started with class-generated San Francisco landmarks. In the culminating projects, students had the opportunity to use their personal favorite parts and things in the city from PKS to Pokemon to hot dogs to demonstrate their music knowledge.

Q: How can we help children develop a lifelong love of music? 

I think it's just having a lot of positive experiences and making very meaningful memories with music. Singing with your children, exposing them to a wide variety of genres, taking to the symphony or music in the park, encouraging them to join chorus or take piano lessons.  Just as with reading for instance, children will likely develop that love if they see it modeled by the adults around them.
 Q: How do you think music benefits children's learning in other subjects?  

There are so many ways it benefits and complements the other subjects, but for me I think the strongest example is the literacy connection. Everyday using text as a tool for rhythm, matching the sound to symbol, fluently and articulately singing and speaking, and memorizing a wide variety of texts.  Beyond that deciphering and learning the meaning of a wide range of vocabulary. 
Q: How can you help children use music to understand their feelings and grow from a social-emotional standpoint?
Music class in itself is a huge opportunity for social-emotional learning. Working as an ensemble, building that loving, supporting environment so that students are comfortable to share their instruments and express themselves in front of the group.  We also work on problem solving and patience when we are choosing instruments, taking turns in games, etc.

And as I mentioned before exploring songs with a variety of emotions that the children can relate too and I can model with my emotional connections as well. I tried to explore this in one of our very first songs that all of our children learned this year:

“I’m so happy to be here, very glad that you are near,
A little nervous, glad to be here”

Q: What do you think makes PKS a special place?
First of all, being new to the city and walking down this block, the PKS campus is an unexpected, beautiful place on a street, a hidden gem. And then there are the families! I immediately was impressed with the warmth, the investment, and the pride of the families in this school. They've gone out of their way to welcome me as a new teacher. This school is a very special place. 

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