I'm pleased to have a guest post today by Bryce, a long-time Primary music observer (and my husband). I love how he shares his perspective. He just says it like it is! -Michelle
Bad ideas are everywhere.
They saturate the news, Facebook feeds, your kids’ every action, and
even lurk in the dark recesses of your own mind. Some are easy to spot, like mixing household
chemicals into explosives that produce lethal chlorine gas without proper
ventilation in the room. Others are a
little subtler, like choosing a primary music activity set that doesn’t teach
or engage the kids in your primary. So
how do you spot these bad ideas? I’m not
a professional, but I’ve sat in enough singing times to recognize a few trends:
|Repeat after me--being on Pinterest does not make it credible.|
1. Does the activity support only one learning style (or none at all)?
Sharla Dance, our go-to expert on all things music teaching, classified childhood learning as fitting into eight basic styles: physical action, words, visuals, nature (whatever that means), spiritual, logic, cooperation & teamwork, and… wait for it… music. Check out her blog here.
Each child in your primary class benefits from one or more of these styles. Because every star is different and so is every child (I dare you to read that without singing it in your head), you’ll need to include multiple learning styles within each activity. I recognize that there’s a school of thought that it’s okay to address only one learning style per activity, so long as you have multiple styles in the overall music time. Those people are wrong. That’s just how it is.
The prime example of a bad idea—one of the worst ideas you could possibly do—is to simply draw names from a hat and make the kids sing it. (This includes derivatives like flipping over pictures on a chalkboard and singing the song underneath.)
The problem here is that this engages none of the learning styles. For example, there’s either no visual reference or the pictures are too small to be seen from the back of the room. Having one kid from the primary come up to draw a song leaves everyone else sitting still, so there’s no motion element. The word learners aren’t given any associations or interesting connections to make in order to internalize the lyrics. Even worse, blindly flipping cards or drawing songs replaces logical progression with chaos, making the whole experience deeply uncomfortable for logic learners.
|Some people learn best through natural processes--like natural selection.|
Let me repeat: If you structure singing time around drawing songs from a hat, you should be darned to heck (because let’s face it, actual hell might be a little extreme).
2. Does the idea offer variety?
Anyone who’s ever had kids knows they have short attention spans. However, those with older kids or whose children are freakishly patient may have forgotten just how short this attention span really is. I’ve seen goldfish with longer attention spans than my own children’s. So unless you’re practicing some sort of witchcraft or hypnosis to keep them riveted, you will need to switch activities several times.
Along those lines, be very sure to mix up which learning styles you’re using each time. You could involve four learning styles in every activity, but if you never engage the kids who really need to learn through logic, then you’re a horrible person (albeit not as horrible as the ‘hat’ people) and it will be all your fault when the child apostatizes later on.
When switching activities, keep focused on your core learning. People seem to default to a singing random wiggle song, followed by an unrelated main activity. Instead, try choosing what you want the kids to learn that week and structure several short activities around the theme to engage them from a variety of learning styles.
Yes, teaching this way takes more effort and planning, but that’s just part of the cost of magnifying your calling. If you think that load is too heavy, remember that you could have been called as Primary President.
3. Is the activity exactly the same for both junior and senior primary?
While the trunky 11 year-olds in senior primary may have the same attention span as a new sunbeam, their actual needs couldn’t be more different. If the activity you come across online is identical for both junior and senior primary, leave a nasty troll-ish comment and move on.
In one ward, I saw a very well-intentioned music teacher try to engage the junior primary by sitting them in a circle and having them do a complex wood-block clicking pattern, complete with passing the blocks left and right as part of the pattern. Half the kids didn’t want to share their blocks (surprise there), and the other half couldn’t figure out which way was left. In this music leader’s defense, she really is fantastic but was just having an off day.
4. Does the idea support on-the-fly adaptation?
There’s an old saying from some philosopher guy with a Latin-sounding name that goes “It is a bad plan that admits no modification”. If this ‘fantastic’ idea you found on the internet doesn’t allow you to adapt on-the-fly, then it’s probably a bad idea. If the kids aren’t responding well to the activity, then adapt your lesson immediately.
The hapless music leader in the previous example responded quickly to the kids and adapted her wood-block patterns to their skill level, shortened the activity, and then moved on to the next one that engaged a different learning style. Nice recovery!
Here’s what a good example looks like:
Let’s say that I need to help junior primary children learn the lyrics to Book of Mormon Stories. Most of them can’t read, sit still, or focus on anything for more than a minute at a time. Challenge accepted.
My first thought is to use Pinterest. Then I think better of it. I hate Pinterest. A lot. Instead, by expending a little mental effort, I come up with a plan that involves…
The collaborative learners can be engaged by helping their classmates recognize the words printed on the back of the bookmark—a key phrase for the verse. If we’re working on the Alma verse, my key phrase would be “Alma was rebellious, and he fought against the light”. As they learn from their peers and teacher, they can join in singing that phrase with me each time I repeat the song. The word learners are also engaged by having a specific phrase that connects their scriptures, bookmarks, and the verse of the song.
While all this is going on, I continue singing the verse on ‘loop track’. To keep the interest of the music learners, I can alternate between singing the full verse, whistling softly, and omitting words to keep things changing enough that it doesn’t fade to the background.
2. Variety: As kids get their bookmarks, I keep them engaged by giving them new directions. If we’re doing the Alma verse, I use it like a wiggle song. When I sing “fought against the right”, I have the kids stand up and throw a couple punches into the air—specifically where another child is NOT standing. When I sing “an angel came”, they stand imperiously, and stretch out their hand as though speaking emphatically. When I sing “struck before his brethren”, I instruct the kids to collapse to the ground, as though unconscious. This will get a bit loud as they moan and wail dramatically. Remember: the noise is part of the kids getting invested in the activity; it’s okay.
Notice that I just transitioned activities here but never had to announce it. They blended together and kept the kids focused on the song they need to learn.
3. Different for junior and senior primary: I’ve focused my plan here on junior primary, but were I to adapt this for senior primary, I would get them out of their chairs to come and get the bookmarks first. Their next task would be to find the place in their scriptures where the bookmark should be placed. (With some guidance, of course.)
As they looked up the scriptures, I would also get the kids to alternate whistling along when I sing and then sing words as I either leave blanks or start whistling.
And yes—they still get the death scenes. I’m pretty sure the eleven year-olds will even pantomime burning one of their own at the stake.
3. Adaptability: This can easily be rearranged and tweaked to fit the kids’ needs. For instance, we can start with the pantomiming activity and then migrate down to sit in circles. We could even skip finding the bookmark in the scriptures portion and hand them out, asking the kids to tell their class something they know about Abinadi as I hum or sing in the background. As they get their bookmarks, I could even have the pianist play the verse in the background while I dramatically summarize the story of Abinadi for them. The possibilities are nearly endless.
And I didn’t draw a song name from a hat. Not even once!
|Looking for more? |
Check out a description of each of the 8 learning styles mentioned above.