Ever heard, “You just teach singing and songs. What do you know about real teaching?” MENC member Lenna Harris did. “I knew that what I did was more than just teach songs.” In addition to the elements of music, she taught performance skills, acoustics, posture, breathing, and her teaching supported math, language arts, and social studies.
When teachers merely delivered their children to music class and promptly left, rushing back to their cup of coffee, Harris decided, “I didn’t want to be the coffee break any more. I had to find a way to make music an integral part of the life of the school.”
Where to begin?
Harris asked her administrator for the district’s social studies curriculum. He was receptive to her ideas and supportive of her plan. “I wanted to find songs that complimented the units that were being taught,” she says.
Because second graders studied dinosaurs, she found a book with a narrative play that had a song about every type of dinosaur. “The children were so excited about the songs that they invited their classroom teacher to come hear them. How could the classroom teacher say no?” Harris says. “She came and was amazed at the amount of facts the children were retaining through the songs.” The classroom teacher then asked, “I’m doing weather next; do you have any songs about that?”
Becoming a School Resource
Harris supported fifth-grade American history study with
- songs from the revolutionary era and dances and instruments of Colonial times
- folksongs, railroad songs, and cowboy songs to support study of the westward expansion
- songs of African Americans during the antebellum period and spirituals with hidden meanings
- songs of the North and the South to transcend the two sides of the Civil War
Harris says, “The classroom teacher would mention a fact or a place or a legend, and the children would burst into a song or dance a reel. ‘Where did you learn that?’ was always the question, and the children responded, ‘In music!’ I found songs and dances to compliment every unit of American history.” Thus, she built and nurtured a relationship with the upper grade teachers.
Harris also supports multicultural learning and geography. When students learn about the cultures of various countries, Harris teaches the music and finds the country on the world map in the music room.
Likewise, Harris uses the music and literacy connection to support the language arts curriculum.
“The teachers began to leave little notes in my mailbox to see if I had any songs or dances to help them as they planned classroom programs for all-school events,” says Harris. “I became known as the lady with songs for every subject.” Through many years of hard work and research, Harris has become the school resource she always wanted to be.
Keeping Music Education at the Core
“Never once did I compromise teaching my music curriculum,” Harris emphasizes. “I still teach all of the elements of music, and I use my music texts almost every class period. I adhere to the National Standards and the New Jersey Core Curriculum Standards for Music Education. There has been a huge change in the way music education is viewed by the faculty. Music is no longer a stand-alone subject. It is integrated into the life of the school and every child and teacher in the school.”
Part 2: Collaborative projects and tips for getting started
Lenna Harris teaches general, vocal, and instrumental music and elementary band at Knowlton Township Elementary School in Delaware, New Jersey, where she’s been for 25 of her 37 years teaching.
—Linda C. Brown, November 10, 2009, © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)