Learning in action: How songwriting transformed the classroom
By Karen Baratz, Parent of a Westbrook Elementary third-grader
Even if I had not been a classroom volunteer at Westbrook Elementary this year, I would have heard about Young Audiences teaching artist Alden Phelps’ residency program from my son and his classmates who talked about the program with an enthusiasm that I don’t often hear about schoolwork.
As a parent helper in the classroom, I got to observe Alden in action. He had a remarkable way of engaging the children so that everyone wanted to participate in the songwriting process and his ability to get students to collaborate and come to a consensus on lyrics and ideas was impressive.
From the minute Alden walked into the third grade classroom, he had a captive audience. He instantly connected with the students through his songs, humor, and gentle manner. He used a creative approach to engage students in activities so that they could better understand the songwriting process and what a parody was before they began to compose a parody song of their own. Alden is a natural with children and came well-prepared with popular melodies that the kids could adapt with their own lyrics. The fact that the students got to sing their own version of current songs they hear on the radio took the children’s enthusiasm for Alden’s residency way up!
Alden was able to adapt his program to the curriculum, tying in what he does with what the students were studying in class—geographic regions of the U.S.—for a more in-depth learning experience. He had a game plan in place to help three third-grade classes quickly compose meaningful (and funny!) songs about their respective geographic regions which they were so proud to perform for the school and their parents at the end of the program.
This was an amazing opportunity to get a window into my child’s school life. So often, parents don’t get many details of what goes on during the school day but this experience provided me the opportunity to work side-by-side with the children and watch learning in action.
The bottom line is that Alden made learning fun. In our competitive society where education standards often place a greater emphasis on subjects like reading and math at the expense of the arts, I feel that our children are being shortchanged. The arts play such an important role in helping students see the whole picture and they can help make learning fun! I can think of no better example of this than the fact that my son was so excited about songwriting and parodies after Alden’s residency ended, that he wrote one of his own. He created a music video about geometric shapes to a popular tune and couldn’t wait to share it with his teachers and classmates. If that isn’t proof of the power art has to boost academic performance—I don’t know what is.