Nearly at the end of term…

I realise that I haven’t given my usual updates yet on how the different projects at the Language School have progressed this term – and we give our performances next week! So here is a quick run-down on how the different class projects have panned out this term.

Lower Primary

When I came back from Bologna, three weeks into the school term, the Lower Primary students were about to go on an excursion to the Melbourne Aquarium. To help them prepare, their teacher was going through lots of fish-related vocabulary with them. On the walls in their classroom I saw worksheets with the different parts of a fish anatomy labeled (gills scales, tail, fins, etc), and coloured in vibrant hues.

So we started by writing a song about fish.

“Tell me about fish,” I asked. “What do you know about fish?”

They all looked at me blankly. I often ask these very open questions for which the answer is to state the obvious. The children suspect it is supposed to be trickier than that, I think, so they hesitate to answer. I always help them out…

“What do fish have? Do they have … legs?”

No, they all laugh, and tell me quite firmly that fish don’t have legs.

“Okay,” I answer. “Fish don’t have legs – what do they have?”

“Fins!” calls out one child. And so we began to write our song:

Fish don’t have legs. Fish have fins.

Fish don’t have bottoms. Fish have tails.

Fish don’t have hands. Fish have gills.

Fish don’t have hair. Fish have scales.

From an ESL point of view, the repetition in the sentence construction is very helpful. The song pushes their vocabulary and gets them using these new words in sentences. Notice use of the word ‘bottom’. Lower Primary children love to have the word ‘bottom’ in a song. Why not? I think. They’re right – fish don’t have bottoms!

We also wrote a chorus for our song:

Fish don’t wear clothes, fish can’t read.

Fish can’t talk and they can’t watch TV.

Fish make bubbles and swim very fast,

But I wouldn’t be a fish because of sharks.

We do a little ‘Oww!” squeal at the end of the chorus too – that kind of thing is also right up the Lower Primary children’s musical alley (and it gets them paying attention to the rests at the end of a bar, too.

To round off our performance and composition, we have some one-by-one instrument work going around the circle, each person playing the same rhythm, before singing the song again. The rhythm is Ta, Ta ti-ti Ta, and they remember it with the words Fish don’t watch TV.

The one tricky thing with this project, and this song, is that it has been hard for them to remember the words. I think there are a few to many different words. We (their teacher and I) should probably have prepared a worksheet for them to colour in, or to use the song words for their literacy work for a week. Those kinds of tactics have worked very well for Lower Primary in the past – they respond well to a full immersion.

Middle Primary

Once again Middle Primary have created something quite unique. Our focus this term has been ‘water’, and we have created a multi-section piece that uses sounds created by, or depicting, water. The process was interesting. Each week I came in with a new idea of something to explore – song words to write, a mode to invent ostinati with on glockenspiels, filling bottles with water to different levels and blowing across the top, learning to play harmonics on the top of wine glasses, pouring water from one receptacle to another and noticing how the pitch changes as the water level rises.

Then we made a list of all the different ideas we had, and thought of each one as a discreet section. We discussed the atmostpheric and musical characteristics of each one – is it ‘busy’ or ‘not busy’? Does it feel ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ or something else? We labelled each section in this way.

Then we talked about how the sections could go together in different ways, depending on the kind of atmosphere we wanted to make for our audience. They divided into groups of 4, and I gave each of them a set of cards with the name of each section and a picture showing the kinds of sounds or instruments in that section. They then each chose their preferred order, and stuck their cards up on the board for everyone to see, in their chosen order.

Lastly, we looked at these rows of cards, noticed where there were similarities between groups (for example, every group had chosen the same card to be at the end of the piece). We created together a final version of the score, moving the cards around until everyone was in agreement. Since then, we have been rehearsing the music, practising the transitions between each section, and giving each section a musical shape.

Here are our score cards, stuck up on the board for discussion:

And here are some of the water receptacles we have gathered:

Upper Primary

This term, the Upper Primary teachers wanted to focus on building up the oral language skills of the group. They discussed the ideas of Assertive, Passive and Aggressive ways of speaking. To reinforce this, I decided to make a mini music-theatre piece with them. I asked them to suggest something that happens at school where there could be any of those three types of responses, and they suggested the pushing that often happens whenever the class has to line up to go inside after recess or lunch.

We wrote a chorus, very jolly and up-tempo, that is accompanied by one student on xylophone, and another on vibraslap.

When the bell rings, we make a line outside

We run and run and run and run to where we always stand.

Everyone wants to impress the teacher, wants to stand in front:

“Look at me!” “I’m on time!” “First is always best!”

The chorus is placed between three renditions of the same sequence of events, where the person at the front of the line is pushed out of place by someone else. Each time the push happens, there is a different musical reaction (sung, and acted out in slow motion – we had a lot of fun learning to do slow-motion movement!), aggressive, passive and assertive. The piece ends with a big percussion piece, before we hear the chorus again for the final time.

It has been a challenging project, because it is so focused on words, singing, and acting. Much less on instruments than usual. We had an upset the other day, because the girl playing the ‘pusher’ in the Assertive version of the story found the acting of the rest of the class (when they tell her to stop pushing and to go to the back of the line) ‘too real’. She burst into tears, and didn’t want to play that part any more.

It is also quite a complex piece to remember, as there are a lot of sections to it, lots of words, and for the boy playing the xylophone, lots of different accompanying riffs. But I think at this point, they have enjoyed trying out this new way of telling a story.

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