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Singing is supplemental

Mar 08, 2018 03:57PM ● Published by Jet Burnham

Fifth-graders explore America’s history through the music of each decade. (Jet Burnham/City Journals))

Once a week, students put down their pencils and pick up their ukuleles and their boomwhackers and start to sing. Josh Roberts, the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Music Specialist at Blackridge Elementary, uses this music instruction to reinforce a variety of academic concepts the students are learning in their regular classes. (They’re also learning how fun it is to play a boomwhacker, a percussion instrument played with a mallet.)

“I think music is probably the most powerful art,” said Roberts, who works with each class once a week. He designs activities for each grade that tie-in to their curriculum. 

“My main focus is teaching music but the curriculum fits naturally into music,” he said. “I add depth to what’s going on in the classroom. Sometimes I teach it before the teachers gets there.”

While the fifth-graders study American history, Roberts teaches them songs—like a traditional Shaker tune—sung by the groups of people they are learning about. 

“That’s an opportunity to bring in the social studies and talk about the people,” said Roberts. “If it was music sung by the slaves—that’s a time we can pause and talk about the Civil War and the context of the music.”  

For last year’s fifth-grade American history program, Roberts collaborated with teachers to choose popular music from each decade that would represent the period’s culture and events. Students learned songs like “Summertime,” which describes the mood of the1930s, and the hit song from 1917, “Over There.”

Roberts often overlaps concepts from multiple subjects into his music sessions. When sixth-grade classes studied folk tales in social studies, Roberts assigned them to write a folk song of their own. He encouraged them to incorporate figurative language, which is a focus of study in their language arts curriculum. He even teaches students to accompany themselves on the ukulele.

Roberts said math is a class that naturally translates well into musical concepts—clapping out a rhythm is all about counting. 

Because Roberts regularly teaches music theory, students can translate those concepts to math concepts. Roberts was able to help a fourth-grade class that was struggling with the concept of measurement of volume. He compared a gallon to a whole note, a half-gallon to a half-note and a quart to a quarter-note. 

“That kind of integration really comes naturally—especially with fractions,” Roberts said.  

Even reading skills are taught through music. Kindergarten students had fun during singing time when Roberts asked them for suggestions of three-syllable words that would fit into the rhythm of their song. 

“It helps them identify syllables and word chunks, which are early reading skills,” said Roberts.

In addition to ukuleles, Roberts also teaches students to play a variety of percussion instruments (like boomwhackers). 

“I love my job,” said Roberts. “I get to sit and sing and play instruments all day. Who doesn’t want to do that for a living?”

During his first year of teaching, Roberts served as the music specialist to nine different schools. When Blackridge opened the full-time position, it was one of the first schools to do so.

Roberts said the administration and teachers have been supportive of his program. They understand that instead of interrupting instruction time, the music lessons enrich student learning. 

Jordan School District officials made it a priority this year to have a Beverly Taylor Sorenson Specialist in every school.

The specialists were originally made possible by a grant created by Beverly Taylor Sorenson. She believed the arts teach children using what they do naturally—sing, dance, play and create. She felt the arts are what make us human. 

Roberts said research has shown that exposure to the arts benefits kids socially, emotionally and academically.

“Having those numbers has really brought a good focus to the importance of elementary arts,” he said. “I feel like there’s a renaissance in bringing back elementary art. The legislature is seeing value in having programs like Beverly Taylor Sorensen Specialists.” 

Specialists such as Roberts hope students continue singing, dancing, playing and creating in every aspect of their lives.

“I feel like I’m making an impact early on—getting kids engaged with music,” he said. 

Education, Today

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