Paul K. Weller
- Music Specialist, Jefferson Elementary
- Handbell Director, Abiding Savior Lutheran
Other Teaching Experience:
- Level I Orff Schulwerk Teacher Training Course - Boise, ID
- Local and National Workshops
What is Elementary Music Education?
Elementary music education has changed drastically since my time as a student in the elementary room. My experience as an elementary student in music involved sitting at a table, opening a music book and “reading” a song while the teacher played the piano. It was rote learning – monkey see, monkey do. We memorized the names of rhythmic notation off of flashcards; listened to recordings of an orchestra and looked at pictures of instruments; and then put on a big program at the end of the year where we stood on risers and regurgitated the songs back that the teacher had taught us. There was no connection to what we were learning, no literacy, and it certainly did not make me a musician.
In this era of accountability and assessment in education, even music has found itself needing to change. Gone are the days of the “dog and pony show” music classes where students were passive participants in the musical process. Now we strive to create musicians who are literate and can read, write, and improvise. The emphasis should be on music literacy not music activity.
When you think about the purpose of elementary school, you need to think about what students are learning in the general classrooms to understand the drastic importance of the elementary music experience. In Kindergarten through Grade 5 this is where students learn the basics of reading, writing, math, science, and social studies; where they are gaining a love of learning and the processes for continuing to learn and develop. When students get to middle and high school they are expected to know how to read, write, and do math at least at a basic level. Do high school literature teachers still need to work on letter recognition? No. So why are high school music teachers still working on basic rhythmic concepts and introduction of sight signing? It’s because there was not a strong foundation laid at the elementary level.
Elementary music education is teaching the basics of music literacy. Not just the names of things, but teaching children how to read, write, sing in tune, play instruments, and improvise with the basic elements. It’s a very process driven and sequential curriculum that takes years of refinement to understand and implement. After over a decade of teaching, I am still just beginning to understand the steps. But that is what makes it exciting! The chance to learn and grow with your students and letting them be your teacher.