Fun with Little People | Allison Upshaw

Call (me): Hello Mr. Radio
Response (students): Hello Mr. Radio
Call: Hello Little Cheerios
Response: Hello Little Cheerios
Call: Hello Sis. Oriole
Response: Hello Sis. Oriole
Call: Need I tell you
Response: Need I tell you
Call: That everything here is just fine
Response: That everything here is just fine
Call: In my mind
Response: In my mind. 

Mornin’ recorded by Al Jarreau

Every Tuesday morning, I walked into the kindergarten and first grade rooms at Vaughn Road Elementary School in Montgomery, AL and waited. As soon as they saw me, they began to put their work under their desks, waving, whispering, wiggling, bouncing and smiling. I’d put my index finger to my lips and wait a little longer then we’d begin to sing the chorus printed at the beginning of this article. We’d rock and clap and, sometimes, we’d do little hand motions for parts of the song.

On my first visit, I shared a version of Hansel and Gretel that had singing and movement in it. They learned that this special kind of singing story was called opera and that I am an opera singer. We spent the entire first day learning that being a good opera singer means that I have to be a good singer and a good actress. We warmed up our voices, which is something that all good opera singers have to do before they sing. We learned that good actors have to listen carefully and follow instructions.

The next week, I told them that I wanted to see how much they remembered about the Hansel and Gretel story. I told it again, deliberately leaving out important details and allowing them to fill in the gaps. They told me their favorite parts of the story and we even took time to act out some of those scenes. This established a pattern that we would use throughout the school year.

One week we’d share a story and the next week we’d see how many details they could remember about it. For the majority of the residency, I chose stories that were based on various music styles: opera, jazz, folk. In The Jazz Fly, we learned to speak in the jazz language of scat. In Mama Don’t Allow, we created a line dance for the alligator’s to do at the Alligator Ball. We sometimes drew their favorite parts of the story. We sometimes created word walls of new words and they even wrote their own stories as spin-offs from the originals. We processed the information differently each time but we were always learning. We were learning how to retell stories  without leaving out important details which is part of the Common Core State Standards for K-1. We were also learning how to echo short rhythmic and melodic phrases as well as creating expressive movement to music which are part of the Alabama Music Standards for K-1.

Learning was, of course, the main idea of this residency which was the brain child of the Alabama Institute for Education in the Arts. It was created to provide arts based learning for kindergarten and 1st graders but student learning was not the only focus. It was also an ongoing professional development for the teachers. The short range goal for the professional development portion was to model arts integration in such a way that the teachers could immediately use some of the techniques. The long range goal was that it be a replicable model for both students and teachers. This year we will continue with kindergarten and 1st grade as well as adding 2nd and 3rd grades. The dance TA and I are meeting next week to design at least one lesson plan that combines music, theatre, and dance. I’ll keep you posted!

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