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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 4, January/February 2006

How music came to the world

Who doesn’t love a good story? Produced by Mary Filleul, this new curriculum and CD package is an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural resource for Grade 8. It uses stories and music from around the world to teach and reinforce reading comprehension strategies.

The enhanced CD is the work of Valerie Dare, teacher-librarian at Britannia, and features 12 lively and provocative stories about musical instruments from around the world, performed by top Vancouver world music artists and storytellers. Short video clips of musicians playing the instruments as well as information about the origin of the instruments help to build students’ understanding of the universal experience of music in cultures ranging from the Ivory Coast to China. The liner notes are detailed and offer the history and significance of each of the unusual instruments featured on the CD. The stories themselves are powerful, moral and mythic tales, which have been passed down through a grand oral tradition, which again is a universal cultural characteristic.

For eight of the twelve stories on the CD, extensive curricular activities are presented which introduce and reinforce the following essential reading skills: predicting, questioning, visualizing, sequencing, making inferences, summarizing, perspective taking and responding. While this curriculum is geared to an average Grade 8 class, many of the activities will be most suitable to those teachers who are working with struggling and/or reluctant readers. Because the stories are from diverse places in the world, this multicultural unit would be very appropriate for a culturally mixed classroom.

This unit is based on the author’s dozen years of experience working with inner-city youth in a multicultural secondary school setting. Because of a myriad of reasons from poverty to popular culture to second-language issues, students frequently do not practice the thinking skills required to process and understand texts. They have short attention spans, require constant changing stimuli and sigh that everything is "boring." They have learned to "fake read," that is, to pretend a level of understanding that is limited to literal comprehension at best. Engagement as the meaning making act of reading has become the challenge for teachers across the curriculum as students who struggle with reading generally experience little success in the secondary content areas.

Engagement will definitely be heightened as students will listen to the best local storytellers while they follow along in their text version of the story, included in the photocopy ready package. That modeled fluency will teach and reinforce students’ own ability to make meaning from text, and build context vocabulary skills. During reading, good readers use comprehension habits to mentally organize ideas and information from the text to the readers own experience and then generate connections to new ideas. How Music Came to the World is based on the explicit teaching of these strategies, which are culled ideas from a body of sound reading research. Richard Allington (2002) asserts that the key strategies for reading comprehension instruction can be reduced to "six Ts" and represent the common features of all exemplary reading teachers. This unit is designed with these strategies at the core. They include maximizing the time spent on the task of reading, explicit teaching of comprehension strategies, talk around texts and meaning making, texts that are connected to students own lives, tasks that are challenging and stimulate thinking, and testing practices geared to improvement rather than achievement. All of the foregoing will serve to maximize students’ success, particularly in an inner-city environment.

Diverse learners bring a variety of experiences to the classroom and have different ways of viewing the world. Teachers need to create background knowledge, academic language skills, and vocabulary strength in order to increase their students’ understanding and retention of reading strategies and texts (Harvey & Goudvis, 2000). This unit includes many visual aids that assist in organizing text information as well as showing connections and structures in varying texts.

Finally the strategies themselves, which form the core of the reading instruction in this unit have been generated from a wide body of research (Allington 2004, Robb 2002, Tovani 2002, Tarasoff 1998, Tierney and Readence 1985) and the author’s own classroom trial and error practices. These tried-and-true techniques are not unknown practices to most teachers. However, what is essential for students’ engagement of any text, is that these practices be modeled, be made explicit, be practiced, and be applied across the curriculum. How Music Came to the World offers the very entertaining and engaging opportunity for students and teachers to begin this experience.

How Music Came To The World CD and reproducible teachers resource is available for $40 by ordering directly from Shani Danzig, Britannia Secondary School, 1001 Cotton Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5T 4P9. Phone: 604-713-8266. Fax 604-713-8265. Proceeds go to Britannia Secondary.

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