Big Hearts in the Valley

Culturally Responsive Teaching

In the music room at Glacier Valley Elementary Schools, we have made efforts to have both a place-based and multicultural approach to education.

My host teacher, an energetic and experience music educator, has for many years brought a wide variety of songs from around the world to teach her students. There is a song to teach students the continents of our world, and it acts as a ritual to help the students learn where their newest musical experience is coming from. She has also collected a vast variety of instruments, including hand drums, keyboard percussion, hand-bells, shakers, guiros, violins, guitars, ukuleles, and clever plastic tubes called boom whackers.

We have collaboratively incorporated language arts – breaking down the sounds and syllables of words from a diversity of cultures while learning their meaning. I learned a few activities from Ed Littlefield, a fantastic love-filled musician from Sitka, AK, who has developed curriculum and activities based on Tlingit oral tradition. He taught me a few words in Tlingit, enough that I felt comfortable leading partner activities where we said gunalcheesh and hande I jin when we find and interact with partners. In these activities, students reinforce their learning, or brainstorm ways to hold each other up. In collaboration with Cultural Specialist Hans Chester, I have helped my class learn gaaw a wa, and gaaw a ya to connect us to drums, time, and our hearts while we make music. We have focused on the Southeast Tribal Value of “Hold Each Other Up” in many of our lessons and we have developed it into the norms of our music classroom. We have explored how practice this value musically and socially. I hope activities like these continue to connect us to the living, ancient, and wonderful Tlingit culture.

At the suggestion of fellow MAT Meghan J, we incorporated a brief history lesson into our guitar unit for 4th & 5th grade students. This has given us a chance to teach students about the long, global history of the guitar – learning the origins of the word chordophone, guitar, and the meaning of flamenco.

These examples of guitar heritage give our small classes a global connection to the instrument, and have created valuable opportunities for students to really connect with the instrument. Students of diverse backgrounds have recognized Persian classical musics their grandparents played, or recognized the similarity of the Sanskrit word Chatar to the Sitar of Indian origin.

Global explorations have given us the chance to talk about the culture of music outside of the Western Classical tradition (which, in my opinion, dominates our expectations for the way we teach, experience, and perform most musics in the world today). We have discussed the communal nature of music in Romani culture where children are as important of performers as grandparents. We got to discuss how music, in some societies, is part of every day life and is a joyful celebration to be experienced anywhere, anytime, with anybody.

I hope these extensions are empowering to the students, giving them a stronger desire and connection to the skills they are developing in the music classroom.

One thought on “Big Hearts in the Valley”

  1. Sounds like a great place to be a student! Kudos to you for being open and willing to incorporate phrases from the Tlingít language into your daily routines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *