Week 2 at KIPP was, in many ways, very similar to Week 1, but with some added visitors! Peter had been absent on Monday and seemed to be still getting over whatever illness had debilitated him, but despite a haggard morning he was ready to hit the ground running at the start of the school day. I tuned the 16 violins when I arrived so that they were mostly in tune by the time students came to the music room.
The 5th grade classes began their lessons with a “Do Now” worksheet that had them matching words like bass clef, treble clef, half note, staff, and quarter note to their symbols. After reviewing the answers to these questions — each of which could’ve been answered using posters and other visual aids in the music room — students filled out the names of each violin string as well as the notes on the D string on a blank grid. The goal for these classes was to be able to pluck through “Hot Crossed Buns” by the end of the lesson and maybe make it as far as “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
The first group, Northwestern, had more behavior problems than I had anticipated based on last week, and I ultimately marked one student as non participatory for the day and three other students identified with behavior/focus problems. If IEP or similar accommodations exist for students at KIPP, I am not privy to this information (yet?), so I can only assume that all students are capable of demonstrating the social/emotional levels necessary for participating in this class. Particularly frustrating for me was a situation with one child who had been a bit problematic last week but had made a complete turnaround with his attention and attitude this week. He was engaged and participating and asking for help when he needed it, and I was really happy to see such a positive change. Unfortunately, mid-way through the lesson he lost $1 from his paycheck because Peter thought he heard him plucking his strings when they were all supposed to be in rest position. Because I happened to be sitting in the chair next to him at this time, I was certain that it wasn’t his strings that were being plucked, but this was almost impossible for Peter to discern. The result was that the deduction derailed this child’s focus and he became bitter for receiving unwarranted punishment. He earned his money back in a hail-mary offering of a giant sum of money, but he missed out on the last few minutes of instruction for the week because of the resentment he felt.
Naomi arrived during the first Haverford class, after Peter and I had discussed a new plan for me to pull out students both as a supplement to his lesson and a proactive approach to discipline. I took kids out in pairs, first singing finger numbers and note names of HCB, then individually fingering on their instrument as they plucked, and finally confirming that they could pluck through HCB with good position and tone. One student’s mother was also observing the class and came out in the hallway with me as I walked her daughter through the same process. This class was able to get all the way through Mary Had a Little Lamb, though they weren’t as successful with that tune as they were with Hot Crossed Buns. This group got as far as the last two worksheets in the “Do Now” packet which prompted them to identify notes in treble clef spaces and on treble clef lines.
West Chester, the next 5th grade group, was also quite successful with the blend of pull-out and large group instruction. It is unfortunate that one student, who claims to have studied violin at his old school, is already struggling to progress at the same rate as his peers because of his sense of superiority from already being introduced t the violin. Fingernail length for both boys and girls was the most significant problem for this group.
Each of these 5th grade classes got to watch a YouTube video from the Brooklyn duo named Chargaux (named from a blend of their names: Charly and Margaux). This one was a cover of “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift, a song that many students recognized although I did not. Both these ladies were so charismatic and appeared to be having fun with their cover song. In addition, they have nice posture and position that students can model.
Some of the things that stuck with me from my day here was the use of a lesson plan objective as a student behavior tool (Peter had a selected student read the goal for the day, in this case, “We will be able to play Hot Crossed Buns using F#, E, and D”), the continued challenge of keeping the thumb anchored while plucking, and keeping the left thumb behind the first finger tape as opposed to opposite the 2nd finger. Peter used the word “cardboard sound” to describe the sound produced when the finger doesn’t entirely depress the string, and many students need to be reminded to keep their first fingers down as they play second fingers, partly to avoid this cardboard pizz quality.
The afternoon was filled with Kindergartners! I did the same introductory lesson with these kindergartners as I did last week (minus the dowel bows which we didn’t get to last week and only proved to be a distraction in the lesson). Of 6 groups of about 5-7 students per group, I added close to 20 students to my “wishlist” for violin class. As these are still trial groups, I’ll have more sample lessons to teach next week, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we came up with 40 or more beginning violinists to participate in Pre-Twinkle activities each week.