Singing ’bout my schema

Cute second graders sing the “Background Knowledge Song” to the tune of Clementine. Does singing about “schema” help second graders understand what they read? Core Knowledge Blog’s Robert Pondiscio is skeptical.

Kids sing:

“Think about all the things I know about the text before I read.
Building schema really helps me comprehend the words I read.
While I’m reading, I keep thinking ‘Does what I read make sense to me?’
If it doesn’t, I check my schema, then I re-read carefully.
Building schema, building schema
I do it every time I read.
Because it gives me background knowledge
For the next books that I read.”

Perhaps teachers should use class time to build students’ background knowledge instead of teaching them to sing about activating the knowledge –or schema — they don’t actually have, Pondiscio writes.

In the comments, Diana Senechal writes:

Robert, you are being far too kind. This song combines elements of the laughable, the banal, and the revolting. And as you point out, all they’re getting from this is jargon.

They’d learn more if they sang about a “miner, forty-niner” and “herring boxes without topses.” Plus they’d be singing a good song.

I vividly remember singing Clementine in elementary school. We loved doing the twang. It wasn’t our only humorous song about death.  The “Ship Titanic” was very popular when I was in first grade. “Husbands and wives, little children lost their lives, it was sad when the great ship went down.” We belted it out. And we acquired some background knowledge from song lyrics, though we probably knew more about railroading than necessary, even by 1950’s standards.

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  1. Eric Jablow says:

    It is possible to teach using songs, but one should use good singers and good songs for it. Say,“Preamble,” words by Gouverneur Morris, tune by Lynn Ahrens. Or “The Elements,” words by Tom Lehrer, tune by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan.

  2. Forget the schema; teach the real songs. FWIW: my kids loved all of the Wee Sing tapes, which are now available in book/CD combinations, which have most of the songs from the CK 2nd-grade curriculum, plus many others. The Sing Along with Mitch Miller albums have adult singers and many of the same songs, plus others. Johnny Horton (avail on CD) has less-known songs about historical events; Battle of New Orleans, North to Alaska (Gold Rush), Sink the Bismarck, Johnny Reb etc. All are great sing-alongs in the car and kids like the fact that the Wee Sing ones have child singers.