Singing their way to academic success

At Voice Charter School in Queens, K-8 students learn to read music, play a little piano, harmonize and “sing, sing, sing,” reports the New York Times. Voice students do significantly better in math and somewhat better in reading than the New York City average.

First graders sing in the winter concert at Voices Charter School in Queens.

First graders sing in the winter concert at Voice Charter School in Queens.

Seventy percent of Voice students qualified for free lunch last year. All are admitted by lottery. No one auditions.

Teacher Kate Athens said skills learned in music class translate to her fourth-grade classroom. “They learn to stick with something hard and breaking things down into steps,” she said. “And work together as a group at such a young age.”

Younger students at Voice usually have music twice a day, and older students once, on average. To make time, the “school day is unusually long, from 7:55 a.m. to 4:25 p.m., which can be hard for small children,” reports the Times.

Twenty percent of the city’s public schools have no arts teachers, and low-income students are the least likely to be taught art and music, reports the Times. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has increased funding for arts teachers.

Nine-year-old learns opera from YouTube

Nine-year-old Amira Willighagen, who won a “golden ticket” on Holland’s Got Talent, learned to sing opera from YouTube tutorials.

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.