Dyan Branstetter | May 2016

Dissolving Subjects, Beautiful Results

Right now, my class is working on duet poems using the book Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. I’ve written on this topic before, but I am currently working on it with a new group of students. They are breathing new life into it, which inspired me to write again.

These poems are a perfect challenge for my 3rd graders at this time of the year. I’ve been conferencing with each set of students so that I can give them feedback and help them improve. On Friday, I worked with a few groups and then met with my final group of the day: two girls who were working on one of the most challenging poems, Whirligig Beetles. I have replayed our conversation a dozen times since this conference, because I am still in disbelief at the jaw-dropping responses I got from these students.

Here’s a segment of our conversation:

Me (after listening to the students perform the poem for me):  This is a very challenging poem, and you are off to a great start. If you fall out of rhythm with one another, the poem falls apart. Have you noticed that? Do you feel how keeping a steady beat will help you stay together?

Student: (nodding) Like a metronome when you’re playing music? I tap my leg when we read- that helps me.

Me: Yes!! I also noticed that you are reading very quickly, which causes you to make some mistakes. Slowing down will help your audience understand what you’re saying, and you won’t have trouble on the multisyllabic words.

Student: Yeah, that happens when I practice piano. Sometimes I start out playing really fast and I mess up a lot. When I slow down and keep a steady beat, I can play better.

Me: Exactly! Let’s try it again. Slower, with a steady beat.

Students read again. Although they were slower and more accurate with their pronunciation and timing, they accented the steady beat so much that the meaning of the words was lost.

Me: Great job with pronunciation! Let’s always keep it that tempo. Now, we need to smooth out the words so that we can read it in time AND with expression. (I demonstrated what they did, and what I was looking for.)

Students: (Smiling) So it’s like we’re reading it staccato?

Me: Yes, kind of. You’re reading it with an accent on each beat, so we hear the beat more than we hear the poet’s message. You need to feel the steady beat inside, but not let it affect the sound of your words. Does that make sense? (I demonstrated the example/non-example again.)

Students: Yes. Can we try it again?

Students read through the poem again. It was almost performance ready. As I was listening, I realized I was nearly conducting at certain parts.

I realize these student responses sound too perfect. I can assure you that the majority of my conferences are not as advanced as this example. My purpose in sharing this conversation is to emphasize how intertwined the Arts and another subject can be. As I’m working with these students on building their fluency, it feels like a music lesson. I use music vocabulary mixed with reading vocabulary. In fact, there really is no distinction as to which subject the words belong- articulation, tempo, beat, accent, rhythm.

Arts integration is powerful. It would have been impossible to help these students achieve the exemplary performance of this poem in a reading class without approaching it as music. Effective integration comes when there is a natural connection between an Arts subject and a content area. During a model Arts integrated lesson, there should be a pivot point when one content area either turns into or switches perspectives to the other. With this activity, I can’t find the pivotal moment. From the beginning, I feel like the two subjects just naturally dissolve together. And it’s beautiful.

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices

Read more about this project here.

***Check out EducationCloset’s Art Integration Student Placemat for more help with teaching students the fundamental elements of each aspect of art, so they have the ability to think independently about them on their own.


About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.