Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Jamming with the 8th Graders

Here’s the deal: When it comes to education, everyone is fussing about this system or that system, this approach or that, this surefire method or that machine that will change your teaching. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to what it always has— an intelligent caring human being who knows stuff and knows how to communicate it and knows how to awaken curiosity and passion in students. 

I’m considering putting together a book sharing my 8thgrade Jazz History Curriculum and yes, it could be helpful and I could write lesson plans that any reasonable recipe-follower can use to teach. But none of it would allow for a lesson like the one I gave today in our opening class. 

After a quick musical warm-up, I invited my class of 8thGrade Jazz Historians to join my on my television program and share what they know about the history of jazz. I gave them a minute to get their story together and gave them permission to give a convincing fake-version if they didn’t know much. Which, of course, they didn’t. 

The results were imaginative, hilarious and occasionally spot-on. From their sharings, I then highlighted the little bits of truth they had stumbled upon and elaborated on them. Having exercised their own imagination, they now listened with a different kind of ear to the real story of how, in this 400thyear of still suffering from the effects of a barbaric system of slavery. 

The class felt like a good jazz jam session, their stories like snippets of musical phrases that I could then shape and respond to. That means I need to know things and know how to elaborate or condense as needed. No curriculum book can give you that. The teacher as the repository of hard-earned knowledge is the first step and then a simple idea to get the jam session going (the Jazz History TV Show) is the next and then the ability to take off from there into the center of the lesson.  But note: in order to know how to respond to, contrast, extent, affirm an idea, you have to have a large body of knowledge and a jazz musician’s comfort with improvisation. 

At the end of the class, several kids spontaneously thanked me and I always take that as a good sign that I’ve done my job well and they’ve noticed that extra little touch of artistry. 

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