Using Music in the History Classroom!

Wow! What a week! Over the past five days, I have taught all four of my 6th grade history classes without the direct guidance of my cooperating teacher. Mrs. E took a brief leave of absence to be with her daughter, who has been on the verge of going into labor for some time now. She is now the proud grandmother of a little boy named “Ace!”

Ever the supportive and attentive mentor, Mrs. E called me every day to make sure I was doing okay, and left me plenty of directions, as well as a wonderful substitute teacher (who, per Virginia law, is required to be in the room with me until I am fully licensed), Mr. M.

While these few days have been absolutely jam-packed with all sorts of happenings, everything has gone just about as well as I could have hoped. The only thing that might be called ‘out of the ordinary’ (and it wasn’t, really, at least by teachers’ standards) was the altercation between two students that occurred right before the bell and threatened to disrupt the classroom. Thankfully, I was standing outside my doorway at the time and was able to intervene.

Other than that, I’ve been occupied with trying to get the hang of the normal, every-day teacher routines, like remembering to take attendance at the beginning of each period, collecting homework, or trying to get the class focused on their warmup activities while attending to kids who are accosting me with late-work and requests for missing assignments (this, despite the policy Mrs. E and I have of putting missed work in pocket folders on the wall). Oh, and I’ve come to terms that my feet will hurt at the end of the day, every day. Overall, however, it has been an absolute joy!

Last Thursday, I taught a lesson that centered on some of the key events and figures of the American Revolution. Drawing upon the musical that has taken America by storm, I played several kid-friendly excerpts from Hamilton’s Right-Hand Man,” “Guns and Ships,” and “Yorktown.” Students were asked to annotate the song lyrics by identifying feelings and mood while making historical connections to the content. Most of them had heard the soundtrack before – one student even stood up and tried to rap “Guns and Ships” as fast as possible at the top of his lungs!

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The music didn’t stop there, however. Once we had completed our Hamilton listening activity, I passed out a handout that provided a brief history of “Yankee Doodle.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with its origin, “Yankee Doodle” was originally a song the British sang to make fun of the “Yankees.” The American colonists, however, ended up fully embracing the song, and began to sing it proudly in defiance.

After students were briefed on the song’s history, I broke out my violin, which I had hidden behind my desk, while Mr. M, my substitute, took out his guitar! Then, we played Yankee Doodle while students sang along to the lyrics and clapped their hands. They loved it! Finally, they were given the opportunity to write their own stanza from the perspective of either a Patriot or a Loyalist!

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Our classroom rendition of “Yankee Doodle”

Today was Monday, and it was also the first time my university supervisor came into the classroom to observe me teach. I had prepared an inquiry-style lesson that focused on the “advantages” that allowed the colonists to defeat the British during the Revolutionary War. These main advantages were, in no particular order, French financial and military support, strong and inspirational leadership, and defense of homeland, families, and beliefs.

In a nutshell, I asked students to examine a packet that contained three primary and secondary sources, and to identify the “colonial advantage” that was being illustrated. Then, students were asked to come to a consensus with their group as to which “advantage” they thought was most vital to American victory. Finally, I asked students to write a persuasive paragraph in which they made their own case. Overall, the lesson went quite well – my supervisor was thoroughly impressed!

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