Something had to be done. The majority of my fourth grade girls had been singing “My Favorite Things,” loudly and off-key for a good minute now. I took a deep breath and approached the throng clustered around a poetry book that contained the lyrics. My students, singers and non-singers alike, eyed me with cautious curiosity. How was I going to react?
“Now girls,” I said with as much patience as I could muster, “You’re singing it wrong. It’s ‘Brown paper packages tied up with strings,’” I sang the melody they had butchered seconds before.
The girls blinked at me in surprise but quickly amended their wayward notes. When they got to “Silver white winters that melt into spring,” they stumbled over the tune again. I once again sang it the correct way. They once again attempted to parrot me.
Seeing they were still not getting the notes, I turned to my ace in the hole: I pulled up a version of Julie Andrews singing on Youtube and played it for them. By this time the entire class was engaged. We finished our rendition mostly in tune.
Did this little outing into Rodgers-and-Hammerstein-land have anything to do with our current lesson? Did this contribute to the children’s understanding of writing or arithmetic? Of course, the answer is blatantly “No.” But on closer inspection, it also wasn’t a complete abandonment of all learning and discipline in my classroom.
Lyrics are a form of poetry. Poetry is a form of literature that most students take years to appreciate or understand. By encouraging the students’ love of this song, I was fostering their love for rhyming words. In short, we were having a mini-reading lesson.
Secondly, while my girls were struggling with some of the notes, the majority of them were singing the song from memory. Memorization is a great way to activate the brain, with memorization and recitation being learning tools dating back to ancient Greece. My school does “Recitation Wednesday,” where students weekly recite poems or speeches in front of the whole school. With a little encouragement and practice I could have my entire class reciting “My Favorite Things.”
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I was fostering relationships with my class. By showing the students that I loved singing Rodgers and Hammerstein as much as they did, I was making myself a more accessible teacher. I’m not just an adult-shaped automaton standing at the front of the class spouting out facts and figures. I have hobbies and likes and dislikes just as they do.
Hopefully, by taking a few minutes out of our class schedule to relish the music styling of Julie Andrews, my students and I bonded. Maybe it won’t be more than a superficial, “Hey, my teacher is really cool,” sort of bond. Or maybe I’ve planted the seeds of trust and reliance so that my students will be confident enough to come to me for help. In the meantime, let’s go on singing!