Written by Patti B.
Journaling has been a common practice in Language Arts classrooms for many years now. I recall its popularity growing during the whole language movement. More recently, there is an emphasis on the inclusion of reading and writing into all content areas. There is much research which supports the effectiveness of writing in all subjects. Writing about content areas provides authentic topics and gives students “the opportunity to analyze, question, synthesize and apply information they have learned that day” (Allen, 2004, p. 23). This year, I began using Music Journals with my third, fourth, and fifth grade classes. This tool “encourages students to engage more deeply with their music lessons” (Pearman and Friedman, 2009). This blog entry will discuss the benefits that I have discovered in music journaling.
First, journaling encourages students to take ownership of their learning. This begins by simply letting them decorate their cover. My students enjoyed making their journal their “own”. Here are some examples of journal covers:
Ownership in learning continues as the pages of the journals are filled! Students begin to understand their role in the learning process and can see their improvement in their skills, attitudes, or preferences. Here is an example of a fifth grade boy sharing the growth he has made as a singer:
Second, music journals, also be referred to as “academic notebooks”, are also advantageous because they can take on many different formats. Entries can be very structured. For instance, stem sentences can be used as writing prompts, or a student may write about new vocabulary words, class notes, or a strategy for learning. In contrast, entries can also be flexible and have an open format. “The blank pages of the journal await the students’ questions, hopes, and dreams” (Robinson, p. 30). This flexibility allows students with different learning styles and ability levels to have their individual needs met. Here are some wide range of abilities and understandings represented in journaling:
This fifth grader has demonstrated his great understanding of what we have learned.
Here is some contrast between two third grade students and their level of understanding of refrain and verse.
These two students are also different in their attentiveness in class. The second student is often off-task. His entry is less detailed, but I am quite pleased that he has demonstrated understanding and that he likes singing refrains.
Third, a music teacher can use journals as an opportunity to get to know their students better. At the beginning of the year, the writing assignment could be to write anything they want the teacher to know about them. I only see these students once a week; I can learn more about my students through this type of writing assignment. Students could write about musical experiences which may include any instruments they play. Teachers could discover family members with special talents that could be used as excellent resources for future lessons and projects. Students can express their musical preferences through their journal entries. This entry confirms that my students really enjoy a particular song in our music book:
Finally, music journals provide an excellent way to assess my students learning. These entries show me that these students understand some key vocabulary words that we have learned.
Assessment is not just for measuring student achievement. Assessment is used to evaluate my teaching and to guide further instruction. These entries tell me that I need to clarify and develop a deeper understanding of some key music vocabulary:
Bailey has switched the definitions for refrain and verse. The second journal demonstrates the common misunderstanding and/or description of dynamics as “high and low” as opposed to “loud and soft.”
In closing, I have found my students excited about their music journals. They are taking ownership in their learning and demonstrating their knowledge of musical concepts. Students are writing about improvements they are making in their musical journey. I am learning when concepts have been taught well and where re-teaching is necessary. Moreover, both of my building principals are thrilled to know that our students are practicing their writing skills in music class which benefits the whole education of the child. While my main goal is to use writing to deepen our musical knowledge, I will promote, model, and address proper grammar and writing skills as much as possible. Finally, students are sharing what they have enjoyed about music class, and I have a better personal insight into each individual in my classes.
Allen, J. (2004) Tools for teaching content literacy. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
Pearman, C. J. and Friedman, T. (2009) Reading and Rhythm: Binding Language Arts and Music in an Academic Notebook, General Music Today, (Volume 23, pages 12-16)
Robinson, M. (1995) Alternative Assessment Techniques for Teachers: Are you at a loss for ways to assess your music students? Mitchell Robinson offers some ideas that might help you improve your situation, Music Educators Journal, (Volume 81, pages 28-34)