From Music to History, This Teacher Does It All
March 1, 2019
This week our blog is hosting one of the 2019 Abdelkader Prize for Educators winners, Jennifer Larson from Decorah, IA. In this post, she will explain how she implemented Abdelkader into her lesson plans for her students and its impact on her classroom. Jennifer’s approach was unique because she does not teach in a traditional classroom, instead she teaches Decorah’s orchestra, making it more difficult to work in a lesson plan that explored Abdelkader. Read more to find out how she wove in lessons on history, values, and leadership into her music classes!
As a member of the Northeastern Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I read in the monthly newsletter about the Abdelkader Education Project. I was not previously familiar with Abdelkader before the article in the newsletter mentioned the town of Elkader, IA. This caught my attention because Elkader is a small town close to where I live in Decorah, IA. The Northeastern Iowa Synod Council voted to recognize the work of the Abdelkader Education Project and partner with it in ministry.
I teach middle school orchestra and my 6th grade students were soon to begin learning a new piece of music called “Honor and Glory” by Soon Hee Newbold. When I write a teaching and learning plan for the pieces of music we study, I intentionally incorporate objectives not only about musical skills and knowledge but also look for ways for students to make personal connections to the music. The 6th graders at my school were in the middle of their Gandhi unit in social studies class and liked learning about him (they especially enjoyed sharing some of his memorable quotes). The curriculum available through the Abdelkader website has an activity comparing Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. to Emir Abdelkader, which is why I wanted to introduce students to his life story and values.
Our study began with students listening to an audio recording of “Honor and Glory” but they were not told the title of the piece. They created a list of emotions or musical elements that the piece elicited. Students then proposed possible titles for the piece based on what element of music was most prominent to them. The given title of the piece was revealed further into the learning process, but at this point the printed title was removed from the instrumental parts given to the students. Suggested titles included things like “Royal March” and “Noble Men”. List of student responses
Strategies were taught on the skills and techniques needed to create such a sound as this piece of music conveyed to the listener. The next step was to learn the history of Emir Abdelkader and generate a list of his core values. I implemented lesson 3: Leadership to Build Civil Society from “Foundations of Civil Society: Tolerating and Accepting Religious Diversity from the Abdelkader Education Project” (AEP) lesson 5: Abd el-Kader’s Legacy (Powerpoint presentation of content). This lesson discusses some of the different ways in which Abdelkader has been recognized and honored, and the continuing legacy of his life for our world today. As an assessment, the students completed Venn diagram comparisons: Student example Venn diagram –permission granted for use of online template by Paul Conderino, Education World, June 4, 2019.
The final step in this project was for students to select, identify, and reflect on musical ideas that are an expression of their core values. They identified three core values through an activity asking the students to narrow down what is important to them from a list of pre-determined values. The final values were added to a paper called “These 3 Words”… Students kept this as a reminder of what is important to them. Then, using the website melodyloops.com, students chose one to four musical loops that were representative of their core values. In small groups, students shared the musical loops they chose and described how the music is a reflection of themselves. Student example- musical ideas/core values.
At the completion of the project, the students responded to the following questions/prompts:
- I can identify my core values.
- Describe one action you can do or have done to demonstrate a core value of yours.
- What religion did Abd el-Kader practice?
- List one core value of Abd el-Kader based on your knowledge of his life and legacy as the “Commander of the Faithful”.
- Have you been to the town of Elkader, Iowa?
- Were you aware the city of Elkader was named after the Algerian leader of the same name?
Since writing for this project, I have taken a class through the Safe Schools Academy a project of Iowa Safe Schools called “Understanding Muslim Students”. I am learning more about the similarities between Islam and Christianity. It has been a catalyst for me to become more vocal about equity issues in our schools and community.
-Jennifer Larson, Decorah, IA
Middle School Orchestra teacher
We would like to thank Jennifer for her willingness to discuss how she has incorporated the values of Abdelkader into her work and life.