Search This Blog

Monday, April 7, 2014

Group Class Art

Written by Paula E. Bird, copyright 2014

At a recent group class, my students practiced drawing treble clefs. I have special plastic sleeves in which I slide pieces of music paper. The students then write on the plastic sleeves with dry erase markers, which the students can easily erase with a tissue.

My intent was to practice writing music, but we got sidetracked, as we can easily do since group classes are so much fun. Once upon a time, I drew parts of a smiley face as part of a treble clef to be amusing to my students. I added a half rest as a top hat and drew a flower stem coming out of the hat rest. My students must have remembered this, because before I knew it, they had drawn several variations. As you can see, the movie "Frozen" is quite popular right now, and many of the students drew characters from the movie.

Check out the clever transmutations of the treble clef:

Olaf the Snowman
Olaf the Snowman
Wild Hair Treble Clef
Critter Treble Clef
Sven the Treble Clef Reindeer
Sven the Reindeer
Treble Clef Critters
Treble Clef with Flowers in his Hair
Treble Clef Person
I once had an interesting conversation with a psychologist about the left and right brain hemispheres and what sorts of activities might be good for helping to integrate these two sides. The discussion came about during my first year in law school, when I was having difficulty "switching gears" from one type of thought pattern to another. Let me explain a little bit.

I have a very analytical father, and I tend to follow his example of thinking in most things. Having spent a ten-year hiatus from college before going back and completing my degree (and then some), I used to depend on researching things for my answers, always figuring that I was missing something because I had not finished college. I would look for answers everywhere: encyclopedias, books, and libraries. I was a voracious reader and still am. I am excellent at research as a result of practicing these sorts of research skills for so many years.

When I returned to finish college, I carried this same approach with me. I had a great deal of success using this method of finding and regurgitating factoids. I graduated summa cum laude. Then I went to law school, and I chose a law school with a reputation for developing good legal thinking and analysis, not teaching to the bar exam alone. That meant that I had trouble because this type of thinking did not have answers in encyclopedias, books, or libraries, although these things provided plenty of cases and examples to extrapolate answers from. My contracts professor assured me that I would "get it" sometime that first year, and I finally did get it in my second semester.

I had to switch my thinking patterns in order to get it though, and I used to dub these different thinking approaches as right and left brain thinking. The left brain was the analytical side, which dissected and parsed and outlined every little detail to be gleaned from the material. Then I would have to take a step back from my analysis, flip an imaginary switch in my head to toss my thinking to the right brain hemisphere, and then I would contemplate how this worked together. What connections could be made? What was the big picture? Instead of nibbling around the edges, I would think about what it was I was nibbling and how that would affect my arguments and decisions.

This mental "flip the switch" between both sides of my brain's thinking went on for many years afterwards. I finally made this switch an easy road to follow by trying the suggestion that my psychologist friend made. Think of a shape, such as a square, triangle, or circle. Draw that on a piece of paper. Now stare at the object and imagine a picture that could be drawn around that shape, which becomes the centerpiece of the picture. Another variation on this idea is to look at a common object and describe the object in more poetic or descriptive terms. For example, the rope rigging on a sailing vessel could be described as the latticework of a spiderweb. The wind brushing through the dry fronds of a palm tree could be likened to the sound made when one steps on spilt popcorn on the floor.

As a teacher, I use these sorts of descriptions wherever I can. The feeling of the right thumb on the frog resembles the feeling one gets from making that first dig with the thumb under an orange peel. Adjusting the speed of the violin bow to accommodate the first measures of Brahms's "Waltz" is similar to the feeling of pushing someone on a swing (beat 3 of the first two measures).

Group classes are not limited to playing music. We have spent this year working on rhythm patterns, and my students enjoy playing with rhythm sticks. We have worked through all of the easy rests and note rhythms in 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4. We have put together a Harry Potter Puppet Pals rhythm sketch using our own names as part of the rhythm. This group class art project was the start of a push to read and write music. As you can see from the clever drawings made from the treble clef as the starting point, my students are already integrating both brain hemispheres with this activity now.

1 comment: