At Meyer Melvin Junior High, a public school that is part of the Borough of Brooklyn, students start their days with a group activity called “Town Hall,” in which they talk about topics that are often related to their lives outside the classroom. A student whose previously unemployed parents recently found good jobs gets a cheer; another student whose heart was romantically broken gets words of encouragement.
All this happens with a backdrop of fellow students lined up behind steel pan drums and other percussion instruments, and Town Hall does not come to an end until the Star Spangled Banner or a Whitney Houston song is played by the band.
The aforementioned school activity is part of a social-emotional learning strategy that administrators at Meyer Melvin Junior High implemented in 2018, and thus far it seems to be the perfect complement to an overall effort to boost academic performance.
During a September interview with news television station NY1, Principal George Patterson explained that math scores had considerably improved since the Town Hall program started.
Understanding Social-Emotional Learning
Education is supposed to be intrinsic to development; we expect children to achieve certain academic goals, but we should keep in mind that success in this regard is often proportional to the well-being of students.
Recent studies in pedagogy have proposed a holistic approach to learning, one that takes into consideration social and emotional development
In essence, there is a new school of thought that views social and emotional development as competencies that need to be fostered for the purpose of enabling academic success.
The Competencies of Social-Emotional Learning
According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, a pedagogic organization based in Chicago, the current framework that defines social-emotional learning lists five competencies:
* Awareness of self.
* Awareness of others.
* Positive relationship skills.
* Self management.
* Decision making.
As you can see, these competencies are essentially life skills that students of all ages should constantly practice. Getting an early start with social-emotional learning is possible thanks to the magic of music.
How Music Ties Into Social-Emotional Education
It is not surprising to learn that the aforementioned junior high school in Brooklyn put together a percussion band as the main feature of its “Town Hall” social-emotional learning program. We already know that music is the language of emotions; this is why we sing in the shower, and this is why British pop star Adele tears up when she sings “Someone Like You” during her sold-out concerts. Music has the power to evoke social change, hence being in the purview of social-emotional education.
How Music Helps With Development of Social-Emotional Skills
In and of itself, musical performance is filled with emotions. Let’s take a look at some of the emotional skills music students are expected to develop and sharpen:
* Learning to follow a conductor or band leader.
* Managing the anxiety of giving a performance.
* Feeling comfortable playing in a band.
* Making friends with other musicians.
Music teachers around the world are beginning to realize the important role they can play with regard to the social-emotional formation of their students, and they are beginning to introduce certain elements of social awareness into their classrooms.
Why Your Children Need Music in Their Lives
Nicola Benedetti is a British classical violinist who is extremely passionate about music education; she believes that music occupies a very special place in the arts because we can’t see it or touch it; however, we can certainly feel it when we listen.
Music ties the instinctual to the intellectual, and it does so through emotions. Children who show a critical or performance-based interest in music will likely develop intellectually ahead of their peers, but their social and emotional growth should not be ignored.
Before the students of Meyer Melvin Junior High launch into a steel drum rendition of a Whitney Houston dance song, they have already discussed high and low points in their lives; they probably feel good at this point because their fellow students have congratulated or consoled them, but they will feel even better when the band plays and everyone sings along.
Getting an Early Start With Social-Emotional Education Through Music
When it comes to academic and personal achievements, intellectual processes by themselves are not always successful. Children can augment their learning if they are able to integrate certain behaviors and feelings with their thoughts. Here are some examples of how a musical curriculum can help in terms of social-emotional learning:
* An advanced student is trying to master the circle of fifths but is having difficulty doing so. With self-awareness, the student may find out that certain negative thoughts are impeding her progress.
* A young trumpet player is slightly off-key through a section of Miles Davis’ “So What.” The band leader realizes that the trumpet sounds great through most of the performance, so she applies principles of social awareness to point out how good her band mate sounds except for a few bars, thus instilling the necessary confidence.
* A piano recital is coming up, and a young player goes through all the phases of performance anxiety. With self-management, some relaxation and stretching exercises can help to alleviate this pressure.
* An audition is on the horizon, but a young percussionist is caught between wanting to practice or hanging out with her friends. Responsible decision-making becomes a valuable competency in this situation; if she wants to ace the audition, she knows that she would be better off practicing than spending time with friends.
When it comes to social-emotional learning, there is no such thing as starting too early. With a program such as Prodigies, parents and educators get everything they need to provide a solid base of musical learning: video lessons, sheet music, instruments, lesson plans, and more.
The goal is to get children exposed to musical notes and music theory early, and this already conveys emotion. It is up to parents and educators to apply the competencies listed above for the purpose of enhancing the social-emotional aspect of learning.
There are other academic settings that can be used to foster social-emotional learning, but music education seems to be tailor-made in this regard.
You have probably heard about music being used for therapeutic and rehabilitative purposes; in the case of social-emotional learning, the purpose is preventative. Music education can be the key to positive mental health.
Other benefits of early music education include the stimulation of creativity and problem-solving skills, but the social-emotional learning aspect by itself makes Prodigies a highly recommended program for children who are between the ages of 3 and 12.