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Using Thematic Learning in the Music Room

Like all teachers, music instructors like to find creative ways to help their students learn. One of the most successful of these strategies is to utilize theme-based learning.

Theme-based learning is a popular and effective teaching method that connects any subject to the real world. Students have numerous opportunities to explore a particular subject in a variety of ways. The music classroom lends itself well to theme-based learning.

What Is Theme-Based Learning?

Traditionally, students have been taught through subject-based learning. They read in reading class, solve arithmetic problems in math and encounter significant events of the past in history.

Theme-based learning is different in that it allows students to explore each academic subject through the lens of the same theme.

For instance, consider that a student is learning about the Revolutionary War. This subject ordinarily would come up in history class, but what if students were taught based on a Revolutionary War theme? They might study maps to learn about geography and how the shapes of the states have changed in the ensuing decades. Perhaps they will sing Yankee Doodle Dandy and explore the meaning behind its lyrics. Math can be approached using word problems with the Revolutionary War as their theme.

One of the reasons why theme-based learning works so well is that it combines academic skills such as the fine arts, math and language arts. Understanding subjects such as these helps students learn how to learn while also discovering intriguing details about the world around them.

In fact, many teachers who take a theme-based approach don’t even talk about subjects. If you look at their daily classroom schedule, you won’t see “science” and “math.” Instead, you’ll see a classroom that treats all knowledge as complex and interconnected.

The Benefits of Theme-Based Learning

More teachers are taking this approach in the classroom as the benefits of using themes become clearer. These benefits may include:

-Encouraging a love of learning
-Students make deeper, more complex connections
-Students have an enhanced opportunity to learn about the world
-Learning takes on greater meaning
-Different learning styles are supported through theme-based teaching

Let’s explore each of these.

Encouraging a Love of Learning

A world of themes is out there waiting to be explored. What things are your students passionate about? Whether it’s cars, animals, jazz, dinosaurs or something else entirely, you might be surprised by how easy it is to create theme-based learning activities centered around that subject.

This provides students with an opportunity to explore subjects that interest them in a deep and meaningful way. At the same time, they are still learning about academic subjects like science, math, language and fine arts.

Themes help to develop a child’s curiosity, driving them to learn even more. Soon, students may be coming up with their own ideas for themes, making them even more active learners.

Students Make Deeper, More Complex Connections

No academic subject exists in a vacuum. Instead, one subject inevitably leads to another and so on. Theme-based learning takes this into account. Rather than separating math from science or music from language, theme-based learning acknowledges that all of these subjects are interconnected.

Accordingly, the theme that you choose may:

-Help students recognize how interconnected the world around them is
-Enable children to recognize and make connections
-Show that there are bridges between various subjects and skills
-Foster improved creative thinking

When children are better able to appreciate the relationships between academic subjects, it makes them more engaged and productive learners.

Students Have an Enhanced Opportunity to Learn About the World

Wise teachers select themes from things that children encounter on a regular basis. A theme may come from a favorite song or storybook, ordinary items that are used every day, special events or current happenings in the community.

Choosing themes that children can relate to is a wonderful way to make the subject more interesting and thought-provoking. This leads students to wonder about other areas.

For instance, you might choose a theme for your music class about the weather. Finding chants, songs and storybooks about weather-related subjects is a breeze. Keep the theme going from scientific and mathematical perspectives. Students might then begin to wonder about climates, natural disasters and many other topics that are related to or affected by the weather.

Learning Takes on Greater Meaning

One of the main benefits of theme-based learning is that it provides helpful context. Through this teaching process, children see how academic knowledge can be meaningfully applied to the real world. When it is possible for students to connect what they are learning in the classroom to the world around them, this fosters greater understanding and knowledge retention.

Different Learning Styles Are Supported Through Theme-Based Teaching

Whether you are educating two children in a homeschool setting or a classroom of 30, you have probably long since discovered that children may have incredibly different learning styles. Simply reading may be enough for one student, but another needs to have movement incorporated to enhance understanding.

As psychologist Howard Gardner explained it, there are eight different types of “intelligences.” Accordingly, people have different learning styles, and this means that what works for one person may not work for another.

Part of the genius of theme-based learning is that the process makes it possible to incorporate multiple intelligences. When you approach a subject from multiple angles, then there is something to appeal to everyone. Various students who may be visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic or musical learners can all thrive with theme-based learning.

Theme-Based Learning in the Music Classroom

This learning style is well-suited to the music classroom. Just think of all of the songs and chants that can be used for different themes. The choices could include themes such as the ocean, weather, animals, seasons, holidays, insects, various cultures from around the world and much more.

Let’s use an ocean theme as an example. The unit might begin with singing songs that are about the ocean. Perhaps the teacher can read a storybook that takes place on the ocean. With either activity, it may be possible to incorporate movement, such as simulating the rocking of a boat on the sea. What kind of creatures will the students discover on their voyage? Is there an octopus or a squid? Might they encounter a school of dolphins? Ask students to make noises that these ocean creatures might make.

In another themed project, music teachers ask students to write a musical accompaniment to a cartoon or other short film. Begin by showing the cartoon to the students with the original soundtrack playing. Talk about the cartoon with the kids, placing an emphasis on how the original soundtrack and sound effects enhance the experience. Next, divide the class into small groups, and give each group a short section of film for which they will write the score.

Make sure that the students have a variety of basic musical instruments from which to choose as they compose. Each group will want to watch their film clip multiple times, revising their composition as they go.

Once the students are ready, have them play their compositions for each other. Offer feedback and give the kids a chance to make additional revisions, if necessary. Finally, play the cartoon once again, this time with the soundtrack muted. As the cartoon plays, each group of students plays their new composition.

Be sure to film this so that it can be played back for the class. They will love seeing themselves perform.

Yet another option for the music classroom is to ask students to design a program for an evening at the symphony. Ideally, this project could begin with a visit to a live symphony performance, but if this is not feasible, then there is any number of symphony performances available for free on YouTube.

Once students have an idea for what an evening at the symphony entails, it’s time for them to create their own program. Divide students into groups. Each group will choose a theme for their evening at the symphony. Maybe they will choose Beethoven, outer space or famous film scores. Let the students scour the Internet to find symphony performances that bear out the theme of their choice.

Let the kids know that their concert should be about 45 minutes long. If their program will be much longer or shorter than that, then they will need to add to or subtract from the chosen pieces. Once their math is complete, they can start writing a printed program just like the programs that you would receive at a real symphony performance.

Explore More with Prodigies Music

Theme-based learning helps students to discover just how interconnected the world truly is. The music classroom is the perfect place to explore this since music frequently is influenced by the people and events of the era in which it is composed.

If you are interested in finding even more new and innovative ways to introduce music to your children or students, then browse the offerings at Prodigies Music. Our engaging programs are designed to instill a life-long love of music and learning.

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