Is Spiderman The Key to Educational Success?

Some of you may be surprised to find out that the answer is partially YES! In recent years, reports have been made claiming that adults exiting school and entering the work force are not meeting the demands of their employers. Employers are complaining that young workers do not have the writing capabilities and the critical thinking and analysis capabilities that are crucial to be successful in the world today. Our economy is extremely vulnerable and employers need workers who are able to adapt to constant fluctuations and still turn some type of profit. Why are people leaving school today and not being able to fill the needs of their employers? What must our educators do in order to change this trend of students leaving school who are ill equipped to be successful in today’s economy? Well, its simple…put the fun back into learning!

The International Reading Association (IRA) has proposed an alternative form of writing other than the standard book reports that all grade school students are required to write at some point. The IRA suggests teachers to have students to create their own comic strips for books instead of writing a standard book report. Asking students to create their own story line for a comic strip regarding the books they read for school will enhance their critical thinking and analysis skills far more than a book report could. Through creating their own comic strips, students will be forced to access the creative thinking parts of their mind in order to symbolically depict the characters in a way that is congruent with their portrayal in the original text.

The education system that is used in the United States and majority of the world today has been the same for centuries now; a very structured student-teacher classroom where the teacher relays information to their students that the students need to report back to the teachers verbatim in order to achieve “success.” In his book Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, Ken Robinson refers to this as the banking method of education. However, this removes any opportunity for students to develop critical thinking and analysis tools from a young age. As you grow older, these tools are harder to develop. In order to start promoting this type of creative thinking that is necessary at an early age, we must start using alternative ways of learning.

This type of “alternative book report” can be a key alternative form of learning in the coming years. It could be used successfully at any grade school level; first grade all the way through twelfth grade. The amazing thing about asking students to write a comic strip instead of a book report is that the teacher is still providing students with a structured assignment. The comic strip would have to depict the major scenes of the novel and the assignment would still have a due date such as any other traditional school assignment. The difference is you are providing the students with creative ownership over the final outcome. How they choose to depict each of the major scenes is entirely up to them. Thinking of interesting and innovative ways to portray the characters will force them to think in ways they never have thus sparking their critical thinking and analysis tools. Also, providing student with this type of alternative assignment can allow them to be excited about their work again. I know that I am more likely to put effort into an assignment that I feel passionate about and that I feel I have ownership over. This type of assignment provides exactly that for our students. Why shouldn’t we provide them with an opportunity to have fun with their homework?

Sing for Success

“When you do what you love, things can happen for you.” When you visit the blog for the PS22 Chorus, this quote is displayed on the headline and it could not ring more true than with this amazing group of students. The PS22 Chorus was started by Greg Breinberg in Graniteville, Staten Island, New York. “Mr. B,” as his students refer to him, arrived at Pubic School 22 in 1999 after being laid off from his previous job as a music teacher. When he arrived at PS22, he was the second grade teacher however, he persuaded the principle of PS22 to let him to teach music again as well as start a chorus for the students in 2000.

Starting any type of school arts program in the year 2000 was a very risky move. In the 21st century, our schools are experiencing budget cuts from every angle and, more likely than not, arts programs are the first ones to get the axe. Too many of our politicians and policy makers fail to see the amazing difference art can make in a student’s life. Before Mr. B was given the opportunity to teach music again, he would play music in all of his classes in order to keep the students engaged in the class and to encourage their participation.

The PS22 Chorus has provided all of its members, past and present, with an amazing opportunity that they may not have had anywhere else. Many of the students that are a part of this chorus come from broken homes where their parents neglect them and they do not have a bright future to look towards. PS22 Chorus gives these students an opportunity to not only escape from the troubles they are having at home, but a chance to actually reflect on their experiences and emotions so they can grow from them. Music provides these children with an emotional outlet that they would not have been able to get anywhere else.

Something very unique about the PS22 Chorus versus other elementary school music programs is that each student is given the chance to perform a solo. The group performs a variety of songs every year highlighting each student’s strength as a singer while the rest of the group performs background vocals and provides harmonies. By allowing different students the chance to shine, the students are able to see each other as equals instead of one being better than the other. Once all the students realize that they all have an amazing gift to give, difference based on race, ethnicity, gender, height, weight and many other things can finally be overlooked and the students can unite to embrace their love of music and build strong relationships with one another that can last into the future.

Too many times the arts are forgotten. Statistics have proven that when students receive a more well rounded educational experience that includes the arts, physical activity and other alternative methods of learning, they excel in their studies. Incorporating arts into the classroom can be done very simply. Like Mr. B, you can play music as your students enter the classroom each day so the students are engaged with what you and the class from the beginning of the period. Also, providing them the time during the class to reflect on the song and what emotions it brought to light for them can help them process hardships or happiness they may be experiencing in their lives outside of the classroom.

Another way to successfully incorporate music into the classroom in order to promote critical thought and peace would be using music to enhance the teaching of subjects such as history, literature, science or math. You can enrich your history and literature lesson plans by connecting the topics you are discussing with the music of the culture from which it came. With math and science, you can help your students connect to the material more so, absorb it and fully understand it through the use of song. If you are able to stimulate your student’s mind through the use of song, they are more likely to engage with you and the rest of the class and therefore have a full educational experience.

In a time where the arts were being cast aside and looked down upon, Mr. B knew how important they were to his students’ happiness and success. Thinking about a world where are youth are denied the right to express their creativity in our school systems is absolutely heart breaking. If we want our youth to grow up to be full adults, ones who not only have the critical thinking and analysis abilities necessary to be successful members of the work force, but emotional beings who are able to express themselves and connect with peers on a deeper level in order to form strong community bonds, we must continue to promote an educational experience that incorporates the arts.