Monday, November 19, 2012

Jon Schwartz & The Kids Like Blues Band: Thematic Teaching Using The Blues

Playing the Blues
Playing the Blues (Photo credit: Bill Gracey)
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Today I’m featuring an educational and entertaining guest post by Jon Schwartz - a second grade teacher at Garrison Elementary School located in Oceanside, California. When I was first made aware of Jon’s teaching endeavors, I was moved by his efforts in utilizing the blues as a vehicle for education and entertainment with his students.

I immediately touched base with Jon and we ended up having a terrific discussion over the phone. When speaking with him I could feel the energy, creativity and dedication to his students in his voice.

During the conversation Jon mentioned that his Kids Like Blues Band spontaneously began when a gifted student started dancing to the first blues song he brought to the class. A bunch of other girls would then join along; amazingly included in this small group were his non-English speaking students from Japan and Mexico.

It ultimately became a full class effort with the boys as well. A band was then quickly formed to play at the school talent show. You can follow this link to their first performance featuring the song “Sweet Home Chicago”.

I became inspired by Jon’s story and felt compelled to do a post, but wanted to give the story the justice it deserved. So I asked Jon if he’d write an article in his own words for my readers. So I hope you enjoy both Jon’s and his student’s wonderful story … please feel free to leave any remarks or thoughts in comments area below at the end of the post ~The Blues Blogger

I’m a blues guitarist and second grade teacher. For years, I kept these two passions separate, but now my students and I are using The Blues, and our legit, gigging band called “The Kids Like Blues”, to teach academics, build self-esteem, and entertain audiences at street fairs, college campuses, and TV!

Although my initial intention was not to turn my classroom into band practice, I’ve found the blues are the perfect vehicle to both entertain and educate. The kids do all the vocals and the guitar is all me; I hired a session guy to do bass and drum tracks.

 Through careful song selection, I am able to choose lyrics with the appropriate cadence, imagery, and of course, kid-friendly content. We have been making great use of songs like “Sweet Home Chicago”, “Deep Elem Blues”, “Promised Land”, and recently, Johnny Cash’s “Big River”. Most of the songs we do are close to I-IV-IV numbers, and we’ll use country blues and straight 12 bar songs too. We have 12 songs down pat and our set is 30 minutes long.

My students then pick up on the vocabulary given the rhythm, and in turn are able to practice reading through repetitive and engaging activities. The kids choreograph cool dance moves and motions to define and help them recall difficult vocabulary. By having them practice reading the lyrics both with and without music, I’m able to monitor their progress and provide an encouraging, exciting environment that motivates and inspires.

Because blues music is so rich in culture and history, I can use the context of the music and teach across subject areas. Take Chuck Berry’s “Let it Rock”; this one song allowed us to explore Westward Expansion, the building of the transcontinental railroad and past vs. present US History and Americana.

The lyrics read,
In the heat of the day, down in mobile Alabama, working on a railroad with a steel driving hammer. Trying to find some money for some brand new shoes, trying to find a way to take away these blues.
One of the first things we did was go into a discussion, aided by quick internet searches that I do for the whole class on the LCD projector, on how in the “old days” people used to have few pairs of shoes, if not only one, and they were often custom made for their size by cobblers using lasts that were tailored to measurements taken from the customer’s foot.

To read the entire article, complete with videos, go to:
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