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Minnesota Orff Chapter Report

by Sarah Hruska-Olson Olson.Sarah@MacPhail.org

Orff w/ parachute 6Our local Twin Cities Orff Schulwerk chapter is an inspiring, economical, and practical source of professional development for K-8 general music teachers.  Participants include music education students, beginning teachers, experienced teachers, and music education professors.  Many participants have been trained in Orff Schulwerk, but others are new to the Orff approach. 

Workshop topics and activities benefit participants at every level of experience and inspire us all to bring new ideas back to our individual teaching situations.  If you are not familiar with Orff Schulwerk, check out the American Orff Schulwerk website for a brief explanation of this important approach to child-centered, active music making.

A package of 4, six hour workshops presented by nationally known master teachers is only $90 or $80 for American Orff Schulwerk members.  I usually purchase a workshop package each year with part of my MacPhail staff development funds.  My yearly workshop membership even comes with a guest pass to bring a colleague to a workshop for free. 

Workshops usually take place on the St. Thomas campus in Saint Paul on Saturdays from 9 am-3 pm.  There are typically two fall presentations, a winter chapter sharing collaboration with the local Kodaly chapter at the MMEA midwinter clinic in Minneapolis, and a March workshop. Here is a link to the chapter website.

Another related group is the Minnesota Kodaly Chapter.  The Kodaly group also holds Saturday workshops at St. Thomas and collaborates with the Orff Chapter members for the MMEA chapter-sharing event.  Here is a link to the local Kodaly website.

This fall, I attended the September 28th Brian Burnett workshop on “Assessment for Learning in the Music Classroom” and the October 12th Judith Thompson-Barthwell workshop, “Leading Toward Composition: Ideas for Lessons Along the Way.”  Each presentation helped me to think about practical yet creative ways to approach two complex topics in classroom music: assessment and composition.

Brian Burnett’s workshop on assessment offered a wealth of ideas on the reasons for assessment of musical skills, what to assess, how to assess, and how to help students improve.  Burnett demonstrated how to create and use simple rubrics to assess vocal skill, rhythmic skill, music literacy, and improvisation and how to use the feedback from these rubrics to help students improve. 

He placed an emphasis on using classroom activities such as singing games to assess student progress and on finding creative and child centered ways to help students improve their skills.  Burnett also placed great emphasis on offering new chances for improvement to students.  My favorite quote from his presentation is “There’s always another bus.”  (The idea is that if you miss the bus the first time, another will be coming along shortly.)  We thought about connecting Schulwerk principles to Bloom’s taxonomy and to helping students move from kinesthetic to iconic to symbolic understanding of the same musical concepts. 

The presentation was filled with natural connections between music, math, and literacy concepts.  Finally, Burnett explained how his study of other active music making approaches such as Kodaly, Gordon’s Music Learning Theory, and Dalcroze Eurhythmics, helped to inform his practice of classroom music.  At times, the breadth of ideas presented in this workshop felt a bit overwhelming.  Burnett reminded us that he taught classroom music for 35 years and that it took time to incorporate all of these different facets into his teaching. 

Assessment can be a thorny topic for music teachers who wish to emphasize developmentally appropriate practice, creativity, and each child’s individuality.  I struggle with the idea of assessing vocal skill, for instance, – not because it is hard to do but because I know that so much of vocal skill development involves individual child development.  Burnett’s rubric based approach gave me some new and useful ways to think about assessing students’ vocal and rhythmic progress in a diagnostic and developmental manner.

Judith Thomson-Barthwell’s presentation on leading classroom music students toward composition included ideas for using movement, nursery rhymes, classroom instruments, and visual art to guide students from teacher directed experiences to improvisation and finally to student composition.  We began by thinking about ways to use movement and simple nursery rhymes to illustrate musical form.  We used techniques like question/answer improvisation and exploration of positive and negative space to move from improvisation to composition. 

During my favorite activity of the workshop, Thomson-Barthwell used the artwork of M.C. Escher as a starting point for relating the concept of positive and negative space to music and movement.  We worked in partners and small groups to create positive and negative space movement improvisations while listening to the music of Phillip Glass.  Finally, we worked with barred instruments to create a large group improvisation of positive and negative space of musical sounds and silences.  Thomson-Barthwell stressed her firm belief that students will remember their best improvisational ideas.  These favorite ideas in turn will become the basis for composition. 

At the end of the presentation, Thomson Barthwell shared videos and recordings of her own students performing notated and non-notated compositions.  She told us about a resource called noteflight.com that she uses to help 4th and 5th graders write notation- based compositions.  She also talked about how she helped students work in small groups to create non-notated group compositions with various classroom instruments.

If anyone is interested in notes from either of these workshops, please let me know.  I would also love to use my free guest pass for anyone who would like to attend the February 15 chapter sharing workshop or the March 15 creative movement workshop with Aaron Hansen.

Photo Credit: Orff w/parachute 6 by GroovyAndDreamy CC-By SA 3.0

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