Children in the classroom
Innovative exercise brings life and discovery into music course
If you had walked into Dr. Janet Brenneman's Early Musical Development course last semester, you might have been surprised at what you would have found: a group of preschoolers.
Brenneman, Associate Professor of Music at CMU, invited children from Assiniboine Castle Daycare to come to her university class for five weeks, so her students could gain hands-on teaching experience.
The students of Early Musical Development explore pedagogy, the philosophy of education, and musical development in children. As in any other class, they do readings, write papers, and have discussions. But they also put their learning into action, observing in classrooms throughout the city and taking turns teaching each other in class.
This year, Brenneman wanted to try something new. The daycare, which operates on CMU's campus, was the perfect connection. "We're teaching about music education for children and there are children one floor down. It's a no brainer; we should connect," she says.
The students took turns leading half hour lessons for the eight children, ages four and five. They marched and danced around the room, sang, played games, and learned actions to music alongside puppets. One of the great benefits was that they could teach and have fun with the kids without the pressure of being evaluated in the same way as a teaching placement.
"I hope we can do it again, because I think it was very valuable for [the students]," Brenneman says. "Even though it's not necessarily the population that they're going to be working with, it was just really important that they got to experience first-hand the amount of preparation it takes to teach, even just that little bit."
And the exercise wasn't just useful for those planning to teach young ages. "I always say that, really, the methodology you use for teaching is essentially the same," she says. "Good teaching is just simply good teaching; it matters not the size of your student."
Even so, students who weren't previously interested in early years education became more open to the possibility. Many of them didn't have much prior experience with the age group and came out of the experience surprised and proud of what they discovered they were capable of.
Brenneman says beginning music education early in childrens' lives is vital. Research has reported that babies show signs of recognizing music played to them in the womb and that music increases brain activity and benefits brain development. But the benefits of music for young people go far beyond these, she says. "I believe that music takes a stronger role in developing our sense of belonging in the world, in the improvement of our social skills and attitudes, and in giving our children opportunities to take real pride in achievement and accomplishment for which they've mastered challenging skills."
Brenneman's passion for music education and teaching others how to be educators is clear. After almost 20 years of teaching at CMU, she's still learning and finding ways to change up her methods. "I think my passion lies in the collaborative aspect of teaching. I love learning from my students, as much as I love facilitating their learning. I love discovering together with them new ways of doing things, new possibilities for repertoire. There have been students over the years who I would say have become much better teachers than me, and I think that's great—that's kind of the whole point. That's the kind of thing that excites me, is watching students grow in their own way."