All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.
Today, I visited a first grade class at an urban public school in central Seoul. It was an inspiring day that made me question some of the things that we do at the primary grade level in our schools. I do not have the answers but there are different ways to educate young children and still be able to achieve proficiency and mastery of skills and knowledge when they get older.
As well as with the kindergarten entry, I wrote this post with friends and colleagues in mind. There is so much to tell that I will share the information in a couple of blog installments – too much to write and it gives people a chance to process, discuss, reflect and then ask questions.
The visit was courtesy of a wonderful and generous teacher, Choi Jeong Ah, a veteran in the classroom and in the school system. Thank you, Jeong Ah!
The instructional day started at 9:00 am with Music class. It is not a “special” like it is in our schools, it is taught by the classroom teacher in their classroom. Additionally, students get a traditional Korean music class taught by a music teacher who specializes in traditional music. He comes to the school every week for three days to teach each group one class a week.
The classroom teacher is also part of the Music class. She helps the students and the teacher, co-teaches if necessary, so she does not use that time to do lesson planning or any other work. This is how all “specials” work in grades 1 and 2. Teachers are with the students until they leave and then they have a few hours to do preparation and administrative work as well as PD.
Grade 1 and 2 schedule: students can come in any time after 8:30 am – instruction begins at 9:00 am – all students and teachers have lunch at school – morning snack is milk ,4 days – yogurt, 1 day – all food is provided by the government.
Monday- Wednesday – Friday: 9:00am -12:30pm – lunch and dismissal by 1:30pm
Tuesday and Thursday: 9:00am – 1:40pm.
Look at the amount of time the students are in school- teachers stay every day until 4:40pm.
Back to Music class – the teacher was amazing. He was kind, patient, fun, engaging and incredibly knowledgeable. The students loved every second of it and there was something for every learning style and every kind of behavior – no class management issues,they were all happy and engaged. Even one child who could not play the drums seemed content to watch his friends and listen to the music.
The lesson was a wonderful example of how interdisciplinary learning can take place in a music classroom. There was reading, math and movement. It showed how students benefit from singing, dancing, clapping, moving, and following different sets of directions. It was also a lesson on establishing routines, on taking care of one’s things by folding the sleeves neatly and putting them away, on learning the value of team-work.
Students went to get their instruments and placed them on the stage. Then they sat down in their seats at the auditorium. No directions were given, the students knew what to do.
First, the teacher asked them to sing the song they had been learning. They sang happily and with great enthusiasm.
Next, the students watched a video of the dance they were going to learn – a good way to model and build background knowledge The Hansam dance is a traditional Korean mask dance, or talchum, that includes masks, singing and dancing. In this case, they had one “prop”. They were given special sleeves that they used to sway from side to side as they danced imitating the dancers on the video.
They sang, they did movement, lots of movement following the teacher and the video. They were developing spatial, auditory and visual skills as well as learning to coordinate what they saw and listened to.
Then they read music notes – there are only 5 notes in Korean traditional music- from the score on the screen. Finally, they were ready to play the drums.
The teacher modeled how to hold the sticks and which part of the drum to play. How to move their heads according to the beats. They all chanted and followed the rhythm, counting, clapping. They were very focused, very disciplined – not wanting to miss a beat.
They practiced 5 or six times. Then the teacher asked students to volunteer to play individually. Many of them volunteered, made mistakes that he did not correct and he praised each one.
End of lesson – the students put everything away neatly and off they went.
Part II will be about academics and more playing… then lunch. Enjoy the music!