When I was a child, I spent Saturday mornings watching cartoons, and in between them, ABC would show Schoolhouse Rock, a collection of cartoons/songs that taught children about grammar, science, multiplication and American history. Michael Eisner, the future CEO of Disney, was then ABC’s Vice President of Children’s Programming, and along with a team of song writers and animators, jingles teaching kids facts about basic scholastic information became a steadfast tradition for an entire generation.
In 2012, showing DVDs during class time tends to be frowned upon by school administrators, but that is when students are passively sitting and watching a movie or video. Schoolhouse Rock can be so much more than that, but it is up to the teacher to create an atmosphere of fun, learning, singing, answering questions and rewarding the kids who actively participate. First of all, the adult cannot have a superior attitude about ‘silly cartoons and songs’ that are there just to placate the ‘sweat hogs’ in a remedial class. (I watched it happen…) Kids see right through that, and it sets the whole experience up for failure from the beginning. Adults have to be totally committed to the reality that what they are showing to the kids is relevant, informative and FUN!
Let me set the stage: I would start on Day One of Schoolhouse Rock “Grammar Rock” wearing my “Conjunction Junction” T-shirt; for day two I wore “Interjections!” Next, I would have copies of the lyrics to all of the songs. Thirdly, I also had the lyrics to all of the songs memorized. Next, I would tell the kids that the first time we watched the first song, I just wanted them to watch and enjoy the song and cartoon. Then, the second time I played it, I wanted them to read the lyrics along with song being played. Then before the third time I played the song, I would ask three questions where the answers were in the lyrics to the song. I was also prepared with extra credit coupons (little slips of paper that had a picture only I could produce with “5 points extra credit” written on it in my handwriting—inexpensive to reproduce, but kids would do anything for them!!!), so after I played the song the third time, I would restate the questions I had asked, and the students who answered them correctly received extra credit coupons.
There is definitely some acting and silliness that is required if you really want this to work, but I can testify that some of my former students who are now in their 30s tell me that Schoolhouse Rock was their favorite thing we did in class. Important tips: 1. Tell your kids (and be ready to follow through on this) that if they choose to ‘make fun’ of the silly songs, they will be singing the song in front of the entire school at the winter pep rally. (I actually had six kids wrangle me into doing a routine to “Unpack Your Adjectives” one year.) 2. Make it clear from the get go that you KNOW all the lyrics to EVERY song. Even come up with you own commentary for some parts. During, “Verb: That’s What’s Happening”, I had a whole Sammy Sosa play call my kids thought was funny. 3. Have fun and don’t hesitate to look like a fool! I would not do this until about a month into the school year, so they were still a little unsure as to my sanity level, but in a good way…. J 4. Once you start encouraging your students to sing along, reward those who participate with extra credit coupons. And finally, by starting this in the beginning of the school year, you have in your arsenal an emergency lesson plan for a day where it snows like crazy but the school doesn’t cancel classes, so only ½ of your kids are there or when you have unexpected extra time in a class period.
If your kids are working independently on something where you can play music in the background, play these songs. You have a guarantee that they are harmless, you don’t have to worry about commercials or any inappropriate content. Parents cannot complain. Play the DVDs/CDs enough throughout the school year, and by May, your kids will have the songs memorized, too, which means they will have basic grammatical rules memorized. It is definitely worth acting silly and making your kids laugh!