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Local author links music to English, history

Book attempts to reach out to children who don't have access to music programs

Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2004

Local musician and educator Teri Tibbett has published a book that uses American music to teach language arts and social studies.

"Listen to Learn" was published last month by San Francisco-based Wiley Jossey-Bass. It includes a 445-page book and a CD of songs ranging from Tlingit lullabies to folk songs and ragtime.

"We've been seeing a widespread cutting of music programs across the United States," said Steve Thompson, education editor at Jossey-Bass. "We thought one of the best ways to reach out to these kids who may not have access to specialized music courses is to connect music instruction to language arts and social studies."

Alaska schools with one teacher or a few teachers who aren't musical just don't have a music program, said Tibbett, an itinerant music teacher in rural Alaska, among other occupations.

"Listen to Learn" uses song lyrics and sections about music history as readings. It develops students' vocabulary of musical terms. And it asks students to talk and write about topics such as vaudeville shows, spirituals and symphonic poems.

For social studies, the book presents music as part of America's cultural history and geography. The book also includes brief descriptions of the science behind musical instruments.

"I think through the music you learn a lot about culture," Tibbett said. "This book has a strong multicultural feel to it, and I intend it. This United States of America is definitely a blending of cultures."

It's a fairly recent trend to link music to other subjects in school, said Bruce Caldwell, executive manager of the Washington Music Educators Association, based in Edmonds.

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"I think it's a wonderful idea," he said of Tibbett's book, which he hasn't seen yet. "If you really look at history, what do we remember history for? The culture, the arts."

School districts generally leave it up to social studies teachers whether to include cultural history, Caldwell said.

In some cases, schools go far beyond that. He knew of a program in Edmonds for students at risk of dropping out that used a production of "Oklahoma!" to teach academic subjects.

"Suddenly school, instead of being six classes a day, was something they participated in," he said.

Last school year, Glacier Valley Elementary used a musical play as a catalyst to study the Renaissance and Tlingit culture.

Lorrie Heagy, a part-time music teacher at Glacier Valley, said music also is used to help children memorize information in other subjects - the "lyrical life sciences" or U.S. rap to learn the states and capitals.

Music attracts and holds students attention, Heagy said.

Over a period of four years, Tibbett researched and wrote a first draft of the book in 12 months and spent a year revising it. A number of educators critiqued it.

She tried out the curriculum with high school students at the Johnson Youth Center, the state juvenile jail in Juneau, over two summers. The kids liked it except for the classical section, she said.

"They were like, 'When are we going to get to rap music?' I said, 'You have to go all the way through,'" Tibbett said.

Tibbett originally wrote "Listen to Learn" for a publisher that dropped its education section before printing her book. Wiley, a global company that publishes 2,000 new titles and hundreds of periodicals a year, picked it up.

Thompson, Tibbett's editor, said the company will promote the book to school districts, bookstores and online booksellers. It sells for $39.95.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.



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