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FAME Teacher Spotlight – Kristen Turner

Introducing Kristen Turner who teaches General Music K-5, District Chorus Grades 2-5 and 5th Grade Band in the Medford Public Schools in Medford, MA. Kristen has been a FAME member since 2016 and during her career has also taught Early Childhood Music. Besides her First Steps and Conversational Solfege 1 & 2 Certification, Kristen also holds her M.M in Dalcroze Eurythmics and the Dalcroze Certificate from the Longy School of Music, as well as her B.M. in Flute Performance from Oral Roberts University.

How did you come upon Dr. Feierabend’s materials & philosophy? I first encountered them during a summer course at Longy when Dr. F only had the early childhood curriculum books for babies and toddlers. But it was during my recent Conversational Solfege class at Gordon College that I truly began to internalize the philosophy that every student could become “tuneful, beatful, artful” and what that would look like with my students in addition to their Dalcroze experiences in my classes. 

What do you find to be the most powerful aspect of Dr. Feierabend’s philosophy for your teaching? The most powerful aspect of his philosophy is first that the all people need to be “tuneful, beautiful, and artful” and then as teachers we can build upon that as the foundation for music literacy and the philosophy of the Conversational Solfege curriculum that ‘Syllables are Power”.  When I dove into using the Froseth rhythm syllables, it was a smooth transition from using ta and ti-ti to du and du-de. My students adapted to the new syllables, and as I taught through the steps and songs from the curriculum I noticed that they could easily decode new songs. By the time I reached the Reading and Writing Steps they were retaining the rhythms because of the syllables used. My current 3rd grade students are now decoding, reading, and writing rhythms in Unit 2, and my 5th graders are able to decode, read and write in Units 1 – 3. It has been a building process and I am thrilled at their progress. I am challenging them with Conversational Solfege while at the same time reviewing the First Steps process when they need to revisit a song, movement or game as the foundation for the music literacy piece. 

How has FS/CS changed your teaching? First Steps and Conversational Solfege have changed my teaching as a result of the sequential process naturally built into the programs. I realized that I had previously expected students to do too many things at once. For example, when introducing a song, I would introduce the movements simultaneously, and for many students it was too much information to take in, process, and release back to me. I only discovered this once I began using the 4 time rule and the group/solo technique in my teaching. Now my process has evolved into, 1.) Listen, 2.) Do the movements only while I sing, 3.) Students then sing and I do the movements and finally, 4.) We put both the song and movement together. Now, I am not saying this happens all in one lesson. But I noticed that this process allows the students to be more accurate in both their singing and beautiful movements.

Another thing I realized about my teaching process before FS/CS was that I did not provide enough solo singing opportunity for my students. I now have students solo sing in every class and as a result, they have become more “tuneful” in their individual singing. This curriculum has also given me the tools to talk to parents and administrators during ”Back to School” nights, curriculum nights, and concerts, making it easier to discuss why we do what we do, its importance, and keeping the 30 year plan in mind. Since presenting concerts as  “informances”, my principal appreciates that I am not only educating the students but the parents too. 

How has FS/CS changed your students? I began to use the First Steps and started with Pitch Exploration- my students love the “Ice Cream Sundae” vocal warm up story as well as many of the pitch exploration cards. And this year I have pulled out the slide whistle and my students love making up their own sounds. I even had a first grade student bring a wooden slide whistle in to show that he bought with his family while on vacation! As I followed the process of pitch exploration to fragment singing – another favorite song of my students is, “Oh my, No more pie” as a group and then solo turns as I made up a “singing ball” game. I would roll the ball to the student as I was singing the “call” part and they would roll the ball back to me on the “echo” part. I used this as an assessment tool throughout the school year to see how student singing was improving. I found that, by the end of the year, most students could match pitch and sing more accurately than at the beginning of year.

And there has been a huge impact of the Move Its on students. Sometimes I have them follow me but other times, especially for a new Move it, I have students follow Dr. F. The students not only love doing the Move its they know, they love following Dr. F or Ms. Peggy and look forward each week to seeing which composer we will learn about next. 

 I must also mention the gift of Songtales and how they have completely engaged students in active listening, inner-hearing, and responding while also creating a sense of “hushed wonder” that I so often see in their eyes.  My students now sing more accurately in tune, move expressively with the music, and able to identify composers as a result of doing Move Its. They have more musical independence and ownership of their musical creativity through the rhythms and songs as a result of Conversational Solfege and they express joy in the songs, games and opportunities for creativity and improvisation through the First Steps curriculum, especially Arioso.
What would you say to encourage a teacher just starting out with John’s materials? Begin by choosing up to 3 songs or activities you feel comfortable with and start putting them into the First Steps sequences. Build each lesson with more layers until it is a full First Steps lesson. Just jump in and try new songs and games with your students and don’t be afraid of Arioso. It’s scarier for you than it is for them. It takes time to develop but if you have laid the foundation slowly I guarantee students will be willing to try a singing conversation with you. And if you get overwhelmed, simplify your lesson and always keep the goal in mind that your students are becoming “tuneful, beatful, and artful” which is a process, not a product, and it will happen in time.