John Coltrane, “My Favorite Things” and the Hero of Second Grade

7.28.14 Sax iStock_000028194066_SmallJohn Coltrane

I was on a John Coltrane kick.  You know, that bebop jazz saxophonist who led his own band and worked as a side man with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and others.  I played “Trane’s” greatest hits album for my Special Ed. class while we did art.  I especially liked his arrangement of My Favorite Things from the musical The Sound of Music.  So when I taught second grade, as part of my student teaching, I came up with a lesson using My Favorite Things and it turned out to be more fun than a trip to Disneyland.

This lesson had everything: art, cross cultural awareness, music, physical movement and self-esteem building. And it made one young boy a hero in the class.  Here’s what I did.

The Song

The A section or verse is a list of about 15 different favorite things.  I individually assigned a single favorite thing to each student by going around the room with bag in which each of the favorite things was written on a different piece of paper and each child picked a favorite thing out of the bag without looking.  When we sang the song (I played the piano accompaniment), I sat the kids in the order the favorite things appeared in the song and as each part came up the student would leap to their feet and sing, say or shout their assigned favorite thing (some were pretty good singers but it wasn’t required).  The B section or refrain was the single line “These are a few of my favorite things” which the class sang in choral unison.  Pretty easy.

We also sang the C section or bridge in choral unison.  It was the psychological/self esteem part.  It contains the words:

“When the dog bites, When the bee stings, When I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad.”

To me, that is good advice for children of all ages.

When we weren’t singing we did an art lesson where each child drew a picture of the favorite thing they were assigned while I alternately played My Favorite Things from recordings by Coltrane and from the movie sound track album so they would get the melody in their heads.
3.23.14 Hanalei & Me copy
The art lesson was pretty easy for the kids who had to draw “whiskers on kittens” or “warm woolen mittens” but we hit a bit of a cultural snag with “crisp apple strudels” and “schnitzel with noodles.”  I explained what they were and where they came from.  My wife made the kids a strudel that would bring tears of joy to a Bavarian Baron and for the “schnitzel with noodles” I told the kid, “Just draw a thin fried steak with a side order of spaghetti.”  No problem.

Morning Duties

Now second grade isn’t all just singing, dancing, drawing and dining on sweet strudel.  As you well know, even the primary grades have reading, writing and arithmetic to learn as well as daily duties to perform.  Though, to my surprise, something occurred during the performance of one of those daily duties that found it’s way into our music lesson.

At the beginning of each day, our school would assemble, according to classroom, in orderly formation, out on the playground, for school announcements and to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.  Boy and the beeOne fine morning in May, at the close of announcements, a bee landed on Hector’s cheek.  The kids noticed it and called to us teachers.  We all told Hector to be still and the bee would fly away.  Hector bravely turned to stone, as unmoving as the ancient Sphinx of Giza.  And wouldn’t you know it?  That damned bee made liars and fools out of us teachers and it stung Hector anyway!  Kids cried out but Hector kept his cool, a single salty tear staining his cheek swollen by the stinger.  But the kids never got the connection to the song until…

The Hero

The next time we were performing My Favorite Things all was progressing nicely until we got to the bridge.  The kids sang, “When the dog bites, When the bee stings,” and in the nanosecond after singing “When the bee stings,” every kid in the class turned to gaze upon Hector with a hero worship that signified they believed he was a Titan who took one for the team.  And in the fashion of a true champion, Hector, the hero of second grade, simply preened himself and sat there with a serene smile that said, “I’m cool.  It’s all good.”

Now you’d think that after the singing, the strudel and the bee sting, it would be hard to squeeze more wonder out of one lesson but guess again dear reader.  The pièce de résistance came about a week later.  It was the end of the school day when Mary Ann’s mother came to school to pick her up and to meet me.  She also brought along Mary Ann’s stuffed bunny to show me.  After politely but excitedly introducing me to mom, Mary Ann shoved the bunny into my face, pulled a string in the back of the bunny and it began to play My Favorite Things.  Mary Ann’s eyes were gleaming and her face was radiant with happiness as she gushed, “IT’S PLAYING OUR SONG!”

Good God!  I love teaching!

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