The University of St. Thomas


Stender, Barbara

Stender, Barbara

Teaching for Flexibility of Thinking in the Elementary Music Classroom
Barbara J. Stender

An ancient Chinese proverb states that if you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he will have food for a lifetime. To impart information to our students so that they can repeat it is comparable to giving them sustenance for a day. To teach students how to learn is to give them food for a lifetime.

Since learning requires thinking, it makes sense to teach thinking skills and behaviors in order that students develop the ability to explore and create rather than to simply parrot knowledge. While literature on thinking skills and behaviors is vast, how to teach for thinking in particular content areas is limited. The infusion process seems the most practical approach since both content and thinking strategies can be practiced simultaneously.

The purpose of this study was to examine one area of thinking, namely flexibility. The study used sixth-grade music classes to explore the possibilities of teaching for flexibility of thinking in the content area of elementary vocal music. Evaluations were examined to determine the growth in understanding of flexibility of thinking over a five-lesson time frame.

Lessons were designed which incorporated both music content and flexibility of thinking. The musical content varied to include music reading, listening, composition and improvisation. The flexibility of thinking characteristics addressed in this study were: (1) creating multiple solutions to a musical task, and (2) practicing openness to a variety of answers or outcomes.

The conclusions of the study indicated that teaching for thinking can enhance musical understandings. While musical content presented in teaching for thinking was very basic, as students began to explore possibilities with the given material, their solutions often became complex. Furthermore, students’ understanding of flexibility increased while making musical applications.

As a result of this project, I recommend the following: (1) Since teaching for thinking requires a time commitment, begin with one grade level and gradually expand to include others; (2) Concentrate on one thinking skill or habit of mind at a time; (3) Keep in touch with others who are teaching for thinking. New endeavors are more energizing when experiences are shared.

Although embarking on any new venture necessitates a time commitment, the enthusiasm and level of participation exhibited by the two sixth grade classes involved in this study indicates to me that this was time well spent.

Principal Advisor
Linda Crawford