“But aren’t you the music teacher?” was a kind-hearted reaction I received from a parent during an initial family home visit. Home visits are the first phase of Springboard Collaborative’s summer reading program, part of the program’s initiative to build relationships with the students’ families. It was a fair question.

I have been teaching music in Philadelphia for five years, and at Russell Byers Charter School for the past two years. But I assured parents that I was receiving training in teaching reading, and had already done research to speak with some knowledge about literacy education. While certainly not as confident as I would be teaching a music program, I was, at least, confident in my determination to not let my students and their families down.

Stepping away from the familiar this summer was a mostly thrilling, sometimes scary, and ultimately very valuable experience for me as an educator. I have become enlightened to new methods of teaching, and challenged to try new things in my music classroom. The most eye-opening part of the program for me was learning how to use small group instruction. I was able to observe its effectiveness and practice its functionality during our daily Guided Reading block. In music class, I tend to rest on the comfortable whole class instruction format, mostly addressing the entire class at once. Having only 50 minutes a week of music time with each class, it seemed to maximize our time to have the students do all activities and learning together. However, as known deficits of singularly using whole class instruction, I was struggling to consistently assess learning or differentiate to address individual students’ needs. And while I had been curious to try small group instruction as a way to address those deficits, I was more fearful of “wasting” our limited music time experimenting outside my teaching comfort zone.

It wasn’t surprising that assessing and differentiating became easier, seeing the students in small reading groups. What was surprising to me, however, was how successful my entering first-graders were at following the procedures of independent and group work at Guided Reading centers. I realized I had been underestimating my students’, and particularly my younger students’, abilities to engage in student-led learning and problem solving. With proper modeling, they were able to work together with their groups to complete tasks with little or no active assistance from me. From this experience, I am feeling very comfortable to implement small group work in music class this year, and excited to see how effective it will be!

Aside from my own personal gains this summer, I am very glad for my students to have had access to Springboard Collaborative’s reading program. Their model is extremely effective: provide both the students and their families with the tools and strategies to continue successful learning outside of school. With genuine family engagement, and assistance from our very committed Site Manager, April Tomarelli (also a 6th grade teacher at Russell Byers), all of my students were able to make incredible strides, with 8 of my 11 students exceeding their calculated growth goal. Amazing! I hope to work for the program again next summer.

Sarah Pisano, RBCS Music Teacher