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Teaching in the Present Tense: Using Music to Engage Students Across the Disciplines

CEA and AFT Connecticut joined forces to co-sponsor a professional learning workshop titled, “TeachRock: Music Across the Disciplines.” Thirty teachers from around the state, representing nearly every grade level and subject area—from physics to culinary arts—attended the free workshop.

Members of CEA and AFT CT come together to attend a free TeachRock workshop on using popular music to promote cultural competence and student engagement across the disciplines.

TeachRock is an arts integration curriculum created by the Rock ‘n Roll Forever Foundation, founded by Steven Van Zandt, better known as Little Steven of Bruce Springstein’s E Street Band. Van Zandt is a strong supporter of both unions and teachers, whom he describes as “underappreciated and underpaid.”

As a child, Van Zandt did poorly in school until one of his teachers helped him realize that music, his passion, often connects different school subjects into a coherent whole. With that realization, Van Zandt became far more engaged in school and began to look at learning through the lens of music. It was this experience that eventually led him to found the Rock ‘n Roll Forever Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower teachers to infuse music into the curriculum to better engage students and build their cultural competency. It’s what Van Zandt calls “teaching for the present moment” rather than “learn this now, because you’ll need it later.”

CEA and AFT CT teachers work together on the creation of a playlist that gives clues as to the identity of a famous historical figure.

The TeachRock curriculum consists of over 140 interactive lessons, curated by subject and theme and aligned with Common Core Standards and/or NGSS standards. Many different genres of music, from rap, hip hop, reggaeton, and more are included in addition to rock. This extensive resource is free for teachers and contains lessons for all grade levels and subjects.

Bill Carbone, an ethnomusicologist who grew up in Connecticut and attended Wesleyan University, facilitated the workshop, providing an overview of the curriculum and engaging participants in several TeachRock activities, including an environmental lesson, a social-emotional learning lesson, and a history lesson. All of the lessons required collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity, as well as singing, dancing, and a sense of fun.

To access TeachRock resources, visit the website at Teachers have to register on the website, but all lesson plans and activities are completely free. In addition, teachers can attend any of Steven Van Zandt’s concerts for free by RSVPing and filling out a form on the website. His next concert in Connecticut will be in New Haven on July 16 at the College Street Music Hall beginning at 8PM.

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