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Beth Davis, Somerville Road Elementary School music teacher, helps DeShawn Scott, as she teaches a class of first-graders Thursday.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Beth Davis, Somerville Road Elementary School music teacher, helps DeShawn Scott, as she teaches a class of first-graders Thursday.

Teacher packs fun, learning into music

By Bayne Hughes · 340-2432

“What do we do when we go outside on a cold winter’s day?” Somerville Road Elementary music teacher Beth Davis sings to her students.

While a simple question, it’s one that leads the students into a 50-minute music class that’s more than music. She packs their time with singing, dancing, drawing, coloring and learning of the four seasons.

This isn’t your typical classroom, and it’s anything but boring. The room doesn’t have desks, but who needs desks when Davis limits their sitting time?

Principal Dee Dee Jones said Davis’ ability to make music fun while weaving in academics is why she is Decatur City Schools’ 2006-07 “Elementary Teacher of the Year.”

Davis uses the Orff Approach, a children’s music instruction method that German composer Carl Orff developed in the 1920s and 1930s. Orff’s method focuses on drawing out the student’s attraction to rhythm and melody. This allows these to develop naturally, leading the child from primitive to more sophisticated expression.

The program begins with speech patterns, rhythmic movement and two-note tunes, then moves into pentatonic melody. It discourages adult pressure and mechanical drill, while encouraging improvisation. She introduces major and minor melody as the final stage of the program.

“Everything we do is very participatory, so students enjoy and get involved in making and learning music,” Davis said.

Davis said her job is difficult because she wants the students to learn so much about music before they leave elementary school. She wants her students to develop their singing voices and performing skills, have knowledge of instruments, be familiar with the variety of music styles, particularly classical and its composers, and have knowledge of music history.

“There’s so much to cover,” she said.

That’s particularly a chore at a school like Somerville Road, which has a poverty rate that stays above 90 percent. She said she tried to expose them to a variety of arts they wouldn’t otherwise know about, while hoping to build musical confidence so they’re ready for middle school band or chorus.

Davis is known in the school system for her variety of topical curriculum. For example, she arranged for the Alabama Blue Project to come to the school one year. Currently, her students are learning about music native to Alabama. Jones said it’s often hard to leave when she goes to watch Davis’ class because she can see the children having so much fun. It’s not unusual to find the children playing a variety of instruments, whether it’s pounding a drum or shaking a tambourine.

“She makes music come to life,” Jones said.

Erica Cassner, a student teacher from The University of Alabama, said she wanted to come to Decatur because she knew how much emphasis the school system puts on the arts. She said she enjoys learning under Davis.

“Her classes are so fun, active and energetic,” Cassner said.

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