The Voice: Spring 2003

The Voice

Band students learn by doing

By: Andrew De Jong

The fifth grade band at Hull Christian School had several teachers last semester.

For two days a week last semester, the seven students in Dr. Henry Duitman’s Instrumental Music Education class stopped being students and became teachers. On Tuesdays and Thursdays members of the class traveled with Duitman to Hull Christian grade school to direct Hull’s fifth grade band.

“This has never been done before,” says Duitman. “We decided to try something new.”

Duitman got the idea for the new format while talking to Dordt College graduates who are now involved in music education. Last spring, as part of his sabbatical, he visited several graduates who now teach music, sharing ideas and talking to them about the challenges of teaching.

“I did a lot of thinking during my sabbatical semester,” he says. “One thing that kept coming back to me was how important it was for our students to get into the classroom as soon as possible.” Although music education students have always had student teaching experiences, Duitman felt they would benefit from additional time in the classroom.

Coincidentally, Hull Christian school also had a need—they needed someone to teach their fifth grade band.

“Our music teacher position is hard to fill since it’s very part-time,” says Ryan Zonnefeld (’96), the principal of Hull Christian and a former student of Dr. Duitman. Initially Zonnefeld had planned to direct the band himself in addition to his responsibilities as principal. But when Duitman came to him with his idea, he jumped at the chance.

“We had a need, and they filled it,” says Zonnefeld. “The students loved it, and the parents were thrilled.”

But the Dordt College students, it seems, have benefited the most from the practice at Hull Christian. Duitman, who has taught Instrumental Music Education for many years, believes that the experience these students had is far more valuable than a semester of lectures.

“In the past, I never really had a chance to see them use the techniques that I was teaching them,” he says. “This time, when I would do something in the classroom, they could try it out for themselves.”

At the beginning of the semester, Duitman directed the fifth grade band, but as the semester wore on, the students gradually took control. Even the short ride to and from Hull Christian was valuable, Duitman says, since they were able to discuss teaching strategies and their effectiveness during the ride.

The students, most of whom are student teaching this semester, will readily testify to the value of their experience at Hull Christian.

According to Lori Philipsen, a senior from Modesto, California, “It’s just helpful to get in front of students.” Philipsen found it especially beneficial since she is presently assigned to a fifth grade class.

“It really gave me a better feel for teaching that age,” she said. “Teaching fifth grade is a unique experience, because you’re not just directing, you’re teaching, too.”

There are no plans to continue the arrangement in the near future, but both Duitman and Zonnefeld say that they would love to do it again if the opportunity presents itself.

“They got to test their teaching skills, and we got someone to teach our students,” says Zonnefeld. “It was a win-win situation.”