An Elemental Approach,  A Child-Centered Approach

Griff Gall’s twenty-two years of teaching music and movement in Grades K-5 have given him ample experience in reaching his students using an elemental approach. Many of those years have been at the Highlands Elementary School in the Danvers School District near Boston, MA. Since his arrival, Griff has moved the program from a teacher-centered, text-book-dependent approach to one where, as Griff puts it, “my students understand that they are creative thinkers, problem-solvers and musicians.” 

Griff explains that the K-5 Music and Movement Curriculum is structured so that students always have a voice in the creation of ideas, no matter what the grade level. However, the students are somewhat ‘released’ from the structure and gain more and more independence as they move through the grade levels and take on more advanced projects.  

Exploring movement ideas

“ Our fifth grade students explore either a poetry,  or fable-based project which involves manipulating a melody from the (Orff Schulwerk) Volumes, adding improvisation, movement, and storytelling components. The project typically takes six to eight weeks, but this results in a child-centered creation that always surprises me. I believe that part of their success in these projects is a result of the district’s focus on the creative process. Our team of five elementary music specialists worked to create a ‘creative process checklist’ that allows us to directly instruct the students using the steps one explores when creating. The checklist identifies five stages of the creative process: prepare, experiment, organize, surprise and reflect. Each stage is defined by two or three guiding questions, written in student friendly language. 

Finding a voice

Griff’s goal to ‘bring joy’ to the music classroom involves helping students find their creative voice and providing many options to explore using the media of Orff Schulwerk – moving, playing instruments, singing and speaking. Griff explains, “…for example, one student may not feel as comfortable moving but may fall in love with exploring and creating using the recorder. The flexibility that the elemental approach lends to teaching helps students find success.”

Griff meets with grades K-5 five times in a four-week rotation. In addition, he directs a Choirchime Ensemble and Fourth/Fifth Grade Children’s Chorus.The Highlands Chimes is a unique ensemble for the schools in his district. The ensemble meets once a week, before school and is comprised of 19 musicians, playing a four octave and an additional two octave set of Malmark Choirchimes. The ensemble participates in the annual winter and spring concerts.

  Griff is an AOSA approved movement teacher and has enjoyed presenting workshops as well as teaching in Levels Courses. He feels that his ability to reach other educators is because of his “love for teaching movement, and his understanding that everyone who enters our elemental music and movement world can discover their own ability to move expressively and creatively.”

 What others are saying about Griff Gall:

 Griff is a passionate arts educator who approaches his work with creativity and thoughtfulness. He is a master teacher who cares deeply about his practice and the impact of his work on others.Griff creates a learning environment that is warm and inclusive, while also challenging students to do their best work.

                      ~ Janie Vance, colleague and Movement Instructor, University of the Arts, Villanova PA

 I have worked with Griff Gall in the Danvers Public Schools in Danvers, Massachusetts for nearly 14 years. In that time, we have not only worked collaboratively on various elementary music department goals and initiatives, we have also presented at several conferences together (most recently at the AOSA national conference in Salt Lake City) and have taught a course combining Orff-Schulwerk source materials, movement, and storytelling

Griff is an incredibly thoughtful educator. His students–both children and adults–know that he cares a great deal about what he is teaching. He is passionate about bringing his students a full-body, creative musical experience in which they are active and important participants.      ~ Jenn Dennett, colleague, Danvers Public Schools


 It is an honor and pleasure to have Griff as music teacher in my building – he truly is outstanding at his craft and I love that others notice!    ~ Paula Jones, Principal, Highlands Elementary School


This is wonderful news!  We are fortunate to have such an amazing music educator and leader in our school district.   ~Mary Wermers, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Danvers Public Schools


 Along with being a thoughtful educator, Griff is also a thoughtful leader. As “teacher leader” of our elementary music department, Griff has taken great care to educate newer teachers on elemental music and movement and the importance of student choice and creativity in the classroom. On a personal note, Griff was one of the driving forces in my own pursuit of the AOSA Basic Teacher Apprenticeship.

~ Jenn Dennett, colleague, Danvers Public Schools


ACEMM congratulates Griff Gall on receiving this award, as well as the supportive comments from colleagues and administrators. His efforts have not only benefitted the students he teaches but have awakened an understanding among the larger community that music and movement education can have a powerful impact on the social and aesthetic development of young people.


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