Change is ever constant. The field of education is evolving rapidly to accommodate the learning needs of the current generation of students. Increased knowledge and research regarding learning styles, the influx of technology in education, instant access to information and happenings around the world, the heightened awareness of ability, racial, cultural, gender identities, and socioeconomic structures in the classroom all impact the social and emotional functions of a student. Social emotional functioning impacts learning, which in turn affect the nature of instruction. This understanding should give educators cause to frequently reevaluate how and what we teach.

As 21st century teachers, it becomes our responsibility to not only provide students with content knowledge and strategies for learning, analyzing, and synthesizing that knowledge but also to develop the skills to become cognitively and emotionally healthy, and socially responsible adults. These skills include developing self-awareness, treating themselves and each other with respect, taking responsibility, developing empathy, communicating effectively, and collaborating in an increasingly connected world. Educational frameworks like the Teaching Tolerance Anti-Bias and Universal Design for Learning help guide instructional designs and strategies that can be integrated into our teaching. 

Children’s literature has been long used as a springboard for musical ideas. Diverse children’s literature in turn may be used for a two-fold purpose: achieving musical objectives as well as setting the stage for students to develop empathy and awareness of the people of and beyond their community. Books about diversity and inclusion provide a lens whereby students see themselves reflected in the world (mirrors) and to see outside of their own lives (windows), to the humanity of other people. 

Selecting quality children’s literature is key. Statistics show a large percentage of these books are not written by authors who themselves fall under the diversity umbrella, giving rise to discussion on the efficacy and authenticity of material. Hence, it is crucial that books are selected mindfully. Selecting award-winning diverse children’s literature is usually a good first choice since it has been curated. High quality literature about diversity is typically characterized by accurate cultural representation, expertise on the part of the author, portrays cultures respectfully, uses settings and characters respectfully, and meets the quality standards applied to good literature.

After reading an inclusive children’s book, facilitating student discussions and questions involving race, prejudice, bias, orientation, socio-economic status, gender, stereotypes etc. can seem intimidating. Many of us may feel that we do not have the training or expertise to answer questions or navigate comments in a way that would do the topic justice or make all students feel safe. Visible thinking routines by Project Zero provide routines to help facilitate discussions that could take place after a book is read. The guided prompts ensure that conversations with clarifying questions and feedback answers are all conducted within an environment of safety and trust. The link to some of these routines may be found here:

The Teaching Tolerance website also has resources with instructional strategies can help educators create classroom environments that reflect and honor diverse identities: 

The elemental music classroom is set up for project based, student-centered and student-directed, collaborative learning. Students have often been prepared for this type of learning through previous experiences and hence are predisposed to working individually or in small groups on creative improvisation and composition projects. These dispositions prepare students to empathize, shift perspective, communicate respectfully and think critically. Often working on a musical objective themed on an actionable social justice item, develops awareness and generates student ideas to tackle issues.

The following lesson is an example of using a diverse children’s book. Jacqueline Woodson’s award-winning book, Each Kindness, raises issues of bullying, poverty, friendship, peer pressure, and ultimately, kindness.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

ISBN-10: 0802852963, ISBN-13: 978-0802852960

Music NCCAS Standards

MU:Cr1. Improvise rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic ideas, and explain connection to specific purpose and context (such as social and cultural). 

MU:Cr2. Use standard and/or iconic notation and/or recording technology to document personal rhythmic, melodic, and simple harmonic musical ideas. 

MU:Pr4.2. Demonstrate understanding of the structure and the elements of music (such as rhythm, pitch, and form) in music selected for performance. 

MU:Pr6.1. Perform music with expression and technical accuracy. 

Anti-Bias Framework Standards:

  1. Students will express empathy when people are excluded or mistreated because of 

      their identities and concern when they themselves experience bias. 

  1. Students will recognize their own responsibility to stand up to exclusion, prejudice 

       and injustice.

  1. Students will speak up with courage and respect when they or someone else has been hurt or wronged by bias.

“One Kind Word” based on Rhythmische Übung #61, Poem by Manju Durairaj

     One kind word, just one word. One kind deed, just one deed.

     Can make a difference

     Will make a difference

     Don’t hesitate to

     Do it right now.

Lesson Idea 1:

  • Brainstorm ideas to use the poem and the given quotes to create a performance piece.
  • Use the following quotes: 
    • “The only way to have a friend is to be one” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
    • “A real friend is one who walks in when others walk out” – Walter Winchell
    • “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou
    • “Love (friendship) recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope” – Maya Angelou 
    • “Life’s persistent question is – what are you doing for others” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Use voice, instruments, and/or movement to compose a piece for the given texts.
  • Reference videos of teachers demonstrating some ideas at:
  • Consider the pitch set of the Phrygian mode. Use these fragments as guides to creating a melody:

Lesson Idea 2:

  • Perform the poem, explore various body percussion
  • Perform – explore possibilities, chant the poem, add the body percussion, and/or transfer body percussion to unpitched percussion.

  • Analyze the Form of the poem – simply aaaa, bbba or AB- A (aaaa), B (bbba)
  • Place students into small groups. Give students the following flashcards (one side rhythms, the other side blank). Initially only 2 colors could be given, later more could be added. 

  • Review elemental structures: aaab, abab, abda, abba, abca.
  • Have students turn the cards over to the non-rhythm side. Call out various combinations like – purple, purple, green, purple or aaba. Have students turn the cards over to clap the rhythm.

  • After review, depending on their prior knowledge they can choose just 4 cards and repeat the 12 beat rhythm twice, or they can choose 8 cards and play the created rhythm once through. 
  • Students can use body percussion and transfer to instruments. They can draw their instrument icons in the blank boxes below the notes.

  • Perform as a grand rondo where the poem form A section and the small groups perform their created rhythms as the other sections.
  • Students decide on an Introduction and Coda.
  • Students can choose to add movement – locomotor or non-locomotor as they perform.

Today’s social landscape surely evokes a need for researching and selecting educational materials and framing instructional strategies to create learning environments that support and affirm every student.

As recognizing social and personal identities becomes increasingly relevant in education, the music classroom can be a wonderful space for healthy social development. Incorporating repertoire and material like quality children’s literature that celebrates differences in race, ethnicity, gender, family structure, social class, religion, and countries of origin surely helps children value their own identities as they grow to be responsible citizens who inspire positive change in our world.


Keetman, Gunild. 1970. Rhythmische Übung. Mainz: B. Schott’s Söhne

Manju Durairaj was born and raised in India. She studied in Pune, India. She was involved in graduate research projects on comparative pedagogical practices of Indian (Carnatic) and Western Music at Middlesex University, London, UK. She graduated with her second master’s degree and K-12 certification from VanderCook College of Music, Chicago. Manju currently teaches JK-5 general music at the Latin School of Chicago. She is program chair and past president of the Greater Chicago Orff Chapter. She is an adjunct professor at VanderCook College of Music, Chicago. She is an AOSA approved Orff Schulwerk Level 1 instructor. She is SMART certified, Seesaw and Book Creator ambassador and Edpuzzle coach. Her continuing teaching education courses on campus and online, include early childhood, general music methods, curriculum design, technology, Orff Schulwerk, and assessment and standards. She was on the Diversity Commission of the American Orff Schulwerk Association and is on the Elementary General Music Council of IL Music Education Association. She is a frequent clinician at ISME, AOSA, OAKE, NAfME and various other state, national, and international conferences. She has been published in the Orff Echo, Reverberations, Illinois Music Educators Journal, General Music Today, and the Journal of the Council for Research in Music Education. Her publications with Hal Leonard include InterAct with Music Assessment Levels 1 and 2, InterAct Levels 1&2 Student Activities for Devices and Print, Technology in Today’s Music Classroom and Dancing Around the World with Music Express Magazine.

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