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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

String Fever: Guitars in the Classroom

Guitar-strumming teachers lead to engaged kids.
By Dan Ouellette

For Jessica Baron Turner, there are few better tools for teaching in the classroom than the guitar.

"We're like a blood transfusion," says the director of Guitars in the Classroom (GITC), a nonprofit organization in Santa Cruz, California, aimed at actively encouraging teachers to work the guitar into classroom instruction. "We feed the souls of teachers, who then feed the souls of children."

Through her Why Music Matters campaign, Turner hopes to get nearly a thousand instruments into the hands of educators. Turner notes that guitars are portable and inexpensive and have immense cred with music-obsessed kids.

In addition, many educators believe that including music in the curriculum enhances the absorption of academic material such as math, as well as increases social skills. The universal language of music also quickly engages academically struggling learners as well as students in English as a Second Language programs.

Too often, however, music programs are the first to be cut when school budgets shrink. The GITC program circumvents the red pen by operating independently of school districts with sponsors (such as American Music and Sound and the International Music Products Association) that provide teachers with guitars. Instructional workshops, offered at GITC's program-coordination centers (ten in California and nineteen others spread throughout the country), bring teachers to the point where they can learn simple songs and integrate them into classroom studies and activities. This fall, participants can also earn professional-development units for the workshop by registering online through California State University, East Bay, in Hayward.

"Teachers develop the basic skills in creating live music, and then mold the music to the classroom," says Turner, author of a series of books about teaching children guitar. But, she notes, "this project is less about the guitar and more about education. This is all about giving children a voice in this vast, fast-paced world."

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Janet Meizel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

About 30 years ago, I brought a guitar into the elementary classrooms of my daughters' school when elementary music was cut from the curriculum.
I worked with those children ( it broadened to three schools) for nine years until I began to teach at the local high school.
I taught computer science and worked with ESL students in a "volunteer" class. I taught them to play the guitar and we did a lot of singing and playing together. Many of them had walked to California.
That entire group of studens is now legal and all are successful. Many are professionals- and many of them tell me they still remember the songs.
You can teach anything through music. I hope this program is successful (and I'd like to meet with GITC when I get to Sta Cruz in the fall.

Michele Harris-Padron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Since that article was originally written, Jessica Baron has relocated to the San Diego area however, GITC is really EVERYWHERE, with programs in almost half the states and almost 25 programs in California and growing!!! GITC is also working with teacher training programs, I am a GITC teacher at the Antioch Santa Barbara campus and there is a strong GITC program at UC Berkeley.

We are currently working on a project to assist teachers of English language learners with songs that teach key vocabulary and concepts. Find out more, or become a GITC teacher by contacting GITC online.

Jessica Anne Baron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi, Janet. Good news. There is no need to get all the way to Santa Cruz to meet with us. Although I am personally based in Solana Beach (San Diego county) now, we have programs in 25 states, and within California in about 25 locations! People start new GITC programs in their own towns every year, and that is how the magic spreads.

Right now we are working on a bilingual module helping educators guide their English Language Learners across the bridge from Spanish to English through song-based instruction. We call this The AMIGO Project, and it is funded by NAMM, The International Music Products Association. Sounds like something you could really enjoy doing!

So please feel free to get in touch anytime. I'd love to hear your ideas. You can write directly at jess.gitc@sbcglobal.net. Thanks very much to Dan Ouellette and Edutopia for making this article available once again.

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