I caught up with Bank Street alumna Elana Steltzer on the phone during snowstorm Pax two weeks ago. Elana has had a range of experiences in the world of teaching since graduating from Bank Street’s Early Childhood Special Education program (’07) and the Autism Annotation (’11). In our discussion, we covered what about Bank Street was helpful, special, or memorable for her, as well as how it has influenced her career.
Steltzer remembers that for most graduate students, after a long day of teaching or work, they “don’t want to hear a 2-hour lecture! With events like a series of speakers who shared their experiences in the field, or a film screening of ‘Wretches and Jabbers’ in the auditorium with a discussion afterward, Bank Street offered so much more than just good classes.” But even in those classes, she appreciated the way Bank Street modeled good practice for K-5 classrooms as well. “Many of the classes did small group work and used the same kind of discussion models you’d see in the classrooms you were going to teach in.”
Beyond the coursework, “the richest experiences for teachers are the ones that come from working directly with children,” Steltzer said. “Sue Carbary’s practicum course was practical and hands-on. We had to work 1:1 with a child with special needs on a weekly basis. The experience and the process of reflection really prepared me to be a SEIT, like how to modify a lesson to make it more effective for different types of learners.” A SEIT is a Special Education Itinerant Teacher, which means that Steltzer provides support to young children ages 3-5 inside or outside a school setting due to reasons such as low motor ability, speech/language delays, or behavioral challenges.
Perhaps most influential on Steltzer’s teaching career was Betsy Blachly’s Music and Movement class. “I love to sing but I never felt like I knew how to lead a music circle with children. Most teachers have a very limited repertoire and don’t really know what to sing in the classroom. The music and movement class with Betsy had a room full of adults wanting to sing and play instruments,” she recalls. “She taught us how to use these songs to engage with students. We were not singing ‘The Itsy Bitsy Spider, but traditional folk songs that I love.” Not only did Steltzer gain an ability to use music in her teaching but she also gained a friend and collaborator in Blachly.
Currently, Steltzer runs music and literacy workshops for teachers. She shared one type of lesson she demonstrates with kids where music is used to facilitate writing skills. One example she gave utilizes the song “We All Sing With The Same Voice,” a classic Sesame Street song about how we are all the same despite our differences.
Some of the lyrics are, “My hair is black and red/ My hair is yellow/ My eyes are brown and green and blue…
“As a class, we discuss what the song means and create ideas by writing what we visually notice about ourselves. I have blue eyes and long hair, those are things you know from looking at me, but you don’t know that I like to play soccer.”
By writing students’ ideas out on a chart, she can change a song’s verses and endings, letting the students be songwriters and careful observers. “I’ll get their ideas and write them out, then turn them into a book.”
Another way she uses music to facilitate language and literacy is by taking a familiar song like Raffi’s “Tingalayoh” and having the kids make new song lyrics. The main line, which Steltzer readily sang for me on the phone, is “Tingalayo / Come little donkey, come / Tingalayo /Come little donkey, come / Me donkey come/ Me donkey go/ Me donkey fast, and me donkey slow…” What Steltzer will do is write the sentence starter on the board (“Me donkey ____”) and allow students to try words. “One student might say ‘plant flowers!’ to fill in the blank.” Then as a group, she will guide them to use cross-checking skills, much like a literacy interventionist might do. “Does that word work? Does it rhyme? Does it have the right syllables? It becomes a critical thinking and creative writing activity.”
Steltzer’s other project with Bank Street roots is the Guitar Institute for teachers with Blachly, which will be the subject of a post later this semester.