Parfait Bassale music

Social & Emotional Learning Through Music

By Parfait Bassalé, Rubicon International

In this post, Parfait discusses the crucial role music can play in social and emotional learning within the classroom. To demonstrate, he discusses the Colombe Project, and provides some recommendations and resources for educators.  

Music has always been there in one way or another, in terms of hearing my mom sing in the choir or humming to myself in the shower. I’ve always had an interest and leaning towards it. When I was 12 years old, my family moved from Niger to Senegal and music transformed into a mode of communication and way to process my own experiences. A lot of things I dealt with during that transition were centered on trying to fit into a new cultural context, so I wrote rhymes about why people couldn’t accept other cultures, how I was feeling, and how things should go. I felt like I had things to say.

In an informal way, I started writing songs to deal with my life journey. It was a therapeutic activity just for me. “I’m from Benin, I’m living in Senegal … I’m moving to the States, I need to learn English.” Being able to express those feelings through song  kept me sane in some ways. As I shared those songs, people began to share their similarities and parallels with my experiences. Something about music helps bring an emotive component to people’s experiences that enhances a song’s message and spirit. Even if our stories are very different, we have this commonality that can be brought out by music.

See it in Action: “How can music impact one’s physical and mental health?” asks David McWilliams, Head of Music at the British International School of New York. He poses this question to his MYP students in a unit called “Medicinal Music” and encourages students to explore the impact of music therapy (including this viral video) before their summative assessment: a performance recital at a local nursing home and cancer center.

Download the full unit to learn more

The Colombe Project: Story and Song Centered Pedagogy (SSCP) in Action

My own love of music was what drove my interest in the Colombe Project. Its name is derived from the French word “Colombe” which means dove, a symbol of peace in many cultures. As I was pursuing my graduate studies, I wondered, “can we solve conflicts by helping develop people’s ability to empathize with each other?” Based on my own experience in the arts, I decided to focus on how to enhance empathy skills and write songs intentionally as a bridge from one person’s experience to another’s. That’s the heart of the Colombe Project: building bridges to different people’s experiences through songs that share people’s authentic stories. The mission of the Colombe Project is to heal, empower, and transform one song at a time through Story & Song Centered Pedagogy. This pedagogy uses storytelling, songs and reflective inquiry to enhance an audience’s ability to empathize with self and others.

In 2010, after the devastating earthquake, the Rubicon Educational Foundation sent a team to Port-Au-Prince in Haiti to lay the ground work for educational projects. I was fortunate enough to be a part of this team and came back profoundly affected, transformed, and empowered by the resilience of the Haitian people. I wrote a song called, “Nou Tout Haitien (We Are All Haitian),” which is about a 10-year-old survivor who had lost her dad and was sent to the street by her mom to beg. After we gave her money, she asked us to take her with us to the USA; she wanted to escape her reality because it was so difficult. I shared this song with a school in Tacoma, Washington. After hearing the song, students decided to create a fundraiser to collect money to send books to Haiti.

In another classroom, I shared a song called “Home,” based on my own story of moving from place to place as a child. The school I shared this song with had a lot of issues with bullying. We were discussing where “home” is for us, and there was this young girl who raised her hand and said the classroom was her home, and—knowing that there was a lot of bullying in the classroom—that was the loudest silence I ever heard. In that moment, her classmates realized that their actions had made her “home” unsafe for her. Singing about a story that was unrelated to hers helped to make an important connection for that student. It’s inspiring to see how music can bring so many people together this way.

What I’ve found is that the more we stimulate multiple senses, the more learning occurs. This is because it becomes a learning experience. You’re creating an experience that is more likely to be remembered at different levels: visual, tactile, etc. For the Colombe Project, it’s because you have the music component (senses), lyrical component (brain), and inquiry (reflective discussion), that combine to create a memorable experience.

Music Recommendations & Resources for Educators

In order to teach more active listening and introspective skills, we must learn a lot more about the nonverbal side of communication. Try to put the brakes on the business of life and listen to your senses. When we listen more, we start introspecting more. What can I hear? What is really being said? What is not being said? Being a reflective listener communicates that you care about whomever you’re interacting with, and helps build trust and enhance the depth and quality of communication with people, leading to longer-lasting relationships.

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