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Bayside man uses melody to move minds in classroom

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What initially started as a method to bring rowdy students into a calmer learning environment for one former city teacher has blossomed into an entirely different approach to self-reflection and writing.

Writer, blogger and retired teacher Jeffrey Pflaum said his students would often come back from their lunch breaks distracted and hyperactive. To settle them down, Pflaum, who lives in Bayside, said he started playing them Billy Joel cassette tapes for a few minutes before getting back into his lessons.

From there, the practice evolved.

“The students found it was good for them in a soothing kind of way,” Pflaum said of his findings while teaching at PS 16 in Brooklyn. “It got them into a mellow mood so they could tackle the challenges of the day.”

That was when Pflaum started experimenting and developing an original form of writing in the classroom known as music writing, which uses music of different types to enhance students’ abilities to reflect and visualize while writing and learning.

Pflaum said he began asking his students to make their own tapes, to which they would listen at times in the classroom with their heads down while they relaxed and reflected. By giving the students time to think and relax before writing and learning, Pflaum said his students became more self-aware and capable of achieving higher reading comprehension.

“It builds emotional intelligence skills, while at the same time develops academic skills for learning and learning how to learn,” Pflaum said. “This extremely successful program with inner-city kids started in the ’70s and continued through 2002, when I retired.”

Over time, Pflaum said he worked to draw up an entire curriculum with a goal of developing students’ minds into focused and creative self-understanding.

By exposing students to music while giving them time to reflect on themselves and each other, Pflaum said students’ learning and classroom behavior will change for the better. Through his years of teaching, he said he saw tangible results in students who became more motivated to read and write because of the skills derived from his program through thinking, feeling, visualizing, sensing, experiencing, creating and communicating through their writing.

“The more kids who are with you and concentrating, the better the lesson is going to be,” Pflaum said. “It develops an atmosphere for real learning. It is one group mind with more clarity and the kids have the right minds to develop better relationships with each other.”

Pflaum worked as an inner-city elementary school teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for 34 years, teaching creative writing, language, social studies, physical education and special education.

He is currently writing a chapter for a pioneering textbook about mindfulness programs in the United States titled “Mindfulness for Youth: From the Classroom to the Clinic,” to be published by Guilford in 2013.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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Cheryl Blackington from Grand Rapids Mi says:
I attended a Mindfulness class last spring, and have been practicing meditation since. I, too, am a teacher of middle school students. This summer as I was planning for this year, I vowed that i would try to incorporate some basic ideas into my curriculum. I begin each day with listening to music and have them write about it in any way that they would like. The students calm down and focus a great deal, and really enjoy this activity. I hope to continue this writing practice at the beginning of each class period with activities that employ the senses and involve the arts.
Sept. 21, 2012, 5:21 pm
Jeffrey Pflaum from Bayside, NY says:
Hi Cheryl--Way to go! What you said sums up what I have been doing for years with extreme success. Please, if you have time in your busy school schedule, check out the my posts on "Contemplation Writing" as a BAM! Street Journal Blogger at the BAM Radio Network (www.bamradionetwork.com). I have guest blogged at Edutopia with two pieces on "Music Writing." For more information go to my website at www.JeffreyPflaum.com to find articles and samples of the students' writings, and themes culled from their contemplations.

Have a wonderful school year!

Best, Jeffrey Pflaum
Sept. 22, 2012, 12:09 pm

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