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'Contemplation' Strikes Emotional Chords with Kids

Posted by on in Teens and Tweens
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head on deskIt’s 12:35 p.m.  I’m picking up my 6th grade class from the cafeteria.  You can cut the heat with a knife.  The kids are sizzling.  We walk upstairs.  I’m waiting for something to happen.  Two boys start shoving each other and refuse to “stay hit.”  Two girls curse out their respective mothers, fathers, and grandfathers.  We stop on the fourth floor.  We’re out of emotional breath.  Thoughts of getting back to work again are repugnant to everyone—including the teacher.

            We finally get to the room.  We’re still boiling.  In desperation I reach into my desk drawer and take out a cassette tape of an old Billy Joel album, then put it into the “juke box.”

            “Get your heads down on the desk and listen!” I bellow.  Lights are shut.  Shades drawn.  “Sit back and relax,” I tell them in a calmer voice.  “Don’t think about work or anything.  Forget the world for a little while.”

            The tape ran for 15 minutes.  We came out of our dreams and I asked the class: “How did you feel while listening to the music?  What happened inside yourself?”  The children spoke freely:

            “I thought I was flying.”

            “I wanted to throw up.”

            “My head was heavy.”

            “Everything was like a dream.”

Exist Bad Vibes City, alias the cafeteria, and enter the new world of contemplation.

Listening to music continued on a daily basis.  Weeks later, I asked them to express their experiences on paper.  I told the class: “Tell it like it is.  There are no right or wrong answers.”

The contents—feelings, thoughts, ideas, images, memories, reflections, fantasies, dreams, daydreams, conflicts, flashbacks and poetry—became discussion subjects following the music periods.  Some fragments from the students’ works were:


            "I imagined being a window and the children threw rocks at me."

            "Sometimes I don't know whether I'm in a dream or in real life."

            "I don't want to do contemplation."

            "I am a loser.  I try and try, but I always lose."


 I read the writings anonymously because the contents were personal.  At first I read the pieces aloud and went directly into the next lesson.  But the writings were so fascinating that I felt more could be gotten from them.  For each piece—or “contemplation”—I later called it—I made up questions that asked about the images conveyed, feelings created by the images and thoughts triggered, plus the main idea.

After breaking-the-ice, the kids responded to, analyzed, and discussed their classmates’ experiences via probing questions by the teacher.  These sessions were serious, intense and still fun because of our strong communication—a cross-fertilization of ideas coming from a shared experience.  I took our dialogue a step further: “How do you find and see what happens inside?   What process is used to get at the events?”

I illustrated the contemplation process on the board: “There’s an inner eye—sometimes called the mind’s eye—that searches for the images, feelings, and thoughts of experience.  This inner eye is like a spotlight illuminating the inside world.  When you discover memories, dreams, fantasies, and realities you might want to write about, let the light of the imaginary eye shine on the event.”

“At that moment, carefully study, observe or contemplate the experience before writing.  Focus all concentration on your inside world and see what’s happening.  Find your life as it floats or rushes by the inner eye.  Remember that a word, picture, feeling, thought or an idea might trigger creative thinking and writing.”

A brave new world arrives.  Your students will change.  And so will you!  Classroom tension decreases.  The class will become up-toned and cerebral.

“Contemplation Music Writing” motivates kids to read because the skills derived from the project are needed for this subject, too.  Thinking, feeling, visualizing, sensing, experiencing, creating, concentrating and communicating transfer to reading—making it enjoyable, meaningful and understandable.

At the end of the school year I returned the writings to students for re-reading and assessed their involvement through “The Contemplation Questionnaire.”  Some responses were:


            "Contemplation helped me by taking the 'I am scared' out of reading."

            "Contemplation helped me concentrate."

            "I like to write about fantasies because they are fun to read.  I enjoy fantasies because they are like a             book you read."

            "I enjoy these periods because I could read about the good and bad in my lfe and solve the problems."

I am only touching the tip of the iceberg of my program.  “Contemplation Music Writing” was the foundation for teaching revision, character education and emotional intelligence.  I realized that children like to correct personal writing.  A simple “sound-and-sense” approach taught them how to revise their work individually and collaboratively.

To generate greater inner-sight into their experiences, I fed them quotations for interpretation, for example, Know thyself.  Each saying expanded itself into unknown avenues that brought out new ideas and perceptions for living and dealing with others.

In a second assessment, I measured their progress in emotional intelligence with “Contemplation Comprehension.”  Similar to reading comprehension, they analyzed classmates’ contemplations with questions like those asked during our discussions.

Contemplation Music Writing blossomed into “Experiences, Reflections and Insights,” an expanded project that added Present-Moment Contemplations, Experimental Contemplations, and Reflection Writing, all featuring specific themes.

My approach and techniques would affect you, as it would your students, by helping you become more spontaneous, a better listener and discussion leader.  You will draw knowledge out of your students instead of pounding it into them.  Improving communication and artistic skills will bring down walls between you and your class because everyone will actually stop and see each other.


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Jeffrey Pflaum has been an inner-city elementary school teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, for thirty-four years (NYCDOE, retired in 2002). He worked as a creative writing, whole language, social studies, gifted/talented, physical education, and mentor teacher in grades K – 6 and special education. Pflaum coached middle school boys and girls basketball teams and one of his players became coach of the Pace University team. Tennis was also taught on the elementary school level to lower grade kids as part of the NY Junior Tennis League Program founded by Arthur Ashe.

Pflaum considers himself a teacher-developer-researcher experimentalist who created successful education projects in emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning, reading, writing, poetry, thinking, creativity, vocabulary expansion, concentration, and intra- and interpersonal communication skills. He has written articles for professional newspapers and publications about his curricula. Various programs appeared on web sites such as ERIC and CASEL/Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (“Experiences, Reflections, and Insights”).

One program was featured at the International National Council of Teachers of English at NYU as one of the best examples of English Language Arts in the NYC Public Schools, K – 12. His students’ poetry and prose have been published in college, writers’, gifted secondary, and children’s literary journals, magazines, newspapers, and by major commercial book publishers; read on public radio (Poetry-In-The-Morning, WNYE-FM, sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative/NYC); and, won honors and awards from PBS, Channel Thirteen/NYC. One student, Noel “Speedy” Mercado, became a top NYC disc jockey on WKTU-FM.

Pflaum published an inspirational book about adolescent reading lives titled MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS: HOW TEACHERS AND PARENTS CAN LEAD THE WAY (Rowman & Littlefield Education). For book reviews, go to http://www.examiner.com/review/motivating-your-kids-to-read to see Kecia Burcham's response to the book, and also, The Teachers College Record for Karen Polk's insightful article. For Karen Polk's review (8/24/12), from the Teachers College Record, google "MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS - Teachers College Record."

Go to www.JeffreyPflaum.com for more articles on "Contemplation Writing," Meditative Writing Ideas, Internet radio interviews, published student poetry, and newspaper articles about his book on motivating adolescent readers and Inner Cities Arts Project. His recent interviews on Contemplation Writing can be found at these "Pure Imagination" links: http://prn.fm/2012/07/14/pure-imagination-071312 and Pure Imagination - 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network. A second interview on "Connect With Julianna" (Toginet Radio Network) about "Contemplation" or "Music" Writing can be found at these links: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7 and http://bit.ly/t5FA0W; or, Connect with Creative Educator and Author, Jeffrey Pflaum.

Pflaum is currently a regular blogger on The BAM Radio Network's blog, ED Words, where posts about a plethora of his projects can be found at: www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/blogger/listings/jeffpaul. Also, he is a contributing writer for EDUCATION VIEWS at: www.educatnviews.org/author/jeffreypflaum/

  • Guest
    Andrea Tuesday, 24 February 2015

    I love this! Very powerful. What a great way to turn around a challenging situation! KUDOS!

  • Guest
    Mariann Wednesday, 25 February 2015

    Hi Jeffrey-

    This was a terrific blog and I will definitely share it with the teachers I know. Music is so powerful and I love the creative approach you took in teaching your kids....and incorporating into academics. Brilliant!!
    Keep up the good work. Your students must love you :-). Be well-Mariann from MiEN

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