Fayetteville Teacher Earns National Award with Curriculum from U of A Program

Nov 29, 2017 | Curriculum and Instruction

Nathan Strayhorn is pictured on the red carpet at the Grammy Museum event in Los Angeles.

Nathan Strayhorn is pictured on the red carpet at the Grammy Museum event in Los Angeles. Getty Images

Sometimes, high school English teachers are chosen to participate in fellowship programs. Sometimes, they publish articles in research journals. And, sometimes they win national awards from the Grammy Museum.

Nathan Strayhorn, in his seventh year teaching English in the Fayetteville School District and his first year in 11th grade, has done all three.

As part of his honor from the Grammy Museum, Strayhorn and his wife attended the Grammy music award ceremony in Los Angeles in the spring. Then, they returned to LA later in September when Strayhorn accepted the Jane Ortner Education Award for integrating music into the classroom. The Grammy Museum chose David Foster, a 16-time Grammy-winning producer and songwriter, to receive the Jane Ortner Artist Award. Lady Gaga received the award last year.

Strayhorn is the first teacher outside California to win the award, which has been given to teachers of kindergarten through 12th grade since 2011 to honor Ortner, a public school teacher who valued music as a powerful tool for teaching academic subjects.

Strayhorn submitted an original unit of study that can be reproduced and implemented by other teachers as part of the application for the prize. The unit he submitted is detailed in an article he and Chris Goering, his faculty mentor from the University of Arkansas, wrote last year for English Journal published by the National Council of Teachers of English.

Strayhorn earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature and print journalism from the U of A. He took a year off to teach abroad and then completed the Master of Arts in Teaching degree program in the College of Education and Health Professions. That’s when he met Goering, an associate professor of English education who coordinates the secondary MAT program.

Goering also helped establish the ARTeacher Fellowship program, a collaboration of the Center for Children and Youth at the U of A that he directs, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Walton Arts Center.

When Goering read about the music-integration award, he knew the work Strayhorn had done last fall based on his experience in the ARTeacher Fellowship program would strike the right chord.

The Fellowship program turned out to be the best professional development he has experienced, Strayhorn said.

“Through the partnership with the Walton Arts Center and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, we had access to awesome teacher-leaders and resources, and we got hands-on practice at integrating the use of visual arts, performance arts, movement, tableau, songwriting,” Strayhorn said. “It ran the gamut of what arts was and gave us a lot of tools. The program also gave us that push of encouragement we needed to go out on a limb and try some of these things in a classroom. These are fairly nontraditional teaching methods, especially because the arts-integration model is based on the idea of the value students get from arts instruction.”

The subject of the journal article titled “Beyond Enhancement: Teaching English Through Musical Arts Integration” and basis of the curriculum Strayhorn submitted for the Grammy award was a lesson he taught in which students wrote a ballad about one of the characters in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Learning about the song-writing process helped deepen the students’ understanding of the novel, Strayhorn said, and the effect that characters’ choices had on their lives. They learned how the author can manipulate plot and theme through characterization.

Some of the students initially complained about the assignment, saying it seemed like something for music class. He brought a guitar to class but that seemed to intimidate students who didn’t know how to play an instrument. They felt more comfortable using iPads with the Garage Band app on them.

“Some of the students hadn’t picked up an instrument since elementary music class and they hadn’t remotely thought of themselves as artistic or creative in that way,” he said. “That’s partly why we do this – to show students even if they are not musicians they still have access and opportunity to explore that side of themselves.”