The culminating adventure of the fourth grade’s study of George Frideric Handel was an experience with empathy and a quill. After classroom windows were blackened and lights extinguished, in the pitch-black darkness, fourth graders heard the story of how Handel wrote his most famous work, The Messiah, in just two weeks. Turning on first one and then another, I placed a small LED candle in front of each student as I told the story. By the end, the glow inside the room was enough to see that my rapt listeners were ready to experience Handel, empathy, and a quill.
In the faint glow of candlelight, my captivated students watched my every move as I passed out strips of paper, bowls of ink, and feather quills. Remembering all that we had learned about the inconveniences of life in Handel’s day, writing music with a quill in a darkened room, using only the light of a small candle, provided the perfect setting for a lesson on empathy.
It is estimated that Handel worked 10 hours each day and wrote at least 15 notes per minute to finish writing the Messiah in such a short time. The image of Handel’s music brought gasps from everyone. “How could he write so many notes without messing up?” Empathy cultivated curiosity, curiosity led to discovery, and discovery led to learning.
This impactful unit of study began with a simple picture of a young boy playing music in the attic by candlelight and ended with a unique lesson in experiential education.