Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016 New Year's Resolutions!

Happy New Year!

I have to make a confession.  I'm terrible about resolutions.  My resolutions are much like my diets.  I start with the best of intentions, then I see that bag of chips in the pantry.  Game over!  I think I'll start again next week, or the week after that, or why not wait until next month...

So in my effort to continuously improve without setting myself up for failure, I've been thinking about being more mindful about certain things in my life.  Why mindful?  Because I feel like resolutions are set up to fail, whereas mindful gives me room for mistakes and still gives me the ability to journey on.

Personal:   The words "self-care" have been in my mind for the past month.  I'm a single-parent and a teacher, so time for myself pretty much occurs when I "should" be sleeping!  Whether it's taking a few minute to meditate, or getting my hair done (something I had given up for nearly 5 years while saving for our adoption and paying for childcare), I want to make my own self-care a priority.  I find that when I make self-care a priority, I am a better mommy and a better teacher!

Health:  Before my son, I was a gym rat.  I worked out 6 days a week.  After my son, I stopped going to the gym, because really, who has time?  And my body has paid the price.  I can diet all I want, but I have learned that the best way for me to lose and maintain my weight is to move.  I'm not running out to buy another gym membership, but I can find time each day to walk, or do yoga or use those Zumba discs I purchased at Costco a year ago.  I just want/need to move!

Classroom:  When I began teaching in my district 16 years ago, our elementary schools were K-5.  About six years ago, they reconfigured the buildings and the elementary schools were made K-4 and the middle schools became either 5-6 or 7-8 buildings.  A few weeks ago, our Board of Education voted to reconfigure our elementary schools back to the K-5 model.  I am so excited to get my 5th grade students back!  I'm already making a list of projects and units I want to do with them next year.  I cannot wait to work with my amazing students one more year!

Blog/TpT:  I love blogging.  Really, I do.  But in the big scheme of things, it falls by the wayside in the busyness of my life.  I have a list a mile long of topics and lesson ideas to share!  I'm really committing to blog on a more regular basis this year.  I'm sketching out a schedule this week!  Is there a topic you would love for me to cover?  Let me know!  

So now that you know my "mindful list" - what are you working to improve in your life this coming year?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Nutcracker Mania!

It's that time of year again - Nutcracker time!  I love using the ballet to teach a variety of music elements and skills in my classroom.  When I first started teaching, I used storybooks and videos to introduce the ballet to my students.  Now I use the pieces within the ballet to explore essential skills and concepts in music.  Here are a couple of different ways to use the Nutcracker Ballet in your room beyond watching the movie!

Exploring Form through Listening Maps
Some of my favorite pieces to teach form come from The Nutcracker!  Many of the dances are short and have repetitive, predictable sections.  I created a set of Nutcracker Listening Maps for the March, Russian Dance and Chinese Dance.  The maps are easy to follow and clearly outline A and B sections within the music!

Guided Listening
For older students, I like to use Guided Listening & Reading Activities.  The worksheets give students opportunities to make decisions about what they hear in terms of form, style, expression and timbre.  My collection has worksheets for both lower and upper elementary as well as the MLT Inspired Classroom and the traditional music classroom.  Additionally, there are worksheets with Guided Reading sheets that have the rhythms to many of the main theme within the dances.  This gives students the opportunity to practice reading rhythms in a variety of meters as well as levels of difficulty. 

My friend, Kristin Kreiss, is a master of creating movement activities to The Nutcracker!  Years ago, she created this cute movement activity to The Nutcracker March for students to explore macrobeat/ microbes movement.  I'm sharing it with you with her permission.

To begin, pair each student with a partner.  Ask each pair to decide who will be partner one and partner two.  It is very important that each partner know his/her role!  Explain to your students that this is a follow the leader activity.  Partner one is going to move in pathways around the room and it is partner two's job to follow.

A Section - Each time the trumpet theme is played, partner one marches 8 macrobeats around the room. At the end of the trumpet theme, partner one stops.  Now it's partner two's turn!  As the string theme is played, partner two marches 16 microbeats, chasing after their partner.  On the 16th step, they should tap their partner on the shoulder, as partner one moves again.

B Section - During the B section, I have partners scatter anywhere in the room, but they have to be back with their partner by the end of the B section.

A Section - Have partners reverse roles.  Partner one is now partner two and vice versa.

If you have access to iPads in your music room, you might want to check out some of my favorite Nutcracker Apps!

San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker Interactive Storybook
The Nutcracker Musical Storybook

Pinterest board
For more ideas about using The Nutcracker in your classroom, be sure to follow my Nutcracker Board on Pinterest.  I'm adding things daily!  If you like what you see, why not follow my other Music Education boards?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Leader in Me Music Room

I teach at a Leader in Me Lighthouse School.  I love what the Seven Habits of Happy Kids has done for my students, parents and community.  Finding authentic ways to implement the habits in the music room has been one of my missions the past six years. 
As a Music Learning Theory (MLT) practitioner, I use Dr. Edwin Gordon's Primary Measures of Music Aptitude (PMMA) and Intermediate Measures of Music Aptitude (IMMA) to test students developmental music aptitude.  PMMA and IMMA give me snapshot into the tonal and rhythm development of my students.  I tailor instruction to each of my students strengths and challenges. 
Once my students take the test, I give each child a sheet with their raw score on each test.  My students graph their score, then make a goal based on the lower of the two scores.  It's an opportunity for students to know their aptitude and to own their development.  
Each lesson in the music room, I draw their attention to the focus of each activity.  If we do a chant and work on rhythm patterns, then we talk about the activity helping students with a rhythm goal.  If we sing a song and work on improvising a melody, then we talk about the activity helping students with a tonal goal.  
At the end of the year, students reflect on their goal.  Sometimes I test the students' aptitude again to assess their growth.  It's an opportunity for me and each student to know how they've grown musically over the year.
If you're not a MLT practitioner, there are other ways you can track student growth.  I also track students' Singing Voice Development.  It's a great tool for students in Kindergarten through Second Grade.  Another way to track student growth is Musical Progress Sheets.  Each grade level sheet has concepts and skills we are working on through out the year.  Each student reflects on their mastery/progress at the end of each semester.  
We also talk about how the habits impact our daily musical lives.  Our lessons are front-loaded.  If we want to get to the play party or folk dance at the end of the lesson, then we need have to "Begin With the End in Mind."  We talk about "choosing our weather" when we come in excited, or upset from something that happened before music class.  And we apply the habit of  Synergy in the context of our ensemble work, because all music making requires Synergy.
In addition to all of these things, our choir performs a Leader in Me song each year.  Our first year, we sang Jannah Bolin's Seven Habits Song.  From there, I started writing my own "piggy-back" songs.  You can access all of the Seven Habits songs for free in this Dropbox folder.

I've also included a copy of my Seven Habits for the Music Room

If you teach at a LIM school, share with me the ways you use the habits in your music classroom!  How do you have your students set goals or show growth!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Centers in the Music Room: Fourth Grade

I am a huge fan of centers in the music room.  Love them! L.O.V.E. them!  I know as music teachers, it can sometimes be hard give of our instructional time.  It can be even more challenging to give of our control in the classroom.  But music centers can be an invaluable opportunity to learn about your students - how they learn, what they know, and how they teach others.

Where to begin?  When I set up centers, I always consider the content we have been working on in music class.  If you've been working on melodic direction, how would you create centers to support that learning?  If you've been working on rhythmic reading, how would you create centers to support that learning?  Multiple centers should be set up to help students learn the same content.  Think how students need to learn through a variety of modalities - some learn through doing, some learn through seeing, some learn through hearing.  (And really, we all learn through all three modalities.)

My fourth grade students recently took a rhythmic notation pretest.  We learn notation through a system of solfege in grades 1-3.  By the end of fourth grade, they are expected to be competent in proper names of notation, durations and counting using a number system.  My students can read rhythmic notation fluently using solfege, but transferring that information to proper names can be tricky.  Rather than drill, I chose to create a series of music centers for students to interact with the content in a variety of ways.  The result was that students learned in the ways that were best for them, they taught and corrected one another, and they had a fabulous time learning.

If you're interested in learning more about centers, you can check out my Music Center Freebie on TeachersPayTeachers.

Curious about my fourth grade music centers?  Typically, with upper elementary, I set up no more than 3-4 centers at a time.  My expectation is that the students are able to focus differently and work though the content in a way that is more meaningful and beyond pure exploration.

1.  Dip Tray Workstations - This idea I got from Tracy King.  She has several posts about using Dollar Store Dip Trays for sorting activities.  After getting my entire extended family to save water bottle caps for me over the course of the summer, I had enough to create this center.  A few hundred caps, 6 dip trays, a one-inch hole punch (Fiskars), Modge Podge and a few free hours, several centers were created!  You can find Tracy's original post here.

2.  Notation Worksheets - I use a variety of music notation worksheets for students to interact with notation content.  The nice thing about the notation worksheets is that I can tailor them specifically to the content they need.  We did centers just before Halloween and I used Sara Bibee's Halloween Mega Pack of Music Worksheets.

3.  Notation Yahtzee - This is an idea I originally got from The Homeschool Den.  Most kids know the game Yahtzee and it transfers easily to music notation.  You can purchase small wood blocks from any craft store.  I used a paint pen (but a permanent marker would work as well) and wrote notation on each side.  The first time the students played the game, the simply had to take three rolls to get as many of each note as possible.  No scores were kept.  The purpose was to build their capacity to name notes and know durations.  The second time we played, students played and kept score using their Notation Yahtzee Sheets.

4.  Rhythm Cat - I love this app!  And it's available for both iOS and Droid tablets.  Students see a rhythmic excerpt with an accompaniment.  Each excerpt uses a different style or tempo of music, giving students lots of opportunities to practice reading and performing rhythms.  It is also a leveled game, making the appear similar to some video games.  My boys think using Rhythm Cat is amazing!  I had lots of kids download the program on their home tablets.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Back the The Future...

I am old... Old enough to remember watching Back to the Future in a movie theater as a child!

A group of amazing friends and I were chatting and realized we ALL had a mutual love for all things Back to the Future!  Did you know that Marty did his travels on October 21, 2015?  Where are the flying cars and hoverboards?   We had such a laugh talking about the differences in the BTF world and ours that we decided to come together to offer you an amazing giveaway!  Since tomorrow is October 21, 2015 - we have marked one item to $1.21 (for 1.21 gigawatts) and we are giving away 3 gift cards to TpT!  

First, start HERE and grab the letter at the  the letter at the top of my page - you will want to write this letter down!.  Click on each letter to go to the next store and along the way, follow us, and check out the amazing things everyone has to offer!  Once you have the code, come back here and enter our secret message!  

Then, click HERE to find all the amazing deals going on today only!

Good luck and thanks for all the support you give!

If you're looking for a great activity to try with your own students, please check out my "1, 2, 3, 4" chant.  It's the perfect activity to get your students feeling steady beat, understanding the difference between beat and rhythm, reading simple rhythms and creating rhythm patterns.  

First, we learn the chant.  As we learn it, we work on keeping a steady beat (or macro/micro beat) on our bodies.  As we become more familiar with the chant, we work on clapping and identifying the rhythms within the chant.  We also learn the difference between a steady beat and a rhythm!

As we continue to deepen our understanding of rhythm, we learn that there is rhythm in everything we say and do!  And there is rhythm in our favorite Halloween treats too!  We play with mixing those different treats into rhythm patterns.  We clap and say the rhythms, then we translate (generalize) those rhythms to solfege!  As become more proficient in translating our "treat" rhythms, we then work in small groups to create our own!

This is such a simple chant, but chock full of rich content!  You could work on simple steady beat in one grade level and creating and writing rhythm patterns in another grade level.  And here's the best part... It's $1.21 TODAY ONLY!!!!

Remember the shop hop!  Get those codes and enter them here!

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fall Freebie: Little Ghosty

I've got a fall freebie for you!  Halloween is just a few weeks away.  If you're like me, I am always looking for a fresh song or chant to use in my classroom.  The same old chants and songs can get stale from time to time.

Little Ghosty is a favorite in my classroom.  It's a short, little Dorian tune for your K-1 students.  We use juggling scarves to make our little ghosts.  The students fly their ghosts around them as I sing the song.  At the end of the song, the students blow their ghosts away and sing "go away ghost!"  It's a great tune for getting students to move with free flow and singing a resting tone tonal response.  

If you would like a free copy of the song and lesson, click here!  You can download it for free (including IWB chart and coloring sheet).  If you like the lesson, then please consider checking out my Fall Songs for Little Ones.  Little Ghosty is one of the songs and chants in that collection.  
Click below to hear my first graders singing Little Ghosty!  They're too cute!  

Thanks for stopping by!  Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Children's Literature: Halloween Style

I cannot tell a lie.  I love Fall.  And Halloween.  Not so much for the trick or treating, but because there is so much rich literature and song material that helps teach musical concepts!  I know not everyone can use Halloween songs and stories in their classroom, so I've included some of my favorite fall songs and stories too!
Shake Dem Halloween Bones
This is hands-down our favorite song story of the season.  One of the reasons I love it is that I get to work with my media specialist.  Each character in the story is a character from another well-known children's book.  My media specialist and I coordinate our lessons to encourage our students to become familiar with the characters and their stories.  She pulls all of the storybooks of the other characters and does lessons with the classes.  Although my main focus is always teaching music, I love seeing my children excited about reading too!
My friend, Dr. Heather Shouldice, wrote a tune to accompany the story.  It truly makes the story come to life in a whole new way.  I always start the story using Feierabend's "arioso" before breaking out in song.  It's a great opportunity to model arioso to children.  Dr. Shouldice gave me permission to share her tune.  You can access it here.
The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything
Another classroom favorite is The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams.  This story is full of sounds and perfect for instrument and vocal exploration.  I use a variety of unpitched percussion instruments and have students work to match an instrument with the desired sound effect.  It's a fun activity for class or to use in music centers!
I have a great resource for music teachers on TpT to accompany this story.  You can check it out here.

One Little Owl
This book was brought to my attention by my friend Gina Godoy.  The song is part of the Music Together Early Childhood Music series.  I've used the song for years because the structure of the song aligns beautifully with teaching minor tonality and outlining a minor tonic chord.  I ordered the book this summer to use in my classroom.  This is a perfect story for music classrooms that cannot sing/celebrate Halloween songs!

Down by the Farm
This is another classroom favorite - especially with my little ones.  Many of us know the folk song, Down By the Station.  This is a variation of the original folk tune using a fall theme.  

This is the only book in my list that I don't read/sing in class.  When I was a grad student at Temple University, a group of music education students presented a demo music class at a Halloween event.  One of the activities we taught was an adaptation of one of the stories in this book.  A composition student arranged the story as a chant that could be performed as a round.  Click on this link to access a copy of the chant.  It works wonderfully in the classroom and is a great stepping stone to teaching round with children.  I teach it with motions (see below).  

Three little ghosts (hold up 3 fingers)
Eating buttered toast (pretend to eat a sandwich)
Sitting on posts (one hand is a fist, other hand with three fingers rests on top of the fist)
They had butter on their fists (point to your fist)
Running down their wrists (point to your wrist)
Butter on their sheet (point to your body)
Running down their feet (point to feet)
What slobs!  (hands out to sides)
Let me know some of your favorite children's books you use in your classroom!  Leave me a comment below!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Beginning to End: Kindergarten

This summer, I wrote a blog post called "The Curious Case of the Quiet Kindergarten" which received a lot of interest and feedback.  You can read the original post here.   In the post, I wrote that I don't allow my Kindergarten students to sing for the first six weeks of school.  Instead of singing, we learn skills such as listening, audiating, moving, and following directions that serve us well when we do begin to sing.

As this school year began, I started the first day of Kindergarten music in the same way.  My students learned how to sit in music class, how to do "musical stretches," how to move and freeze, how to listen, and most importantly, how to audiate.  Below is real footage of the first day of Kindergarten music class.

I know not everyone agreed with me on this practice.  I took that to heart and really reflected on my practice.  As a teacher and the mother of a little one, I read a lot of educational research.  I remember reading not too long ago an article that addressed the "Word Gap" in preschool students.  You can read the entire article here, but to summarize the article, it states preschool students who hear and engage in rich vocabulary in the home were more successful in reading and school in general.  Vocabulary development equated to overall success in school.

It made me think about music vocabulary and the impact this may have on music development.  Do students who hear and engage in music vocabulary (musical patterns) experience greater success in music and music reading later in life?  It makes sense that the same could be true musically.  It supports the idea of giving our youngest students opportunities to listen, to audiate and eventually sing simple tonal and rhythm patterns.  In doing so, we are building our students' musical vocabulary.

The NAEYC outlined ideas to help develop a child's vocabulary during the preschool years.  I adapted the list to reflect ways we can do the same musically for our youngest students.
  • Use lots of folk songs in lots of tonalities!  Stretch yourself and your students to listen to and learn songs beyond major and minor!  There are beautiful folk tunes in dorian, mixolydian and lydian.  There are lots of resources out there with songs in other tonalities too.  The reason behind this is simply: we learn not from things that are the same, rather from things that are different.  You don't need to explain that a song is in another tonality for a child to know it is different.  Simply sing it for them and let them experience it.
  • Use inflection while chanting or talking to your students.  As music teachers, we spend a lot of time exploring and labeling the ways our voices work.  Speaking, singing, whisper, playground voices abound in the music room! Include inflection in your exploration as well.  It  serves as a readiness to communicate expression and dynamics in music.
  • Sing for children, not with them.  I'm a bit of a stickler about this.  Sing for your students, but do not sing with them.  We know a phenomena called "split-second imitation" often occurs the music room.  This happens most often when we sing with children.  Find strategies and techniques to help teach songs to children and develop their ability to sing as an ensemble.  Even in Kindergarten, the minute my students can sing a song, I go right to chord root harmonies.  By not singing with your students, you help them to become independent musicians.
  • Use lots of poetry and nursery rhymes in your instruction!  There is such richness in language, meter, and rhythm within the nursery rhymes of our culture.  Extend rhymes & poems with rhythm pattern instruction.  Nursery rhymes provide musical context (meter) and the pattern instruction helps build a child's music vocabulary. 
  • Interact with your children musically.  So often we limit our musical interactions to echoing.  Invite your students to improvise musically.  Instead of singing a same pattern, ask them to sing a different pattern.  Instead of YOU always giving the pattern to be echoed, have the student give you a pattern to echo!  Can you imagine how boring like would be if we only echoed one another in conversation?  Why do we promote that musically?  Be different!  Encourage improvisation in the music room!
  • Give students opportunities to simply listen or audiate.  Some methods use "inner hearing." Don't let the practice of audiation be an afterthought in the music room.  Make it a priority in each and every lesson.  Walk into any classroom and you'll see teachers reading to their students.  In doing so, students have opportunities to listen to fluent reading, inflection, wonder about context and content, make inferences and predictions about the story they are listening to.  Can that happen musically?  Absolutely!  In music, fluency is all about phrasing.  Context is the tonality or meter being presented.  Content has to do with the kinds of melodic patterns they are hearing.  Inferences and predictions happen when students predict musically what will happen next!  Is it the end of the song, or is another phrase going to occur?  Did the song end on the pitch I thought it would, or did it end on something unusual?  We have to guide students how to listen to music and audiation is a wonderful way to nurture that skill.
Check back in the coming weeks to find out what we do next!  If you are looking for some resources with songs in different tonalities - check out my Songs for Little Ones Series on TeachersPayTeachers.  Lots of great songs and chants for each season.  Each set comes with coloring sheets and Interactive White Board Charts.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Beginning to End: Ukuleles

I'm beginning a new series of blog posts called "Beginning to End."  The purpose the of the posts is to discuss the process of teaching elementary music.  So often I am asked how I teach a specific concept, skill, unit or grade level.  It's a challenging question to answer because there is so much that goes into one lesson.  Rather than try to answer a question all at once, I thought it might be fun to blog about some of the things I teach in my music classroom over the course of the year.  You'll be able to follow along with me and my students as we journey through learning together.

I spent the bulk of my summer creating 5-part ukulele resource.  It was a year in the planning and consumed my life for six weeks as I created it.   The fun part for me is that now I am in the stage of using the resource with my own students and we're having a blast!

The Background
Before my students ever had a ukulele in their hand, they...
  • had lots of folk tunes they could sing independently
  • had learned the different parts of the ukulele
  • had learned how to read lots of rhythm patterns (helpful when learning strumming patterns)
  • had observed how to play/care for a ukulele by the teacher (model, model, model)
  • had chosen what ukulele they were going to play (each child has one assigned to them and they play the same one each class)
Day One
The first day of ukulele is such an exciting day!  I don't have chairs in my room, so each student uses a stool to sit upon (MARIUS stool from IKEA $4.99 each).  Then I call ukuleles by color and the students come get them.  (My ukuleles are Mahalo Painted ukuleles and I have them in 5 colors).  I tune them before class but the goal will be to have students learn how to do it.  On day one we learn
  • how to hold it
  • strum hand vs. chord hand 
  • how to count frets
  • the names of strings
  • how to strum on open chords
  • then we PLAY!
That's a lot on day one.  My Sing & Strum  Bundle for Ukulele has lots of visuals to help students through that information.  Once we have all of that, we begin working on strumming patterns (on open strings).  To spice it up a bit, I created a variety of accompaniments on Garage Band in different styles and tempos for students to play along with.  Dr. Jill Reese (SUNY Fredonia) gave me this idea last year and I LOVE it!  In the video below, you'll hear my students on DAY ONE strumming along to one of our accompaniments.  You can download the accompaniment here.  

All of that on Day One!  And in case you are wondering, I see my kids once every three days for 40 minutes.  I don't waste a second of instructional time and yes, every kid has a ukulele!

Check back in the coming weeks to find out what we do next!  If you are looking for a great ukulele resource, please check out my Sing & Strum Bundle on TeachersPayTeachers!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Let's Celebrate!

A few weeks ago I hit a milestone on TeachersPayTeachers - 500 followers!  My friend, Shelley from Pitch Publications, was nearing a milestone too - 1000 TpT followers.  We teamed up to bring you an amazing GIVEAWAY to thank our followers and CELEBRATE these milestones.

Here's what you do to enter:  Make sure you are following both Pitch Publications and SingToKids on TeachersPayTeachers.  Simply answer the questions on Rafflecopter and you are entered!

What can you win?  A Mahalo ukulele in a color of your choice, a Snark tuner, and both of our Ukulele resources - Sing & Strum and Rainbow Ukulele!  You'll have EVERYTHING you need to rock out ukulele in your classroom this coming year!  Easy, right?  

Enter here for your chance to win!

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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Music Props on a Budget

Hi!  My name is Jennifer and I love props.  I mean, I really, really love props.  I will try/use just about anything in my music classroom IF it will elicit a musical response.  I have about every puppet under the sun.  I have probably every kind of bean bag made for children: different shapes, different weights, different textures, cloths, fillings (rocks, rice, plastic pellets) - you name it, I have it.  In fact, if I'm being honest, there are times I walk through the dollar sections of certain stores just trying different products to see if they will make for a good prop.  I have a problem.  I know - but my problem is your gain!  So what are some inexpensive ways to get your hands on props?

First, make your list and dream big.  I'm a big proponent of writing my wishes down, no matter how outlandish they may seem.  When I came to my school nine years ago, I inherited a program in decline with very little in the room.  I made a list that included African drums, new Orff instruments, computers, among a million other things.  Within 3 years, I had it all.  So write it down.  All of it.  Then check out sites like  I've had several projects funded by total strangers.  Check out other grant opportunities too.  Meemic Insurance (Michigan/Wisconsin) offer grant cycles three times a year to teachers.  Talk to your PTA and share with them your wishlist.  They may not be able to do everyone thing at once, but they may be able to do a few things at a time!

If you're a Music Learning Theory practitioner, most of your props will be used to elicit resting tone responses.  The prop of choice is usually the bean bag.  If your school doesn't have them - make them!  I purchased a bunch of discounted scrap material and made my own.  You can also ask parents for donations too!  (The advantage to doing that is your "sewing parents" identify themselves!)  Purchase a bag or two of aquarium rocks for filler and you're good to go.  My first set I sewed by hand.  My second set I found a parent to sew them for me.  And if you do have a little money for bean bags, I highly recommend Bear Paw Creek bean bags.  You can get plain ones or textured ones (great for special education students).  You can purchase them directly from the company, or through West Music.

Love me some scarves!  They're great for movement and resting tone responses but super expensive.  If you can't afford them right off the bat, talk to your PE teacher.  They almost always have "juggling scarves" laying around that they use once a year.  The thing I love about the PE teacher's scarves is that they are small and hemmed.  They're a manageable size for little hands and they are hemmed to prevent fraying and tears.  I purchase mine from PE catalogs, which are always a bit cheaper than the music catalogs.  Search for juggling scarves.  

Other inexpensive props include a resting tone ball, streamers, and die-cut shapes made from foam.  The resting tone ball can be purchased at any toy section (Target) and sometimes if you are lucky - your local Dollar Store!  Make sure to wash YOUR hands after every use!  

As for streamers, there are so many great online tutorials on how to make your own streamers.  I lucked into these from years ago.  At the time, they sold them for $1 a piece.  I'm pretty sure I bought 4 dozen and they've held up wonderfully.  I love these particular ones because of the clothe handle!

As much as I love my bean bags, I sometimes feel the need for more seasonal props.  A great way to accommodate for the different seasons is to use your Ellison Die-Cut machine.  Instead of using colored paper, try the flat foam sheets you can buy in any craft section.  They don't tear easily and because they have a little weight, they move differently than paper.  As you can see, I have them for multiple seasons.  Very inexpensive way to get more props for your money.

Lastly, look around your speciality stores.  A friend of mine mentioned she saw a shooting star at a children's boutique.  It's made out of a silky material, so it flows beautifully and inside the star is a little bouncy ball.  It has enough weight to throw across the room, but is light enough not to hurt if it bumps a child.  

What are your favorite go-to props in your room?  What budget saving props have your created for your own students?  Share your ideas below!  I'd love to hear what you use!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Happy New Year!

This year will be my 20th "First Day of School!"  Honestly, I can't believe where twenty years have gone?  You don't get to be this old (or young at heart) without learning a few things about the first days of school.

1.  Your room doesn't have to be Pinterest-perfect.
Seriously.  I love Pinterest as much as the next teacher, but can we all agree to STOP?  Your classroom does not need to color-coordinated with posters adorning every inch of available wall space.  Make your room comfortable.  Let it reflect your personality, but let everything else go.  It's ok if your room is in process.  You are becoming: becoming a teacher, becoming a colleague, becoming a professional.  Focus on that and prioritize what is most important.  Make sure your room is clean and organized.  Make sure you have well-written lesson plans.  Make sure you have befriended the right people (aka: the secretary and the custodian).  Everything else will come in time!

2.  What you allow in those first days sets the tone for the rest of the year.
I think the most challenging thing for new teachers is the idea that your students should like you.  They will but they will like you more if you set clear boundaries and expectations in those opening weeks.  And here's the toughest part - you have to FOLLOW THROUGH with the consequences of those boundaries.  If my rule is that "rhythm sticks don't touch any thing or anyone else" then I must follow through when they do.  It takes one student to cross that line for the rest of the students to know that I mean what I say, but they will all think hard before any of them do it again.  After all, music class is inherently fun and no one wants to miss out on having fun!  If you wait a month or two to follow through, you will have a tougher time getting a handle on classroom management.  

3.  Communicate with parents.
When I started teaching, I only ever communicated with parents when there was an issue with a student.  About five years into my career, I had a profound realization: I needed to communicate with parents about the good even more than the bad.  I had a little boy named "Tom" (name changed).  Tom was precocious and had endless energy - you know the type!  A new student recently joined Tom's class and clearly had some special needs.  No one wanted to be his partner or sit by him - except Tom.  I remember how tender and kind Tom was towards this little boy and I bit back tears of joy to see Tom's empathy in action.  I decided at lunch that I would call his mom and simply share this with her.  I dialed her number and when she picked up, I introduced myself as Tom's music teacher from school...  Silence.  Huge sigh.  "What has he done now?" his mom asked.  I was taken aback!  I explained to her that he hadn't done anything bad, rather something amazing.  She explained that she was so used to getting negative calls, she simply assumed the worst when I called.  By the end of the call, we were both in tears.  My heart broke for this mom who only expected negative feedback from her son's teachers/school.  From that moment on, I've tried to make it a point to call, write notes home or stop parents in school to say a kind word about their child.  Building a positive relationships with parents is so important!  And when you do have to call home for that "other reason," they know you and are much more likely to receive what you have to say in a positive light.

4.  Take the time to know names.
Many of you are teaching incredible amounts of students day in an day out!  I don't know how anyone keeps up with 700+ students, but I know we all do what we have to do.  On the first day of school, I establish a seating chart.  I know I may need to tweak it as the year progresses, but the reality is I need it!  I want to know my students' names!  One of the best ways to make a connection with a student is to simply know them by name.  I try to write little notes about them on my seating chart  - "likes Minecraft" or "ice skater."  Those little facts help me to connect names and faces.  If you have an iPad, I highly recommend the app iDoceo.  Not only can I create multiple seating charts in the app, but I can also take photos of each child that appear alongside their name.  (And you can print them - in color!)

5.  Breath.
Teaching isn't a sprint.  It's a marathon!  It takes patience, pacing, perseverance and practice. You are going to have moments of greatness only to be followed with moments of utter embarrassment!  You are going to work endlessly on lesson plans that fail in front students.  Don't despair!  Those are teachable moments for yourself, because you will reflect why it went wrong and fix it!  Your best days will be when you teach children instead of teach your plan.  Your happiest moments will be when you focus on those beautiful souls in front of you, instead of the endless meetings you have to attend.  You were gifted a talent not many are given - the gift to reach and teach young children through music.  So when life feels frazzled (and it will), take a moment to breath, be still in that moment that you are doing what you were meant to be doing!

Happy New Year Teachers!  Make it a great one!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Music Room Word Walls

No matter what, when August rolls around, I know my summer is over!  My district doesn't require me to be back in school before August 31st, but any teacher will tell you that they've been in their classroom for weeks leading up to that day.  I've been spending 2-3 days a week in my classroom getting furniture back in place, putting up bulletin boards and working on my curriculum maps.  I like that I can work in my classroom on my own schedule, a few hours at a time.  

One of the things I worked on this week was my Music Room Word Wall.  I gave it a facelift this summer by adding additional vocabulary, symbols and images where possible.  We all present music vocabulary in different ways - some put all the vocabulary up, some organize vocabulary by grade and others only reveal vocabulary as they have covered the word in class.  I am the "put it all up" teacher, but I have a reason!  My students have music once every 3 days.  I want my students to have access to what they need to teach themselves, ask questions, try new things as they are able.  We all know students learn at different rates and in different ways.  Who am I to limit what they see or connect to in my room?  Often times, my word wall is referenced in our lesson as I can't always predict when a word or concept will be asked about.  

My Music Room Word Wall is organized alphabetically, but I also color-code it by music element.  I think the visual of color-coding vocabulary helps students sort by melody, rhythm, timbre, etc.  My students refer to our word wall throughout each music class to help them access the myriad of labels and vocabulary used in instruction.  

Another important part of our music instruction is movement.  For my Kindergarten and First Grade students, creative movement and Laban movement are integral to our music learning.  In Second Grade, we begin to experience movement through folk dancing and creating our own dances.  Again, because of our schedule, I needed a way to access students' previous learning quickly and a movement word wall was the perfect way to do this!  We can review terms we've used in movement, we can review folk dance steps, discover new ideas to move our bodies, and we can choose specific dance steps to try when creating our own dances.  Our Movement Word Wall is as important to instruction as our Music Room Word Wall!
And of course, I gave my Movement Word Wall a facelift this summer too!  It is color coded by movement type and comes in three different color schemes!  There are images of some of the movements, where possible.  You can see my Move It! Word Wall above.
If you interested in either of my word walls, you can check them out on TeachersPayTeachers.  They are perfect for any music teacher, but contain much of the vocabulary for the Music Learning Theory friendly classroom.

How do you reinforce music or movement vocabulary in your room?  Do you put it all out there or reveal a bit at time?  Do your organize vocabulary by grade level or use one list for all of your students?  There's no right or wrong answer - we all do what we feel best for our students and our instructional parameters.  Let me know below!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Curious Case of the Quiet Kindergarten Class

I am going to make a strong statement:  I do not allow my Kindergarten students to sing the first six weeks of school.  Yep.  There I said it.  I keep my Kindergarten students quiet.  No singing for you!   Forty minutes of silence.  Can you imagine doing that in your own music room? 

I know what you are thinking...WHY???  Why would you do that to little kids who were made to talk, love to sing, wired to communicate and probably do so without ever stopping to even take a breath.  I know, I have a 4 year old.  He.  Never.  Stops.  Talking.  Ever.  And therein lays the answer.

I can't tell you how many times I sing a song for my Kindergarten students and the minute I begin to sing, they begin to split-second imitate me.  You know what I'm talking about music teachers.  You could have written the song the night before and the kids are like, "We learned this one in preschool!"  And for the most part, the singing isn't really singing.  It's more like loud, directional speaking, but it's not singing.  So I stopped letting them sing...for a while.

I know what you're thinking.  What do you do for 40 minutes with 5 year olds?  The question is what don't we do?  We learn procedures and expectations.  We learn how to sit in music (and how not to sit in music).  We learn how to listen.  We learn how to think music and we name it audiation.  We learn how to move with flow (through music) before we learn how to move to a beat.  We discover all the different body parts we can move and label them.  We learn how to walk, skip, gallop, jump, leap, hop, march, crawl, rock and roll WITHOUT touching someone else.  We learn what singing sounds like, what chanting sounds like, and how they are different.  We begin to develop a vocabulary of musical sounds for which we will use to build our musical foundation when we do sing. 

And when we do begin to sing, we start small.  We play musical games that help us discover the resting tone.  We sing tonal patterns.  Lots and lots of tonal patterns.  We hear lots of songs, but our job isn't to learn songs.  Our job is to hear the context (tonality) of those songs, some of which we will learn simply because we've heard them so much.  Our job is to begin to think critically about the music we are hearing.  Our job is to draw comparisons to what we are hearing and what we are doing - which are always two very different things.  Our job is to embark on that musical journey of teaching ourselves.  Music making is not a passive activity.  The end goal is to create musical beings who sing, chant, create, improvise, compose, listen, and enjoy music with meaning and understanding.  And none of that can happen when kids split-second imitate.  So I keep my kindergarteners quiet to help create the musical building blocks they need to become those amazing musical beings.

Disclaimer: my students are always engaged in the music learning during that "quiet" time.  My students always have a job.  Here's what I say to my students: "My job is to sing and your job is to ... (listen, move, audiate, identify, etc...)"  And it's not a perfect process, but learning to listen never is.  When a child or class sings, I stop and simply repeat my directions.  And soon, my students get it.  It works.  I promise.  I've been doing this for the past 10 years.  Try it!  What do you have to lose?