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?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Children's Literature in Music Education: Instrument Exploration

I am hosting a linky party with a phenomenal group of music educators this week.  Our topic is Children's Literature in Music Education! We're going to share our favorite books we use in our music classrooms.  After reading my post, be sure to check out the links below to get more ideas of children's books to use in your classroom!

One of my favorite things to do with young students is instrument exploration.  My students love to play instruments, but most do not possess the readiness to do so yet.  Think of the first time you give a student an instrument - what do they immediately do?  Play it in every way possible except the correct way!  They explore all the different ways they can play it, tap it, scrape it, bang it, pat on different body parts, shake, etc.  Their need for sound exploration precedes their readiness to play it "correctly" and "to a beat."

When I began to understand my students' need to explore, I started creating lessons that allowed for this type of activity.  Children's books were the perfect vessel for instrument exploration.  It gave my students a context to explore a variety of instruments and timbres and it provided the readiness my students needed to play and perform on instruments correctly.

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything

This is one of the first books I use for instrument exploration with young children.  It's perfect because of the many sounds within the story.  We begin by reading the story in class.  I choose about 8 instruments (hand drums, rhythm sticks, sand blocks, etc. ) then introduce the instruments to my students.  I share the name of the instrument and the correct way to hold and play the instrument.  Our next task is to match each sound to an instrument.  At this point in the process, I am the one modeling the instruments for students.  We try different instruments with each sound and the students choose what they like best.  During the next class, I set out instrument centers where students may try all of the different instruments used to accompany the story.  At the end of center time, I assign students to each instrument center and we retell the story using the instruments associated with each sound.  I repeat this process during 1-2 more classes, so that students have the opportunity to retell the story using a variety of instruments.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

This is an activity I learned years ago at an Orff workshop.  My kindergarten and first grade students always want to know "when am I going to play the xylophones?"  Although they may not have the readiness to play an ostinato or bordun, they do have the readiness to explore the sounds a xylophone makes.  Begin by reading the story to your students.  I tend to read/sing stories to my students the last 5 minutes of class as a way to calm them down to transition them back to their classroom teacher and to preview an activity we are going to do next class.  In preparation for the next class, I have all of the Orff instruments set up on the floor with mallets.  When the students enter, we sing our hello song and do any other music work that needs to be done before going to instruments.  I always have the students recap the story with me before introducing the instruments.  I name each instrument and model how to play them.  We talk about how to hold a mallet and where to play on the bar.  Then we review what the caterpillar ate on Day 1 and I play 1 bar.  On Day 2, I play 2 bars.  On Day 3, I play 3 bars and so on.  (Because this is exploration, I don't worry about setting up the instruments in pentatonic.  I've done so before, but the activity turns to "why are bars missing" etc.)  Then I invite students to each instrument and we practice the same.  When I bring a children to an instrument, I have one child playing and one child observing alongside them.  Then when we transition to the next student, the one who just played teaches the one who was watching.  As the second student prepares to play, I pair them with another student who gets to observe (and so on).  The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a classic story that gets students exploring and playing your Orff instruments quickly.

Listen to the Rain

This might be my favorite book of all to use in elementary music.  It has fabulous, rich vocabulary and is perfect for exploring environmental sounds as music.  Once again, begin by reading the story to your students.  Ask them to identify the different kinds of rain in the story.  When I read this story, we do not begin with instruments.  Instead, we use small wood mallets on a hard surface (small dry erase board or books).  We practice holding the mallets the correct way, then tapping them softly on our hard surface - to match the dynamic of sprinkle rain.  Then we practice tapping them a bit harder to match the dynamic of steady rain.  Then we practice tapping them loudly to match the dynamic of a thunderstorm.  Once we've mastered tapping at different dynamic levels, then we go back to the story.  I read the story as my students accompany the story with their mallet rainstorm.  Sometimes I don't read the story at all - I simply turn the pages as the students play the dynamic expressed on that page.  If I want to extend the activity with real instruments, we add in rainsticks, ocean drums, and thunder drums.  All add a unique timbre to the sound of the rain!

What are your favorite children's books to use in the elementary music classroom?  Comment below, or if you have a blog, link up using the linky below!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

August Small Goals

I am teaming up again with Jennifer Hibbard from the Yellow Brick Road to discuss my August small goals!
Before we start, let's recap about my July goals.
1.  Move More
2.  Sleep Better
3.  Continue working on my June goals

Yeah, about those goals.  The thing is I really didn't do any of it.  I worked like a crazed-woman on my TeachersPayTeachers store and taught an Early Childhood Music Level course for two weeks (out-of-state).  During those two weeks we lived in a dorm (and slept on a dorm bed).  Yep.  None of those goals were seen to fruition.
So let's talk August Small Goals.
I'm realizing that my life can pretty much be summed up in one verse of the Bible: Romans 7:15.  
"I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."
So have I given up Diet Coke?  Not completely.
Have I eaten better?  Somewhat.
Have I read more? One book.
Have I connected more?  I'm trying.
Have I slept better?  Nope.
Have I moved more?  I would need to disconnect from this computer to do so.
Here's my reality: I am a single momma with very little support.  There's never a moment when I am not momma. There are no weekends off.  There are no trips to the gym while a husband takes care of my son.  There is no extra income to help me pay student loans, mortgages, preschool tuition or daycare.  And so I work and I do the best I can.  I'm not perfect and I am not going to pretend otherwise.  
With all of that said, I have one goal for August:

1.  Practice grace with myself.
If I don't hit a goal perfectly, it's ok.  If I don't quit Diet Coke completely - I'm still drinking less than before.  One healthier meal is better than where I was at the end of last school year.  One book is better than none.  One more conversation with God brings me closer to Him.  I'm trying.  I'm not perfect.  I'm going to hit bumps in the road.  My goal this month is simply to do the best I can in my life to be a healthy momma, daughter, sister and teacher.  And practice grace with myself along the journey.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Providing a Safe Space in the Music Room

Managing behavior in the elementary music classroom can be challenging.  We can see 200+ students a day and feel like we have very little time for instruction.  Sometimes it can be frustrating to deal with behavior issues in our classroom when all we want to do is teach music!  But I'm reminded of this saying:

I am a teacher of children first and foremost.  
Music happens to be the vessel through which I reach my students.
Over twenty years of teaching, I have learned a few things that work in a music setting.

1.  Establish your expectations and live by them.
The first month of the new school year, I spend time going over expectations and establishing routines more than anything.  If an expectation is that we keep rhythm sticks to ourselves, then there needs to be a natural consequence when we don't.  No idle threats and no multiple chances.  The first time the rule is broken, the sticks are taken away from that child.  It only takes one student to do it once and for everyone else to see the consequence.  Your students will know that you mean business.  Your words are only as good as the actions that back them up.

2.  Teach behaviors explicitly.
We know what something is by knowing what it isn't.  That's a funny phrase, but very true.  I teach my lower elementary students that every time we come to music, we sit on our bottoms with legs crossed and hands in our laps.  We practice it.  A lot.  But we also practice what it doesn't look like.  We practice laying on the floor, or hands propping the body up behind our backs, or legs outstretched.  Then I discuss why each one isn't safe (others will trip over you, or step on you, etc.)  We know how to sit safely when we know what sitting unsafely looks like.  I do the same with posture, mallet technique and any other skill I want mastered in the music room.  Truthfully, the kids think it's funny to practice doing something "wrong" then "right."

3.  Provide a safe space in your room for children who need a "state" change.
There is lots of research about providing safe spaces for children who need time away from the class or activity due to behavior issues.  I've heard of people creating little "island get-a-ways" and a variety of other places.  This may work for classroom teachers, but I only see my kids 40 minutes every 3 days.  I can't have a child in "Australia" reading books instead of participating in instruction.  I do, however, create a safe space in my room.  I have a lovely mural painted in my room with a tree and birds around it.  Under the tree, I have small chair where my students can go when they are not ready to learn.  It is not a time-out chair.  It's simply a place to go when a child is struggling to learn.  Sometimes children go on their own and other times I ask a child to go there.  I have a small basket of items for students who need some type of physical release (e.g. squishy balls, koosh balls) and some items to help students calm down (e.g. small stuffed animals, sand timers).  Most times, the student returns to the class on their own and most do so within 3-5 minutes.  If I have a child that was asked to go because of disruptive behavior, then I have them use a reflection sheet.  My reflection sheets look different for lower el (K-2) than upper el (3-5).   Another strategy I have found useful for minor behavior issues is to ask the challenging student to observe another student exhibiting the desired behavior.  It takes the focus off of the negative behavior and redirects their attention to the positive, desired behavior.

Here is what is in my calm-down caddy: Beanie Babies, Koosh balls, squeezes, and
3-minute sand timers (my 4-year old tested the "breakability"of the timer.  It passed his inspection).

4.  Communicate with parents
So this one is tough as a music teacher.  My instructional time is precious and I have over 400  students (and parents) in my school.  But you must communicate with your parents.  And your first communication needs to be a positive one.  I try to send home lots of positive notes the first month.  A former principal used to purchase postcards and stamps for the entire staff to mail positive notes home to parents.  If you see a parent in the hall, introduce yourself and tell that parent something positive about their child.  I do this a lot at dismissal duty as parents pick up their child.  Praise, praise, praise!  And when the child misbehaves in music, communicate with the parent.  If they have heard from you in a positive manner, they are more likely to be receptive to you when a difficult call comes their way.  I keep track of who gets notes home and how often I call or e-mail home. (I have to say, I am not a fan of e-mailing parents.  It's too easy to assume tone.  When in doubt, call home.)   No parent wants to be blind-sided by a poor grade or comment on a report card.  I never mark a student's behavior down in music class unless I have documentation of that student's behavior in music.  Send notes home!  The reality is, if the child is acting up in music, they are most likely doing the same in other classes as well.  My classroom teachers are always appreciative that I send notes home (positive or corrective).  It substantiates their conversations with parents and helps to build a more complete picture of that student's challenges.

You can download examples of my reflection sheets here!

5.  Behavior challenges aren't personal
Let me repeat this again: behavior challenges aren't personal.  This is the hardest thing I am learning as a parent.  This morning I took my four-year old to Target to buy a birthday present for his cousin.  When he realized he wasn't get a toy for himself - the mother of all meltdowns occurred.  And of course, we were in the back of the store, so I had to carry him kicking and screaming through the entire store to get him to a safe place.  Fun times in motherhood, eh?  But here's the point - my son's meltdown wasn't about me.  His anger was about his lack of control over a situation.  His frustration was that he wasn't getting his way.  It was directed at me, but it wasn't about me.  See the difference?  The same is true of your students. So when a child gets angry, misbehaves, has an outburst - STAY CALM.  Offer two choices (Love and Logic all the way!) You can do this, or you can do that.  When my son lost it, I said, "you can give me ideas for Christmas or you can do chores to earn that toy."  Neither choice was giving him the toy at the moment.  Be consistent - repeat the choices and continue to stay calm.  It's not personal.  In the end, my son calmed down and apologized for his behavior.  I hugged him, reassured him I loved him and moved on.  Do the same for your students.

6.  And lastly - connect with your students
I truly think 99% of behavior issues can be averted when we foster relationships with our students.  It's rare for any of my students in grades 2-5 to have behavior issues in my room.  Why?  I've worked hard the first two years getting to know them and building relationships with them.  Don't you want to do good for people who care for you deeply?  And when they do make a mistake, they know I care enough about them to help them learn from that mistake.  In fact, when I do send a note home, I always talk to the student to share with them that the note isn't about "getting them in trouble" - rather, an opportunity to partner with their parents to help them learn and grow.  When my little ones misbehave, I always connect with them after the redirection.  Our students need to know that our redirections and consequences come from a place of love and concern - not out of power, anger, or frustration.   For some of your students, you may be the only adult that models this type of interaction for them.  
 For more ideas on classroom management, follow my Classroom Management for the Music Classroom Board on Pinterest!

What else would you add to this list?  How do you deal with challenging behaviors in the music classroom?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Wish & Dish!

If you haven't heard, the BIG Back to School Sale on TpT is August 3-4.  My store will be 20% off and with the promo code BTS15 you can get an additional 8% off!  
 Get your wish lists ready for some great shopping this week!

In celebration for the big sale, I am teaming up with a fabulous group of music teachers from Teachers Pay Teachers for a Linky Party!  Let's "Wish & Dish" a little about some great products!

 #1 My Own Product
My students LOVE playing ukulele, but there weren't any great products out there for young students!  Last year, I collected tunes my students loved singing in music class. It was really important to me that my students have a great collection of folk tunes to perform on ukuleles.  Sing & Strum: Ukulele for the Elementary Music Classroom contains five different parts that include strumming patterns, 1-chord, 2-chord and 3-chord songs, Interactive White Board Charts, color coded song sheets and student books.  Over 1000+ pages to fit the way YOU teach ukulele!
I am really proud of this product and can't wait to use it with my own students this year!

#2 A Product by Another Music Seller
Another product I'm excited to try this year is by Mrs. Stouffer's Music Room!  She has a fabulous set of posters with the National Music Standards AND I Can statements!  I Can statements always feel like they should be easy to create, but putting musical concepts and skills in child-friendly language can be challenging.  I'm excited that someone has done the work for me!

#3 Fabulous Clipart!
Lastly, I am going to make a confession.  I may or may not have clip art addiction. I started tracking how much I spend on clipart this year and it may rival my Starbucks addiction.  Seriously.  There is a new clip art designer who is making some beautiful, realistic clip art for the music classroom.  Pitch Clips recently made a set of Tubanos that look exactly like the ones my students play in our music classroom.  She's since added Djembes and Gathering Drums.  I can't wait to see what she creates next!  
Ok, music friends - one more thing!  Did you know you can receive TpT Credit (that's free money!) to use towards your purchases?  All you have to do is post feedback on the items you have already purchased!  To do this, log in to TpT and click on My TpT, then My Purchases. You can sort your purchases using a drop down menu.  Every item you give feedback to earns you TpT credit!
So...what's on your wish list?