Saturday, April 23, 2016

Children's Literature: Spring into Music!

Many of you know that I love using children's literature in my music classroom.  There is so much rich language, rhythm, texture and timbres to be drawn from children's stories. Every year, I look for the new stories that lend themselves for music instruction.  Here are a few of my favorite children's stories for elementary music for this spring!

The Listening Walk by Paul Showers
This is sweet story about building a child's awareness of sounds around them.  As the little girl takes her daily walk with her father, she identifies all of the different sounds around her.  How often we dismiss the sound around us as noise, but this girl hears the beauty of each sound.  I love to read this to my students and ask them to get quiet and identify the sounds in our room.  Even better, take your students on a listening walk through the school or around the school.  Ask them to listen actively and identify sounds around them.  If you want to take it one step further, ask your students to identify two or three sound they heard and notate the sound they heard.  I have a "Listening Walk" worksheet that they use to write, draw, describe their sounds.  After they notate their sounds, I ask each child to perform one sound they heard (e.g. drip, drip, drip) and to repeat it.  We layer 3-4 sounds on top of each other talk about what we heard.  Then we try different combinations of sounds in small groups and perform them for one another.  It's a great way to build awareness of the sounds/music around us and to introduce texture and layers!

Five Green and Speckled Frogs illustrated by Constanza Basaluzzo
I end Kindergarten and First Grade music class with a song story.  A song story is exactly as it sounds.  It's a folk song that has been illustrated.  Simple, right?  My K-1 classes are 40 minutes in length.  It's a long instructional period for little ones.  We sing, chant, move, play improvise, but by the last 5-10 minutes, my students are done.  So we end class with a song story.  I've never met a student who didn't love being read to - I just take it one step further and sing it instead of read it. 

Jump, Frog, Jump! by Robert Kalan

This is such a lovely, sequential story with a repetitive line - "jump, frog, jump!"  I begin by simply reading the story to my students.  Each time "jump, frog, jump" occurs, we sing it using a "do-sol-do" response. The second class, I read the story again and we identify the solfege of the response.  I also introduce the Orff instruments that we're going to use to transfer our singing part to instruments.  It's not the first time on the instruments, so a quick review of how to hold mallets and play the instruments is all that is required.  The third class, the students come to a xylophone with a partner.  One partner plays while another observes.  We transfer the "jump, frog, jump" to the bars D and A.  The students practice playing the "do-sol-do" pattern on the bars several times.  Then I retell the story with the students playing the response instead of singing it.  At the end of the story, the person playing teaches the partner every thing they need to know to play, and we retell the story with the second partner.

Marsh Music by Marianne Berkes (instrument exploration, environmental sound)
Do you have a collection of frog and cricket rasps in your room?  And you never quite know what to do with them?  Me too!  I stumbled across this story a few years ago and used it in a music enrichment class.  We used all of our scraper instruments to recreate all the different sounds of the marsh.  I do read the story to students, but I primarily use the pictures to retell/recreate the story musically.  To add to the story, I bought 10 bunches of faux marsh grass at Michaels.  I think each was 57 cents.  The neat thing about the grass is that when students gently shake it, it adds another texture to the sound composition.  The kids love trying all of the different scraper instruments in the music room and creating their own "Marsh Music."

Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault 
This is hands down my favorite story to use in the music room!  It's such a great story to read for mallet readiness and dynamics.  I love it so much that I turned my activity into a product for TpT!  You can check it out here!

Do you have a favorite children's book for spring?  Tell me what it is in the comments! 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Music Teacher First Year Flashback

I am linking up with Shelley Tomich from Pitch Publications to talk about my first year of teaching!  
It's hard to believe this is my 20th year teaching!  (Especially since I just turned 29!)  *hee hee*

I had the most unorthodox start to teaching - I was a performance major in college who "dabbled" in education.  I taught early childhood music classes but didn't have an education degree nor student teaching experience.  I moved from Michigan to Texas to go to graduate school, but my heart wasn't in it.  At the last minute, I decided to take a year off and teach privately while trying to figure out my next steps.  I went to a district on the west-side of Houston and applied to teach private flute lessons.  Instead, I was offered a job to each elementary music.  It was a Friday morning.  I interviewed with two principals that afternoon and had a signed contract by 5 pm.  School began Monday.

What subject/age and where was I teaching?
So like many first year teachers, I taught at two elementary schools.  I was the support person for the full time music teachers.  I taught Pre-K, Kindergarten and a few First grade classes.  I loved my first year of teaching!  Each school scheduled classes quite differently.  My morning school allowed me to see my Pre-K kids every day for 20 minutes.  It was sublime!

What was your first classroom like?
Each school had very different set-ups.  At my morning school, I had my own classroom which I shared with the ESL teacher.  She and I taught on different days and I always had the entire classroom to myself.  At my afternoon school, I had one half of a portable building.  I shared it with the full time music teacher, but we had only a set of shelves that separated our rooms.  It wasn't the most ideal teaching situation as we could hear each other while we taught.

Were you given supplies and materials?
Both of my schools had enormous budgets for music through the PTA.  I didn't have my own budget, but what I needed was provided by my principal or the full-time music teacher.

What do you remember about your first day?
I remember having the cutest little red-haired boy throw up on my brand new shoes.  Kind of hard to remember anything after a 5 year old pukes on you.

What was the hardest part of your first year?
For me, it was learning how to be a good colleague - especially to those who don't have the same pedagogical approach as me.  I worked with two music teachers - one who used Orff as her foundation for learning and another who used Kodaly.  Although I didn't have an education degree, most of my work and experience was using Music Learning Theory.  I had wonderful conversations with my Orff friend, but it was difficult to work with my Kodaly friend for a variety of reasons.  I've since learned that although how we teach may be different, we often have more in common than we think.

What was the best part of your first year?
It was, always has been and will continue to be working with kids.  I love, love, love teaching.  I loved working my students that first year.  They taught me SO much!  There were times I felt like I was a day ahead of them and there were days when I thought I should be paying them for teaching me so much about how to teach.  It was such an incredible first year!

What did you discover your first year that you didn't learn in college or student teaching?
Well, like I said, my degree was in performance and I didn't student teach.  I was hired on an emergency permit with the condition that I enroll in a teacher certification program as soon as possible.  For many people, this would have been a recipe for disaster.  For me, it was the perfect scenario.  I could teach the way that felt was right for me without trying to be like someone else, or try not to be like someone else.  I truly believe it made me the educator I am today.

What is one thing that you know now that you wish you knew then?
  • You are going to learn as much from your students as they are going to learn from you.  Embrace it!  
  • You're going to have lessons that fail and it's ok!  My best lessons are the ones that tanked the first time because I had to go back and retool them, figure out what didn't word and why.
  • You're going to get sick - alot.  You can never wash your hands too much.  Never. Ever. (ever...)
  • It's always about relationships.  Your most challenging kids are not acting out to drive you nuts.  They are acting out because they lack and desperately want one person to care about them.  Do not take their behavior personally.  Instead, tell them you are about them and ask them what they need to be successful.  Seriously.  And if it doesn't work the first time, ask again and again and again until they believe you.  Our toughest children often have home lives that would break our hearts.  Their behavior towards you is not personal.  Build relationships.  Meet them in the morning as they come in the building.  Invite them to have lunch with you one day with a friend.  Give them a high 5 as they leave and tell them you can't wait to see them tomorrow.  Build positive relationships with your students and you will get the best from them.
  • Make an effort to contact parents with a positive about their child.  It doesn't have to be a phone call, it an be a note, catching a parent in the drop-off/pick-up line - anything!  I will never forget calling a parent about her son.  From the moment she answered the phone, you could hear the anxiety in her voice as she prepared to hear something awful her child did.  I was calling to tell her something beautiful her child did.  She cried throughout the call because no one had ever told her something nice about her child.  He was a 4th grader.  Share the positive with parents!  Parenting is hard and we all need a kind word about our child.  And it makes the difficult conversations a bit easier because they know you care about their child.
If you're a new teacher - what questions do you have about your first teaching?  If you're a seasoned pro - tell me your funniest moment during your first year of teaching!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

April Small Goals

Are you like me?  Well intentioned?  Big dreams?  Lots of ideas?

Last summer I paired up with Jennifer at the Yellow Brick Road to blog about my monthly goals.  I did great all summer long!  June, July, August and then school happened.  Parenting happened.  Life happened.  Have I really not written a monthly goal post this entire year? (The answer, sadly, is yes.)

So the last time I wrote a monthly goal post, I one simple goal:
1.  Practice grace with myself
Hey!  I think I accomplished something!  Because if this year has taught me anything, it's to be kind to myself.  I am not going to get everything done.  I am not going have the perfect house.  (Or the cleanest.)  I am not going to have perfect lesson plans.  I am not going to have the perfect life.  But what I do have is an amazing house, an amazing job, and an amazing life.  Wouldn't trade it for the world.

But with that said, there are some things I need to work on...
1. I need to move.  
Once upon a time (aka, before children) I used to work out 6 days a week and walk on average of 100 miles a month.  Being a single parent, I've gave up daily visits to the gym, but I feel like my health has suffered.  I don't feel healthy and strong anymore.  I need to take better care of myself so I can accomplish goal #2!
2.  I need to spend more quality time with my son.  
My little one will be 5 in a month.  He's registered for Kindergarten for next year.  He starts Tee-Ball next week.  He's growing up and I want him to STOP!  I used to rock him to sleep every night and now he goes to sleep on his own.  I just want to have more time with him and savor every second with him.
3.  I need to garden.  
Connecting with the earth is important to me.  Gardening is my meditation.  I love planting perennials and annuals, finding the perfect spot for the perfect plant.  I have a huge flower garden in the backyard (thank you, previous owners) as well as an area for a vegetable garden.  I can't wait to begin getting plants in the ground and watching them grow!

So what are your personal goals for April?