Thursday, October 27, 2016

Frustrated? Classroom management tips for music that really work

It's that time of year.  The honeymoon is over, the kids are comfortable with you and one another.  One child chats quietly to a neighbor and suddenly the entire class erupts in chatter.  You count down, you clap, you use your "firm" voice.  Nothing.  The talking what do you do?

Well, let's start with what NOT to do.  It's a quick and easy list:
  • Please don't yell.  It's so hard, I know.  
  • Please don't make idle threats.  Kids know an idle threat a mile away.  
  • Please don't publicly shame kids.  The kids who are acting out are doing so for a reason.  Identify the reason, not the child.  
So what do you do?

1.  Help students to understand that when they come to music, they are there to learn.  
Over the past few years, I've noticed more and more that my students come to music needing a break from the "rigor" of classroom instruction.  They come in talkative, in need of some down time or wiggle time.  Music inherently can provide those things, but we're still here to learn.  Explain how their work looks different in music than when they are classroom.  With their classroom teacher, they may learn a math concept, then practice applying the concept using a worksheet.  In music, we learn by listening, by moving, by singing, by creating, by performing, and by improvising.  Our work looks and "feels" different, but it's still important work.  This simple explanation helps students to understand that although music is inherently fun, we are always working and learning in class.

2.  Allow time for chatter.  
This sounds so simple, but so hard.  My kids know that in transitions, there may be 30-90 seconds of downtime, and that they are allowed to have quiet conversations then.  When they see my hand go up, that is their signal to get quiet.  And here's the hard part - the silence isn't immediate.  Think about how many times you are at a staff meeting and chatting with a friend about something.  The meeting comes to order, but you need to finish a sentence - our students are the same way.  Silence comes in a few seconds.  It's ok, they will get quiet.

3.  Be consistent with the language used in your school.  
Many schools have a PBIS program in place and use common language across classrooms for behavior and expectations.  Embrace it!  I've taught for 21 years in a variety of settings.  The most success I've had in my career is when all of our staff worked together to identify, implement, and use consistent language with our students.  My kids know that the same language, expectations and consequences will occur in my room as in the classroom.  Suddenly, classroom issues went by the way.

4.  Do the unexpected - get quiet.  
This sound so silly.  Our usual response to a chatty class is to yell over them.  Stop.  Get quiet.  Lower the lights.  When they finally quiet, talk even quieter than them.  You are the leader of your classroom and have control over the volume of conversation.  Bring it down a notch.  I'm always amazed at how calm my students become once I bring my own voice level down as well.

5.  Don't point out children.   
Ok, so this has nothing to do with the kids who talk or misbehave.  This is about the kids who are always doing the right thing.  Don't using them as the example.  For some kids, this can be embarrassing.   For others, this can make them a target.  Instead, try #6.

6.  Use phrases that support everyone in the classroom.
I have two favorite phrases to use in my class.  The first is simple: "check yourself."  I may say it for one child in particular, but the reality is that every child in my room has something they can check on before the learning starts.  I may have a child who needs to stop talking, another who needs to adjust how they are seated, and another who may "appear perfect" but who's mind is wandering.  We all have something we can check.  My second favorite phrase is "make a match."  Again, simple and to the point and without pointing a child out.  Make a match simply means find someone with whom you can match your behavior.  Make a match to someone sitting correctly.  Make a match to someone keeping the steady beat.  Make a match to someone using their singing voice.  I never say who we should be matching because the reality is that the children already know.  And what one child needs to match may not be what another needs.

7.  When all else fails, check your relationship meter.
This is the hardest one of all.  When I have a child that consistently is problematic in my classroom, it mostly likely isn't the child - it's me. Take a breath, I know.  It's a difficult thing to admit.  Let's be honest - a child who is acting out in our classroom is seeking something, right?  When they can't get positive attention, then negative attention is the next best thing.  Negative attention comes when my relationship with that child is not healthy.  My students need to know I care about them deeply and sometimes music is the last thing on their mind.  Some of my kids come to school to be safe, to get a meal, to get a hug.  They come to school for connection.  When my students are disconnected from me, the behavior problems escalate.  And I know what you're going to say - how can I possibly connect with 500, 600, 800 students?  My best advice is to greet your kids.  My teachers know that my kids may not come into my classroom until invited.  The reason I do it is because I want to greet every child as they come in.  I say hello to every child as they enter, I compliment a new haircut, a smile, a child doing the right thing.  I notice new tennis shoes, a beautiful dress, a superhero sweatshirt.  The smallest compliment can make all the difference.

And one last word - I know we all have different situations and populations.  I've taught in public schools with extreme poverty and elite private schools.  My low-income kids in Philadelphia didn't behave any different than my suburban kids in Houston.  Here's what I've learned in my 20+ years - we all want to be validated.  We all want someone to notice us and care.  Every time I've showed a child I cared, the behavior got better.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Ideas for Using In the Hall of the Mountain King

It's my favorite time of the year!  I love Fall & Halloween!  There's so much folk and classical music to draw from for your classroom.  One of my favorite tunes to use during the month of October is In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg.  It's the fourth movement of the Peer Gynt Suite.  What I love about In the Hall of the Mountain King is that it is such a simple piece of music with so many concepts to teach from it.

Melody -  Does the melody move by step, skip, repeat or leap?
Rhythm - Look at the rhythmic structure of the song.  Can your students identify the meter?  The key signature?  Read the rhythms with solfege?  Could they write the rhythm of the theme?

Form - Can your students identify how composer uses repetition of a theme?  How many times is the theme repeated?  Does it ever get boring?  Why?  Why not?

Timbre - Can your students identify instruments within the piece?  Can they identify the ensemble as an orchestra?  Can they hear how the composer groups different instruments together during each repetition?

Dynamics - Can your students identify the dynamics in the piece?  How does the composer use dynamics to create interest throughout the composition?

Tempo - Can your students identify the tempo of the piece?  How does the composer use differing tempi to create interest throughout the composition?

There are some great activities to get your students engaged with this song.  One of my favorites is doing a hand jive using a puppet.  I've seen it done with a variety of puppets, but in my classroom, it's all about "The Wizard!"  The Hand jive is simple: 4 claps, 4, fist pounds (2 times left hand on top, 2 times right hand on top), 4 scissoring of the hands (2 times left hand on top, 2 times right hand on top), 4 thumbs back (2 times with left thumb, 2 times with right thumb).  Do the hand jive 17 times, increasing the tempo each time and hilarity ensues!

Another favorite activity is reading the story In the Hall of the Mountain King by Allison Miller Flannery.  We love this version in our room.  It's about an adventurous little boy who travels a bit too far from home and meets...The Mountain King!  My boys (and girls) love it and you can almost hear the music as you read the story!

After listening to and reading the story, my older students fill out a listening log.  This is simply a sheet with some questions about what they heard as they were listening to it.  You can download my listening log for free on my SingToKids Blogs Freebie folder on Dropbox.  

And if you're looking for a fantastic resource to go along with all of these ideas, then check out my In the Hall of the Mountain King resource on TpT.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Music Aptitude: What is it? Why measure it? And tips for successful testing

If you use Music Learning Theory, you know one of the main tenets of MLT is music aptitude.  Dr. Edwin Gordon believed that each one of us was born with a specific aptitude for music.  The amount of potential, along with experience creates our music aptitude.  Through research, Dr. Gordon determined that music aptitude was developmental from birth through age nine, but at nine, music aptitude stabilizes.
Go ahead, read that sentence again.  I'll give you a little time to let that sink in. 
Now that the shock has subsided, that means by 4th grade, a students' music aptitude has stabilized and we move from potential to achievement.  Yet one more reason to support music education in elementary schools, right?  Dr. Gordon developed many music aptitude tests throughout his life.  The two tests most appropriate for elementary students are the Primary Measures of Music Audiation (PMMA) and the Intermediate Measures of Music Audiation (IMMA).  Both measure developmental music aptitude in students.  
PMMA was Dr. Gordon's first aptitude test for young children and was meant for students who were not receiving MLT instruction.  It's perfect for Kindergarten and First Grade Students as the content is a bit easier but can be used for students through Third Grade.  IMMA is a more challenging test for students who receive MLT instruction.  It's normed for students in First Grade through Sixth Grade.  I use IMMA for students in First through Fourth Grades.

Ok, so here's the obvious question: WHY aptitude test?  The only reasons to aptitude test is to inform and differentiate your instruction.  If you know a student has a high tonal or rhythm aptitude, it changes the way you teach him or her.  If you know a student has a low tonal or rhythm aptitude, you work hard to increase that child's potential.  It's so easy to assume that an outgoing child is musically gifted and a quiet, reserved child is not.  I can tell you from experience that you don't know until you test.  It's important to understand that never are the results of the aptitude tests used to exclude a child.  Never.  They are always used to devise a plan of instruction to help students grow their potential to achieve.
If you're interested in finding out more about music aptitude, you can comment below with your questions.  If you would like to find either aptitude test, you can find PMMA here and IMMA here.  There are computer and online versions of the test, but I prefer the paper & pencil version by far!
If you're already PMMA and IMMA testing, check out my tips below to make the testing process easy!
  1. Use test shields.  (And by test shields, I mean a two-pocket folder!)  This gives each student privacy as they test and keeps their eyes focused on their own paper.  I buy a box of 1 cent folders from Office Max each year and use them for testing shields.  Easy and inexpensive.
  2. Use a document camera for directions.  I used to scan part of the test paper into my computer and show it on my interactive white board.  But with a document camera, I can model how to circle answers on the test sheet (and how not to circle the answers).  If you don't have a document camera, see if a classroom teacher or IT will loan you one while testing.  
  3. Color code the testing sheets.  I don't use the copies provided to me in the testing kit.  I copy my own to prolong the life of the kit.  I always copy test sheets on colored paper - blue for tonal and green for rhythm.  Why?  Well, to color code my stacks of tonal and rhythm papers.  I've also found that the darker the paper, the less likely the images will bleed through from the other side. 
  4. Before copying those test sheets, write the name of the test in the upper right hand corner.  Although the PMMA and IMMA scoring sheets look similar, there are differences between the two.  By writing IMMA in the corner, you'll know you are using the appropriate testing sheet.  
  5. Upload the CD into your iTunes library.  It's so easy to do and you'll have the test at your fingerprints.  The best part is that if you have the test in your iTunes library, you can seamlessly play the practice items while using the document camera!  If you hover over the iTunes icon, a mini menu will appear so that you can keep the document camera screen open while using iTunes.  
  6. If working with little ones, pause the test after the last item on the first page.  After testing children for 20 years, I've learned that children don't always realize there's a back page.  It takes them a minute to realize there's more to go.  I find pausing the test gives them a moment to get over the shock and gets them ready to move on.  I've even squeezed in a movement break for wiggly classes between the front & back page.
  7. If you have a students with focus issues, you may consider sitting with them while testing.  I cover up the item we are listening to, then uncover it for the student to circle the answer.  I've found that some students can't focus long enough to listen to the two songs and will pattern mark to cover the fact that they haven't paid attention.  I've also included my resource teacher in the testing and had them come to support a child who needs one-on-one support.
I hope these tips help you to have a successful testing experience!