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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Q&A Music Teacher Edition (part II)

A couple of weeks ago I asked you all to send me your questions, and I was thrilled with the responses I got from all of you! Today I'm tackling some of the teaching questions I got, but be sure to check out my other Q&A posts on home life, planners, and music teaching as well! And if you have any other questions for me, feel free to leave a comment below. I'd love to do another Q&A in the future :) For each question I've included a video and written answer.

1. How do you organize for a sub?

Honestly, solving the sub plan problem took me over a decade (and my system still has its hiccups- I just finally have something that is workable and low maintenance for me). I'm pretty happy with what I have set up for subs now, though, which has been life changing for me! I wrote a full post last school year after I finally got it set up, and also put up my emergency sub plan template which you can grab right here. This year I have tweaked my setup just a little: instead of putting the log of which classes have done which lessons in the sub plans themselves, I've now taped them to the tubs that hold that lesson's materials. Takes some of the clutter out of the sub plan sheets and puts them in a place where the sub is guaranteed to see it before they teach the lesson! Check out my video answer to see what I'm talking about, but here's my previous blog post on how I have my sub plans set up and what is included in them:

2. What books do you like to use in the music classroom?

My collection of books that I love to use in music class has grown every year, but my favorites have to be Mortimer and My Many Colored Days (click on those links to see my lesson plans for those books). If you want to see more of my favorite books for music class, and the lessons I use them for, be sure to check out this blog post:

One related tip for books: I keep almost all of the books I use in different lessons, plus other ones I don't always get to in class but are related to music, in one spot in my classroom. Whenever we do centers, I include reading as one of the center activities. The quiet ones (or the ones who happened to be tired that day) especially appreciate having this activity, and they love seeing what I've added to my collection! Watch the video answer to see my book station, and check out my blog post below for more ideas for center activities:

3. Do you implement drumming in everything you do, or do you just do a unit once or twice a year?

My answer to this is going to be similar to my answer to a question I answered last week about ukulele: I do a little of both.

I do a focus on music from Mozambique with my 5th graders each year in the spring, and I spend some focused time teaching students about the in's and out's of drumming circles, drumming techniques, and specific drumming patterns. You can read more about my favorite lesson activities for drum circles in this post:

With that said, I also incorporate drumming throughout the year in every grade I teach (K-6). Any time students are learning and practicing a new rhythm, I'll have students practice speaking/counting the rhythms, clapping them, and then playing them on instruments- for my youngest students I usually start with rhythm sticks but otherwise I usually pull out the djembes to keep everyone excited about rhythm drills haha! It's a great way to mix things up and keep things interesting.

There are, of course, specific lessons where I will incorporate drumming, whether it's part of an instrumental ensemble, student compositions, or a lesson tied to a book (see above!), but the other more general situation when I will sometimes incorporate drumming is when a class as a whole is stuck in a negative rut. Sometimes the best cure in that situation is to force everyone to look each other in the eye, listen to each other, cooperate, take turns, and create something fun and awesome together! This ties directly into my focus on incorporating more "circles" in my classroom this year. You can read more about how I'm using circles in this post:

4. Have you done any coding in the music room yet? If so, what and how?

Short answer: no :(

BUT I've got some ideas for you! If I had the time and resources, I would totally have my students do some actual coding to create a real, playable video game for the video game composition project I do with my 5th graders. Since I don't right now, I send home a note to parents with recommendations for some resources they might want to explore with their child at home after we finish the project in class: Tynker, Scratch Jr (and it's older brother, Scratch), and Gamestar Mechanic are a few of my favorites. Here's a list of some more free resources to teach students how to code.

Beyond games though, I think the coolest-looking coding option for music is the Pixel Kit, which allows you to code a set of lights to light up in different combinations with different colors, including responding to sound. Imagine what you could create to teach students about mood, form, timbre, dynamics, and more with this thing!!!!

5. Could you possibly share some music lessons you use for the beginning of the school year? Instead of using an entire class to go over rules and procedures, is there a lesson you use to remind students of the class rules? How to play instruments properly? How soon do you introduce instruments?

I change up the specific lesson I do for the beginning of the school year every year, but my basic plan stays the same. In the first lesson, I try to include:
1. assigning seats
2. going over (VERY QUICKLY) my behavior expectations and management systems
3. singing
4. movement

My behavior management discussion is honestly 5-10 minutes max, and I spread it out within the lesson with singing and movement thrown in between different topics. I touch on my overall classroom expectations and what that looks like, the letter system for how the class earns "points" and my individual rewards and consequences for behavior, and my hand signals for standing/ sitting/ transitions. I do think it's important to set those ground rules right from the beginning, but I don't spend a lot of time getting into the details of each aspect- they get it when they see it and experience it happening "in real time" ;)

Other than that, I usually do some kind of fun, upbeat, active song to get everyone having fun and making music together. One year I taught everyone Funga Alafia (sidenote: this song is NOT a traditional song from any part of the African continent- it was written by an American in an African style- so be careful how you introduce it, but it's still a great way to start the year!), with singing and movement, other years I've done something I call the "Beginning of the School Year Rap", complete with rhythm ostinati that students perform with body percussion (hint: I send the full lesson plan and visuals in my newsletter every summer!), and some years I've picked different silly/fun songs for each grade and added movement to go with each one.

The only time I have gotten out instruments on the first day is with my oldest students, who have known me for a few years, when they have a 60-minute class. In that case I will take one of the songs/ lessons mentioned above and add instrumental accompaniment parts to them. Otherwise, I wait until the 2nd or even 3rd class to bring them out, and when I do, I start with easy things like rhythm sticks and hand drums to teach appropriate procedures and expectations for playing instruments (I am VERY strict about playing out of turn- even if the instrument accidentally hits something, if it makes a sound before it's supposed to I take it away). Yes, it's great to get them playing instruments early on, but it's also important to have the time to teach them the proper procedures for using them! When we do first get out instruments, I usually have them either use them to play rhythms we are reviewing from the previous year, or play on the steady beat with some recorded music.

I hope you enjoyed reading and watching this Q&A- I loved putting it together and hearing all of your questions! Be sure to leave me a comment below if you have any other questions so I can answer them in a future post :) And if you missed any of my previous Q&A posts you can check them out below:

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Q&A Planner Edition

A couple of weeks ago I asked you all to send me your questions, and I was thrilled with the responses I got from all of you! Today I'm tackling the planner questions I got, but be sure to check out my other Q&A posts on home life and music teaching as well! And if you have any other questions for me, feel free to leave a comment below. I'd love to do another Q&A in the future :) For each question I've included a video and written answer.

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1. Do you only organize one month in your planner book at a time? What about the weeks? Or do you roughly decorate the pages with washi tape as the minimum and fill in more as you get closer?

When I first started using anything besides pen and pencil in my planner, I got super excited about stickers and washi tape and thought I would save myself some time during the school year by pre-decorating some pages and marking in dates that were already set (like vacations, birthdays, school holidays etc) with stickers. About 2 months in I realized what a bad idea that was for me. My 2 biggest reasons for decorating my planner are to 1) give myself a regular creative outlet each week/month, and 2) help me organize the information in my head. Both of these aspects help reduce my anxiety and stress, and help me be more organized. When I was pre-decorating, it took away that regular time each week to relax and organize!

So instead, I now use page flags and sticky notes to pre-plan dates and events, and I don't do any pre-decorating at all. Besides the benefits I already mentioned, I'm able to decorate my weekly and monthly pages with whatever matches my current mood/taste/style, so it's more inspiring (which is another reason I decorate- to feel inspired when I open my planner).

That said, I do know people who pre-decorate and enjoy doing so. The best example I've seen is from Plan2Create- she does a lot more "crafty" decorating than I think any of us would do, but she has some great ideas for basically setting up a color scheme/ theme for the whole month in advance and then going back to fill in details later:

If you want to hear more about how I decorate my teacher/life planner in a way that allows me to be creative without taking too much time (or taking too much space on my pages for "frilly" decor), here's a video I made with some of my favorite tips:

2. How can I print the monthly page on my half size arc planner? I want it to span two pages so it is big enough to write on.

First of all, for printing for half size/ junior size/ mini planners, you need to know how to change the printer settings. It will be slightly different for every printer/ computer, but once you understand the general idea it's really pretty simple. Here's a great tutorial from Creative Clementine if you're not sure how to do that.

For this specific situation though, you're wanting to print 1 page over 2 pages, which is a lot more complicated to do. BUT I have a solution that will make life much easier: I actually have a 2-page monthly calendar option. You have to fill in the dates yourself, either by hand or on the computer before printing, but for anyone who's looking for a bigger monthly calendar (or just hates turning their planner sideways to see the monthly pages) these are great whether you're printing on smaller paper or not!

3. Just out of curiosity, could you show us a flip through of your planner since school started?

Sure! :)

4. I have tasks that I need to do every week, but I don't want to have to write them down each time. I'd like to make customized stickers that I can type and then print out for this purpose. What would you suggest?

The easiest way I've found to do this is with Avery labels. I've included the link to get these on Amazon if you don't have a place to buy them locally, but honestly I would go to Walmart, Target, Staples, or any other similar store with office supplies and see what they have. They come in circles, squares, and rectangles in all different sizes, and many come in white or clear sticker paper options. If you want to cut out different shapes for your stickers, go for the full-page labels and cut them out yourself with scissors (or a cutting machine if you have one).

Once you've got your labels, go to the Avery website and you can design your stickers to fit the labels you have. Print them out and you're done!

If you want to save on ink or don't have access to a good color printer, you can also do it by hand (and it doesn't take as much time and effort as you might think). Make a bunch in advance while you're watching your favorite TV show and you'll be set for months. Here's how I make mine:

I hope you enjoyed reading and watching this Q&A- I loved putting it together and hearing all of your questions! I'll be back with one more set of teacher questions tomorrow- stay tuned! And if you missed any of last week's posts you can check them out below:

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Q&A Music Teacher Edition (part I)

A couple of weeks ago I asked you all to send me your questions, and I was thrilled with the responses I got from all of you! Today I'm tackling some of the teacher questions I got- I'll be answering more in next week's post- but be sure to check out my other Q&A posts on home life and planners as well! And if you have any other questions for me, feel free to leave a comment below. I'd love to do another Q&A in the future :) For each question I've got a video and written answer.

1. I love your ideas about planning for general music, so I was wondering what kind of resources/ plans you use for elementary chorus? Also, how many/ what kinds of performances does your chorus do every year and do you have any tips or tricks for teaching chorus? 

Let me start at the end of this question and work my way backwards ;)

Tips and tricks for teaching chorus: I have just published a few posts on this very topic (I was thrilled when this person posted this question because I was in the process of writing these posts when they asked!). So here are those posts:

At my current school I have 2 choirs: a 3rd and 4th grade choir and a 5th and 6th grade choir. The 5/6 choir meets as a group once a week and the 3/4 choir meets separately by grade once a week (with some combined rehearsals before each concert). Each rehearsal is 30 minutes. Currently, my choirs perform twice a year. Once in December and once in May. They are very straight-forward concerts with just the elementary ensembles (choir, band, and strings), and I have a VERY loose "theme" of winter/holiday for December and around the world for May. That said, I have never felt obligated to fit every piece into those themes- I usually have a few completely unrelated songs at each concert, just because.

I'm going to be doing a more detailed post on planning for elementary choir, so stay tuned for that, but to answer the question as succinctly as I can here...

I pick out most of the concert rep for each group before the first rehearsal. I know the students now after being in the school for several years, so I feel pretty comfortable knowing what they can accomplish- when I first started at the school I had to adjust my concert pieces several times before I found what worked! When I am choosing our concert literature, I always make sure I have one upbeat (and usually silly/fun) song and one slow/quiet/peaceful/serious one, and the rest I fill out with ones that hit the skills I'm aiming for, whether that's partner singing, rounds, beginning harmony, extending their vocal ranges, etc.

After the first couple of rehearsals, I get a pretty good sense of how quickly the groups will be able to learn each piece. That's when I sit down and do some backwards planning. I start with the concert date, and set aside 2 rehearsals before the performance for "run-throughs", where all of the music should already be learned and memorized. From there I work backwards to figure out when I need to make sure they know each part of each song. If I realize I have more time than I need, I'll either swap out an easy song for a more challenging one or add a piece. If it seems I won't have enough time, I will either simplify one of the songs or swap one out for an easier one. Obviously this plan gets adjusted as we go through the semester, but it helps me make sure everyone is ready for the concerts in time without being ready too soon and burning out on their music!

To read more about how I get my choirs ready for concerts, check out these posts:

2. I do ukuleles for 5th grade music. They have a performance at the end of the year. Would you try to use an instrument as an extended unit study, or designate a time during class throughout the year to teach uke, so you can cover all the other musical elements and standards for the state?

First of all, I don't think this is an either/or question. Any time I approach material (like ukulele) that I want to teach, I start with the question, "why"? What musical skills/concepts do I want my students to learn through this material?" The answer to that question will determine how, when, and for how long you teach something. The trick is to figure out which standards/ musical elements you can most effectively cover through their study of ukulele (and their practice of performance material on ukulele). Obviously you'll need a certain amount of time to practice the actual mechanics of playing ukulele, but beyond that either way will work depending on what you're wanting to cover, how long and how frequent the classes are, and what other materials you want to use in that class.

This is a big, insightful, and very important question! If you want to dig deeper on how to decide when to teach what and how, I highly recommend going through this free lesson planning course I put together:

And if you want to read more of my tips for teaching ukulele, here's my post on that:

3. Do you have a playlist for younger grades K to 1, also 2nd to 5th grade brain break freeze dance? And what are the songs?

Yes, absolutely! I've shared a lot of my favorite dance music in these two posts (I use these with K-6th grade):

A few other favorites that my younger students especially like: The Hamster Dance, Macarena, What Does the Fox Say, and Kung Fu Fighting :)

4.  Do you have any specific tips for organizing files on your school computer?

This is another question that will be getting its own blog post in the future ;) But yes! Here are a few of my top tips for organizing files on your school computer:

1. Folders. Folders within folders. Categorize files as much as you can and save folders you use often on your desktop so you can quickly find what you need.
2. Delete, then delete some more. In most cases, if you haven't used the file in 4 years it's probably safe to delete it. Or at the very least, I bet you have multiple versions of the same file saved in lots of places- take the time to go through and only keep the one version you need (and put it in one of those folders on your desktop).
3. Desktop organizers. Jennifer from The Yellow Brick Road makes these great desktop organizers (and they're free!) so that you can group folders and files together on your desktop to make things even easier to find. I started using one on my school computer this year and it has been amazing.
4. Projector files. Whether you're using Smart Notebook, Promethean Flipcharts, Powerpoint, or something else to show visuals on the screen/board, keep one file named for each class you teach saved to the desktop. Keep all of the visuals you use for a grade stored somewhere else, but keep whatever visuals you need for your current lesson saved on your desktop. When 2nd grade moves onto the next lesson, save the new visuals to the 2nd grade file and delete the old ones.
5. Playlists in iTunes. I actually wrote a whole post on this a while back, but one of my favorite tips is to keep a playlist named for each of the classes I teach (1st grade, choir, 5th grade, etc) in iTunes. Whatever tracks I'm using for my current lesson in that class is saved to that playlist. When I move to a new lesson with different tracks, I delete the old ones and replace with the new, so the playlist is always up to date with just the songs I need. Here's the post I wrote on my iTunes playlist system:

5. Since you have Kindergarten and 1st grade sit in a circle on the carpet, and you sort of let them choose where to sit, how do you learn their names? It's taking me so long to learn them all since I only see my students once a week.

First I need to clarify a few things. I actually only have Kindergarten sit on the floor as their "default" seating- not 1st grade. Everyone besides Kindergarten sits in chairs. For Kindergarten, I do have assigned seats- they don't get to choose where to sit (I considered letting the choose at one point, as you can see in the blog post below, but I quickly realized that was more hassle than it was worth!). The times I do let students have some choice in where to sit is when the older students are moving from their regular chairs to the circle for a game or something- then anyone on purple team can pick any purple spot, etc. You can read more about my seating arrangements here:

With assigned seats, one of the biggest tools for learning names is my seating chart! I carry my clipboard full of seating charts around with me everywhere, especially at the beginning of the year, so that I can quickly check to remember students' names before calling on them if I forget. Here's more about my seating charts:

Besides that, I do a lot of games that involve me saying the students' names- I haven't found the traditional "name game" songs where each student says their own name to actually be that helpful. In the beginning I have to look at the seating chart to know it, but the more I say it the better I get. Plus the younger students LOVE anything where they are the "special feature". You can turn any song that refers to a person into a "name game" song- replace Sally with each student's name in "Rain, Rain, Go Away", or replace Johnny's name in "Johnny Works with One Hammer".

The last tip I have for learning names is pretty obvious: make a conscious effort to say their names as often as possible. In the hallway, in the classroom, and any other time you see them, say their name out loud as often as possible. I tell my students at the beginning of the year that I'm going to be practicing their names, so they need to remind me if I forget, and make sure that I say it several times if I do forget it- I will actually look them in the eye and say their name at least 5 times. It sounds like overkill but it really helps, and the kids know that I'm serious about learning their names so they don't mind at all!

I hope you enjoyed reading and watching this Q&A- I loved putting it together and hearing all of your questions! I'll be back with more teacher questions, plus some planner questions, next week- stay tuned!

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Q&A Home Edition

A couple of weeks ago I asked you all to send me your questions, and I got lots of great responses! Today I'm going to be answering the questions related to life at home, and I'll be answering the questions related to teaching and planning in future posts as well. For each question, I've put together a video answer to go along with the written one (to accommodate multiple learning styles, of course!). If you have more questions for me, I'd love for you to leave a comment- I enjoyed hearing from so many of you and would love to do more posts like these in the future!

1. I'd like to know how you organize/plan meals. Do you have a master list of supper ideas to choose from?

Meal planning has absolutely changed my life- I have no plans to go back to the weekly/daily "what are we going to eat?" moment of panic. My meal planner for dinners is set up so that I have a master list that I can quickly choose from each week, and it has worked great for me for the last 4 years! Here's my post that explains each of my meal planning systems (yes, there are multiple), including instructions for how to make the same meal planner I use for dinners (it's super easy!):

As far as the exact recipes I use, those have evolved over the years. Back when I started meal planning when I first went back to work with twin 18-month-olds, I had a pretty strict rule of no more than 15 minutes prep total! Nowadays I can handle up to about 30 minutes of cooking, which means I have a lot more non-crockpot options ;) If you want to see some of my favorite dinner recipes, here are two of my Pinterest boards to check out:

2. What do you pack for your own lunch for school?

Until this year, my lunch was almost always an afterthought (and, honestly, it was a neverthought pretty regularly- I had to scramble to find food to eat after realizing I had forgotten to bring lunch again so many times!). Usually I had leftovers, and I also tried to keep some grab-and-go things in the freezer, like these wraps, and these patties, in case I didn't have anything on hand.

This year, though, I finally caved and bought myself a lunchbox. It's just like my daughters' but slightly bigger, with bigger and fewer compartments. I don't know why it took me so long to do this but I am so glad I did! I now remember to pack my lunch, because I pack it with my daughters', my lunches are healthier because I pack mostly the same foods as I do for them, and because of the way my lunchbox is designed, I can still pack leftovers along with some of the same fruits and veggies as my daughters if I have something from my fridge to take. It's seriously the best of all the worlds.

I share my daughters' lunchboxes usually once a week on my Instagram account, and I occasionally show my own lunch in there too (although 3 lunchboxes can be a little hard to photograph well sometimes!). Here's one of those pictures so you can see what I'm talking about:

If you want to read more about what and how I pack healthy lunches for my daughters (and now for myself too!), here are some posts on the topic (and you may want to follow me on Instagram to see weekly lunchbox ideas!):

3. I would love to have my preschooler and kindergartner help out in the kitchen, but I'm terrified that little fingers will get cut! What utensils do you allow your twins to use? 

OK, so this is something that has been a work in progress for the last 3 years or so! ;) The main thing to remember is that they'll never learn until they get to practice. As scary as it is, at some point you have to- with lots of supervision and baby steps- let them try.

So about those baby steps.

1. When the girls first started "cooking" when they were about 3, I did all of the cutting/ chopping. I encouraged them to choose meals that didn't require too much chopping, like sandwiches, burgers, and fruit that can be pulled apart with your hands (bananas, oranges...).
2. When they got a little older and had more experience in the kitchen, I started letting them use a butter knife to cut very soft things like bread, melon (with the rind removed), hard boiled eggs, and bananas. They LOVED the responsibility and it was a great way to practice without worrying about little fingers.
3. Once they got the hang of the butter knife, I started letting them use a sharper, but still small, paring knife to cut things like hot dogs, cucumbers, and even apples (this is when they were around 4.5-5 years old). When they first started we did it hand-over-hand, then gradually I moved back a little, still with my hands basically hovering just out of their line of sight ;) One of the keys at this stage, I found, was to get them to understand that they had to pierce through the initial skin before trying to cut straight through.

My biggest tip for teaching knife skills: make sure whatever they're cutting has a flat surface so that the item is stable. I will cut the apple in half first, for example, and lay the flat side down for them to cut into slices. Cucumbers they can manage now, but when they first started I would cut those lengthwise too and lay the flat side down for them to slice. It makes the hand that's holding the food less important so they can keep it out of the way.

My plan for a next step, now that they're getting pretty handy with the little knife, is to get them a knife like this to use:

True story: my daughters' preschool teacher had a brother-in-law who was a chef, and he taught his preschooler son to chop with this exact knife. 

If you want to read more about how and why I have been getting my daughters in the kitchen since they were preschoolers, here are some posts on the topic:

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I hope you enjoyed reading and watching this Q&A session- I know I had a lot of fun putting it together and reading your questions! :)