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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Teacher Tuesday: long range planning for mixed methods elementary music

OK, I can already tell you that this is most likely going to turn into another one of those multi-post topics. Long-range planning is a huge topic in elementary music, and understandably so- there is just so much to consider, so little standardization in how, when, and even what we teach in the United States, and inadequate training to do it in most teacher training programs. In spite of all of this, I believe that long-range planning is an essential component of effective teaching. So today I'm going to attempt to just scratch the surface of how I go about my long-range planning each year.


The first thing to note is that I am not a die-hard proponent of any one music education methodology or philosophy. I have taken a few levels and training courses in Kodaly, Orff, Dalcroze, and Suzuki, and I have incorporated elements from all of them into my teaching. I will admit that, while I do believe strongly in the effectiveness of my "mixed methods" approach, it also does not make my planning any easier. If you are a follower of one methodology, there tend to be sequencing and curriculum guides to go with that approach. So if you are someone who primarily follows a particular methodology, I would suggest that you start there. If, however, you are like me, you have a bit more juggling to do.

My starting point for long-range planning is my district's curriculum. After re-writing it this summer together with some colleagues, our curriculum is now based on the new national core arts standards, and incorporating the old standards and benchmarks we had under the old national standards. I won't get into that here (maybe in a future post!), but suffice it to say that for each grade, we have mapped out particular concepts and tasks that should be covered. This document makes it a lot easier to figure out what I need to teach in each grade, but the process I want to discuss today is taking those concepts and mapping out a year's worth of lessons.


I write down my long-range plans in the front section of my planner by grade level, divided into months. Since we start at the end of August and finish at the end of June, I plan out my year from September through May. The beginning of the year is busy with establishing procedures and rapport, and the end of the year is just, well, crazy. Plus if I'm not able to keep up with my plans for some reason, I know I have some wiggle room at the end of the year.

The first things I fill in are consistent "units" that I do each year. For me, this includes review of rhythmic and melodic concepts from the previous year for all grades 1-6 in September, a focus on rhythm through some special activities during Music In Our Schools Month in March, and a focus on the music from an outside culture in April. For 3rd grade I also have focused time on Recorder Karate, and I introduce treble clef letter names right at the beginning of 3rd grade and bass clef letter names at the beginning of 6th grade, and I do some activities to lead into treble and bass clef at the end of 2nd and 5th grade, respectively.

Sidenote: see those sticky notes? Once I make my first draft (which is ALWAYS in pencil for obvious reasons), if I realize there are concepts that I need to include somewhere but I don't have time to figure out where to put it, I write it on a sticky note so I remember to add it in later. I also use sticky notes to note songs and activities that I come across online, on the radio, or somewhere else that I want to use in that grade level.

Once those are in, I take 1 grade at a time and start filling in all of the remaining skills and concepts that need to be covered. I'm not planning out every specific lesson or activity here- just listing the concepts I am overtly focusing on and noting specific songs or activities that I know I want to use for that concept.


When I am looking at all of the skills and concepts and deciding on when to teach what, I look for 2 things: 1) any skills or concepts that are fundamental to the rest of the concepts they will be learning that year and 2) anything that could easily be combined into a cohesive activity. It can be overwhelming to look at everything students are supposed to learn in one year, but many things can easily be combined and, in fact, complement each other- in our kindergarten skills, for example, one says that students will improvise sol-mi patterns, and another says that students will improvise answers to the teacher's questions in question and answer format. Those two practically beg to be combined into activities throughout the year where the teacher sings a question to students using sol-mi, and students respond on sol-mi- done, and done!

In terms of fundamental concepts, those are generally the melodic and rhythmic concepts that are new each year. After some time to review, I like to dive straight into new rhythmic and melodic concepts and spend some time practicing those, then I can use song material that includes those concepts to reinforce them throughout the rest of the year. Students can study Sonata form while reviewing sixteenth notes by studying a piece that is in Sonata form and has sixteenth notes in it.

Well, as anticipated, this post barely scratches the surface of my long-range planning, but I will have to save the rest for a future post before this turns into the longest blog post ever (and gives everyone a headache!). *update* Click here to see my post on figuring out what to teach in which grade based on the national standards! Do you incorporate a variety of teaching methodologies into your teaching? How do you go about planning out your year? Share your ideas in the comments and best wishes to everyone on this school year (whether you're already in the thick of it or still sipping drinks by the pool!).

8 comments :

  1. Great post. I get your way of organizing and it works! Love how you point out ways to combine/ overlap goals & skills which of course happens and makes life so much easier.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! I remember as a new teacher feeling overwhelmed at the list of skills and concepts I was supposed to cover with each grade level, but once I realized that, unlike something like math, I could actually help students learn the concepts better by combining things, everything became a lot more manageable!

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  2. Your method for long-range planning is similar to mine. I often had back-to-back classes, so I tried to teach the same concept to as many grade levels as was possible. That way, if we were working on specific rhythmic concepts in one grade, I could use some of the same instruments/materials in another grade. It didn't always work out, but it made things a little easier. #fermatafridays

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    1. I used to try to do that, especially with Orff instruments, but it just got too complicated for my brain... Now I just deal with the running around to set up, having the older kids take them out etc.

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  3. Thank you for contributing to the September Music Education Blog Carnival! http://musicwithmrsdennis.blogspot.com/2015/09/music-education-blog-carnival-september.html

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    1. Thanks for hosting! I love reading all of the posts each month :)

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  4. What about when you haven't got a curriculum? I'll be starting Year 3 in August and haven't the slightest of which concepts I should even be teaching. Any help?

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    1. Hi Kaitlin! That is so hard. My first year of teaching I worked in a brand new school with no curriculum and they told me to write one! Haha! So I know the feeling. Here's another post I've written with my thoughts and resources for figuring that out: http://caldwellorganizedchaos.blogspot.com/2015/09/teacher-tuesday-from-national-standards.html

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