Image Map

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Mixed Methods Approach: how and why

Early in my teaching career, I felt a certain amount of pressure to choose a team to join- you know, the Orff team, the Kodaly team, the MLT team.... And everyone seemed to think their "team" was the best one, and considered it one of the primary sources of their identity. The conversation has shifted since then- most music teachers know that different teachers prefer different methodologies, and that there are many different equally-valid ways to teach music, but there still seems to be a sense among many music teachers that, to be an effective teacher, you need to pick a team. While I don't want to say that "picking a team" is a bad thing, I'd like to offer an additional perspective on the merits of a mixed methods approach to elementary general music teaching.

Why? Because many brains are better than one.

Having grown up crossing various disparate cultures and learning to adapt to different worldviews, I think it's so helpful to be able to learn from a variety of perspectives and adopt the best parts of each- there's something to be learned from almost everyone! I think it's the same in music teaching frameworks- there's something to be learned from each perspective, and by taking the best of each, I can create the best approach for me and my students.

Think about it: I don't think any of us would claim to have the answers for everything, even if it's a topic we've been researching for a very long time. I don't think Carl Orff, Zoltan Kodaly, or any of the other people responsible for developing the approaches to music education many of us use today, had all the right answers about everything either. We certainly can learn a lot from each of them though! And of course we know that different children learn in different ways, so there certainly can't be anything wrong with approaching our teaching from different perspectives, approaches, and techniques!

But how?

One of the arguments I hear often from teachers on the "pick a team" side is that, by picking and choosing bits and pieces from different approaches, you lose the cohesive, comprehensive framework that each approach provides on its own. That's true, if you don't have a sequential, comprehensive framework of your own.

The key to a mixed-methods approach is to have a solid understanding of musical skill development and to have a set of appropriate, sequenced standards into which you can incorporate the approaches, techniques, and philosophies of various frameworks. 

For me, that sequence comes from my training in general music, and the commonalities I found in studying a range of standards and curricula- I found that, while there are some key differences, most sequences are similar in how quickly and in what order they introduce key rhythm and pitch concepts, for example. By studying different sets of standards and curricula from textbooks, national curricula around the world, and different frameworks, and from seeing what works in my classroom, I have a solid starting point into which I can incorporate a variety of teaching approaches.

I don't think you have to study all of those curriculum documents to get a good starting point for a mixed methods approach though! Almost any well-respected music curriculum or approach can be used as a starting point- maybe it's a published textbook, your national/state standards, or the framework from training in Orff, MLT, Kodaly, or something else- the key is to have a starting point of some kind that gives you a framework of when to teach which fundamental musical concepts. How you teach those concepts can be adapted from lots of different approaches!

From the Orff approach, I've learned how to incorporate creative movement, improvisation, composition, and instrumental ensemble skills more effectively into my teaching. From Kodaly, I've adopted the framework of "prepare/present/practice" for introducing new skills most effectively, as well as the sequence for introducing new notes in the solfege scale. From Dalcroze, I've learned how to help students "feel" different meters and show musical elements through movement. These are just a few examples, and certainly the 3 approaches I've mentioned are multidimensional and have much more to offer than just the aspects I've pulled out here, but hopefully the examples help to explain how I incorporate different frameworks into one cohesive one.

If you want to read more about how I start with the standards as my framework and incorporate a wide range of approaches, here's a post I wrote on creating lesson plans based on the National Core Arts Standards. You can learn more about creating a sequenced curriculum from a variety of sources and streamlining your lesson planning in my free Lesson Planning Made Awesome email course.

If you want to see what my mixed methods approach looks like when the "rubber meets the road" take a look at my full curriculum, which includes all the plans and materials you need for K-6 general music classes from a skills-centered, mixed methods approach.

So what are your thoughts? Any other "mixed methods" music teachers out there? I know this approach isn't for everyone, but hopefully this perspective will help to enrich and add to the vibrant conversation on teaching frameworks for general music. I'd love to chat more with you in the comments section!

Want to get free curriculum resources, tips, and updates sent straight to your inbox?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Top Tips for Traveling with Young Children

Traveling with young children can be so frustrating but so much fun too! Having grown up traveling all over the world, and now having taken my 5-year-olds on several trips over the last few years, here are my top tips for staying sane and having fun on your next trip with your kids, whether it's on the road or in the air!

Planning for the trip:

Packing for air travel:

Packing for road trips:

Entertainment (for any type of travel!):

I hope you found some new ideas to make your next trip a lot smoother! What are your favorite tips for traveling with young kids? Leave a comment below to share your favorite tips! :)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Children's Literature in Elementary Music Lessons

I love using books in my elementary music lessons, especially for younger students! It's amazing how much more engaged they are when there's a story, and they retain the concepts much better when it's tied to a book. I've shared lots of favorites on this blog, so today I thought I would round them up in one central place. Click on the picture to visit my blog post with complete lesson plans and information on where to get the books as well. I hope you find some new ideas to inspire your lessons!

Bear Snores On

We're Going on a Bear Hunt


Too Much Noise

My Many Colored Days

Froggy Gets Dressed

Niko Draws a Feeling

Those are some of my favorite books to use in elementary music lessons. What are some of yours? I'd love to get some new ideas from you- let's hear them in the comments below! 

Looking for more lesson ideas to last all year? My full curriculum includes all the plans and materials you need for K-6 general music classes.

Want to get free curriculum resources, tips, and updates sent straight to your inbox?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Outdoor Toy Storage

Summer time is all about spending as much time outside as possible! And as my daughters get older, we're beginning to have a collection of outdoor toys: bubbles, sidewalk chalk, balls, bats, bikes.... I was looking for a way to keep everything near the door so we could easily grab what we needed as we head out the door, without clogging up the entryway or getting the house too dirty from the toys that we bring back in. 

*this post contains affiliate links*

My simple solution: a hanging organizer (like this one). I happen to have hooks all over my ceiling from previous owners, but if you don't, these are the ones I have and they work really well. I love this setup because, while it's really close to the door, it doesn't take up any extra floor space (I have it hanging over the bench where we put on our shoes) and it keeps anything dirty off the floor. The spaces for storage are the perfect size for all the different things I want to store, from bicycle helmets and bubble bottles to sandals (we keep some near the door for quick runs outside) and balls.

How do you corral your outdoor toys? I'm guessing the situation is only going to get worse as the girls get older.... Hopefully this system will continue to contain the mess for years to come! ;)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Abstract Music Listening Lesson for Young Students: Niko Draws a Feeling

I love having students draw as a response to music, but I've struggled to find ways to encourage young students to draw more abstract images to portray the mood of the music- in almost every case, students will either draw pictures of the instruments they hear, or some concrete object the music reminds them of, like elephants, volcanoes, or butterflies. Sometimes they will think of a feeling and draw a face showing that emotion, but even that is unusual. That's why, when I came across this book at the library recently, I couldn't wait to share my new lesson idea!

*this post contains affiliate links*

The book (you can get it here on Amazon) is called Niko Draws a Feeling, by Bob Raczka, and it describes a boy who draws abstract pictures. When he tries to explain his drawings to others, they can't understand why he isn't drawing concrete objects.

So here's how I plan to use this book with my lower elementary students.

First, we read and discuss the story, and talk about whether any of them have ever drawn pictures that weren't specific "things they can see". On the board, I have individual students try drawing different feelings or ideas as I call them out: happy, the sound of a train whistle, the feeling of getting under a warm blanket in the wintertime... Then we listen to excerpts from a few pieces with contrasting moods- I like Jupiter from The Planets by Holst and Mozart's Symphony 39 mvt 4, but really you could use most any music for this- and talk about the feeling that the music communicates.

The next step is to connect abstract art and abstract music. To help students further understand the connection between the two, I show this video:

Now it's time to try drawing pictures to respond to music! I try to make sure they have several colors to choose from rather than just using a pencil for this kind of activity, because I know my brain associates different colors with different feelings, and I'm sure many of my students do as well. Again, any type of music would work for this activity, but I like Debussy's Arabesque No 1 or Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (unless they've already seen Fantasia- better not to use something that they already have connected to another visual representation).

What are some strategies you use to help students express the mood of abstract music? I think this is an important skill not just for understanding music and composer intent more deeply but also for developing emotional literacy (something we could all use more of!). Have you ever used this book in music class? I can't wait to try this lesson in the fall! If you're interested in more music lessons incorporating children's literature, click here to see all of my posts on the topic. For another great music lesson using a book that deals with emotional literacy, check out this post:

Looking for more lesson ideas to last all year? My full curriculum includes all the plans and materials you need for K-6 general music classes.

Want to get free curriculum resources, tips, and updates sent straight to your inbox?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Patio Furniture Alternative: lap trays

My daughters and I love spending time on our back patio in the summer. It's nice and shady and there's space for the girls to play. Last summer we started eating lunch on the patio as well, but we were limited in what we could eat because it was hard for the girls to balance a plate in their lap while sitting in their chair. I didn't want to take up the limited space we have with a big table- there would be no room left to play- but I recently found a simple solution that has worked out perfectly for us!

I found these lap trays at Michael's and Hobby Lobby, so I'm pretty sure they are intended for crafting, but they work perfectly as a table for eating! There is space on the side to tuck in a napkin or drink, and it's the perfect height when we're sitting in the chairs (whether an adult or a child). 

Even more amazing: by some miracle the lip of the tray sits perfectly on the arms of our adirondack chairs! 

This is a small, not-at-all-earth-shattering tip, but it made our outdoor dining a lot more fun for a very small price tag so I wanted to share! Happy summer, everyone :)

Friday, June 30, 2017

June Favorites 2017

Every month I like to take some time to reflect on some of the highlights from the past month. June has been pretty fabulous- we finished the school year strong, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the first few weeks of summer vacation. The weather has been pretty great too! Here are some of my favorites from this past month.

I'm taking these photos straight from Instagram- come follow me there to see my "favorites" on the regular! :)

1. Lap trays

I saw these at Michael's and Hobby Lobby and ended up getting them for home and school (and I had to scour all my local Michael's and Hobby Lobby's to get the colors I wanted)! There will definitely be posts coming on these, because I'm pretty excited.

2. Summer planner spreads

It's so fun to have the space and flexibility to use different stickers and supplies and try different layouts in the summer! I use the blank weekly calendar templates in the business planner section of my planner (see a flip-through of my regular weekly lesson planning spreads here) for the summer since I don't have lessons to write. If you want to see some tips for using simple and functional decorating techniques in your lesson planning pages, be sure to check out this video I made recently. And you may want to subscribe to my YouTube channel while you're there if you're interested in seeing more planner-related content. Just saying.

3. My wristwatch

I wrote this post recently on how wearing a wristwatch has helped me cut down on the time I spend on my phone, but I didn't share much about the watch itself! One of my daughters picked it out for me for my birthday, and I love it. It comes with 20 different rings to go around the watch face and 20 different bands, so you can change them out for whatever color you want. So fun!

4. Blog posts

I love finding new blog posts to share on Facebook each Friday- if you haven't already, check out the posts below. They are all awesome!

I hope you found some new inspiration here! What are the things you've been enjoying this month? I'd love to hear about them in the comments! If you want to keep up with me, be sure you're subscribed to my email newsletter- I've got lots of awesome stuff planned for this summer!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Functional Decorating for Teacher Planners

Planner decorating for teacher planners can seem like a frivolous concept, but when it's done right, it can not only make lesson planning more fun and colorful, but also more effective. And it doesn't have to be time-consuming or expensive, either.

I'm totally in love with paper planning, and I love using my teacher planner as a creative outlet. But even if you're not a scrapbooky-creative type, using a few simple tricks like these can make it a lot easier to organize all of the information in your lesson planner and make it a lot easier to find the information you're looking for on the page!

If you're interested in streamlining your lesson planning and making it more effective, be sure to check out my free email course, Lesson Planning Made Awesome. Click here to learn more and sign up!

Do you use any "decorations" in your teacher planner? What are you most eager to try out? I hope you found a few new ideas to inspire more functional AND fun lesson planning! :)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Pre-Packed Bags for Family Outings

Taking kids out of the house is a lot like planning a military operation. You have to make sure you have all the right gear, you have to think ahead and plan for all eventualities, and figure out the most efficient way to manage any movement. And inevitably, in the madness of trying to get everyone out the door without screaming, you leave something behind and your perfect plan goes out the window.

Am I right? 

I am terrible about forgetting stuff when I leave the house. I think I left my packed lunch sitting by the front door 4 or 5 times this past school year. But one thing that has helped me worry less and be better prepared when we go on outings and errands is pre-packed bags. There are lots of ways you can use this strategy, so I wanted to share some ideas with you today!

I use pre-packed bags for those outings that 1) require a good amount of specific items, and 2) are things we do regularly but not every day. Obviously every family has different things that fit into that category, but for me that includes a beach/ pool bag, and a church bag. The idea is to have everything you need for that outing already packed in a bag so that you can just grab and go rather than rushing around the house reciting your packing list over and over, trying to find everything. 

For the beach/ pool bag, I have:
  • sunscreen
  • pool passes
  • beach towels
  • swimmies
  • plastic bags (for wet clothes etc)
In my church bag, I have:
  • snacks / mints
  • coloring supplies
  • quiet activities

Depending on what you do as a family, you might have a fishing / hiking bag, soccer / ballet / music lesson bag, or... you get the idea. Whatever the outing is, pre-stock your bag with items that stay in that bag rather than taking them out to use for other things, even if that means having to buy double (I have a separate sunscreen bottle that stays in my beach bag, and one for regular use). 

The bag you put everything in is important too! I actually use my old diaper bag as my beach bag now, because it has waterproof, insulated pockets and cleans off easily, plus I can wear it as a backpack. Perfect for the beach ;) 

I love being able to just grab and go for those regular outings rather than hunting around and packing a bag every single time! Do you have any bags pre-packed for certain family outings? What do you keep in them? Tell me about yours in the comments below!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Planner Tour: flip-through and setup

Time for a little more planner action! ;)

I finally got a chance to take out my old pages from the 2016-2017 school year and put in the fresh, new pages for the 2017-2018 school year and I'm so excited! I decided to film the process this year, so if you're interested in seeing: 1) what my planner looks like after it's been used for a full year and get a quick look at all my weekly and monthly spreads, or 2) see how the disc binding system works in terms of taking pages in and out, then you'll enjoy this video!

Also, you'll see the fun new cover design that I customized with an inspirational quote for this year in the video. If you want a copy for yourself, be sure you're subscribed to my newsletter- I'll be sending it exclusively to my newsletter subscribers at the end of June!

If you're curious about how I set up my planner, here is my post on how I digitally customize my printables before printing my planner, and here is my post on all the supplies I use, printing tips, etc for setting up the planner once it's printed.

Here is the link to my planner, and here is a post with all the different planner formats I have available, in case you're interested :) If you're looking into planner options yourself, or hoping to up your lesson planning/ curriculum writing game, don't miss my new email series! Click here to learn more:

Monday, June 19, 2017

DIY Visual Calendar for Kindergartners

Summer is the time for home projects! I've been itching to update my daughters' visual calendar now that they've graduated preschool and are headed to kindergarten in the fall. If you have any children who thrive on predictability and routine like mine, this project is really quite simple and has been a really helpful tool for several years now in our house!

*this post contains affiliate links*

I've been using a visual calendar at home with my daughters since they were 2, mostly because of one of my daughters who was (and is) very resistant to change and likes to anticipate what is coming next. When I first started using it, I had a weekly calendar at the top and a chore chart just underneath. Over the years I've gradually changed the board to reflect the information that the girls needed for their ages, and I've made a few more changes to get ready for elementary school! First, here's what the whole board looks like:

The main weekly calendar at the top of the magnet board (aka car drip pan) is staying pretty much the same. I first started using a visual calendar when the girls started daycare, primarily to help them see when they would be with the daycare provider, when they would be with their dad, and when they would be with me, so I basically had meals, nap and bedtimes, and when they switched caregivers on the schedule. When they started preschool, I took pictures of their school teachers to indicate when they had school and also added a monthly calendar.

With kindergarten on the horizon, I started thinking about which items the girls would want to see on their schedule. I made a few new magnets to use in the fall:

I made some magnets for field trips, their various specials, and the rotation day for their school schedule, and I got rid of the napping magnets (so sad!) and the preschool teacher magnets. I've decided that for elementary school, I'll just put up the letter day of the rotation rather than a picture of the teachers.

The section just below the weekly calendar is brand new- I made a couple of simple to-do checklists with each girl's name at the top (names are blocked out in the photos). I figure it will be a good way for us to keep track of homework assignments and other to-do's each of them needs to do throughout the week. After printing the checklists, I stuck them onto the board and covered them with a single-sided laminating sheet right on top to make it dry erase.

Just below that, I've moved the monthly calendar (which I added when they started preschool) to the side to make room for another magnetic clip. I am planning to keep any papers from school etc that we need to keep track of there, whether it's information about an upcoming field trip, homework assignment, or lunch calendar. Now that the girls can write, they do the majority of the monthly calendar themselves- read more about how we use that for memory keeping and planning ahead in this post.

Having a visual calendar has been really helpful, especially with my daughters' schedule between two houses, and it has been fun to see the girls gradually take on more responsibility in putting together their calendars and have more of a sense of ownership through the process. If you want to see how the calendar board has evolved over time, from toddler to preschool to now, or if you want more details on how I made the original board (very cheap and easy!), check out my previous posts below:

If you're wondering where the chore chart went, I now have a family chore chart in the kitchen instead- read about that in this post. I guess we're actually getting ready for elementary school now! If you have any ideas for how to help elementary age students anticipate their schedule and keep their assignments and to-do's organized, please leave a comment below- I'd love to hear them!