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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!

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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


Mortimer


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.

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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.

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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 :)