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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Elementary Music Sub Plan Ideas

Coming up with sub plans may easily be one of the most headache-inducing tasks any teacher has to endure. It's so hard to come up with a plan that is easy enough to explain and simple enough for a substitute to implement while also being engaging and meaningful enough to keep students from checking out entirely (or worse). Over the last couple of years I've found a few favorites that have been well-received by both students and subs alike, so today I'm sharing some of those with you!


A couple of years ago I shared how I have my emergency sub plans organized. If you haven't already, I encourage you to go check out that post as well- I have been loving the system and after several years it is still going strong! I also included some more of my favorite sub plans in that post that you'll want to read about:


1. Soundscapes

This one works for any age group, even up to middle or even high school! I prepare some ziploc bags in advance with the same random objects in each one (paperclips, straws, pieces of paper, etc). The teacher splits the class up into small groups and gives each group a bag of items and secretly assigns them to a place, like an airport, beach, or playground. Each group then has to come up with a list of sounds they would hear in that place and figure out how to recreate those sounds using their bodies, voices, and/or the items in the bag and present their soundscape to the class for the others to guess what their place was. 

2. Musical Favorites Poster

This is great for the beginning or end of the school year, or during Music In Our Schools Month, and also works for all grade levels! I made a template that has spaces for students to write and/or draw their musical favorites (favorite instrument, favorite dance move, favorite songs, etc), on a double-sided paper. The teacher simply goes over each section to make sure they understand how to fill it out (especially the younger ones who may not be able to read the headings), and then have them fill out their poster. I have them write in all the answers in pencil and then give them the option to allow early finishers to color it in if they have time. At the end of class they can all share their "posters" with each other. This would be the great start for a bulletin board too! ;) 

3. Abstract Music Listening

This one is based on the book, Niko Draws a Feeling, and is another great one that can work with a wide range of ages. I've written a whole separate post on my lesson plan for this one, but the basic idea is to read the story about a boy who draws designs that represent abstract ideas and feelings rather than concrete objects, and then have students do the same to represent the mood of an abstract piece of music. Here's my post with the detailed plans:


Book-based lessons in general can be great for sub plans! Click here to see all of my favorite lesson ideas using children's literature. 

The full lesson plans and materials for each of these ideas are being added to my sub plan templates, along with the ones from my previous post. If you want to save yourself a few headaches next year, I highly recommend picking up this resource! I'll continue to add to the set as I come across more lesson ideas that work for substitutes as well. 


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Monday, June 18, 2018

Meal Planning 101: weekly shopping trips

Meal planning can be a game-changer if you set up a system to make it streamlined and effective! One of my favorite things about meal planning is being able to go to the grocery store just once a week and never having to making an extra stop in the middle of the week. Here are my tips for making sure you never run out of groceries mid-week again!


There are two categories of foods that I need to shop for at the grocery store: staples and meal ingredients. My tip for making sure you have all of your meal ingredients is simple: 

Copy your ingredients from the recipes as you plan your meals.

Last week I talked about how to plan out your meals so that you are more likely to stick to your plan (read that post here). In that post I talked about a few different ways to save your favorite recipes, whether digital or hard copy. However you're saving them, whenever you're choosing your recipes and looking at them to make your plan for the week, go through the ingredients list and write down the ones you don't have. Save yourself the step of having to go find those recipes again later when you're ready to go to the store!

Staples are things that I don't have to buy as often but I need to make sure I have on-hand, like condiments, spices, bread, snacks, and drinks. Some of them I'll be able to check when I'm looking at each recipe's ingredients, but others are things we eat outside of mealtime and won't come up while I'm meal planning. That's why I suggest one other tip for making sure you have everything you need on your grocery list:

Keep a running list in the kitchen and add to it throughout the week.

I have a dry erase board stuck to the side of my fridge where I make my grocery lists. Throughout the week, if I notice we're running low on a staple, I'll write it down immediately. That way when it comes time to add my meal ingredients, I won't forget the staples! I love using a dry erase board for this because it's easy to make accessible in the kitchen where you can write it down as soon as you notice something. Remember if you don't have a regular white board, you can use a picture frame for the same purpose! 


Bonus tip: keep a magnetic list pad on your fridge for your shopping lists as well.

As you can see in the picture, I keep a magnetic list pad right next to my dry erase board. Once I've written everything down on the whiteboard, when I'm ready to head to the store I transfer the list to the notepad, splitting everything up into categories so it's easier to find at the store. Very handy!

I hope this helps you see how easy it can be to make a meal plan and stick to it- I absolutely cannot imagine not meal planning at this stage of my life! If you have any questions about meal planning or tips of your own for making one trip to the grocery store each week, leave them in the comments below :)

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Preparing for Your First Elementary Music Teaching Job

Whether you're fresh out of college and landed your first job, or changing positions to take on elementary music for the first time, there's a lot to do to get ready for your first elementary music teaching job! And I know that the summer before my first year, I spent a lot of time and energy worrying that I was forgetting something important that I should be doing to get ready. If you're looking ahead to your first job in elementary music, here are my top 5 suggestions for things to do to prepare for the most successful year possible!


First of all, welcome to the most wonderful profession on the planet! :) I hope you are just as excited as I was to get started my first year. Teaching elementary music can be exhausting and even discouraging at times, but it is so meaningful and rewarding as well. Of course there's no way to anticipate everything and go into your first year completely prepared for everything that's in store, but the more you can do ahead of time, the easier it will be to adapt when unexpected challenges come your way.

1. Spend quality time with your classroom/ building

How much access you actually have to your classroom and school building will be different for everyone, but I highly recommend spending as much time as you can physically in your new teaching space as possible. The more time you can spend actually in the space, the better feel you'll get for what works and what doesn't, and the more "at home" you'll feel at the start of the school year. While you're there, here's what I would try to do (as much as time allows):

  • Go through every drawer, shelf, and closet (and re-organize the most important things you'll use right away in a way that makes sense for you). Make note of what instruments, curricular materials, and other equipment you have available to you.
  • Move the furniture around and think about the best way to set up the room to maximize space and streamline transitions in and out of class, and between playing instruments, doing movement activities, writing, looking at the board, etc. What will the students need to do to get from one thing to the next?
  • If there posters and bulletin boards up on the walls already and/or posters available for you to hang, spend time thinking about what you really need and want to have up on your walls. What will you want to reference in your teaching? Which things do you want students to be able to see readily during class, and which things will you only need them to see occasionally? 
  • Walk around the entire building. Make sure you know the fastest way to get to a) the staff bathroom, b) the copy machine, c) the office, and d) the staff room. You'll also want to get a feel for where all the other classrooms, gym, auditorium, cafeteria, and other rooms are around the building.
Don't have a classroom? You'll definitely want to spend time getting to know your way around the building, organizing your materials, and finding out what space you have available for storage. For more tips for teaching music from a cart, check out Music On A Cart- she has lots of suggestions for everything related to mobile music teaching!

2. Come up with yearly plans

I truly believe this is the one thing you can do over the summer to have the biggest impact on your school year! It's time-consuming, but coming up with at least an outline of what you want to teach when for every grade you teach will make a huge difference in your lesson planning life during the school year. If there are textbooks or other curricular resources available in your room or district, use them as your guide. Of course you'll add your own spin on things, but having a solid foundation to start with will save you so much time and headaches! Whether you have a detailed curriculum resource or absolutely nothing at all, I highly recommend going through my free email course, Lesson Planning Made Awesome. In the course I go through the entire process, from standards all the way to daily lesson plans, with all of the templates I use for my own planning. It is definitely worth your time to go through this process!


3. Come up with a clear plan for routines and behavior management

As I mentioned already, part of your thought process as you think about your classroom will be to think through how students will move from one type of activity to another, and how they will begin and end class. Besides those procedures, you'll also want to think about how you'll handle students who want to use the bathroom, get a tissue, or go to the nurse, your procedures for getting out and cleaning up instruments, writing supplies, and other equipment, and make sure you know your building's procedures and policies for things like safety drills and office referrals. If at all possible, ask other teachers in the building for what they do for these procedures- the more you can align some of those basic procedures to the rest of the building the easier it will be for students to remember!

Besides procedures and routines, you'll also want to have a clear plan for handling disruptive student behaviors. You need to be able to tell students on the first day what the consequences are for making poor choices so that there's less room for them to argue with you when it happens, and you don't have to fumble around either! Clarify in your own mind what your expectations are for students, and what you'll do to reinforce those expectations, create structure for your students, and help students learn how to behave appropriately in your class.

Again, talking to other teachers and administrators in your building about behavior management systems is extremely valuable! I've also written extensively about how I foster a positive classroom climate and teach students appropriate behaviors- read through this post for concrete ideas and thoughts for behavior management and classroom routines in the elementary music setting.

4. Get your life in order

Trust me, you really don't want to be distracted from the demands of your first year of teaching by things like finding a new place to live, learning how to cook for yourself, or dealing with an illness. Obviously many of these things you can't anticipate, but as much as you can, get your personal and home life running smoothly before school starts. Here are some of my top suggestions for minimizing your stress outside of work:

  • Get yourself on a healthy but realistic sleep schedule and put yourself on it now- your body will need lots of sleep and it takes time to adjust your body clock to a new schedule!
  • Stock your freezer with healthy, pre-made meals, whether you make them yourself and freeze them or even buy pre-made food at the store. You're not going to have a lot of energy for cooking, especially in the beginning, so give yourself something besides fast food and takeout to eat on weeknights when you just want to collapse on the couch!
  • Get yourself in a routine for managing your home and finances. Set up some sort of cleaning schedule for yourself, put as many bills as possible on auto-pay, and write down anything else that needs to be done less regularly on your calendar now (think oil changes, tax payments, doctor appointments, and other tasks that will be problematic if you forget them).
  • You're going to get sick. More than once. Make sure you have some basic medical supplies to deal with illnesses when they happen: a thermometer, pain medicine, cough medicine, bandages, etc.


5. Find a mentor

If you don't already have an experienced music teacher to go to, find one! Having someone who is ready to listen to your sob stories, answer questions, and offer advice is invaluable in your first year of teaching and beyond. Ask if your school/ district has any mentoring programs in place, and find out if there are any experienced elementary music teachers to talk to. If not, reach out! You can get in touch with your local Orff, Kodaly, or other music teacher's organization, talk to teachers in neighboring schools, or even head online. There are plenty of Facebook groups for music teachers with lots of experienced teachers who are more than willing to help, and you can also reach out to me (or any other teacher-author)! Find someone with experience who is willing to be there when you need them.

I hope these suggestions help you as you prepare for your first elementary music teaching job. There is a lot to do but it's just the start of a wonderful adventure!

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Meal Planning 101: choosing your menu

After over 5 years of meal planning, I am definitely a big fan. After numerous conversations with people who say they want to try meal planning but just "can't get organized enough", I thought I would share my tips for people who want to give meal planning a shot but don't know how to get started. Today we're talking about how to pick out your meals for the week so that you're more likely to actually follow through with your plan!


One of the most common excuses I hear for why people don't meal plan is that they just can't anticipate more than a day or two ahead what they will want to cook. The key to avoiding this pitfall is making sure you're considering the rest of your schedule when you're making your meal plan!

The key is to plan your meals LAST!

There is no way to be a meal planner without being a planner in general, at least to a certain extent. You need to know which days you're going to be rushing around in the evening, when you might have company coming over, etc in order to make a meal plan that you can actually follow. When I sit down to plan out the week ahead each weekend, I always plan out everything else first- my children's activities, my work schedule, appointments, etc- then figure out my meals based on those factors.

The other important factor for creating a workable meal plan is to have plenty of realistic recipes at your fingertips. If you love spending time in the kitchen and have the time and desire to do so, save those recipes you get excited about making. If your evening schedule makes it impossible for you to spend more than 15 minutes in the kitchen, make a list of recipes that are super-quick to make. You're more likely to be successful in meal planning if you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time you sit down to plan out your menu!

Set up (and maintain) a solid list of recipes that fit your lifestyle!

For me, Pinterest has been my best friend for keeping track of recipes I love. If you're like me and don't have much time to spend in the kitchen but still like to have variety and healthy meals, you're welcome to check out my boards for crockpot dinners and easy dinner recipes! There's also nothing wrong with going with good old index cards in a recipe box. Start a list somewhere that you can easily access, and add to it whenever you come across new recipes.

Once you've got a solid list of meals started and you get in the habit of planning out the rest of your week before choosing your menu, you're well on your way to successful meal planning! I'll be back to talk about more meal planning tips in future posts, so stay tuned- summer is a great time to pick up meal planning if you're hoping to get in the habit for the new school year!

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Teaching Elementary Choir

Elementary choir can be a bit of a puzzle. Often we have very large groups, short and infrequent rehearsal times, and lots of performances to prepare. After writing about a wide range of elementary chorus topics over the past several months, I've decided to compile my top tips in one place to make it easier for you to find all of the information in one place. Click on the pictures below to read each post in full, and if you have other topics related to elementary choral teaching that you'd like to see covered, leave a comment below and I'll add it in as soon as I can!












Don't forget to let me know what other topics you'd like me to cover relating to elementary choir in the comments below! And if you want to stay updated on more ideas and resources, click here to sign up for my email newsletter!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Our Family Summer Bucket List

Every year as summer approaches I pull out our blank summer bucket list and hang it on the fridge. I always find that with the craziness of the end of the school year, we often end up talking about things we can't wait to do once we have more time! I like to jot those down on our list so that when summer vacation does finally arrive, we have a list of ideas ready to go! Today I thought I would share this year's list (as it stands now) that my 6-year-olds and I have put together. Maybe this will inspire you and your family to start your own list!


It's easy to daydream about all the fun little things we'll do over long breaks, but I've found that if I don't actually make some kind of list of the things I want to do, I get to the end of the break without having done much of anything, and I regret not getting more out of my time. Not that I think we always need to do more stuff and stay busy for time to be well-spent, but I enjoy doing new, fun things over break that we don't have the time for during the school year. A lot of the items are low-key, quick activities- not big, expensive events. I'm hoping that keeping this list in mind will help us really get the most out of the summer break while still giving us the freedom to relax, rest, and be spontaneous.


What is on your family's bucket list for this summer? I shared a bucket list a few years ago when my daughters were younger as well- if you want to see a preschooler-friendly list, here's that one :) 

I have lots of fun things planned for this summer here on Organized Chaos as well- to stay up to date on what's happening and get timely ideas sent straight to your inbox, be sure to sign up for the newsletter right here!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

May Favorites 2018

I love taking a little time each month to reflect on some of the highlights from my home and teaching life. Plus I get to share some really awesome articles from other music education blogs and websites, which I always highly recommend taking a few minutes to read! Here are my favorites from the month of May, as told by photos I shared on Instagram this past month- follow me here to see what I'm up to in the months ahead!


Concert Hack


I've actually been doing this my entire teaching career but I believe this is the first time I've shared this little "music teacher hack" for concert season and it's definitely one of my favorite tricks! I wear the students' concert dress (which for me is black bottoms and white tops) the day before the concert to serve as a visual reminder. That brief moment of panic that many students experience when they see me and think the concert is that day helps cement the memory in their brain, making them more likely to remember their clothes for the performance as well 😉

Signs of Spring


The weather in my part of the world has been... far from normal this year. Lots of snow days going all the way into April, a tornado in May, lingering cold temperatures interspersed with one or two days of blazing hot.... So I have treasured the colorful blossoms in my garden and around town even more this year!

Themed To-Do Lists


This is the time of year when I start making and referencing master to-do lists- they are my secret weapon for saving my sanity. Normally I just have a running to-do list that I keep in my planner, but when I have a big, complicated task that I need to work on over time I make a separate list just for that task/event. This time of year, of course, I have multiple complicated tasks that I need to work on simultaneously, so I rely heavily on these innocent-looking post-it notes! I pull them out of my planner and stick them on my seating chart at school, move them from week to week in my planner to reference for my lesson planning and calendar, and take them with me to meetings when I'm working with coworkers on logistics. The rainbow one in the picture above is for a school-wide informance I have coming up- it's a running list of the equipment and instruments I need for each grade level's performance so I can pull out the correct number of each item to practice in class, make sure I have enough for when the whole school comes together, and have a "packing list" for when I'm setting up the day of the show! You can't see them, but underneath that long, rainbow sticky note are two more square sticky notes, which have running to-do lists for other events I'm planning.

I wrote an entire blog post on themed to-do lists here if you want to learn more about how I use these!

Music Education Articles

I share articles from my favorite music education writers each Friday on my Facebook page- follow me there if you want to see them as I share them, and if you are a writer with a music education post to share, you can fill out the form here to submit it for consideration- I love learning about new sites and articles this way! Click on each picture below to read each of these awesome posts:


"Teaching Whiteness in Music Class"



I hope you are all looking forward to a month ahead! For those of you on (or soon to be on) summer vacation: enjoy the change of pace! I hope you can take some time to process and reflect on your school year so you can be ready for the next one. For those of you like me still in the thick of teaching: we can enjoy ourselves too! I hope you find ways to enjoy the remaining time you have with your students!

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The 1 Thing I Would Tell My First Year Teacher Self

If you could go back to your first year of teaching, what would you do differently?

To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't change much. I'm not saying I did everything perfectly in my first year of teaching- far from it, believe me!- but I can confidently say I did the best I could expect myself to do as a first-year teacher. I certainly worked really long hours, but I don't regret the extra time I spent on my teaching, and I didn't completely abandon other aspects of my life or work myself to death either. Still, if I had the chance, there is one thing I would tell my first year teacher self.


You are doing enough.

Actually I wish I could tell current teacher self this too (and really believe it). If there was one thing I wasted more anxiety on than I should have in my first year of teaching (and still do, to a lesser extent), it was the worry that I wasn't doing enough: enough meeting kids where they are, enough holding kids to high standards, enough time teaching composition, enough time singing, enough time sticking to the plan, enough time scrapping the plan, enough sleeping, enough working, enough grace, enough strictness...

Let me put the same thought another way:

The best you can do is the best you can do.

If you're doing the best you can- reflecting on your practice, seeking advice and resources, working hard, and taking care of yourself- then you are enough. You can't expect yourself to be more than that, or to do more than that. Sometimes, especially as a first year teacher, it means teaching straight out of whatever textbook series you have access to (yep, did that). Maybe it means some days you have to apologize over and over again because you're so tired you can't help but have a shorter fuse (absolutely had those days). Maybe you totally screw something up because you just didn't know (definitely did that!).

The best you can do is the best you can do, and your best is more than enough.

Hang in there, first year self, and try not to worry if your best is good enough. Try not to stress out thinking you're not worthy of being in the position you're in. And same to you, veteran teacher! I get it, we worry about these things because we care so much. Enough. Use that emotional energy to be present for your students, your family and friends, and yourself.

You are enough.

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Monday, May 28, 2018

3 Things I Would Tell My Younger Self

How often do you think about what you would do differently if you could go back in time? I have learned not to think that way too often- regret isn't a productive feeling unless it motivates us to change our future behavior- but there are some things that I have learned in recent years that I know would have made life a lot easier and more pleasant if I had figured them out sooner! So here are 3 things habits I wish I had picked up earlier in life- hopefully someone else will read these and take them to heart sooner than I did!


1. Soak your dirty dishes.

Sure, I have always known that if you have a pot or pan that you just can't get clean no matter how hard you scrub, your best bet is to fill it up with water and a little soap and let it soak. But only recently have I gotten in the habit of soaking my dishes consistently, and I am kicking myself for not starting sooner! I save myself some serious elbow grease this way- if it doesn't come off with a quick wipe, I soak it. I don't even try to scrub it first. I have always been a "clean-as-I-go" cook, so if I think of it I'll start soaking dishes before we even sit down to eat so I can finish scrubbing when we clean up, but otherwise I'll soak them overnight and do a quick cleanup in the morning. So much easier!

2. Drink lots of water. I mean a LOT.

Yep, I said it. The same thing a bajillion other people have said already. I wouldn't say that I was bad about getting enough water each day before, but this school year I have really upped my water intake to the next level and it has made a huge difference. It is also my go-to cure for pretty much everything. Feeling sleepy/tired? Not caffeine- chug some water. Headache or stomachache? Water. Cranky or stressed? Water. I seriously have replaced so many things with water now, and it works like a charm! It's embarrassing to say that it took me this long to truly understand how much of a difference water drinking can make, but I am definitely a believer now!

3. Say thank you.

I've made a conscious effort to say thank you to people more often and more thoughtfully recently and I am so glad I did. I was struck several months ago by how much it means to me when people I care about thank me or praise me for something. Not that I want to be dependent on other people for my self-worth, but there is definitely something to be said for feeling appreciated! I've gotten in the habit of writing notes and cards to people randomly to thank them for something specific they did or just for being an important person in my life, and guys, it's totally worth the 5 minutes it takes to write.

None of these are new ideas or epiphanies. These are age-old pieces of wisdom I have been hearing since I was little. But for whatever reason, it has taken me until my mid-thirties to really take the advice to heart! What are some things you wish you could go back and tell your younger self? I'd love to hear your top picks in the comments- it's a great way to reflect!

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Dance Playlist 2018

I love having upbeat, modern songs with positive lyrics (pre-censoring) to use for all kinds of things in my classroom, whether it's dance games, play-along's, or end-of-year slideshows and field day music, and I love having these on repeat at home too! If you haven't seen them yet, you'll definitely want to check out my first 2 playlists here and here for more of my favorites, but I'm back with more fun songs to add this year!












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Monday, May 21, 2018

Easy Asian Recipes for Warm Days

Now that the weather is warming up, I'm excited to pull out some of my favorite warm weather recipes- the ones that require minimal cooking and are cool and refreshing to eat! If you're looking for some new weeknight meals to try this spring and summer, here are a few of my favorites :)


1. Hiyashi Chuka

Many of you know I grew up in Japan. This is one of my favorite Japanese meals and it's so easy to make! Basically it is cold ramen noodles with a soy-sesame sauce and whatever toppings you'd like- I usually go for cucumbers, carrots, ham, egg, and bean sprouts, but you can truly use whatever you have in your fridge. This is a great way to use up that produce at the end of the week! The recipe below will show you how to make the sauce from scratch, but if you have an Asian grocery nearby see if you can find packs of Hiyashi Chuka, which will come with the noodles and sauce packs- I can throw dinner together in 10 minutes with these!

Recipe from Just One Cookbook:


2. Fresh Spring Rolls

This is another great way to use up produce and add in whatever you have on hand. All you need are rice paper wrappers like these. Soak them in warm water for 5 seconds, put in whatever ingredients you want, and wrap it up like a burrito. Add some dipping sauce and you've got a fun, easy, and delicious lunch or dinner in just a few minutes. My favorite tip: get the fresh mint and cilantro leaves. It takes them right over the top!

Recipe from Tastes Better From Scratch:


I keep some Hiyashi Chuka packs and rice paper wrappers in my pantry year-round so I can quickly whip these up whenever I feel like it. So easy, healthy, and yummy! I hope you'll give them a try this season (and let me know what you think)!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Curriculum Writing: Means vs Ends

One of the most common confusions in general music curriculum writing, I find, is the difference between end goals and means to those goals. Having worked on many curriculum writing teams in my own districts, and guided music teachers and districts creating their own curricula and long-range plans through my Lesson Planning Made Awesome course and professional development sessions, I see people confuse the two quite regularly, and it's not hard to see why. Today I want to focus in on distinguishing the two, as I see it, and talking about why it's important to understand the difference.


One of the first steps in any curriculum writing/ long-range planning is to figure out what students need to know by the end of a course/ grade level. When you're mapping out multiple grades, as is usually the case with general music, you have to decide when you're going to introduce each concept and in what order. This is your scope and sequence. In order to decide what to teach, you have to know what you want students to get out of your teaching!

Usually when you're outlining your scope and sequence, you'll be basing it off of a set of standards. Some will give you a scope and sequence (lucky you!), but others are more broad and general, and you'll need to make your scope and sequence yourself based on the standards. When I'm helping people through this process, the first thing I advise teachers to do is to make a list of the concepts they teach (or think they should teach) in each grade. Most lists will include rhythms, like when students should know half notes or barred sixteenth notes, solfege and letter names, like when students should be able to identify mi, sol, and la or read notes in treble clef, and other musical elements like form, dynamics, and more. Some will also include specific units they teach in specific grades, like recorders, ukuleles, folk dance, or world music. 

Here's the thing: the items in my first list are concepts. The units in the second list are not. The concepts are what I want to call "ends", and the units (and other similar ideas) are "means". Is it important to map out when you will teach recorders or ukuleles? Yes. Is it important to include folk dancing and music from various cultures into your general music curriculum? Absolutely! But those should not, in my opinion, be the starting point. They are the means to your ends.

Defining "means" and "ends"

When you're deciding what to teach when, you're determining how to best scaffold new knowledge and skills so that students can grow musically in the most effective way possible. You're creating a plan for long-term brain development! That means you have to think in concepts. Concepts in general music are ideas and skills that can be applied to a variety of different modes of "musicking"- they are not tied to specific literature or particular forms of music-making. These are your end goals.

Means are the ways in which students practice and apply those concepts in order to attain those end goals- that new knowledge and skill they need to continue to grow as musicians. Means are a specific form of "musicking", like playing a particular instrument, or listening to a particular type of music. 

Let's take rhythm as an example. I expect my 4th graders to understand dotted half notes. That is a concept. In order for them to understand (and demonstrate their understanding of) dotted half notes, they need to sing them, hear them, play them on instruments, show them through movement, and create their own music with them. There are lots of great ways to do that- the next step once I know the end goal is to determine the best way to get them to understand the concept. That's where the means come in!

Why it matters

But why does it matter? Isn't it just semantics, really, to distinguish between ends and means? If I know I'm going to teach ukulele in 5th grade, why does it matter if I include ukulele in my scope and sequence or not? Because at some level, you're institutionalizing your values and backgrounds and making it easier for you to lose sight of the purpose behind what you're doing in the classroom. 

It is much easier for us as teachers to hold onto specific forms of music-making that aren't suited to our student demographics or the contemporary times we live in if they are immortalized in a curriculum document- that's just the reality of how we function. If we can clarify what are actual end goals are for that recorder unit we're doing, it will be much easier for us to reflect on our teaching practice, recognize when a particular means is no longer effective or appropriate, and find an alternative means to the same end. This helps us avoid institutionalizing our values through means that are specific to our preferences.

This is especially valuable in unifying disparate teaching between school buildings and/or specific teachers. If you are clear on the musical ends for each grade, there's no reason why one teacher can't teach those ends through Mariachi music while another uses ukuleles and have all students be equally prepared for the middle school, for example.

Clarifying the end goal of anything you're teaching will also help you differentiate more effectively for your students. Some students may not have the fine motor skills to play the recorder well at that time, or they may have never seen a wind instrument played before and are slow to understand the process of playing, or they may not have grown up hearing "Hot Cross Buns" or "Mary Had a Little Lamb" before so they take longer to learn what other students find easy. There are many successful musicians in the world who can understand and perform sixteenth notes without being able to play a soprano recorder. Maybe the student can sing sixteenth notes, or perform them as part of a step routine. If you have a student who is struggling with a particular "means", you'll be able to reflect on what the end goals are and find other ways to help them meet those goals.

Keeping the end goals in mind will also help you not get bogged down with the process of specific means. If you love recorder like I do, and especially if you have a group of students who are motivated and successful with the recorder, it's easy to get excited about continuing to push ahead with more and more challenging literature. In some cases learning to play an instrument at a high level is a great benefit to their overall musical growth. But in most cases extending their time on one aspect of "musicking" takes time away from other important areas of holistic musicianship. Keeping the ends in mind will help you determine when to push ahead and when to move on.

Everything in its place

So how do you plan for specific means in curriculum writing? You can plan for the specific ways you want to accomplish your end goals through your long-range plans! Once you've set them aside for a time and focused on the ends (ideas and skills) you want students to learn, you can come back to the means with a fresh perspective. For means that are non-negotiable, like a recorder program that an administrator has already said must be taught in 3rd grade, you can determine the best way to utilize those means to meet the end goals for that grade. For other means that are not so set in stone, ask yourself whether a) this would be better suited for a different grade where it would more effectively meet the end goals, and b) this is really the best means to the ends at all. In most cases, since you can really approach most musical ends through a variety of means, this will simply be a way to help you determine the best way to approach the unit itself, how long to spend on it, and when to teach it to fit most effectively into the scaffolded sequence of musical development you've established.

If you've made it this far through my ramblings, thank you! As we approach the season of curriculum writing and reviewing for many schools and teachers, this topic has been on my mind. If you have any questions or thoughts on this I would love to chat! Please leave a comment below or send me a message. And if you'd like to learn more about my process for general music curriculum writing and lesson planning and see my concrete steps and templates for doing so, you can sign up for my free Lesson Planning Made Awesome email course right here!

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Monday, May 14, 2018

5 Tips to Get Kids to Practice

My 6 year old daughter recently started taking violin lessons. As a music teacher myself you'd think it would be simple for me to motivate my own children to practice. It isn't. But now that we've got several months under our belt we've gotten into a good rhythm, and I've been able to see which of the practice strategies I teach my students actually work at home. Today I wanted to share my top tips for getting kids to practice their instrument without making it a stressful chore!


1. Make it visible and accessible

My favorite tip for getting kids to practice more frequently is to have the instrument, sheet music, stand, and anything else they need to practice readily available in a place where they will see it. I keep my daughter's violin in a corner of our dining/ living room where we spend most of our time, so it is always right there. I tell my students at school to take out their instrument and put it in the living room or bedroom as soon as they get home, even if they aren't planning to practice right away. If their instrument requires assembly, I tell them to get it out of the case and put it together right away as well. Now all they have to do to start practicing is pick up their instrument! Not only does it make kids more likely to remember to practice, but it will seem like less of a chore to do so if they don't have to go anywhere or do anything to get started.

2. Give structure

I think most adults know that simply telling a child to "go practice" does no good- they have to know what to do for how long and in what way! If their teacher doesn't do this already, ask them to help you make a list of specific things to work on each week, then make a chart with each of those items listed and space to check off (or add a sticker etc) each item each day that they practice.

3. Give choices

I feel like I say this about basically every parenting topic ever, but giving choices will give children more of a sense of control and make it feel less like doing something because they have to. There are lots of easy ways to give kids options to choose from when they practice:

  • Choose what order they want to practice their pieces/ exercises in
  • Choose a new tempo or dynamic level for each piece/ exercise
  • Choose one different exercise or excerpt to practice each day (for example: if they're working on playing middle C on piano with their thumb, have them choose a different rhythm to play it with each day, or if they're working on learning a brand new song, have them choose 1 measure or short section to practice each day)
  • Make up their own song to practice (this could either be improvised or written down, and you could have them target a specific musical element they're working on or just make it a free-for-all)
  • Choose when to practice (before or after dinner, in the morning or the evening etc)


4. Give breaks

Just like with anything else, taking breaks can not only help keep energy up but it will also help the brain learn better. For young kids who are probably spending shorter amounts of time practicing, this may mean taking 1 or 2 days off from practicing each week. For older children who are expected to practice more material each week/ day, this may mean breaking up each day's practice session into smaller chunks.

5. Don't force it

If the child sits down to practice but is too distracted by something else, in a foul mood, or too tired, trying to force them to continue is wasted effort in my opinion. Better to walk away, do something different, and try again later. The more we can keep playing their instrument something they want to do because it's fun, the better!

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