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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

First Day of Music Lesson Ideas: 2021 edition

It's hard to believe but here we are again, facing the start of a school year with so much uncertainty. Although the pandemic continues to impact schools, I am hoping for some degree of a return to pre-pandemic teaching this fall! Here's what I'm currently planning for the beginning of this school year.

First I should note that as of now, my district is hoping to return to full-time in-person learning with no distance learners, everyone masked and at least 3 feet distanced. We're also hoping to have singing and wind instrument playing with masks and bell covers, and the ability to share supplies, and I'm expecting to be back teaching in my music room. So while we will certainly not be back to completely normal protocols, we will hopefully be a lot closer than we were a year ago! 

With that said, the basic idea of what I plan to do will be the same as my pre-pandemic lessons, which you can read about in detail in this post:

I explain each of these in more detail in the post above, but the basic idea is to introduce students to what music class will be like- what kinds of things we'll be doing, and how we will run the class- by actually trying it out rather than me lecturing them about it. The basic outline is 1) go over names and assigned seats, 2) tour the classroom, and 3) practice procedures and expectations by doing several short activities that include the most important areas of activities and procedures we'll be using in class. 

This year the main changes I'll be making will be to 1) incorporate practice of covid protocols and 2) slow down the pace. The addition of covid protocols obviously will involve going over procedures for masks and social distancing, and any additional considerations for singing and instruments, which I will build into my usual beginning of the year activities like singing and echoing rhythms on instruments. The second point, though, is an important one: I want to be conscious about easing back into the school year gracefully and being mindful of energy levels with masks on.

With everything we've been through over the course of the pandemic, I know my students get tired (both emotionally and physically) more quickly than they did pre-pandemic. And after a summer of being able to play outside with friends, often without masks, for the first time in over a year, coming back into the school building and being fully masked all day is surely not going to be everyone's favorite thing. So while kids are still kids and I do still want to keep things active and lively, I'm also planning to take more time to let students talk, slow down a little to make sure everyone knows what they're doing before jumping into the next thing, and set my expectations ahead of time to take at least 2 class periods to do what I used to do in one. I also have to remember that many students have not set foot in my classroom in over a year, and even the ones who were in person last spring will have new procedures to learn, so things will take much longer to learn (especially for the older students)!

Those are my plans for kicking off the school year this year- for anyone who may be starting their year on a cart, or teaching online synchronously or asynchronously, my first day lessons from last year include ideas for all of those scenarios:


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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Music Classroom Re-Organization Post Pandemic

In the wake of over a year of pandemic teaching, everything is a mess. Before we can start getting ready for next year, we have to clean up from the last one! Over the last few weeks I've been working on cleaning up the chaos left by pandemic teaching, from my own well-being to my computer files and everything in between. The most obvious mess I have to deal with, though, is the actual *stuff*. After teaching in so many different modalities in so many different locations, my classroom supplies are all over the place! Today I'm sharing some specific steps I'm taking to get things back where they need to be so I can have an organized space to start next year and have all the supplies organized so I can use them when I need them!

1. Everything in Its Place

Over the past 18 months I have taught on a cart, in a small office space at school, from my home "office" (aka a corner of my bedroom where I set up a desk to zoom), from my home "studio" (aka a corner of my basement where I set up recording space for asynchronous lessons), and in my music classroom. I have instruments, curriculum resource books, scarves, puppets, and other teaching supplies all over my house and all over the school building! So the first step is getting things back where they belong- which for now (a month away from the start of school) mostly means getting all the school supplies back in my classroom closet in as organized a fashion as I can. This way when I go to set up my classroom for the fall I will at least know where everything is, and if I've lost anything (yes, I have) I know what I need to order.

2. Reassess Supply Needs

Teaching without shared supplies, without students being able to move, and without a classroom definitely forced me to make do with less! Rather than rushing back to using #allthethings, I want to be intentional about evaluating whether the extra supplies are actually things that are helpful or just creating clutter. Anything I can streamline is a good thing when it comes to teaching, especially teaching young children! For example, I used only digital "manipulatives" for composition this year rather than the physical manipulatives I normally use. I definitely know I want to get back to using physical manipulatives rather than going all digital, because I know that especially for younger students it's a much more effective way to learn, but I don't think I need them all! For my upper elementary students I plan to keep the rhythm manipulatives I've used in the past, but I may not continue to use mini erasers to place on the staff like I have in the past, but use the online tools I found this year instead.

3. Rethink Classroom Organization

Having taught in so many different spaces under so many different conditions has also given me a chance to reevaluate my classroom space as well. For us it's likely we will still have some social distancing in place in the fall so I will be taking that into consideration. I've also had a lot more experience with technology and will continue to use some things, like using my board as a second monitor, even without distance learners on zoom. If you are thinking through your own classroom space (whatever that may look like in the fall), here are all the different spaces I've taught in, both during and before the pandemic, and how I set them up. I'll be thinking through my setup in each of these as I think about my plans for the fall!








This is the final post in my series on "cleaning up the covid chaos"- after a month of processing and reorganizing from this past school year I feel like I'm finally in a place where I can start to think ahead to next school year! If you want to see the rest of the posts in the series on how I've been trying to intentionally take the time to process and work through everything that happened over the last 18 months before even allowing myself to start thinking ahead, with the specific steps I've been taking in each area including my emotional, physical, and social well-being, technology, and curriculum/ lesson plans, you can find all of those here:


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Reorganizing Lesson Plans Post-Pandemic

After over a year of completely reinventing teaching practices, I have a lot of new lesson ideas and resources that I hope to incorporate into my teaching long-term (and some I never plan on using again!). But it can be a little overwhelming to think about the prospect of sifting through the mess of last year's lesson plans and incorporating them into my pre-pandemic curriculum in an organized way! Here's how I'm reorganizing my lesson plans so I can merge last year's new ideas into my long-term curriculum.

Long-Range Plans

I have been a big believer in my long-range planning system for years, but I am thoroughly convinced after I saw it stand the test of the pandemic! If you haven't already, this is the time to get a scope and sequence, yearly outlines, and monthly lesson banks organized by concept- I've written about how I've set those up in this post:

I've had this framework in place for several years now, but as I attempt to clean up from the chaos of last year the first step I'm taking is to look through my long-range plans with fresh eyes. The pandemic has forced all of us to think carefully about what is truly most important for students to learn, especially when so many of our normal activities were stripped away. So before I can decide which lesson ideas I want to keep, I need to make sure my long-range plans are aligned with my current thinking on where I want to spend more or less time and which concepts and skills I'm prioritizing for each grade. 

I've always spent some time rethinking my long-range plans over the summer each year, so I don't have a lot of changes I'm making here, but for me there are a few things I'm adjusting because I've found more streamlined ways to address specific projects with my older students with our new one-to-one devices, freeing up a little time in my yearly outlines to include other things.

Reorganizing Lessons

The most time-consuming task in this process is going through last year's lesson plans and pulling out the ones that worked that I may want to keep long-term. As I go through my plans from last year, I'm looking for new ideas that worked just as well or better than the activities I used pre-pandemic and putting them in their place for long-term use. This is where having monthly lesson banks, where I have a running list of lesson ideas to address the specific skills and concepts I'm covering, is key! For lessons I used this past year that are actually better than what I was doing pre-pandemic, I'm replacing my old lesson activities with the new ones for the specific concept it addresses in the grade level and month I'm covering it in my long-range plans. In most cases, I'm adding the new ideas to the running list rather than replacing anything. The beauty of having monthly idea banks is that I can pick and choose which specific lesson activities will work best without getting off track with my long-range plans. In a lot of cases there are ideas I used this past year that will be better for some situations and not for others, but having them in my toolbox will be great!

The main point here is to identify the lesson ideas from this past year that are worth keeping long-term, and put them in a place where I can find them when I want them. I know I don't have the time or mental energy mid-year to find that one awesome website I used last year when the opportunity arises- I need to identify what concept(s) the activity addresses and where it fits in my long-range plans so I can put it where I would use it!

This is a big project but I think one of the most impactful ways I can make sure I don't just fall back into old habits as I return to more normal teaching conditions or find myself having to reinvent the wheel again if and when we go through periods of ongoing pandemic protocols! I'm truly so grateful to have the curriculum framework I have in place because it makes this process so much easier and more effective- if you haven't gone through the process of creating this for yourself I highly recommend it! You can sign up for this free email series which takes you through the process step by step, including templates for laying out everything from your scope and sequence down to weekly lesson plans:

This post is part of an ongoing series on "cleaning up the covid chaos" as I process everything that happened over this past school year and try to put things in order, literally and figuratively! If you want to read about the other aspects I'm tackling this summer you can find those posts here:


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Technology Organization After Pandemic Teaching

In the wake of over a year of pandemic teaching, everything is a mess. Before we can start getting ready for next year, we have to clean up from the last one! And one of the biggest messes I have to clean up is with technology. I relied so heavily on technology this year and much of it was made on the fly. Today I'm sharing some specific areas where I'll be doing a little summer cleaning to get my online accounts and files in order so I can clear out my online workspace and find what I need to use in the future.


Ah technology. The love-hate relationship I have always had with it has only intensified after this year! I am so very grateful for the things I was able to do that I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise, but I am also definitely overloaded on computer screens! I have also been a little overwhelmed with how much stuff I have sitting on my computer now- as much as I enjoyed closing my computer and walking away on the last day of school, I definitely can't leave it in the chaos that it is now! So here are some specific things I am working on organizing as I work on intentional recovery from this past year of covid chaos.

Devices

Before we get into the contents, we need to look at the actual devices themselves! I'm sincerely hoping I won't need nearly as many devices next year as I did last year, so I have been going through all of the various cables and adapters and extra devices and monitors I used over the course of all the different teaching modalities we went through this year and seeing which ones I can tuck away, which ones I can return/ get rid of, and which ones I need to keep. No need to keep things around "just in case" and create more clutter!

Google Classroom

It may seem like it would be less work to just delete this year's 1st graders and add next year's to my "1st grade music" Google Classroom, rather than starting a new one next year, but the reality is it's not. I don't want students to be able to see a full year's worth of assignments already posted from last year, but I want to be able to keep those assignments to copy them next year if I want. By archiving this year's Google Classrooms, I can clear out the clutter in my Google Classroom space but still have them available if I want to reuse an old assignment. But it's very important to archive Google Classrooms correctly to avoid a lot of unnecessary headaches later! Here's what I recommend:


Zoom Meetings and Recordings

This year I recorded to the cloud every single lesson I taught, both in-person hybrid and fully distance, on zoom so I could post the recording for students who missed the class. I also had different recurring meetings set up for each homeroom class I was teaching. One of the first things I did after school ended was delete all my recurring meetings. I have been saving any recordings I want to keep as I've gone through the year, so I can delete all of my recordings now as well- if you haven't been saving as you go, it's worth thinking about if there are any recordings you want to keep and saving those to your local computer first before deleting.

It may be tempting to keep them all but it will be near impossible to sift through so many recordings, and your district (or your own account) likely has a storage limit you'll hit soon enough if you try to keep them!

Flipgrid

With flipgrid I've found it easy enough to keep my "groups" (classes) from year to year and just change the "topics" (assignments) to hidden so they're no longer active or visible to students. This makes it easy to make a copy of a previous year's assignment, while still cleaning up the page so students don't end up on a previous year's page. My main tip for this, though, is to add "20-21" or something like that to the title of each topic from the past year. That way if you do make a copy to use in the future it will be much easier to see which one is the old one.

Google Drive

If there's one thing I used more than any other this year, it's Google Drive. I have been pretty diligent about keeping my drive organized by putting everything in folders as I go, but I have been working on going through and cleaning out old files I don't need to reduce clutter, and reorganizing things to make them easier to find. If you haven't been putting files into folders, that is probably the single most important thing to do to get things organized! One thing I do a lot is to create a folder called "archive" within different folders and move files/ folders that are old but I'm not ready to delete yet there. Next year if I still haven't used them, when I go to archive that year's files I'll delete the unused ones.

Another thing I find very helpful is to color-code my folders. If you right-click (or ctrl-click) on a folder you will see an option to change the color. It doesn't change the color for other users if it's a shared folder but it will make it easier to find the one you need if you're sorting through lots of folders.


YouTube Videos

I'll be looking more at lesson plans and materials in a separate post, and video links will be a part of that, but it's worth mentioning here because I used so many more videos this year than I ever have in my entire previous teaching career combined. While I certainly don't intend to use them all as we get back to being able to sing and play instruments, there are definitely some gems I don't want to lose track of. Aside from noting them in my lesson plans, I've been making an unlisted YouTube playlist for each grade and saving videos I use with those grades to that playlist. That way if I can't remember what I used it for I can still scroll through and find the video I want, and I can save the same one to multiple playlists if I used it with more than one grade. 

Those are all of the main areas I'm focused on cleaning up with my technology as I try to sort through everything from this past crazy year! It's a lot but makes such a huge difference in feeling ready to look ahead to next year and it has actually been nice to look back on everything I've done over the past year as I go through old files. If you missed my previous posts on cleaning up the covid chaos, you can catch up on other areas I'm tackling, from self-care to lesson plans and everything in between, in this post: