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Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Pandemic Teaching Finds I Plan On Keeping

As this school year comes to a close, there is a lot I absolutely cannot wait to walk away from and never have to do again. Concurrent online and in-person socially distant teaching, for example. Or taking all of my teaching materials home every day in case the school is online tomorrow. But there are also some things I've done for the first time this school year that have been positive and I definitely plan on keeping as part of my teaching practice in the future! Here's my list of new things I'm keeping from this year of pandemic teaching.

1. Flipgrid

I've said this before and I'll say it again: Flipgrid has been the absolute best discovery I've made through this pandemic. Although I certainly won't be needing it as much as I have this year, I will definitely be continuing to use it for things like the International Music Festival (see how I do that in this post), recorder (for students to do individual playing tests), and as a supplemental way for shy students to perform. 

2. Frequent family communication

I've been sending home positive notes with at least 1 student per class in every lesson for years now, but I've always handed the handwritten notes directly to the students. They usually showed them to their families, but not always, and even when they did it was not a direct conversation between the families and me. This year to avoid handing out pieces of paper I started sending my "happy notes" to the families on ClassDojo instead. I still verbally tell students directly what positive comment I am giving them, but the message goes directly to the families. 

This has been a tremendous asset in communicating with families this year! Every single child's family has heard at least 3 times from me this year something that they are doing well in music class. There have been times this year when I have been able to get a response from a family that had not responded to messages from the school office or their homeroom teacher, and a few students have told me their family only opens messages from me. 

I think I am going to go back to the handwritten happy notes next year, because there is also something special about having a physical note for students to keep (I've had students show me their wallet where they've kept every single one for years), but I plan to continue sending those notes directly to families through ClassDojo as well. It has been well worth the effort.

3. Zoom meetings

I cannot tell you how happy I am that our district has said we will not be teaching synchronously next school year. I cannot wait to be untethered from the computer in my classroom! But for collaborating with colleagues, Zoom is definitely something I want to keep. Being able to get on a Zoom call has made it so much easier for all of the music teachers in the district to talk more frequently, and have more time for the meeting itself when we do, because we aren't all traveling across town to get to one meeting location. And even without the travel time, being able to screen share and look at documents together is honestly so much easier than trying to set up a projector or making photocopies. I absolutely am looking forward to more face-to-face meetings and conversations with colleagues- there is of course so much that is lost when we're all just little faces on a screen- but I am hoping we can continue to collaborate more often by holding onto video calls.

4. Google slides

I have been a big Google Drive user for years now, especially after I went through the experience of having a computer die and losing a hard drive! And I have loved the ease of sharing folders and documents with colleagues and being able to edit things together in real time. But despite hearing other teachers talk about the wonders of Google Slides before this year, I hadn't really taken the time to explore and understand how much better it is than PowerPoint or other presentation software. This year I have moved all of my lesson visuals to Slides and I couldn't be happier- I will never go back. You can read about some of my most-used and most-loved features in this post.

5. Talk time

I'm actually reverting back to my beginning teacher practice with this one: I want to continue to allow for more time for students to share "off-topic" things. This year with an extra focus on social-emotional health, I made a conscious effort to leave some time at the end of class for students to tell me things, whether it's about their cousin's birthday party or their new puppy or anything in between. I have gotten so good at maximizing learning time over the years, and keeping students engaged from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave, that I realize I've missed out on some of those little peeks into their lives outside my classroom. I've always tried to find opportunities for conversations outside of class, but I've found it really makes a positive difference in the classroom climate when students have time to share during class as well. I probably won't do it as often as I have this year, but I'm committed to making sure I still build in time for that in the future.

6. Rhythm play-along videos

There's no denying I am completely burnt out on rhythm play-along videos right now. But I definitely plan on keeping them in the future (though we will use them much more sparingly)! I've made my own rhythm charts on a slide and had students play them with music in the past, but these play-along videos are a great way to mix things up and keep it interesting, especially now that there are so many of them out there for every season, holiday, music genre, and level of rhythm notation possible!

I'm sure there are more things I'll think of as I have time to process, but for now this is my list of new things from this school year I'm hoping to continue in the future. What were your favorite "finds" this year? I have a page dedicated to posts related to pandemic teaching below if you're interested in seeing more of the technology, strategies, and lesson ideas I've used:

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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

May Highlights 2021

I'm actually surprised at how quickly May flew by this year considering how much more open my calendar was than a typical year, but here we are starting another month again! I still have several more weeks of school left because my district delayed the first day of school by a few weeks in the fall to give us more time to get ready, so we're still very much in the thick of things! Here are some of my highlights from this past month.

1. Gorgeous Weather

I'm going to sound like my mother now but goodness, sunshine really does make a difference. We've had some great weather this month here in Connecticut and I have definitely noticed the difference in my mood! I've already gotten some odd tan lines on my arms and legs from sitting out in the sun and I don't even care. 

2. Mother's Day

Mother's day can be a bummer when you're a single mom. So much of what is marketed or publicized as the best way to celebrate mother's day is to have the dad and kids take over your normal chores, which isn't really possible if the kids are young and there is no spouse. It sounds superficial but it's true. This year my daughters are 9 and they took the initiative to make breakfast by themselves, complete with a mother's day sign, make me very cute cards, and, with my dad's help, made a full lunch for me and for my mom as well. It was a great day!

3. Family Trip

My grandparents, who live on the West Coast, are not doing well. It has been hard to see their health deteriorate these last few months in particular, especially since we haven't been able to see them in over a year because of covid- my daughters and I were supposed to visit them a year ago but had to cancel the trip because it was right after everything shut down. My sister and I were able to go visit them for a weekend and I'm so grateful we got to see them! And it was wonderful to spend time with my sister without either of our kids, and visit other family members while we were there too. And traveling for the first time in over a year, while pretty stressful, was a great (literal) change of scenery!

4. Music Education Posts

I love finding content from other music education authors to share every Friday on Facebook and Pinterest- here are all the awesome posts I found this month! 

Whether you're finishing up this crazy school year or still in the thick of it, I hope you had moments to celebrate in May and that the new month is off to a good start! 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Teacher Reflection Prompts After a Pandemic School Year

What a year. I'm sure we've all uttered that phrase a time or two these last few weeks! This year more than ever, it is so important and valuable for us to be intentional about our mental, emotional, and physical recovery over summer break, and I've found that having reflection questions to guide my thinking and processing has been very helpful. Here are the questions I'm reflecting on this summer to help me process a traumatic school year and recharge for the new one.

1. What were my stressors this year?

This may seem like a "duh" question but there has been SO MUCH this year that I've found it healing and affirming to actually name the things that were stressful this year in particular. Many times this year I've found myself feeling overwhelmed or anxious "for no reason" and I wonder what my problem is, only to step back and remember that yeah, we're in a pandemic! 

2. What new things brought joy in my teaching this year?

This is not a "silver lining" question but a chance to think about things that I don't want to lose sight of as class schedules, curricular expectations, and other aspects of teaching return to pre-pandemic conditions. What happened as a result of the unusual pandemic situation- maybe because of reduced curricular pressure, having smaller class sizes, teaching virtually, going into homerooms on a cart, being forced to try new lesson ideas or class procedures, being compelled to focus on social emotional health, or some other aspect- that brought joy? 

3. What aspects of my pre-pandemic philosophy and practices held true?

The pandemic was a trial by fire of everything we thought we knew! A lot of our practices had to be re-thought, but which things remained constant even through the pandemic? Did my lesson planning practices still work when my teaching modality was constantly shifting? Did I feel comfortable with the representation of varied cultural backgrounds in my lessons when I knew families were listening in? Whatever stood the test of this year's upheaval is worth recognizing!

4. What aspects of my pre-pandemic philosophy and practices am I rethinking?

Of course the flip side of the previous question is to reflect on what new practices and ideas I'm letting go. Having so much of what we do flipped on its head has forced us to rethink a lot of what we've always done "just because", and one of the most valuable things we can do is make sure we think consciously about those aspects and avoid slipping back into old habits.

5. What are my core values and purpose as a teacher?

Part of the healing process has to be a re-aligning our values and re-imagining our identities as teachers. What aspects of the things we lost this year- singing, holding hands, sharing materials, performing for live audiences, having our own space for music class, etc- did we not miss as much as we thought we would, and what did we take for granted before and now value much more consciously? In what ways has my identity as a teacher, how I view my role and purpose, changed? 

6. What holes in my practice were revealed this year that I want to focus on next year?

I'm sure all of us found weaknesses and holes in our teaching as we were forced to re-think everything we do, and in many cases make our teaching more public as we zoomed into our students' homes with families listening in the background. Taking the time to think through those and note them now will help us avoid sweeping them under the rug and returning to old habits.

7. What can I do this summer to give my body, mind, and soul the opportunity to heal?

We've been through a lot this year, and it is going to take intentionality and effort to allow ourselves to heal before the start of the next school year. Let's not leave it to chance- what are some specific ways I can give myself the chance to recover and rejuvenate?

I hope these questions help you process this difficult school year and start the process of recovery. I personally find I have a lot more clarity in my thinking when I actually write down my thoughts- I'd encourage you to consider writing yours down as well as you reflect. I'd be happy to serve as a sounding board if you want to talk through these questions with a colleague- feel free to email me!

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

End of Year Lesson Ideas for Elementary Music (2021)

It feels like we've been running a marathon for the last year and a half, but here we are staring down the end of the craziest school year ever. It can be hard to keep the energy up when we're all just so tired and overwhelmed, but ending the school year on a positive note will do so much to ease the pain and set us up for a positive start in the fall! Here are some of my favorite ideas for those last few lessons in elementary music that work in virtual, in-person, and hybrid models, require very little preparation, and are loads of fun!

1. Talent Show

One of the best ways to celebrate at the end of the school year is by letting students share their musical talents! I'm doing a school-wide music talent show on flipgrid, which is way easier to run than it might sound (read about how I do it here). But I also love having in-class talent shows the last few lessons! I give students some time in class to prepare their performance, and I include everyone by giving students the option to write or draw about a musical topic of their choice to show the class if they aren't keen on performing. The students get so excited and it's a fun, relaxing way to celebrate each other's success at the end of the year.

2. Hula Hoop Conductor

I've mentioned this in previous posts on end of year activities but I'm thrilled to say this works in synchronous/ hybrid and virtual models too! I lay out 3 (or more) hula hoops and split up the class into the same number of groups. Each group is assigned to one hoop and they only play when I stand inside their hoop. The great thing is this can be done with classroom instruments, found sound, or even body percussion or vocal sounds! If you're doing this with both virtual and in-person learners like I am, just make sure the students online can see all the hoops through your camera. You can read about other variations I've done on this game over the years to reinforce different musical concepts in this post.

3. Dance Games

Dancing is always a good idea! Yes, freeze dance can *technically* work in any school model, but because of the sound delay it's not really fair to be calling people out for being the last to stop moving, so after a few rounds it gets old quickly, especially for older students (at least in my experience). Instead, my favorite dance game for the end of the year is to call out each student's name and have them make up a move for everyone else to copy. 

4. Play-Along's 

Yes, rhythm play-along's have been completely overdone this year because they are one of the few things that work really well in a range of school settings, but there are some fun twists I've found work well to save for the end of the year and the students and I still find exciting! The Ready Go Music YouTube channel has several "duet versions" (see them all here) that work well, especially for 3rd grade and up (it's a little too much for the younger ones to track). And this Bouncing Ball Beat has students counting the beat numbers rather than reading rhythms, and it sounds super cool! Putting all the parts together is fun for older students, but I was able to use this with students as young as 1st grade by having the whole class read one line at a time all together, and it was a great way to get them counting the beats.

I know it can be hard to find the motivation to keep going some days, but I hope you and your students are able to find joy in the small moments as you finish out this school year! If you are looking for more ideas to keep things fresh at the end of the school year, you'll find lots more ideas, many of which will also work in any school model, in these previous posts below: