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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Toward an Inclusive Holiday Sing-Along

Holiday sing-alongs are something many music teachers are tasked with. They can be a lot of fun, and they're a great way to bring the entire school community together. But they also inherently center certain religions and cultures while ignoring others, and that is problematic. I cannot say that I'm completely happy with my sing-along just yet, but after doing a lot of thinking over the last few years I have made some changes that have certainly brought it a long way in making it more reflective of our school community and our world, and I want to share where I am in this journey to hopefully help other teachers think critically about their current practice and encourage others to join me in my journey.


First, if you haven't already read my previous series of posts on Reflecting, Responding, and Respecting all students in the music room, I encourage you to catch up on those. I have written extensively about my thoughts on inclusion and decolonization in music education, along with specific action steps and resources, on everything from race to students with special needs, and those thoughts play a big role in my journey to change my school's sing-along. In a nutshell, focusing on Christmas (and maybe throwing in a Hanukkah song) centers Christians (even if all the songs are "secular") and excludes all of our students of other religions and backgrounds, and talking about December as "the holiday season" ignores the fact that the majority of the world's major holidays do not fall in December!

Last year I made the conscious decision to include as many different winter holidays in my sing-along as I could, but limiting it to winter holidays still excluded a large part of the world's holidays. I realized that there was really no reason for me to limit the holidays to only winter ones, since we don't do any sort of holiday celebration in the spring/ summer, and I expanded my song choices further. I still have several changes in mind for next year, but this is as far as I was able to get with the time constraints and resources that I had to prepare. Here are the songs we'll be singing this year:

1. Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah
2. Jingle Bells
3. Feliz Navidad
4. Diwali is Here
5. Gong Xi, Gong Xi
6. Eid Mubarak
7. 12 Days of Christmas

The main criteria I'm looking for when I'm choosing songs are 1) songs that are easy enough for Kindergarten to learn in just a couple of rehearsals, and 2) songs that we can do something fun with rather than "just" singing. So for each song, I have instruments, motions, a game, or something that goes along with the singing to make it more fun for everyone- that's a lot of songs to sit and sing, especially right before break when students are antsy!

Here's what I'm hoping to work on improving in the future:
  • Find songs that are more traditional/ representative for Diwali, Eid/ Ramadan
  • Choose a different Spanish language song
  • Do some research on Jingle Bells- I've just recently come across some information that it may not be an appropriate song choice for elementary school because it originated in minstrel shows, but I haven't had time to dig into it (I plan to replace it with Sleigh Ride or something if it turns out to be a song rooted in oppression)

I'm also aware that doing a holiday sing-along at all is questionable in itself, but I am doing my best to make this a learning opportunity for all of my students by discussing the many different holidays celebrated around the world, and I have been pleased with the responses I have gotten from families in my school community who celebrate Lunar New Year and Ramadan who have been so happy to see their tradition represented and acknowledged in some way.

Do you do a sing-along at your school? I'd love to hear your thoughts on holidays in public school classrooms, how to make holiday sing-alongs more reflective of our world, and whether holiday sing-alongs are even a good idea to begin with! Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I hope this sparks some conversation in the music education community as we continue to look for ways to value and respect all of our students and their backgrounds.

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Sunday, December 1, 2019

November Favorites 2019

November is always one of those weird months for me. It's a lot of "squirreling away" to get ready for crazy concert season in December, while also keeping in mind that everyone is getting sick and tired and cranky, dealing with the silly daylight savings clock change, watching daylight get shorter, and adjusting to the colder weather. This is when I'm especially grateful for the opportunity to think back on the month's highlights, because otherwise I don't think I would even remember anything that happened this month! So today I'm happy to pause and look back on some of my highlights pulled from my Instagram and Facebook posts- I hope you find some new inspiration to get you going in the month ahead, and share your own favorites in the comments!


1. Chorus


This has honestly been a highlight of this entire school year thus far, but I am just so happy about my choral groups this year! I teach 3rd and 4th grade chorus and 5th and 6th grade chorus as pull-out classes during the school day, and this year my enrollment in both groups has doubled overnight. I was so intimidated by how many extra chairs I was having to pull out when I first started the semester just to accommodate the number of kids in each group, but now it makes me giddy. There have been very few disruptive behaviors of any kind, and they have been SO amazing to work with! I can't wait for the concert in a few weeks. I look forward to "chorus day" every week!

P.S. You can read all about how I teach my elementary choir classes in this post if you're interested.

2. Composition


I do the bulk of my composition lessons in October/ November because it's a great way to synthesize and apply those fundamental rhythm and pitch notation concepts that I introduce at the beginning of the school year, and it gives me a good sense of where they are so I can focus in on what we need to work on in the spring. I love using color coded stickers to match Boomwhacker colors as a way to introduce my upper elementary students to melodic composition in a less intimidating, more playful way, and they always love it too! Here's how I make my "solfege stickers" if you're wondering where I got them.

3. Making My List


I started making some basic plans in my holiday planner printables this summer (yeah, I'm that person, hi). But this month I started finalizing all my gift lists for Christmas with this little makeshift insert. I love having this list tucked right in my planner so I can jot down ideas whenever I think of things, and now my Christmas shopping is just about done!

4. Music Education Articles

I share favorite blog posts from other sites each week on my Facebook page, so if you've missed any of these you'll want to be sure to catch up on your reading- they are all fantastic!






See? There were great things to celebrate, even in November! :) I'd love to hear about those highlight moments, new ideas you found, or just something fun you did this month- leave a comment below to share!

Friday, November 29, 2019

Giveaway Cyber Monday 2019

This time of year can be so overwhelming for music teachers- I decided this is a great time for a giveaway! I've included lots of my favorite things to use this time of year, and made it super easy to enter below. Good luck, and if you know another music teacher that could use a pick-me-up, share the giveaway with them!


I'm giving one lucky teacher a magnetic notepad (I keep one of these on my fridge at all times to jot down to-do lists, shopping lists, or just to brain dump), some winter-themed mini erasers (my favorite composition manipulatives- click here to read my post on how I use these), a teacher planner accessory pack from The Happy Planner that includes a bookmark, folder, stickers, and more, and a $10 gift card to my store on TPT! Earn up to 3 entries below- giveaway closes at the end of the day on Monday 12/2. Winner will receive an email with their gift card code on Tuesday morning and must send their mailing address to receive the rest of their prizes.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Boomwhacker Storage

I love using Boomwhackers in my elementary music classes! Not only are they fun and accessible for even the youngest students to play, but they are a really helpful tool for exploring some key musical concepts that make them useful well into the upper grades. I'll be sharing some of my favorite ways to use them in my lessons in next week's post, but today I'm kicking things off by addressing the most common setback for teachers: organizing and storing them so they're not a pile of plastic hot mess!


If you don't have a good way of organizing Boomwhackers, they can quickly become a major problem. They're too large to fit into nice neat bins, especially the longer ones, and they topple over easily. If you search the internet for Boomwhacker storage ideas you'll come up with some great ideas: some of my favorites include this idea to use plastic shoe organizers, this idea using plastic bag storage containers, and this idea using cardboard magazine holders. But for me, I have found hanging them on the wall with this type of strong velcro very effective (and fun to look at)!


I always get questions about my wall-hanging Boomwhackers when I share pictures of my classroom, so let me start by answering those frequently asked questions:
  • Yes, they have held up well. I've had mine up for 6 years and have never replaced any velcro.
  • No, the velcro does not affect the sound of the instrument. I tell students to hold the velcro side in their hand and strike the other side on the floor/hand/whatever they're using. The only time we can't do this is when we're using octavator caps, which don't fit over the velcro- then I just have them tap the velcro side and it still sounds fine.
  • You want to make sure to put the soft side on the instruments and the scratchy side on the wall so that they can hold the velcro without getting scratched.
Besides being aesthetically pleasing and keeping the instruments from being a hot mess, I like having them on the wall this way because I often use them with small groups and I like having each octave set separated so I can tell each group to get the ones they need from one row, and they can clearly see the notes next to each other in order when they refer to them for musical concepts like solfege, chord functionality, etc. I've seen many other teachers hang them on the wall with all the same notes next to each other, but I think having one of each note together makes it easier for the ways I use them most. It also makes it easier to get out one set to use in a center etc by taking all of the ones in one row rather than having to go through and collect one of each note.


If I had all the chromatics and extended octaves (bass / treble) and such (which I don't), I would not keep them together with the others because I wouldn't want to confuse my students when they're using as a tool to understand a concept- I would store them in one of the other methods I mentioned above off to the side, and pull them out when we needed them for a specific activity.

I hope this helps you get your Boomwhackers in order so that they can be more of an asset and less of a headache for your classroom! Next week I'll be sharing tons of ways I like to use them to meaningfully and effectively teach specific musical concepts, so stay tuned, and if you have your own favorite ways to use them in your lessons I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!