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Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Secret Sticky Strategy for the End of the School Year

Things always start to unravel at the end of the school year, but this year the heightened emotions seem even more magnified than usual. I was recently reminded of something I did at the end of the school year years ago that I've started doing again this year, and it has already made a big impact in the first week since I started. If you're struggling to maintain a positive classroom climate, this is an easy strategy you might want to try!

I've been giving a "happy note" to one student at the end of every lesson for years now, and it has been a great tool for building relationships and positive classroom climate. I'm still doing that this year, but this past week I added another layer to that concept: the secret sticky note.

At the end of the day, or whenever I have a few minutes during planning, I write a short (maybe 2-3 sentences) note to a few students on a post-it note. It's not the student who got a happy note that day, but I'm starting with those students who are just always quietly doing what they need to do, or who I've seen making an effort in class. The notes usually say something like, "I just wanted to let you know how proud I am of you for___", or "You are so good at ___", etc and then end with something like, "You are an awesome person". I try to get one or two students each from a few different classes each day.

Before school starts the next day, I go to their homeroom and put the sticky note on their chair or desk where it's not in plain sight but the student will see it when they go to sit down. I don't say anything to them about it, but every single one of them has run up to me to give me a hug, or come in the next class proclaiming, "I am going to do an awesome job again today!"- it has been absolutely magical, and that energy rubs off on the rest of the class. I have no idea if they are telling other students about it and making the others motivated to receive a note as well, or if it's just the positive vibes spreading to everyone else, but it has definitely impacted more than just the individual students who have gotten a note from me.

I am keeping track of who I write notes to on my seating charts, so I'm hoping to get around to everyone before the end of the school year (we have a little less than 6 weeks left). Not only has it been a great way to encourage the students, but it has really helped keep my focus on the positive as well. Rather than spending all of my time outside of class following up on negative behaviors, I'm following up on the positive ones as well, which reminds me of all the great things that are happening in my classroom and all the things I love about my students. 

This time of year can start to feel like you're just holding on for dear life- I hope this helps someone else end the school year on a more positive note! 

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Tuesday, May 3, 2022

3 Songs You Didn't Know Were American

After seeing a few of these pop up again recently in my social media feeds I realized there are still a lot of music teachers who aren't aware of the misinformation that has been passed around for years in our circles about certain songs that have become quite common in US elementary music lessons. Hopefully this is old news for many, but if you didn't know, now you know: these songs are not "traditional" songs from non-US American cultures as they have been presented for years in the past.

There has long been a problem of misattribution in US elementary general music repertoire, largely because of publishers and workshop presenters putting things out without doing proper research and busy teachers trusting them as reliable sources and using the material in their teaching to continue circulating the misinformation. So please hear this: I don't necessarily think these songs are inherently offensive and should be removed completely from our teaching. But I do very strongly believe in the importance of presenting the songs accurately as the American, "in the style of" songs that they are, and I would think hard about WHY you're using these songs, instead of others, when you're thinking about using them in your lessons. These should definitely NOT be included in units on the music of the Netherlands, any African country, or Iran, or "music around the world" programs or lessons, as they don't represent a specific culture (including the US- these songs were not written to represent US American culture, obviously, which is why they have been misattributed for so long).  

1. Funga Alafia

This song (also sometimes written as Fanga Alafia) was circulated for years as a traditional Liberian, Nigerian, or "African" welcome song, but was actually written by an African American around 1960. There is a long and interesting history that's worth reading in this post by Azizi Powell. 

2. Ye Toop Doram

This song, and the ball game that goes with it, has been passed around as a traditional children's game from Iran or Afghanistan, but was actually written by a US American music teacher as a way to help her students learn some basic words in Farsi to connect with her students that had just come to her school from Afghanistan and Iran. You can read the full background, straight from the composer herself, in this post by Aimee Pfitzner.

3. Sarasponda

This song has long been circulated as a traditional Dutch spinning song, but there is no documentation to back up that claim- it has, however, been traced back to an American songbooks from the 1940's. There isn't one conclusive source on the full background of the song, but here is a summary from Wikipedia.

If any of this information was new to you I hope this post will spur you on to do some more research into the songs so many music teacher resources present as being "from" non-US cultures! Exploring music from cultures outside our own is fantastic and in fact absolutely necessary and important as music teachers, but we need to do our homework to make sure we do so accurately, respectfully, and responsibly, especially as we consider what to pass along to our students and how.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Music Teacher Job Search

I know there are a lot of people getting into job search mode right now. Whether you're getting ready to graduate and looking for your first job, hoping to move to a different school or position, or even trying to decide if you should stay in music education or look for something in another field, here are some thoughts and resources for you to consider.

First the topic that seems to be on so many teachers' minds right now: do I even want to continue in music education or look for a job in another field? Do I just need to find a better school/ position or do I need a complete career change? I wrote the post below in 2019, pre-pandemic. I absolutely think it's important and completely legitimate to think through whether you want to remain in teaching in the current pandemic environment, and what teaching/ school has become, specifically. But I also think it's helpful, in terms of discerning whether you maybe just need a break/ need to find a different school environment or if you're cut out for teaching entirely, to think about it through a pre-pandemic lens. No, I don't think all of our current struggles are temporary and things will magically go back to pre-pandemic life, but I also think it's helpful to think beyond the pandemic to what is really at the "core" of music teaching in thinking this through. That's a long explanation to say, as I re-read this post now, I think this is a helpful, concrete framework for those who may be pondering whether to stay or leave the profession:

For those who are looking for a music teaching job, whether it's your first one or you're looking for a different school/ position, here are some specific tips on some of the most common questions I hear: questions to ask the interview panel in your interview, and how to write a philosophy statement for your resume or job application.

Looking for advice on how to look for jobs, what to put in your resume, what questions to expect to get in a job interview, and more? Who better to get insight from than from administrators doing the hiring? Here are all the top tips I got from a building principal and fine arts department director:

And finally, if you're thinking ahead to what you need to do to prepare for your first elementary music teaching job (whether you're coming from secondary music or it's your first teaching job ever), here are the things I think are most important:

Change can be stressful, but it can also be the one thing you need more than any other! I hope you find something helpful for your situation, or you find something you can pass along to someone else who may be looking for some clarity. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments. I love hearing your thoughts!

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Science of Sound in Elementary Music

I recently got the chance to design a few brief lessons on the science of sound for my 6th graders and I am really excited about the resources I found to share with students! I'm hoping to expand these lessons more in the future, but today I wanted to share some of what I used in my lessons.

I have done a few one-off lessons here and there, but for the most part I haven't really ever taught my students specifically about the science of sound. This year I happened to have a couple of lessons between units so I decided to throw it in, and it went really well! 

We started off by learning about Evelyn Glennie, the Scottish percussionist who is hard of hearing. After watching her perform a concerto, I explained to students that she mostly plays by feel rather than by hearing! She has some wonderful videos talking about how she feels vibrations, and we watched a short excerpt of this video to help students see what that's like. After talking about their prior knowledge around soundwaves, vibrations, etc we watched the first half of this video, and I asked students to look for examples of soundwaves in the video as they watched:

After discussing some of the phenomena they saw in the video, we got out the ukuleles that they learned to play in the fall and watched the strings vibrate when they pluck them, thought about how the tuning pegs work, why the note changes when you press the frets, and noticed that you can feel the strings vibrating under your fingers when you press down on them and play.

The next lesson, we started off by watching this video about the science of hearing:

It was interesting for the students to think about not just how sound is produced but how it is then received and interpreted by humans to hear it. Most of the students had some familiarity with the concept of soundwaves before but they hadn't really thought or learned about how the body hears! 

After discussing the points from the video we got out the tubanos and tried to mimic what Evelyn Glennie demonstrated to feel vibrations on the drums. We reviewed the different hand drumming techniques they learned previously (bass, tone, and slap) to get different sounds from the drum, and discussed how that works. Then we talked about listening- not just hearing, but listening. I split the class into small groups and had each group take turns improvising together, pointing out the importance of listening to each other to not only stay together in the groove but also to fill in some gaps, step back when someone else is filling in, and try to give everyone space to shine. It really got them thinking and listening in a way they hadn't before!

Obviously there is so much more we could do with this, but I was really happy with the discussions and experiences we had through these lessons, and it was a great way to get my older students to actually listen to each other- something they are not particularly inclined to do this time of year! If you have other lesson activities or resources you've used to teach the science of sound in elementary music I'd love to hear about them in the comments!