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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

An Organized Music Teacher Computer: Projector / Whiteboard Visuals

One of the biggest organizational struggles of the modern music teacher has to be digital organization. It's one of those problems that's great to have- with so many amazing online and digital resources out there, it's easy to accumulate way too many wonderful files on your work computer that would make your teaching so much better..... if you could just find them. Obviously there are a lot of aspects to digital organization that will help streamline and organize your files, but today I want to share a simple solution that I came up with this year that has streamlined my computer files significantly!

I've been using some form of projected images, whether it's PowerPoints on a pull-down screen or Smart Notebook files on an interactive whiteboard, for many years now. The first year I started using projected visuals, I would have a folder for each grade / class I taught, and I would save the file for each lesson in that folder and label it with the date. I figured then I could just reuse those same files the following year. What ended up happening in reality was that I wanted to change the order I was teaching, or update a lesson, or just update the visuals, and I ended up creating a whole new folder for every grade each year. And because I couldn't remember exactly when I taught certain lessons, I would have to search through tons of files to try to find the visuals that I wanted to use for my lesson- I probably could have just remade them in the time it was taking me to search for them.

So then I got smarter and started labeling the files with a word or two about the lesson or concept I was teaching in that file. This made it easier to find visuals from the previous year to reuse from year to year, but I was still creating an entire new folder every year and accumulating hundreds, maybe thousands, of files of the same repetitive material year after year. I couldn't figure out how to save my visuals so I wasn't starting from scratch each year without continuing this endless accumulation of files!

Enter my monthly lesson banks. If you haven't already, be sure to read this post on how I started organizing and pre-planning my lesson materials by month for each class- this simple change in my long-range planning has been seriously life changing. One aspect of this monthly planning strategy that I didn't realize would be a benefit was the organization of my PowerPoints for each lesson! Last year, when I was creating my monthly lesson banks, I created all of the projector visuals to go with those lessons at the same time and saved all of the visuals for each grade by month in a single file.

This year, I started off doing the same thing I've always done for my PowerPoints- I would copy and paste the slides I was going to use for the next lesson out of the monthly file for that grade, and save it with the date and concepts taught. Then it hit me: there was no reason for me to do that because I already have all of the visuals organized by grade and by month!

Now, instead of having those folders full of hundreds of files of duplicated, hard to search visuals, I have my "master folder" labeled "curriculum". Inside that folder is a folder for each grade, and within each grade I have a folder for each month, containing all of my plans, printables/ worksheets, and projector visuals for that month. Then I have ONE FILE for each grade / class saved to my desktop. When I am getting the visuals ready for each lesson, I delete the previous lesson's slides and save the new slides to that file, so the files on my desktop always have the current lesson's visuals saved and easily accessible.

See those boxes with purple headers? They are a free download from The Yellow Brick Road- grab them here if you want to organize your desktop by categories!

This has made my life so much easier, and my computer so much more streamlined. And when I do create or modify a slide for this school year, I just add the new slide to the monthly "master file" so I have it for next year.  Yessssssss!

This system will work for any software you're using for visuals- the PowerPoints I made are image files on each slide so they are easy to copy into different programs! Last year I used Smart Notebook. This year I'm trying to use PowerPoint, but if I get a new interactive whiteboard with its own software, I know I can always copy and paste the slides into that software.

How do you organize all of your visuals on your computer? Organization is a very personal thing because whatever we use has to make sense to us for it to really work- I'd love to hear about any other systems others are using to streamline their digital files in the comments section!

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Making Chores Work: the Power of Choice

My daughters have been doing small chores around the house since they were about 3 years old, as a part of their growing responsibilities as a family member. As they've grown the chores they do have changed, and this summer as the girls prepared to start kindergarten we revisited the family chore chart again. Today I want to talk about one aspect of how we do chores that I think makes them less of a burden and more of an expected part of life: choice.

Over a year ago I shared our family chore chart system in this post- I still love the idea of having my household responsibilities as the parent right there on the chore chart with the kids' chores- I think it makes it much clearer that we are all contributing! 

After using the same weekly chores for a year and a half, we revisited them this past summer. In the past, I had given them just a few options to choose from for which chores they did, but this time (now that they are 5.5 years old) I gave them the option to choose whatever chores they were most interested in doing. I was pleasantly surprised with their choices!

I've written before about how my girls have been cooking dinner together once a week for a few years now. One of my daughters loves it, but the novelty had worn off for the other one. So now just one of them cooks once a week, and the other chose things like sweeping and vacuuming. 

Unless they are really involved in doing something that they don't want to leave, I honestly never have trouble getting the girls to take care of their "jobs"- none of them are very time consuming, and since they picked them out themselves, it feels even less like they are being forced to do something. That's a win for everyone!

I'm sure eventually the girls will find out that there's this thing called allowance and realize they're being scammed, but I'm holding onto this sense of shared responsibility as a natural part of daily life for as long as I can! And I'm hoping that, even when they do start to be more resistant, that having this foundation at an early age will serve them well in the long run.

How do you handle chores in your family? What did you do as a child yourself? I know there is a wide spectrum when it comes to chores- I'd love to hear your thoughts, opinions, and stories in the comments below! 

If you want to read about the specific chores my girls have been doing at different ages, here are my past posts:

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Friday, October 27, 2017

October Favorites 2017

Another month has flown by, and I can't wait to share some of my highlights with you! And don't miss the fun announcements at the end of the post...

1. Annual "Faerie Village" visit

I can't believe I forgot to add this to my fall family bucket list this year, because it is seriously the highlight of the season for us! This is our 3rd year visiting the "faerie village" that is set up every October and it is so much fun. Different artists (including some students from local schools) make fairy houses centered around a different theme each year and they're set up all around the grounds. Visitors get a map with an explanation of each house and a small item to look for in each house, which is the best part for the kids (some are really hard to find)! My daughters love getting dressed up in fairy costumes every year, and this year we were lucky enough to have beautifully warm weather, which made for the perfect fall outing.

2. Floral planner spread

I wish I had a better picture of it but I am just obsessed with this weekly planner spread from a couple of weeks ago. Normally I'm pretty minimalist with my planner decorating, but I was flipping through some paper pads and was just awestruck by these gorgeous florals! It took a little time to cut them out but it was so worth it.

3. Q&A sessions!

I can't tell you how much fun I had putting together the Q&A blog posts and videos this month. I've never done Q&A sessions before and it was so great to hear your questions and just chat about things we're all interested in! If you missed them, I did a Q&A post on home questions, one with planner questions, and two posts on teacher questions- click here to see them.

4. Music education blog posts

I love reading all of the fantastic ideas from other music teaching blogs each week! Here are some highlights from October:

5. Newsletter fun!

And now for the first fun announcement I mentioned...

I'll be sending out my next monthly newsletter on Sunday, and I'll be including an exclusive seasonal calendar for 2018 in the email just for my subscribers! Be sure to sign up below so you don't miss out on this and other goodies coming your way! If you missed it this time, don't worry- you can still get the "plain and simple" 2018 calendar in my store right here- but be sure to sign up below for my newsletter so you don't miss out on future resources! I always include exclusive, timely content in each and every email, and it's a great way for me to stay connected with you without all of the extra "noise" on social media :)

Click here to sign up for the Organized Chaos newsletter!

6. More monthly favorites inspiration!

My second fun announcement: Jennifer from The Yellow Brick Road is joining in on the "monthly favorites" fun! Check out her first post below- she is a lot nerdier than I am, in the most adorable way possible, and it definitely shows in her favorites list this month ;)

That does it for my October Favorites- now it's your turn! I'd love to hear about what you enjoyed this month! And if you want to see my everyday "favorites" in real time, be sure to go follow me over on Instagram- all of my favorites photos above are pulled straight from my feed ;)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Lesson Planning for Elementary Choir

I've talked a lot about lesson planning for general music (see this post for an overview of what I do), but today we're talking elementary ensembles! I currently teach only choir (and that is where the majority of my ensemble teaching experience is), so I'm going to talk specifically about planning for elementary choir, but most of these lesson planning strategies will apply to instrumental ensembles as well.

Lesson planning for choirs, or any ensemble, is not talked about as much as it should be in my opinion. Far too often we just pick out performance repertoire, rehearse it until the concert, and hope for the best. What I've realized over the years is that my groups are far more successful, and my rehearsal time is far more productive and meaningful, when I plan out my rehearsals the same way I do for general music:

starting with the end goal in mind and planning out the most effective 
sequence of lessons to get the students to that end goal.

1. Clarify the end goal(s)

The "end goals" for an elementary choir will depend a lot on the overall music program. If choir is a required class, you can expect to cover more general music concepts than if the group is an elective/ extra-curricular. If choir is the only music class those students are taking, you will need to cover more general music skills and concepts than if the choir is an additional class alongside general music.

My choir classes are elective, pull-out classes in addition to the required general music classes, so my goals for choir are focused specifically on singing and ensemble skills. I cover some of these same skills in general music, but at a much more surface level.

As an example, for my beginning choir (3rd and 4th graders), my goals are:
1. sing partner songs
2. follow a conductor
3. read simplified sheet music with 2 vocal parts
4. sing a tiny little bit of parallel harmony
5. follow rehearsal procedures
6. sing with different vocal timbres to match each piece
7. demonstrate staggered breathing

2. Choose repertoire that addresses the end goals

Once I know what skills I am aiming to teach, it is a lot easier to choose appropriate repertoire for each ensemble. I'm a firm believer in starting with the skills and concepts rather than the theme, but keep in mind that often it's easy to modify a song to fit your needs! I often will simplify an arrangement by taking out the majority of the parallel harmony, for example, or introduce students to score reading by printing out a version with just the vocal parts (side note: be aware of copyright restrictions if you do this).

3. Test out new songs for 1-2 rehearsals

It's hard to tell how quickly you can expect the choir to learn a song that you've never done before, especially if you don't have as much experience with elementary choir or you don't know your students' music backgrounds. I usually go into the first 2 rehearsals without a long-range plan- I introduce each of the songs and see how it goes, changing out songs or adjusting the voicing/ arrangement if something unexpectedly bombs, sometimes adding a part or even adding another piece if they learn it more quickly than expected.

4. Backwards plan

Once I have a better sense of how quickly I can expect the group to learn each song after the first couple of rehearsals, I make a basic outline for the rest of the rehearsals I have leading up to the next performance. Ideally, I reserve 2 rehearsals before the concert for run-throughs and polishing, including time to practice the logistics of staging etc for the performance. Then I space out my sequence of learning each song so that they finish learning it just before those last 2 rehearsals. This means that sometimes I will skip a song for a week here and there to avoid learning it too quickly- I don't want my students to burn out on a song! I account for learning the basic vocal parts, putting parts together, developing expressive elements (tone, dynamics, balance, etc), and memorization for each piece and break it down over the rehearsals I have.

5. Revisit and adjust

The beauty of having a long-range plan laid out, besides obviously giving you a clearer direction for each rehearsal, is that it's easier to see when groups are going to learn a piece too quickly or not quickly enough to be ready for the concert so you can make adjustments to your performance plan before it's too late. I'll address some specific tips for adapting the performance plan to make sure the group is prepared in a future post, but I've already mentioned a few ideas in step 3 above :)

Bonus: organized performance preparation

Of course there is a lot more that goes into getting ready for a performance (whether it's a full-scale staged musical production or a straight-up, "stand and sing" concert) besides preparing the music itself. I've already written previously about planning ahead for all of the logistical considerations for performances- be sure to check out this post for more on that topic:

If you want to read more about how I teach elementary choir, check out these posts:

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Monday, October 23, 2017

After School Routine for Kindergartners

Kindergarten is a time of big transitions. They're taking on more responsibility and independence, but they're still, you know, 5 years old, which means they're not quite ready to totally handle the responsibilities they're taking on by themselves yet. I've found myself adjusting a lot of our routines at home to better align with their growing responsibilities (at school and at home), so today I want to share our after school routine that helps my daughters take care of their responsibilities while also giving them time to decompress from a long day at school.

1. Empty backpacks

The first thing they do when the girls come inside the house is take out their lunchboxes, snack bags, and school folders. They put the lunchboxes and snack bags on the kitchen counter for me to wash and give the folders to me for me to go through any notes that have come home. Getting this done first works well so we don't forget about anything!

2. Grab a snack

It's amazing how hungry they are when the girls get home! I've found the rest of the day goes a lot more smoothly, even with an early dinner, if they get a snack before doing anything else. I pretty much let them choose what they want: usually it's something like a handful of crackers/ chips/ popcorn, a cheese stick, a bagel with peanut butter, or a piece of fruit. Sometimes we go crazy and bake some cookies or stop by the grocery store on the way home to get a donut ;)

Snack time is also the perfect time for us to chat about their day while it's still fresh in their minds, and for all of us to take a breather and sit down for a few minutes!

3. Homework

Thankfully the girls don't have a huge amount of homework yet, being in kindergarten, but they do have a small assignment to complete each day. Once they eat their snack I tell them they have to do their homework before they start playing. Usually I'm able to wash out the lunchboxes and tidy up a little while I help them with their homework.

4. Play time!

After being told what to do all day the girls are anxious to have a chance to choose what to do themselves and relax for a while! Although admittedly they almost always want to play school and pretend to be teachers these days.... :) I try to spend some time relaxing with them myself, although sometimes if dinner is a little more involved I am prepping dinner during this time.

5. Dinner and chores

I share chores with the girls, so sometimes the girls are making dinner, setting the table, or putting away the dishes, or some days they have other chores like vacuuming or sweeping. Since a lot of the chores are related to dinner, we all do our chores before and/or after dinner.

6. Unwind

Ever since the girls were infants I've been conscious of gradually unwinding before bedtime. I'm less rigid about this now that the girls are older, but it's still something I do most of the time and the whole evening is much more pleasant when we do! I try to gradually turn off or dim lights after dinner, turn off or down any music we have playing, and decrease the activity level. Maybe we play a card game, read a book, draw, or go for a leisurely walk around the block- something to ease us into bedtime ;)

And that gets us to the end of the day! What is your after school routine with your elementary school- aged children? I'm still trying to get us settled into our new routines, and I'd love to hear what you do! Leave a comment below :)

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Q&A Music Teacher Edition (part II)

A couple of weeks ago I asked you all to send me your questions, and I was thrilled with the responses I got from all of you! Today I'm tackling some of the teaching questions I got, but be sure to check out my other Q&A posts on home life, planners, and music teaching as well! And if you have any other questions for me, feel free to leave a comment below. I'd love to do another Q&A in the future :) For each question I've included a video and written answer.

1. How do you organize for a sub?

Honestly, solving the sub plan problem took me over a decade (and my system still has its hiccups- I just finally have something that is workable and low maintenance for me). I'm pretty happy with what I have set up for subs now, though, which has been life changing for me! I wrote a full post last school year after I finally got it set up, and also put up my emergency sub plan template which you can grab right here. This year I have tweaked my setup just a little: instead of putting the log of which classes have done which lessons in the sub plans themselves, I've now taped them to the tubs that hold that lesson's materials. Takes some of the clutter out of the sub plan sheets and puts them in a place where the sub is guaranteed to see it before they teach the lesson! Check out my video answer to see what I'm talking about, but here's my previous blog post on how I have my sub plans set up and what is included in them:

2. What books do you like to use in the music classroom?

My collection of books that I love to use in music class has grown every year, but my favorites have to be Mortimer and My Many Colored Days (click on those links to see my lesson plans for those books). If you want to see more of my favorite books for music class, and the lessons I use them for, be sure to check out this blog post:

One related tip for books: I keep almost all of the books I use in different lessons, plus other ones I don't always get to in class but are related to music, in one spot in my classroom. Whenever we do centers, I include reading as one of the center activities. The quiet ones (or the ones who happened to be tired that day) especially appreciate having this activity, and they love seeing what I've added to my collection! Watch the video answer to see my book station, and check out my blog post below for more ideas for center activities:

3. Do you implement drumming in everything you do, or do you just do a unit once or twice a year?

My answer to this is going to be similar to my answer to a question I answered last week about ukulele: I do a little of both.

I do a focus on music from Mozambique with my 5th graders each year in the spring, and I spend some focused time teaching students about the in's and out's of drumming circles, drumming techniques, and specific drumming patterns. You can read more about my favorite lesson activities for drum circles in this post:

With that said, I also incorporate drumming throughout the year in every grade I teach (K-6). Any time students are learning and practicing a new rhythm, I'll have students practice speaking/counting the rhythms, clapping them, and then playing them on instruments- for my youngest students I usually start with rhythm sticks but otherwise I usually pull out the djembes to keep everyone excited about rhythm drills haha! It's a great way to mix things up and keep things interesting.

There are, of course, specific lessons where I will incorporate drumming, whether it's part of an instrumental ensemble, student compositions, or a lesson tied to a book (see above!), but the other more general situation when I will sometimes incorporate drumming is when a class as a whole is stuck in a negative rut. Sometimes the best cure in that situation is to force everyone to look each other in the eye, listen to each other, cooperate, take turns, and create something fun and awesome together! This ties directly into my focus on incorporating more "circles" in my classroom this year. You can read more about how I'm using circles in this post:

4. Have you done any coding in the music room yet? If so, what and how?

Short answer: no :(

BUT I've got some ideas for you! If I had the time and resources, I would totally have my students do some actual coding to create a real, playable video game for the video game composition project I do with my 5th graders. Since I don't right now, I send home a note to parents with recommendations for some resources they might want to explore with their child at home after we finish the project in class: Tynker, Scratch Jr (and it's older brother, Scratch), and Gamestar Mechanic are a few of my favorites. Here's a list of some more free resources to teach students how to code.

Beyond games though, I think the coolest-looking coding option for music is the Pixel Kit, which allows you to code a set of lights to light up in different combinations with different colors, including responding to sound. Imagine what you could create to teach students about mood, form, timbre, dynamics, and more with this thing!!!!

5. Could you possibly share some music lessons you use for the beginning of the school year? Instead of using an entire class to go over rules and procedures, is there a lesson you use to remind students of the class rules? How to play instruments properly? How soon do you introduce instruments?

I change up the specific lesson I do for the beginning of the school year every year, but my basic plan stays the same. In the first lesson, I try to include:
1. assigning seats
2. going over (VERY QUICKLY) my behavior expectations and management systems
3. singing
4. movement

My behavior management discussion is honestly 5-10 minutes max, and I spread it out within the lesson with singing and movement thrown in between different topics. I touch on my overall classroom expectations and what that looks like, the letter system for how the class earns "points" and my individual rewards and consequences for behavior, and my hand signals for standing/ sitting/ transitions. I do think it's important to set those ground rules right from the beginning, but I don't spend a lot of time getting into the details of each aspect- they get it when they see it and experience it happening "in real time" ;)

Other than that, I usually do some kind of fun, upbeat, active song to get everyone having fun and making music together. One year I taught everyone Funga Alafia (sidenote: this song is NOT a traditional song from any part of the African continent- it was written by an American in an African style- so be careful how you introduce it, but it's still a great way to start the year!), with singing and movement, other years I've done something I call the "Beginning of the School Year Rap", complete with rhythm ostinati that students perform with body percussion (hint: I send the full lesson plan and visuals in my newsletter every summer!), and some years I've picked different silly/fun songs for each grade and added movement to go with each one.

The only time I have gotten out instruments on the first day is with my oldest students, who have known me for a few years, when they have a 60-minute class. In that case I will take one of the songs/ lessons mentioned above and add instrumental accompaniment parts to them. Otherwise, I wait until the 2nd or even 3rd class to bring them out, and when I do, I start with easy things like rhythm sticks and hand drums to teach appropriate procedures and expectations for playing instruments (I am VERY strict about playing out of turn- even if the instrument accidentally hits something, if it makes a sound before it's supposed to I take it away). Yes, it's great to get them playing instruments early on, but it's also important to have the time to teach them the proper procedures for using them! When we do first get out instruments, I usually have them either use them to play rhythms we are reviewing from the previous year, or play on the steady beat with some recorded music.

I hope you enjoyed reading and watching this Q&A- I loved putting it together and hearing all of your questions! Be sure to leave me a comment below if you have any other questions so I can answer them in a future post :) And if you missed any of my previous Q&A posts you can check them out below:

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Q&A Planner Edition

A couple of weeks ago I asked you all to send me your questions, and I was thrilled with the responses I got from all of you! Today I'm tackling the planner questions I got, but be sure to check out my other Q&A posts on home life and music teaching as well! And if you have any other questions for me, feel free to leave a comment below. I'd love to do another Q&A in the future :) For each question I've included a video and written answer.

This post contains affiliate links

1. Do you only organize one month in your planner book at a time? What about the weeks? Or do you roughly decorate the pages with washi tape as the minimum and fill in more as you get closer?

When I first started using anything besides pen and pencil in my planner, I got super excited about stickers and washi tape and thought I would save myself some time during the school year by pre-decorating some pages and marking in dates that were already set (like vacations, birthdays, school holidays etc) with stickers. About 2 months in I realized what a bad idea that was for me. My 2 biggest reasons for decorating my planner are to 1) give myself a regular creative outlet each week/month, and 2) help me organize the information in my head. Both of these aspects help reduce my anxiety and stress, and help me be more organized. When I was pre-decorating, it took away that regular time each week to relax and organize!

So instead, I now use page flags and sticky notes to pre-plan dates and events, and I don't do any pre-decorating at all. Besides the benefits I already mentioned, I'm able to decorate my weekly and monthly pages with whatever matches my current mood/taste/style, so it's more inspiring (which is another reason I decorate- to feel inspired when I open my planner).

That said, I do know people who pre-decorate and enjoy doing so. The best example I've seen is from Plan2Create- she does a lot more "crafty" decorating than I think any of us would do, but she has some great ideas for basically setting up a color scheme/ theme for the whole month in advance and then going back to fill in details later:

If you want to hear more about how I decorate my teacher/life planner in a way that allows me to be creative without taking too much time (or taking too much space on my pages for "frilly" decor), here's a video I made with some of my favorite tips:

2. How can I print the monthly page on my half size arc planner? I want it to span two pages so it is big enough to write on.

First of all, for printing for half size/ junior size/ mini planners, you need to know how to change the printer settings. It will be slightly different for every printer/ computer, but once you understand the general idea it's really pretty simple. Here's a great tutorial from Creative Clementine if you're not sure how to do that.

For this specific situation though, you're wanting to print 1 page over 2 pages, which is a lot more complicated to do. BUT I have a solution that will make life much easier: I actually have a 2-page monthly calendar option. You have to fill in the dates yourself, either by hand or on the computer before printing, but for anyone who's looking for a bigger monthly calendar (or just hates turning their planner sideways to see the monthly pages) these are great whether you're printing on smaller paper or not!

3. Just out of curiosity, could you show us a flip through of your planner since school started?

Sure! :)

4. I have tasks that I need to do every week, but I don't want to have to write them down each time. I'd like to make customized stickers that I can type and then print out for this purpose. What would you suggest?

The easiest way I've found to do this is with Avery labels. I've included the link to get these on Amazon if you don't have a place to buy them locally, but honestly I would go to Walmart, Target, Staples, or any other similar store with office supplies and see what they have. They come in circles, squares, and rectangles in all different sizes, and many come in white or clear sticker paper options. If you want to cut out different shapes for your stickers, go for the full-page labels and cut them out yourself with scissors (or a cutting machine if you have one).

Once you've got your labels, go to the Avery website and you can design your stickers to fit the labels you have. Print them out and you're done!

If you want to save on ink or don't have access to a good color printer, you can also do it by hand (and it doesn't take as much time and effort as you might think). Make a bunch in advance while you're watching your favorite TV show and you'll be set for months. Here's how I make mine:

I hope you enjoyed reading and watching this Q&A- I loved putting it together and hearing all of your questions! I'll be back with one more set of teacher questions tomorrow- stay tuned! And if you missed any of last week's posts you can check them out below:

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Q&A Music Teacher Edition (part I)

A couple of weeks ago I asked you all to send me your questions, and I was thrilled with the responses I got from all of you! Today I'm tackling some of the teacher questions I got- I'll be answering more in next week's post- but be sure to check out my other Q&A posts on home life and planners as well! And if you have any other questions for me, feel free to leave a comment below. I'd love to do another Q&A in the future :) For each question I've got a video and written answer.

1. I love your ideas about planning for general music, so I was wondering what kind of resources/ plans you use for elementary chorus? Also, how many/ what kinds of performances does your chorus do every year and do you have any tips or tricks for teaching chorus? 

Let me start at the end of this question and work my way backwards ;)

Tips and tricks for teaching chorus: I have just published a few posts on this very topic (I was thrilled when this person posted this question because I was in the process of writing these posts when they asked!). So here are those posts:

At my current school I have 2 choirs: a 3rd and 4th grade choir and a 5th and 6th grade choir. The 5/6 choir meets as a group once a week and the 3/4 choir meets separately by grade once a week (with some combined rehearsals before each concert). Each rehearsal is 30 minutes. Currently, my choirs perform twice a year. Once in December and once in May. They are very straight-forward concerts with just the elementary ensembles (choir, band, and strings), and I have a VERY loose "theme" of winter/holiday for December and around the world for May. That said, I have never felt obligated to fit every piece into those themes- I usually have a few completely unrelated songs at each concert, just because.

I'm going to be doing a more detailed post on planning for elementary choir, so stay tuned for that, but to answer the question as succinctly as I can here...

I pick out most of the concert rep for each group before the first rehearsal. I know the students now after being in the school for several years, so I feel pretty comfortable knowing what they can accomplish- when I first started at the school I had to adjust my concert pieces several times before I found what worked! When I am choosing our concert literature, I always make sure I have one upbeat (and usually silly/fun) song and one slow/quiet/peaceful/serious one, and the rest I fill out with ones that hit the skills I'm aiming for, whether that's partner singing, rounds, beginning harmony, extending their vocal ranges, etc.

After the first couple of rehearsals, I get a pretty good sense of how quickly the groups will be able to learn each piece. That's when I sit down and do some backwards planning. I start with the concert date, and set aside 2 rehearsals before the performance for "run-throughs", where all of the music should already be learned and memorized. From there I work backwards to figure out when I need to make sure they know each part of each song. If I realize I have more time than I need, I'll either swap out an easy song for a more challenging one or add a piece. If it seems I won't have enough time, I will either simplify one of the songs or swap one out for an easier one. Obviously this plan gets adjusted as we go through the semester, but it helps me make sure everyone is ready for the concerts in time without being ready too soon and burning out on their music!

To read more about how I get my choirs ready for concerts, check out these posts:

2. I do ukuleles for 5th grade music. They have a performance at the end of the year. Would you try to use an instrument as an extended unit study, or designate a time during class throughout the year to teach uke, so you can cover all the other musical elements and standards for the state?

First of all, I don't think this is an either/or question. Any time I approach material (like ukulele) that I want to teach, I start with the question, "why"? What musical skills/concepts do I want my students to learn through this material?" The answer to that question will determine how, when, and for how long you teach something. The trick is to figure out which standards/ musical elements you can most effectively cover through their study of ukulele (and their practice of performance material on ukulele). Obviously you'll need a certain amount of time to practice the actual mechanics of playing ukulele, but beyond that either way will work depending on what you're wanting to cover, how long and how frequent the classes are, and what other materials you want to use in that class.

This is a big, insightful, and very important question! If you want to dig deeper on how to decide when to teach what and how, I highly recommend going through this free lesson planning course I put together:

And if you want to read more of my tips for teaching ukulele, here's my post on that:

3. Do you have a playlist for younger grades K to 1, also 2nd to 5th grade brain break freeze dance? And what are the songs?

Yes, absolutely! I've shared a lot of my favorite dance music in these two posts (I use these with K-6th grade):

A few other favorites that my younger students especially like: The Hamster Dance, Macarena, What Does the Fox Say, and Kung Fu Fighting :)

4.  Do you have any specific tips for organizing files on your school computer?

This is another question that will be getting its own blog post in the future ;) But yes! Here are a few of my top tips for organizing files on your school computer:

1. Folders. Folders within folders. Categorize files as much as you can and save folders you use often on your desktop so you can quickly find what you need.
2. Delete, then delete some more. In most cases, if you haven't used the file in 4 years it's probably safe to delete it. Or at the very least, I bet you have multiple versions of the same file saved in lots of places- take the time to go through and only keep the one version you need (and put it in one of those folders on your desktop).
3. Desktop organizers. Jennifer from The Yellow Brick Road makes these great desktop organizers (and they're free!) so that you can group folders and files together on your desktop to make things even easier to find. I started using one on my school computer this year and it has been amazing.
4. Projector files. Whether you're using Smart Notebook, Promethean Flipcharts, Powerpoint, or something else to show visuals on the screen/board, keep one file named for each class you teach saved to the desktop. Keep all of the visuals you use for a grade stored somewhere else, but keep whatever visuals you need for your current lesson saved on your desktop. When 2nd grade moves onto the next lesson, save the new visuals to the 2nd grade file and delete the old ones.
5. Playlists in iTunes. I actually wrote a whole post on this a while back, but one of my favorite tips is to keep a playlist named for each of the classes I teach (1st grade, choir, 5th grade, etc) in iTunes. Whatever tracks I'm using for my current lesson in that class is saved to that playlist. When I move to a new lesson with different tracks, I delete the old ones and replace with the new, so the playlist is always up to date with just the songs I need. Here's the post I wrote on my iTunes playlist system:

5. Since you have Kindergarten and 1st grade sit in a circle on the carpet, and you sort of let them choose where to sit, how do you learn their names? It's taking me so long to learn them all since I only see my students once a week.

First I need to clarify a few things. I actually only have Kindergarten sit on the floor as their "default" seating- not 1st grade. Everyone besides Kindergarten sits in chairs. For Kindergarten, I do have assigned seats- they don't get to choose where to sit (I considered letting the choose at one point, as you can see in the blog post below, but I quickly realized that was more hassle than it was worth!). The times I do let students have some choice in where to sit is when the older students are moving from their regular chairs to the circle for a game or something- then anyone on purple team can pick any purple spot, etc. You can read more about my seating arrangements here:

With assigned seats, one of the biggest tools for learning names is my seating chart! I carry my clipboard full of seating charts around with me everywhere, especially at the beginning of the year, so that I can quickly check to remember students' names before calling on them if I forget. Here's more about my seating charts:

Besides that, I do a lot of games that involve me saying the students' names- I haven't found the traditional "name game" songs where each student says their own name to actually be that helpful. In the beginning I have to look at the seating chart to know it, but the more I say it the better I get. Plus the younger students LOVE anything where they are the "special feature". You can turn any song that refers to a person into a "name game" song- replace Sally with each student's name in "Rain, Rain, Go Away", or replace Johnny's name in "Johnny Works with One Hammer".

The last tip I have for learning names is pretty obvious: make a conscious effort to say their names as often as possible. In the hallway, in the classroom, and any other time you see them, say their name out loud as often as possible. I tell my students at the beginning of the year that I'm going to be practicing their names, so they need to remind me if I forget, and make sure that I say it several times if I do forget it- I will actually look them in the eye and say their name at least 5 times. It sounds like overkill but it really helps, and the kids know that I'm serious about learning their names so they don't mind at all!

I hope you enjoyed reading and watching this Q&A- I loved putting it together and hearing all of your questions! I'll be back with more teacher questions, plus some planner questions, next week- stay tuned!

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