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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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  1. Hello everyone. My name is Olga and I'm from Russia
    At the moment I'm in the process of writing my master's thesis on the use of blogs in education.
    Could you help me a little? Just answer the question here in the comments. Who do you consider the best singer, composer, songwriter of all time?
    It can be one person or several people. I will be very grateful for your help.
    Beams of goodness all around, as we say in Russia.

    1. Hi Olga- thank you for reading and commenting. I'd like to keep the comments on blog posts focused on the post topic. I think you will get better responses if you post the question on social media. Are you involved in any music teacher facebook groups? Search facebook for "music teacher" groups and you'll find several that will give you a forum for asking questions like these. Thanks again for reading, and have a wonderful day!