Image Map

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Students with Special Needs: Representation

As I continue to think about ways to better reflect, respect, and respond to traditionally marginalized people and perspectives in the music classroom, I am turning my attention today to people with special needs. In particular, today I want to focus on ways to better reflect examples of people and musicians with different needs in the music classroom to work towards normalizing and making all students feel more comfortable and welcome in music class.

A common theme in all of my reflections on ways to better serve marginalized people and perspectives has been the need for more diversity in the resources, visuals, and examples I use in my classroom. Including people with special needs in this move towards diversity has admittedly been an area that I have overlooked in the past. Along with some of my own ideas, I am grateful to have gotten input and ideas from music teachers and special education teachers around the world on ways they include representation for students with special needs in their classrooms: Helga Thordsen from Priest Lake Christian Academy, Amy Corvi, and Laura Allison.


So the obvious first step in better representing people with differing abilities is to include them in regular education music classes whenever appropriate/ possible. I know in many cases music teachers don't have much say in when, how, or with whom students come to their classes, but when you can, I encourage you to be an advocate for inclusion. Of course there are situations when it's not appropriate, but in more cases than not, I have found all of my students and I reap huge rewards from the additional work I put in to include everyone in the same class. The best way to make sure inclusion happens in the most successful way possible is to communicate regularly with and do everything you can to be an ally for special education teachers, aids, and students. You can read more of my specific suggestions for inclusion in music class in next week's post (so stay tuned!), but it's worth mentioning the importance of inclusion here as we talk about representation.

Examples of Musicians

One of the best ways to better represent people with differing abilities in the music room is to feature examples of musicians! Here are some examples of musicians to incorporate:

Evelyn Glennie (musician who is deaf)
Mandy Harvey (musician who is deaf)
John Mellencamp (musician with spina bifida)
David Byrne (musician with Asperger's)
Jose Feliciano (musician who is blind)
Stevie Wonder (musician who is blind)
Ray Charles (musician who was blind)
Bill Withers (musician with speech impediment)
Django Reinhardt (musician who was partially paralyzed)


Books, movies, and other stories that include people with special needs are another way to represent students with differing abilities in our teaching:

Moses Goes to a Concert by Isaac Millman (story about children who are deaf who go to a concert)
Let's Hear it for Almigal by Wendy Kupfer (story about a girl with hearing aids- great way to explore found sounds)
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold (the rhyming words and repeated refrain lend themselves to singing or beat-keeping)
Music by Prudence  (documentary of woman with physical disabilities who starts a band)
Beethoven Lives Upstairs (story of Beethoven)


What students see in the music classroom and other visuals is so important to what they view as "normal" and whether or not they are welcome and included! Include picture books and posters with images of people with special needs in the classroom. Use video examples that include people with differing abilities in them. Incorporate images of people with special needs into other visuals like projected slides, worksheets, and handouts. Incorporating these images more regularly, rather than only focusing on them when their difference is the main point, will help to normalize and make everyone feel more included.

I hope these ideas help you find ways to more regularly include people with differing abilities into your classroom! I would love to hear more ideas and resources as well- please share them in the comments as we continue to learn from each other. 

Want more resources like this sent straight to your inbox? Sign up here for the Organized Chaos newsletter!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Today I Did Nothing

Today I did nothing.

It was so wonderful getting a chance to stay at home and relax with my family without any responsibilities- just a chance to unwind after a crazy week.

Plus it gave me time to clean the bathtub and the garbage can. They were getting pretty gross and I had been meaning to clean them both for weeks! Feels so good to get that taken care of!

I even had time to sit down and sort through the mail, write out a few checks, and fill out the rest of those school forms.

Having a day to do nothing is so awesome.

I had time to cook meals that would be too much trouble on a busy weekday. We even baked pumpkin bread together and I had time to make a full pot of coffee to keep in the fridge for extra-crazy mornings. Oh and clean the coffee maker!

And of course the best part was having time to relax and play with my kids. They come up with so many creative ideas for pretend play at this age! I was a student, a monster, and a queen all in one day. The trick, of course, is getting them to clean up all of their messes afterwards!

Oh, and while I'm downstairs playing school I might as well throw in a load of laundry.

I love having time to just chill at home with my family!

My daughters kicked me out of their bedroom- they're busy with some kind of secret project- you know what, this would be a good time to send out a few emails about next week's meetings...

Better make sure the kids get their practice time in. They're both getting ready for their recitals in a couple of weeks! And when they're done we can finish that board game we started on Thursday. Hey and now that the board game is put away I can vacuum the floor!

Weekends like this, when we can stay in our pajamas all day and do nothing, are so refreshing. So glad I decided to do nothing today.

Can you relate? You're not alone! Sign up for the Organized Chaos newsletter here to get more relevant content sent straight to your inbox ;)

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Bringing Hip-Hop to the Music Room

I have been focusing lately on strategies for better reflecting, respecting, and responding to traditionally marginalized people and perspectives in the music room. Today we're tackling a specific musical genre that has been largely ignored by mainstream music teachers in the United States: hip-hop. It's pretty mind-blowing to think about just how little we even reference hip-hop in music class compared to how widespread its popularity is outside of the school setting. My hope is to give music teachers some simple entry points to help us at least begin to scratch the surface.

Let me start by saying I am in no way, shape, or form an expert in hip-hop music. I am a white woman who grew up in East Asia in a conservative missionary family. There's not much that's more foreign to my upbringing than hip-hop. That being said, for the last 6 years I have been teaching in a school where the vast majority of the music my students (and the wider community) listen to is hip-hop. No other genre comes close. So I have spent a good amount of time and energy over the last few years familiarizing myself with the genre and exploring ways to incorporate it into my teaching. Please understand that these ideas should by no means be the end product, but rather the starting point for those of us who are just beginning to learn!

School-Appropriate Songs

Because one of the characteristics of most hip-hop music is hard-hitting social commentary, it is notorious for being laced with vulgarity, violence, and adult themes. I am certain this is the number one reason music teachers avoid the genre in the school setting. So let me start by offering just a few examples of hip-hop songs that are appropriate to use in class (this list starts with the most recent):

General Music Lesson Ideas

For general music there are lots of ways to use hip-hop to teach concepts and skills we already teach. Here are just a few!

Music History: Hip-hop should be a focus of any discussion of modern music within any music history lessons, whether it's a "composer/ artist of the month" or an overview of music's development through time. The Netflix series Hip-Hop Evolution has lots of great information and interviews with a wide variety of artists.

Syncopation: Use examples from songs or even just loops to demonstrate syncopation- here's a loop you can download for free that accentuates the "1-syncopa-4" rhythm pattern. You could also use those same song excerpts and loops as accompaniments for students to play along with as they read and/or perform syncopated rhythms.

Contrasting Sections: One of the easiest ways to incorporate hip-hop into general music is through the study of form. Many songs have a clear distinction between the chorus, which is often sung, and the verses, which are often rapped. Use a song like "I'll Find You" (above) to identify contrasting sections and label the form, or use the chorus from a song as the "A section" and have students create new sections to go with it.

This is a good place to incorporate songs that as a whole may be questionable for use in the classroom but will immediately connect with students: "I Like It" by Cardi B (instrumental version here) is definitely not something I would use in class but the chorus would be an excellent starting point for having students create their own raps about things they like. "I Can" by Nas (instrumental version here) may actually be OK for high school age but the verses are probably too adult for elementary. The chorus, though, has an excellent message that would be the perfect starting point for contrasting sections.

Composition: One way to incorporate some of the skills hip-hop musicians need into our teaching is to give students opportunities to create music using online MPC's and apps that allow students to manipulate loops and create their own tracks. Here are some free ones:

EasyBeats Drum Machine
Splice Beat Maker

Ensemble Music Lesson Ideas

For instrumental and choral teachers, the obvious answer is to use hip-hop songs in the literature the students are learning and performing. But there are other ways to incorporate hip-hop into everyday lessons beyond performance literature as well:

Practicing New Notes: When beginning instrumentalists are practicing a new note on their instrument, have them improvise with that note (or a small set of notes) over a track. Use any drum track you have (you can download for free here).

Playing a Concert Bb Scale: It is fairly standard practice for bands to begin rehearsals with some version of a concert Bb scale. Mix it up by having the ensemble play along with a drum track (see above) or use a pitched loop that fits the scale (here's a free one).

Vocal Warm-ups: As with the scale example above, choirs can sing their warm-ups with a drum track. Another way to incorporate hip-hop into warm-ups is to take a phrase from a familiar song and sing it (going up or down chromatically) as the warm-up. The last phrase of the chorus from "I'll Find You", with the words "hold on and I'll find you" (see above), is sung on do-re-mi-fa-mi-re-do-re-do and would be perfect for a choral warm-up.

Simply adding a drum track may not seem like much but it can be a powerful way to begin to infuse hip-hop musical practices, especially if you can have some conversations to contextualize it for your students. Compare the addition of a track to your warm-up to DJ's pulling a loop off of a record to mix with another on their turntable. Talk about the emphasis on the backbeat and syncopation in different genres (this article by Ethan Hein gives a great, more in-depth explanation of this). Making these connections conscious for your students will get them thinking and exploring hip-hop in meaningful ways, just from a simple warm-up practice!


As I have said from the beginning, the ideas I'm presenting here are merely a starting point. As always, finding local experts with whom you can have face-to-face conversations (or maybe even have them come to your classroom as guest artists) is the best way to learn more! Here are some other great places to look for further study:

Very Sick Beats
Hip Hop Music Ed website
Hip-Hop Music Ed facebook group
Hip-Hop Evolution Netflix series
Ethan Hein Blog
Hip Hop Resource List from Ithaca College (this page has a HUGE list of more websites, books, and articles on a wide range of topics related to hip-hop)

I hope these ideas will help to make the idea of using hip-hop in music class less intimidating and more accessible, but I also hope they will spur further study and exploration. The genre of hip-hop deserves more than a box to check off in our teaching! I would love to hear more ideas from you in the comments section as well.

Special thanks to Jamie Ehrenfeld, Gerard Langley, Jarritt Sheel, and others for sharing their thoughts and helping to inform my writing for this post.

Stay connected and get timely updates and resources by signing up here for the Organized Chaos newsletter!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

October Favorites 2018

Another month has flown by! October is always one of my favorites, and this year was no exception. Here are some of my highlights from the past month as told by my Instagram pictures from October!

1. Creative costumes

I love it when my daughters come up with crazy creative ideas, and I'm so glad one of my girls decided to go as a "princess/ mermaid/ famous singer with a pet koala" for Halloween this year instead of picking a pre-made character. They come up with the wackiest ideas sometimes and it is so much fun to see their imaginations at work!

2. New behavior management tool

I've been meaning to write more about this, because it has proven to be pretty powerful in my classroom. For now this mention will have to suffice- I started keeping a sticky note pad and a pencil in the corner of a table at the back of my classroom for when students need to tell me something but want to do so privately and/or I'm not able to hear them as quickly as they need me to. I have a few older students in particular who I realized were often disrupting class because they were frustrated when I didn't immediately listen to their ideas and questions in class, and a few who often perseverate over a problem from outside music class but are reluctant to talk about it. I spoke privately with those students outside of class and let them know where the sticky notes were and that if they ever needed to tell me something but I wasn't able to hear them right away, that they could write it down and hand me the note. This has been a great way to allow those students to feel heard without taking time away from the lesson for the other students, and has been a great alternative for those shy students that would leave without resolving anything in the past. Simple but very effective!

3. Social justice in the music room


I have to mention this again because it is so important to me: I've been thinking and writing about various issues around the topic of better inclusion for marginalized students in the music room and it has had a profound effect on my practice. If you haven't already, I really hope you'll click on the images above to read the posts I've shared in this blog post series so far, and stay tuned because there's more to come next month!

4. Music education articles

I love sharing helpful music teaching articles I find each month- click on each picture to read the full posts!

I hope you found something inspiring to motivate you as we head into a new month! What have been your October highlights? What are you most looking forward to in the month ahead? If you want to get updates from Organized Chaos sent to your inbox, you can sign up here for the newsletter!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

5 Tips for Learning Student Names (and why it matters)

As I continue to think about ways to better reflect, respect, and respond to marginalized people and perspectives in music class, I wanted to remind us all of the importance of remembering to treat each child as an individual. That can be particularly challenging when you teach hundreds of students! One of the most important things we can do as music teachers to help our students feel respected and recognized is to know their names, and know them well. Today I want to share some of my tips for learning student names to help you with this important but difficult task!

But first: why even bother? With so many students to teach and so little class time with each one, is it really that critical for us to learn them all? The obvious answer is yes, it absolutely is. Sometimes it can get pushed aside with all the other tasks we have in front of us, and as soon as a new class walks in it's easy to forget the one that just left your room, but it absolutely is important to know each child's name and know it well. Teaching is a people business, not a topic business. We're here to grow humans, not convey musical concepts (although that certainly aids tremendously in the cultivating of little hearts, minds, souls, and bodies!). You might be able to get away with "sweetie" or "friend" for a little while, but children know when adults truly see them for who they are and treat them as an important individual worthy of their time and care. 

So let's get into it, shall we?

1. Put away the class lists

I know this sounds counter-intuitive I do not find the class lists from the office helpful for learning names at all. I do look at them to get an idea of how many students are in each class, and maybe see how many new students there are or note other general information, but once I get a sense of the general makeup of each class I put those lists away. I find if I look at the names in writing too much before I have a chance to meet the person and hear them say their own name, I tend to have a harder time pronouncing unfamiliar names correctly and it can actually take me longer to attach the name to the person. 

Instead, I learn new names by looking each one in the eye and asking them to tell me their name. Then I say it back to them a few times and ask them to correct me if I mispronounce it, then I will have them spell it for me so I can write it down on my seating chart. Sound before sight, right?

2. Listen carefully to the student

It's important to point out specifically the importance of having the students themselves tell me their names. Often when a new student moves into the school mid-year, the homeroom teacher will introduce them to me before their first class (which is awesome and so helpful!). I make sure I do not rely on anyone else's pronunciation of their name, but ask the student to say it themselves and pay close attention to how they pronounce it. 

And yes, how you pronounce the names does matter! This is one way that white privilege often rears its head in US American schools- teachers don't believe they can learn to pronounce unfamiliar names so they just don't even bother. I believe that is a tremendously disrespectful thing to do. Every time you say their name, the student will be reminded of how little you care for them, their background, and their family. The first tip of listening before looking at the name will help a lot with names containing unfamiliar sounds, and there's nothing wrong with trying over and over again to get it right and asking for help when you just aren't getting it. 

3. Use your seating chart

The only way to ever learn hundreds of names is to practice using them. Especially when I'm learning an entire new building's worth of names, I carry my seating chart with me at all times while I'm teaching and make a point of saying individual names as much as possible. I look over the seating chart as each class is walking in, but if I can't remember a name when I look at a student, I look down at the chart. Obviously this means I think assigned seating is a must, especially in the beginning! 

4. Take every opportunity to practice

I find the best way to get in practice time with all those names is actually outside of class. If I can remember their name when they're not sitting in their assigned seat, I must know it pretty well! I try to make a point of saying individual names as I greet students everywhere I go- in the hallway, in the cafeteria, or outside of school. If I can't remember, I just ask. Students understand and they appreciate the effort!

5. Study with photos

If all else fails, study those names like you're studying for a test! I get photos of the students (usually the homeroom teacher already has some from the first day of school, but if not I take my own) and write their names right next to their face and quiz myself over and over (hint: faculty meetings are a great time to work on this!). It's work but remember, it's so important!

What are your favorite tips for learning student names? You can read more of my suggestions for fostering relationships with students as an elementary specialist teacher in this post:

And be sure to catch up on all of the other posts on the topic of respecting, reflecting, and responding to students from all backgrounds right here:

Stay connected and get updates on the latest from Organized Chaos- sign up here for the newsletter!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Race in the Music Room: Representation

Over the last several weeks I have been tackling the topic of inclusion for traditionally marginalized people and perspectives in music education, and today we're talking about race. My focus in this series is threefold: reflecting underrepresented perspectives and people, responding to the needs and perspectives of marginalized perspectives and people, and respecting those differing perspectives and people as we do so. The topic of race is an enormous one, so I have split it up into 2 posts- last week I wrote about respecting and responding to students of color in this post. Today I want to focus specifically on "reflecting" (representation). I most certainly do not claim to have all of the answers, or to even be raising all of the right questions, but as with all of the topics in this series, my hope is to spark reflection and conversation for music educators so that we can take productive steps forward.

To help me address this topic I sought insight from two people of color who are music teachers I admire: Danielle from Music On a Cart and Czarina from Little Upbeat Class. I've also been doing a lot of reflection, reading, and talking with colleagues and others in the community over the last year in particular, so the thoughts below are a compilation of all of our ideas.

1. Incorporate more equal representation of races in:

a) examples of famous musicians/ music history
This is not a new idea, but when we are presenting examples of famous musicians we need to be including composers, performers, and other musicians from all different racial and cultural backgrounds! Take a careful look at which people (and which people's music) are represented in lessons and on bulletin boards and posters .

b) any pictures of people in general
Music history timelines and bulletin boards featuring musicians are one thing, but what about other visuals in general? If you have posters to demonstrate posture, signs related to behavior management, or other visuals in slides, handouts, worksheets, and letters home, do the people in those visuals represent a wide range of racial backgrounds? One specific personal example: I created posters to show the "give me five" hand signal for us to use school-wide, and I paid extra money to buy a high-quality image of a dark-skinned hand to use on the posters. I didn't know how much of a difference something so minute would make, but I was reassured when, a few weeks into the school year, I overheard a dark-skinned upper elementary student comment to his friend in hush-toned wonder, "I think that's MY hand!". Normalizing and respecting people of color happens in those tiny details!

It's important to note here, too, that not all visual representations are created equal. Textbooks, posters, and other lesson visuals that make an effort to include more diverse representation without taking the time to consult native sources can easily turn into caricature. Thankfully there are a lot more resources that represent people of more varied races in accurate and respectful ways available now, but it's important to check and think carefully before using the first resource you find!

c) song literature sources and topics
I discussed more in-depth my thoughts on using folk songs with racist backgrounds in music lessons in my previous post here. But beyond eliminating racist song choices, we can better represent people of color by including music written and/or performed by musicians of color more regularly in our lesson content and performance material.

d) books, stories, and other examples
There are lots of other little ways we represent and exclude/ignore people groups. If you use books as starting points for lessons, what kinds of people and perspectives are represented in those books? When you use stories to illustrate a point in class, who are the characters? If you are trying to give an example and use a "generic" name for an imaginary person, what kind of name do you pick?

2. Include representation throughout the year, not just during certain holidays

I discussed this idea in my post on avoiding exoticism in world music teaching as well- one important way to normalize different people groups is to represent them, in the many different ways mentioned in the point above, when their background is not the main reason for bringing it up. Don't limit study of African American musicians to February, or Spanish language songs to Hispanic Heritage Month. Make it a regular, normal part of your curriculum throughout the year.

3. Be careful to check sources before sharing

This is definitely a sticky issue but it needs to be addressed: don't blindly share resources and ideas with others without checking to see if they are accurate representations of the people groups they claim to represent! With social media and the internet, the wealth of ideas and resources to which we have access is wonderfully huge. But whether we are getting ideas from others or passing them along to others, we need to take the responsibility to make sure the resource isn't misrepresenting, marginalizing, appropriating, or exoticising people groups. We can't simply take an idea we find in a textbook, TeachersPayTeachers resource, teacher workshop, blog, or online forum and assume it has already been checked for accuracy, no matter how much we trust that source. All of us are learning together. If we can each do our part to make sure our sources are accurate and respectful, we can slow the spread of inappropriate materials. Frankly there are too many resources being shared again and again all over the internet that blatantly misrepresent marginalized people groups, and it is painful to watch them continue to spread into more and more classrooms!

4. Look for, and seek to change, ways that lesson content and assessment strategies favor characteristic skills of one racial/ cultural group over another

When we think about which people groups are represented in our lessons, we need to go beyond the song content and visuals on our walls. What musical skills are we valuing in our curriculum? Sure, maybe we include some hip-hop songs as examples in class, but do we value the ability to rap or manipulate a sample with the same importance that we do reading standard Western music notation? Are we fostering the skills and interests students need to be the next Chance the Rapper to the same degree we foster the skills and interests they need to be the next Mozart?

5. Put students (and others) of color in leadership

Another important way to make sure more people groups are represented in our classroom is to look at who is standing on the podium. The reality is, a disproportionately high percentage of us music teachers are white. It's important for our students to see people of different races taking leadership in our classrooms! Bringing in guest teachers, conductors, and artists, whether in person or even via Ted Talks and other videos or via video conferencing, is an excellent way to diversify the perspectives represented in the leadership of our class. It's equally valuable, and often more realistic (especially for elementary music teachers), to find ways to encourage our students to take leadership in the classroom as well. Because of what they see in their schools, many students of color will have trouble picturing themselves as teachers or conductors. Giving them the experience of doing it for themselves can have a profound impact on the students themselves and their peers who see them at the front of the class! One simple way I have found to get all of my students to take more leadership in lesson activities is through my warmups- read more about how I do that in this post.

Be sure to check out the resources I listed in my previous post on race in the music room here. You'll find several books and articles to read on the topic, as well as websites and social media accounts to follow, to help us all continue to learn, reflect, and talk about this important topic! I hope you'll get involved in the discussion by sharing your thoughts in the comments below. And if you want to stay in touch and get more content delivered straight to your inbox, don't forget to sign up here for the Organized Chaos newsletter!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Race in the Music Room: Respect

Over the last several weeks I have been tackling the topic of inclusion for traditionally marginalized people and perspectives in music education, and today we're talking about race. This is an emotionally and politically charged topic for many, but also a particularly salient one! I most certainly do not claim to have all of the answers, or to even be raising all of the right questions, but as with all of the topics in this series, my hope is to spark reflection and conversation for music educators so that we can take productive steps forward.

Affiliate links are contained in this post. This does not change any part of the buying or viewing experience for you, nor does it have an impact on my views or on what I choose to share.

To help me address this topic I sought insight from two people of color who are music teachers I admire: Danielle from Music On a Cart and Czarina from Little Upbeat Class. I've also been doing a lot of reflection, reading, and talking with colleagues and others in the community over the last year in particular, so the thoughts below are a compilation of all of our ideas.

My focus in this series is threefold: reflecting underrepresented perspectives and people, responding to the needs and perspectives of marginalized perspectives and people, and respecting those differing perspectives and people as we do so. The topic of race is an enormous one, so I will be tackling the issue of reflecting students of color (representation) in a separate post. Today I want to focus on responding to and respecting a broader range of people and perspectives.

1. Take a hard look at your own biases and listen to people from other perspectives.

I've been saying this all through this series but it's worth saying again! It is impossible to expand our worldviews and perspectives in isolation. Obviously talking to people from differing backgrounds face-to-face is one of the most powerful things we can do in this area, but books and articles, professional learning communities (local or online), and social media are all excellent ways to hear from other perspectives and learn from experts who have been studying the topic as well.

You'll find a list of some specific resources for books and online resources later in this post, but I want to focus here on the idea of listening to people from different perspectives. If you are a white teacher, it can be embarrassingly challenging to find people of color to hear from. Looking for pop/ contemporary music to include in your choir concert that are "school-appropriate"? Whether you're looking on the radio, in a Facebook group for music teachers, or doing an internet search, my guess is (and my experience has been) you'll find a lot more songs performed and written by white people before you'll find anything by people of color. Looking for music teachers to follow on social media, authors to read in professional journals, or other ways to learn from experts in the field? The majority of the ones we'll come across initially are going to be white.

It is our job as teachers to seek out those differing perspectives, particularly those that are marginalized like people of color, and take the time to really listen and learn. This can't be about finding one African-American spiritual or one lesson idea from one teacher of color and patting ourselves on the back. The only way to deepen our own understanding and start to identify our own biases so that we can improve our teaching practice for our students is to listen with open ears over a long period of time and seek to understand.

I've included a resource list at the end of this post. Take the time to listen to some or all of them, and then, in whatever ways you can, amplify the voices of music educators of color. We need to help other music teachers find these resources and learn from these voices, and we need to better support our colleagues of color as well. Czarina put it this way (quote from her interview with Razan Abdin-Adnani): "As a woman of color in music education, I am the minority. The majority of music directors are white and usually male. Because of this, I have felt pressure to maintain the status quo in order to prove my worth. As I grew in my own voice and resilience, I realized that being a female-music-director of color is my strength. I am representation. This understanding led me to challenge the status quo, to fight injustice, and to be intentional about providing wider representation and a deeper understanding/appreciation of my students' identities in my teaching." When you find excellent resources from people of color, share them with colleagues!

2. Be proactive in eliminating songs that have a racist background as well as practices/ vocabulary that are offensive to certain racial/ cultural groups.

It is amazing how many songs that are part of the standard literature for many elementary music programs have racist backgrounds. Songs like "Jump Jim Joe", "Five Little Monkeys", and "Jimmy Crack Corn" are all songs that have appeared in many elementary music textbooks and resources and have been used in workshops for many prominent methodologies but all have racist backgrounds. If this is new information for you, you're not alone! But it's time to do some research. Here is an article by Aimee from O For Tuna Orff to get you started.

I've seen a lot of discussions on this topic among music teachers: should we or shouldn't we eliminate folk songs and other music that we've used (and loved) for years but find out have racist origins? There are differing opinions on this. Some teachers prefer to teach the song and have a frank discussion about its racist background, using it as a learning opportunity (Danielle has been able to do this successfully with her older private lesson students, for example). Others modify the portions that are racist by changing the lyrics or eliminating certain sections and use the edited version. Although there are some situations where these strategies might be worthwhile, as in Danielle's example, in most cases I (along with Danielle and Czarina) take the approach of replacing repertoire with racist backgrounds entirely. There is so much music out there in the universe- why would I continue to use a piece that is offensive to certain groups of people and promotes a biased, disrespectful perspective? It takes more effort to find new songs to use and create new lesson plans, but in our opinion it is most certainly worth the time and effort.

This concept goes beyond just song material- we also need to make the effort to learn about terminology and specific practices that are offensive to other people groups and eliminate them from our teaching. Yes, it can be exhausting to learn new vocabulary for referring to people groups or changing little habits that we have, but I believe it is our responsibility as teachers (and, really, as humans) to make the effort to change (and not insist that others should "stop being sensitive", as I've heard some say).

The best way to learn about terms and practices that may offend others is to develop open and honest relationships with people in your community and just ask! Different people groups, and even individuals, will have different opinions on what vocabulary is harmful. And there are so many little things we do as teachers that can offend students or parents but can easily be changed! I learned during my time in Korea, for example, that in some cultures it is like a death wish to write a person's name in red. I no longer use red when I correct papers- now I use another color like purple or green (and hey, it's more fun anyway)!

3. Don't be afraid to discuss race in class.

It can be intimidating to even bring up the topic of race in class, especially if you are a white teacher with classes that are primarily students of color. Take the time to do your homework, of course, but you as a teacher will never have all the answers. If you create a classroom environment where everyone can be open and honest in sharing their perspectives and listening to others', productive conversations can happen by learning from each other.

I teach a very short unit on jazz music in my 6th grade classes. As part of my introduction, I show videos of different styles of jazz from different time periods. As we watch Dave Brubeck and Ella Fitzgerald and talk about the way jazz changed over time, race naturally comes up. I used to avoid getting into the topic too deeply, but now if a student doesn't bring it up in the first few minutes I raise it myself! It's important for students to have opportunities to have honest conversations about race and become comfortable with the topic. It doesn't have to take over the entire class period- we all know how limited our class time is already- but if we raise it matter-of-factly whenever it is appropriate, we will create a classroom environment where students of all races feel more comfortable.

4. Don't make assumptions about students.

I mentioned this in my post on world cultures, but it applies to racial groups as well: don't assume that a student (or anyone else, for that matter) is of a particular race or identifies with a particular group. There are French people with very dark skin who certainly wouldn't call themselves "African American" (for example)! Avoid putting students on the spot or referring to them as an example of a particular people group- get to know the students and have private conversations with them if there is a reason their personal racial identity would be helpful to bring up in class. Remember that nobody's identity is one-dimensional or straight-forward. We are all multi-faceted individuals with unique perspectives, backgrounds, and stories.

5. Look for, and seek to change, ways that you favor the characteristic behaviors of one racial/ cultural group over another.

To truly respect and respond to students from varied backgrounds, we have to think beyond just racist songs and terminology. One area of ongoing reflection for me has been taking a hard look at the kinds of behaviors I encourage and discourage in my classroom (and in my school building as a whole). Are the behaviors I see as "negative" actually detrimental to student learning, or are they just harder for me to manage or uncomfortable for me personally? A simple example is hoodies. In the past I would automatically tell any student with a hood on to take it off in school. Now I only do so if the students are covering their mouths with it while singing, playing with the ties, or otherwise inhibiting their learning in some way. I have found that for some students, they put their hood on when they are upset and it helps them feel safe, which actually improves their ability to remain in class and participate. For others it is simply what they're used to, and by allowing those students to keep their hoods on they feel more comfortable in my class and feel their identity is more accepted. Perceiving the difference between those for whom putting their hood on is a distraction or a means to "check out" from the class, and those for whom it improves their learning, comes down to intentional relationships with my students (isn't that what it always comes down to?).

Another example is the way students enter my classroom. I used to be extremely strict about having classes enter the room silently so that their focus was immediately on the first lesson activity I had planned. Now in some classes (particularly the older grades) I allow students to come in having a quiet conversation or greeting with another student or (more often) with me, and I start our student-led warmup activity while a certain amount of chatter is still happening. I find for certain classes, students are much more comfortable and engaged this way and we get started just as quickly. Am I still a drill sergeant when it comes to walking silently in the hallway? Yep. Do I still have very clear expectations and structure for how students come into my room? Absolutely. None of this is possible without a foundation of structure and high expectations that are consistently enforced. But with that foundation established, I have found that students can handle a certain amount of freedom and, again, feel more welcomed in my classroom (which leads to increased engagement throughout the rest of class).

What about helping other students with answers? Of course there are times when I need to be able to assess each individual student's understanding of a particular concept so I cannot have students helping each other. But I have found shared/ cooperative learning opportunities to be tremendously helpful, whether they happen to be struggling with the topic or are able to help others! The point is to be open to the idea that behaviors we may be trying to prohibit may actually be ones that can help some of our students learn more effectively and give more equal importance to values of different people groups. Often it is a matter of finding different ways to manage the behaviors in a classroom setting. In every case it can only work with a foundation of high structure and clear expectations, combined with intentional relationships with each individual student.


Here is a list of some books, articles, websites, and social media accounts that can serve as resources for further thought and discussion. This is certainly not an exhaustive list! If you have other resources or people you are aware of, please share them below so we can all learn from each other!

I hope that this post serves to spark thought and discussion and that we can continue to learn from each other to better serve all of the students in our classrooms! To stay in touch and get more content delivered straight to your inbox, be sure to sign up here for the Organized Chaos Newsletter.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Planner Setup Tip: Simplifying Weekly Lesson Planning

I made a small but significant change to my planner setup this school year and after test-driving it for a couple of months I'm officially in love!

So let me show you what I did and then I'll explain what it is, how I use it, and why it's awesome :)

For those who don't know, I designed a planner years ago where I can keep everything in one place, from lesson plans for my elementary general music classes to meal planning, from concert organization to birthdays and anniversaries, and everything in between. If you aren't familiar with what my planner is like, here's a video "tour" from a couple of years ago, which takes you through all of the different sections of the planner:

I've had a section for "curriculum" since I first started this planner system, and as my lesson planning systems and resources have changed, the contents of that section have changed as well. A couple of years ago I started creating and using monthly lesson banks to more effectively fill the gap between my long-range yearly plans and my day-to-day lesson planning. If you aren't familiar with that system, stop everything you're doing and go read the post below- it has been life-changing for me!

Until this year, I was referencing those all-important monthly lesson banks in two ways: 1) on my computer, and 2) a hard copy of the current month, which I kept in the back pocket of my planner. As I completed each month's plans I would print out the next month and throw away the old one.

The problem was I found myself referencing those monthly lesson banks so often that it was sometimes inconvenient not to have a hard copy of every month at my fingertips! And as I reflect on my curriculum and lesson plans this school year to dig deeper into how to better represent and respect all of my students from differing backgrounds and perspectives, I have wanted to have a hard copy where I can jot down ideas when I think of them, and pull out several months at a time to look at them side-by-side.

Enter my planner setup update: the grade level tabs within the curriculum section of my planner!

For each grade, I printed out the yearly outline for which skills and concepts I plan to cover each month, with the curriculum overview for each grade level based on the standards on the back of that page. Behind that, I have each month's lesson bank:

I was avoiding having everything printed and included in my planner because I never want to add unnecessary bulk, but these monthly plans have become such a critical part of my planning process that it is worth it for me! If you want to get a closer look at what my monthly lesson banks are like, you can download the September plans for 5th grade for free right here, and you can get all the templates I used to set up everything from my long-range curriculum documents to my specific lesson plans, plus the directions for how I did it, in this free email course.

I love having everything organized this way, and having the tabs-within-tabs makes it easy to find what I need when I'm writing up my lesson plans. Anything that saves me time with all those different lessons is a huge win for me! If you don't want to add too much bulk to your regular planner, this would also be a great binder to set up separately with tabs for each grade and the grade level overviews and monthly plans organized within each grade.

I hope you found some fresh inspiration and new ideas to help you simplify your general music lesson planning! If you want more ideas like this sent straight to your email, be sure to sign up here for the Organized Chaos Newsletter so you can stay up to date on the latest happenings around these parts :)

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Females in the Music Room

As we continue our conversation on better inclusion for marginalized people groups in our music rooms, today I want to focus on women and girls. With such a high percentage of females in the teaching profession in general, it is in many ways surprising to think that girls are marginalized in any way in our classrooms, but when we consider the structures and issues of our societies in general it shouldn't come as a surprise at all. In keeping with the theme of this series, today I want to focus on ways in which we can better reflect, respect, and respond to the needs of females in the music room.

First it's important to note that gender is not binary, and there are many students who struggle with the issue of gender identity itself. Although that topic is beyond the scope of this post, I do not want us to ignore the struggles or needs of those students as we focus on females today. As we reflect on how to better reach and teach all of our students, it's important to avoid limiting ourselves to binary gender identities.

To help me tackle this topic, I reached out to fellow music teacher Michelle Warshany from Music with Miss W. She has been talking about the need for better female representation in music education for a while now and she has some excellent thoughts, ideas, and resources to share! Here is the conversation we had:

1. What are some of the specific areas where you have noticed lack of female representation in music education, whether as a student or as a teacher?

As a student, I started playing flute in 5th grade but did not play any music written by a female composer until I was in college. I did not meet a female high school band director until my junior year of college. As a student teacher, I attended a meeting with my co-operating teacher for all of the high school band directors in the district. I was the only female there. This summer I took an advanced conducting course as part of my masters and there was not a single female conductor featured as an example of great conducting in the entire course. 

As a teacher, I encountered a huge lack of female representation at the high school band level and at the secondary level in general. I have also encountered quite a bit of sexism and I know I am not alone. The Good Ol' Boys Club definitely still exists in many places, especially in the band world. Do a quick search of "sexism" in any band director Facebook group and you'll find many stories.

As a teacher, I have also noticed many band programs don't program any music written by female composers. It's not even just an issue at the K-12 level. Of the 1,445 classical concerts performed by orchestras, only 5% of the concerts include at least one piece of music written by a female composer. Most often, I see teachers rarely displaying female composers in their "composer of the month" series. If there are female composers, conductors, and musicians displayed or used, they are most often white women and very rarely feature BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color).

2. Besides representation, what are other ways in which females are underprivileged in music classrooms (of any types/ grade levels)? 

Females often face more challenges as leaders. Check out this interview that talks about some of the challenges women face, "for example the ‘master stereotype’ that men have emotion while women are emotional." It is important to recognize that female leaders face unique challenges. This is something to be mindful of, especially if you have female students who are drum majors, section leaders, etc. 

In the same vein of leadership, girls may be less likely pursue leadership positions, despite the fact that research finds girls are just as predisposed to be leaders as boys. If you see leadership potential in female students, be aware they made need a little extra encouragement and be sure to expose them to female leader role models.

If you have self evaluation/reflection on their playing/singing as a part of grading, be aware that female students may often rate themselves lower than their actual performance level. For example, this study found "when self-ratings are examined, men rate themselves as significantly more effective than women rate themselves."

3. What are some specific ways for music teachers to make sure there is more female representation in their lesson content, repertoire, classrooms, materials, etc?

First, I suggest looking at the small things. If you're showing a video of someone playing an instrument, can you find a video that features a female musician? If you have bulletin boards or displays, can you add more females (be sure that they are inclusive of BIPOC)?

Be intentional about the music you program and make a goal to program at least one piece composed by a female composer each year. The composer diversity project has done an AWESOME job of collecting tons of female composers and putting them all in one database.

Don't be afraid to call out or talk about something that a male musician, composer, or conductor did. Russell Simmons is featured in my high school general music curriculum. Instead of side stepping the issue of the rape allegations, I talked about #metoo and gave resources for victims of sexual assault. It is okay to call out something that is wrong. Students need to know what is wrong.

Male teachers/directors - speak up when you see something or hear something.

Take a look at who you follow on social media. Are you listening and learning from voices who are different than your own?

4. What are some specific ways for music teachers to better respect and foster female students and their values in their classes?

Make female representation a normal part of your classroom. Featuring female composers, conductors, and musicians during women's history month is simply not enough. Students need to see themselves regularly in class. If you want to read more on why this important, you can check out this post.

Bring in female guest conductors so students can see other females leading ensembles. Support your female student teachers and talk about the specific challenges they may face. Encourage your female student leaders and be on the lookout for any sexism that may happen.

5. What resources would you suggest for music teachers who want to better represent females in their classes?
If you're looking for grade 3 and below pieces for band and orchestra, check out Yukiko Nishimura.
You can also check out my Instagram highlights - I have a few featuring female composers and conductors.

Points to Consider

Reflect: Finding ways to better reflect females in our classrooms goes beyond including Clara Schumann in our music history lessons! We need to include music written by female composers in the repertoire we use, show examples of female composers, conductors, performers, and other musicians in our posters, visuals, and video examples, and make sure students have opportunities to interact with female leaders in music, whether they're guest conductors, visiting artists, teaching colleagues, or other musicians from the community.

Respond: It's important to take into account the specific ways that female students handle self-evaluation compared to their male peers. We also need to be conscious of the barriers to leadership that our female students often encounter, and provide them with the support and role models they need to take on leadership roles in our classrooms.

Respect: We can't ignore the specific challenges that girls face in taking on leadership in our classrooms. It's important to encourage female students to take on leadership roles and be aware of (and counteract) any sexism they may encounter when they do. And when we talk about people, events, and ideas that are disrespectful of females in some way, it's important not to ignore the issue but to address it (in an age-appropriate way) with our students. We can also model respect as teachers ourselves, whether male or female.

I hope you found some thought-provoking ideas and resources to help you better reflect, respect, and respond to female students in your classroom! I have to thank Michelle for sharing her thoughts with us. If you want to hear more from her, you can find her on Instagram, Facebook, TeachersPayTeachers, and on her website.

If you haven't yet, I encourage you to read through the introductory post for this series on making room for every student in our classrooms. I hope you'll take some time to read my thoughts on ways to better teach other marginalized people and perspectives in my other posts in this series as well.