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Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Rewind: Top Planner and Home Life Posts

I love taking some time for reflection at the end of each year, so today we're taking a look back at the content from 2018 related to planners and home life! If you missed last week's "rewind" post on music education content, be sure to catch up on that one right here. But life outside of the classroom is just as important to talk about as our work lives, so let's take some time to focus on all things planners and home life! I hope you find some fresh inspiration to get you motivated for 2019.


1. Fresh Start Challenge

I started off 2018 with the "fresh start challenge", and boy was it a great way to get my butt in gear and get some cleaning and organizing done without feeling overwhelmed! I picked some key areas that needed some attention each week and spent some short but focused time cleaning out those areas. If you feel like you need a kick in the pants for the new year, I think you'll find these will help you find some focus and inspiration to get you going! Click below to see the last post in the series and find links to all the other posts for different areas of your home:


2. Planner Quick Tips

When it comes to planners I have so much to say that the little tips and tricks I pick up tend to get forgotten. That's why this series was so much fun: lots of little tips that have made my planning more efficient, fun, and/or effective!

    

    


3. Music at Home

Some of my favorite parenting-related posts this year were related to the role of music at home! My daughters started taking instrument lessons in 2018, so that added a new dimension to music at home for us this year. These are ideas I still turn to regularly- if you are a parent of young children these are definitely worth the read!



4. Planner Tips Roundups

Planners have been one of my most frequent topics since I started this website in 2014, and it was high time I gathered those ideas into a central location! This past spring I shared two posts rounding up my top planner idea posts: one on setting up the planner itself, and one on using the planner. These are the best starting places if you're looking to revamp your planner system (whether you use the same one I do or not) or are thinking of getting started with one in the new year!



5. Meal Planning

Few things have been more critical to my survival as a working mother than meal planning! I've talked about my various systems here and there over the years, but this year I dedicated some time to specifically going through everything you need to know to get started with meal planning (or make your current meal planning more efficient)!


Those are some of the highlights, but there is so much more! If you want to catch up on my planner or homelife posts, you can always click on the categories at the top of my webpage to scroll through all of my posts for that category! What were some of your highlights from 2018? What are you hoping to focus on in the new year? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

2018 Rewind: Top Music Education Posts

On this last full week of 2018, I want to stop and look back on all of the content we have covered this year on Organized Chaos. What a year it has been! Lots of opportunities to dig deeper into improving our practice as music teachers, as well as continuing to share practical advice for those aspects of music teaching with which many of us struggle the most. If you've missed any of the highlights below, this is a great chance to catch up on some reading! And if you're curious to find out which post was the most popular this year (and enter a giveaway!), stay tuned to the end!


1. Teaching Recorder

This series of posts is chock-full of all of my top tips for teaching recorder: everything from trouble-shooting all those squeaks and squawks to organization tips, logistics and teaching strategies. See all of my posts on recorder here:


2. Teaching Pitch Elements

I also wrote a series of posts on specific lessons for introducing new solfege pitch elements, practicing letter names, and exploring high and low. See all of those posts here:


3. Social Justice in the Music Room

This was possibly the most important series I have ever written. Please, please, if you have not had the chance to read these, I hope you will take the time to do so now. I received so much excellent input from experts in each specific area. We owe it to our students to do some hard thinking about how to do better for our most marginalized students!


4. Advice from Administrators

This year I also had the opportunity to do something a little new: interview administrators about issues relating to music teachers and share their insights with you in a series of posts on the job search process and advice for current teachers for improving their relationships with administration.


  

5. Elementary Choir

From favorite warm-ups to rehearsal procedures, concert organization and lesson planning, these posts on elementary chorus teaching were among my most-read this school year!


6. Most-Read Post of 2018


And... drumroll please.... the most-read post from this year? 5 things to stop saying to music teachers! This one clearly resonated with a lot of people. It can be so frustrating to hear these ignorant comments from others, but it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who hears these disrespectful remarks regularly, and I'm genuinely hopeful that people outside our field will learn from this post- I truly think they usually have no idea that what they're saying is offensive, and/or have no idea what our jobs are actually like!



These are just a few of the highlights from this past year's content on music teaching- you can find lots more by searching through the archives on the website's sidebar on elementary music class openers, lesson ideas for the first day of school, finishing the school year strong, and SO much more! What were your favorite post(s) from 2018? What content do you hope to see in 2019? Leave your answers in the comments at the bottom of this blog post for a chance to win a $10 gift card to my store! Be sure to enter your email address here after you leave a comment so I can get in touch with you if you win :) Giveaway closes at midnight EST on December 31st:

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Right Way to Play Freeze Dance in the Classroom

I'm going to go ahead and claim it: I am the master of freeze dance in the classroom. After running the game with my students from preschool through 9th grade over many years of teaching, I have figured out what rules and procedures help the game run most smoothly and keep everyone having the most fun. Ready to learn all the tricks of the trade?


The biggest key to success is setting up the rules before you start. Here are the rules I always tell students when we play freeze dance / musical statues:
  1. When the music is playing you dance. When the music stops you freeze. The last one moving is out of the game and must go to a designated area.
  2. Throughout the game, whether the music is on or off, whether you are out or still playing, your voice must be off. It's not fair if someone else can't hear the music stopping because of your noise.
  3. For your movement to count as "dancing" you must move your feet and only your feet may touch the floor. Otherwise it's too easy to stop and start.
  4. You cannot touch any other person or thing, and you must stay in your spot- you cannot move around the room while you are dancing. It's not safe.
  5. If you forget any of the rules above, you will be out in addition to whomever is the last to stop moving- there can be multiple people out in one round.
  6. I am the Almighty Judge. You may not argue with the Almighty Judge, and you may not attempt to become a judge yourself. Any attempts to usurp or argue with Almighty Judge will result in banishment.
Once the rules are established the rest is a matter of holding students to those rules. I have found the best way to see a room full of dancing children simultaneously is to look at the middle of the room and pay attention to my peripheral vision. Make sure to position yourself in a place where you can control the music and see every player at the same time.

Besides the rules above, there are a few other things I do without telling the students that help prevent tantrums:
  1. I don't tell them in advance, but the first round is always a "practice round". I keep track of everyone who is breaking the rules- usually the shy kids who aren't moving, and the excited ones who are talking or laughing- and when I stop the music the first time I call out all the people who would have been out if it was the real deal. I tell them this is their warning and then remind them that from now on, if I call their name, they are out.
  2. I make the first *actual* round of dancing the longest- I don't want the first person to be out after just a few seconds! And the second round is always the shortest, so that the first person isn't out on their own for very long. The rest of the rounds I keep relatively short, but varying the length of course.
  3. After the first few rounds, if the students aren't too rowdy, I actually encourage those that are out to dance silently in their seats while they watch. It allows them to continue enjoying the music instead of feeling like they're missing out. It's important to keep them seated though, so you don't get confused while you're judging!
  4. There are always a handful of students who figure out ways to "dance" with the least movement possible. I allow anything (as long as they're moving their feet) for the first few rounds, but after that I'll start pressuring them into changing up their moves by telling them not to be "boring". If they continue to barely move, I'll sometimes tell them that if they don't start moving more I'll decide they're out.
  5. I keep a CD with lots of upbeat dance songs (find some of my favorites here) in my sound system at all times for this purpose. I like to change the song each round rather than playing and pausing the same one over and over- different students are more comfortable dancing with different types of music so I try to include a variety.
  6. I model "laughing it off" for students- if they lose their balance I will wink at them, sigh, or otherwise try to make light of the situation in a fun way, like "oops, guess that just happened" as I call their name. I find that helps, especially for those that tend to have trouble with losing, to "save face" in front of their peers.
Now that you know all of my top-secret strategies for running Freeze Dance successfully in the classroom, it's time to get dancing! Be sure to check out the link above for some modern, upbeat music you can use in class for games like this. 

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Music Incentive Day Ideas

I love using a "reward day" or "music choice day" as an incentive for whole class behavior management, and I know many other general music teachers do as well. It's a great way to keep class time meaningful while taking some time to explore the joys of music-making without the pressure of a traditional lesson format, and it gives students some agency in what they do in class. That said, there are few things worse than a party that descends into bedlam or just flops. Here is how I make sure things run smoothly and keep it fun.


1. Give students choice

I think it's important to give students the opportunity to help choose what they would most like to do to make it fun for the most number of people. Often they surprise me by picking "meaty" activities from previous lessons, and it always gives me a chance to see what my students are interested in and what form of musicking they most enjoy (which is valuable information for planning my future lessons)! 

The way I do this is by having the class come up with a list of ideas and then vote on their favorite. The suggestions have to be music-related and something we can do right then without preparation (I do the voting the same day as the reward day). Each student is only allowed to vote once (makes it easier to count votes), and I have them close their eyes while they are voting (so nobody is swayed by the opinions of their peers, and so that I can secretly veto things I know are bad ideas... ssshhhhhh...). 

2. Prepare some ideas in advance

Now that my classes have done this before they have no problem coming up with ideas, but when I come into a new school and do this for the first time there are always some classes that struggle to come up with ideas for things to do. It's a good idea to have a few ideas in mind to get them going in case this happens (see my list below for some favorites!). 

3. Remind students that fun means fun for all

It may seem counter-intuitive but in many ways I hold students to a higher behavioral standard during reward days- I call them "parties" to my students and I always explain that parties are for fun, and it's not fun unless it's fun for everyone. If anyone is being a poor sport, talking over someone, or ignoring the rules of the game etc, they sit out. Nobody is allowed to ruin our fun. 

I also don't allow students to sit out and sulk because their top choice wasn't selected- I remind them that this was what the majority selected and so this is what the most people think is fun. If they are complaining about that choice they are being negative about something many of their peers think is awesome, and that's rude. I try to give them options if they are reluctant because they are shy (like telling them to just tap their foot if they are not wanting to dance, etc) but I always encourage them to find a way to enjoy the activity with the rest of the class no matter what.

4. Top activities

After doing these for over a decade I have seen which activities tend to work and which ones don't. When students are sharing ideas, I'm usually very honest with them about things I know will go well and any reservations I have about other ideas to try to guide them. Here are some of my students' favorite "music party" activities that I find go the most smoothly, and tend to be most widely-enjoyed.
  • Freeze dance (I have this game down to a science, haha! More on how I run this to make sure it goes well in a future post...)
  • Instruments (students choose one instrument to play. usually I have them watch me to play and stop on my cues, and sometimes I'll have them trade instruments if there is enough time)
  • Talent show (those who want to dance, sing, or play an instrument can perform while the others watch- only do this if you have a very small class or at least 30 minutes for the activity!)
  • Singing games (favorites include Black Snake, Chicken on the Fencepost, We Are Dancing in the Forest, and Grizzly Bear)
  • Four corners (older grades enjoy this more than the younger grades as a change of pace from freeze dance)
  • Just Dance videos (you can look up specific ones on YouTube for students to dance along with)
  • Incredibox (do it as a class by projecting it on the screen- if you have an interactive board they can take turns choosing one sound on the board, or if you don't, they can take turns on the computer)
  • Music drawing/ coloring (this can go a lot of different ways and tends to be popular with the younger grades, especially if they are a quieter group. Music-themed coloring pages are good to keep on hand, or students might choose to draw a picture of their favorite instrument or just something music-related, or they might choose to draw in response to music.)
There's one that I definitely do NOT recommend, and that's musical chairs. At my current school it actually doesn't get requested very often, but at my last school I used to hear this request a lot and I have never found it to work well in the class setting because 1) it takes a lot of time just to set up the chairs, 2) people can get hurt from sitting on each other or pushing each other out of chairs, 3) I find it harder than freeze dance to judge fairly, and 4) for whatever reason, someone always ends up getting upset. Every now and then a class will overwhelmingly vote for it despite my warnings and I'll let them try it, and I regret it every time (and they agree with my opinion afterwards). 

Reward days are definitely not something to use too often, but using them sparingly really gives everyone a chance to let loose and just bask in the joy of music every now and then! With the way I run my whole class behavior management, most classes end up doing two or three in a school year and that seems to work really well. You can read more about my whole class behavior management system in this post:


You can also see lots more ideas on behavior management for elementary and middle school music classes (including how I use centers as another incentive for whole class behavior- another favorite of mine) in this post:


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Monday, December 10, 2018

Dry Erase Home Organizer

I have always told myself that organization systems only work until they don't, and that I should never become so attached to one system that I continue using it when my organizational needs have changed and my system is no longer the best way to address those needs. I realized a month or so ago that my old command center (which was perfect for me for many years) was no longer serving my needs, so I updated my system to something much more streamlined and centralized. Here's what I am using now (and loving so far)!


For those who aren't familiar with it, here's my old command center (click on the pictures for more details on how I made everything and how I use them- I still highly recommend them!):

     

I think the main change has been that, as my daughters have gotten older, I have gained more experience in this mothering/ household managing business, and the girls have busier schedules but are also more independent. I can whip up breakfasts and packed lunches without quite as much prompting as I used to, but coordinating each of our different schedules and making sure I'm not double or triple-booking myself has become more challenging. 

I realized that I didn't really need as many visual reminders and systems for meal planning as I used to, but I did need more help keeping track of where everyone needs to be when each day. This is where my new organizer comes in:


My new "command center" is actually just one bigger, centralized place to track schedules (and note my meal plans). Because it's all in one board (instead of smaller boards for each day like I was using before), I can note events that go over multiple days more easily too, and I have more space for each day to write all of our different crazy schedules to make sure I'm keeping track of everything in one place. 

All I did to create this was cut out strips of different scrapbook paper and stick them to the piece of paper that came inside the original frame with double sided tape, then added stickers to mark the days of the week. I actually re-used the frame I had used for my dinner meal planner for this, and I already had the stickers and paper on hand, so I spent no money at all to make it- yay for free projects!

I hope you find new inspiration to rethink your home organization systems as you look forward to the new year! Want more timely and relevant content sent straight to your inbox? Sign up here for the Organized Chaos newsletter!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Now What? Steps to Anti-Oppressive Music Teaching

So like me, you've come to recognize the many ways that society, our education system, and your own teaching practices are biased against certain people groups and perspectives. You want to do something to create a more just classroom. But what can you do? Today I want to share some of the steps I am committing to take as I continue on this journey of working against systems of oppression and towards greater equity in my own teaching practices.


1. Listen

I cannot emphasize this enough, particularly for my fellow white US-American teachers: we need to listen to those voices that have been silenced and/or misconstrued. I speak from experience when I acknowledge how difficult it can be, especially in the beginning, to find those voices. We have to seek them out and then listen. Listen long, and listen hard. I've given several specific examples in each of my posts on specific people groups (see them all here), but here are some key people from whom I am learning more generally about anti-oppressive practices and who have introduced me to many of those marginalized voices that would be difficult for me to find on my own- these are Instagram accounts because I have found the most current and frequent content there but you can search for several of these names to find their other resources online:

Teach and Transform
Britt Hawthorne
Teaching Tolerance
Little Upbeat Class
Chris Emdin

2. Sit with discomfort

Listening should lead to a lot of self-reflection, and if we're doing it right, will lead to a lot of discomfort. We need to resist the urge to run away from that discomfort and instead give ourselves the time and space to live with it and process it. People from marginalized groups live with much worse every day whether they like it or not- those of us in positions of power and privilege need to keep that reality in mind.

3. Make changes

It's sometimes overwhelming to think about the monumental task of re-examining everything I do as a teacher and erasing all traces of oppression and bias. It seems like the more I learn the more things I find that I've been doing "wrong"! All I can do is keep moving forward, which means acting on things as much as I can: replacing songs I discover have racist histories with other musical material, rethinking how I approach discipline and classroom management, finding ways to have more intentional conversations with my students about systemic issues in society, replacing all of those images of dead white composers with ones that better reflect the broader musical world... Pick something and work on it. Then pick another thing. If you know something you've been doing is wrong but you don't know yet how to do it better, put it off if you can until you have time to learn and process. Like anything else, we can't change everything in one day, but we can't let the pervasiveness of the issues prevent us from doing anything at all- we need to take action.

4. Share with others

We can make changes in our own classrooms, but real, transformative change will come when we share what we're learning with others. We'll improve our own practices when we talk to others about what we're doing, but most importantly we'll give others the opportunity to learn alongside us and make changes in their own classrooms. As a white teacher one of the main ways I can most effectively share is by pointing people towards marginalized voices- encouraging others to listen to the people from whom I am learning. I can also be honest about my own journey to encourage other teachers in theirs. Whether it's through social media, staff lounge conversations, raising issues with committees or administrators, or casual conversations with friends and family, it's important that we share what we're learning as much as we can.

Thank you for coming alongside me on this journey, and I hope you'll stick with me as we continue to tackle these important topics to help us not only teach our students more effectively but create a better world for them to live in as well. If you need to catch up on what I've shared so far, click here to get started. Stay connected to the conversation by signing up here for the Organized Chaos Newsletter, and share your thoughts in the comments below!

Monday, December 3, 2018

November Favorites 2018

It is such a helpful practice to stop and reflect on the small victories and moments of joy in our everyday lives! I have made it a habit to share my highlights each month using pictures from my Instagram account, because that's where I tend to share those little snippets from home and school most often- here are some of my "favorites" from the month of November!


1. Favorite Lessons


There are a lot of lessons I look forward to teaching each year, but one of my all-time favorites has to be the 1st grade lessons on up/down melodic motion using the book Mortimer! The students always love the story, it's a great way to get them using all of the barred instruments, and I can assess their understanding of melodic direction in so many ways while having tons of fun! If you haven't done these lessons before I highly recommend them- I can almost guarantee your local library will have a copy of the book. Here's my post with all of the lesson plans and here's a collection of all of my literature-based lessons if you're looking for more ways to use storybooks in the music room!

2. Fall Foods


One of my favorite ways to embrace fall is with all the yummy seasonal foods, especially the start of cozy warm drink season! I love filling the house with the smell of spices every time I make chai at home. If you love drinking chai tea but have never made it yourself, I think you'll be surprised how easy it is to make, and the best part is you can really customize it to your taste! I love throwing TONS of cardamom into mine :) Here's my recipe if you want to give it a shot- I promise your entire house will feel cozier while you're cooking!

3. Music Education Articles

I love sharing helpful music teaching articles I find each month- click on each picture to read the full posts! I share these each week on Facebook, not Instagram (mostly because it's easier to share links there), so if you want to see the posts I find from other authors be sure to find my Facebook page!






I hope you enjoyed this brief stroll down memory lane with me! If you want to come along on the journey ahead be sure to come follow me on Instagram and Facebook. Want to get more timely content and get a sneak peek at my lesson plans for the upcoming month? Sign up here for the Organized Chaos newsletter!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Reflecting, Responding, Respecting: aren't we all the same?

Over the last few months I've been sharing my thoughts on ways we can better reflect, respond to, and respect traditionally marginalized people and perspectives in the music room. I've learned so much already through my research, experiences, and conversations and I want to continue to reflect on this topic in my professional and personal life as I continue to listen and learn. One general question that I have heard raised among music teachers that I'd like to look at today is the question of whether we should be taking specific steps to address specific people groups and perspectives, or simply treating everyone and everything with the same respect? Is this conversation even worth having?


Let's cut straight to the point:

Simply saying, "I treat everyone with the same respect" isn't enough, because that attitude completely ignores the systemic oppression that is deeply embedded in everything we do. 

I think as a general concept most teachers would agree that we cannot treat all students the same. We know that different people learn in different ways and so we can't teach all learners the same way. We know that we can't just teach one style of music exclusively and ignore all the others, or teach students that one type of music is inherently better.

The trouble comes when we start talking about people groups and perspectives that are structurally, in society at large, underprivileged- particularly if we ourselves are members of a more privileged people group. It's so much easier to keep teaching the way we were taught, or to use the first lesson idea that comes up in a quick internet search, than it is to examine the ways that our society and teaching practices privilege certain people groups and perspectives over others, and learn new ways to counteract those oppressive systems.

And yes, those oppressive systems do still exist and have profound effects on our students today. If you aren't aware of the ways our current education system, traditional music education frameworks, and society oppress and ignore people of color, women and girls, non-Western cultures, indigenous people, non-Christians, genres outside of Western art music, etc, then you aren't paying attention. The old adage, "fair is not equal", is abundantly true here- we have to be intentional about handing the microphone to people and perspectives who are silenced in our textbooks and mistreated in our society. As teachers we hold tremendous power. It is imperative that we use that power to do everything we can to balance the scales.

This means we are obligated to learn about and focus on our differences. No, we're not all the same, and we shouldn't teach like we are. Black students won't have the same opportunities for success as white students in the United States without changing the way we teach. Girls won't envision their musical futures the same way boys will. American children won't grow up to understand people from other countries as equally-valid human beings. There's another old adage that is abundantly unhelpful: "treat others as you would want them to treat you". This "golden rule" assumes that we all want and need the same things. We don't. We need to treat others as THEY want to be treated, and to do that, we have to listen to and learn what they need.

These are not easy conversations, and there are no easy answers. But as I tell my students, worthwhile endeavors are rarely easy! If you haven't already, I hope you will take the time to read through the rest of the posts in this series (click here to find links to all of them) for more concrete and specific thoughts and suggestions, and then join in the conversation! I am definitely still only beginning to learn myself, and I truly want to hear from you so we can all learn from each other- I hope you'll share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Students with Special Needs: Strategies for Inclusion

As I continue my focus on reflecting, respecting, and responding to marginalized people and perspectives in the music room, I'm focusing again today on students with differing abilities. I wrote previously about ideas for reflecting people with special needs in the visuals, stories, and materials that we use (read that post here), but today I'm talking about strategies for better responding to the needs of students with differing abilities in the inclusive music class setting.


I have been teaching integrated music classes with students from self-contained special education classrooms and general education classroom settings for a few years now, and I have also had experience working with students who are in the general education classrooms with individual accommodations and/or aids and other differing abilities and needs. Many of the ideas in this post come from those experiences, but I am also drawing from advice shared from other music teachers and special education teachers with a range of experiences, including parenting children with special needs, working in self-contained classrooms, getting certification in special education, and more: thank you Chris Powers from Madison, WI, Helga Thordsen from Priest Lake Christian Academy, Stuart Penman from Woodlands Special School in Plymouth UK, Amy Corvi, Melissa Ann, Jocelyn Escobar Patterson, and Laura Allison for sharing their insights!

The great thing about the strategies and ideas I'm sharing today is that they are effective for all learners, not just students designated with "special needs". No matter what your teaching situation may be, this is good advice for all of us!

Communicate and Seek Information

The most important element for successfully responding to differing needs and abilities in the classroom is communication and information! This is especially important for teachers like us who teach hundreds of students- we are often left out of the loop on IEP's and other individualized plans, information about specific needs or accommodations, etc and that can be detrimental to our ability to effectively respond to individual student needs. I have found (and many other teachers echoed this as well) that the most important thing I can do is to stay in as regular contact with special education teachers and other specialists who work with my students. Besides making sure I understand each student's needs and strengths, I check in regularly with teachers to find out how they perceive things are going in music class, and ask them about anything unusual I may have noticed to get their advice. I also send teachers the upcoming month's lesson outline each month so that they can see what we will be working on and anticipate anything that might be difficult for specific students. Communication can make all the difference in the world!

Build Relationships with Para's and Aids

One of the most difficult aspects of teaching integrated classes for music teachers can be working with other adults that come with students as paraprofessionals, 1-on-1 aids, or other forms of student support. It can be awkward to know how to seamlessly integrate another adult into the running of your classroom, especially if you're used to doing things a certain way (not that I would know anything about that..... *cough*)! As already mentioned, communication is the key here- para's can be your biggest asset for teaching students with special needs if you are both clear on how to best work with each other in the classroom, and building positive relationships with them will help you avoid any feelings of resentment if you need to ask them to change the way they operate in your space.

One thing I have learned over the years is the importance of giving aids a specific place to sit in the classroom (at least as a starting point). Often I've found it works best for me to have them sitting just behind or next to the student(s) they're working with so they're not part of the student seating configuration but still close by (so if the students are in a circle, have the para sit just outside the circle, or if the students are in rows, have the aid sit next to the end of a row, etc). Figuring out a way for the adult to unobtrusively work with their assigned students while still giving those students a sense of belonging within the classroom setup will not only help the students feel more included but will allow the para's to be more comfortable interacting with their students without feeling like they are getting in your way. This setup also allows students to develop independence more quickly with the aid out of their direct line of sight.

Build on Individual Strengths

Finding opportunities for students with differing abilities to model a skill for the class whenever they're able can make a huge difference in building respect amongst all students and fostering classroom community and belonging. Observe students and find their strengths, and look for opportunities to have them demonstrate something for other students that plays to those strengths. You can also use those strengths as the starting point for fostering new skills.

Visual Cues

Depending on student needs, visual cues can help reinforce specific classroom procedures or concepts. Visual schedules can help students anticipate what's coming next, pictures can help pre-readers with new concepts, and if/then charts can help remind students of consequences and motivators.

Another very successful way of using visual cues to help students with special needs (and all students!) is through color coding. Colors can be a great learning tool for everyone (in fact I color-code everything to help me stay organized myself!), especially when it comes to reading music notation. Color-code the notes on the page/ screen to match classroom instruments, or add (non-damaging) small stickers to notes on pitched instruments to match the notation. Boomwhackers, colored handbells, glockenspiels with colored bars, and other color-coded instruments are great tools to aid with melodic note reading and understanding pitch concepts!

Visual cues can be especially helpful in music classrooms because there are so many stimuli competing for children's attention! If you haven't heard of it before, the prompting hierarchy is something special educators use that can be helpful for thinking about ways to support students who are struggling.

Repetition & Structure

Giving students an opportunity to hear the same song and do the same activity several times can be a great tool to build learning. In a self-contained setting, you can do this by repeating the same activities over several lessons. In an integrated classroom, I've found it's a great opportunity to build skills for students on the full spectrum of abilities by adding new elements to the same activity, whether that's adding new movement or instrument parts to a song, having students notate a familiar song while others sing it, or using other ways to extend learning with the same material.

Repetition also applies to the overall structure of a lesson- having a predictable routine for each class period can reduce anxiety and help all students feel more comfortable. Here are my procedures for beginning class, and here are my procedures for the end of class. You don't have to follow the exact same formula every day, but incorporating some predictability into the beginning and end of class at least will make a huge difference!

Being able to anticipate what comes next and understanding what is expected of them can make a huge difference in all students' comfort level in the classroom, especially for students with social/emotional needs. Procedures are everything! Whether it's handing out instruments and materials to students, moving from one place to another, or transitioning between activities, it is so helpful to clearly explain and break down procedures when you're doing something new (and review those procedures until students are comfortable)! This means as teachers we need to reflect on what procedures we will need to do the activities we've planned in our lessons, and think through the most efficient ways to do them. If you know there are certain procedures that will be especially difficult for certain students, ask the homeroom/ special education teacher if they can pre-teach them beforehand, and make sure para's and other adults in the room know what the expectations are so they can help reinforce them as well.

Exploration

Exploration is another key that is valuable for all learners but often gets lost in the push to fit everything into short class times. Some students may benefit from having more time to explore an instrument while others are practicing playing specific rhythms, for example, or explore vocal sounds while others are working on pitch matching or demonstrating specific voice types etc. As much as I can, I've tried to be more conscious about giving students time to freely explore new instruments and their own voices rather than jumping straight into specific skills, and this has been an asset for everyone's learning (and behavior)!

Additional Resources

If you're working with students with differing abilities, I highly recommend these two books by Alice Hammel for great insights into overarching issues as well as specific strategies that directly apply to music teaching:

Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A Label-Free Approach
Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A Practical Resource

These websites have lots of information for specific needs and strategies:

Coast Music Therapy
Intervention Central

I hope this post helps other music teachers better meet the needs of all students, especially those with differing abilities. What have been your experiences working with students with special needs? Please leave questions and ideas in the comments so that we can all continue to learn from each other!

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Monday, November 19, 2018

24 Low-Stress Family Advent Activities

The Christmas season as a parent of young children is a two-sided coin. On the one hand it is the most magical way to experience the holiday, but on the other hand it can get overwhelming trying to fit in all the things you want to do with your kids! My solution for the last several years has been a low-key list of small things to do each day in December to save me the worry of figuring out how to fit everything in while keeping the holiday cheer going strong in the most low-maintenance way possible!


4 years ago I made an advent calendar out of a mini muffin tin and filled each day with a small Christmas-related activity to do each day in December, and I have never looked back! Each year I've made a list of tiny holiday tasks for each day leading up to Christmas, modifying my list each year as my daughters get older. Here's my list for this year now that my girls are almost 7 years old:

1. Put up the Christmas tree
2. Put out the nativity scenes
3. Put (electric) candles in the windows
4. Put up Christmas lights around the house and on the tree
5. Hang ornaments on the Christmas tree
6. Decorate the front door
7. Bake Christmas cookies
8. Donate old toys and clothes
9. Make an advent wreath
10. Make Christmas cards
11. Deliver Christmas cards (in the mail and in person)
12. Shop for/ make presents
13. Wrap presents
14. Take family pictures
15. Call family and friends to wish them a Merry Christmas
16. "Jingle" a neighbor
17. Make a gingerbread house
18. Go on a train ride with Santa
19. Hang the stockings
20. Watch a Christmas movie in our pajamas
21. Read Christmas books
22. Put out cookies and carrots for Santa and the reindeer
23. Make peppermint hot chocolate with all the fixings
24. Drive through the local light display to see the Christmas lights

Here's last year's list for 6 year olds, my list for 5 year olds, my list for 4 year olds, and the one for 3 year olds, if you're interested in more ideas for the littles. I love putting the calendar together each year because it relieves the pressure I would otherwise feel to make sure I'm taking the time to enjoy the holiday with my girls, and doing small things each day makes the whole month more fun without anything getting overwhelming! 

What holiday traditions do you have with your family? I'd love to hear your favorites in the comments below. 

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