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Friday, August 31, 2018

August Favorites 2018

What a glorious month it has been! I've been on vacation with my family, welcomed a nephew into the world, and just this week my students came back and I got to go back to one of my greatest loves: making music with my kiddos! Here's a look back at some of the highlights from this past month, including some of my favorite new ideas for this school year.

Affiliate links may be included in this post. This does not affect your purchase price or experience but gives me credit for sharing!

1. New books for the music room

While we were on that family vacation I mentioned, we stopped at a fun, quirky used book store where I found SO many great new books to add to my classroom library! I seriously only brought home about half of the ones I initially picked out! I hope to share more specific lessons and uses for each of these books in future blog posts, but for now here is a compilation of all of my favorite lessons using children's literature that I've shared already, and if you're interested in the specific titles I picked up, here's the list:

The Bat Boy & His Violin
Grandfather's Dream
Whistle for Willie
Snake Alley Band
Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky
Sam and the Lucky Money
Nine in One, Grr! Grr!
Chanukah Guess Who?
Nine O'Clock Lullaby
Passover Is Here!
Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs
The Journey
The Little Banjo

2. New word wall replacement

I mentioned this in my classroom tour, but I got rid of my word wall this year. It was a great idea in theory- I had all of the new vocabulary for each grade up on the wall, sorted and color-coded by grade- but I frankly never used it and the students rarely did either. So instead I decided it would be more useful to have one poster that lists every major concept that I cover in each grade. It's basically straight out of my scope and sequence, but condensed into more concise wording. If I'm really on the ball, it will be a great way to check in midyear and see how much we've covered so far and how much work we have left to do, and also use it as a review tool at the end of the year. Even if I don't do that, it's still a really concrete way of showing the progression of skills from grade to grade and giving everyone a better sense of the scope of what we do!

3. The end of summer, the beginning of school

Also, dollar spot sticky notes. I have a bit of an obsession with the colors and designs on the teacher-themed sticky notes (and matching washi tape) from Target dollar spot- the planner spread above is almost entirely made up of those items. I show you this week in my planner mostly, though, to signify the end of summer and the beginning of school. This was the last week of summer planning in my planner, because Thursday and Friday I went back to work for teacher work days, and the following week I got back into lesson planning! I didn't accomplish everything I had hoped for home, school, or Organized Chaos, but I am satisfied with the pace and balance I kept over break, and I felt ready to get back in the classroom. Here's to another amazing school year!

4. Back to school music teacher blog posts

If you want to see more peeks into my life like the snippets above, you'll want to head over to Instagram- I pulled all of the pictures above from my Instagram feed and I share these kinds of tidbits there throughout the week. But to see all of my favorite reads from other amazing music education blogs and websites, you'll want to head to Facebook! I share great posts I find every Friday, and I've compiled all of the ones I shared during the month of August below- just click on the pictures to read each post. Tons of great reads this month that you won't want to miss!

I hope you found some fresh inspiration in this post, and I hope you all had a wonderful month! I'd love to hear your highlights from August- share them in the comments below! And if you want to stay on top of all things Organized Chaos and get exclusive access to content I don't share anywhere else, be sure to sign up here for the Organized Chaos Newsletter.

Happy September!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Elementary Music Classroom Tour 2018-2019

Time for a classroom tour! I've made a few upgrades that I'm excited about for this school year, but the basic setup of my room has stayed the same. First here's a quick video tour:

Find out more about specific things I mentioned by clicking the links below:
color coded seating
classroom jobs
MUSIC letters
small percussion storage
teacher desk
rainbow patterns decor set

And here are some highlights of things that have changed this school year:

I added a new classroom job this year: warmup leader (currently in the yellow box in the picture above)! Read more about why I made the change and what I have planned for them in this post. I also added a few more minions to my walls, mostly to cover up some ugly walls with peeling paint and graffiti I just haven't been able to clean off- you can see one of them peeking out of the top of the magnet board, but you'll see more in another picture below :)

I added the strings of colorful balls (from the Target dollar spot) to the wall above my instrument storage- those posters that I had up before looked a little lonely and out of place before. The music pennants I added in the middle of the school year last year (also from the dollar spot!).

Another element I added to those same open shelves are labels! These are clear adhesive pockets I got at the Target dollar spot. I just cut up some strips of paper, wrote the instrument names on each one, and stuck it on the front of the shelves.

I used to have a plastic milk crate to hold my books, but I upgraded to a wooden one. It looks a lot nicer and it does seem a bit sturdier. I'll still have to keep students from sitting on it though- I tried and it definitely is not strong enough to hold anyone's weight! I also got that little rainbow pillow from the dollar spot (are you sensing a theme?...) to add to my pillow collection.

This is probably my biggest change to my classroom: I have now replaced my word wall with these condensed posters that list all of the major skills, concepts, and topics we cover in each grade level. Get them here if you want your own copy :)

Another minor change, but I found those colored mechanical pencils on sale at Staples this summer so I'm excited to try them out. Last year was the first year I used mechanical pencils at all, and it went pretty well. My main issue was dealing with students who would try to get more lead and would end up dropping the entire piece of lead out of the pencil and onto the floor. Once they got used to them they handled it pretty well, so I'm hoping for another good year with these slightly sturdier ones (the ones I got last year were from Dollar Tree).

This may seem minuscule but I turned my hanging files under my desk sideways so I now have better leg room under the table! Small change, but it makes it so much more comfortable for me to sit and work at my computer there.

Last but not least, here's a better look at some of my newly-added minions! :) This wall was the spot with the worst marks on the wall so there's a higher concentration of minion population in this spot. I love that the stacked up minions have the sign saying something like, "caution minions at work"! Perfect for the classroom!

I think that does it- the school year just started this week and I'm so excited to be seeing my students again! I hope all of you are off to (or getting ready for) a great start this year. If you have any questions or comments about anything you see, feel free to ask away in the comments! :)

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Class Openers for Elementary Music

The tone we set at the beginning of class can have a tremendous impact on the success of the rest of the period. And establishing routines for the beginning of class can help students transition more quickly and comfortably into music time. This year I'm establishing some new routines for the beginning of class to address a number of goals I have for my students and I, so today I'm sharing those plans with you!

I've had a set procedure for the end of my elementary general music classes since the beginning of my teaching career (read about that in this post), but I've never actually had a set routine for the beginning of class, other than always meeting the class in the hallway and giving them a specific direction for where to go/ what to do when they come in.

There are a few reasons why I've decided to add more structure to the beginning of my classes this year:
  1. Last year there were several times when I had to mediate a conflict from before music at the beginning of my class, and I wished I had something already established that the rest of the class could do independently without needing my help.
  2. I have been looking for more ways to have students take leadership in class.
  3. I have been looking for a way to have students practice reading/ performing solfege more regularly.
  4. I wanted to replace one of the student jobs I used last year with something new.
I think this new plan will address all of these issues, at least to some extent, and will also give more predictability and structure to the beginning of class, which is good for everyone!

My plan is to have a set of warm-ups, or opening activities, that I select from each day. I'll have a word to describe the type of activity we're doing up on the board, and I'll give my student leaders who are assigned to lead warmups as their job any tasks they need to do to get the activity started. Usually I'll still be leading, but this way if the situation does arise it will be easier for me to manage a conversation with an individual or small group of students while the rest of the class gets started on their own more quickly.

The new job I am planning is called warm-up leader, and my plan is to make sure that no matter what the opening activity is, those students have some leadership role to play in it. Depending on the grade level and the specific students who are doing the job at that time, I can give them more or less independence while still encouraging more ownership and leadership within the activity. I'm also hoping that, as the year progresses and the students gain experience, they'll be able to lead the activities more independently.

Here's the "menu" of general ideas I plan to use throughout the course of the year. For each one, I've listed the word I'll have on the board to act as a visual cue as students enter, and the different ways I plan to have students take leadership in each type of activity.

Here's a little more explanation of what each type of activity will entail:

  • Move: a) class face one leader and mirror their slow movements (no music), b) class copies one leader's movements with the steady beat of track, or c) class moves with the music but has to change their movement every time a leader calls out "switch"
  • Listen: listen silently to a piece of music, sometimes with a particular student-chosen element to listen for (what instruments are playing, how loud, what type of mood....)
  • Circle: these will be a continuation of the circle discussions I detail in this post
  • Rhythm: class practices reading rhythms from notation
  • Melody: a) students identify individual pitches, either by solfege or letter name, that leader notates, or b) class sings patterns with solfege names and hand signs that leader selects
  • Play: class echos leader on body percussion or unpitched percussion instrument(s)
  • Draw: vocal exploration, following a line with their voice

I tried to make sure that in every case, the leadership roles are low-pressure. This is supposed to make students more comfortable, not less, after all! And I am hopeful that with the variety of options I have to draw from, I will be able to create predictability without making it monotonous.

Do you use openers to start your elementary music classes? How do you structure them, and what sorts of activities do you like to include? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How Can I Get My 5th Graders to Sing?

It's amazing what a difference a couple of years can make! Lower elementary students will quite literally cheer with excitement when you suggest singing a song together, but somewhere along the line they hit a point when suddenly singing is one of the worst activities you could possibly suggest! There are a lot of factors that obviously play into this change, and there are a lot of things you can do to foster a classroom culture where singing continues to be fun well into the upper elementary and middle school grades, but today I want to share my favorite tip for getting those reticent big kids singing less painfully.

For me the key has been to get the students to focus on something else and make the singing secondary. A big part of the resistance to singing at this age is obviously self-consciousness, so anything you can do to keep their mind on other things besides their singing will help! Any time I want to sing a song with older grades (or actually any grade!), I make sure I have something else for students to do while singing. This could include:

  • an instrumental ostinato / accompaniment (pitched or unpitched)
  • a body percussion pattern
  • hand signs / sign language / motions to go with the lyrics or steady beat
  • dance / movement
  • a cup routine
  • movement or passing game with props (scarves, bean bags etc)
  • hand clapping game 

With younger grades, I may teach students the singing first and then add the movement / accompaniment parts later, teach them simultaneously, or start with the added part. But with upper elementary students who are resistant to singing, I always introduce the added part without the singing first. It may seem silly to do motions silently without any lyrics, but it actually just adds to the mystery! The key is to make sure that the movement / accompaniment part is challenging enough to engage their brains and force them to focus in order to do it correctly (one simple way to make an added part harder is to speed it up!).

Once they've learned the added part, I challenge them first to do it without my help, then to do it while I sing a song. Now the song is an added challenge- a "level up"! Once they can do it while I'm singing, I pause and teach them the song (or part of the song if it's longer), then challenge them to do the previous activity while they simultaneously sing. This process has the added bonus of giving the students an opportunity to hear the song a few times before they're asked to sing it, making them more comfortable with the song before they even open their mouths.

Want some fun lessons to get upper elementary or even middle school students singing and learning important rhythm and pitch concepts? Download this free 5th grade curriculum set for the first month of school to get several great lesson ideas along with the materials to teach them:

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Music Teacher Administrators Love

I'm continuing my series with insights from administrators on how we as music teachers can improve our relationships with administration and with colleagues and raise the level of respect they have for us and our profession, and today I'm sharing administrators' thoughts on what they think makes a great music teacher.

Nobody knows better than music teachers what truly makes a great music teacher. But I'm sure we've all heard those horror stories (or maybe experienced them ourselves) of good teachers who were treated unfairly because colleagues/ administrators didn't value the amazing work that they were doing, either because they weren't aware of what they were doing or didn't understand how the things the teacher was doing were effective (especially when it's a teaching practice that is unique to music)! And for those of us who are well-supported by our school community, it's always helpful to take some time to really reflect on our teaching practice and what we can do to continue to improve, and it's always a good idea to get some outside perspective as we reflect!

The thoughts I'm sharing below are a compilation of responses I got from two interviews: one with my building principal, and one with the district fine arts director. Neither has experience teaching music, but both are extremely supportive and thoughtful administrators. As you read their thoughts, I hope you'll consider how you can better make your administrators aware of these qualities that you probably already possess so that they see those things that they value more readily! At the same time, this is a good opportunity for some honest self-reflection. What areas mentioned here have I let fall to the way-side? What areas of my teaching practice could I focus on this year?

With all of that in mind, here are 3 questions I asked them, and the responses they gave:

What makes a good music teacher?
  • A love of students and a true desire to see them grow. 
  • An understanding of how to help students grow- this comes down to effective planning. An ability to figure out how to most effectively teach the skills and concepts in the curriculum to meet each student's needs.
  • Energy and passion for music and music teaching.
  • Creativity- fresh, new ideas for lessons and programs / performances.
  • Openness to new ideas- don't just keep teaching the same lessons the same way you've always taught them. Focus on skills and concepts and be open to new ways to teach them.
  • Relentlessness- the energy to keep pursuing excellence, to keep trying when you aren't getting through to a student or a lesson falls flat.
  • A dedication to your own musicianship.
How can music teachers be more effective members of the school building staff?
  • Be willing to collaborate with non-specialists. If you're teaching something that could be reinforced in other subjects (like the science of sound or music from a particular country), ask them if they have any resources for you or if they can tie it into their own classes somehow. If they come to you with a topic they are working on in their class, work with them to find musical ways to further student learning, whether you reinforce it in your music classes or give them resources to include a musical activity in their own teaching. Colleagues will come to respect you as an expert, and the students will benefit from the cross-curricular connections!
  • Get involved in school-wide (non-musical) events, programs, and/or committees, whether it's helping to plan an assembly or joining a staff committee. You will be seen as more of a team player and as a teacher deserving of equal respect by colleagues and administrators if you are involved in non-music-specific work in the building, and the other teachers will be much more likely to want to help with music events.
How can music teachers be more effective members of the music department?
  • Be open-minded. Be honest and open in your collaborations with your department colleagues so that you can reflect on areas where you can continue to improve your teaching practice. Often teachers are happy to share their own successes with colleagues but aren't as eager to truly listen to and take into consideration the ideas of other teachers.
  • Don't think that you can't have an impact on the district / department beyond your classroom because you're "just a teacher". Be proactive and get involved in department-wide efforts, especially when you see places where you can contribute a particular interest or expertise.
Do I think that exhibiting all of these qualities will ensure all music teachers are treated fairly and with the respect they deserve? Nope. The reality is, of course, that it doesn't always work that way. But I hope these insights are helpful in at least thinking about what we can do as music teachers to work towards improved relationships and respect.

What are your thoughts on this? It can sometimes be hard to have outsiders tell us how we can do our job better, but I think these suggestions are all quite insightful. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and if you'd like to get more content like this sent to your inbox and join in a more direct and personal conversation, please sign up for the Organized Chaos Newsletter right here.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

July Favorites 2018

July has officially ended and that means it's time to pause and look back at some of the highlights from the past month- what a wonderful month it has been!

1. Summer planning

One thing I love about summer vacation is the chance to play around with my planner in a more relaxed way. Without tons of lesson plans and other information to cram into each week, I can use more decorative elements and play around with different supplies! If you want to see some of my favorite tips for "functional planner decorating", here's a video I made on that. The flexible weekly layout I use in the summer is in the "business planner" section of the #PlanMyWholeLife planners.

2. Family time!

Of course one of the best parts of summer vacation is getting more time with my daughters! They are just such wonderful humans 💓

3. New school year setup

I don't start school until the very end of August so no, I haven't set up my classroom yet, but I have set up my planner for the new school year (and isn't that the most important part?!?). It's one of my favorite rituals every summer to flip through and reflect back on the previous year's planner and get it set up with fresh new pages for the next school year- click here to watch the video of that whole process.

4. Music education blog posts

As always I've collected some of my favorite blog posts from around the web that I read this month- don't miss these! There's something for everyone from early childhood to secondary music!

Elementary general music classroom setup tips from Anacrusic:

Tips for making KidStix kits from Ponderings from a Finch:

"Genius Hour"-style project from Off the Beaten Path in Music:

A book-based lesson to connect with Mariachi music from Tiny Tapping Toes:

I hope you all had a wonderful July and that you have an even more amazing August ahead- exciting times!! I'd love to hear how your summer is going or chat about your plans for the new school year- send me an email! You can get in touch with me, and stay on top of my latest news, by signing up for the Organized Chaos Newsletter right here. And remember I always share little peeks into various aspects of my life more regularly over on Instagram- I'd love to connect there as well :)