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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!