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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Boomwhackers in the Music Room

I love using Boomwhackers in my elementary music classes! Not only are they fun and accessible for even the youngest students to play, but they are a really helpful tool for exploring some key musical concepts that make them useful well into the upper grades. Today I want to share some of my favorite ways to use Boomwhackers in the elementary general music classroom. 


1. Melodic composition

Boomwhackers are a great tool for melodic composition in elementary music because students can use the color-coding of the notes to add pitch to rhythms. My favorite way to do this is with "solfege stickers"- adding stickers to the note heads in the colors that go with the Boomwhackers. The nice thing about that is there is no writing required, and if I want them to use a limited set of pitches (like the pentatonic scale, etc) then I just give them those colors. You can read more about how I make and use them in this post- it's super easy and so much fun!


Another way to use the colors to have students compose is with the Chrome Music Lab Song Maker. It's set up so you click on different squares to add pitches, and the colors match the Boomwhackers perfectly! This is a great way to get them practicing and experimenting with melodic composition, because there's no rhythm or traditional notation involved at all but they can hear the notes as they click them.

2. Practicing scale types

Boomwhackers are also a great way to reinforce different scales. I use them in my classes to teach pentatonic scales and minor scales- I find the visual is really helpful for many of my students to practice and understand which pitches go in what order when they use the Boomwhackers as a visual / manipulative to put together the scale. I'll give a small group of students a set with 1 of each diatonic pitch, and have them pick out the ones they need and put them in the correct order on the floor, and/or play a scale in order.

3. Practicing chords

I use Boomwhackers to introduce the concept of chords and help my students practice building triads to help them understand how to start with the root of the chord, then skip every other pitch to find the other two notes they need. They're also helpful for looking at chord functionality and "translating" between roman numerals and letter names of chords (in C major) because they can use the solfege and letter name labels to help them remember which is which.

4. Centers

Boomwhackers are perfect for centers because they are easy to play without supervision and they're not too loud. Sometimes I'll have students "notate" a melody using matching colored bingo chips (see picture) that they lay out on the floor, or notate in Chrome Music Lab and then play the song on the instruments. I've also printed out melodies from Chrome Music Lab for students to practice playing.


5. Play along videos

One of my go-to lessons on days when I know I can't continue with my normal sequenced curriculum for whatever reason is play-along videos. They're a great way to keep students engaged and mix things up while keeping it low-key, and it's still a valuable musical experience! I use the diatonic play-alongs by Musication on YouTube, but there are plenty more options for play-along videos around, especially if you have chromatics in your room!

I hope you find some new ideas to use in your music classes here, and if I missed any of your favorites, please share them in the comments below! If you love Boomwhackers as much as I do but hate trying to keep them organized, be sure to check out my previous post where I shared my storage solutions.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Toward an Inclusive Holiday Sing-Along

Holiday sing-alongs are something many music teachers are tasked with. They can be a lot of fun, and they're a great way to bring the entire school community together. But they also inherently center certain religions and cultures while ignoring others, and that is problematic. I cannot say that I'm completely happy with my sing-along just yet, but after doing a lot of thinking over the last few years I have made some changes that have certainly brought it a long way in making it more reflective of our school community and our world, and I want to share where I am in this journey to hopefully help other teachers think critically about their current practice and encourage others to join me in my journey.


First, if you haven't already read my previous series of posts on Reflecting, Responding, and Respecting all students in the music room, I encourage you to catch up on those. I have written extensively about my thoughts on inclusion and decolonization in music education, along with specific action steps and resources, on everything from race to students with special needs, and those thoughts play a big role in my journey to change my school's sing-along. In a nutshell, focusing on Christmas (and maybe throwing in a Hanukkah song) centers Christians (even if all the songs are "secular") and excludes all of our students of other religions and backgrounds, and talking about December as "the holiday season" ignores the fact that the majority of the world's major holidays do not fall in December!

Last year I made the conscious decision to include as many different winter holidays in my sing-along as I could, but limiting it to winter holidays still excluded a large part of the world's holidays. I realized that there was really no reason for me to limit the holidays to only winter ones, since we don't do any sort of holiday celebration in the spring/ summer, and I expanded my song choices further. I still have several changes in mind for next year, but this is as far as I was able to get with the time constraints and resources that I had to prepare. Here are the songs we'll be singing this year:

1. Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah
2. Jingle Bells
3. Feliz Navidad
4. Diwali is Here
5. Gong Xi, Gong Xi
6. Eid Mubarak
7. 12 Days of Christmas

The main criteria I'm looking for when I'm choosing songs are 1) songs that are easy enough for Kindergarten to learn in just a couple of rehearsals, and 2) songs that we can do something fun with rather than "just" singing. So for each song, I have instruments, motions, a game, or something that goes along with the singing to make it more fun for everyone- that's a lot of songs to sit and sing, especially right before break when students are antsy!

Here's what I'm hoping to work on improving in the future:
  • Find songs that are more traditional/ representative for Diwali, Eid/ Ramadan
  • Choose a different Spanish language song
  • Do some research on Jingle Bells- I've just recently come across some information that it may not be an appropriate song choice for elementary school because it originated in minstrel shows, but I haven't had time to dig into it (I plan to replace it with Sleigh Ride or something if it turns out to be a song rooted in oppression)

I'm also aware that doing a holiday sing-along at all is questionable in itself, but I am doing my best to make this a learning opportunity for all of my students by discussing the many different holidays celebrated around the world, and I have been pleased with the responses I have gotten from families in my school community who celebrate Lunar New Year and Ramadan who have been so happy to see their tradition represented and acknowledged in some way.

Do you do a sing-along at your school? I'd love to hear your thoughts on holidays in public school classrooms, how to make holiday sing-alongs more reflective of our world, and whether holiday sing-alongs are even a good idea to begin with! Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I hope this sparks some conversation in the music education community as we continue to look for ways to value and respect all of our students and their backgrounds.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

November Favorites 2019

November is always one of those weird months for me. It's a lot of "squirreling away" to get ready for crazy concert season in December, while also keeping in mind that everyone is getting sick and tired and cranky, dealing with the silly daylight savings clock change, watching daylight get shorter, and adjusting to the colder weather. This is when I'm especially grateful for the opportunity to think back on the month's highlights, because otherwise I don't think I would even remember anything that happened this month! So today I'm happy to pause and look back on some of my highlights pulled from my Instagram and Facebook posts- I hope you find some new inspiration to get you going in the month ahead, and share your own favorites in the comments!


1. Chorus


This has honestly been a highlight of this entire school year thus far, but I am just so happy about my choral groups this year! I teach 3rd and 4th grade chorus and 5th and 6th grade chorus as pull-out classes during the school day, and this year my enrollment in both groups has doubled overnight. I was so intimidated by how many extra chairs I was having to pull out when I first started the semester just to accommodate the number of kids in each group, but now it makes me giddy. There have been very few disruptive behaviors of any kind, and they have been SO amazing to work with! I can't wait for the concert in a few weeks. I look forward to "chorus day" every week!

P.S. You can read all about how I teach my elementary choir classes in this post if you're interested.

2. Composition


I do the bulk of my composition lessons in October/ November because it's a great way to synthesize and apply those fundamental rhythm and pitch notation concepts that I introduce at the beginning of the school year, and it gives me a good sense of where they are so I can focus in on what we need to work on in the spring. I love using color coded stickers to match Boomwhacker colors as a way to introduce my upper elementary students to melodic composition in a less intimidating, more playful way, and they always love it too! Here's how I make my "solfege stickers" if you're wondering where I got them.

3. Making My List


I started making some basic plans in my holiday planner printables this summer (yeah, I'm that person, hi). But this month I started finalizing all my gift lists for Christmas with this little makeshift insert. I love having this list tucked right in my planner so I can jot down ideas whenever I think of things, and now my Christmas shopping is just about done!

4. Music Education Articles

I share favorite blog posts from other sites each week on my Facebook page, so if you've missed any of these you'll want to be sure to catch up on your reading- they are all fantastic!






See? There were great things to celebrate, even in November! :) I'd love to hear about those highlight moments, new ideas you found, or just something fun you did this month- leave a comment below to share!

Friday, November 29, 2019

Giveaway Cyber Monday 2019

This time of year can be so overwhelming for music teachers- I decided this is a great time for a giveaway! I've included lots of my favorite things to use this time of year, and made it super easy to enter below. Good luck, and if you know another music teacher that could use a pick-me-up, share the giveaway with them!


I'm giving one lucky teacher a magnetic notepad (I keep one of these on my fridge at all times to jot down to-do lists, shopping lists, or just to brain dump), some winter-themed mini erasers (my favorite composition manipulatives- click here to read my post on how I use these), a teacher planner accessory pack from The Happy Planner that includes a bookmark, folder, stickers, and more, and a $10 gift card to my store on TPT! Earn up to 3 entries below- giveaway closes at the end of the day on Monday 12/2. Winner will receive an email with their gift card code on Tuesday morning and must send their mailing address to receive the rest of their prizes.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Boomwhacker Storage

I love using Boomwhackers in my elementary music classes! Not only are they fun and accessible for even the youngest students to play, but they are a really helpful tool for exploring some key musical concepts that make them useful well into the upper grades. You can see some of my favorite ways to use them in class in this post, but today I'm kicking things off by addressing the most common setback for teachers: organizing and storing them so they're not a pile of plastic hot mess!


If you don't have a good way of organizing Boomwhackers, they can quickly become a major problem. They're too large to fit into nice neat bins, especially the longer ones, and they topple over easily. If you search the internet for Boomwhacker storage ideas you'll come up with some great ideas: some of my favorites include this idea to use plastic shoe organizers, this idea using plastic bag storage containers, and this idea using cardboard magazine holders. But for me, I have found hanging them on the wall with this type of strong velcro very effective (and fun to look at)!


I always get questions about my wall-hanging Boomwhackers when I share pictures of my classroom, so let me start by answering those frequently asked questions:
  • Yes, they have held up well. I've had mine up for 6 years and have never replaced any velcro.
  • No, the velcro does not affect the sound of the instrument. I tell students to hold the velcro side in their hand and strike the other side on the floor/hand/whatever they're using. The only time we can't do this is when we're using octavator caps, which don't fit over the velcro- then I just have them tap the velcro side and it still sounds fine.
  • You want to make sure to put the soft side on the instruments and the scratchy side on the wall so that they can hold the velcro without getting scratched.
Besides being aesthetically pleasing and keeping the instruments from being a hot mess, I like having them on the wall this way because I often use them with small groups and I like having each octave set separated so I can tell each group to get the ones they need from one row, and they can clearly see the notes next to each other in order when they refer to them for musical concepts like solfege, chord functionality, etc. I've seen many other teachers hang them on the wall with all the same notes next to each other, but I think having one of each note together makes it easier for the ways I use them most. It also makes it easier to get out one set to use in a center etc by taking all of the ones in one row rather than having to go through and collect one of each note.


If I had all the chromatics and extended octaves (bass / treble) and such (which I don't), I would not keep them together with the others because I wouldn't want to confuse my students when they're using as a tool to understand a concept- I would store them in one of the other methods I mentioned above off to the side, and pull them out when we needed them for a specific activity.

I hope this helps you get your Boomwhackers in order so that they can be more of an asset and less of a headache for your classroom! Next week I'll be sharing tons of ways I like to use them to meaningfully and effectively teach specific musical concepts, so stay tuned, and if you have your own favorite ways to use them in your lessons I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Make Music Lessons Seasonal All Year Long

Confession: I'm not that music teacher who gets all excited about doing snow songs in winter, Halloween songs in October, or patriotic songs for certain holidays. A lot of that has to do with being raised in multiple continents and therefore having less of a strong association with holidays (which I think is a good thing considering our students don't all celebrate the same things). Another big factor has to do with my prioritizing concepts, and sequencing those concepts, over seasonal material in my lesson planning. Not that I don't do both- it's just not my priority. But I have found in the last few years that referencing seasons, holidays, and other events that are a part of my students lives (and on their minds) in my lessons gives students another point of connection to the material and helps keep things interesting when we're reviewing those fundamentals again and again throughout the school year.


I prefer incorporating seasons over specific holidays because we all experience the same seasons when we're living in the same location. The same cannot be said for holidays. While I don't completely steer clear of holidays- I don't mind referencing them occasionally as a side note as a fun way of bringing in specific students' experiences and interests into the classroom- I try to keep them less of a focus and I make sure to include a variety when I do.

A special note about winter: let's all remember that winter is not "THE holiday season"! There are lots of very significant holidays that happen at other times of year, or run on a different calendar and therefore coincide with different seasons depending on the year, particularly in non-Western cultures. Let's not add a Hanukkah or Kwanzaa song to our Christmas carols and pat ourselves on the back. Let's also remember that not every holiday uses singing as a primary means of celebration/ recognition. Just because there aren't a lot of children's songs about it doesn't mean it's not a significant holiday. See how complex this gets?

Although I have found ways to incorporate seasonal song material as well, my favorite ways to reference seasons is with other small changes I incorporate into existing lessons, like manipulatives and visuals. It's an easy way for me to continue to keep the emphasis on sequencing concepts while also incorporating seasonal "material"! Click below to see lots of specific ideas that I use for each season:





What other ideas do you have for incorporating the seasons into your music lessons? I'm still a newbie in this area, so I'd love to hear your ideas (and I'm sure other readers would as well)! Leave a comment below if you have a favorite to share.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Bring Fall to the Music Room

Ah, fall. We've had some extra-cold weather this week that's making it feel more like winter around here, but the fall leaves are a nice reminder that there's still a little Autumn left to enjoy (whether the temperature wants to cooperate or not!). I don't tend to plan my lesson material thematically- I plan out my entire school year for every grade by concept (see how I do that here)- but I have found some easy ways to incorporate the season into my classes without having to completely change my curriculum so that we can keep things interesting and bring some of the "outside world" into what we're doing.


1. Leaves

I love using songs about autumn leaves (here's how I teach my favorite one) this time of year, but it's also fun to use leaves as movement props and manipulatives! I found some beautiful silk leaves at the Dollar Tree last year that I have students use as movement props to show melodic contour, and little foam shapes and mini erasers that are perfect to use as composition manipulatives or for dictation practice (use them at note heads on a staff).

2. Pumpkin

Of course pumpkins are another great theme for fall! I have some pumpkin erasers that I use for composition manipulatives and dictation practice, and I have a few pumpkin-themed singing games that I love using with Kindergarten to practice steady beat (and with older grades if we have a "catch-up day" or something)- Aimee from O For Tuna Orff has lots of them in this post.

3. Holidays

I tend not to reference specific holidays too much because it can often feel exclusionary for students who don't celebrate, and it can get tricky keeping track of any students who aren't allowed to celebrate any holidays at all. But I do like to include some holiday-themed lessons depending on the classes I have, and fall is the perfect time to focus on Diwali (this lesson from Manju Durairaj is excellent, and this song is an easy way to introduce the holiday), Chuseok (Korean "thanksgiving"- this would be a great time to introduce ganggangsullae or any Korean traditional music like Arirang), or other fall holidays students may not normally experience.

4. Forest Animals

Is there a reason I associate forest animals with fall? I'm not sure.... but my students seem to as well so I'm going with it. In any case, forest creatures are an easy theme to incorporate into any lesson with (you guessed it) composition manipulatives and dictation practice using mini erasers and figurines in animal shapes, or songs about different animals like Grizzly Bear or Hop Old Squirrel.

5. Acorns

Acorns are perfect to bring in to use as manipulatives (and you can get them for free, right off the ground!). If you have little popsicle sticks to use for stick notation, acorns are a good size to use as note heads with those, or you can just use them on a staff like any other manipulative (and they're safe for anyone with tree nut allergies). There are also some really great acorn songs, like I'm an Acorn and the Japanese Donguri Korokoro.

Those are just a few ideas to bring fall into the music room- what are your favorite ways to celebrate the season? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below. Enjoy what's left before we hunker down for winter...

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

October Favorites 2019

Another month has flown by, and I'm glad for the chance to stop and look back on the past month and appreciate the highlights from school and home life- join me in looking back through my Instagram photos to reflect on the month of October!


1. Book Character Costume


My school did a book character day for Halloween this year and I dressed up as the teacher of music and magic from the book Twinkle. Super cute and appropriate, and so easy for me to just put on my daughter's fairy wings and be done with my costume!

2. New Planner Supplies



I have been restraining myself from going into any craft stores lately but I stopped by Michael's and stumbled upon some beautiful scrapbook paper and a giant book of amazing planner stickers- I've had so much fun using both in my planner! You can read about how I use these craft supplies to add fun and function to my planner in this post :)

3. Composition Lessons



I always do some composition lessons around this time and it was fun to pull out the rhythm manipulatives I use with my older students again to get them into the composing groove again with the new rhythms they're learning. It has made it so much easier for my students to create their own rhythms and notate them properly now that I have them use these first before they write! You can read about how I made them (super easy) in this post!

4. Music Education Blog Posts

Here are some of my favorite posts I found this month! Click the images to read each post:







I hope you had a fantastic month as well- I'd love to hear about your highlights in the comments below! Happy November :)


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

What to do with THAT Class: high needs

The helpless feeling you get when nothing you do seems to work with that one class can be absolutely horrible. Over the years I've had classes that leave me in tears, fill me with dread, make me want to take a sick day, or just leave me feeling like I have no idea what I'm doing. It's disconcerting at best, and can leave you completely miserable if you let it get the best of you. In this series I'm sharing some strategies that have helped me improve my ability to work with some challenging classes with various difficulties- I hope they help you if you find yourself in the same situation! Today I'm focusing on classes that have a high percentage of students with high needs.


At the beginning of this series I shared my advice to keep those challenging groups from making you miserable- if you haven't already, I encourage you to read that post by clicking here. Hopefully the solutions I'm sharing today will help you improve your relationship with your tough class, but that process is going to take time and you need to make sure you keep the situation manageable (for you and your students) in the meantime.

One of the points I shared in that post is to be prepared with a plan B, C, D, and E. There's a good chance the first strategy you try won't work! Remember that this is a process, and a very important one at that. Don't give up.

High Needs

Classes with a high percentage of students with high academic, social/ emotional, and other needs can be a particular struggle for music teachers because often these students are being given a lot of support from additional staffing, pull-outs, and other individualized supports in the homeroom but those same supports are not given in their other classes, including music. It's also difficult because we're teaching so many students, that staying on top of the individual needs and plans for each student is nearly impossible and certainly unreasonable. On top of that, the music class environment is different from their other classes, so many students respond differently to our class environment, and those challenges are not usually addressed in individualized plans for these students. So dealing with these classes appropriately can be a monumental task for us. 

tip #1: consolidate important information

The first hurdle with these classes as music teachers is sorting through, processing, and keeping track of all the important information we need to know about individual student needs, whether that's medical information, home life situations/ background that affects behavior, IEP's, or any other information we receive formally and informally about all our students. Once we've made sure we have as much information as we can get about our students (more on that later), we need to find a way to use that information to inform our teaching. I have found it most helpful to go through all of the information I have and, for the students that I know I need to be mindful of, consolidate the information into one form. I use these IEP and medical information sheets to write down the most important information about those students that need any type of specific support in my classroom and keep them in my planner. Just the act of processing the information enough to consolidate it and then handwriting it helps tremendously with my own ability to stay on top of everything, and it's really helpful to have as a reference whenever I find myself running into problems.

tip #2: integrate individual plans

Often one of the frustrations with classes with high needs is that individual students will have plans in place to support them academically, behaviorally, or otherwise but a) those plans aren't shared with us, b) those plans don't include their time outside their homeroom, or c) the plans are too difficult to implement in the music room and manage alongside our hundreds of students. As frustrating as it is to take these extra steps to do so, it's in our best interest (not to mention the best interest of the students, obviously) to find ways to tap into those individual support plans. For most of us that means:
  • continuously advocating for the need to keep us non-homeroom teachers in the loop when individualized plans are created,
  • talking to staff members creating and implementing individual plans about how to make it work in the music room, and
  • creating reminders for ourselves to stay on top of all these different plans.
Often integrating an individual plan into our classes is as simple as including a spot for specials on any chart that is being filled out to monitor how students are doing and either making sure the chart is brought to specials for you to fill out or reporting to the homeroom teacher with how students did at the end of each class (if it's not a simple piece of paper that they can carry around). If they're earning some type of points/ rewards to reinforce specific behaviors, they should be able to earn them in your room as well and add it to their total. I find the easiest way for me to track things like how many "points" they earn in class or progress monitoring on a specific behavior is using rubber bands on my wrist, and I tell the student that the rubber band is the equivalent of their token/ dollar/ star/ whatever they're earning in their homeroom. You can read about how to do this in this post.

If there are academic support tools they're using, like using a specific tool on an iPad for writing, grips for pencils, glasses, visual reminders, translation apps, etc, make sure they're bringing them to music class as well. And if they have one-on-one support staff working with them in the homeroom, advocate for the importance of having that same staffing available for music and other non-homeroom classes! Often this is a harder sell for administration but if you can document the difficulties the student is having in your class you can make a case for the importance of having them there.

If there is something I need to track or equipment I need to have available to be able to bring these individual plans into my teaching, post-it note reminders directly on the seating chart for their class help me remember before they walk in the door. I use bright orange page flags with a note like "Aniya- bands" or "Jaden- chart" so that I remember to stay on top of using whatever system I have in place for them.

tip #3: collaborate and communicate

It's a lot of work and it's frustrating that the onus of responsibility falls on us, but the only way for us to be included as part of the team effort to support individual students, in most schools, is for us to take the initiative to include ourselves in as many meetings and conversations as we can and be proactive about staying involved in them throughout the year. Attending every single IEP meeting for the entire student population is certainly out of the question but I have asked to be added to emails so I am notified when meetings are happening so that I can give my input for others to take to the meeting, or ask to join if a student is a particular concern of mine as well.

Beyond formal meetings, though, keeping the lines of communication open with colleagues is so important! Any time I notice a certain recurring behavior, or a sudden change in a student, I try to have a quick conversation with the homeroom teacher. Often they have either started noticing the same thing and my thoughts reinforce their thinking and lead to a plan, or they have a plan already to address it and I learn about it because I asked. The same goes the other way too- if I find success with a particular strategy, I try to share it with the other teachers. 

tip #4: prioritize procedures and structure

One of the best things we can do for all of our students with behavioral and academic needs is to make our classes more predictable and structured. If your classroom isn't normally highly structured, this is probably the best place to start to help students be more successful in class! Explain and practice procedures for everything until students are all comfortable with the process, whether it's getting out pencils and paper, moving from chairs to carpet, or lining up at the end of class. Think through how to streamline each of those processes as well to make everything as straight-forward as possible. I've been freshly reminded this year that, as much as I feel like I'm repeating myself over and over again with these procedures, the students need those reminders WAY longer than I think because they're only coming into my room twice a week! For students who take longer to process things or don't instinctively do things the same way other kids their age might, these kinds of procedures have to be explicitly practiced.

tip #5: provide opportunities for student collaboration

For students who might be more defiant listening to a teacher or who struggle to understand a concept in the way we explain it, sometimes the best learning happens with their peers. I'm always surprised at the one thing that finally helps them understand something! Pairing up or putting students into small groups also allows me to work with students in the specific way that works best for them instead of interacting with the whole class at once, and many students learn better in a small group anyway. It's hard in elementary music where we're so used to working primarily with whole class activities, but for classes with high needs it's good to step back and give students time to process. Even just 2 minutes to share ideas or practice a part with a partner can help, doing a composition with a small group, or centers (here are lots of ideas about how to run centers, and my favorite center activities).

I hope these suggestions help you better address the needs of your students in these types of classes! I'm not saying it will be easy, but these strategies have certainly made it more manageable for me to meet my students' needs as best as I can within my classroom setting.

If you have any suggestions of your own or questions you'd like to ask about this topic, please leave them in the comments below! And if you'd like to read more about how I handle "behavior management" as a whole, here are all my top posts on the topic.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

15 (more) Fun Videos for Music Class

I tend to avoid showing full-length movies in my classes, even when I'm out with a sub. I just find my students watch TV and movies so many other places in their life that they truly aren't interested. But for a quick break, an example of a musical concept I'm teaching, a wind-down activity at the end of class, or just a funny moment to share, I have found lots of great uses for short video clips from YouTube! I shared 15 of these videos in this previous post, and today I want to share more of my favorite music-related (and school-appropriate) videos to share with my students in class.


Over the last few years I've found some favorite videos that are
  • entertaining for my elementary and middle school students, 
  • encourage students to think about music in a new way,
  • reflect a variety of backgrounds of musicians and musical genres,
  • are appropriate for even my youngest students,
  • and are short enough to take very little class time.
Of course the internet is an endless source of material- I could keep going and going for days and days with videos like this, but these are some representative favorites!
























These little videos are frivolous is many ways but I've come to realize just how important they can be to my classroom. Often it's one of these videos that will inspire a student to go home and try something themselves (like banging on plastic bottles or tap dancing), help students to see themselves as musicians regardless of their background, build relationships with students by showing a lighthearted side of music and connecting over a shared sense of humor, help them finally grasp a concept, or introduce them to a new genre or instrument. 

What are some of your favorite videos you've shared with your students? I could probably do 5 more of these posts and still not run out of material.... I'd love to see some of your best finds! Leave a link or title in the comments below so we can all find some new videos to love :)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Contemporary Instrumentalists of Color to Share with Students

As I continue to explore ways to better reflect minoritized people in my music classroom, I have become more conscious of the examples I show students in class on everyday topics, whether it's teaching students about a genre, an instrument, or a musical element or concept. I've recently discovered several new-to-me instrumentalists that I've enjoyed sharing with my students, so today I wanted to put together a list of contemporary instrumentalists of color. These are all musicians who are currently active- some names will be familiar, some are more obscure, but I think they are all excellent musicians to feature in class!


With any list like this there are, of course, plenty more musicians out there that I could include! I hope this list is just the beginning of discovering other artists that you may not have come across before to incorporate into your lessons. And if you have particular musicians you love, please share their names in the comments below so we can all add them to our lists as well!

I should also note that this list is limited to Western classical instruments, in the hopes of providing music teachers with some alternatives to easily incorporate into current lessons we already teach on instruments of the orchestra. In reality there are so many more instruments out there in the music world that we can and should be featuring- here are the resources I use to teach about other instruments around the world. I don't treat them as separate categories of "specialized" instruments, but this list would be too long if I included them all in one post!

flute- Rachel Ombredane


clarinet- Anthony McGill


saxophone- Kamasi Washington


trombone- Trombone Shorty


trumpet- Wynton Marsalis


tuba- Kenneth Amis


french horn- Zeng Yun


violin- Black Violin


viola- Jeremy Green


cello- Yo-Yo Ma


double bass- Esperanza Spalding


piano- Jon Batiste


harp- Naoko Yoshino


percussion- Questlove


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

What to do with THAT Class: scattered and chatty classes

The helpless feeling you get when nothing you do seems to work with that one class can be absolutely horrible. Over the years I've had classes that leave me in tears, fill me with dread, make me want to take a sick day, or just leave me feeling like I have no idea what I'm doing. It's disconcerting at best, and can leave you completely miserable if you let it get the best of you. Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing some strategies that have helped me improve my ability to work with some challenging classes with various difficulties- I hope they help you if you find yourself in the same situation! Today I'm focusing on classes that are so unfocused and chatty that you cannot get anything done.


At the beginning of this series I shared my advice to keep those challenging groups from making you miserable- if you haven't already, I encourage you to read that post by clicking here. Hopefully the solutions I'm sharing today will help you improve your relationship with your tough class, but that process is going to take time and you need to make sure you keep the situation manageable (for you and your students) in the meantime.

One of the points I shared in that post is to be prepared with a plan B, C, D, and E. There's a good chance the first strategy you try won't work! Remember that this is a process, and a very important one at that. Don't give up.

Scattered and Chatty Classes

Sure, some students have more trouble focusing than others. Some groups are a little bit more social than others and need more frequent reminders to raise their hands, listen, and stay on task. But every now and then I have had classes that are so scattered it feels like I'm playing whack-a-mole every time I teach them! I can't ever finish a sentence without being interrupted by someone calling out, and as soon as one student says something 3 others make a comment about that comment. While I'm reminding them not to call out, two other side conversations have started, another student gets up to get a tissue to blow their nose, and another is raising their hand to use the bathroom. Not to mention the upset student crawling around on the floor making cat noises... And as soon as I get everyone back on track and try again to start our first activity or explain something, the whole process starts all over again!

tip #1: change seating If you don't already have assigned seats, the first step should definitely to assign them. If you're already using assigned seats like I do, then my first thought is always to go back and look at my seating chart and see if I can try moving some students around to different seats to help them stay focused. Sometimes an easily distracted student I thought would benefit from close proximity to where I normally teach, actually does better in the back row. Sometimes I can split up people that tend to distract each other. If you want to read about my thought process for assigning seats, here is my post on that.

tip #2: start in silence One of the first things I try with groups like this is silent stretching. I tell the class in advance that every class will begin with silent stretching: they need to come in without speaking and walk straight to their assigned seat but not sit down. I will go to the front of the room and start doing some very simple stretches without talking, and the students should mirror my stretches. Because everyone already knows what to do there is no need for any speaking, and the stretching can help to calm and focus everyone's brains and bodies.

tip #3: remove distractions Talk to the homeroom teacher to see if they can make sure to give students time to use the bathroom before class, and warn students that you won't be sending anyone to the bathroom during music class unless it's a true emergency. If you have windows, try closing the blinds to eliminate the distraction of outside. Take a look at your classroom to see if you can remove clutter or reduce the number of visuals up around the room. Maybe there are noise distractions you can reduce- if there are classes that always walk noisily by your room during that class time, talk to their teacher about staying quiet when they go by your room. If the class next door is particularly loud, ask if there's anything you can do to soundproof.

tip #4: talk less This is easier said than done, but the more we can talk less ourselves as teachers the less likely students are to get off-task. Try using non-verbal cues for things like standing up, sitting down, lining up, and other things you do every day. Instead of explaining what you're going to do, just start doing it- instead of telling students you want them to copy your clapping patterns, clap a pattern and then point to them. There are so many ways we can always reduce the amount of talking we do! It's difficult because talking is what allows us to process what's happening next ourselves. The most important thing you'll have to do in order to be able to talk less as a teacher is to have the lesson completely memorized. If you always know what's coming next it's a lot easier to jump into the activity with fewer verbal instructions.

tip #5: give opportunities for sharing It may seem counter-intuitive but giving chatty classes a chance to talk can often help students be more focused for the rest of the lesson. My first year of teaching I started every kindergarten lesson by going around the circle and giving each student a chance to tell me one thing. Some students don't have anything to say at that moment and pass, but anyone who has something they wanted to say has a chance to tell me so they aren't distracted by that thought any more! For older students having some type of circle discussion (read about those here) every period gives them an opportunity to speak and be heard. Then you can always say, "you had your turn to speak, now it's mine" and it's much less frustrating for everyone!

tip #6: increase predictability If you aren't a structured teacher to begin with, you're going to need to get structured for groups like this. Have a set routine and stick to it so students know what to do next without you needing to tell them- maybe start with stretching, then vocal exploration, then a rhythm reading exercise, then a song, then a closing discussion- try to follow the same basic formula for your lessons as much as possible. Practice procedures for everything from entering and exiting the room, getting out pencils or instruments and putting them away, moving from chairs to floor, circle to scattered formation, and getting tissues and using the bathroom. Students will feel more settled if they know what to do and how to do it!

I hope these suggestions help you find a positive way forward together! They may not ever be your most focused class, but if you continue to work at it you're bound to see improvement in their ability to stay on task!

If you have any suggestions of your own or questions you'd like to ask about this topic, please leave them in the comments below! And if you'd like to read more about how I handle "behavior management" as a whole, here are all my top posts on the topic.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

What to do with THAT Class: toxic negativity

The helpless feeling you get when nothing you do seems to work with that one class can be absolutely horrible. Over the years I've had classes that leave me in tears, fill me with dread, make me want to take a sick day, or just leave me feeling like I have no idea what I'm doing. It's disconcerting at best, and can leave you completely miserable if you let it get the best of you. Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing some strategies that have helped me improve my ability to work with some challenging classes with various difficulties- I hope they help you if you find yourself in the same situation! Today I'm focusing on classes that seem to be completely negative about everything you try to do.


Last week I shared my advice to keep those challenging groups from making you miserable- if you haven't already, I encourage you to read that post by clicking here. Hopefully the solutions I'm sharing today will help you improve your relationship with your tough class, but that process is going to take time and you need to make sure you keep the situation manageable (for you and your students) in the meantime.

One of the points I shared in last week's post is to be prepared with a plan B, C, D, and E. There's a good chance the first strategy you try won't work! Remember that this is a process, and a very important one at that. Don't give up.

Toxic Negativity

Some classes seem to have a negative attitude about you and your class, no matter how hard you try to engage their interests. This is probably the hardest type of class for me to deal with because it's just mind-boggling to me. How can an entire group of children be so negative? It throws me for a loop, big time. Sometimes this results in students just not being willing to participate in anything, sometimes they insert negative comments every time you introduce an activity, or sometimes they are more combative and completely refuse to listen to you, follow any directions, or participate in any class activity.

tip #1: find the source(s) Usually when an entire class (or at least the majority) seem to have a negative attitude about the class, there are a few strong leaders that have decided they don't like the class and the rest are following along, getting drawn into the negativity, or just staying out of it. Figure out who those students are that are leading the charge by reflecting on who is the most vocal in expressing negativity, who initiates conflicts, who is the first to refuse to join in an activity. Talk to their homeroom teacher about who they see as the "ringleader".

tip #2: start the conversation Once you've narrowed down the key players, try having individual conversations with them outside of class. Pick a non-threatening time, like sitting with them at lunch, or stopping them in the hallway before school. Tell them the behaviors that you see them exhibiting in class and why you see it as a problem. Ask them 1) if your description seems accurate, 2) if they can identify any reasons for those behaviors, and 3) what suggestions they have to help music class be a more positive experience in the future. It may take a few tries but I've found persistence usually pays off. Show them you're open to their feedback on things you can do, while also holding them accountable for ways they can help to improve the situation as well.

tip #3: divide and conquer When an entire group is feeding off of each other's negative energy, splitting them up can often be the best thing to do! Try centers or small group projects. Depending on the specific students and the personality mix, sometimes I've found it best to put all the "ringleaders" in one group to contain the negativity in one place (and focus your energy on them), and other times I've found it best to split them up so that they don't feed off each other. If you're not sure how to have the class work in small groups, here are some of my favorite ideas that I've used in this situation (and in general for centers and group projects!):





tip #4: build relationships I almost think this goes without saying but it's important enough to say it anyway: it's so important to invest the time and energy to foster positive relationships with all students, but especially with those that don't seem invested or interested in your class. Here are some practical, simple steps to build relationships with students when you teach so many, and here are ways to build community in your classroom through community-building circles. Not only is this important for the "ringleaders" that are causing the most headaches, but it's also important for the other students who may be unable to connect with you even though they want to, because you're having to focus so much attention and energy on the other students in class.

tip #5: have a heart-to-heart I would try to avoid a group conversation in this situation unless you've exhausted all other options, because if the problem is toxic attitudes then giving students an opportunity to express their opinions even more openly and trying to respond to them in front of the whole class can often just lead to the negativity spreading even further. But if you've tried all of the other options, including multiple individual conversations with specific students over time, and still feel like you're not making headway, this may be something to try. If you do, it's important to lay some ground rules: remind everyone that they need to all be willing to take some ownership of the problem, tell students they cannot point out specific individuals by name if they're expressing what they think the problem may be, and encourage them to try not to complain but instead either pinpoint the cause, describe what they see as the problem for the group as a whole, or offer a specific solution- preferably all of the above!

I can think of 2 instances in my career when I had this conversation with the entire class. In both cases it was late in the year after trying everything else I could, both were upper grades (4th grade and 6th grade), and both times the conversation was mildly successful. The conversations did give me a better understanding of how students were feeling, and in both cases we were able to come up with a few plans that we were able to try afterwards that did help improve the overall tone of the classes and lead to other strategies that helped us move forward.

If you do decide to have a conversation with the class as a whole, I have found the format of problem-solving circles to be very helpful for structuring the conversation:


I hope these suggestions help you find a positive way forward together! They may not ever be your most enthusiastic class, but if you continue to make it a priority to improve the class for everyone involved, you're bound to see positive changes over time!

If you have any suggestions of your own or questions you'd like to ask about this topic, please leave them in the comments below! And if you'd like to read more about how I handle "behavior management" as a whole, here are all my top posts on the topic.