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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Distance Music Lesson Ideas: Exploring Cultures Through Music

Like it or not, distance learning in some form or fashion is likely going to be a part of many of our lives for some time. One of my favorite sets of lessons I got to teach online this spring was my lessons on music of specific cultures around the world. While it's certainly not the same as in person, there are lots of great ways to get students exploring music around the world through online lessons and virtual teaching- here are some ideas!

Online Teaching

One of my favorite websites to get kids exploring music from around the world independently is Global Jukebox. Students can click on names of specific regions or click on different parts of the map to hear authentic recordings of music from that area! One way to assign this would be to simply invite students to explore any part of the world they may be interested in and report back on what they learned. This could also be a great introductory tool for lessons on a specific culture or region- tell students to find a specific location on the map and listen to a certain number of recordings, or give them the title of a specific recording to find and listen to. If you're directing them to a specific region or recording, this would be a great time to give students some more specific questions or prompts to guide their listening.

Another great way to get students exploring music from specific regions or cultures is through the Online Radio Box. This site allows you to stream radio stations from around the world, and you can search by location and genre. Obviously you'll have to direct students to specific stations you've vetted to make sure they are age-appropriate, but this is a great way to expose students to more contemporary and popular styles from around the world instead of just traditional/ folk music. 

One component of my regular lessons I was able to keep in my online lessons was the World Instrument Listening slides (link is to the slides I made) I use to introduce traditional instruments from different countries. I gave students the PDF version of the slides, which have links to videos of authentic performances from the countries of origin already embedded, and asked them to describe one instrument to someone who has never heard of it before. 

Another component from my regular lessons I was able to keep and actually expand in my online lessons was videos introducing instruments, musical genres, dance forms, and different aspects of the culture, geography, and other basic information. I put together videos that I normally use in class along with other videos showing more examples of the music from each country into playlists. Then I asked students to explore the playlist, watch at least part of each video, and tell me something they learned about the country or its music. Many families reported that this was their favorite lesson of the entire school closure and said they spent a lot of time exploring the culture further with the whole family!

Virtual Teaching

I didn't have the ability to teach live virtual lessons this spring, but if that is an option for you then many of the normal songs and dances I teach from cultures around the world would be perfect to include in a live lesson! In my online lessons I posted on google classroom, I recorded videos of myself teaching one dance or song from the culture I focused on for each grade and just invited students to watch and learn it along with me. In a live virtual lesson you could do the same but have them do the dance moves, passing games, or singing along with you (just make sure they're muted!). You'll find links to specific songs, dances, and games I teach from each of 9 different cultures in this post:

I hope this gives you some ideas to incorporate "world music" into your teaching, no matter what form that teaching may take! If you have more ideas or resources you've come across to teach music from specific cultures or regions, I'd love to hear them in the comments below. You can find lots more ideas for distance learning on this page, where I'm compiling all of my relevant posts with lesson ideas for online and send-home packets, equity and other considerations for distance learning, along with ideas for managing life at home during closures:

Sunday, June 28, 2020

June Favorites 2020

June always seems to disappear in the blink of an eye. School ended at the beginning of the month, but it has been strange transitioning from working from home to summer break- days just blend into each other since quarantine! Still, the sunshine and extra time to be with my family without getting interrupted by zoom meetings and phone alerts has been wonderful. Here are some highlights from the past month, taken from my Instagram posts: the renewed anti-racism focus in education, planner layouts that adjust to my changing schedule, family time, and my favorite reads from music education blogs this month.

1. Renewed Focus on Anti-Racism Work

It has been encouraging to see renewed focus on anti-racism in the music education community over the last few weeks. It is my sincere hope that we will all have the stamina to maintain the same level of focus and passion long-term so that we can see actual, meaningful change take place in our classrooms, in our schools, and in our society. 

2. Adjusting Planner Spreads

The great thing about using a printable planner and disc binding is that I can change out pages whenever I need to, and wow did that ever come in handy these last few months! I found the weekly planning template I set up for distance learning worked perfectly for my needs while teaching online, and since summer vacation started I have enjoyed using the 1-page weekly templates I like to pull out in the summer time. Switching between layouts like this was a fresh reminder of why I love my planner!

3. Sunshine and Family Time

This picture is from my stories, obviously, but I had to include mention of the wonderful time we've been able to have outdoors with my family this month. My parents live nearby and they have been in my "bubble" during quarantine to help with childcare. Their backyard is amazing and having the beautiful weather we've had this month has done wonders for my tired eyes and brain after starting at a computer screen for so long!

4. Music Education Articles I Loved Reading

I always love finding articles from other authors to share. Here are my favorites from this past month- I share these weekly on my Facebook page if you want to see more! Click on the pictures to read the full posts. They are both definitely worth your time.

12 Black Female 'Classical' Composers You Need to Know:


I hope you have found moments of joy this month as well, and perhaps found some inspiration from mine. Here's to another awesome month ahead!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Summer Reading List for Music Teachers 2020

One of the best perks of summer break for teachers is having the time and energy to read, enjoy, and process books in a way that you just can't during the school year, and especially books that make us reflect on our teaching practice in a fresh way. It's much easier to think critically and objectively about our teaching when we're not in the thick of things! Last summer I shared this list of books for music teachers, which I still highly recommend! Today I want to share a few more that I've read this year that have challenged and/or validated me as an educator. If you're looking for a good book to read this summer, I hope you'll pick up one of these!

This post contains affiliate links which do not affect the purchase experience or the thoughts shared here.

I know a lot of teachers are trying to navigate conversations about race right now. I highly recommend this book for those who are just entering the topic (as well as those who have been around for a while). It's not incredibly long, it's very approachable, but still covers key points that are important to understand.

If you teach students with special needs in any capacity, I cannot recommend this book highly enough! I learned so much in every single chapter. 

I received a free copy of this book over a year ago and at the time, I thought it was very creative and well-thought-out, but not very applicable to my situation teaching in the classroom since it is geared very specifically to creative music exploration projects to do at home. But times have changed! If you're looking for fresh ideas to get kids making music at home, whether it's for your own children who've been stuck inside too long or for your students if you continue distance learning, this book is an excellent resource. It's especially great for hands-on ideas that are perfect for lower and upper elementary ages!

What books are you reading this summer? Any favorite books you'd recommend for music teachers? I'd love to add some titles to my own list for this summer- share your favorites in the comments! Don't forget to check out last year's list for more great books to read!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

What I've Learned from Distance Teaching

With the school year officially over for me, I'm taking some time to reflect and wow, do I need it. This has been quite the year. Although I overall despise the way this year ended with schools closed for the last 3 months, I also managed to gain some valuable learning that I hope to take with me as we move forward (whatever that may look like)!

1. Flipgrid is amazing

I had heard of Flipgrid before school closures but had never really looked into it. Now it is possibly my favorite tech tool of all time! For the first few weeks of online teaching, our district did not allow us to accept video submissions from students at all. When we got permission to use things like Flipgrid for video submissions for our assignments, it was a game changer! Being able to see students' faces and hear their voices was wonderful, but beyond that, having evidence that they were actually participating and learning was amazing. 

The more I used it, the more I realized just how powerful of a tool it really was for music teaching. I had shy students whose voices I can barely hear in class making videos of themselves singing confidently and expressively. Students showing off instruments in their houses I didn't know they had (let alone knew how to play), and showing off skills I didn't know they had either, from beatboxing to cartwheels. 

I can see huge benefits for this tool even when I am fully back in the classroom, from giving students more opportunities to perform for me individually at home instead of having to sit through every student's performance in class, to giving more hesitant performers an alternative way to show their learning, and even giving students a platform to share their musical interests with me beyond what our limited class time would allow.

2. Ring lights really do make a difference

I have made plenty of videos over the years for Organized Chaos, but I have resisted any urge to buy any special videotaping equipment (besides stealing my parents' old tripod). When making videos of myself became my primary way of communicating with and teaching my students, I decided it was time to try a ring light, and now I see what everyone was saying. It made an instant difference in the quality. 

3. Our schedules really do create barriers for our students

Of course, I've always been frustrated with my 30-minute, back-to-back classes. This experience has confirmed how limiting that hectic schedule really is for my students. One of the benefits that came out of distance learning was getting to have "conversations" via comments in my google classrooms with those students who every now and then ask to tell me about their grandma's birthday this weekend but are quiet and respectful enough to say OK when I tell them not right now and then forget to ask them later. I've been able to see my students play the toy guitar their uncle gave them for their birthday that they kept saying they wanted to show me but never got the chance. We need time in our day to give students the individual attention they deserve.

4. I love my (normal) job

Maybe this goes without saying but this experience has definitely reaffirmed how much I love what I do. And what I do is work with children and make music together in community. Yes, there were some moments of true joy and new learning that came out of this, but this has been a true reminder of why I love what I do: my students. I miss them, I miss learning and experiencing music with them, and I can't wait for the day we can do all of that together, in the same room, again someday- better than before because of what we've learned!

What are your take-away's from distance learning? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Anti-Racism in Music Education

There has been a shift in conversation this week. Teachers are joining the movement to counter systemic racism in our schools and are searching for the tools to do so in numbers I've never seen before. As a white music teacher myself, I am learning alongside you! For those who are new to this journey, today I want to share a collection of resources to serve as a starting place for your work to create an anti-racist music class.

1. Listen to People of Color's Voices

The most important thing to do when you're trying to unlearn bias and learn how to be an anti-racist teacher (and human being) is to listen. Listen long and listen hard. Particularly for white teachers, it is critical that we close our mouths and listen to the experiences and perspectives of people of color- right now Black people in particular. Resist the urge to immediately respond to posts you see, things you observe, or statements you hear by voicing your reflections or asking questions. Listen longer and you'll probably find the answer to those questions.

The first place to look is in your own personal life: who do you spend time with? Until you fill your life with people different from your own background it will be very hard to find genuine understanding. Beyond those personal relationships, here are a few specific recommendations if you are just getting started (this list is not at all exhaustive, I've tried to limit to a few to keep it manageable and to the point):

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood by Christopher Emdin

Social Media
Decolonizing the Music Room (facebook) (instagram) (website)
LittleUpbeatClass (instagram)
Griot B (instagram) (youtube)
Handgames Project (instagram)
Hip-Hop Music Ed (instagram) (website)
Franklin Willis (instagram)
Charissa Duncanson (instagram)

2. Look at Your Lesson Content

First of all yes, if you've heard that a song has racist origins, stop teaching it. Might you reference the song in a lesson with older students (as in secondary grades) on the topic of minstrelsy or racism etc? Possibly. But don't have the students sing/ perform it as a "learning experience", even in that context. And within the context of elementary music, I have not yet found a good reason to use any of these songs for any reason.

Beyond that fundamental level though, there is so much more work to be done to transform our lesson content. Take a look at the performers you feature in the video and audio recordings you share in class, the musicians students learn about, the composers of the music students learn in class and perform in concerts, the characters in the books we use, the culture of origin for the songs we teach, and the musical genres we include in our repertoire. How many different people groups are represented in those areas? 

One important note to make here as we look to include representation of more varied backgrounds in our lesson content: check your sources. Don't just add the first "gospel song" arrangement you find for children's choir to your next choral concert- check to see who the composer and arranger are. Don't just search Pinterest for Black History Month lessons and use the first one you find- check to see who the author is and how/ from where they got their material. It's important to make sure as we seek to include voices of people of color in our material that those voices are actually theirs.

3. Look at Other Aspects of Your Teaching

Of course our classes are built on much more than lesson content. What behaviors do we consider "desirable" and "disruptive" in our discipline and management (and what types of students tend to exhibit those behaviors most frequently)? Who do we bring in as guests/ accompanists? What images do we have on our walls? What musical vocabulary do you encourage and discourage (what definitions do you consider acceptable for the word "beat", for example, or which term(s) are acceptable in class: arrangement or remix)? 

In the cases of both lesson content and other aspects of teaching, rather than pointing to specific examples I'll point back to the voices I recommended initially. There is an enormous amount of information and examples that I could not even begin to cover in one post- the only way to address it is through ongoing listening and learning.

4. Accept Change

I think this is actually the hang up for most teachers. Once we have a few years of teaching experience under our belts, teaching starts to get easier primarily because we can do certain things without having to think about them as much- sure, we add fun new lessons we pick up here and there, but we have plenty of material that we can teach without having to learn new material from scratch or come up with entirely new lessons. And if there were a list of all the songs I should stop teaching, and one list of songs to use instead, and I knew I could change them all once and be done with it, the task would be more manageable. But the reality is there is always going to be more learning to do. This is a lifelong process of listening and learning. 

Besides the enormity of the task, it can be hard to leave behind lessons and songs we have such fond memories of! But if we are serious about wanting all of our students to feel welcomed in our classrooms, if we truly value and respect all people and perspectives, then this is a non-negotiable. We have to make these changes and continue to change as we continue to learn.

5. Additional Reading

It was almost 2 years ago that I wrote an entire series of posts on the broader topic of social justice in music education, and I sought out expert input for each of the areas I covered. If you'd like to read further about my learning process, explore specific areas in more detail, and find additional resources to learn from, you can find all of my posts in the series and an introduction to the topic here. Be sure to follow up on the people I point to in each area and start listening to them:

You can also find more book recommendations in this post:

And recommendations for places to find music by people of color to listen to yourself and add to your lesson material:

I hope that this moment in history is a moment of real change, especially within music education, and I hope that this conversation continues to grow within our professional communities. I am continuing to learn myself. Please share additional resources you have found helpful in the comments below.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

May Favorites 2020

**I put together these monthly "favorites" posts for 2 reasons: 1) to share little glimpses of my life, and 2) to amplify other authors' posts. I almost deleted this month's post because, in the midst of a national conversation about Black Lives Matter talking about things like sunshine and bike rides seems out of touch. But I don't want to miss a chance to amplify the webinar by Decolonizing the Music Room and NAfME that I shared below, and I do think the ongoing attempt to share moments from my own life can be helpful in the long term for my part in the larger conversation, so I am choosing to keep it. More pointed thoughts to come.

1. Sunshine

The weather is always a highlight in May, but this year it was even more of a highlight after being stuck at home for so long! Being able to go outside in the sunshine makes all the difference in the world.

2. World music lessons

Another standard highlight in the month of May are the month-long units I normally do diving into one specific culture's music with each grade level, culminating in a school-wide international music festival. This year I couldn't do that in the same way, obviously- that was one of the biggest losses for me in terms of lessons I didn't get to teach this year- but I was happy I found a way to share some pieces of those units with each grade level through my online lessons. The best part was hearing from several students and parents who wrote to tell me how much they loved the lessons and all the extra time they spent exploring the culture and music beyond what I gave them!

3. Home projects

Now that my daughters have gotten a little more used to their distance learning assignments, they have so much creative energy and have been coming up with some fantastic projects that they would never have been able to see through to completion with our normal busy schedule! One of my favorites has been the violin that they made entirely from scratch without any input from me. Every time they would ask for advice on how to create some part of the instrument I threw it back and them and they came up with much better solutions than I ever would have been able to imagine for them!

4. Music Education Posts

I always love finding and sharing blog posts and resources from other music teachers- I post these on my Facebook page every Friday, but if you missed any from the past month you need to check them out! They are all fantastic and I have learned so much from each of them.

This has been a crazy, surreal month for all of us but I hope you have found some joy and inspiration as well! If you have a favorite moment, idea, or resource from the past month I'd love to hear about it in the comments, or send me an email.