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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Favorite Ways to Teach Form

Musical form is one of those concepts that doesn't get as much attention as things like rhythm and pitch but is actually one of my favorite things to teach- there are so many fun ways to learn about form! Here are some of my favorite ways to teach form, no matter the specific grade level or the musical form they're learning.

1. Identify with movement

When I'm first introducing a new musical form, or even introducing the concept of contrasting sections at a very fundamental level, I always start by having students learn some type of movement to accompany a piece of music in that form and then discuss the form afterwards. Whether it's a passing game, full-body movements, a cup routine, steady beat motions, or even a full-on folk dance, having students experience doing different movements with each section of the music has been the most effective way to get students to clearly identify the same and contrasting sections. 

2. Perform in different forms

My favorite way to practice putting together music in a specific form and perform music in that form is to learn 2 (or more) songs that have a unifying theme of some kind and practice putting them together in whatever order we need to create that form and perform it as one longer song. It can sound a little silly depending on which songs we use but that's half the fun, and going through the process of having students figure out which order they need to perform the songs in to make it the correct form is a great learning experience.

3. Add new sections to a given short song

Once students have experienced the form and have a basic understanding of it, I often have them create with it as well. My favorite way to do this in a way that's accessible for young students is by having students add new sections to a given short song. If they're adding a contrasting B section, we might learn a song and then come up with a speech piece/ rap that relates to the theme of that song for the B section, or come up with some rhythms to perform on instruments. If we're learning about theme and variations, I like to have small groups of students each come up with one variation on a song I teach them and then put them all together as a class (read more about how I teach theme and variations specifically in this post). Having a song to use as the starting point makes it much easier for students to create the rest of the piece in whatever form they're working with. 

4. Assess with sticky notes

I have tried different ways over the years to have students identify the form of a piece they hear and assess them. Movement is great when they're first learning, but it's hard to avoid students following each other so it's not a great way to see how well students are actually following the form. And going through the whole process of handing out and collecting papers and pencils just to have them write down a few letters to identify the form is a huge waste of time! What I have found works best, without creating too much work for me, is to give students some small pieces of sticky notes in a few different colors and tell them to stick the sticky notes on their lap or chair to represent same and different sections. I've also done this with cards that have the letters A/B/C etc on them that I can collect and reuse, but honestly the sticky notes are easier and it allows me to see quickly, in a way that's not intimidating for students, how well they understand the concept.

Although it's not something that I'm working on with students all year long, form is definitely an important concept for students to learn and one that we often neglect as music teachers. If you'd like to see all of the specific lessons I use to teach various forms throughout my K-6 curriculum, you'll find them all in this K-6 general music curriculum set! If you have any favorite lessons for teaching form, I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments as well.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Pandemic Teaching Finds I Plan On Keeping

As this school year comes to a close, there is a lot I absolutely cannot wait to walk away from and never have to do again. Concurrent online and in-person socially distant teaching, for example. Or taking all of my teaching materials home every day in case the school is online tomorrow. But there are also some things I've done for the first time this school year that have been positive and I definitely plan on keeping as part of my teaching practice in the future! Here's my list of new things I'm keeping from this year of pandemic teaching.

1. Flipgrid

I've said this before and I'll say it again: Flipgrid has been the absolute best discovery I've made through this pandemic. Although I certainly won't be needing it as much as I have this year, I will definitely be continuing to use it for things like the International Music Festival (see how I do that in this post), recorder (for students to do individual playing tests), and as a supplemental way for shy students to perform. 

2. Frequent family communication

I've been sending home positive notes with at least 1 student per class in every lesson for years now, but I've always handed the handwritten notes directly to the students. They usually showed them to their families, but not always, and even when they did it was not a direct conversation between the families and me. This year to avoid handing out pieces of paper I started sending my "happy notes" to the families on ClassDojo instead. I still verbally tell students directly what positive comment I am giving them, but the message goes directly to the families. 

This has been a tremendous asset in communicating with families this year! Every single child's family has heard at least 3 times from me this year something that they are doing well in music class. There have been times this year when I have been able to get a response from a family that had not responded to messages from the school office or their homeroom teacher, and a few students have told me their family only opens messages from me. 

I think I am going to go back to the handwritten happy notes next year, because there is also something special about having a physical note for students to keep (I've had students show me their wallet where they've kept every single one for years), but I plan to continue sending those notes directly to families through ClassDojo as well. It has been well worth the effort.

3. Zoom meetings

I cannot tell you how happy I am that our district has said we will not be teaching synchronously next school year. I cannot wait to be untethered from the computer in my classroom! But for collaborating with colleagues, Zoom is definitely something I want to keep. Being able to get on a Zoom call has made it so much easier for all of the music teachers in the district to talk more frequently, and have more time for the meeting itself when we do, because we aren't all traveling across town to get to one meeting location. And even without the travel time, being able to screen share and look at documents together is honestly so much easier than trying to set up a projector or making photocopies. I absolutely am looking forward to more face-to-face meetings and conversations with colleagues- there is of course so much that is lost when we're all just little faces on a screen- but I am hoping we can continue to collaborate more often by holding onto video calls.

4. Google slides

I have been a big Google Drive user for years now, especially after I went through the experience of having a computer die and losing a hard drive! And I have loved the ease of sharing folders and documents with colleagues and being able to edit things together in real time. But despite hearing other teachers talk about the wonders of Google Slides before this year, I hadn't really taken the time to explore and understand how much better it is than PowerPoint or other presentation software. This year I have moved all of my lesson visuals to Slides and I couldn't be happier- I will never go back. You can read about some of my most-used and most-loved features in this post.

5. Talk time

I'm actually reverting back to my beginning teacher practice with this one: I want to continue to allow for more time for students to share "off-topic" things. This year with an extra focus on social-emotional health, I made a conscious effort to leave some time at the end of class for students to tell me things, whether it's about their cousin's birthday party or their new puppy or anything in between. I have gotten so good at maximizing learning time over the years, and keeping students engaged from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave, that I realize I've missed out on some of those little peeks into their lives outside my classroom. I've always tried to find opportunities for conversations outside of class, but I've found it really makes a positive difference in the classroom climate when students have time to share during class as well. I probably won't do it as often as I have this year, but I'm committed to making sure I still build in time for that in the future.

6. Rhythm play-along videos

There's no denying I am completely burnt out on rhythm play-along videos right now. But I definitely plan on keeping them in the future (though we will use them much more sparingly)! I've made my own rhythm charts on a slide and had students play them with music in the past, but these play-along videos are a great way to mix things up and keep it interesting, especially now that there are so many of them out there for every season, holiday, music genre, and level of rhythm notation possible!

I'm sure there are more things I'll think of as I have time to process, but for now this is my list of new things from this school year I'm hoping to continue in the future. What were your favorite "finds" this year? I have a page dedicated to posts related to pandemic teaching below if you're interested in seeing more of the technology, strategies, and lesson ideas I've used:

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

May Highlights 2021

I'm actually surprised at how quickly May flew by this year considering how much more open my calendar was than a typical year, but here we are starting another month again! I still have several more weeks of school left because my district delayed the first day of school by a few weeks in the fall to give us more time to get ready, so we're still very much in the thick of things! Here are some of my highlights from this past month.

1. Gorgeous Weather

I'm going to sound like my mother now but goodness, sunshine really does make a difference. We've had some great weather this month here in Connecticut and I have definitely noticed the difference in my mood! I've already gotten some odd tan lines on my arms and legs from sitting out in the sun and I don't even care. 

2. Mother's Day

Mother's day can be a bummer when you're a single mom. So much of what is marketed or publicized as the best way to celebrate mother's day is to have the dad and kids take over your normal chores, which isn't really possible if the kids are young and there is no spouse. It sounds superficial but it's true. This year my daughters are 9 and they took the initiative to make breakfast by themselves, complete with a mother's day sign, make me very cute cards, and, with my dad's help, made a full lunch for me and for my mom as well. It was a great day!

3. Family Trip

My grandparents, who live on the West Coast, are not doing well. It has been hard to see their health deteriorate these last few months in particular, especially since we haven't been able to see them in over a year because of covid- my daughters and I were supposed to visit them a year ago but had to cancel the trip because it was right after everything shut down. My sister and I were able to go visit them for a weekend and I'm so grateful we got to see them! And it was wonderful to spend time with my sister without either of our kids, and visit other family members while we were there too. And traveling for the first time in over a year, while pretty stressful, was a great (literal) change of scenery!

4. Music Education Posts

I love finding content from other music education authors to share every Friday on Facebook and Pinterest- here are all the awesome posts I found this month! 

Whether you're finishing up this crazy school year or still in the thick of it, I hope you had moments to celebrate in May and that the new month is off to a good start! 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Teacher Reflection Prompts After a Pandemic School Year

What a year. I'm sure we've all uttered that phrase a time or two these last few weeks! This year more than ever, it is so important and valuable for us to be intentional about our mental, emotional, and physical recovery over summer break, and I've found that having reflection questions to guide my thinking and processing has been very helpful. Here are the questions I'm reflecting on this summer to help me process a traumatic school year and recharge for the new one.

1. What were my stressors this year?

This may seem like a "duh" question but there has been SO MUCH this year that I've found it healing and affirming to actually name the things that were stressful this year in particular. Many times this year I've found myself feeling overwhelmed or anxious "for no reason" and I wonder what my problem is, only to step back and remember that yeah, we're in a pandemic! 

2. What new things brought joy in my teaching this year?

This is not a "silver lining" question but a chance to think about things that I don't want to lose sight of as class schedules, curricular expectations, and other aspects of teaching return to pre-pandemic conditions. What happened as a result of the unusual pandemic situation- maybe because of reduced curricular pressure, having smaller class sizes, teaching virtually, going into homerooms on a cart, being forced to try new lesson ideas or class procedures, being compelled to focus on social emotional health, or some other aspect- that brought joy? 

3. What aspects of my pre-pandemic philosophy and practices held true?

The pandemic was a trial by fire of everything we thought we knew! A lot of our practices had to be re-thought, but which things remained constant even through the pandemic? Did my lesson planning practices still work when my teaching modality was constantly shifting? Did I feel comfortable with the representation of varied cultural backgrounds in my lessons when I knew families were listening in? Whatever stood the test of this year's upheaval is worth recognizing!

4. What aspects of my pre-pandemic philosophy and practices am I rethinking?

Of course the flip side of the previous question is to reflect on what new practices and ideas I'm letting go. Having so much of what we do flipped on its head has forced us to rethink a lot of what we've always done "just because", and one of the most valuable things we can do is make sure we think consciously about those aspects and avoid slipping back into old habits.

5. What are my core values and purpose as a teacher?

Part of the healing process has to be a re-aligning our values and re-imagining our identities as teachers. What aspects of the things we lost this year- singing, holding hands, sharing materials, performing for live audiences, having our own space for music class, etc- did we not miss as much as we thought we would, and what did we take for granted before and now value much more consciously? In what ways has my identity as a teacher, how I view my role and purpose, changed? 

6. What holes in my practice were revealed this year that I want to focus on next year?

I'm sure all of us found weaknesses and holes in our teaching as we were forced to re-think everything we do, and in many cases make our teaching more public as we zoomed into our students' homes with families listening in the background. Taking the time to think through those and note them now will help us avoid sweeping them under the rug and returning to old habits.

7. What can I do this summer to give my body, mind, and soul the opportunity to heal?

We've been through a lot this year, and it is going to take intentionality and effort to allow ourselves to heal before the start of the next school year. Let's not leave it to chance- what are some specific ways I can give myself the chance to recover and rejuvenate?

I hope these questions help you process this difficult school year and start the process of recovery. I personally find I have a lot more clarity in my thinking when I actually write down my thoughts- I'd encourage you to consider writing yours down as well as you reflect. I'd be happy to serve as a sounding board if you want to talk through these questions with a colleague- feel free to email me!

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

End of Year Lesson Ideas for Elementary Music (2021)

It feels like we've been running a marathon for the last year and a half, but here we are staring down the end of the craziest school year ever. It can be hard to keep the energy up when we're all just so tired and overwhelmed, but ending the school year on a positive note will do so much to ease the pain and set us up for a positive start in the fall! Here are some of my favorite ideas for those last few lessons in elementary music that work in virtual, in-person, and hybrid models, require very little preparation, and are loads of fun!

1. Talent Show

One of the best ways to celebrate at the end of the school year is by letting students share their musical talents! I'm doing a school-wide music talent show on flipgrid, which is way easier to run than it might sound (read about how I do it here). But I also love having in-class talent shows the last few lessons! I give students some time in class to prepare their performance, and I include everyone by giving students the option to write or draw about a musical topic of their choice to show the class if they aren't keen on performing. The students get so excited and it's a fun, relaxing way to celebrate each other's success at the end of the year.

2. Hula Hoop Conductor

I've mentioned this in previous posts on end of year activities but I'm thrilled to say this works in synchronous/ hybrid and virtual models too! I lay out 3 (or more) hula hoops and split up the class into the same number of groups. Each group is assigned to one hoop and they only play when I stand inside their hoop. The great thing is this can be done with classroom instruments, found sound, or even body percussion or vocal sounds! If you're doing this with both virtual and in-person learners like I am, just make sure the students online can see all the hoops through your camera. You can read about other variations I've done on this game over the years to reinforce different musical concepts in this post.

3. Dance Games

Dancing is always a good idea! Yes, freeze dance can *technically* work in any school model, but because of the sound delay it's not really fair to be calling people out for being the last to stop moving, so after a few rounds it gets old quickly, especially for older students (at least in my experience). Instead, my favorite dance game for the end of the year is to call out each student's name and have them make up a move for everyone else to copy. 

4. Play-Along's 

Yes, rhythm play-along's have been completely overdone this year because they are one of the few things that work really well in a range of school settings, but there are some fun twists I've found work well to save for the end of the year and the students and I still find exciting! The Ready Go Music YouTube channel has several "duet versions" (see them all here) that work well, especially for 3rd grade and up (it's a little too much for the younger ones to track). And this Bouncing Ball Beat has students counting the beat numbers rather than reading rhythms, and it sounds super cool! Putting all the parts together is fun for older students, but I was able to use this with students as young as 1st grade by having the whole class read one line at a time all together, and it was a great way to get them counting the beats.

I know it can be hard to find the motivation to keep going some days, but I hope you and your students are able to find joy in the small moments as you finish out this school year! If you are looking for more ideas to keep things fresh at the end of the school year, you'll find lots more ideas, many of which will also work in any school model, in these previous posts below:

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

My Digital and Paper Hybrid Planning System

I often see the debate among teachers over digital vs paper planning, but the truth is there are benefits to both! In fact although I consider myself a paper planner at heart, I use both for my lesson planning and I think I get the best of both worlds without duplicating my work. Here's how I use each one, and why I think it works best this way.

1. Paper

If I had a dollar for every time someone sees me pull out my paper planner and launches into an advertisement for their favorite calendar app.... I truly do think there's something about physically writing things down that helps me process and remember things so much better, and I find I can set things up better visually to see everything I want to see at once instead of scrolling and clicking around to find what I need. My paper planners also serve as a creative outlet for me- I like to decorate my pages like a scrapbook- but even if you're not into that sort of thing I think there is merit to paper planning for day-to-day. 

I use paper planning for:

  • weekly and monthly calendars, with everything (meals, lesson plans, appointments, birthdays, etc) consolidated in one place
  • running to-do lists
  • brain dumping (especially for things like concerts or new curricular units)
I keep paper copies of other things in my paper planner, just to have it available, but those are the things I truly rely on my written plans for and I think are better suited for paper planning. Sure, these can all be done digitally as well, but my brain just doesn't process it the same way on a screen.

2. Digital

As much as I love paper planning though, there are definitely areas of planning for which digital planning is much better suited! For anything I want to keep and reference long-term, or things that don't require a lot of thinking through on my part, digital planning is definitely better because I can save it without needing a mountain of papers to sort through!

I use digital planning for:

  • curriculum outlines by grade
  • lesson plan ideas by month for each grade
  • grades and attendance
  • student contact information
  • concert and performance plans/ repertoire 
Could I keep paper copies of all of these? Yes, and in the past that was what I did. But for things that I want to store and reference for years to come, having a running document saved digitally is far more helpful than a piece of paper, and I can add in links, copy and paste, and otherwise organize everything to keep it more streamlined. I do keep notes to myself on performance task assessments I grade in class on paper, but I transfer those to our district's online grading platform when I am figuring out report card grades and keep all other grades there, so I don't have to go looking for things when it's report card time.

I think the key here is to think about the purpose of your planning, then figure out how to best accomplish that, realizing that not every part of planning will be best served by the same system! As with most things in life, there is no dichotomy here- we don't have to pick a team, we can take the best from everything to do what works best!

Are you a paper planner, digital planner, or a hybrid planner? I know everyone has their own system, and I'd love to hear yours! If you want to read more about how I plan my curriculum and monthly lessons digitally, and write out my weekly lessons in my paper planner, here's a good post that explains my system. If you want to see the paper planner I use to consolidate everything on a monthly and weekly basis to keep me on track, here's a walk through of my entire planner. And if you're a die-hard digital planner, did you know you can use the same planner templates digitally? This post has a tutorial on how to do that. 

If you're new to the world of Organized Chaos planning, or just need more planner content in your life, you can find all of my planner-related posts right here.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

April Highlights 2021

April is probably my favorite month of the year. I love the change in weather, all the blooms that come out, and the mood in the classroom- people aren't super antsy for summer yet but more cheerful since we aren't cooped up inside all day any more. This April brought some extra fun and excitement for me! Here are some of the highlights from the past month.

1. Back in the Classroom

After teaching on a cart all school year, I got my room back!! The joy and relief I felt when I finished my last lesson on a cart was indescribable. It was a bit of a scramble putting my classroom together, since I was only given 2 hours to move in and set up, but I am so very happy to have my own space again and the students have been thrilled as well (several classes cheered when they came in for the first time)! If you want to see how my room is set up to teach synchronously with social distancing, you can see the full tour in this post.

2. Blooming Trees

One nice surprise when I moved back into my classroom was realizing I had made it back just in time to enjoy the blooming tree outside my classroom window (pictured on the left)! It is a beautiful tree and always one of the first to bloom at the beginning of spring, so I'm so glad I was able to enjoy it this year- last year the building was closed when it bloomed and I had to drive over to school several times just to visit it from the outside! The other important highlight from every April, though, is the sakura. Growing up in Japan, going to see the cherry blossoms was an annual tradition that marked the spring season for me, so I'm grateful my current city has a square with lined with sakura, complete with an annual cherry blossom festival, so we can keep that tradition going! 

3. Music Education Posts

Every week I share my favorite music education content on my Facebook page- here are the ones I found this month! Click each image to read the posts- they are all excellent reads.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

AAPI Heritage Month in Elementary Music

With the rise in anti-Asian hate in the United States during the pandemic, there has never been a more impactful time to recognize Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. While the month of May should certainly not be the only time we recognize and include AAPI people and music in our classrooms, it is an important opportunity to shine the spotlight on a group that has historically been largely ignored and exoticized.

First a little background: AAPI stands for Asian American and Pacific Islander. May has been officially designated as AAPI Heritage Month since 1992 (although AAPI Week has been around since 1978). The history of AAPI people is long, broad, and often completely overlooked- this video gives a good starting point if you are unfamiliar. With that said, here are some general suggestions for recognizing AAPI Heritage Month in your elementary music classroom respectfully, responsibly, and appropriately.

DO celebrate AAPI excellence

While these musicians should be included in our regular, every day lessons when the musician's race is not the focus, spending some time sharing AAPI musicians from throughout history and across genres and musical roles is a great way to recognize AAPI Heritage Month in the elementary music classroom. If you need a starting point for some musicians to feature, you'll find some in these lists of instrumental performers (but definitely do not stop at these- there are SO many more out there in so many different musical fields, from conductor Xian Zhang to film composer Sujin Nam):

DO NOT limit AAPI representation to only East Asians

The AAPI community extends beyond Japan, China, and Korea- it's important to include Filipino, Vietnamese, Samoan, and so many other Asian American and Pacific Islanders outside of East Asia, particularly people with darker skin. It's important to push back against colorism by making sure, when we share AAPI musicians, that we're including the full spectrum.

DO incorporate AAPI representation throughout the school year

Don't throw in a few featured Asian American musicians in the month of May and check AAPI representation off your list- as with all minoritized cultures and people groups, the most important work is in making sure they are incorporated in our everyday lessons and materials. What faces and skin tones are included in the posters hanging on the walls? Whose music is performed in concerts? Whose faces do students see when we use video and photo examples of any musical concept we're teaching? AAPI people and cultures needs to be normalized by including representation when race is not the focal point.

DO NOT play into stereotypes

There are so many AAPI musicians outside classical music! It's important to push back against the stereotype of Asians being most successful as classical string and piano players by including representation in other genres and roles as well. That doesn't mean we shouldn't share Yo-Yo Ma and Lang Lang with our students too, but we need to be intentional about expanding our students' understanding of what it means to be an AAPI musician. Outside of the genres and roles we portray, it's important not to exoticize or generalize AAPI cultures or portray them as the "model minority"- not all Asian Americans are good at math, career-driven, or shy. 

DO listen to, learn from, and compensate AAPI music educators

I'm not sharing specific lesson plans in this post because it's important to learn from and compensate AAPI people directly- I'm here to amplify and point as many people as I can in the right direction so we can all do our own research and center AAPI voices in these conversations. If you are going to use resources to teach about AAPI history and heritage, make sure you are getting them from (and compensating) people from the AAPI community! Here are a few AAPI music educators and musicians, besides the ones mentioned above in this post, to get you started- I encourage you to follow them if you aren't already and check out their resources:

Czarina Jimenez (LittleUpbeatClass)

Darlene Machacon (TheDarlingMusicTeacher)

Alice Tsui (MusicWithMissAlice)

Melissa Stouffer (MrsSMusicRoom)

Jane Lee (SillyOMusic)

AJ Rafael (especially this song, "Our Friend Larry Itliong")

Joe Kye

I hope this helps steer you in the right direction as you work to recognize AAPI culture and people in your elementary music class in the month of May and beyond! If you know of other AAPI people that should be amplified, please add to my list in the comments below.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Elementary Music Classroom Tour: April 2021

I never thought I would be sharing my classroom setup in April, but here we are! After spending the entire school year on a cart, I am back in my classroom and I couldn't be happier. We still have a lot of mitigation protocols in place and we still have distance learners joining classes live on zoom, but being in one place, in my own space, makes a huge difference! If you're interested in seeing how I've set up my room for this situation, here's a quick tour.

I know many schools are operating with different protocols, so here's what I'm working with:

  • everyone is masked at all times (except to eat and for mask breaks)
  • with masks on, students should be at least 3 feet apart
  • singing will now be allowed for short periods, with masks, at least 6 feet apart
  • no shared supplies
Because students have the option to either be in person full time or distance learning full time, my class sizes vary anywhere from 24 in person to 5 in person! So I need the ability to teach a lot of different groups with one set up. I was only given a couple of hours before spring break to set up my classroom, since it was being used by a 4th grade cohort, so I haven't been able to do as much work making it look nice as I would in a typical year, but I've spent a lot of time thinking through the logistics and I'm happy with the set up I have. So here's what my classroom looks like now:

If you have any questions please let me know in the comments and I'll get back to you as soon as I can! If you want to see how I set up the cart I've been using so far this school year, I shared that in this post. For more posts related to pandemic music teaching, from distance lesson plans to tech tips and everything in between, head to this page:

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Hybrid Technology Setup for Concurrent Music Teaching

I've been teaching concurrently- synchronous distance learners and in-person students in the same class at the same time- since the beginning of this school year, and I have been on the hunt for a technology setup that streamlines my teaching the whole time. After trying out several solutions this is the one that has worked best for me, and I hope other music teachers find this useful as well!

This setup requires a projector (or, though less than ideal, a monitor if you don't have a projector to use) and a computer. I've used this setup on a cart, and am now using it in my music classroom. My district is using Zoom as our platform for virtual learners, but I think the same idea should be able to be applied to other platforms as well.

Here's a video explaining and demonstrating how I have set everything up and why:

One of the key things to set up is the dual monitor setting for Zoom (or whatever other platform you're using). Here is a tutorial on setting up that feature in Zoom, and here is one for Google Meet. These tutorials all show how to set this up so you have an actual monitor as your "second screen"- the only difference in what I do is I am using my projector screen as the monitor- your computer should recognize it the same way. Here is a tutorial on setting up dual monitors to display separately on a Mac, and one for Windows 10.

I hope this is helpful for those of you teaching synchronously in hybrid models! It's so much to juggle, so every little thing that makes it easier for me to teach feels like a miracle to me. If you want to see all of my tips and ideas for hybrid, full remote, and in-person teaching during a pandemic, head to this page:

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Concurrent Music Teaching Tips

More and more music teachers are heading back to in-person teaching, while still teaching distance learners at the same time. It's a lot to juggle and it's not easy at all, but after doing it since last September I have a much better handle on it than I did when I started! There's so much more to say than I could ever cover in one blog post, but here are a few tips for managing concurrent elementary music teaching.

1. Establish Routines

I've said this in different ways more times than I can count now, but routines. Routines have been my saving grace this year more than ever before. Routines for me as a teacher, routines for the students, and routines for the flow of the lessons themselves. As mundane as it may seem, put routines in place anywhere you can! The mental load of concurrent teaching is the toughest part, so anything you can make automatic and not have to think about is a plus for everyone. I've written in much greater detail about specific routines I've put in place for concurrent teaching in these posts below:


2. Stop Asking, "Who Remembers..."

I know I'm not the only one who uses the prompt, "who remembers (fill in the blank vocabulary, word or concept)?" to review previous lesson material and segue into the next activity. If you're teaching concurrently? Stop doing it. If there's one teaching practice that will bring your concurrent lesson to a halt more quickly than anything, it's asking the whole class a question and inviting students to raise their hands to share a response. While there are times when doing so is definitely still worth it, for the most part I avoid asking the class a question and inviting individual answers now. Instead, I ask individual students directly (so I don't have to wait for students to raise their real or zoom hand and I can better keep track of individual student understanding), or I invite the whole class to respond simultaneously (like "Alright everyone, yesterday we learned that the violin is in the.....? *gestures out to the group* yes, string family!"- that way distance learners just answer with everyone without me having to unmute them). For a question like "who remembers___?", which is really just intended to be a quick reminder for the group in a typical class setting, it's not worth the hassle!

3. Build In Distance Attendance Opportunities

I don't necessarily plan my lessons around this, but I try to take advantage of opportunities in the middle of class to take attendance for my distance learners. Sometimes I do so by asking all students to respond to a question or perform something, and I mark down names as they do it, or sometimes I have students watching a video or working on an individual assignment and I can jot down who's there while I'm not directly teaching the class. With classes being as short as they are I don't like to waste time taking attendance while students just sit there, but with students coming in and out at different times, I don't always remember correctly if I'm taking attendance right before or after class either. 

I also don't normally take attendance in my class, but for distance learners in particular it has been critically important to take attendance this year so I can keep track of anyone who isn't showing up in my zooms and follow up with their families. 

4. Restate Student Comments

Get in the habit of restating anything in-person students say or do, and anything distance learners put in the chat (unless it's meant to be private of course). For music class it's not always practical to make it so distance and in-person students can see each other, but it's still very important for them to be able to interact with each other and also make sure noone misses parts of class discussions. Remember even the in-person students often can't hear each other because of distancing and masking, and online students certainly can't! Because of the sound lag I generally have online distance students muted during class, so for students in 3rd grade and up especially, I have them use the chat for the majority of their questions/ responses. I of course read those out loud for the class to hear before responding, but I have also been conscious of restating even those interruptions from in-person or distance learners, no matter how off-topic they are, before redirecting. Kids miss talking to each other. They usually find their peers funnier than their teachers, and those random comments- while sometimes disruptive- are what the distance learners especially miss from being in the room with their friends.

5. Make the Board a Second Monitor

My favorite way to set up technology is to have zoom on my laptop and connect the laptop to the projector with dual monitor settings so the board functions as the 2nd monitor. I have everything I want to show students in a google slides file on the "2nd monitor" so the in-person students see it projected on the board and I share my screen to show the same thing to the distance learners on zoom. I can have both groups of students see things/ not see things at the same time by stopping the screen share and blanking the projector if I want them to just look at me or have a class discussion, for example, I can control whether in-person students see the distance learners and the zoom chat window on the screen or not, and I can still see all of the zoom participants when I share my screen instead of being limited to the small window on the side.

This topic warrants a whole post of its own, but I want to point out that in my experience there are times when I want the 2 groups of students to be able to see each other and there are times when it is actually better for the distance learners to know they are not on the screen! Distance learners can be very uncomfortable about doing movement activities etc if they know they are projected on the big screen, for example. It's also worth noting that I taught in a cart in many spaces that did not have boards or projectors at all, and depending on the situation/ activity, my 2 (far less than ideal, but workable) solutions were to either 1) have in-person learners also join the zoom with the distance learners, or 2) use the relatively small monitor I mounted to my cart (yeah I did that) as the "board" for hybrid students to look at.

I could keep going for pages and pages- there is so much to think about with this mode of teaching- but those are some of the most important discoveries I've made this school year. If you've been teaching music concurrently and have your own tips, I'd love to hear them in the comments, and if you have questions please do leave those as well! You'll find more ideas and tips for various forms of pandemic teaching on my dedicated page below:

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

March Highlights 2021

 As this milestone month comes to a close, it's time to look back on some of the highlights. It was a month of ups and downs to be sure!

1. Song Bracket

March is always so much fun because I celebrate Music In Our Schools Month in a big way. I didn't do all the different in-class activities or bulletin boards I would normally do because of our hybrid teaching situation, but I did get to do another song bracket, where students voted on their favorite songs each day in a March-madness-style bracket, and it has been so much fun! I highly recommend it if you've never done it before- here's my blog post where I explain how I set it up.

2. Philippines and Korea Units

The units I do with each grade on one culture and their music are always highlights of my year, and because we're on a rotational schedule I did those units with my 3rd and 4th graders early this year! I used to do China with my 4th graders each year but a couple of years ago I decided to start alternating between China, Korea, and Japan. The students loved the units and I had so much fun, even though we couldn't do everything I normally like to do! I videotaped each class too, to use in my international music festival at the end of the year- I can't wait!

3. Improving Weather

I cannot overstate how big of a difference it makes in my mood and motivation having warmer temperatures and sunshine these last couple of weeks! Even more than most years, being able to be outside makes such a difference for my daughters and I after being cooped up inside for so long, and I notice the difference in my students and colleagues too!

4. Music Ed Content

Here is some of my favorite music education content I found this month- click each picture to check them out. They are well-worth your time!