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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

What the First Day of Kindergarten Music Is REALLY Like

Sure, we can talk about our best-laid plans, our procedures, and our welcome songs, but we all know reality is never quite what we hope it will be on the first day of Kindergarten. There's just no predicting what may happen! Even for me, having taught Kindergarten music every year since I started teaching in 2006, I always walk away from the first lesson feeling like a tornado just came through. For teachers new to Kindergarten music it can be tempting to wonder if you're the only one experiencing this level of chaos! So here's a peek inside what the first lesson with Kindergarten looked like for me this year.

My first lesson with Kindergarten was actually pretty tame compared to some years, but it's still a good dose of reality to remember how tedious it can be in the beginning!

1. Stand in the hallway trying to get everyone's attention at the same time for several minutes so I can make sure they all follow me into the correct room and I don't lose any children. This is hard because I don't know anyone's name so I can't get their attention by calling them.

Quick tip: my favorite trick for this exact moment is one I stole from my daughters' preschool teacher: I call out "milkshake" while wiggling my body, then "popsicle" while I stand straight like a pencil. I go back and forth between milkshake and popsicle until they are all doing it with me.

2. Get the whole line to follow me into the room. Make it into a game where they freeze every now and then, really because there are random kids wandering around the room reaching out for instruments every 3 seconds, whose name I don't know, so I need to go physically stand in front of them to get their attention and get them back in line.

Quick tip: I tell them to copy me and keep it interesting by switching between marching, tip-toeing, hopping, etc with freezing in between to keep their attention. The goal is to give them a chance to look around the room while also getting them to follow directions.

3. Lead the line over to the side wall, introduce myself, then assign each of them a spot to sit on the floor by asking them their names, showing them their spot, and writing it down on my seating chart. This always takes way longer than I think it should and it makes me want to poke my eyeballs out but I need that individual interaction and I need to assign spots as soon as possible.

4. Field requests to play the purple guitar and redirect students who have started a tickling game on one side of the room and another student who is pulling their spot off the floor on the other side. Tell students who ask when lunch is, when it's time to go home, and when we will play instruments: "later".

5. Introduce the name game I planned. Get through 3 students and realize I'm out of time. Tell students they will all get a turn on another game another day. I've got to make sure everyone does something active together before we leave!

6. Have everyone stand on their spots and tell them to dance when the music plays. Play 2 rounds of freeze dance, each round lasting about 10 seconds. Done.

6. Get all the students to stand still and tell them to listen carefully for how to line up. Slowly and clearly show the first row of students where to go. Stop them after they take 2 steps because they are all confused. Have students line up one student at a time while constantly stopping to redirect the rest. Do more milkshakes and popsicles.

7. On the way to PE class, show them the bathroom to use during music.

Quick tip: I always do this at the end of the first class and tell them this is "not for today, but in case there is an emergency sometime on another day". That avoids the immediate need for every student to try going to the bathroom right after I show them.

Does this sound anything like your first day? I have each class for 30 minutes, including the time it takes to get them to (or from) PE class, so it goes by quickly! I always feel like I've failed after the first couple of lessons but then the effort of reinforcing procedures starts to pay off and I start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I'd love to hear your craziest first day of Kindergarten stories in the comments, I'm sure we've all got some good ones!

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Top 5 Strategies to Support Individual Students

In my last post I shared my top 5 strategies for fostering positive classroom climate- in other words, how to deal with classes as a whole. In today's post I want to talk about my top 5 strategies for dealing with each student individually, and doing everything I can to allow each student to thrive in my classroom. That's no small task when we're talking about hundreds of students at a time! But it is so important- in fact it's at the very core of why we do what we do. 

1. Reflecting, Respecting, and Responding to Identities and Needs

The most critical strategy for allowing each individual student to thrive in our classrooms is our ongoing work towards equity. If we don't truly understand who are students are and actively work against systems of oppression, we will never have a classroom where all students can thrive, no matter how much we want them to! Click on the picture above to read more about specific strategies and resources for engaging in this process.

2. Opportunities to Listen and Be Heard

With as many students as we have in music, it's so important to have systems and procedures in place that hold us accountable to giving every student opportunities to listen and to be heard. Circles, in all the forms they can take in the music room, are one of the best ways to do that.

3. Regular Positive Reinforcement

One of the best things I've ever done as a teacher is happy notes. I give one note, with one specific compliment written on it, to one student every class period. This is another way I keep myself accountable for making sure I am giving positive reinforcement to every student- the key things to make this work are to 1) keep track and make sure every student has a turn, and 2) make it clear that this is NOT a ranking of the "best" student of the day, but an opportunity for each person to get a direct compliment. 

4. Names

It seems to simple and obvious but the importance of learning every student's name, and learning to say them correctly, can't be overstated. But I know it can be incredibly difficult when you have hundreds of students! Here are some of my favorite ways to learn them all.

5. Specific Behavior Supports

Some individual students will struggle more than others with regulating their behavior and emotions. For those students there will often be a plan in place to help support their needs in their homeroom class, but either it's never communicated to us as music teachers or it doesn't translate well to our setting. Here are some strategies I've found helpful for supporting individual student needs.

Those are my top 5 strategies for supporting each student as an individual to give them the opportunity to thrive in my music class. Really, when it comes down to it, nothing is more important to me as a teacher than this. And yet it is one of the hardest things to do! I hope something in this list helps you connect more deeply, respond more effectively, and build on each student's success in your classes this year.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Top 5 Strategies to Foster Positive Classroom Climate

In working towards fostering positive interactions and creating a productive learning environment for our students, there are fundamentally two different categories of strategies we use as teachers: those interacting with the class as a whole and those working with individual students. This is what we like to call "behavior management", right? With such limited class time and so many students to work with, the strategies we use to interact with each class as a whole are very important to fostering a positive classroom climate in the music room. Here are the things I do that I think make the biggest difference in my classes.

Before I get into my list, I want to make one important point: fostering a positive classroom environment is not synonymous with me, the teacher, getting what I want. A lot of talk around behavior management centers around getting kids to do what we want, but that's not the ultimate goal here- the goal is for students to be successful, in every sense of the word, in our classrooms. That won't always mean students doing what they're told, but it means everyone is interacting with each other in positive ways and building each other up constructively.

1. Consistent Feedback, Working Towards Goals

Yes, getting away from the extrinsic "carrots and sticks" and focusing on fostering intrinsic motivation is the ultimate goal. But 1) we all need things to look forward to when we need extra motivation to work hard, 2) we as teachers need concrete systems to remind ourselves to provide consistent feedback and positive reinforcement, and 3) it's important to build teamwork in music. So I think having a "behavior management" system for the class as a whole, that gives classes positive reinforcement for hard work and reminders when the class gets off track without pitting classes against each other in a competition or race, is helpful and important. Click on the picture above to read about the system I use in my classes.

2. Seating Arrangement

I spend a lot of time and mental energy deciding on my seating chart for each class at the beginning of the year, and when group dynamics are off, it's one of the first things I look at. How close students are to other specific personalities, who is in each person's line of sight, how well they can see the teacher and class visuals, whether they're surrounded by other people or have more physical space around them, and so many other factors can play a huge role in how students feel and how they interact with each other in the classroom!

3. Systems of Teamwork and Leadership

Students need to feel a sense of ownership in the running of the classroom to feel that they belong, and they need to practice working with others and taking leadership in the class as a whole. Color teams, which I use for classroom jobs, supplies, seating, and more, provide an easy, concrete, and fun way to address all of those needs.

4. Ongoing Work Towards Equity

None of the above matters unless the identities and needs of all students are equitably represented in how we run our classrooms. 

5. Responding to Difficult Group Dynamics

Some groups just have a much harder time clicking, whether they have an overall negative dynamic, are very needy and attention seeking (relationship seeking), or are scattered and high energy. I have found some specific strategies in those situations that can help when dealing with more difficult group dynamics. 

Those are my top 5 strategies for fostering a positive classroom climate in the music room! Establishing a positive environment and managing group dynamics is so important, especially in the beginning of the year, for making sure students can be successful. And in a year like this one as we deal with the ongoing effects of the pandemic and distance learning, this has never been more important or as challenging! I hope these ideas are helpful as you work with your students this year.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Elementary Music Classroom Tour 2021-22

Welcome to my socially-distanced elementary music classroom tour for the 2021-2022 school year! As frustrating as it is sometimes to still have to keep pandemic protocols in mind, I'm grateful my district does have guidelines in place to keep everyone as safe as possible, and I'm so happy to have an actual room to set up this year! Last year I was on a cart while my room was being used for cohorts, so we have taken a huge step in the right direction compared to 12 months ago.

You'll find a video tour at the bottom of this post, but first a few highlights of things that are new for this year:

1. Seating Arrangements

I have velcro strips to mark where the front of each chair should go, and dots to mark where students sit or stand on the floor, all with 3-4 foot spacing. Normally I would have chairs in rows and spots in a circle, but with the distancing protocols I had to spread out my chairs and put my floor spots in rows. I still have my 6 colors to use for student groupings though, so we're keeping the color teams (read about those here)!

2. Instruments

After having all my instruments tucked away in storage last year I'm so happy to have my instruments back out and available this year! We'll still be sanitizing between uses but with the concern for spread from surfaces lessening our district is allowing more shared supplies this year.

3. Teacher Workspace

Believe it or not I think I spent more time trying to figure out my teacher desk situation than any other part of my classroom setup this year! I'm trying to balance the need to have reduced space at the front of the room because the students are spread out, with the need for more workspace than pre-pandemic because I'll still need a second monitor for hosting zoom staff meetings. In the end I put a small desk to have some workspace while I'm actively teaching at the front of the room, and a slightly larger desk (where you see the rolling office chair and monitor) at the back of the room for meetings, planning, etc. I have a feeling I will be tweaking this again before the end of the year... we'll see how long this one lasts!

With that, here is the video tour of the entire classroom- if you have any questions about anything please leave a comment and I'll answer as best as I can!

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Singing in Elementary Music

For many of us, after over a year of not being able to sing together in the same room because of the pandemic, we're finally getting back to some singing! Wow, what an incredible feeling to finally be able to sing together- it's certainly something I took so much for granted before and now realize just how important it is in my life! In honor of our return to singing, today I've compiled all of my top ideas and strategies for developing singing skills in elementary music.

Click each image below to see more details on each specific topic:

I hope this helps you find new ideas as you head back into the world of singing! We may not be fully back to singing like we were pre-pandemic, but I will take any little bit of hope I can take! If you are still completely unable to sing with your students: hang in there. We will get there! You can see my posts with ideas for teaching elementary music without singing (along with other pandemic teaching topics) here. I'm expecting to still have to be distanced and masked, and we can't sing for as long of periods as we used to or project as much as we normally would, but I'm grateful for the progress we have made. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

General Music Concept Index

One thing I've learned through the pandemic is the power of concept-based planning. When so many of my usual lesson activities and methods were no longer viable, I was still able to maintain my sequenced instruction. Knowing the concepts I was teaching made it so much easier to figure out what to teach, when I was having to reinvent so many of my lessons. In this post I'm compiling all my favorite lessons for teaching those fundamental concepts for general music in one place to make everyone's lesson planning lives a little easier! 

First please note that this post is focused on concepts, rather than skills or materials/ methods (we'll talk about those another day). Each of these categories has tons of specific lesson ideas and teaching strategies for specific elements within that category- click below to see each one:

I hope this makes it a little easier to find effective and engaging lesson plans for whatever concept you're hoping to teach! As new posts are added, I'll continue to update this page, so this may be a good one to save somewhere. And if you want ideas to cover all your lessons in a sequenced, comprehensive curriculum, I've published all my lesson plans and materials in this set here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

First Day of Music Lesson Ideas: 2021 edition

It's hard to believe but here we are again, facing the start of a school year with so much uncertainty. Although the pandemic continues to impact schools, I am hoping for some degree of a return to pre-pandemic teaching this fall! Here's what I'm currently planning for the beginning of this school year.

First I should note that as of now, my district is hoping to return to full-time in-person learning with no distance learners, everyone masked and at least 3 feet distanced. We're also hoping to have singing and wind instrument playing with masks and bell covers, and the ability to share supplies, and I'm expecting to be back teaching in my music room. So while we will certainly not be back to completely normal protocols, we will hopefully be a lot closer than we were a year ago! 

With that said, the basic idea of what I plan to do will be the same as my pre-pandemic lessons, which you can read about in detail in this post:

I explain each of these in more detail in the post above, but the basic idea is to introduce students to what music class will be like- what kinds of things we'll be doing, and how we will run the class- by actually trying it out rather than me lecturing them about it. The basic outline is 1) go over names and assigned seats, 2) tour the classroom, and 3) practice procedures and expectations by doing several short activities that include the most important areas of activities and procedures we'll be using in class. 

This year the main changes I'll be making will be to 1) incorporate practice of covid protocols and 2) slow down the pace. The addition of covid protocols obviously will involve going over procedures for masks and social distancing, and any additional considerations for singing and instruments, which I will build into my usual beginning of the year activities like singing and echoing rhythms on instruments. The second point, though, is an important one: I want to be conscious about easing back into the school year gracefully and being mindful of energy levels with masks on.

With everything we've been through over the course of the pandemic, I know my students get tired (both emotionally and physically) more quickly than they did pre-pandemic. And after a summer of being able to play outside with friends, often without masks, for the first time in over a year, coming back into the school building and being fully masked all day is surely not going to be everyone's favorite thing. So while kids are still kids and I do still want to keep things active and lively, I'm also planning to take more time to let students talk, slow down a little to make sure everyone knows what they're doing before jumping into the next thing, and set my expectations ahead of time to take at least 2 class periods to do what I used to do in one. I also have to remember that many students have not set foot in my classroom in over a year, and even the ones who were in person last spring will have new procedures to learn, so things will take much longer to learn (especially for the older students)!

Those are my plans for kicking off the school year this year- for anyone who may be starting their year on a cart, or teaching online synchronously or asynchronously, my first day lessons from last year include ideas for all of those scenarios:

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Music Classroom Re-Organization Post Pandemic

In the wake of over a year of pandemic teaching, everything is a mess. Before we can start getting ready for next year, we have to clean up from the last one! Over the last few weeks I've been working on cleaning up the chaos left by pandemic teaching, from my own well-being to my computer files and everything in between. The most obvious mess I have to deal with, though, is the actual *stuff*. After teaching in so many different modalities in so many different locations, my classroom supplies are all over the place! Today I'm sharing some specific steps I'm taking to get things back where they need to be so I can have an organized space to start next year and have all the supplies organized so I can use them when I need them!

1. Everything in Its Place

Over the past 18 months I have taught on a cart, in a small office space at school, from my home "office" (aka a corner of my bedroom where I set up a desk to zoom), from my home "studio" (aka a corner of my basement where I set up recording space for asynchronous lessons), and in my music classroom. I have instruments, curriculum resource books, scarves, puppets, and other teaching supplies all over my house and all over the school building! So the first step is getting things back where they belong- which for now (a month away from the start of school) mostly means getting all the school supplies back in my classroom closet in as organized a fashion as I can. This way when I go to set up my classroom for the fall I will at least know where everything is, and if I've lost anything (yes, I have) I know what I need to order.

2. Reassess Supply Needs

Teaching without shared supplies, without students being able to move, and without a classroom definitely forced me to make do with less! Rather than rushing back to using #allthethings, I want to be intentional about evaluating whether the extra supplies are actually things that are helpful or just creating clutter. Anything I can streamline is a good thing when it comes to teaching, especially teaching young children! For example, I used only digital "manipulatives" for composition this year rather than the physical manipulatives I normally use. I definitely know I want to get back to using physical manipulatives rather than going all digital, because I know that especially for younger students it's a much more effective way to learn, but I don't think I need them all! For my upper elementary students I plan to keep the rhythm manipulatives I've used in the past, but I may not continue to use mini erasers to place on the staff like I have in the past, but use the online tools I found this year instead.

3. Rethink Classroom Organization

Having taught in so many different spaces under so many different conditions has also given me a chance to reevaluate my classroom space as well. For us it's likely we will still have some social distancing in place in the fall so I will be taking that into consideration. I've also had a lot more experience with technology and will continue to use some things, like using my board as a second monitor, even without distance learners on zoom. If you are thinking through your own classroom space (whatever that may look like in the fall), here are all the different spaces I've taught in, both during and before the pandemic, and how I set them up. I'll be thinking through my setup in each of these as I think about my plans for the fall!

This is the final post in my series on "cleaning up the covid chaos"- after a month of processing and reorganizing from this past school year I feel like I'm finally in a place where I can start to think ahead to next school year! If you want to see the rest of the posts in the series on how I've been trying to intentionally take the time to process and work through everything that happened over the last 18 months before even allowing myself to start thinking ahead, with the specific steps I've been taking in each area including my emotional, physical, and social well-being, technology, and curriculum/ lesson plans, you can find all of those here: