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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Cleaning Up the Covid Chaos

After a full school year teaching in a pandemic, I find myself looking around at all the aspects of my life now in disarray, wondering how I will ever pick up the pieces. Living through such stressful, constantly changing, and unforeseen circumstances forced me to narrow my focus, but now that the fog is clearing I'm realizing a big part of my recovery process will be cleaning up the chaos- putting things in order, literally and figuratively. 

Before we jump into thinking ahead to next school year, we need to take the time to acknowledge everything that we've just been through and take stock of where we are. I've decided I need to be intentional this summer in devoting the time and energy to each of these aspects of my life that are in desperate need of attention and re-imagining (click the picture to read each post):

self care (emotional, mental, and physical) and relationships (social life, family, students/ colleagues)

technology (organize files, archive google classrooms, etc)

lesson plans (save and organize the new ideas from this year that I want to keep, take a fresh look at my old plans)

physical space/ things (get stuff back where it belongs, pare down what I actually need, rethink my classroom organization, etc)

Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing more in-depth posts on each of these areas and how I am tackling them to take you along on this journey (those posts are now linked above!). I'm not saying I expect my life to be completely in order by the end of the summer, or that I'll be done processing and ready to move on before the first day of school, but I don't want to skip over this important step or sweep it under the rug! 

The first step is recognizing the areas that need attention. What areas do you see a need to address in your own life? I would love to hear any of your own thoughts and ideas in the comments, or send me a message, so we can help each other through this process. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

We Did It.

Well, some way some how, we did it fellow music teachers. We survived a pandemic school year.

Some of us spent the year teaching online, posting lessons, or in live video meetings. Some of us went traveling around the building on a cart, or transformed our music rooms and made individual music kits to keep social distancing. Some of us taught non-music subjects. Some of us left teaching altogether. Most of us did some combination of several of the above.

Hopefully there are things we learned from the process of reinventing our teaching practices that we can carry into the years to come. Hopefully we will appreciate those little things we used to take for granted a little bit more when we regain them. Hopefully we will not lose sight of the inequities that were made plain to so many more teachers, and we will continue to push for changes as a result.

I'm still processing. I'm sure we all are, and will be for years to come. 

I look back at last summer- the panic I felt about reopening in a hybrid model, the time and energy that I poured into figuring out how to teach music to 6 year old's without singing, without instruments, sitting in desks in rows in the gym where the internet kept kicking me out of my own zooms- and it feels like so very long ago. I think about all the different modalities and schedules and teaching spaces I've been through in one school year and it makes my head spin. And we're not even done yet. Things will be better next school year, but we will not be rid of covid protocols completely. 

It's going to take time to heal from the trauma, to process everything we've been through. Intellectually I know we will begin to heal, and we will forge new paths. But right now I'm tired. Emotionally, physically, mentally, psychologically, socially exhausted. And all I can say is no matter what our paths ended up looking like, we did it. We are so much stronger than we knew, and we did it. I'm proud of myself, I'm proud of us, I'm proud of my students, I'm proud of my family.

And now I'm going to take a nap.

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!