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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: