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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

5 Ways to Explore 5/4

I've been working on 5/4 meter with my 4th graders the last few weeks and the lessons have really piqued their interest in time signatures in general, which is the ultimate goal I was aiming for. Here are five ways to explore 5/4 meter with upper elementary students!

This song is a great introduction to 5/4 meter because the drumbeat has a very clear downbeat. I have students aurally identify how many beats are in a measure by tapping on their hand and counting the number of beats in a set- most of them got it after a few measures. After discussing the time signature, I turned the music back on and had students echo my 5-beat rhythm patterns on body percussion. It definitely takes a few tries to get into the feel of 5 (they're so used to echoing me after 4 beats) but the echoing was really helpful for getting settled into the meter.

I had students aurally identify the 5/4 meter with this song as well, then we practiced walking on beats 1 and 4 and clapping on the other beats. I've been doing the beanbag passing activity with Take Five for a few years now and it's the perfect level of challenge for this age group. I know this activity has been making the rounds online and it took a while for me to figure out myself: I had to make a slowed down version with a shortened solo section myself, it's not something I've been able to find available anywhere. I found this year that doing something else (15 Step) to introduce and help students get used the meter before jumping into this passing game really helped them be more successful- I highly recommend saving this one for after they've gotten into it a little bit.

Once they had the feeling of the meter, I taught students just the first 2 phrases of this song. I had them first pat their legs on beats 1 and 4 and clap on the other beats while they listened to the song, then once they learned it, they practiced clapping with a partner while singing: clap your own hands on beat 1, clap each other's right hands on beat 2, left hands on beat 3, clap your own hands again on beat 4, and clap both of your partner's hands at the same time on beat 5. 

I used these tracks to have students start trying to create in 5/4 time. The rap is just fun. The students were so impressed to hear someone rapping in 5/4 time! I challenged them to try to beatbox or make up a body percussion pattern to go with the music while they listened. I introduced Fivefor after they had echoed my patterns with 15 Step, and improvised a little with Take Five (in the solo section) and the 5/4 Rap, so they had some preparation to get them ready for this next step: I gave everyone rhythm sticks to use as drum sticks on the backs of their chairs, and I first had them all echo a few of my patterns again to get used to the feel of the song. Then I had them each improvise a 5-beat rhythm with their sticks, counting each student in in between and going around the room in order. 

5. 5/4 composition

The last step was to have students compose, and notate, rhythms in 5/4. I split them up into small groups and gave them these rhythm card manipulatives I made a few years ago, which show how many beats each note is, and had them each create a 5-beat rhythm by laying the cards in a row on the floor, then they practiced performing them on body percussion. 

This has been a great way to get my 4th graders excited about exploring time signatures, not to mention an awesome way to keep them engaged as we approach the end of the school year! If you want to see my favorite lessons for triple meter, which I do mostly with younger students, check out this blog post. And if you have questions, or more ideas for exploring different time signatures, please leave them in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Dance Playlist 2022

I love finding upbeat, school-appropriate, modern songs to use in my music classes for dance parties, slideshows, field day, and general merriment, and these last few years it has felt especially important to share with all the stress and negativity we're all dealing with. Here are my new picks for this year- be sure to check out my posts from previous years to find more awesome music my students and I love linked at the end of this post! 

To make it easier to find all my dance party playlist songs in one place, I've put together a YouTube playlist with all of the songs from all of my previous year's lists including this one! Here's the link to the playlist.

If you've missed my playlists from previous years you can see those posts below! Happy dancing :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Fostering Positive Vibes at the End of the Year

Anyone else feel weighed down by negativity as this ridiculous school year limps towards the finish line? From staff and from students, there is so much heightened emotion, stress, and just straight up exhaustion. Here are three concrete ways I am pushing back against the negative energy to do everything I can to promote positive vibes for my students and for myself through the end of the school year.

1. positive notes

I'm doubling down on recognizing students for positive things. I continue to give happy notes at the end of every lesson (info on that in this blog post), and I've started leaving secret messages on sticky notes for students to find in the morning as well (info on that in this blog post). I'm also making a point of reporting to the principal when a student who often struggles demonstrates genuine effort to do something positive, and make sure my principal talks to that student to let them know what he heard from me. Every bit of positive reinforcement is worth its weight in gold, now more than ever- not just for the students on the receiving end but for me too because it focuses my thoughts on noticing the positives rather than dwelling on the negatives!

2. routines

There's so much disruption to the normal routine at the end of the year because of state testing, schoolwide events, and concert prep. While I am all about changing things up and doing something new and different to hold students' interest, I'm also making sure I'm not letting go of our routines. I'm leaving more time than I have been for each transition, especially at the beginning and end of class, and making sure I'm not skipping anything in the interest of time. Every bit of predictability helps control the chaos for everyone! Here's more info on what I do at the end of class, and what I do at the beginning of class.

3. keep teaching

As much as I sometimes just want to throw on a play-along, or put on some music for freeze dance, and just call it a day, I find I deal with far fewer disruptive behaviors and a lot less negativity when I keep plugging away with teaching content. It's definitely not anything heavy but the students and I all feel more motivated when we all know there's actual purpose to what we're doing, not just killing time. Sometimes that means reviewing concepts we haven't practiced in a little while, sometimes that's starting to preview concepts they'll be learning in the next grade level, and sometimes it's working towards a class performance that I plan to videotape and share with families. Yes, I'm keeping it fun and light, but as much as I may not feel like it when I'm lesson planning it makes things much more pleasant when there is some kind of genuine purpose to what we're doing.

I know it's exhausting out there right now but I hope some of these tips can help someone find a little more joy at the end of this school year! We could sure use it, that's for sure.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Secret Sticky Strategy for the End of the School Year

Things always start to unravel at the end of the school year, but this year the heightened emotions seem even more magnified than usual. I was recently reminded of something I did at the end of the school year years ago that I've started doing again this year, and it has already made a big impact in the first week since I started. If you're struggling to maintain a positive classroom climate, this is an easy strategy you might want to try!

I've been giving a "happy note" to one student at the end of every lesson for years now, and it has been a great tool for building relationships and positive classroom climate. I'm still doing that this year, but this past week I added another layer to that concept: the secret sticky note.

At the end of the day, or whenever I have a few minutes during planning, I write a short (maybe 2-3 sentences) note to a few students on a post-it note. It's not the student who got a happy note that day, but I'm starting with those students who are just always quietly doing what they need to do, or who I've seen making an effort in class. The notes usually say something like, "I just wanted to let you know how proud I am of you for___", or "You are so good at ___", etc and then end with something like, "You are an awesome person". I try to get one or two students each from a few different classes each day.

Before school starts the next day, I go to their homeroom and put the sticky note on their chair or desk where it's not in plain sight but the student will see it when they go to sit down. I don't say anything to them about it, but every single one of them has run up to me to give me a hug, or come in the next class proclaiming, "I am going to do an awesome job again today!"- it has been absolutely magical, and that energy rubs off on the rest of the class. I have no idea if they are telling other students about it and making the others motivated to receive a note as well, or if it's just the positive vibes spreading to everyone else, but it has definitely impacted more than just the individual students who have gotten a note from me.

I am keeping track of who I write notes to on my seating charts, so I'm hoping to get around to everyone before the end of the school year (we have a little less than 6 weeks left). Not only has it been a great way to encourage the students, but it has really helped keep my focus on the positive as well. Rather than spending all of my time outside of class following up on negative behaviors, I'm following up on the positive ones as well, which reminds me of all the great things that are happening in my classroom and all the things I love about my students. 

This time of year can start to feel like you're just holding on for dear life- I hope this helps someone else end the school year on a more positive note! 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

3 Songs You Didn't Know Were American

After seeing a few of these pop up again recently in my social media feeds I realized there are still a lot of music teachers who aren't aware of the misinformation that has been passed around for years in our circles about certain songs that have become quite common in US elementary music lessons. Hopefully this is old news for many, but if you didn't know, now you know: these songs are not "traditional" songs from non-US American cultures as they have been presented for years in the past.

There has long been a problem of misattribution in US elementary general music repertoire, largely because of publishers and workshop presenters putting things out without doing proper research and busy teachers trusting them as reliable sources and using the material in their teaching to continue circulating the misinformation. So please hear this: I don't necessarily think these songs are inherently offensive and should be removed completely from our teaching. But I do very strongly believe in the importance of presenting the songs accurately as the American, "in the style of" songs that they are, and I would think hard about WHY you're using these songs, instead of others, when you're thinking about using them in your lessons. These should definitely NOT be included in units on the music of the Netherlands, any African country, or Iran, or "music around the world" programs or lessons, as they don't represent a specific culture (including the US- these songs were not written to represent US American culture, obviously, which is why they have been misattributed for so long).  

1. Funga Alafia

This song (also sometimes written as Fanga Alafia) was circulated for years as a traditional Liberian, Nigerian, or "African" welcome song, but was actually written by an African American around 1960. There is a long and interesting history that's worth reading in this post by Azizi Powell. 

2. Ye Toop Doram

This song, and the ball game that goes with it, has been passed around as a traditional children's game from Iran or Afghanistan, but was actually written by a US American music teacher as a way to help her students learn some basic words in Farsi to connect with her students that had just come to her school from Afghanistan and Iran. You can read the full background, straight from the composer herself, in this post by Aimee Pfitzner.

3. Sarasponda

This song has long been circulated as a traditional Dutch spinning song, but there is no documentation to back up that claim- it has, however, been traced back to an American songbooks from the 1940's. There isn't one conclusive source on the full background of the song, but here is a summary from Wikipedia.

If any of this information was new to you I hope this post will spur you on to do some more research into the songs so many music teacher resources present as being "from" non-US cultures! Exploring music from cultures outside our own is fantastic and in fact absolutely necessary and important as music teachers, but we need to do our homework to make sure we do so accurately, respectfully, and responsibly, especially as we consider what to pass along to our students and how.