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Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Best Strategies for Teaching Composition

Composition / creating is one of those areas we tend to throw in here and there without really thinking about properly sequencing and scaffolding our instruction for our students the way we do for other skills and concepts, but it's so important to be intentional about developing students' composition skills! When we don't, elementary students can get turned off to composition so easily. Here are my top strategies for teaching composition, including how I sequence the skill through the grades as well as my favorite lesson plans for doing so.

Lower elementary

In the younger grades it's all about keeping it short and simple, using manipulatives more than writing, and having them create frequently! Here's how I approach composition with my K-3 students:

Upper elementary / middle school

For older students I find the most important factors are to limit their options, and give context and meaning to their creations. There are so many fantastic composition projects I absolutely love doing with my 4th-6th graders! Read about how I approach composition in general, and about my favorite specific projects I love to use, in this post:

Using technology

If there's one thing I've learned through the pandemic it's new ways to use technology in my teaching! With our students now having one-to-one devices my students have been able to use some wonderful platforms that make composition fun and engaging, and also helps many students understand concepts so much better! Here are some of my favorite platforms to use with all grade levels:

Using manipulatives

Just like different technology platforms can help with student comprehension and engagement, manipulatives of all kinds have the same effect, and they can be used even if you don't have any devices available! I love using different types of manipulatives for different grade levels based on the concepts they are working on- here are my favorites, how I make them or where I find them, and how I use them with my students:


Creating without notating

Of course creating music doesn't have to include notating it in any way shape or form- it's important for students to have the freedom to focus on creating music without worrying about, or being limited by, the process of notating. Here are my favorite lesson activities and strategies for sequencing instruction across lower and upper elementary grade levels to teach students how to create music:

I hope this helps you teach composition and music creating skills more intentionally, and gives you some new lesson ideas to try! If you want to see the composition worksheet templates I use, you can find those in this set. I've found it makes composing and notating so much more accessible for students because they are intentionally created to scaffold from Kindergarten all the way through high school! If you have any other favorite ideas or questions about teaching composition I'd love to hear them in the comments below.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Summer Renewal: music class reboot

I am at a place in my life right now where I am working towards renewal. For me renewal this summer means getting back to the things I love, the things that bring me joy that I had gotten out of the habit of doing or was forced to let go of. It means taking the fresh ideas I've learned through the pandemic and infusing them into my old best practices, both in my professional and my personal life. It means reclaiming my sense of purpose, and working towards a renewed passion and energy instead of just living in a constant state of triage. In yesterday's post I focused on home life, but today I'm focusing on the ways I'm working towards renewal in my teaching practices.

1. New ideas

Despite all the challenges, there have been many new lesson activities I've found, and new classroom setup, organization, and management ideas I've tried during this pandemic that I'm definitely holding onto and working into my teaching practice going forward- I wrote about the new ideas from this past year I'm excited to keep, and even expand on, in these posts:


2. Student seating arrangements

The last few years due to social distancing requirements and guidelines I've had to completely rearrange my student seating. This past year I moved closer back to how I had them pre-pandemic, but I'm eager to get (mostly) fully back to the seating arrangements I had before. Last year I had to have all of the chairs and floor spots both spread out in a 3'x3' grid, like this: 

But this year (barring a resurgence of covid protocols) I am excited to go back to chairs in rows and, especially, floor spots in a circle, like this:

The small tweaks I'm planning to make going forward are to 1) space the chairs out a little more in each row if I can- I had the chairs touching each other before and I saw the benefits of at least a little personal space during the pandemic and 2) using carpet spots to mark the circle spots instead of tape. Honestly, since I already used duct tape on the carpet pre-pandemic and I'm going back to the same spots for the rows and can put the tape on top of the existing residue (which is minimal but still there), I will probably go back to duct tape for the rows- it's just a lot more durable than the velcro strips, which I had to replace a couple of times throughout the year last year. But the spots are probably even more durable than the tape, and definitely don't leave residue at all, so I'm converted for those!

I know a lot of teachers are actually sticking with the spaced out seating arrangements because it kept students out of each other's business a little more, but I think we're ready for the messiness of learning to work more closely in community again, and it's important for the kids to develop those skills.

3. Team jobs

I was so happy to get back to having color teams, and jobs assigned to those teams, last school year, but I had to replace one of my jobs because of the aforementioned seating arrangement changes: line leader. I'm excited to get back to having the line leader job back in our classroom job rotation, because I love how it teaches students how to get on and off choral risers with the way I have them line up at the end of class in this configuration. You can read the details on how I have them line up in this post, and more importantly if you haven't tried color teams and/or team jobs for elementary music I highly recommend reading this post!

4. Movement

I know I'm not the only one excited to bring back more folk dancing/ movement without having to social distance students! There were so many lessons I had to let go of or modify, like Draw a Bucket of Water and Bickle Bockle, that I can't wait to get back to. 

5. Restorative circles

I did still make restorative conversations a part of my teaching during the pandemic, but because of the reduced class time and the lack of an actual circle to sit in, they were far less frequent, and it showed in student behavior. I'm looking forward to getting back to having restorative circles as a part of my regular class routines- you can read about how I use circles in the elementary music room in this post.

Those are the highlights of ways I'm rebooting my music teaching practices and classroom for the upcoming school year- I'm so excited to get recharged and get back to some of the things I have missed the last couple of years. What are you doing to regain your passion and purpose for the upcoming school year? I'd love to hear new ideas you're putting in place, and old ones you're bringing back, in the comments!

Monday, July 18, 2022

Teacher Summer Renewal: home life refresh

I am at a place in my life right now where I am working towards renewal. For me renewal this summer means getting back to the things I love, the things that bring me joy that I had gotten out of the habit of doing or was forced to let go of. It means taking the fresh ideas I've learned through the pandemic and infusing them into my old best practices, both in my professional and my personal life. It means reclaiming my sense of purpose, and working towards a renewed passion and energy instead of just living in a constant state of triage. Renewal has to include my whole self and every aspect of my life, not just my role in the classroom- today I'm focusing on the ways I'm working towards renewal in my home life as a working parent.

1. Exercise

I have never had any desire to exercise for the purpose of exercise- I've always maintained that I lead an active enough lifestyle that I don't need to go out of my way and dedicate time specifically to exercise as its own activity. But I realized this spring that 1) I'm getting older, and 2) pandemic teaching and living has been far less active than my pre-pandemic teaching and living, and I've finally made the commitment to do some actual, regular exercise.

Knowing the way I operate and what motivates me, I've put a weekly tracker in my planner to keep track of the days I exercise, and I've made it a goal to do a 10-minute workout every day. If you're like me and you're looking for an easy way to get started, here's one of the videos I've been using- I have a rotation of 3-4 workout videos that I rotate through and they have been a good level of challenge for me where I am right now.

2. Screen time

I'm sure I'm not the only one whose screen time shot through the roof, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. And I know I don't have to explain to anyone the negative impact of too much screen time, or the addictive nature of screens and social media. This summer I'm really trying to reduce my screen time closer to pre-pandemic levels. Obviously I do a lot of work online with Organized Chaos, and right now I'm also in the middle of an online degree program, so a certain amount of computer work is unavoidable. But I'm focusing on that scrolling time on my phone that I've gradually allowed myself to increase during the pandemic. It was a way to stay connected when we were all isolating, but with that need being reduced I need to find ways to back off. 

One strategy that was effective for me years ago that I'm bringing back is wearing a wrist watch. I use the excuse of checking the time as a reason to check my phone constantly, so having a watch takes away that need. I'm also trying, any time I feel like lounging around scrolling through social media or watching YouTube videos, to turn on some music to sing along to instead. It still gives me a way to unwind and relax without having to stare at a screen.

3. Cooking

I've actually been pretty good with keeping up my meal planning/ healthy cooking for my family through the pandemic, and in many ways I've gotten better at using what I have in the fridge or pantry because I was trying to make fewer trips to the store during lockdown (read about that in this blog post). But what I have let slip is my eating habits when I'm alone. Since I share custody of my daughters there are days when they are with their dad and I'm alone, and I've found myself turning much more to convenience, whether that's instant ramen or takeout, with the excuse of "self care". This summer I'm trying to set myself up to cook for myself more with these strategies I had developed pre-pandemic. 

4. Appointments

I definitely let a lot of my annual checkup and other appointments go by the wayside during the pandemic. Part of my "self-care" this summer is getting back on track with all of my appointments! I have my annual checkup with my primary care doctor, dentist and eye appointments, and haircuts all on the schedule and I'm recommitted to staying on track with these.

I'm mostly writing this post because I know if I tell other people I'm doing it, I'll be more likely to follow through and stay committed. But I hope this also helps give other teachers some fresh motivation or inspiration to give your own home life a reboot! After living through everything we've been through in this pandemic- as much as we're not out of the woods yet- I think we all need it. 

If you're in a similar place in life where you're ready for renewal, I'd love to hear what you're committing to, changes you're making, pre-pandemic practices you're bringing back, and new habits you're trying to build. Tell me what you're doing in the comments below!

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Elementary Music Curriculum Resources

Mapping out a general music curriculum can be a daunting task, but once you have a solid plan in place it makes the day-to-day lesson planning so much easier and the lessons become so much more purposeful as well! Whether you're starting from scratch and being asked to create a curriculum on your own, working with textbooks or other resources, or reflecting on what you already have in place, consider this your idea bank for everything you need to create and/or develop your elementary general music curriculum!

Lesson Content/ Sequencing

If you're looking for lesson ideas on specific concepts, or trying to figure out how to sequence skills and concepts from grade to grade, these are your best friends! I'm continuing to update these with more topics as I write new posts so bookmark these and check back when you need some fresh ideas:

Curriculum Mapping

If you are adjusting or creating your curriculum or long-range plans, my #1 recommendation is to sign up for my email series, "Lesson Planning Made Awesome". It's completely free, nothing extra to sign up for, and takes you through the process of mapping out your curriculum and long-range plans all the way from standards and scope and sequence down to your daily lesson plans with all of the templates you need to write out and organize everything:

If you want to explore a specific topic further, here are several blog posts I've written on various aspects of curriculum writing/ long-range planning:

Ready to Use Resources

If you are looking for ready-made resources to save you loads of time (and headaches), I have lots of options available- if you are in a district that doesn't allow TPT purchases but you can purchase through JWPepper, many of these are also available there.

Long-range planning templates with a sample sequence for K-6:

Completed yearly outlines with editable K-6 monthly sequences and complete skills checklists by grade:

Planning sheets with all of the standards listed by grade (there are versions for TEKS, Ontario curriculum, and PK-8 general and ensemble standards for the National Core Arts Standards):

Assessments organized by skill/ concept and sorted by grade level:

Complete curriculum set, including full lesson plans to address the concepts/ skills outline for each month in each grade, with all the visuals, assessments, and materials needed to teach them:

I hope you find all of these resources helpful in your planning process, whether you're just getting started or updating what you have! If you have questions or topics you'd like to hear more about, please reach out any time and I'd love to talk with you further.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Summer of Renewal

I've been on summer break for a couple of weeks now and I'm actually in a much better place than I have been the last 2 summers. This year was hard, to be sure, but the word I keep replaying in my mind is renewal. It's time for a summer of renewal. 

You may not be in the same place as I am right now, and that's ok. Last summer all I could manage to write at the end of the year was this post: we did it. I had nothing else to say. Once I was able to clear some of the cobwebs, last summer was a summer of picking up the pieces and trying to make some sense out of the mess my life seemed to have become. If that's where you are now you are definitely not alone- you can read about how I tried to get myself back to a better place in my emotional, social, and physical well-being, and my curriculum, digital files, and classroom space at work, in this series.

For me, though, I have a lot more emotional and mental energy this year and I'm ready to get recharged and refreshed for next school year- I'm ready for renewal. I'm not saying I think the pandemic is over- my local area actually has really high numbers of covid cases right now and we're still taking a lot of precautions- but it's time for me to stop wallowing, stop fumbling around in the dark. We may have to go back to more masks, or social distancing, or even online teaching at some point but I've been there, I've done that, and as much as I may not like it I can do it again.

For me renewal this summer means getting back to the things I love, the things that bring me joy that I had gotten out of the habit of doing or was forced to let go of. It means taking the fresh ideas I've learned through the pandemic and infusing them into my old best practices, both in my professional and my personal life. It means reclaiming my sense of purpose, and working towards a renewed passion and energy instead of just living in a constant state of triage.

In the last few weeks I've shared some of my favorite new ideas that I'm excited to take with me into next school year. Over the next couple of weeks I'll be sharing some of the old ideas and practices I can't wait to reclaim or recommit to, both at home and at school, and ways I'm rethinking or revising them. Maybe some of them will be things you want to try out yourself next year! If you're in a good place to do so, I hope you'll join me in this summer of renewal- and come follow me on Instagram to hear me talk about my thought process more in some videos, and be a part of the conversation to let me know how you're processing this summer.