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Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Top 10 Posts from 2022

It's hard to believe another year has passed but here we are! Looking back on posts from the year is always fun for me because I forget what I've written about and it's so interesting to be reminded of what I wrote. My blog is a reflection of what is on my mind so these top posts are, I think, a reflection of what we as a profession have been thinking about and discussing this year- here are the top 10 most read posts that I wrote in 2022.

10: Upbeat, school-appropriate songs (without being "kids' versions") that are perfect for field day, slideshows, or any dancing/ movement game:

9: These songs have been passed around in music education workshops, books, and resources as originating in other countries but they are actually written by US Americans:

8: Why it's harmful to use the term "specials", and what terminology you can use instead:

7: A treasure trove of lesson ideas and resources for finding lesson ideas by concept and skill, and the actual curriculum writing process:

6: These are some of my favorite lesson activities for different ages to teach triple meter:

5: Lunar New Year lesson activities, including not just China but Korea and Vietnam as well, for a broad range of ages:

4: A simple formula for a competitive game to drill/ practice pitch concepts, whether it's treble or bass clef letter names or solfege:

3: Lesson ideas and resources for introducing elementary age students to elements of hip-hop including break dancing, DJing, and beatboxing:

2: Lesson ideas and resources for introducing the history, background, and context of hip-hop in elementary music:

1. A complete list of songs, and how I do a "march madness"-style bracket with the whole school, with instrumental pieces that convey different emotions:

Thank you all for reading, interacting with, and supporting this page. Having the opportunity to interact with other music teachers, and the platform to share my thoughts and ideas, has been such an amazing creative outlet and source of encouragement for me! I can't wait to see what 2023 brings us. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Favorite Music Lesson Activities for Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is one of those things that often gets thrown in as an add-on to a lesson, concert, or sing-along with Christmas songs as a way to "be more inclusive", but I think if we stop to think about it we all know Kwanzaa should not just be treated as a "Christmas add-on". And of course, as with anything else, it's important to make sure the resources we use are truly representative of the culture they represent and not appropriative or caricatured. Today I want to share some of my favorite lesson activities to use in elementary general music class for Kwanzaa- I hope you find something new to use in your classes, because these lessons are always so joyful for me and my students!

What is Kwanzaa?

My general philosophy on holidays in public school classrooms is that I want to explicitly teach the context, not just use the holiday as a "theme" where I assume my students know what the holiday is (which is especially harmful when done with more culturally dominant holidays, like "Christmas themed" worksheets or play-alongs etc). With very young students (K-2) I just talk to them about the basics of the holiday, but for upper elementary students I have found this video very helpful and concise in introducing the holiday and the meaning and history behind it:

Happy Kwanzaa song

There are several great Kwanzaa songs out there but this one is my favorite because it is informative, catchy, and very easy to learn. It's also written and performed by Black musicians, which is not true of some of the songs I see elementary music teachers using most often with their students. Check your sources!

Depending on what musical concepts each grade is working on, I use this song to identify A and B sections, practice expressive elements like tempo and dynamics (I write all the vocabulary they are learning on the board and point to different ones while they sing the chorus), and/or have students create and perform accompaniment parts by creating a rhythm pattern to play on drums with the song. 

Another fun way to have students interact a bit more deeply with the seven principles is to split up the class into 7 groups and assign each group to one of the principles. They practice their word and come up with a pose or gesture that embodies the meaning of the word, then we sing the song and they each stand up and do their pose/ gesture while singing their word in the verses (everyone sings the chorus together). I do this on a bigger scale in my sing-alongs by assigning each grade in my K-6 building to one of the 7 principles- it is so fun for kids to stand up and sit back down quickly on their word!

If you have more time to work on a song in class, or are looking for a performance piece, I recommend A Kwanzaa Song by Lovely Hoffman or This Kwanzaa by Fyutch and Pierce Freelon (both of these even have accompaniment tracks, accompanying teaching materials, etc available!). 

Kwanzaa dance

I added this one in this year with my younger grades and it was a HIT! I recommend this for K-3 definitely, 4th grade will love it too depending on the group you have. There is a very brief tutorial at the end that I show first, then we go back to the beginning and I tell students to dance along with the part they learned and sit down to watch/ listen on the other sections:

I'm sure there are other wonderful resources out there that I have yet to come across- if you have found other great lesson ideas for Kwanzaa please share them in the comments! I hope this helps you find new ways to incorporate the holiday in your teaching.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Turn Around a Negative Lesson

Sometimes lessons get off on the wrong foot. One (or more) student is dysregulated and gets into a power struggle with you. They just came from PE and the half of the class that lost the dodgeball game is mad about losing, and the other half is mad that the other half is mad. Whatever the reason, it can be hard to save a lesson once it has gone south, but I have found there are ways to "reset" a lesson to get things back on track that have worked well for me on many occasions. 

The goal when things take a bad turn is always to reset, to get everyone to feel positive and motivated to try again. I remember when I was a new teacher, I would try so hard to encourage a class that had started off on the wrong foot to turn things around by verbally telling them they could do it, and most of the time that did NOT work when things were truly bad! When you and/or your students are stuck in a mindset that "today is a bad day", it's almost impossible to pull yourself out just by telling yourself to. These tricks help get everyone out of that rut and get the class moving in a positive direction so you can build momentum.

1. Simple Compliance Tasks

This is particularly helpful when there has been a power struggle, or the whole class is in a funk and does not want to do anything you are asking them to do. Pick a very basic simple task that everyone can do: for me, I use my established hand signals to get the whole class to stand up, sit down, and sit up (yet another reason you should really do these hand signals with your classes if you aren't already!). If there is one student who is in a particular funk and can't even manage to stand up with everyone when you give the signal, ask them to sit out and take some space to gather their thoughts. Then get everyone standing up and sitting together on cue, pointing out the people who do it the fastest and the quietest. Suddenly everyone is doing a thing together, and focused on it! I reinforce once everyone is doing it together, then quickly move to some other simple musical task, like echoing my 4-beat body percussion rhythms or moving with the steady beat of some music I turn on, and give them a letter in our whole class behavior management system to reinforce it some more. I gush over how awesome that was and remind myself to smile and be truly excited about getting everyone on board, and that's usually all the push we need to get us back on track. The trick is we all need to prove to ourselves that we can do something positive and productive, and then we can do more!

2. Magic Count

This is really more for younger grades but I've used modified versions with older students too: I tell them they are being weird and this isn't going to work so we need to start over, then I tell them I'm doing a magic count to make them go back to normal, turn away from the class, cover my eyes, and count down from 5. For K-2 this usually does the trick and it's an easy way to let them know it's OK, they can start over.

3. Write it Down

If there are specific students who are clearly upset, either at another student, about a situation, or some unknown reason, I ask them to write down what they are upset about on a sticky note to give to me. This gives them a way to address the situation without taking time away from the lesson or sucking the energy out of the room, gives them an opportunity to process what they are feeling as well. The key with this is my follow-through: students are only willing to continue to use this as a communication and problem-solving tool if they believe I will act on what they tell me. You can read more about this strategy in this post.

4. Focus on the Positives

You may not be able to get everyone back on track right away but there are almost always a few who are eager to get on board immediately- focus on them and teach to them! I make sure to give dojo points, our schoolwide positive reinforcement platform, to individual students who jump on board when I am trying to turn the tide of the class and make a big deal about it to everyone. I even go and stand closer to those students and look just at them to keep me focused on their energy. Students get the message pretty quickly and, most importantly, it helps ME focus on the positive energy and feed off of that instead of focusing on the negative. 

What do you do to turn the ship around when a lesson starts poorly or takes a negative turn? I'm not saying these strategies are a magic cure that works 100% of the time, but they have been very effective for me in many situations and in most cases, work well to turn things around. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

3 Music Lesson Ideas for When Your Brain Is Fried

Sometimes your brain is just overloaded, and you can't process any more information. And by sometimes I mean music teachers in December. For those days when you don't have any more space left in your brain to think, here are some lesson ideas that require very little mental energy (but are still fun and educationally valuable).

1. Winter Play-Along by Mr. Henry's Music World

OK yes this is a video and yes there are a million play-along videos out there but this one has rapping, singing, steady beat body percussion, movement breaks, and rhythm notation reading (quarter, eighth, and half notes and quarter rests). You might think it would be too corny for the older grades but I have found my students loved it, even up to 4th grade, when I used this last year. Have students do the song/ rap the first time with the body percussion/ motions, then repeat it and have them sing/ rap as well! The song is guaranteed to get stuck in your head too.

2. Instrument Merry Go Round

This is one of my favorite lesson activities to use when I know it will be difficult for students to focus, I know they need a mental break, or we need something to get us back on a positive track after some negative class periods. The best part is you can easily throw in some practice with multiple concepts depending on what you're working on at the time!

Have students sit in a circle and get out one instrument for each person (or let them pick one themselves). Have the instruments sitting on the floor in front of them but tell them not to touch them until you tell them. Show them a gesture to cue them to pick up their instrument quietly without playing it, then tell them to play when your hands are open and stop when you close your fists. Then gesture for them to put the instrument down, and scoot one spot around the circle to the next instrument, and repeat. 

Once they get the hang of it you should be able to keep them moving around pretty quickly without anyone saying a word. You can add in some concept review by doing different gestures to have them play at different dynamic levels or speeds, or tell them to echo the rhythms you clap, or call out groupings of instruments (pitched, unpitched, shakers, woods, etc) or names of specific instruments and only those instruments play. This works with truly any age group, from preschool to adult.

3. Animal Music Composition

Play a couple of examples from Carnival of the Animals and discuss how the music conjures the image of the animal: what instrument timbre, pitch and rhythm elements, and expressive qualities match the animal? Then tell students to either individually or in small groups create a song about an animal using instrument sounds. That's it. Those are the parameters. At the end of class, have students play their composition and ask the class to guess the animal. For older students, have them identify the musical elements they used to try to convey the image of their chosen animal. 

What do you do to keep things going when your brain is fried? This time of year can be overwhelming, for teachers and for students!