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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Colombian Rain Song: Caminando Va (Go Walking)

I love using different songs with similar themes to compare and contrast specific musical elements- I find using songs with lyrics that are about the same topic makes it easier to draw young students' attention to the musical aspects of the songs. Over the last few weeks I have been sharing rain songs from all over the world, and today I have a wonderful song from Colombia that is perfect for early childhood, preschool, or self-contained classes or, used differently, works great in upper elementary grades as well!

I think for most US American music teachers when they think of non-English songs about rain, they think of "Que Llueva". It's a lovely song known in many countries across South America and there are plenty of great lesson ideas and materials already out there for that one. But I love this song from Colombian singer-songwriter Marta Gómez called "Caminando Va"! Here is the original recording:

It's essentially a little children's fingerplay/ nursery rhyme that launches into a full Latin style track. To be clear, this song is not a "traditional" song- it was released in 2016 (and its album was nominated for a Latin Grammy). The lyrics for the first section are:

Llueve, llueve, llueve, llueve sin pararY el caracolito en su casa estáY el caracolito en su casa está
Luego de un ratote empieza a escamparY el caracolito sale a pasearY el caracolito sale a pasear
Which translates to:
It rains, it rains, it rains, it rains non-stopAnd the little snail is in his houseAnd the little snail is in his house
After a while it starts to clearAnd the little snail goes for a walkAnd the little snail goes for a walk
How many songs do you know about snails?!? I love this song. 
I actually first came across this song in this video where a music teacher teaches students the actions to do with the song:

The clapping with the words "el caracolito" would be great if you wanted to use it to practice quarter notes and eighth notes, but otherwise I like the fingerplay motions that the woman demonstrates at the beginning of this video:

When I taught it with my self-contained class I combined the motions from those two videos, using one thumb out with the rest of the fingers in a fist to show the snail, and showing the thumb going under the fingers in the first part and coming out and gliding along in the second part, with the motions for the first line of each section taken from the first video. If I used this with Kindergarten or 1st grade I would clapping and do the motions shown in the first video to have students identify quarter and eighth notes!

For PreK and self-contained special education classes, doing it as a fingerplay helps build dexterity and encourages nonverbal students to participate in the lyrics. For classes that are more verbal, the lyrics are pretty accessible, especially once they've heard it several times.

After we learn the fingerplay, I turn on the recording and have students sing along with the beginning. Once we get to the rest of the track, it's the perfect opportunity for movement or instrument improvisation. Sometimes I invite students to pretend to be a snail strolling around in the sun, sometimes I have a box of scarves for students to grab from and encourage them to move freely, sometimes I give different students maracas, bongos, guiros, etc and encourage them to play along with the music. The students' eyes always light up when the instruments start to play!

Of course the main part of the song is a great example for upper elementary grades to practice identifying meter, form, instrument timbres, and/ or genre. I've thrown this in a few times as one of my examples when we're practicing aurally identifying instruments or matching songs with their genre, and the students recognize the familiar sounds and love the groove of the song. But my favorite ways to use it with upper grades are to think about the meter and the form. 

I've actually found that using a non-English song is a great way to get students to focus on the melodic and harmonic structure of a song to practice identifying the form. This song is a great example because, at first listen, students think it will be complicated to identify the form, but once they actually start paying attention to the repeated and contrasting phrases they are able to identify the same and different sections fairly quickly. This is a great one for introducing terms like chorus/ verse/ intro/ outro etc to label the different sections (as opposed to the ABC labels I use exclusively in the younger grades). I have them work in small groups to listen to the song a few times and first identify the same/ different sections, then discuss the definition of a chorus/ verse etc and have them discuss and label the sections with the new vocabulary. 

This song is also a great example to use for meter. In 4th grade I do a few lessons focusing on songs in different meters to practice identifying the time signature and performing in unusual meters, and it's fun to see the answers students come up with when I put on this recording and ask them to find the beat and figure out how many beats are in a group. It's interesting not only because the groove of the fingerplay section is different from the rest of the song, but because of the rhythms in a couple of phrases that can throw them off. I like to have students decide what they think the meter is, then give their answer and explain the reasoning behind their answer, and ultimately discuss how there can be a few different "correct" ways to notate a song and its time signature.

I hope you and your students enjoy this song- I think it's so fun and the students love to dance with it! If you've used this song for other lesson activities please share in the comments. I've also been sharing my favorite lesson ideas using rain songs from around the world in my previous posts: you can see my lessons for a song from Japan here, Ukraine here, Germany here, South African here, and Morocco here. I highly recommend those! If you have other rain songs that I should add to my unit, please share in the comments as well.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

South African Rain Song: Imvula (It's Raining)

I love using different songs with similar themes to compare and contrast specific musical elements- I find using songs with lyrics that are about the same topic makes it easier to draw young students' attention to the musical aspects of the songs. Over the last few weeks I've been sharing rain songs from around the world and lesson activities I use with them, and today I'm excited to share this song from South Africa!

This is a short little nursery rhyme in Xhosa- if you aren't familiar, you can hear it at the beginning of this video: 

The only thing about the video above is the first line is spoken instead of sung. You can hear another great recording with the whole thing sung (and in harmony!) in this video. It's much slower than I do with kids- I think it works really well as an upbeat song- but they do some hand motions that would work well too:

I love that, like many of the other rain songs, it has the sound of the rain in the lyrics, and this one even has the sound of booming thunder as well! The lyrics are:

Imvula, imvula, 
Chapha, chapha, chapha 
Imanz' ilokwe yam.
Chapha, chapha, chapha
Imanz' ilokwe yam.
Gqum, gqum, kuyaduduma
Gqum, gqum, kuyaduduma
Imanz' ilokwe yam.
Imanz' ilokwe yam.

As with any time you're learning a song in a language you are unfamiliar, I strongly urge you to learn the words by listening to the recordings in the videos above, not by trying to read them! Here is the English translation of the words ("chapha" is the sound of rain, and "gqum" in the sound of thunder):

It's raining, it's raining,
Chapha, chapha, chapha
My dress is soaking wet
Chapha, chapha, chapha
My dress is soaking wet
Gqum, gqum, there is thunder
Gqum, gqum, there is thunder
My dress is soaking wet
My dress is soaking wet

I use this song for 2 main concepts with Kindergarten and 1st grade: steady beat and timbre. Steady beat is an easy one to practice with this song just by adding motions to do with the beat while singing the song. When I introduce the song, I tell students to copy my motions without singing along, and see if they can figure out what the song is about. Once they have heard the song a few times to practice the motions and they've figured out the meaning, it's much easier for them to learn the lyrics! Then we stomp around the room like we're splashing in puddles while we sing and do the hand motions with the song. So much fun!

This is also a great song to practice adding instrument sounds with specific words. I have students think about the timbre of different classroom instruments we have and pick out one instrument to play with "imvula, imvula", another to play with "chapha chapha chapha", another to play with "imanz' ilokwe yam", and another to play with "gqum, gqum, kuyaduduma". Then I have a few students play with each of those lines on the instruments they chose while the rest of the class sings.

The process of adding sounds to go with different lyrics in a song is helpful for a number of concepts. First and foremost it's a concrete way to introduce young students to the concept of timbre, and how to use it to communicate meaning in music. But it's also an excellent way to introduce young students to ensemble playing as they listen for their cue to play their part and try to match their playing with the singing, and practice playing different rhythms as well (I always have them play "with the rhythm of the words"). 

Once they can play their part at the correct time while others are singing, we take out the singing entirely and play the song with just the instruments. That adds another layer of internalizing the pulse and ensemble playing! If classes are struggling, I will silently mouth the words to help them keep track of where they are (which is, by the way, a great introduction to following a conductor). 

My younger students love this song and they get so excited when they hear it come together with the instruments! It's surprisingly easy for them to learn the lyrics as well- I often hear families telling me their child came home singing it. If you've ever used this song in your music lessons I'd love to hear what else you did with the song, and if you have other rain songs from other cultures to share, I'd love to hear those as well! Please leave a comment to share your ideas so we can all learn from each other. I've also been sharing my favorite lesson ideas using rain songs from around the world in my previous posts: you can see my lessons for a song from Japan here, Ukraine here, Germany here, and Morocco here- they are all super fun and I use different ones with different grades so you can get the whole school involved!

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

German Rain Song: Es Regnet, Wenn Es Regnen Will (It Rains When It Wants to Rain)

I've been having so much fun finding children's songs about rain from around the world, and this one from Germany is a great addition to the list because it can be sung in a round! This is a good one for the middle elementary grades when they are working on canon singing, but it's also an easy one to add orff ostinati to as well.

This song is called "Es Regnet, Ween Es Regnen Will", which means "It Rains When It Wants To Rain". The German lyrics to the song are:

Es regnet, wenn es regnen will
Und regnet seinen Lauf
Und wenn's genug geregnet hat
So hört es wieder auf.

Which translates roughly in English to:

It rains when it wants to rain
And it rains its fill
And when it has rained enough
Then it stops again.

Here's a recording (the first time with one person, then in 3-part canon):

I love comparing the attitude towards rain that is communicated in each of these rain songs around the world, and this one, both in the lyrics and the melody, seem to communicate a contented, happy acceptance of the rain. The first thing I do when I teach the song is to have them listen to me sing it (or a recording) and try to guess how the singer feels about the rain based on the music. I ask them to try to pinpoint what musical elements gave them that impression, which leads to a great discussion of how music communicates meaning, and is a great way to review music vocabulary (whether they're right or wrong about the meaning)! Then I teach them the lyrics and the translation and we discuss how they think the music fits or doesn't fit with the words.

Any time I'm teaching students a song in a language with which they are not familiar, I try to find ways for them to hear and try singing it over and over while doing something else. Sometimes that's movement, a clapping pattern, a dance, or a game. In this case because the whole song alternates between a tonic and dominant chord harmony, I like to teach students some simple ostinati on different instruments and have them play while I sing. 

Depending on how much time we have to spend on the song, I will use a combination of unpitched percussion, barred instruments, and maybe boomwhackers to get some rhythmic and harmonic ostinati going. I use mostly metal instruments like triangles, finger cymbals, wind chimes, and glockenspiels, along with boomwhackers, egg shakers, and ocean drums, to mimic the sound of the rain. Sometimes I ask students to think about which instrument timbres will fit well with a song about rain, and sometimes after they have put the instrumental arrangement together I ask them if they can guess why I chose the instruments I did. 

The instrumental ostinati are also a great place to throw in some rhythm notation review. I usually do canon singing in 3rd grade, which is also when I introduce whole notes, so I'll usually have the ocean drums play whole notes (I pretend, for the sake of the lesson, that the song is in 4/4 although sometimes I see it notated in 2/4). I also add in parts with whole and half rests, which are the other new rhythms for this grade. 

As I add each ostinato, I have students copy me with body percussion to learn it, then have them all pretend to play (while some play on the real instruments) while I sing. Then we do the same thing again, adding a new ostinato each time, until they can layer all the parts in one at a time and keep it going while I sing. This gives them plenty of time to hear the song (and a lot of them will naturally start singing along if they're comfortable with their instrumental part), and then I go back and review the singing and challenge them to sing while playing. It's so magical when it all comes together!

Of course the final piece of this is to sing it in canon! I don't try to have them sing in canon while playing instruments, but once they've put the whole instrumental arrangement together they've usually had enough time to get used to the song to be ready to try it in canon. I use the same exact process every time I teach students a song in canon- you can read about how I teach canon singing in this post. One of the key steps in teaching canon singing is incorporating motions, and in this case I use motions that help communicate the meaning of the words ("rain" fingers for the first line, etc).

That's everything I did for this song- I'd love to hear other ideas you might have for incorporating this song in elementary music lessons! I've also been sharing my favorite lesson ideas using rain songs from around the world in my previous posts: you can see my lessons for a song from Japan here, Ukraine here, and Morocco here. I highly recommend those! If you've ever used this German song and have more lesson ideas, or if you have other rain songs that I should add to my unit, please share in the comments!

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Dance Playlist 2024

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! 

I lost track of time so I'm putting this out a little later than I normally do- hopefully it's not too late for you to use it in all of your end of the school year fun! Don't miss the playlist at the end of this post that includes these songs plus all of my picks from previous years' playlists (this is year 9 of me putting these together, so there are a lot)!

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.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Ukrainian Rain Song: Дощик (Rain)

I'm so excited to add this Ukrainian song to my collection of songs about rain from around the world, and this one has some musical elements that are part of both my younger and older grades' curriculum, so it will work well with a wide range of ages!

The title of this Ukrainian song is Дощик, which translates to "Rain". Fits right in with the rain theme! Actually I found a couple of fairly widespread Ukrainian rain songs, and both of them use the same onomatopoeia word for the sound of the rain that is quite fun to sing. In the verses of this song you'll hear the word of every line:

I love using songs in different languages that have a repeated word or phrase that is quick and easy for students to learn without knowing the language, so this song definitely fits the bill. After we listen to it one time, I ask students to tell me what the Ukrainian word is for the sound of raindrops and they can immediately identify the sound! Then I play the recording again and have students sing along with just that word. Here are the lyrics for the first verse:

Дощик ллється цілий ранок - кап-кап-кап!                It's been raining all morning, kap-kap-kap! Не виходимо на ґанок - кап-кап-кап.                          Let's not go out on the porch, kap-kap-kap! Раптом бачим під кущем                                           Suddenly we see under the bush,
кап-кап-кап-кап-кап!                                                    kap-kap-kap-kap-kap! Мокне зайчик під дощем                                             The bunny gets wet in the rain,
кап-кап-кап-кап-кап!                                                    kap-kap-kap-kap-kap!

Once we've sung through the song, singing just the rain sounds, I ask students to identify the 2 different sections in the music. It's easy for them to notice that there is one part that has the "kap" sound in it and another section that doesn't. This is an easy way to review form/ same and contrasting sections, and identify the ABABA form.

For younger students I stop there, and we compare and contrast this song with other songs about rain. For older students this is a great song to introduce or review major and minor tonalities! After identifying the form, I ask them what makes the 2 sections sound different from each other. The B section (chorus) lyrics are:

Ой ти, зайчику сіренький, ой ти, зайчику маленький! Oh you gray bunny, oh you little bunny! годі мерзнути, дрижати, ти ходи мершій до хати,            You're freezing and shivering, go home! ми дамо тобі морквину ще й велику капустину,               We will give you carrots and cabbage. понесеш їх у лісок годувати діточок,                                 Take them to the forest to feed your children бо маленькі зайченята вже давно чекають тата.              The babies have been waiting for their dad.

There is a clear switch from minor to major between the A and B sections, and it's interesting to discuss with students why the composer may have chosen to put the verses in minor and the chorus in major (maybe because the bunny is getting some food to take home to his family?).

After comparing and contrasting "Rain, Rain, Go Away" with the Japanese "Amefuri" and talking about the differences in attitude towards the rain in the two songs, this is a great follow-up song because of the switching back and forth between tonalities. This could be a great jumping off point for a composition activity with older students, when they're learning to write melodies in major and minor tonalities, to compose one song about all the positive things about rain in major and another about all of the negative things about rain in minor. It's a great way to get the ideas going!

I've been sharing my favorite lesson ideas using rain songs from around the world in my previous posts: you can see my lessons for a song from Japan here, and Morocco here. I highly recommend those! If you've ever used this Ukrainian song and have more lesson ideas, or if you have other rain songs that I should add to my unit, please share in the comments!

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

آ شتا تاتا تاتا (Achtatata) :Moroccan Rain Song

I was looking for some songs in Arabic to add to my teaching that would be accessible for young students and tie into concepts I want to reinforce in my teaching, and came across this lovely song about rain from Morocco that I can't wait to share with my students! I am thrilled because it ties in perfectly with the other songs from around the world that I already use in my teaching around the theme of rain. There are so many possibilities for using this in elementary music- here are some of my favorite ideas.

If you, like me, did not know this song until now, here is a fun video demonstrating the song with an introduction in English as well:

First of all, just like many other languages spoken across a wide range of countries, Arabic is spoken and written in slightly different ways in different countries. This song is specifically in Darija, or Moroccan Arabic. Here are the lyrics (for the first, repeated section) in Darija:

آ شتا تاتا تاتا                             A chta tata tata
آ وليدات الحراثة                         A wlidat lherata
آ المعلم بوزكري                         A lmaalm Bouzekri
طيب لي خبزي بكري                   Tybli khbzi bekri

The words basically mean "Oh rain, rain, rain, Oh peasants' children, Oh Mr. Bouzekri, Bake my bread early". My research shows the song was originally written as political commentary but has been used more recently as a plea for rain as well- as of right now in 2024, Morocco has been in a 6-year drought. It's also a very common children's song that is widely known in Morocco.

This song is perfect for practicing steady beat and quarter notes and paired eighth notes with my Kindergarten and 1st grade students. After having students copy the woman in the video above to pat the steady beat with the song while they listen, I'll have students practice singing the song while keeping the beat with new moves that the students come up with. First I'll get students to suggest motions that are like rain, then motions that show different parts of making bread. Using themes from the song like this is a great way to get students to solidify the beat while expanding their movement vocabulary. 

To practice quarter and eighth notes, I have students sing just the first line (teaching them the word for "rain"), and the clap with the rhythm of the words to identify the rhythm. I like having students practice notating simple rhythms using rhythm cards like these that I made a few years ago. After we clap with the words, I split them up into small groups, give each group some rhythm cards, and have them place the cards on the floor to match the rhythm of the first line.

Once they can notate the rhythm of the first line, I have students take turns using the same rhythm cards to notate their own 4 beat rhythm pattern, then they choose an instrument to use to play their rhythm as an ostinato while the rest of the class sings the song. I use this to talk about timbre as well: I tell them to think about which instrument sound would match best with a song about rain and try to choose an appropriate instrument to accompany the song rather than choosing an instrument based on what they want to play.

This would also be a great song to practice do, re, and mi, or even to introduce ti. The first 2 lines of the song use only do, re, and mi, and the 3rd line adds ti as well- here is the notation for the simplified melody (without the extra sixteenth passing notes in the last 2 lines):

I've done similar solfege practice with other rain songs by cutting out raindrop shapes in the colors that match my classroom instruments' solfege colors, have students aurally identify the solfege and use the raindrop colors to first put them in a row, then put them on the staff. This also makes it possible for students to then play the melody on an instrument, which is a really great way to show students how solfege skills can apply to real world music making in a concrete way!

I hope you are as excited to use this song in your classroom as I am! If you've used this song before and have other ideas please leave them in the comments. If you want to use this as part of a thematic set of lessons on rain songs around the world, here is my post on lessons with a Japanese rain song:

Stay tuned for more lesson plans using rain songs from other countries coming soon!

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Japanese Rain Song: あめふり (Amefuri, Ame Ame)

I love using different songs with similar themes to compare and contrast specific musical elements- I find using songs with lyrics that are about the same topic makes it easier to draw young students' attention to the musical aspects of the songs. Today I want to introduce you to one of my favorite examples of this using a song from my childhood in Japan, あめふり ("Amefuri", aka "Ame, Ame"). 

I don't know why more music teachers outside of Japan don't use this song- it's easy to learn because the refrain is just onomatopoeia, and the pentatonic melody is so fun to sing! The video below shows the pronunciation of the lyrics with English alphabet letters and animation to show the meaning if the words:

There are several verses that together tell a sweet story about helping a friend with no umbrella, but I just use the first verse which basically translates to, "Let it rain, I'm so happy my mom is meeting me with an umbrella". 

To introduce the song, I tell students I am going to sing a Japanese song about rain, and I ask them to listen for the sound of raindrops first ("picchi picchi"), then listen again to find the sound of rainboots splashing in puddles ("chappu chappu"), then the sound of happy humming ("ran ran ran"). Then I ask students to listen to the whole song again and decide if they think the person singing the song is happy or sad about the rain (they always immediately know they're happy), and have them skip around the room on the beat and sing the onomatopoeia refrain at the end. Then I tell them what the rest of the lyrics mean and it all makes sense!

The obvious pairing for this song in the US is "Rain, Rain, Go Away". I sing the song one time and ask students to think about how the person singing this song feels about rain (clearly sad / mad), then we trudge angrily around the room on the beat while we sing it. It's a perfect contrast to the Japanese song that can lead to a quick conversation asking students whether or not they like the rain and why.

These two quick movement activities lend themselves naturally to experiencing compound vs simple meter. I don't actually label them that way with the young PK-1st grade students I use this lesson with, but I do point out how the Japanese song "sounds skippy" and the English song "sounds stompy"- I demonstrate trying to skip with the English song and it doesn't fit the same way. It's a great introduction to the concept without having to get into the mechanics of the time signatures or introduce complex vocabulary.

That's my favorite way to use the song, but I've also used it with slightly older students (2nd-4th grade) to practice pentatonic solfege and improvisation while incorporating compound meter again in a natural, accessible way. This works especially well if the students learned the song already when they were younger, so most of them will recognize it, but I would use a video like this one with anime-style graphics to introduce it to this age group. 

If students are familiar with pentatonic solfege, this is a great melody to use to identify the solfege visually or aurally because it goes up and down the scale several times. You could stop there if that's what students are working on, or you can add some pentatonic improvisation by removing the bars they don't need on the xylophone and having a few students take turns improvising a set number of beats each using the notes from the pentatonic scale to create a B section for the song. Boom, they just created music in compound meter! I find most of them start off improvising on the macrobeats, and when I model playing the "skippy rhythms" from the song (quarter-eighth) and encourage them to incorporate some skippy sounds into their melodies, they get it. It's a great way to lay the groundwork for identifying and labeling compound meter when they're older by experiencing it without worrying about the mechanics.

I hope this sparks some ideas for you to use the song in your own classroom! If you want ready-made visuals and materials to use in your classroom, I've shared my resources for the song, including a recording of the song and the spoken lyrics, visuals of the notated melody, lyrics in the original script, the translation, Orff instrumentation to add, solfege manipulatives, and more in this resource:

The theme of rain is perfect for spring, but really it's relatable for students any time of year, and I have found a lot more songs about rain from other countries that I'll be sharing in future posts so stay tuned- I'm so excited about these! For more springtime thematic lessons with songs in different languages, check out the frog unit I created last year with songs from Sweden, Puerto Rico, and Japan, as well as a book that I love to use in my elementary music lessons.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Thriving Between Spring Break and Summer

Sometimes it can feel like the best we can do is try to survive in that time between spring break and summer vacation. Everyone has gotten a taste of freedom, the sunshine outside is beckoning, and everyone's mind is on the fun and relaxation they're looking forward to. But honestly? I love teaching at this time of year. I've thought a lot about what it is that helps me thrive at this time of year, and today I want to share some of what I think makes the difference.

1. No countdowns.

So many of us do it but I think we all know, wishing the present time away does not help us enjoy the here and now. Instead of saying- or even thinking- "5 more Mondays!" or "13 school days until summer!", I intentionally focus on the fun lessons and activities I'm looking forward to doing in this season- read more of my thoughts on this in this blog post.

2. Plan exciting lessons with low mental load

I've found there's a sweet spot for lesson content this time of year. Straight-up review gets boring fast and students catch on quickly when we're just filling time, but trying to push them to learn a bunch of new skills and concepts is more work than they're willing to do when they'd rather be playing outside. New and exciting material that applies the skills and concepts they've learned in fresh ways keeps lessons engaging without being overwhelming. I've written about how I do this in more detail, including specific examples, in this post:

3. Spread positivity with students

It can be hard to stay positive at the end of the school year when students are so distracted and hyper, but I've found when I force myself to find ways to dole out positive reinforcement, the results are quite dramatic and it's way less work than I thought. Plus it puts me in a better mood! Here are some specific ways I keep the positivity going with my students at the end of the year:

4. Spread positivity with adults

Just as much as spreading positivity with students can have a big impact on my own experience, so can spreading positivity with the other adults in my building! And it can have a big impact on the climate of the entire building, which will spill into students' moods coming into my classroom. It makes my job that much easier when the vibes are right in the rest of the school! I put a lot more energy into low-effort, low-cost ways to meaningfully build staff morale, and I really do think they have made a difference. I've compiled all my ideas in this post:

5. Self care

As much as I try to help spread positivity to others, it's equally important to intentionally care for my own well-being! The two biggest things I do to this end are 1) taking concrete steps to maintain a positive outlook for myself and 2) managing my own work load and stress levels by cutting myself some slack in all areas of my life. I've written about the specific, concrete steps I take to do each of these in these posts:

I'm not trying to sugarcoat how exhausting it can be to teach at the end of the year, or suggest that we should never vent or express frustration when we're frustrated. I'm just suggesting that, instead of only complaining and going into survival mode, we can take conscious, concrete steps to actually enjoy ourselves in this season (at least more often than before). What do you do to keep yourself going at the end of the school year? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Lesson Plans that Work Between Spring Break and Summer

Finding lessons that will keep students engaged after spring break is difficult. Younger students are antsy, older students are checked out. On the one hand you don't want to try to teach new concepts because they're probably not going to remember it by next fall anyway, but there's no way you can "tread water" and just review for 2 months without losing them either! I've found there's a certain sweet spot that keeps students engaged without going beyond what they can handle that works really well for me and my students between spring break and summer that I highly recommend implementing to make the end of the school year actually fun and not something to just hope to survive!

I've realized there are some common threads in all the lessons that I've found effective this time of year, no matter the age group: they take skills and concepts that are comfortable and put them in fresh new contexts. The lesson activities feel new and interesting but not intimidating. Basically I imagine the "zone of proximal development" shrinks after spring break- that space that is past the "I already know this and it's boring" but not at the "this is too hard so I'm checking out" still exists and is still what I'm aiming for, but it's a much smaller circle than it is the rest of the school year. 

1. Application instead of review

I definitely plan lesson activities that are "just" review at the end of the year as well, but I certainly can't do that for a full 6 weeks without students checking out! I've realized that what really works is essentially taking the skills and concepts I want to review and teaching students to apply them in different ways. This is where the units I do each spring on a specific culture's music work really well (see those plans in this previous post), as well as units I've done this time of year with older students on composition. These lessons definitely aren't just reviewing things they've already done, but they are taking those fundamental skills and concepts they've been working on all year and applying them to a new context and/or combining them in new ways. It feels new and exciting- kids go home saying "guess what I learned today"- but it doesn't require much mental stretch, it doesn't feel overwhelming.

2. New material instead of new skills

I learned early in my career that as soon as I give up on teaching and just try to fill time, even if it's fun activities, I start to see a lot more problematic and disruptive behaviors in my classroom. But that doesn't mean their brains are ready to handle, let alone retain, new learning! The key is to keep the "how" new, not the "what". So I'm taking concepts and skills they're familiar with already and applying them to new contexts, whether that's new genres like the music from a new culture, or new ways of contextualizing like composition projects that give students a chance to combine and implement concepts and skills in new ways instead of practicing them in isolation. 

Maybe this is a strange analogy but I think of this phase of the school year kindof like retirement: you want to still be productive and have meaning and purpose in life, but you don't want to work too hard- you want to celebrate the work you already did and enjoy the fruits of your labor and the relationships you've built along the way. 

I really believe there are a lot of different factors that can contribute to a positive experience between spring break and summer, and I know one thing that can hold teachers back from planning lessons like I've described here is the sheer burnout we feel from just being exhausted ourselves. One thing that can help is making our own mental and emotional wellbeing a priority- I've written about what I do to maintain a positive mindset for myself at the end of the school year in this post. And hey, the links above to my posts on music from different cultures and composition projects will take care of the lesson planning work for you! Here's to thriving in the final stretch between spring break and summer!

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Keeping Positive: post-spring break teaching

I'm not quite there yet but I know in many places, teachers are coming back from spring break and saying to themselves, "oh boy, hang on tight because here we go". Teaching between spring break and the end of the school year can be wild ride, and it can make you dread going to work. Here are some things I do to take control of my mood and keep myself in a positive mindset.

1. Monitor your mood

The first step I have started taking more and more consciously during stressful times of year is keeping a close eye on my own mood/ stress levels. I can't do anything well if I'm overtired, stressed, or anxious, least of all handle end of year teaching. I have a regular year-round habit of sitting with a cup of coffee in silence each morning, and this is always my time to process and gauge where my mood is as well. It's important to find ways to stay in touch with your own mental and emotional wellness regularly- if you aren't a morning person like me with the luxury of slow mornings, printing out a poster that asks, "how are you?" and putting it somewhere you'll see it every morning (in the bathroom/ on a bedside table/ in your closet), designating something you wear every day to be a mental cue to check in with yourself (I have an elastic bracelet I wear for this purpose when I know I'm stressed), or asking a trusted friend to check in with you can be good ways to keep reminding yourself to check in.

2. Identify the source

If I realize I'm feeling stressed or anxious or dreading the day in general, I try to go through the list of things I'm thinking about/ preparing to do that day to identify more specifically what it is that's causing my stress/ dread. Sometimes it's one specific class that has been difficult to manage, a lesson I've planned that I'm not sure will go over well, a particularly hectic work schedule, or something totally unrelated to teaching entirely. Identifying the source of the stress more specifically makes it more concrete, gives me more clarity on how I can address and manage it, and often makes it less overwhelming when I realize it's not my entire life I'm dreading!

3. Make a plan

It wouldn't be an "organized chaos" strategy without putting a plan in place! Once I've identified what it is that's got me in a funk, I try to think concretely about how to address it. If it's a difficult class, I come up with a strategy to help the class go better. If it's a hectic schedule, I look through my day and come up with ways to make my life easier, whether that's ordering takeout for dinner or making some of my lesson plans less complicated. 

Writing it all out like this makes it seem like this is a long and involved process- it usually isn't. Because I make sure I'm monitoring myself regularly, I usually catch things before it gets too overwhelming, and it's not that hard to identify what's bothering me and come up with a solution. Oftentimes the whole thought process takes all of 2 minutes. Sometimes when things get really stressful I do have to take more time to work through the whole thought process- I might be processing what's going on and thinking through solutions the whole time I'm getting ready for work, getting the kids to school, and driving to my school. But it really does make a big difference in my effectiveness, especially this time of year!

If you're feeling like you're in the thick of it, I hope this helps you break out of the depressing "just survive until summer" mindset and find ways to get yourself in the right frame of mind to actually enjoy this time of year! I'd love to hear other things you do to make the end of the school year more enjoyable- leave a comment down below.