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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

My Favorite Lesson for Teaching Sol / Mi

One of the most fundamental concepts in general music teaching is melody/ pitch. When I'm creating my scope and sequence for all of the grade levels I teach, I always start by mapping out the rhythm and pitch elements I'll be introducing in each grade level. Although there are variation within different methodologies for the exact sequence in which specific pitches are introduced, I wanted to share some of my favorite lessons for introducing each pitch set in the order that I teach them. Today I'm starting with the first two notes I introduce in first grade: mi and sol.

Of course before I introduce the specific notes mi and sol, I spend a lot of time in kindergarten teaching high and low, along with other fundamental musical concepts. If you want to see the lessons I use to teach high and low, here is my post on that:

Once we get to first grade, it's time to start identifying specific pitches. I like starting with sol and mi because when we talk about notation it's easy to see the higher and lower notes and practice writing them on lines or spaces, and because so many playground chants are sung/spoken on mi and sol. I start by teaching students the song, "Rain, Rain, Go Away":

I like using this song, even though it has other pitches besides mi and sol, for 2 reasons: 
  1. It uses quarter and eighth notes, so I can review those rhythms with the same song, and
  2. I can have them repeat the song several times and keep it fun by changing out the name in the second line ("little ___ wants to play") for different students' names.
After using the song to practice steady beat and review rhythms, I have students sing the first measure and have the class identify which notes are the "high note" and which are the "low note", then have them sing the measure with the words "high" and "low" for the corresponding notes. While they are singing it that way, I use the Curwen hand signs for sol and mi to show "high" and "low". Then I have them practice identifying the difference between the high and low notes by having students echo me as I sing 3-note patterns on the two notes. I ask them to show the high and low notes with their hands while we do it. After the first few patterns, I hum the notes and have students sing it back on "high" and "low" to see if they can hear the difference.

Once I'm confident that the majority of the students can differentiate the two pitches aurally, I introduce the names of the notes: mi and sol. Then we go back and repeat the process: identify which notes are which in the first measure and sing the notes on "mi" and "sol" with hand signs, then echo 3-note patterns on mi/sol. 

Once students can identify mi and sol and sing them with the correct names and hand signs, I show them how to write the notes. I use a floor staff (masking tape lines on the floor) and have students place bean bags on the higher or lower lines to match the notes I sing, then have them stand on the matching lines, then repeat the process putting mi and sol in the spaces. I tell students that mi and sol are partners- they always follow each other to be either space notes or line notes- but sol is always one spot higher than mi. Once they get some practice writing the notes in different ways, it's fun to turn it into a race! I'll sing a 3-note pattern and have the the students race to place bean bags on the correct lines/spaces. 

There are of course plenty more great songs to use to practice mi and sol- you can find more ideas for teaching those and other pitches, along with tips for teaching melodic concepts in general, in the MusicEd Blogs melody ebook (download it for free right here)! I'll be sharing more favorite lessons for other pitch sets in future posts, so be sure to stay tuned ;) And if you want to see the full lesson plans for how I teach mi and sol throughout the year in first grade, along with all the materials I use, you'll find them in my 1st grade curriculum set here.

Want to stay up-to-date on the latest from Organized Chaos, and get access to free curriculum overviews for general music? 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Planner Quick Tip: advance planning for the new year

For those of us on a traditional U.S. school calendar, this is often the time of year when we start looking ahead to dates for next school year. And with all of the concerts, festivals, and springtime chaos to already keep track of for the current school year, it can get pretty confusing trying to keep track of all of those dates and plans! Today I have another "quick tip" for streamlining your planner: how to keep track of important dates and information for the new school year!

Sure, you could go ahead and get all of your weekly and/or monthly calendars printed out for the next year and start writing in your plans there, but I found when I did that I got completely overwhelmed by #allthecalendars and could not keep track of things very easily. Whenever a new event or question would come up about the following school year, I found that I either didn't have those calendars with me because I didn't want to carry 2 year's worth of planners around, or it took me forever to find the information I needed because there were just. so. many. pages.

My solution: print off a one-page overview for the new school year and stick it in the front of my current planner. I started doing this last year and have found it much easier to keep track of everything without getting overwhelmed.

I already had these pages with monthly boxes to use for long-range curriculum planning, so I added the heading for the next school year at the top, printed it out, and stuck it in my current planner. Then I use sticky notes to add in important dates in the months that they fall, like extended breaks, school events, and potential concert dates.

I highly recommend keeping some small sticky notes handy for things like this- it's pretty simple to make your own dashboard to keep some sticky notes right inside your planner. Here's a tutorial on how I made mine:

You can easily set up a page like this yourself to add to whatever planner you use, or you can find these in my printable planner sets with all different date ranges to accommodate different school year calendars. I usually keep this page right next to a printed copy of the new school year's district calendar so I can reference that if I need to.

Want to see more of my teacher/ life planner? Here's a "tour" of last year's planner:

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Teaching Recorder: top tips

Teaching recorders can be tons of fun, but it can also be a never-ending headache! Whether you're losing your mind over classes full of squeaks and squawks and snail's pace progress, dreading the idea of putting recorders in every child's hands (and mouths) for the first time ever, or just looking for some new ideas to freshen up your recorder teaching, this post has got you covered!

You'll find my best ideas, strategies, and resources on a wide range of recorder-related topics below- just click on the picture to read each post in more detail. Don't see what you're looking for? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below, and I'll add it here!

This post covers all the basics you need to consider as you get your recorder program started: which instrument to purchase, the logistics of using classroom shared instruments vs having students purchase their own, what age to teach recorder, which curriculum resources to use, and more:

My step-by-step lesson plan to get students started on the right foot:

How I teach those first few weeks, after the first introductory lesson, to make sure all students have a strong foundation of appropriate fundamental skills:

Specific strategies to address the most common difficulties beginning recorder players experience, including over-blowing, improper tonguing, and finger placement:

4 different ways to structure recorder instruction in a classroom setting, including ways to manage leveled, self-paced programs such as Recorder Karate without sending the class into chaos:

Simple, effective, and cheap instrument storage solution:

Another quick organization tip for storing "belts" when you're using a leveled curriculum:

Organizing sheet music in a self-paced program to allow students to manage their sheet music independently:

Want to see all of my detailed lesson plans and materials for teaching recorder? You'll find them in my 3rd grade curriculum resource here. Want to stay in the loop and up to date with timely ideas sent straight to your inbox?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Planner Quick Tip: snow days

I love having all of my home life plans, school plans, and even my lessons all written in one planner because it is so much easier to keep track of everything and make sure I'm balancing and juggling everything the way I want. But keeping everything in one place definitely forces me to keep my planner super-streamlined! After using the same basic planner setup for about 4 years now, I've picked up a few little tricks that make my planner work smarter. Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing some of my favorite little tips that I've discovered this year. I hope they make your planning more productive, simple, and fun!

This post contains affiliate links

Today's tip is for snow days. Whenever there's a snow day, I like to mark it in my planner so that I can remember which lessons I missed and need to move to another day, and I can go back and see which classes I missed when we're making up those days at the end of the year. 

I've tried different ways of marking snow days in my planner over the years: I've tried drawing a line through the day's lessons in pen, covering the day with some washi tape, or writing SNOW DAY at the top of that day's lesson plans. There wasn't anything terrible about any of those methods, but I found the line and the tape made the page look extra messy and cluttered, and writing it in at the top of the day made it harder to find when I was going back to find those days later on.

This year I started using a simple trick: marking the day with a small snowflake sticker. 

Not only does it keep the page from looking cluttered and make it stand out enough to see when I'm flipping through the pages, but it's also much easier for me to mark when it comes up- I just grab a sticker and add it to the day. Done! If it's a delayed opening, I just draw a line from the sticker down through the lessons that were affected.

I'm hoping I won't be needing this tip any more this school year (although we did have two snow days just last week- yikes!), but I'm excited to have an easy way to mark those days when the weather turns cold again next winter! I have been using some stickers that I already had from this MAMBI seasonal sticker book, but you can find tons of weather stickers or snowflake stickers at any craft store or even make your own by drawing or stamping a snowflake onto plain labels (click here to see how I make my own planner stickers). You can also get these weather stickers or these snowflake stickers on Amazon.

Want more planner decorating ideas to keep things functional, streamlined, and easy to use? Check out this post on Functional Decorating for Teacher Planners:

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

5 Things to Stop Saying to Music Teachers

In the spirit of Music In Our Schools Month, today I'm sharing some of the things I've heard people say to me that bother me as a music teacher. And I know from talking with colleagues that I'm not alone! I hope these thoughts help at least one person see how their words may be unintentionally hurting and belittling music teachers, and learn how to more effectively and respectfully work together!

"I loved that concert- the kids were so cute!"

Sure, this is definitely a well-meaning comment. But for music teachers, cuteness is not the goal with musical performances. Saying the performers were "cute" is actually quite demeaning- we have put a lot of effort into their level of skill as performers, so we would hope that those skills would be noticed more than the little smiles or fancy outfits they had while performing them.

Instead of telling us that the students were cute, we would love to hear a compliment about the performance itself. Something like, "The students were singing so clearly", or "I was so impressed with how well they performed such difficult music", or even "The students were so focused on stage" are all wonderful ways to acknowledge the preparation of the teacher and the students.

"Music should be a fun break!"

Actually this comment is most often directed to students by other school staff but it's worth including here because of how it is taken by music teachers. And there are times when I've had coworkers and administrators say this to me in the context of saying that I shouldn't be experiencing behavior difficulties in music class because it is a "fun break" akin to recess. When other staff say that music is a fun break from their "academics", it puts music in a separate category from their other, more serious school subjects. There's definitely nothing wrong with acknowledging that music class is a change of pace from math class. And yes, we agree that music is and should be fun. But don't you think other subjects should be fun too? There's an implication that because music class is fun, it is less rigorous. We think all learning should be both fun AND rigorous, and every subject should be its own unique learning experience, because of the nature of each subject, that appeals to different personalities and styles of learning. With our subject being so marginalized and degraded, we as a profession have had to work hard to focus on both fun and rigor in our classrooms. If you'd ever like to have a discussion about how we use games and songs to develop skills and teach concepts, we'd love to share!

"Could you teach them this song about ___ today? We are learning about it in ___ class this week and I found this cute song on YouTube."

*deep breaths* First of all, making last-minute suggestions to another teacher about what to teach in their lesson implies that you either think we are magicians who can take any song material and use it to teach whatever concept students need to learn that day on the spot, or you think we don't have a lesson plan (at least not one that is worthwhile). Now, most of us music teachers love to integrate music with other subjects (and we hope you love to integrate your subjects with others, including music, as well). And we fully support the idea of deepening student understanding of important skills and concepts through cross-curricular teaching. But if that's what we're going for, two things need to happen: 1) we need to sit down and have a conversation well in advance so we can both make adjustments to our curriculum sequencing to line up the timing of particular lesson content, and 2) this needs to be a two-way street: I'd love to talk about how to reinforce the concept of meter through your poetry unit, or how to help distinguish beat and rhythm through your lessons on syllables.

The second problem is that you're assuming you have enough of an understanding of music pedagogy to suggest appropriate material for my lessons. By suggesting that we use this "cute song" you stumbled upon that happens to incorporate a concept you're working on, you're implying that all musical material is of equal value as a teaching tool. It's not. We music teachers are very intentional with the songs we teach our students- we can't use just any song to teach the skills we need. And the reality is that most likely that song you stumbled upon that talks about recycling or George Washington or multiplication facts was written with the lyrics as the starting point and the musical material- the melody, rhythm, form, etc- was secondary. Most of the songs that get suggested to me this way are actually just different words set to "I'm a Little Teapot", "Twinkle, Twinkle", or "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (and often clumsily). If we do sit down in advance to arrange a cross-curricular connection in our lessons, you can expect us to probably use more musically meaningful material.

"Oh by the way, we need the students to sing these 5 songs at this public event next week."

This one is similar to the last comment- see above for the problems with last-minute suggestions and suggestions from non-music teachers of musical material to use in music lessons- but this one has the added element of assuming that musical performances can be thrown together without much preparation time. We don't expect you to understand what all is involved in preparing students for a musical performance if you haven't done it yourself but trust us, it's a lot of work and requires a lot of advance planning. Ideally, you need to let the music teacher know months in advance (minimum) if there is anything you want the music teacher to prepare students for, but we also understand that last-minute requests do come in sometimes. If that happens, please just come and ask for our input into whether we can do it and how. Something like, "Hey I know this is last minute, but I just got an email from _____ asking if we could have our students perform at _____ next week. Is there anything the students could do that would be appropriate for this and would work into what you're doing?" would be a great way to approach the music teacher respectfully.

"We're changing your class schedule because the classroom teachers need their prep time."

There are two things in this sentence that set off huge alarm bells in music teachers' brains: the phrase "classroom teachers" and the overarching concept of "prep time" and who gets it when and how. First let's talk about how we categorize teachers/staff with our vocabulary. I have never understood the term "classroom teachers" being used to refer to non-specialist teachers. I teach in a classroom... Please stop using that term. It makes it sound like you don't think my class is a "real" class. If you really must refer to the teachers in elementary schools who teach in just one grade level rather than teaching one subject to a wider range of ages, then the best term I've come up with is "homeroom teachers". The distinguishing factor in most schools is that they have one "homeroom" group of students for whom they are primarily responsible rather than splitting their time between classes, so it makes some sense.

OK, now let's talk about the issue of prep/ planning time. I don't have a problem with being flexible and making adjustments to things to accommodate special events etc and ultimately benefit the students. But if the primary reason for changing a schedule, or making any other decision, is to benefit a particular teacher or group of teachers (particularly when it is to the detriment of another teacher or group of teachers), that's not what I'd call best practice.

Now I also understand that there are things called contracts and unions and all of that and certain guidelines have to be followed. And I understand that because of those realities sometimes situations like this come up. I also believe that it's important to protect the rights of teachers and consider teachers' needs in making decisions. But too often when these things happen, it is presented to music (and other specialist) teachers in a way that communicates a hierarchy of teachers, and that the homeroom teachers need planning/prep time more than others do. It's important to understand that we are on high alert for these things because we have so often been treated as less important. It's also helpful to understand that it is pretty standard in music teaching to end up "giving up prep time" to do things like set up the stage for a production, run auditions for soloists, or prepare students for a special performance. Of course teachers of all kinds do "extra" work and go above and beyond the call of duty for their students, but the difference is that ours has historically gone unrecognized.

The basic point is this: treat all teachers as part of the same team, and as equally important members of that team. It's much easier for us to do what's best for the school as a whole, and our students in particular, when everyone treats each other as equals.

Now it's your turn: what are the things that people say to you as a music teacher that you wish they'd stop saying?

Monday, March 5, 2018

Top 5 Easy School Snack Ideas

There's a lot of chatter about school lunches. I've even written about lunchbox ideas quite a few times myself (click here to see those posts). But you know what threw me for a loop this year as my daughters started Kindergarten? Snacks. Nobody warned me that in addition to packing lunches every day I was going to need to pack snacks as well! After getting over my initial bewilderment I've come up with some standard go-to's that work for me- here are my favorite snack ideas to send to school.

There are a few reasons why snacks took me by surprise at the beginning of the school year: 1) I quickly learned that snacks have to be eaten quickly and independently- no time for fussy wrappers or foods that take a long time to eat, 2) after working out a nicely-balanced healthy lunch, adding in the snack factor just throws everything off, 3) of course the snacks still have to be peanut-free for my daughters' school (and, it seems, most other schools in the US), and 4) kids get HUNGRY at school- I'm amazed at how filling the snacks need to be for my kids to not come home ravenous!

Of course I don't have time to pack a second lunch every morning for every child. It needs to be quick and easy for me to throw together. So with all of those factors in mind, here are some of my go-to snacks to pack for my Kindergartners.

1. Fruit

Apple slices, tangerines (pre-peeled), bananas, and raisins are easy to pack, quick to eat, and give my daughters the energy they need to make it through the afternoon.

2. Bagels

I'm always surprised at how much my daughters like this one: half a slice of bagel with some cream cheese sandwiched in the middle is a quick and filling snack they both love!

3. Crackers/ Chips/ Salty Snacks

I often save those salty carbs- chips, goldfish crackers, popcorn, pretzels- for their snack. They're easy to throw in a bag and my daughters are always excited to eat those.

4. Juice

I will often throw in a small juice box, especially if their other snack is one of the salty snacks mentioned above. They get in a lot more fluids during the day this way, and there are quite a few healthier juice options out there these days!

5. Nuts/ Seeds

I am lucky enough to have the option of sending nuts to school- my daughters' school doesn't allow peanuts but does allow other nuts. Besides walnuts, pecans, and almonds, coconut flakes are another great option (which would also work for nut-free schools), and pumpkin and sunflower seeds (pre-shelled) have been great options as well!

Those are some of my favorite snack ideas. What are yours? I'd love to get some more ideas from all of you veteran moms out there, because it has been surprisingly difficult for me to come up with snack ideas to send to school! Leave a comment below if you have some favorites :)