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Helping all students feel welcome, part 1

There will always be students who, for one reason or another, might not feel welcome in our classrooms, perhaps because of something happening at home, or because of some of the students in the class, or because of something we as teachers are or are not doing.

In our current world, though, there are more reasons for students to not feel welcome. Some students in our classrooms may be worrying about their families, their friends, and their futures.

Regardless of political affiliation, it is really important as educators that we make ALL students feel welcome in our classroom. As music teachers, we have the distinct advantage of bringing children together through song, of linking cultures and experiences in a way that is completely different than any other subject.

Helping all students feel welcome in the music room: Blog post includes great thoughts, an Egyptian folk song with recordings, and a free bulletin board display!

In my own teaching, I've had some interesting conversations with students about other cultures. Once, after teaching the song "Ye Toop Daram" from Afghanistan (found in this blog post), I had a student exclaim, "But the people in that country are bad!" We then talked about how conflict is a complex thing, and that it doesn't make one side bad and the other side good, that while there are some bad people living in that country, there are also lots of good people. I asked them, "Do you think students in Afghanistan enjoy playing this game?"

They said, "Yes."

"Do you enjoy playing this game?"

They said, "Yes."

Sometimes, it's simply just pointing out that we are not all so different, that can open up students' minds and hearts.

Three favorite folk dances

With the start of the new year, many of us are thinking about being more healthy and getting more exercise. As music teachers, we are very lucky that we aren't sitting behind a desk all day and can get up and dance with our students! Below are three of my all-time favorite folk dances, as well as three of my favorite folk dance resources. These dances are GREAT for getting exercise, working with a partner, understanding dance formations, keeping in time with music, and so much more!

Favorite folk dances for the music room: Three great folk dances for your elementary music lessons!

"Highway No. 1" by the Shenanigans
This is one of my absolute favorites! You can buy the track on iTunes here, and the directions are within the song itself. Students simply listen, pretend to drive a car around the room, and make stops on Highway No. 1 (which is a highway that goes around the perimeter of Australia.) At each stop, students do motions, like "walk, walk, run, run, run," or "step, together, wiggle." Students really love this dance! I've used it at informances, at performances, and in class. The album also has a backing track which has space for students to make up their own motions! Here is a picture of my first graders from two years ago doing the dance:

Choosing repertoire for your choir

This past week, I sat down to choose my choir's repertoire for the spring. I got to thinking about the variety I wanted for the program, and what makes a great selection, so I decided to write with some thoughts that might help you as you choose your choir's repertoire!

Choosing choral repertoire: Great thoughts about choosing high quality literature. Blog post includes a free choral repertoire template as well as a link to a list of great pieces!

A little background: as I wrote about in this post, I have a choir of about 80 or so students in third, fourth, and fifth grade. I see them once a week, for 35 minutes, and we have two concerts at school each year, as well as community events as those arise.

I was a trumpet player all through school, and before my Kodaly training, I literally was in one semester of choir. Ever. So it has taken me quite a while to feel comfortable selecting repertoire, as well as directing the choir! I've gone to several choral sessions throughout the years at conferences, but am definitely not claiming to be a choral expert! Here are some thoughts as you choose choral repertoire:

Is it quality?
As Zoltan Kodaly once said, "Only the best is good enough for a child." I think about this a lot as I choose repertoire. I don't want to choose anything that's cute for the sake of cuteness; I want to choose music that is beautiful, that is timeless, that will touch a child's soul.

Is it accessible?
Because I only see my choir once a week for thirty-five minutes, I have to choose music that will be accessible in that amount of time. You won't see me choosing many pieces in parallel thirds for that reason! I love to select unison pieces (which can be more difficult than you'd think, as the students really have to have a unified sound), rounds and canons, partner songs, and 2- and 3-part pieces which have melodies and countermelodies that are easy to layer. For example, "Minka," which I mentioned in this post about Christmas selections, has a melody and a countermelody, and "Kookaburra" by Malvar-Keylock and Friedersdorf has three parts which are super easy to layer on top of each other.

Do I love the piano accompaniment?
I often will sit down at the piano and play through the piano part (as best as I can). If I love the piano part, chances are, it's a great selection for the choir!

New Year's Resolutions for the Music Room

As January approaches, many of us are midway through the school year. This is a great time to reflect on what we've taught this year and think ahead to what we'd still like to try this year, and how we can keep our students on track! Today, I'm teaming up with Amy Abbott from Music a la Abbott to blog about three New Year's Resolutions to help keep my students and I on track!

New Year's Resolutions for the Music Room: Thoughts about Class Dojo, the SeeSaw App, and a monthly planning freebie!

Three resolutions I have when I go back to school in January is to figure out a more cohesive way to track behavior, to begin creating student portfolios, and to track planning by month. Here are three ways I'll address those goals!

Class Dojo

Recently, we had a staff meeting in which we could each choose the topic we wanted to learn about (yay for differentiation at staff meetings!) I went to a meeting about Class Dojo. I had heard great things about the app but just hadn't delved into it. The idea of the app is that students get positive and negative points associated with their behavior. Parents can also be notified of points, as well as additions to the students' portfolios (like videos and pictures.) Apparently there is some controversy about the app, as some teachers project names and points up on the SMART board for all students to see, but I'm guessing most teachers using the app are not publicly posting names and points.
After the meeting, I decided I'd try it out, but I just got busy and didn't do anything more with it. Then I starting reading this great book:

In the book, they suggest using a behavior management system to track individual student behavior, and I thought again of Class Dojo. I realized my hesitation in using it had to do with contacting parents for every single point I gave. I want to have a system where I track points so that I have specific evidence about student behavior, and then if I need to contact parents, I have data to discuss. I'm concerned that with 700+ students, I might not be able to give out as many points as I'd like, but parents will be notified regardless (and in some cases, if I don't have enough time to log everything, they might only see negative points). So I've decided I'll use Class Dojo for my own purposes, not to communicate with parents...at least not yet!

I'll blog more about ClassDojo after I've used it for a while, but one tip: if you are going to try it out, ask your secretary for a Word or Excel document with student names. That way, you can cut and paste, and you don't have to type every individual name!

Choir Songs for Christmas

This past week, my choir performed their holiday concert, and it got me thinking about my favorite songs for this time of year, as well as songs I'd like to perform next year. Today, I'm teaming up with my friend Amy Abbott at Music a la Abbott to blog about our favorite Christmas choir songs as well as ones we'd like to do for next year!

Choir songs for Christmas: Great unison, two-part, and three-part songs for your choir!

A couple notes:

My choir consists of third, fourth, and fifth graders. Many of these pieces could also work for middle school.

Many of the titles are linked to the octavos on JW Pepper or other sites; simply click to view!

#1: Christmas is coming
This is one of my favorites for this time of year. It's an English folk song that works well as a round. I've heard a few different versions of it, but this is the one I use:

Choir songs for Christmas: Great unison, two-part, and three-part songs for your choir!

You could also have one part of the choir sing "God bless you" on mi-re-do as an ostinato.

#2: "Minka" arr. by Jill Ann Jones
This is one of my all-time favorites for Christmas! It's a 2-part song that is pretty accessible, as you teach the first part, then you teach the second part, and then you have one half of the choir sing one part as the other half of the choir sings the second part! The piano part is also really fun to play. It's a wonderful addition to any holiday concert.

Holiday gift guide for music teachers

Are you looking for gift ideas for a loved one who is a music teacher? Or are you a music teacher trying to find gift ideas to give your family? I'm teaming up with my friend Amy Abbott, to blog about great gift ideas for any music teacher!

Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links.

Holiday Gift Guide for Music Teachers: Great list of items to purchase as a music teacher, or to buy for your favorite music teacher!

Echo Dot
I was super excited when my husband bought me the Echo for my birthday in late November. I hadn't asked for it and didn't even know what it was, but now, I'm hooked!
The idea of the Echo is that you can play music wirelessly just by asking. It will play genres of music ("Alexa, play classical music," or "Alexa, play holiday classics") and it will play specific songs. For some songs, you do need a monthly membership to Amazon music, which is $3.99, but there are lots of songs that it will play without that membership. You can also ask Alexa to add things to your to do list, ask her for the weather, ask for the items on your calendar for that day, and more!
It hadn't even occurred to me to use one in my classroom until I saw this post in the Feierabend Fundamentals Facebook group. And then I realized...you could simply say, "Alexa, play 'Chimes of Dunkirk'" and it will play! How awesome is that? You can also connect it to your computer or iPad though Bluetooth. I just ordered one for my classroom; as I write this, it's on sale for $39.99, so I couldn't resist!

Five easy (and free!) sub plans for the music classroom

We've all heard the adage, "It's easier to come to school sick than to write sub plans." Many of you, like me, have spent hours upon hours working just on one day of sub plans, so it IS often easier to come to school sick than worry about it.

A few years ago, though, I finally got my sub tub in order (read more about my sub tub here), and figuring out sub plans began taking 10 minutes instead of 2 hours! Since then, I've become passionate about figuring out ideas that would have students making music, have subs feel comfortable teaching, and allow me to not spend tons of time preparing!

Here are some ideas for quick and easy sub plans to leave for your sub. Make sure to scroll to the end of the post, to sign up for my email list and receive editable Word documents to edit and adapt the sub plans for your own music lessons (as well as a bonus file)!

5 easy (and free!) sub plans for the music room: Includes great ideas for sub plans, as well as a way to download the sub plans as an editable Word document!

#1: The rhythm trainer
This website is a wonderful way to practice dictation and audiation skills! On the first page, you'll see this:

You could have your sub choose A if students will dictate rhythm patterns (onto the SMART board, or on a computer projected onto a LCD projector) or B if students will choose from multiple choice patterns. Then, students or the sub can choose a tempo. Lastly, you can leave notes for your sub with which rhythms to choose from, which can be adapted depending on the grade level! So if your first graders only know ta and ti-ti, or quarter and eighth notes, then you can have the sub only choose the first two rhythms, like shown above.