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Reflecting on your year

I know it seems crazy to think of the school year in past tense, but with only seven weeks remaining in the school year, I'm already thinking about what worked well this year, and what I'd like to improve for next year. Reflection is, to me, such a huge part of my development as a teacher, so I like to reflect at the end of each school year (before summer, when everything seems so distant!) Here are some thoughts about my year.

Reflecting on your year in the music room: Thoughts about classroom decor, music technology, and more!

What I loved:
I was able to streamline my data tracking and intervention processes even more this year, and was very happy with the results! I was able to use my data tracking binder to track how well students understand rhythmic and melodic concepts, and was able to provide intervention to more students. My first graders had a statistically significant increase in meeting their growth target for rhythmic dictation, and I think it's partly because of this process! For more information about data tracking and downloading the binder for free, see this blog post.

What I could do better:
I talked in this podcast about how I realized recently that a.) I don't do listening lessons as often as I should, and b.) it's partly because I'm not always using music that I LOVE. I have started tweaking and creating lessons for this year, but this is on my list of things to really delve into next year!

Social Media for Music Teachers

The way that social media is used has changed tremendously over the last few years. In the past, I used social media as a way to simply catch up on the lives of friends, follow celebrities, or look at pretty pictures. Although I still do those things, I'm now using social media as a form of professional development. In this blog post, I'll detail how to use social media to learn from other music teachers, gather ideas, and even learn new songs!

Social Media for Music Teachers: A comprehensive overview of how to use Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, and more, to gather ideas for your music classroom

When I first happened upon Pinterest, I found tons of pins about home decor and women's fashion, and I wasn't all that interested. But then I discovered pins about education, and specifically music education, and I was hooked!

To search for music education pins, simply start a Pinterest account, then in the search bar, type "music education," "Kodaly," "Orff," etc. for lots of great pins with great ideas! When I typed "music education" into Pinterest today, I saw these pins:

See those words along the top? These are interests, which allow you to get even more specific! When I clicked "lessons," these pins came up:

When you click a pin, it takes you to that blog post, article, etc.

To see a sample of other great pins I've discovered over the years, check out these "Favorite Pins of the Month" posts. To follow me on Pinterest, click here.

For more information about how to use Pinterest, see this post. Lindsay Jervis also has a great post about music education pinners to follow here.

Melodic Intervention 101

This past week, with my second graders, I have been doing centers to practice sol, la, mi, and do. Typically when I do centers (which you can read more about here), I choose the groups and tell students when to rotate. Last week, though, I've let the students choose which group to go to and when to switch, and I have LOVED the results. It feels so student-centered, and the students take so much ownership in their learning and their choices!

Today, I'm blogging about the set-up, the six centers, and how I provided intervention for those struggling melodically. Keep reading until the end of the post, so you can download several of the materials for free!

Melodic Intervention 101: Blog post includes lots of ideas for centers in your music room AND intervention for your struggling students. Includes a way to download some of the activities for free!

At the start of the lesson, after we played a singing game which included sol, la, mi, and do (I used "King's Land"), I explained each of the six centers. They were as follows:

#1: "Snow the Solfa" game by Amy Abbott
This is a great game to help students really look carefully at patterns on the staff. They choose a snowman, then choose which note/ solfa is not correct. I had this projected on my SMART board, but if you don't have a SMART board, you could have students at that center choose notes with a mouse, on your computer. (Keep reading to download this game for free!)

Melodic Intervention 101: Blog post includes lots of ideas for centers in your music room AND intervention for your struggling students. Includes a way to download some of the activities for free!

#2: Handbell patterns
I just bought these handbells this year, which I've loved for practicing solfa! I created patterns for this center, and students each grabbed a handball, another student held up the patterns, and they played through each pattern.  The handbells are pretty inexpensive, and are a great purchase if you don't get much money each year in your budget. (Keep reading to download the patterns for free!)

Helping all students feel welcome, part 2

In my last blog post, I discussed how there will always be students who, for one reason or another, might not feel welcome in our classrooms, but that we as music educators can ensure that students feel more welcome and accepted.

In today's post, I'm discussing more ways that students can be made to feel welcome: through songs with a message, and through children's literature.

Helping all students feel welcome in the music room: Songs and picture books to help cultural and social awareness

Singing songs with a great message
If you can find a song that truly has a great message, go for it! Students will really connect to meaningful lyrics, especially students who are feeling fearful and uncertain. My friend Lessia Bonn at I am Bullyproof Music has a beautiful song called "Same Love," with a great message for these times. Here is a video of the song:

After listening to the song, you could have students discuss what the song is about, asking questions like "What does 'same love' mean?" "What does 'light up the dark' mean?" "What are the different 'whys'?" You could get into a pretty deep conversation here! Granted, this could get tricky, but I think as long as you listen to students, and show no preference for one party or one religion, students could really dig deep into the lyrics.

Click here to purchase the mp3. The kids really love her music, and the more I hear it, the more I want to listen!

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!