26 January, 2015
Parent communication for the music room

Parent communication for the music room

As music educators, we often teach hundreds of students, so parent communication can be time-consuming. I've listed some ideas which should save you time while giving parents a peek inside your room.

Looking for ways to communicate with your parents about your music lessons, music concerts, and more? This post includes helpful tips, with newsletter ideas, blog ideas, and report card communication.

Communicating about your program: Several years ago, I was hired as the music teacher of a brand new building (which is my current building.) I wanted a way to communicate to all these new parents and families who I was, as well as give them an overview of the music program at my school. I wrote this blog post all about that brochure--which I handed out at open house. It includes a link to a free editable brochure template (although please note that it is specifically for Kodaly-inspired teachers.)

Informances: Informances are a wonderful way for parents to understand what is going on in your music room on a daily basis. Parents come in and simply watch a class in action at an assigned time, and you can explain along the way what you are doing and why. I wrote this blog post with more details about Kindergarten informances. I'm actually holding my first grade informances this year, and am excited to communicate with parents about all the things happening in their child's music room!

Marking period summary: At the end of every marking period, all the special areas teachers in my school--which includes music, art, library, and PE-- write a summary of what we've done this quarter and compile it onto one page to send home with students. For example, for first grade this past quarter, the summary for my first graders read:

During this marking period, first graders were busy in music, learning the new rhythms,  which they call “ta” and ti-ti” (quarter notes and eighth notes.) Students were able to listen to familiar songs and figure out rhythm patterns in each song! Students also began working with the five lines and four spaces of the staff, and differentiating between echo songs and call/response songs. Students played many different types of non-pitched percussion instruments, like rhythm sticks, wood blocks, and triangles. In December, students prepared for the annual Holiday Sing-a-Long, singing songs from many different cultures and traditions. This marking period, students were assessed on their ability to match pitch, their identification of instruments, their ability to identify rhythm patterns, and their ability to differentiate between echo and call/response songs.    

(Thanks to my colleague Jenna for the wording about the Holiday Sing-a-Long!)  This is a wonderful way to inform parents about what their children have been learning. I also like that the comments on the report card can then be more specific to each child instead of writing blanket statements that could apply to everyone. It's also really neat to read the comments of the other special areas teachers to see if there are any ways we can collaborate (my PE teacher is teaching about strong and weak movements...hmmm...I think we should talk more about that when I'm teaching meter!)

Classroom Blog: I just started my classroom blog, which is an easy way for me to communicate with parents about concert dates, ensemble information, and more. I'm hoping to add more to it soon...it's pretty simple right now! My friend Sue Leithold-Bowcock has a really comprehensive classroom blog, though. Check it out here....it's great to look at not only as a model of parent communication, but as a way to learn new songs and teaching strategies! (I think I could spend a few hours just checking out all of her videos!) I'm excited to see her session about classroom blogging at the OAKE conference in Minneapolis and add more information and resources to mine.

Newsletter: I contribute information to the school's newsletter each month, but I also like to compile my own newsletter just for the music room. In this newsletter, I can list information about what each grade level is doing in music, include pictures of music class in action, tell parents about apps, websites, etc. they might like to purchase or visit, give a list of local piano teachers for those who want lessons, and more! I decided to make it easier on myself, I should create a template for newsletters so I can just insert my information each time, print, and copy. Here is a set of editable newsletters I created:

Speaking of newsletters, I'm going to send out my newsletter soon to anyone who has subscribed. To subscribe, simply go to the right hand side of my blog and enter your email address under "subscribe to my mailing list." You will receive an email and have to click the link and enter your email address again, but then you will get a freebie from me as well as the monthly newsletter through email, which will include tips, blog posts, and more! To download the freebie (so that it doesn't just show up as a tab on your browser), right click and choose "save as."

What are some ways you like to communicate with parents about your music room? Feel free to comment below!

18 January, 2015
Worksheets in the music room

Worksheets in the music room

When I first began teaching, I used worksheets quite often to assess student understanding. As I've gotten older and more experienced, I have realized that there are so many other ways to assess! However, there are times when I believe worksheets are really the best way to assess. In this post, I'll write about all the ways I love to use worksheets in the music room.

Worksheets in the music room: Different ways to use worksheets in your music lessons to practice musical concepts and reflect!

To trace
Sometimes, after teaching a melodic or rhythmic concept, we want to jump right away to dictation. But students are not always ready for that step...they first need the chance to simply copy a rhythm or note onto the staff. Tracing worksheets can be GREAT for that. You can have students trace over a circle on the staff and color it in (reinforcing where that note goes on the staff) and they can also trace over a rhythm to understand exactly how to write it (especially with rhythms that are trickier to write, such as ti-tika and syncopa!) Below is a picture of my third graders a couple years ago completing tracing worksheets for low la during centers. Also check out Tanya LeJeune's tracing worksheets here.

Worksheets in the music room: Different ways to use worksheets in your music lessons to practice musical concepts and reflect!

To write
I love using manipulatives to write and compose rhythmic and melodic patterns; you can read more about popsicle sticks for rhythmic writing, solfa manipulatives, and staves with erasers in other blog posts. Sometimes, though, students really do just need paper and pencil to dictate and/or compose. When they are using manipulatives, it's already written for them--they just have to arrange them, but the act of writing a rhythm or note on the staff is a more complex skill. Download a freebie for composition with quarter rest by clicking on the picture below (and if you've previously downloaded, I made a few design changes so make sure to re-download!)

To reflect
I love having students reflect after a performance. After they watch their performance, we discuss it. What did they do well? What could they do better? To take it one step further, you can have them write about the strengths and weaknesses of the performance! Below is a picture of a fifth grader's performance evaluation this fall; I got the worksheet from a great set by Cori Bloom. (And yes, reading this student's words made my day!)

Worksheets in the music room: Different ways to use worksheets in your music lessons to practice musical concepts and reflect!

To respond
Worksheets can be a great tool to use when responding to music. After listening to a piece of music, students can write about how it made them feel, which instruments they heard, what they noticed, etc.  These free SQUILT worksheets by Jennifer at the Yellow Brick Road are a great way to have students respond to music! I wrote this blog post about using interactive notebooks in your music classroom as a way to integrate writing and have them respond to music; I am hoping to implement these at more than one grade level soon!

To dab
Last month, I saw some dabbing worksheets for the general classroom on TpT, and thought, "Huh...I bet those could work in the music classroom!" So I got to work and created some worksheets. The idea is that students would have bingo daubers/ dabbers and would dab the correct answer. They can also categorize by using different bingo dabbers. Here are a couple pictures of my first graders working on dabbing worksheets in centers.

Worksheets in the music room: Different ways to use worksheets in your music lessons to practice musical concepts and reflect!

Worksheets in the music room: Different ways to use worksheets in your music lessons to practice musical concepts and reflect!

I thought kids would enjoy these, but they loved them so much the majority of each class voted the worksheet center as their favorite center (over instruments AND throwing a squishy ball at the SMART board!) They were definitely a hit!

I've created a freebie as a sampler of my dabbing worksheets; you can download them for free here.

Tracy King at Mrs. King Rocks wrote a very informative post about dabbing worksheets here.

What are your favorite ways to use worksheets in the music classroom? Feel free to comment below!

10 January, 2015
Tips for Teaching Kindergarten Music

Tips for Teaching Kindergarten Music

Ah, Kindergarten music class...it is at times so joyful and fun and at other times a bit daunting. I remember Kindergarteners being my favorite grade level while student teaching, and then I had my first year of teaching. I saw one class twice...in the same day...for forty minutes. I'm not kidding. Pair that with not having the best classroom discipline at that point and having a behaviorally challenging class, and it was an adventure! Things have gotten MUCH smoother since then, so I thought I'd share my tips for Kindergarten music lessons.

Tips for teaching Kindergarten music: Great strategies for teaching music to Kindergarteners! Includes a link to a free Kindergarten lesson!

Think about attention span
I was once told in college that when lesson planning, you should think about the child's age and transfer that to minutes to understand their attention span. So, a five-year-old can handle a five minute activity before losing attention, a six-year-old can handle six minutes, etc. I have found this rule of thumb to be very helpful, especially in Kindergarten. My activities are typically five minutes or less, so we are doing many activities in a short amount of time, but all with purpose! When I had 35 minute lessons, I would sometimes have 10 activities all in one lesson, but with smooth transitions from one activity to the next. You can read more about transitions in this blog post.

Ramp up the energy level!
I try to be energetic with all of my grade levels, of course, but with Kindergarten it is SO important. I once had a student teacher say it surprised her that you had to almost perform or act as a teacher, and it's so true. When you're having a bad day, you have to act like you're fine and dandy, and this is especially true with Kindergarten. I don't care if I'm tired or cranky or sick, I put a smile on my face and make myself high-energy. You lost a tooth? WOW! You have a boo-boo? I'm SO sorry! But then I quickly bring them back into the lesson and we're off again! I was also once told in college to look each child in the eye as much as possible, so while I'm smiling and rocking back and forth as I sing "Oh here we are together" (more on that in a minute) I am also looking each one of them in the eye and letting them know how happy I am they are in the room.

Routine, routine, routine!
I learned in my Kodaly levels how important it was to start each lesson with music. I love bringing them into the room singing or chanting, and they know to expect that. (In fact, I have so often started the lesson with them chugging like a train as an introduction to "Engine Engine" that sometimes they come into the room making train noises, and then I have to tell them we are doing "Bee Bee" or "Apple Tree" instead!) After we play a game or move like a train, we sit down and sing "Here we are together," which is to the tune of "The more we get together." I use the words:

Oh, here we are together, together, together,
Oh, here we are together in music today.
With Macy, and Jenna, and ....(sing all students' names)
Oh, here we are together in music today.

After that, we do greetings, in which I listen to four students sing solos.
Then comes the rest of the lesson. Of course, I'm not advocating for everyone to start their lessons the same way; this is just works for me. However, I think the routine is really great, especially for Kindergarteners. They love that they know what will happen...at least for part of the lesson! Singing the gathering song is also a wonderful way to help me learn their names, and to welcome each child to the class.

Leave them wanting more
When I first started teaching Kindergarten, I gave every single child a turn at every single game. That's what I was taught to do, and I didn't think to do anything different, partly because that's what I was used to, and partly because Kindergarteners so badly want a turn at everything! But then I started my training at  Capital University's Kodaly program with Julie Swank, and heard her say the words "leave them wanting more." There is often just not enough time to give every single child a turn, and shouldn't kids learn that they don't always get a turn? I know, it's a tough lesson for some five-year-olds to understand, but it is still an important lesson! If you want, you could keep track of which kids have played which games to be completely fair. Other benefits of not giving every child a turn is that you will have more time for curriculum AND kids will be engaged, and wanting more!

Keep it simple
I have often heard music teachers talking about teaching ta and ti-ti and sol-mi to Kindergarteners. Perhaps they see their kids more often than I do, but my kindergarteners are not quite ready for those concepts...besides their development and frequency in which they come to music, I think much can be said for experiencing music in Kindergarten. We move fast, we sing quietly, we use different types of voices, we pat the beat, we clap the rhythm, we dance. The concepts covered in Kindergarten are so foundational; they need to understand loud/quiet, fast/slow, high/low, beat, and rhythm well in order to move onto more difficult concepts. Don't worry about getting them to read and write music yet...let them experience!

Remember to have fun!
Kindergarteners are full of wonderment and awe, and they are also very funny. So have fun with them! Smile, laugh, take them on a journey (maybe on Engine No. 9, where you find Lucy Locket, and then when you get off the train you get stung by a bee!) Also keep your ears open for the awesome things they will say. They constantly make me laugh...I love that some of my classes have aides coming with the kids because then I have another adult to look at after a kid has said something very funny!
One of my favorite five-year-old teaching stories happened when I was teaching Sunday school music, many years ago. For some reason I thought it was a good idea to tell them about Jesus' 40 days in the desert. As soon as I said the words "40 days," a kid yelled out, "MY DAD'S 40!" and another kid exclaimed, "I CAN COUNT TO 40! 1....2....3....4...."

That, to me, is the epitome of Kindergarten. They are funny, they are joyful, and they are ready to learn!

Looking for an activity Kindergarteners will absolutely LOVE? Click here to sign up for my email list; you'll receive the bunny game (a favorite of my students) for free!

If you're still looking for Kindergarten ideas, I have a free Kindergarten lesson; you can download by clicking below.

If you'd like more, check out these Kindergarten lesson sets:


Lori at Sweet Sounds also wrote a great blog post about Kindergarten music here.
Anything you want to add about Kindergarten? Please comment below!
06 January, 2015
Five Strategies to Incorporate Music Listening Lessons

Five Strategies to Incorporate Music Listening Lessons

In today's music classroom, we are expected to do so much: have students match pitch, teach students rhythmic and melodic concepts, encourage artistry and expression, teach students how to read music on the treble clef staff, explain how to identify instrument families, show them how to play instruments, and among many, many more skills, expose students to great music and teach them about great composers.

This is not an easy task. In this blog post, I'm detailing five strategies for incorporating listening lessons into your music class.

Need ideas for incorporating listening lessons into your music lessons? Check out these five strategies, including keeping the beat, choosing composer of the month, and more!

Keep in mind that while some of these ideas are focused on classical music, most of them can be applied to any genre! Here goes!

#1: Keep the beat
In Kindergarten, I spend much of the year preparing steady beat. This is such an important concept, as it is the foundation of music, so I plan beat-keeping activities into many of my lessons. Why not listen to the music of the masters while keeping the beat? For example, you could listen to the Nutcracker Overture by Tchaikovsky, and students have to follow your beat motions (tap your head for 8 beats, tap your shoulders for 8 beats, etc.) When students are confident enough, they can create their own motions!
John Feierabend has a wonderful CD for this very purpose. It is called "Keeping the Beat" and can be bought at West Music here.

#2: Focus on specific concepts
In my Kodaly training, I learned about the idea of focusing on a specific concept with listening lessons. For example, instead of listening to a piece of music by Beethoven because it is his birthday, you can listen to "Symphony No. 7, mvmt. 2" because it is a great example to use for quarter rest. Some pieces I have learned about as great rhythmic or melodic concepts through my training, and some I figured out on my own (like using the main theme of Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" for tim-ka...so fun!)
If you're looking for a comprehensive list of pieces aligned with rhythmic and melodic concepts, check out From Folksongs to Masterworks by Ann Eisen and Lamar Robertson. It is a treasure trove of information and includes recordings!
Check out this freebie by Amy Abbott for a fun listening example for low sol!

#3: Listen for meaning
Some pieces lend themselves really well to listening for images or meaning. For example, you could have students listen to "Carnival of the Animals" and try to figure out which animal each piece is about, and then describe why (for more activities, check out this set. Also check out this free listening map from Cowgirl Compositions for "Personages with Long Ears"!) For pieces that clearly convey a mood, you could have students listen for which mood(s) they think the piece expresses.
This past summer, I took a course based on the book "Making Thinking Visible," which is an amazing read. We explored several thinking routines in this course. Several of the routines could be adapted for music listening lessons, to delve into meaning. One was called "The Explanation Game," and if using for a listening lesson, you could have students answer the following questions after listening to a piece that has a defined meaning or story background:
1. What do you notice?
2. What do you think the meaning might be?
3. What makes you say that?
4. What could another meaning be?
I could see this routine working well for many, many pieces!
Check out this freebie by Cori Bloom for listening for meaning in a few pieces about birds!

#4: Watch
Kids today watch You Tube ALL the time. Why not find a great You Tube video showcasing a great piece of music in a fun and engaging way? Here are a couple examples:

"O Fortuna" by Orff: You could use this to do a contrast and comparison with the original!

"Four Seasons" by Vivaldi...in a HP Touchsmart PC commercial! You could use this to discuss why this piece of music was chosen for the commercial, how the actor in the commercial acts as a conductor, etc.

If you can't watch YouTube at school, read this blog post about how to download YouTube videos so you can save them!

#5: Composer of the month
It is a very popular idea to have a composer of the month, and use that premise to explore the composer with several different grade levels. I think, for me, the ideal situation would be to place each composer so that I can also focus on the rhythmic or melodic concepts the students happen to be practicing that month with listening lessons for that composer (like Beethoven in April, when my first graders are practicing quarter rest!) By really thinking thoughtfully about why and when to incorporate each composer, students could listen to a wide variety of music throughout the year and learn so much about music history! I have a composer of the month bundle for anyone who would like to do this throughout the entire year:

What strategies for listening lessons have worked for you? Please comment below, and happy listening!

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