19 November, 2015
Adapting to a new schedule

Adapting to a new schedule

A year and a half ago, my music schedule drastically changed, from music twice a week for 35 minutes to music once every 5 days for 50 minutes (on an ABCDE rotation)...with some slight variations, which I'll talk about in a minute.

Needless to say, I was a bit tentative and scared. I was disappointed I'd be seeing the kids less. Almost my entire career, I have taught music to each grade level twice a week for 30-35 minutes (with the exception of Kindergarten, which was once a week for 35 minutes.) Now I had to see pretty much everyone ONCE a week? How could I get through all of my concepts? Would they still retain the information as well? Would my 1st graders be able to pay attention for 50 minutes? Here is what my schedule actually looks like, what I love, what I don't, and how I have adapted.

Adapting to a new schedule: Tips for special areas teachers to adapt to a new schedule, especially a block schedule and/or longer class periods!

The bones of my schedule:
Last year, I saw Kindergarten once or twice a week for 25 minutes...depending on the week.
1st and 2nd grade came once a week for 50 minutes during one semester and twice a week for 50 minutes during the other semester (but during one semester, some classes were coming once and the others were coming twice, and then they flip-flopped! Is your head spinning yet?)
3rd, 4th, and 5th grade came once a rotation for 50 minutes, but once every four weeks, they had an extra music class.
This year, it's a bit more streamlined! Kindergarten comes once a week for 35 minutes. 1st, 2nd, and 5th grade come once a rotation for 50 minutes. And 3rd and 4th graders come twice a rotation...but once a rotation they come to me, and the second time they go to my colleague. We have worked out a great system, though, where one marking period she teaches all the traditional lessons, and I teach the extension lessons, and then we switch.

What I love:
I have to say, I never realized how much I had to rush through my 35 minute lessons until I had 50 minutes and could actually breathe. Like, have conversations with kids about what they did this weekend, or have time to get into a deep conversation about rhythm or melody or the purpose of a barline.

I LOVE the ABCDE rotation. You know how the classes you have on Monday and Friday get way behind every other class because of how many Mondays and Fridays you miss? That doesn't happen with ABCDE rotations, because if you miss on a Friday due to no school or a snow day, and Friday was supposed to be a C day, Monday becomes a C Day, and those kids still get music. Woo hoo! The only time you have to worry about kids getting behind is if you're sick, there is an assembly, or there is a 2-hour delay.

I love the consistency of the schedule. Most of the time, all of my classes for the week are on the same exact lesson, which is amazing!

What I don't love:
Although with the ABCDE rotation does even classes out a bit, I still see them for less time than I did before. This year, though, they did change it so that all 3rd and 4th graders get music twice a rotation (1st graders get art twice, and 2nd and 5th graders get P.E. twice.) So maybe in the end, it evens out! I am still very aware of less time, though, and constantly have to check to see where I'm at concept-wise and if I can cover everything I want to...and if they will be ready for it!

Which leads me to what else I don't love...I have noticed less retention. It's not as bad as I feared, but there still is at times less retention.

How have I adjusted?
As I wrote about above, because of the longer classes, I've been able to have more thoughtful conversations with students, which is great! I took a course called "Making Thinking Visible" through my district, which is based off of this book by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison. I've been able to implement thinking routines, and am hoping to do this more and more. 

At times, I have to "catch" a class up to where all the other classes are, because they had a holiday party during their special, or we had an assembly, or I was sick. I used to occasionally do this with my former schedule, but I tried to not do it often, because in my mind every lesson is important and shouldn't be skipped. However, with music only once a week, I am very mindful of all the concepts and skills I still need to cover with them...and the schedule is so streamlined that it's easier to keep everyone on the same lesson if I can. So sometimes I do something my friend Matt calls "Frankensteining a lesson"...I piece together a part of this lesson and a part of that lesson and I catch them up!

I am now much more streamlined in when I write lesson plans. Previously, I wrote lessons as I needed to, which was at times a bit confusing. But now, on the A day, I don't lesson plan, I just teach the new lessons and see how they go. On the B day, I write Kindergarten and 1st grade for the next rotation. On the C day, I write 2nd and 5th grade. And on the D day, I write 3rd and 4th grade. Then on the E day, I make sure I have all the materials I need for the following week, print my lessons up, and type up my agenda.

Instead of throwing in a few more singing games to tag on 15 minutes to the lesson, I've added more variety to the lesson. Students might be playing instruments, doing creative movement, reading a book, or delving into a listening lesson. The variety seems to work really well. It's also much easier to do a more time-consuming activity, such as dictation on dry erase boards, composition, etc.

Before this new schedule, I was definitely purposeful in my planning, but now I feel like I'm even more purposeful. Only seeing most of the kids once every five days, I have to make sure that I get through everything I need to, that they know the songs they need to know, that they are retaining the information, etc.! Even though I already have year plans (which you can learn about here), I find myself sitting down every couple months to really look at what each grade level will be learning over the course of the next several weeks.

By adapting to this schedule and making these changes, I really feel like I've made it work for me and my students. Have you had to adapt to a block schedule like this? How has it worked for you? Feel free to comment below!

14 November, 2015
Five favorite pins of November

Five favorite pins of November

Hi everyone! Since it's November, so here is my five favorite pins linky party!

Here is my list for this month; just click each picture to view that pin. Also check the end of the blog post for a fun Pinterest contest!

#1: Dalcroze Eurhythmics Exercises

I just created a new Dalcroze-inspired board, and was excited to pin this to the board! These exercises could easily be used in the general music classroom as  way for students to internalize beat, improve inner hearing, and more!

#2: Composing with stickers

I just pinned this to my new board, Composing in the Music Room. What a fun way to have students write on the staff! 

#3: Land of the Silver Birch, Canoe Song, and Counter-Melody

I have done Land of the Silver Birch and Canoe Song as partner songs, but have never heard this counter-melody with it. Beautiful!

#4: Drum Circle Ideas

Elizabeth from Organized Chaos wrote a really comprehensive blog post about doing drum circles in your music classroom. SO helpful!

#5: In the Hall of the Mountain King movement activity

I know Halloween is over, but this is so fun! (And who says you can only listen to "In the Hall of the Mountain King" during Halloween??) 

For more pins like this, follow me on Pinterest, and check out this great blog post by Lindsay Jervis about other music pinners! Also make sure to see other great pins by viewing the link-up below!
Have a wonderful November!

10 November, 2015
Thanksgiving in the Music Room

Thanksgiving in the Music Room

Since Thanksgiving is just a couple weeks away, today I'm going to blog about my favorite Thanksgiving activities for the music room.

Thanksgiving in the Music Room: A game, a song, and a book for Thanksgiving music lessons!

Thanksgiving this year happens to fall on my birthday, so I'm feeling especially festive. :) Here goes!

Turkey rhythms
I wrote this blog post about using foam turkey feathers and paper plates to build rhythm turkeys. Here is a picture of my students working on it. It was a fun group activity and a great way to practice ta and ti-ti! You could use it with any rhythmic concept.

Turkey rhythms: A great way to practice rhythm! Blog post includes other great activities for Thanksgiving in the music room!

I found this book on Pinterest last year, and finally got around to ordering it for next week's classes. It features a beautiful song by Art Garfunkel, and illustrations by John Bucchino and Anna-Liisa Hakkarainen. Excited to use it as a way to discuss meaning of lyrics, discuss what it means to be thankful/ grateful, and improve listening skills! (Note: I first ordered the book on Amazon, but it's out of stock, so I then reordered it on Books-A-Mllion. You can see the link by clicking on the picture of the book below):

Grateful: A beautiful picture book that could work really well around Thanksgiving. Blog post includes other great activities for Thanksgiving in the music room!

Native American music
Native American can be taught any time of the year, but if you're looking to do a unit on Native American music, Thanksgiving is a great time to do so! I just finished researching and creating sets about the Chippewa, Iroquois, and Ottawa tribes, and it was musically so interesting to look at the similarities and differences in the songs, when looking at songs from specific tribes. I found quite a few gems that are great for teaching low la, like this song, which is from the Chippewa/Ojibwe tribe:

Fox Hunter's Song: A Chippewa song.  Blog post includes other great activities for Thanksgiving in the music room!
I just found this website that has several great links and resources for teaching about Native Americans during Thanksgiving in a culturally responsive way.

The bundled set below includes several songs like the one above, slideshows to help teach musical concepts from the songs, as well as background for each tribe, including customs, geography, and more; you can also buy the sets individually by tribe.

Looking for more Thanksgiving activities for your music room? Check out this Pinterest board:

Looking for more games and activities for Thanksgiving? Check out these:


Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
07 November, 2015
What I've learned about interactive notebooks

What I've learned about interactive notebooks

This year, I embarked on the journey of trying out interactive notebooks with my students. (You can read about why I started the notebooks in this blog post.) So far, I've been able to try them out with my third graders, and because this is so different from anything else I've done with my students, I thought I'd share my initial thoughts. Here is what I've learned so far about interactive notebooks:

Tips for interactive notebooks: Blog post is about using them in the music classroom, but tips could apply to any classroom!

1. Be prepared.
Before your students can walk into your room and begin their interactive notebooks, you'll need to prepare your room. I had thought about how to store my notebooks; here is a picture of my bookshelves and magazine racks from IKEA:

Tips for interactive notebooks: Blog post is about using them in the music classroom, but tips could apply to any classroom!

Up until a few days before my students used the notebooks, though, I hadn't thought about how to store the scissors, glue sticks, and crayons. Thankfully, I had bought these jungle-themed bins from Target, having no idea how I'd use them (oh, Target dollar section, how I love you so!) Here is a picture of students working on their notebooks with the bins in sight.

Tips for interactive notebooks: Blog post is about using them in the music classroom, but tips could apply to any classroom!

You'll also want to think about how many bins you need, and how you'll hand them out. I had students work in small groups of 4-5 and share the scissors, glue sticks, and crayons.

Another note, as you can see from the picture above, is that the notebooks can get pretty messy. However, I was really impressed by how quickly students could clean up in a matter of minutes! Maybe they are used to doing this in their grade-level classrooms?

2. It's okay to spend time coloring.
I fretted about this a bit as I watched students color for twenty or so minutes. I'm selfish with my time with them, and a few thoughts ran through my mind, like "They could be singing right now!" and "They could be preparing ti-tika right now!" But then I watched how relaxed and happy they were as they colored, and I thought of the articles I'd read about how coloring can relieve stress, and I thought, "Maybe this isn't so bad." The coloring doesn't last that long (it was mostly for the cover page) and aren't kids working ALL THE TIME in school? Is it so bad that they color for a little bit in my room and get to relax?
All right, guilt averted.

3. Have extension work available.
Some kids work faster than others, something I was reminded of as they worked. My third graders were working on the half note lift-a-flap page from my third grade interactive notebook set, so I quickly created another half note lift-a-flap page with different rhythm patterns, and those ready for students who got done sooner than others (and will soon be adding extra pages to my third and fourth grade interactive notebook sets for that very reason.) I also let those who finished both pages play their patterns on an instrument of their choice. It's good to have options for your early finishers so they are not twiddling their thumbs!

4. Be ready to take student suggestions!
Pretty soon after we began work on these, I had a student suggest that they were able to create their own songs and put them into their notebooks. Um...brilliant! So this is my next project with them. That way, they can glue down their work as they go, and I can easily see their progress!

5. It's different...but good!
Interactive notebooks are definitely a different kind of learning than my typical lessons. There is no whole-class singing, no games, no activity on the SMART board, etc. BUT they are still a valuable teaching tool. Students are making sense of what they've learned in an interactive and different way. I'm excited to continue this journey!

Looking for interactive notebooks for the music room? Try these:


Have you used notebooks in the music room? Feel free to comment below with what has worked for you!

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