Friday, March 30, 2012

Travel the USA, Test Drive a book today: Test driving children's books in the music classroom

I like to try out new books with my students when I find myself with a little extra time.  It doesn't happen often..... Most of the time I'm racing the clock and am always behind, but just the other day, I was able to scrape together a minute and was THRILLED to try out a new book with a group of kindergarten students who finished their lesson a little early.

Every time I read a new book with students I am eager to gauge their response. It isn't until I see the book in action with students that I get a clear picture of how I can incorporate the book into our music learning.   Sometimes books that look like they will work great, don't work at all.  I've gotten better at choosing books that will work well with children AND will teach a great musical idea, but my perspective on children's books is only fair to mediocre for the simple reason that I am not a child.

These book "preview" moments are critical to future planning and instruction because it's important to test drive new books when the book doesn't have to carry the weight of your lesson.  Otherwise you might find you and your students left stranded by the side of the learning highway with vehicle that has run out of instructional gas.

Sometimes the vehicle or in this case, the book, is not the problem....... it's the driver!  Books that work for me when I teach, might not work for you. So make sure that you steal a few minutes to try out that book before you teach with it. You don't want to find out during an important lesson that the book you hoped to use is just plain boring........

I found a GREAT book that I love to look at, but this book, doesn't  work with children at and in my opinion the way the text is laid out on the page lends itself to a poor understanding of musical phrasing.   Here is the book that I don't recommend.  I love the song and I love the art work..... BUT, the page turns are too quick for the phrases..... It is almost impossible to use this book while singing with children because you have to turn the page WAY WAY WAY too many times within each musical phrase.  I think the well known and beloved illustrator just wanted to share his wonderful art work..... In my humble opinion, the art work should enhance the song, not distract from it.  I was so disappointed when I tried this book with children and found it to be frustrating because as I've said, I like the song and I like the book.  It's just not a good instructional fit for me.... maybe in the hands of another music teacher, this book would sing.  If you've had success using it in your classroom let me know.

Some books that I never thought would work in music class have turned out to be just wonderful in time. As you know, I'm really working hard on being a better teacher of music composition. A few years ago while at a 75% off book sale, I came across a random book that I was drawn to because of it's title.  Later that week, I read it with my students but wasn't really inspired to develop any sort of lesson because it felt like "just a story".  My students liked it, but I didn't immediately have any ideas.  Well, some time passed.... a year, maybe three and one day there was drama in the music classroom and my 3rd graders needed "just a story".  THIS time when I read it, as I got to the part of the book where Sophie sings her song, I began to improvise a melody that went with the words Sophie was singing.  One moment we were just reading a story, and the next minute we were studying improvisation and composition.  This book has become one of our favorites and always receives several "Do It AGAINS" from the students.   I enjoy this book so much that I sometimes wonder how I missed such a gem of a book, but I have noticed that this book has a seriously slippery selection of syllables synonymous with slip-ups....SOOOO I believe I the first time I read it with students, I was concentrating too much on the reading of the book and not enough on the student responses and what how I might teach with this great book.

I recently discovered this book based on the music of John Denver.  I read it to my Kindergarten and it was a wonderful experience.  My students were mesmerized.  It's not just a book of baby pictures. Each page has a mother and child from a different area of the world AND an animal mother and child from the same area.  Each page is illustrated uniquely enough that I am very curious about the various techniques employed by the artist. I think this book would be a nice part of Mother's Day OR Earth Day and would be another nice example of verse and refrain that has the advantage of being in a book.  The CD that is included has an original John Denver recording and there are even children singing, so I could ask my students to compare an adult voice to the voices of children.  I don't know exactly how or when I'll incorporate this book, but I know it is a keeper, and it will be useful.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Children's Books in Music - Part 3 - Books by John Lithgow

In this 3rd installment about Children's Books in the Music Room, I'm sharing books that I love by John Lithgow.  He has written some great books with original music.  If you want music with interesting and challenging vocabulary then these books are just splendid. You can also check out Book List 1 , Book List 2

My favorite is "The Carnival of the Animals". The CD has John Lithgow reading his book and it has recordings of each of the animals in the famous piece by Camille Saint-Saenes. The way the CD is set up, each page is it's own track and the individual animal music is a separate track, so that if you were to listen straight through you'd hear narration, music, narration, music.

Two different ways: 

Younger Students:
Because of the way that this book is set up, it lends itself well to breaking it apart and doing a page or two  at a time over several weeks. I always break this book up for my younger students.  I usually make a big "todo" about waiting until next time to get to hear the next part. The minute my students show up they remind me where they left off.  They are very excited to see what happens to Oliver and they want to learn the "dance" that I put with the individual animals pieces. *It's very important to do quite a bit of pre-reading activities with this book because the language is so complex.  I spend quite some time having the students discuss the pictures on the first couple of pages.... they really enjoy this book but without taking the time to really scaffold the language for them, it's a little beyond what my students can understand without support..... If I can, I try to wait until after my younger students have gone on a field trip......Once they've gone on a field trip then they can understand the premise of this particular retelling of Carnival of the Animals.

Older Students: 
Sometimes with my older students I find myself with a "dangling" class, You know those times where you need to play catch up with other classes and you don't want to start something new and involved.  This is a perfect book for just such a day.....  I have them create a 16 box grid using a regular 8.5x11 piece of paper..... (fold the paper in half 4 times)..... .  Then, we listen to the book and as each animal piece is listened to we draw a quick sketch of that animal in an open square.  Since some of the pieces are considerably longer than others, I let them know before hand that they can finish any unfinished animal drawings during the longer songs.  I haven't done this activity with my older students this yet this year, but last year their "listening logs" turned out nice enough to display..... I wish I had taken pictures.....

The personification of these animals and the descriptive and poetic writing is just beautiful.  This book sparks a huge amount of vocabulary conversation.  I could write more, but I'd rather share this youtube video so that you can get a taste of what it's like to have John Lithgow read to your class.  In this video he shares almost all of the pages.

Remarkable Farkle McBride is a fantastic book all by itself, and I joyfully read it to my students for YEARS and had to replace my copy before I realized that there was a CD that had an orchestrated version of the book! It's nice to have both.

Marsupial Sue is a kangaroo that is not very happy being herself. She travels around and meets lots of other animals who also live in Australia.  Along the way, she figures out that she should stop trying to be like other animals and simply be the best kangaroo she can be!   It's a nice little book, but really too difficult for the students to sing, but it's a great musical way to help younger students learn about being satisfied being themselves. This book has it's own CD, but the song can also be found on the "Farkle and Friends" CD

Marsupial Sue and the Runaway Pancake is the real gem! All the animals that we met in the original Marsupial Sue book work together to put on a play about a run-away pancake.  I like to read this book to kindergarten before I they become an audience at one of our school performances for the first time.   This has a great sing-able refrain and my absolute favorite part is that all of the Australian animals, the kangaroo, the Tasmanian devil, the Melburne Sheep, the platypus and others dress up in costumes to play a cow, wolf, bear and fox.  My favorite is the koala bear that dresses up like a dog.    The CD that is included with the hardcover book is a live recording of John Lithgow reading the book to an audience of children.  It is delightful and my students ask for this book often.   It's also a great opportunity to compare two variations of the same story.... this book goes well with any gingerbread man books.

These are certainly musical books and can be used in many different ways in the music classroom, but I think their real value lies in their imagination and the universality of their subject matter.  "I'm a Manatee" is primarily about a little boy who has dreams and "I've got two dogs" is a song about having dogs. I think that they would make really wonderful writing prompts.  John Lithgow again employs beautiful poetic language and brilliant imagery that makes these books wonderful to read with children. Both books have CDs but the recordings can also be found of the "Farkle and Friends" Cd.

Download List 3 Here: Musical books by John Lithgow

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kindergarten Blizzard

Today we got our brand new metallophone from  This was by far the quickest delivery I've EVER had from and I was so excited! 

In my music schedule I have my regular daily schedule, but then at the end of each day, I have an extra class where one grade level comes back for a second visit to "specials".  Today my extra class was to be about 30 kindergarten and I was pleased because I knew that they would produce really sweet thank you notes for our donors.  I try to never leave the task of saying thank you to my project donors for long because usually when our materials are new, that is when my students are most teachable and ready to say thank you. Writing the thank you notes is  really my favorite part.  We have a habit of giving and giving to children without expecting any sort of gratitude.  It's nice to give them the chance to appreciate not just a gift, but the giver.

This is almost nothing like our very cool and
 sophisticated new  bass metallophone,
 but it is colorful and I thought it was cute
So there we were.  30 kindergaten students, me and a great big bass xylophone box.  They were THRILLED to open a present at school, so they were all neatly arranged in their very best kindergarten circle.  I made a big production of cutting the plastic straps and tape.... I started giving out jobs.... "joe" got to carry the tape to the trashcan, "judy" got to hold the scissors.  Everyone had something to do.  We carefully pulled back the cardboard to reveal a LARGE slab of protective styrophome.  I noticed that it would just fit into our trashcan so, rather than put it out of reach,  (as I should have done) I gave a student the task of putting it in the trashcan.  Then came the bars, each wrapped in their own bubble wrap sleeve.  I actually remember thinking.... (I hope this bubble wrap ends up in the trash.... that bubble wrap sure could captivate a kid who wanted to be distracted) ......HAAAA!  I wish that I was writing about bubble wrap!

 In any case, one of my more verbos studnets had just asked me a question and while I turned my head slightly to answer,  all of the remaining 29 were spontaneously seized with the unrestrained need to turn the sheets of styrophone in our trash-can and in the box into a blizzard!!!

It happened so fast! One moment, 29 little bottoms were planted on the floor and 29 faces were gazing upon the mettallohpone in anticipation and then as I was answering the one onlooker, I realized I needed to glance at my circle because things had gotten suspiciously and eerily  quiet.....It's amazing how quiet 29 kindergarteners can be when they are making a mess.  One minute I had a circle of expectant children and then in the blink of an eye my circle disappeared and there we were..... having a white Christmas right here in March..... and I thought we were going to play our new metallophone and write thank you notes..... nope....

Had I been thinking I would have marched my dandruff clad class next door and left things alone..... but THEN  I had a serious FAIL in the natural consequences department... I very lovingly and logically convinced 30 kindergarten children in the throws of a snow day to sit back down in a group, where I drew their attention to the state of our room and explained that I wanted them to put all of the "snow" in the trashcans......I should have known it was doom to fail the moment I heard them cheer....... I will admit that SOME of it did end up back where it belonged, but only about 20% of what they dispersed.  Things got really exciting once they figured out that if you stomped your foot or blew on the little dots they would fly away....There was another wave of excitement when they showed each other how to scrape their fingernails across the board to create MORE snow..... One kid even gathered up a fistful, held his hands over the air conditioning vent and let them fly.  

It was in their hair, stuck to their face and I'm SURE their mommas will find it in their socks and underwear tonight.  That stuff got everywhere! 

Did I mention that my kindergarteners LOVED their consequence????  I mean, they LOVED it! Although that had not been my intention, the time they spent trying to pick up those particles was the highlight of their week. They tried using lapboards as brooms or as tables, but then as soon as they stood up to carry it, it would all fly away.  We'd make a little progress in one area of the room and I'd look over to find a couple of my lovelies sprinkling the "snow" on their head again with big grins all around..... When it was finally time to go home, we picked the dandruff out of our hair and they all told their teachers that they helped to CLEAN the music room.

Guess who was still sweeping until after 7:00? 

 This teacher.... that's who.... I started sweeping on and off right after the busses left at 2:30 and even though I'd taken here and their for some "real" work, by the time my "big-kid" after school kids came in at 4:00, I had swept up several "snow drifts" and had a couple of new good sized piles ready to covey to the trash can.. When my big kids got to my door they stood at the door in shocked amazement.  One of them actually swore out loud before they caught themselves.  They eagerly volunteered to "help" clean up, but I'd learned my lesson.... I did ask them to TRY to not make it worse... I had a few piles here and there around the room in my effort to make vaccuuming feasable.  Despite their efforts to "help" me,  they ended helping the "snow" drift back into all of the nooks, crannies and corners I had allready cleared!  

The custodian who faithfully cleans my room each day came by after my big kids left,  took one look at me sweeping up all that "snow".....laughed out loud, (I've never even seen her smile)  and then handed me a better broom......It didn't take long after that.  Once I finished sweeping the snow into a pile in the middle of the room ready for vacuuming , I moved most of my furniture away from the walls  so that she could vaccuum easily without impedament to get the snow that my broom couldn't capture.....  Boy!  I'm gonna have to get to school REAL early tomorrow to be ready to teach! 

The funniest thing is that even though I wish I could have avoided this mess, it was one of those days when I was reminded of why children are great to be around and why being in kindergarten is one of the best things there is! Today didn't go as I had planned, it wasn't convienient, but none of the children complained.... no one was mean or unkind, every one of them without exception was swept away with the joy of a new discovery. The new metallophone will be brought out some other day, but I'm happy that  I found myself smiling a lot in the midst of my kindergarten blizzard. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spring is BLOOMING! in the music room with! Friends and Family Match

In our music room garden we have "planted" 3 projects that we hope will BLOOM!

Project #1 - Bass Metallophone!  - Folks have been seriously generous and so as of this morning we are  ONLY  $100 away from being able to realize this project!

Project #2 - School Supplies - Music classrooms need Kleenex and pencils too!  

Project #3 - Recorders!  - Our school has increased enrollment this year and we are in need of some additional recorders. 

If you are interested in donating to one of the projects that will support the students in my classroom please click here:  Ms. McSpadden's Music Class!

Type in the word BLOOM in the gift code section during checkout and your donation will be doubled!    
(to see how it works, keep reading!)

Today is the last day for the Friends and Family Match Campaign

Here are ALL of the details directly from  Support a classroom near you! 

Friends and Family Match - How it Works! 

Starting Monday, March 12th, teachers should direct friends and family to make donations using a special code to receive dollar for dollar matching donations. Matching will continue until 11:59pm EST on Monday, March 19th.
  • Donors must enter a special match code in the payment step (to be announced March 12th) in order to receive the match. (See where donors should enter the code)
    • Matching donations are automatic and should appear right away (you may need to refresh the page).
    • A maximum of $2,500 will be matched per donor.
    • We can’t match donations made in the days/weeks prior to the campaign.
    • If a project is fully funded before a donation can be fully matched, the remaining match funds will automatically be converted into a gift card for the donor. (Full details)
  • Donations paid for by check, gift card, or account credits are NOT eligible to be matched. The only exception is for donors who are spending account credits accrued because they are signed up for monthly recurring donations on our site (in that case, please contact our team and we'll manually award your match). Any donation made with a credit card using the match code (including payments via PayPal or Amazon Payments) will be matched.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Chair-less Music Classroom, Craving Creature Comforts

I have a confession to make..... I don't like teaching music with chairs in my room.  After my first two years of teaching where I tried daily to make chairs work for me, I finally decided that I liked the floor just fine and I've had music class on the floor ever since. The absence of chairs frees us up to quickly and easily go back and forth between seated and movement activities without a lot of fuss..... FUSS takes too much time!  Because I keep my chairs stacked in the corner for everything except choir, there are times over the years when I have wished for a way to make our "floor time" more comfortable while still maintaining the freedom of keeping the majority of my class open for movement. I've got a few ideas that are still brewing in m mind about how to help comfort meet convertibility but in the mean time I've got students who need teaching and who also have opinions.

One of the more opinionated groups that I teach is my little after school music listening club.  What an adventure in music listening and negotiation they have been. Who knew that 5th grade girls and 3rd grade boys could be in a class happily together?  Well, early on they decided that pillows would make listening to music at 4:30 p.m. each Thursday much more enjoyable. For about two seconds  I thought about letting them bring something from home, but then I remembered all this thinking that I've been doing about students comfort levels during "floor time" and it's relationship to the success of our listening and writing activities.  Soooooooooo I decided that maybe it was time for the chair-less music room to invest in a few creature comforts. That sounds like a project in need of a plan!

Priority #1 Whatever I acquired MUST be Inexpensive -I teach music and so most of my money goes to buying costume materials for grade level performances..... .

Priority #2 Easy to make - It wasn't long before I figured out that I wasn't going to find what I wanted in a store and although I know my way around a sewing machine, I'm no Martha Stewart!

Priority # 3 Easy to wash - I have a small washing machine, so I needed things that were both comfortable AND easy to wash, because I KNOW these will need regular washing!

My moment of inspiration came at Target earlier this week.  They had brightly colored hand towels on sale for $3.50

Since I already had almost 3 bags of polyester "stuffing" at home, I had an idea!

I didn't even take the time to turn them inside out!

I just  folded the towels in half .......

and then sewed up the 3 open sides.....ALMOST all the way around,  Don't forget to leave an open space for the stuffing.

Stuff the pillow with poly-fil and then sew closed the last little bit.


Fancier folks than me could have done a more complicated pillow, but I'm thrilled with these!

 I ended up with 10 BRIGHTLY colored, easy to wash pillows in under two hours.  I used two and a half bags of stuffing.

My favorite part is that these pillows are not really tightly packed.... so they will wash and DRY easily.

Although I try to be frugal, I am certain that some of you will be successful in finding hand towels MUCH cheaper than my $3.50.... however, I like these so much, I think I may go get some more for my house.... I've got bright colors there too.

I bet this would make a nice pet bed if you used a larger towel or two....

While this little project doesn't address ALL of my classroom comfort issues, I believe it is a start in the right direction.  Now my little listening club will be happy and after class I can throw them in my washing machine and that will make ME happy!

I don't plan on making these cool pillows common knowledge in my classroom   until I have time to make some more.... OR maybe I'll make a few of those  t "file crate chairs" that I've seen everywhere on Pinterest.
Click on the  "file crate" picture to go to the blog where I got this great idea!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

MelodySoup YUMMY Award! - The Cheese - by Margie Palatini

I am proud to present the very first MelodySoup "Yummy Award".  I call it the "Yummy Award" because when you read this very musical book with students it is a "Yummy" experience!


The first book to receive this award is  "The Cheese" by Margie Palatini.  This book is just AWESOME!  As part of my work with Education Through Music, I play "The Farmer in the Dell" with my students regularly.  In fact, EVERY time my kinder, 1st and 2nd grade students come to class, someone will ask, "Can we play farmer?"  No matter what else I am teaching, I almost always manage to fit in at least one round almost every lesson.  I think that THIS years kindergarten has played it every single day of music.  If you would like more information about how to play "The Farmer in the Dell" well enough that your students ask to play it again and again, please have a look at my ETM page.  

Because the song "The Farmer in the Dell" is near and dear to the hearts of my students, we can use it as a gateway to explore all types of learning in music, math, and language arts.  As we experience the musical elements of the song, because the song is so accessible, we also use it to practice making predictions, using ordinal numbers and patterns and each time we play we retell the story over and over again.  

Imagine the delight of my students when after playing "The Farmer in the Dell" for weeks and weeks, I pull out this book and let them tell me what they see.....  They are tripping over themselves to tell me the story!  This is a perfect book for children who "own" the story of the Farmer because it takes something that the students know and it extends it and re-arranges it into something new and exciting. You see, no one has ever told the story of "The Farmer in the Dell" from the perspective of the Rat before......  

Don't hold back!  Read this hilarious book with your older students also.... IF they know "The Farmer in the Dell"   Although not nearly as often, even my older students play "The Farmer in the Dell" so they are ready to compare and contrast this book not only to the game that they play but other books they have read. 

Did I mention that this is an incredibly funny book?  It's just hilarious and it's one of those books that adults can appreciate just as well as the children they read to.  This is one of the best books ever! 

Children's Books in Music: List 2: Children's books and John Denver

 The first time that I read "Sunshine on My Shoulder's" to students in one of  my classes was on a hot day in May.   I read to my first graders right after they bounded into music class, hot, sweaty and parched from recess on the first mildly hot day in May.

They came in huffing and puffing and needing to cool off before we could really get anything done, so on a whim, I grabbed a new book that I had purchased that weekend and off we went....

I pushed play on the CD and as soon as the first calming chord was strum a calm washed over the room like a cool stream.  The entire room became still and reflective.  Students who had been bouncing with questions and "urgent" requests, focused and students who moments before had cartwheeled and spun their way to the back of the room, clamored over and cuddled close, like a pile of wet puppies.

My hot, sweaty, distracted students were stunned into focus.  By the second chorus they were hesitantly singing along and by the third chorus, they owned the song.  As soon as the last note faded away one of my more rambunctious students raised his hand and said, "Teacher, that song give me cry! Again?!!!"

Of COURSE, we can do this song again!.....

Needless to say, I've loved this book ever since. Imagine my excitement when I realized that more of John Denver's Songs were available as children's books.  My favorite part about these songs as children's books is that the experiences they represent are universal.  Grandma's Feather Bed and "Take Me Home Country Road" are just as relate-able and children delight in these books because they have experiences that make these songs seem familiar even if it's the first time they've heard the song.

Download List 2 HERE:  Books inspired by the songs of John Denver

I have All of these books - but I have not used "For Baby" in class.  If you have used it.... how so?  What do you think?

I hope that this list is helpful!