Friday, April 20, 2012

MelodySoup YUMMY! Award! - April 2012 BIRDS by Kevin Henkes

Drum roll please...........

The April 2012 YUMMY Award!  goes to........

"Birds" by written by Kevin Henkes and Illustrated by Laura Dronsek

What a delight it is to read this with children!  There are so many songs about birds and if you sing any of them, then THIS is a book that you should include in your collection.  For me, this book comes out after my students have played songs like "Bluebird" or "Here Comes a Pretty Bird" or "Fly Away Little Birdie"..... 

The BEST part of this book is the simplicity of the text when combined with the bold illustrations.  This is one of those books that my students ask for again and enjoy every time.  It's THAT good! 

I first heard of this book while taking a class on literacy development in children taught by the Richards Institute of Education and Research.  For more information about their course offerings, please feel free to visit ETM

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Patriotic Songs and the Kitchen Sink!

I tend to teach patriotic music in the late spring because the vocabulary  and often the melodies  for most of the songs are rather advanced.  By waiting until the late spring, I share these super fun songs with my students when they are the oldest they will be all year long.  By the time we sing these songs, they have a good habit of reading words, singing melodies and reading rhythms.  Plus, they will be prepared to sing all of our patriotic songs in time for summer fireworks and baseball.  I like to use all sorts of ways to get these songs into my students.
I have created lots of my own power point presentations using free clip art from either msnclipart OR  stock.xchngstock.xchng  but creating your own presentations from scratch for every song is very time consuming.  I have found really great presentations of songs using powerpoint  VERY useful!

Especially the Fifty Nifty United States! powerpoint created by Linda Barnhart

However, my two FAVORITE things to use are BOOKS! and CENTERS!

Last year I while checking the musicbulletinboards site for updates I happily discovered these REALLY awesome centers for the Star Spangled Banner!  Tracy King did an awesome job when she created these gems!  They are reasonably priced and worth every penny.  They are awesome because they are simple and they are fabulous because all I had to do was PRINT!  I've used them with my students this week and they have worked VERY well!  I'm a fan of supporting great work, so ya'll go support this music teacher by purchasing her excellent materials!

When using books to teach patriotic songs you can never have enough because each version brings it's own charm.  Also, I don't tend to be one of those teachers who can resolve to assign a specific set of songs to each grade level and stick with it.  Because I'm afraid I'll forget something,or they will move away and they'll leave my school and miss something entirely, I tend to introduce songs earlier than may be typical and we just make sure and sing them every year.  Because I am crazy enough to teach really "too hard" songs to my younger students, books are the very best way to crack open the meaning of the songs to my young learners.

 You're right! My  kinder students who sing "America the Beautiful" at kinder graduation might not have a clue what they are singing about..... BUT when we revisit "their" song in first and second grade, they have a ton of "aha" moments...... I'm going for the  "long haul" pay-off.

By that time, my big kids are ready to really analysis the musical elements and meaning of songs they've known "all their lives".

A nice song to add to 5th grade patriotic music is "Song of Peace" in the Macmillan textbook.   The melody is "Finlandia" by Jean Sibelius  The lyrics speak of  the worth of each country and how each country is worthy of celebration.  Very nice indeed!

Here are some wonderful Patriotic song books that I've been using for years.  Some of these are so well loved that it is time for me to replace them.
Katherine Bates, author, - Wendell Minor, illustrator

Scholastic paperback
Scholastic paperback

These are books that I would dearly enjoy having in my classroom and hope to acquire sooner or later.

Public Domain, George M. Cohan Composer, Norman Rockwell, Illustrator
Patricia A. Pingry
Katherine Bates, Neil Waldman Illustrator

There are MANY MANY more!  In fact the list is so extensive I'll probably do another post on patriotic books just so that I can keep track of what I would like..... As my momma says, There is NOTHING wrong with my "wanter".

This spring I was able to get a large number of books from  I was happy to discover this beautiful series of books!  I have two of these and hope for the other three soon.  I taught with them today and it and they were a great hit.   In kindergarten we had a great time counting the stars on the flag for "You're A Grand Old Flag" because every page had a flag with even MORE stars.  Then the "Star Spangled Banner Book" has the BEST illustrations for dawn and twilight I've yet to see.  What better way to teach those words than with the "right" picture!

Marsha Qualey  did a wonderful job!


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

From Wild to Mild - calming a new class every 45 minutes

If you've been teaching music for long, you've noticed that often, it's those first few moments of each class where you and your students establish the success or failure of your lesson.  Snagging the attention of students as they come in is essential.  I currently teach classes that last 45 minutes.  I have a few students who depending on circumstances could take a full 30-45 minutes to finally transition into music class meaning that my entire class time COULD be spent with this student or that student actively sabotaging our learning .... UNLESS, I can peak their interest just long enough to if not fully engage them, then to at least transition them from active sabotage to interested observation.

Learning how to read my students at the door is critical. I've got lessons that I am excited to share with my students, but if they don't come in ready to receive them, then all my "good" teaching will fall on deaf ears and closed minds....... SO!

The following paragraphs contain some of my every day practices as I am trying to increase the time my students spend on task.

Practice #1 - greetings!
I don't ALWAYS get this accomplished, and boy, when I don't I pay a huge price, but my lessons ALWAYS go better when I can greet my students at the door and get a read on how they are doing. When all is right with the world, I get a chance to exchange a word or two with the homeroom teacher, meet new students and give brief instructions to the incoming class.

Practice #2 - play!

ETM (Education Through Music)
Through my study with the Richards Institute, (Summer Colloquium is coming up!)  It would be a great time to begin studying with a great group of folks who care about children!  
I have had the opportunity to observe lots of children and and the role and effect that play has on the ability of the child to learn.  I use the wonderful work of "ETM" every day in my class to "grab" the attention of students through playing song experience games.  I highly recommend the study of Education Through Music to anyone who has the opportunity to interact with children whether your interaction be as a parent, family member or teacher.

ETM has a collection of songs that I play with my students at the beginning of each lesson. OFTEN, the song literature from ETM is intentionally my entire lesson, but even when I teach with other materials, the song literature and attitude of play embodied in the song experiences of ETM have a huge presence in every aspect of my classroom.

For example, my kindergarten this year has played the song experience game "the Farmer in the Dell" EVERY SINGLE music class, rain or shine, Halloween, Christmas or Easter.  When I greet them at the door, they very faithfully tell me who the farmer is and they immediately and without my prompting sit in a circle and we begin to play.  This happened because when I introduced the song at the beginning of the year, they found it to be so playful and interesting  that they wanted to do it again.  Rather than steamroll past their request to play a favorite game in order to get to "my lesson" I encourage them and play WITH them and as a result, we create a whole lot more room in our class time together for "my" new material. They are motivated to do it again and the routine is highly reassuring to them so they come in ready to play AND learn.  Plus, as an added bonus, the time they used to spend bemoaning their lack of a turn on a given activity is reduced significantly because they have learned to trust in "next time".

Practice #3 -  accept!
I have a pet peeve that will surprise none of the music teachers reading my blog.  My students don't always have a bathroom break before they come to music. UHGGGG!  The way our schedule works it is easier for some homerooms to fit it in than others.  Plus, we all know from personal experience that it is very difficult to attend to ANYTHING no matter how intriguing  if we find ourselves in need of a bathroom.  So I have been working on accepting what I cannot change.  I am learning to accept the fact that my door will always be a revolving one and that I will almost never have an entire class at one time and that I will ALWAYS have to repeat instructions to students who were otherwise occupied.  I'm almost over it...... it's a good thing that May is coming...
I will admit that I find it most difficult to accept this reality when 6 students simultaneously ask to go to the bathroom when they have been standing outside my door waiting for music class to begin while standing in a  statuesque line for the last ten minutes.... so in the fall, I will be placing a sign outside my door that says something like "Here Early?"  "Go the the bathroom!" or something.... I don't know.

Practice #4 - chill!
There is nothing more challenging than afternoon classes. K-5, if they are the last class of the day, they will be the most challenging.  A perfect day for me would be one where my conference time was at the end of the day so that I could avoid that last 45 minutes with children all together.  At our school, the last class of the day is also a different grade level every day, and they come with their backpacks.  Backpacks = "school is over".... My students are hot, tired and thirsty and they have been irritating each other all day long.  At times like this I have a few strategies that I use depending on how the group reads when they walk in.

If they seem restless I might.....

  • Play a BIG game - a known game with lots of gross motor movement, probably an ETM game like Oats Peas Beans or Going Down the Railroad
  • Move to a listening selection like Stars and Stripes Forever
  • Act out a known song experience game like Old Grumbler
If they seem tired I might.....
  • Hand out a listening map and either listen in a whole group with lights low or in small groups with ipod touches and headphones
If they seem hot and sweaty from recess I might.....

  •   read a book while they chill and take turn getting water. 
THESE are the books that do a great job of helping my students transition from WILD to mild without a lot of fuss.  I purposely don't include them in any particular lesson so that I can toss them in as needed. 
About 12 years ago Scholastic published a tape and book version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star that was just lovely.  I am very interested in finding that truly beautiful recording if it is still available somewhere. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Early Composition Work

It's that time of year when novelty and creativity are the key to happy students and teachers.  Everyone is weary of the year and ready for summer.  Yet, summer is a VERY long way off.  So it's at this time of year when I pull out every trick I can think of in order to keep my students on task and learning something that will make them a little more musically literate every day.

I'm busy enough that I don't have time for a long post, but then, all of the teachers I know are too busy to read a long post, so I'm going to let my picture speak for me today.  

This time of year, stores like Hobby Lobby stock a TON of summer craft items at really low prices and it's a great time to stock up on items that you can throw into your manipulative bag of tricks when your lessons need a little spice.  

I recently came across, a good price on that foam board stuff, pipe cleaners, puffy balls and Popsicle sticks.  Someone somewhere on your campus already has all of these things, and they are just crying out to be used...... When I got these materials out for my kinder and first grade students to work with this week, I knew I had a big hit.  They were thrilled to show me what they knew as they practiced being composers.  It was so much fun! 

kinder demonstrating high, medium and low

We added a line, but we found that the little puffs didn't want to
stay on the line.... I decided not to use pipe cleaners in following lessons
Here they showed which sound happened first, second and third, the high medium or low sound

We collected several patterns and at this point kinder students chose which
pattern to use, then we sang each pattern in turn.....Here you see a high high low, low, high high and
then a high low high pattern

in first grade we added Popsicle sticks and used sol and mi to create new music

Next time I'll use yarn for the lines because it doesn't hold it's bent shape
I think that the students will have an easier time keeping it straight. 

This first grader wanted a rest at the end and improvised one even though
I had only passed out four sticks.  

I ordinarily just have one size stick, but the small ones make great bars!
Having two different sized sticks makes it more interesting. :)