Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My "Thoughtful" To-Do list for the Spring 2012

Here is a list that I hope will be true for me as I end my school year number 13.

List of things to throw out 

1.  Negative opinions (especially about children that I will get to teach next year.) - We've all had those students that are on our radar (with good reason) all year long..... now is the time to hit the delete button.  We are some of the lucky teachers who get to teach those precious kids over a long stretch of time. If we let them, children can use their resiliency to change and we will be so much happier if we can greet them next fall with a smile and a heart full of hope.

2. Great ideas that feel tired - Maybe it was the best idea I've ever had and it was great 5 years ago, but today is a new day and these students that I will get next year are new students, so I don't have to do things the same way twice just because it's more comfortable for me

3. Words misspoken - No one is perfect all of the time and especially at this time of year even the most professional of professionals is at risk of letting their unprofessionalism show by becoming a little unprofessional in their speech. Ya'll know that at this time of year we see both the best and "not so best" of our colleagues and ourselves. What better time to use a little more self control? What better time to extend grace?  So I'm gonna get over those "word hurdles" that steal my joy and I'm going to forgive and forget the  words "misspoken".

List of  things to keep

1. Purpose - My job - like most of yours is not for the faint of heart. I am here because this is where I am called to be.  The Lord has confirmed this truth to me over the last few months and I will hang onto the "right now" of His calling on my life.

2. Passion - I will not be lazy, or half hearted, or passive, or absent.  Instead I will be fully present and I will pursue this job as a spiritual act of worship.

3. Perspective  - Relationships with people are more important than any task I may undertake.  What I believe is important in a given moment may not ultimately be essential.  People are priceless, everything else is just gravy.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Room Set-up - Where I started 2011-2012 - notes for next year

I found these pictures the other day and realized that they were from the beginning of this year.  I enjoyed looking at how my room started at the beginning of the year.  I can look back now and make notes about what worked well and what I ended up changing mid year.  Due to my developing interest in blogs and pinterest, I've got LOADS of ideas for this coming year.  I hope this post helps me to keep track of what I've decided to change.

This bulletin board worked great all year!  I was able to use the schedule
and the "secret song" cards were great puzzles for students who were waiting to come into music.

I don't have much wall space in my room, so I decided to put my musical elements just outside
the door.  This actually worked better than I thought it would.  My students waiting to come in or waiting to be picked up regularly referenced the material and it wasn't prohibitive to have students reference this material as needed during class. 

"cool off spot" and student stash area.  My students are often coming to and from lunch or library, so it is nice to have an area for them to stash their stuff. 

This area didn't really work at all because this is where my students line up to leave.  I need a different adhesive if I intend to use this area as a display area.  I'm thinking about pocket charts on over the door hooks for next year.... we'll see... I'm still planning

Since this picture was taken I got even more books from AND organizational stuff from  LAKESHORE.... my library is a work in progress that I hope will be a more involved post very soon.  I also have VERY little board space, so I experimented with ways to best utilize the space.... stay tuned for new and improved ways to use the space.   The pocket chart was used all year. 

Ultimately this area ended up being my "real" desk.  I ended up moving my "real" desk into this corner by October

This desk area has become the "student traffic" area. I want to organize it differently, but it has turned out to be the best area for things like recorders and pencils and other student materials. 

I didn't end up keeping my chairs there. for very long.  This corner still needs lots of work.  It's my "I don't know" corner.  I'm hoping that I'll be struck by inspiration this summer. 

This is my "real" desk.  Ultimately I put this desk under my computer and then I put a long table in it's place because I still needed the desk space to work.  

I have a centers chart and a job chart.  I experimented with different ways to use these charts and I think I've finally gotten a handle on how to use them.  I look forward to a future post that includes an improved way of mounting these charts in a way that they aren't so easily disturbed..... maybe hot glue..... :) 

Thank You! - Encouraging a Culture of Appreciation Through Music

If your school is anything like mine, it might sometimes feel that you are running through your school days, long on need and short on solution. In schools like ours, the needs that our students bring with them to school are daunting at best and often feel insurmountable.......

But then, through the help of parents, teachers, community members, support organizations, donations, social workers, counselors, and hours of hard work  and elbow grease, physical needs and emotional needs are attended to and learning takes place.    Nothing can solve a problem like a person and when it comes to the folks who support our schools we really don't know what we would do without them!

With such awesome support, it's always the right time to say Thank You! But it's at this time of year when most of us become more intentional about our showing our gratitude.  So I thought I'd share a few of the reasons and ways that my students get to say "Thank You" this year! 
One of our recent projects!
Because my classroom has benefited so greatly from, my students are now accustomed to writing "Thank You" notes and now instead of explaining WHY we must say "Thank You", I get to visit with my students about how to best express gratitude.  I LOVE having that conversation!  The more they write the "Thank You" notes, the more original and heart felt they have become.

Volunteer Appreciation Lunch

Nothing says "thank you" like a little food, and some great music.  I was thrilled to be able to have a group of 2nd grade students sing for our Volunteer Appreciation Lunch.May is a very busy time of year, so I try to keep things simple.We sang "You're A Grand Old Flag" which we've most recently been singing patriotic music.We sang "Everybody Has Music Inside" which was a song that we performed for an "informance" in early April.  Finally, we added "We Appreciate You!" - Music K-8, Teresa Jennings which is a great very simple high energy "Thank You" Song.

Appreciation Party

My choir students benefited from some extreme volunteering this year!  We had a HUGE choir and not only did I have some other teachers volunteer their time, I had accompanists who provided their support for FREE!!!!!!  Needless to say, my choir had MUCH to be grateful for.  So as part of our end of year party we had what I called a party of appreciation.    While the kids were munching, we made a list of ALL of the folks who had helped us.  The assignment was to create a "Thank You" note for everyone.  After we made our list, we realized that writing all of those notes would be quite an event.  Luckily for us, we had one more meeting after our official party, so that last day, was the official "appreciation day"  Next year, I'll have appreciation day first and then the party.  I really didn't know how long it would take.  In any case, they really enjoyed making the cards for everyone and I was amazed at how creative students can be with simple markers and ordinary paper.


We always include music at our graduations.  I always choose songs that have a grateful element in them.

During the kindergarten graduation we will sing

"You Are My Sunshine"

"We Appreciate You" - Music K-8, Teresa Jennings

"This Land is Your Land"

For 5th grade graduation I've written a song that I have dedicated to the class of 2012.  I've written these songs each year that I've been at this school.  This coming fall I hope to have a school song selection where students and staff choose the song that they would most like to have as their school song.  An important element of each of these songs is gratitude.  I want to make sure that the lyrics reflect an attitude of appreciation for all of the folks who contribute to our school.

The right song is the perfect way to express the gratitude of an entire group and a Thank You note is always appropriate.  As teachers who teach the whole school, we can have a huge impact on our campus culture as we provide opportunities for students to practice appreciation.

How do you teach your students to say "Thank You"?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reflections on a 4th grade "informance"

A few years ago I had the chance to work with a really great teaching artist by the name of Becky Valls.   You can find out more about how amazing she is at  Becky Valls  For pictures of some of her work with and for students, go to teaching.  I met her through our campus fine arts integration grant.  We actually had the funds to provide "artists in residence" from Young Audiences of Houston for each grade level teacher to work with.  Becky is one of the best teaching artists I've ever known so we kept her quite busy.

One of her favorite ways to demonstrate what the children were learning through dance and movement was to invite students and parents to attend an "informance".  I believe that this term is original with her and I have loved the idea ever since.

After seeing such beautiful informances created and directed by Becky Valls, the word "informance" quite naturally became part of my vocabulary.  Here are a few ideas about "informances" that I think about when planning one.

1.  An "informance" is slightly less formal than a performance and intended to "inform" the audience about what learning is taking place.

2.  An "informance" is process based rather than product based, so rather than rehearse to the point of total student independence, you will see a little more obvious teacher facilitation through narration or through overt stage direction.   Remember - process, not a final product!

3. An "informance"  is almost like a snapshot of something cool you are doing in your classroom that might otherwise stay locked within the walls of your classroom.

4.  An "informance" is a great place to experiment and try new things that you might like to include in future formal performances.

5.  An "informance" is a time where entertainment takes a back seat to content.  Everyone enjoys a truly entertaining and delightful performance and kids learn LOADS from those polished experiences, but they learn just as much from simple accountability of presenting their process.

6.  If a major formal production is a final exam, then an "informance" is a quiz with an audience.

7.  An "informance" should teach the audience something they might not know.

A couple of months ago, my 2nd grade students did an "informance" for their parents as an introduction to choral singing, riser etiquette and audience etiquette. I use this first 2nd grade "informance" to teach students and parents alike about musical performances.  As a result, we are working on standing tall and not talking on top of the music and being still and safe on the risers.    We set up risers in the library and then moved the library tables out of the way.  The entire 2nd grade learned their music, and choreography and had the chance to "inform" their parents about good singing and performance habits.  All of the songs were about the love of music and singing.  The "informance" was on a random Monday afternoon and because of the pure joy that 2nd grade brings to singing and because of the intimate setting in the library it was probably my favorite musical event of the year. We had a great turn out and the entire thing was over in about 25 minutes.

Today, my 4th graders presented an "informance" for their parents.  I wanted to share with them what 4th grade had been working on for the spring semester that was unique to 4th grade.    This year, my old standbys were to sing a song and to play recorder. We experimented by using  using boomwhackers in public.  Based on today's "informance"  I can get an idea of what it might be like to have something more formal, integrated and polished using boomwhackers. 

All of the recorder and boomwhacker songs that we used came from either Music Express Magazine or Music K-8 Magazine.  Our partner song came from Spotlight on Music 4th grade...

What made it really nice was that because 4th grade falls during the part of the day when my co-teacher Ella Scozzafava is on campus, we were able to divide and conquer.  She taught all of the boomwhacker songs and I taught recorder  The format of the concert was my idea, but she really did the lion's share of the prep work by creating the flyers that went home and the program.  We worked together on choosing the music and creating rehearsal CDs.

We all played 1 song on recorder. "Recorders Rock" from Music Express Magazine

Each class played one song on boomwhackers "lots of boomwhacker songs from Music Express Magazine and Music K-8 Magazine respectively

We sang Don't Let the Music Stop from Spotlight on Music.

No props, no backdrop, no decorations,  no costumes, fewer rehearsals, day time performances only.

Things I liked about the "informance" today:
1.  There was MUCH less stress than a formal performance.
2. I liked the accountability and ownership each class had on their one "special" song.
3.  I liked the way that the boomwhackers provided another avenue for ensemble.
3. My students felt successful and were proud of their progress..... throughout the day, 4th graders made a point to come and tell me how well they thought they played and sang.
4. I had great support from other teachers.

Things to consider for next time:
1. I've got to figure out how to stabilize their singing when they play boomwhackers. I have great singers in 4th grade, and each class knew their song, but their singing didn't show up until we were singing their partner song. Playing and singing is always harder than just doing one or the other..... we must work on doing both!

2.  I am not currently happy with my approach to teaching recorder and consider myself in transition.  I think I can do better.   I'll probably blog more about my plans for next years recorder instruction over the summer, but I'm hoping that if I tweak a couple of things, I may be able to help my students advance more quickly.  I had some students who never missed a note and who could read their music like a pro.  I had some who can either play the recorder or read the notes, but synthesizing the two skills was a  REAL challenge, so they usually give up on one or the other, AND I had some who were lost with a capitol Q!  I've got to fix recorders, I've got to fix recorders! I've got to fix recorders!  

3.  We had an audience, but it was VERY small considering the number of students involved.  I think perhaps the afternoon is a better than in the morning.  I also like the library better than the cafeteria for this type of event.

4.  I would like the students to be "teachers" and to inform the parents and other students of what they are doing.  When that happens, THEN, we'll have a real "informance".

5.  I would like my 4th graders especially to have a look at some ETM songs as part of how we show parents what we are doing.  Our song experience games are a large part of what we do, but I haven't yet found the "just right" way to share those experiences with our families.

One of my favorite parts about teaching is NEXT YEAR!  I love that each year as I'm wrapping up the end of the year, my brain is busy busy busy with plans and projects. Sometimes I think that for me, summer is just a chance for me to create more work for myself in the fall!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Education Through Music - Reflections on a London Bridge

This post is specifically intended to illicit some feedback from my ETM friends.....

I typically stick with the safe tried and true ETM song experiences that I KNOW will work and that I feel very comfortable playing....

Over the years, I've tried different ways of approaching the play of London Bridge....  and although they all had some measure of success, I've always felt that the play was a little beyond my students OR I wasn't satisfied with the way that I facilitated the play..... so I just stopped including it.  

The other day one of my students began  singing London Bridge and I thought.... well, it's been a few years....maybe the time is right to try again..... so on the spur of the moment, remembering my past less than ideal experiences with the song, I decided to change things up and observe what would happen.

Here is what I did with the children on Friday and today.

Through the play of another game we found ourselves in a standing circle.

I turned to one of my student neighbors and we made a bridge.

I then started singing and the children started walking under the bridge.

If no one was caught, play resumed after "my fair lady".  If one was caught, then we would "take the key" and after locking them up, we set them free..... If two people were caught then play resumed after "off to prison" during which time the prisoners formed a new bridge.

It is not long before there are several bridges and only a few pedestrians...but by adding more bridges, the pedestrians don't seem to need to run or push..... also, so far, there hasn't been a problem with the children trying to get caught or not trying to get caught.... it just happens.  In fact the pacing seemed to be just right for my 2nd graders none of whom had ever played the game before.... many of whom were learning the song for the very first time.

I THINK that this may be a nice structure because my 2nd graders were able to joyfully sustain it for almost the entire class.  They kept asking to do it again.  As they were leaving, I actually heard them make plans to resume their play at recess.....

It is for this reason that I'd like my fellow ETM folk to have a look at it and see what happens.

Like I said, I would truly like some of you to try out this game structure and let me know how it works for you.

For more information about ETM, check our my Education Through Music page!

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Busy Busy Busy! 
I like to post about once a week on this blog.  However, it's been a while and because of all that is up these days it will probably be a little while longer before I post again.  Here are a few of the things that I've been up to for the last few weeks:

April 16:  my 2nd graders performed a little choral "informance" for their parents - BEST performance to date at this school....
April 22-27: our round of state testing - Ya'll know that's always a difficult week
April 27-28: last session of Education Through Music - VERY refreshing and so much fun!
May 1: 4th and 5th grade choir and guitar ensemble concert - BEST singing yet - no air conditioning!
May 2: school district elementary choir festival - BEST behavior! I was so proud of my students! - GREAT experience!

In the very near future here is what I will be up to:

May 11: Songs of Hope Concert - Concert of original music that I've written - I've been working REALLY hard on this - I'll be glad when it finally arrives!
May 16: 4th grade "informance" for boom-whackers and recorders - making progress ever day!
May 28-May 29th: 5th grade and Kindergarten "Graduation" - coming along nicely

Sprinkled in all over the place I have rehearsals for an upcoming mission trip to Brazil and of course, the end of school.... grades, packing, organizing and planning for next year....

Today the plan was to do laundry and get the 5th grade graduation song recorded.....after church I decided that I was over due for a hair cut..........My hair dresser had just made her first cut when she asked me "Did you know that you have lice?"...... um no..... I wouldn't be getting my hair cut if I knew I had lice!

The thing is that I've been itchy for a while so a few weeks ago I  went in to our school nurse to receive my fairly regular, "lice check"..... When she told me that I didn't have lice, I was relieved! I've never had lice before, but as I work with the entire school I'm always careful...... I continued to itch, so I went to my doctor who also told me that I did not have lice.... I spent $80.00 on a prescription moose and got some relief.........The medication did help, so I thought it was a matter of time before things go better..... Of course my hair dresser told me that this happens all the time and she even finished cutting my hair, so I gave her a really big tip!

Having lice totally blew my entire day.  I have been cleaning like a mad woman and my friend Nancy came over to help me with my hair because as hard as I try I can't see the back of my head well enough to comb through it looking for critters....

Now that I have gotten far enough through the "lice be gone" process to quit hyperventilating every time I think about it, I am grateful for good friends and I am grateful that I figured it out on a weekend when I was able to be home long enough to get the lion's share of the work done.

Future Posts:
Here are some things that I am looking forward to examining in future posts

  • Math and Music - I came up with some ideas I'd like to share
  • Mac and PC - how to save things in such a way that they can be shared cross platform
  • Music interdisciplinary word walls
  • digital portfolios
  • music classroom library organization
  • student use of FINALE notepad

As you see I've got lots and lots and lots of music ideas to share!  Keep visiting the blog!