Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Professional Collaboration - Gold Worth Every Penny!

When you are a music specialist - or art specialist..... or pretty much anything besides a regular classroom teacher it is sometimes hard to find really great opportunities for collaboration because in many cases, no one that you come into regular contact with is doing what you are doing.

If you are blessed enough to have a co-teacher of any kind, whether they are there all day, or just half-day...... enjoy the time you spend collaborating with them because it is a rare gift that in these days of constant budget cuts, may become extinct.... (which would really break my heart)  Over the last 13 years I have been blessed to work with 4 different music teachers.  Some of whom I worked with all day as we were both full time and others were only at my school for a half day.  Each one, like me, brought their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses with them into the classroom. As we worked together through the success of a  large production or  when we leaned on each other so that we could limp through a difficult day, I can honestly say that through the good days and bad,  no one has ever influenced my teaching more than these folks..... simply because we spent a good portion of our time together "talking shop".

The reality is that our best teaching is not done in isolation and even if you are in a situation where you don't have someone one your campus doing your same job, you simply must find another teacher   with whom you can share ideas and solve problems. Never underestimate the power of a team made up of all the "specialists".  Some of my very best and most helpful instructional "pow-wows" have been with the art teachers, p.e. teachers, librarians, counselors, and homeroom teachers on my campus.  In fact, I depend on my team of "block specials" so very much!  They are my very favorite people and they make my job wonderful.
But -
I have to tell you, something that you already know.  Having a chance to collaborate with folks who live your subject area day in and day out just like you is a precious gift.  When you get to interact with a professional learning community of people who know your subject as well as you do, it is a thrill to be able to slip into "music" short-hand.  It is a relief to make a statement like... "This song highlights low sol -do."  or, " I found this great ostinato..."  and not have to translate for yourself.

Both types of groups, (my campus "specialist" team AND my music teacher pals)  are needed!  Otherwise I am missing out on an essential part of my professional development.

Today I was reminded of how powerful collaboration can be because I attended a planning meeting for our district music in-service.  In-service days are always at a high premium around here and there have been some years where we music teachers have only had a half day to plan with fellow music teachers.  Imagine our excitement when we were given the chance to plan for an ENTIRE day this coming August!  We divided up into teams to plan various portions of the day and today was the day that my group met to plan our part.

Can I just tell you that we had a BLAST!

I got to meet with 3 other ladies who even though we've never taught together we've known each other for years.  Initially we said that we'd plan our little section of the day in about 45 minutes......After all, it is summer.... AND we only had to plan 2 hours of an all day event....How long can it take?  Well, we arrived at 9:00 a.m. and were still happily sharing ideas and shaping the time we will spend together  at noon.  We finally decided to go to lunch and we continued to "talk shop" till after 2:00!

Now I must admit that a good chunk of that time we spent together was time spent catching up.... I hadn't seen two of my friends since LAST August!  So there was plenty of catching up to do.  Nevertheless, I can honestly say that I wouldn't have been nearly as creative in my thinking about our "lesson" had I not had the opportunity to collaborate with these wonderful ladies.

The amazing thing was that even though we all had a pretty unified idea about what our goals and objectives were, our approach was quite varied and when it came time to choose repertoire, I was seriously impressed because although we've been teaching the same subject for all of these years, using the same TEKS and curriculum our bag of tools is as unique as we are.  As we were choosing songs, I was amazed at the number of songs I had never heard before! The best part was that we were able to gel the ideas together so that there was room for all of the best work.  When all of our ideas were collected, it was MUCH easier to prioritize because we weren't limited to just the ideas we could come up with on our own.   Often you hear administrators and academic coaches talking about finding the "experts on your team".  I think today was a perfect example of that type of planning.  We all brought our best to the meeting, and our August day together will be better for it.

I was so refreshed, encouraged and ready for a great start to a new school year that I was actually challenged to remember to advocate for my time with my co-teacher.  We NEED that time together so that we are truly on the same page.... If you are like me, that time of real collaboration is the first thing that gets set aside when life at school gets busy. Furthermore, I was challenged to be more diligent to seek the opportunities for collaboration outside of my own school, because experiences like I had today are like gold.  Today will "buy" me a whole lot of good teaching because the time was precious and worth every penny :)

Monday, June 25, 2012

MelodySoup YUMMY! Award June 2012 - Froggie Went a Courtin' by Iza Tripani

June 2012

What a fun book to read and sing with students! This book is especially useful when you are already using a version of the original folk song as part of your instruction.  I've used this book with kinder through 5th grade with great success but I find that I use it most often with 3rd grade.  When I read it with students I have them echo the last two words of each stanza on sol-do.  Because this book is an adaptation, in most cases I want my students to be familiar with one or two versions of the original folk song before I read this book.  With that in mind, this book is a nice contrast to the version of the folk song and game used by  Education Through Music as well versions I have heard primarily from my textbook adoption.  Additionally there are several old books that contain great versions of the folk song.  One of my favorite things to do with 3rd grade after we've studied the song for a while is to act it out while we sing it. It's great!  

This book would fit nicely into lessons dealing with the following ideas:
  • Songs that emphasis (sol-do)
  • Ballads
  • Stanza
  • Folk song development and change (when compared with older versions of the song and book)
  • making predictions - language arts

My list of book lists that I need to create is getting extensive, but I'm hoping that I'll have a "Froggy" book list available for download before too long.... so keep coming back to MelodySoup to check it out. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Organization and Procedures for Recorder

Purchasing recorders - I sell recorders every year.  At my old school, where I taught for 10 years, everyone purchased their own recorder.... Each year the school would provide a recorder for maybe 5-6 students who didn't have the means to purchase their own.   At my current school where I have taught for 3 years, I have never had more than 30% of my students purchase recorders, which leaves the school to provide the other 70%.  I am glad to say that because of donorschoose.org I have been able to acquire 2 full grade levels worth of recorders.  This means that everyone in 4th and 5th grade can be assigned a recorder for their individual use throughout the entire school year and I don't have to spend my time disinfecting recorders in between classes..... My older grades typically have 6 homerooms.  I am happy to say that this summer donorschoose.org provided an additional set of recorders so now instead of having 5 colors, I will have 6..... this will make things MUCH easier! When ordering recorders from donorschoose.org you are limited to the selection found with the woodwind brasswind company as they are the sole music vendor for donorschoose.org.  I am a big fan of both the Peripole Angel recorder and the Aulos soprano recorder, but in this case I will admit that the ease of organizing the recorders by color outweighed my preference in tone quality.  

Organization and Procedures

Assigning Recorders:   I have a Promethean board.  So, as soon as I get my class rosters in the fall  I put the names of my students into a flip chart like this.  I project it up on the wall.  The number next to their name is their recorder number. Since being at my current school I have had a few classes larger depending on how the block rotation works, AND I am at a school with a high mobility rate..... So, keeping this chart as a flip chart is VERY handy.  As we use the flip chart and as students move away, I can either write the corrections right on the board, or type them quickly. When my half-time co-teacher and I were both using recorders, it was easy to print out.  At least for the beginning of the year, before I've got the class dynamics figured out, this chart also serves as a way to organize students into small groups for centers..... My favorite part is that everyone can see the chart, so it makes passing out recorders so much faster!  It wasn't long before my students had not just memorized their own numbers, but they also knew the everyone else's. 

Labeling Recorders: I'm a big fan of using what is on hand and last fall, THESE were the labels I had on hand.  As you know, we have no way of knowing for sure WHO is actually going to be at school on the first day, so all I did before school started was to make sure that each recorder of a particular color had a sticker with a number (1-30).  I placed the sticker on the back underneath the head joint.    THEN when the students showed up and it was time to actually play, I wrote their first name and last initial o the sticker with a fine tip sharpie.  I found through the year that I liked the large round stickers because since they didn't wrap around the entire recorder, they were out of sight out of mind and I didn't have anyone pulling them off.

Storing Recorders: THIS container is the perfect size for a class set of recorders. I tape the teachers name in book tape on the outside.  My favorite part about these bins is how much faster students can put away their recorder when they just have to dump them in the box..... It means that we can keep playing for a little longer because the recorders are so easy to put away. I have two of these shelves.  I keep ALL of 4th grade on these two shelves in the Sterilite containers.  5th grade fits in my Wenger cabinets.  
Sterilite 16 quart container
ClosetMaid 31" Vertical Shelf

Recorder Captains:  I assign two or three students to serve as Recorder Captains. I've found that it is easier to work into a routine if the same students serve as captains for a longer period of time. The students who do this job get very fast.

Eternal Optimism - Things I hope to accomplish for the fall. 

3 inch shapes from Teacher Heaven
  1. I keep an entire class set in a sterilite container.  In order to shave off some of the time it takes to pass our recorders out, I am considering placing sets of recorders (numbers 1-5, 6-10.....etc.) in gallon bags.  Through our district warehouse I am able to get gallon bags that are slightly longer than ziplocs. IF the recorders in their pouches fit in the gallon bags, then I will tape each groups corresponding shape on the front for quick identification.  If I am able to try this, then I'll have 5--6 recorder captains and each captain will pass out 5-6 recorders. The more I think about that idea, the more I like it.....
  2. I hope to add 9x12 envelopes labeled with shapes to keep our recorder music. I have a class set of method books, but often the pieces that we actually prepare for performance are from Music Express or Music K-8.... so I end up with lots of loose recorder music running around the room.  If I add the envelopes, THEN it would be easier for students to find their music.  Since we take notes on our recorder music, I think I like that idea.......
I'm an eternal optimist about what I believe I can get done..... If I ACTUALLY get this accomplished, I will certainly post my success, because I will be somewhat surprise.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

MelodySoup YUMMY! Award - May 2012 Twinkle Twinkle Little Star by Iza Trapani

I realized the other day that not only has it been quite some time since I last blogged, but that in the rush of ending the school year, I forgot to give a YUMMY! Award for the month of May.....so I'll give an award for May today and hopefully give one for June sometime next week.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star by Iza Tripani


I LOVE this book!  It is simply mesmerizing.  I first came across this book when my co-teacher Meredith Leblanc got a copy from the scholastic book orders about 12 years ago.  Her copy came with a VERY sweet recording (on tape) that was just so very sweet.  The instrumentation was very well done with changing meter and it was sung in a great key.  If you are lucky enough to come across one of those old Scholastic tapes, then snag it quick!  I've tried to find one and to date have been unsuccessful..... However, I used it enough with students that even now when I read the book, I automatically change meters when the tape did.....

There are a couple of used copies of the scholastic book & tape but the starting price is $45.00...... see I told you it was good..... so like I said, if you find one, keep it and back it up digitally for that inevitable day when your tape bites the dust.....

A few years later I found another irreplaceable treasure! This is just so fun to use in my classes where their English is limited.