Saturday, October 27, 2012

October - The "scary" realities of a busy music teacher

I haven't had time to blog like I planned during the month of October because apparently this year October is the perfect storm of crazy busy and I haven't had a moment to spare until now.

Limeades for Learning which is a funding partnership between Sonic and  was moved from August and September to October!!!!  YIKES!  During Limeades for Learning I turn into a Sonic crazed fiend, sniffing out votes and potential voters with rabid determination.  - Every where I go I have people who love me and my students handing me green stickers.... which means that they want to help me, but don't have time to enter the vote codes.... I've spend hours and hours and hours entering vote codes this month.... It can be quite labor intensive and eats up lots of time that I could spend blogging.   However, entering vote codes is time well spent and pays off because I am usually able to get multiple projects funded. This year, even though it was October and I had less time, I had more help, so I've gained less "sonic weight" than last year AND I've been able to fund 3 projects and I am hoping that I'll still have time to fund the fourth this week.... 1 bass xylophone, 10 electric pianos, 4 microphone stands and 2 microphones with cords and four cordless microphones later I would say that is time well spent. My students deserve my hard work!

5th grade show - Somehow and I'm not sure how.... ok.... I know how..... we got behind on preparation!!!!  YIKES! Our annual trip to the Houston Symphony was moved from January  to October 4th.... This was something we didn't know about until our calender was set..... So instead of introducing the show  throughout September while doing other 5th grade things, we had to cram Symphony preparation in there first....  .I compounded the problem by throwing technology into the mix.... I decided it would be great to use Edmodo as a way to discuss the music we would hear..... It worked really well and I will do it again, but Technology is no short cut and although their participation and preparedness was improved, it took time!
They loved the Symphony in part because well prepared students behave better and well behaved students are more receptive.

Sooooo October has become hurry up and learn month for my poor 5th graders who by no fault of their own are behind on their preparation for their HUGE 5th grade show.... The show is  Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving.... and who moved Thanksgiving? It's early this year!  Which in music teacher time means that it may as well be tomorrow for how much time I actually have to get them ready.

The good news is that they are singing difficult music quite beautifully and really enjoy it and so their motivation is just about right.... Since I don't want to burn them out on the music, this rushed feeling might work in our favor because if I can plan the next few days really well, they might just catch "performance fire" at just the right time.

The best decision I made this year in regards to the 5th grade show has to do with after school hours.  Our campus has an after school grant and each year I teach several classes.  This year, one of my 1st grade teachers took on class piano which freed me up some of my after school days.  Now I teach a class guitar group on Mondays and then on Tuesdays I had my 5th graders sign up for musical theater.... These are the students that are doing all of the speaking parts.  The best part is that even though I might not have chosen those particular students to have speaking parts, they are the ones that really want to have speaking parts and so the work they are doing is important to them.  That hour a week ensures that they actually practice which is so much better than getting to the week of the show and having students read their parts for the first time simply because they lost their script and didn't bother to get another one.....  I'm looking forward to reaping the benefit of that time when we start rehearsing as a grade level and all of my speakers are already set and ready to go!  YAY!    I also decided to have a theater tech class on Thursdays.  This class is doing all of the work that I was doing myself in years past.  They are creating the back drop, learning how to run sound and lights, creating and managing props.  They LOVE LOVE LOVE it!  Plus, they can get more accomplished in the hour a week they are with me than I could in six hours by myself.... simply because there are more of them.  I don't know why I didn't think of that class before!

If only those pictures in the system were bigger! 
Grades were due on Monday  - Did I mention that we are up in enrollment by about 100 students?  The first report card is always the most challenging.  In our district students receive four participation grades and a conduct grade for music.  That is a lot of grades, but not in any way unreasonable.... we are quite busy there is always something to grade! ! I do my best to stay on top of grades so that they don't drown me, but the first 9 weeks is always the trickiest because I'm still learning kids, so I don't trust that the child with this name "Joe" is really the same "Joe" that did "xyz" on this assignment.... even though I wrote it down immediately.....What if I'm really thinking about "Jow", the student in the same class who didn't participate at all? After all many of the grades I take are not written assignments.  So all I have to remember to go by are my own rubrics and notes....   Our grade books are online So in order to confirm "Joe's" identity I have to get out of my online grade book and get to the individual profile page.... I'm hoping that "Joe's" profile has one of those mini pre-k pictures that won't enlarge... I'm hoping that by looking at that tiny picture of a four year old, I'll be able to confirm that this 2nd grader really is the student who earned this grade. The MOST frustrating moment in grading is when I go to confirm a student identity and there is no picture!  I HATE that! This weekend I was thrilled when I figured out how to get to our grade book system on my iphone!  If I've done the preliminary step of setting up my assignments then I can save an entire step while grading because.... on my iphone the student pictures show up IN the grade book!!!! YIPEE!!!!!  Now that it's time to grade for this coming 9 weeks, I am planning on carrying my iphone with me and inputting grades right there while teaching! genius!

The teachers were asked to dress up as an
 advertisement for the costume contest.... My friend Jane
took a picture of the tutu I was wearing... I looked like
a black and blue puff ball..... it was so fun! 
Last night we had our 2nd annual School Carnival.  I'm a fan of Carnivals.  I like the interaction with families and they are just fun!   My team, PE, Music, Art and Library are in charge of Carnival.... I'm not a fan of being in charge of Carnival.... ONLY because it happens at a time of year when I've got November and December performances "breathing down my neck"..... However two things happened this year that made it sooooo much less stressful than last year....
1.  I knew it was coming - so I added those after school classes so that I could get show stuff done as part of my regular schedule.  Last year I was teaching guitar, piano and an orff ensemble, while getting ready for a show and organizing a Carnival for the first time - ALL after school.
2. I wore better shoes.- last year I was crippled by the end of the day because of blisters. - I was literally in bed for 3 days following Carnival.... this year, after a four hour nap I feel human again.... I would say that is a vast improvement.
3. We had more help - even though we organized things, grade level teams did their own booths....

Now that there are only a few more days left in October I can say that I am THRILLED to be in the final stages of preparing for the 5th grade show because once it's done I can enjoy my family, some turkey and some well earned rest in peace!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Recorder Karate to the Rescue!

Last year I had a very strange experience because my 4th graders HATED to play the recorder..... When you find yourself with a group of students who aren't inclined to enjoy what you are doing, you have a real problem. "I hate this, this is stupid" really means "I'm frustrated because I don't understand" Either way, the problem is like a disease, it spreads quickly and can devastate learning because even the kids who WANT to do the activity are swayed by popular opinion......

 For years I've taught recorder and everyone has always been excited and thrilled to get to play them and it's not long before everyone feels accomplished and musical. So last year when I came up against a group of 4th graders who hated to play I was totally unprepared..... Afterall, what I had been doing before had always worked so well..... I tried EVERYTHING I could think of. I read blogs, I tried different projects, I mean it was a sort of mini-obsession. In the end, I decided to hit the "pause" button on teaching recorder to that group of students and I was comforted by the fact that I would have a summer and another chance to redeem the recorder experience when they got to be 5th graders.

 I wanted to try Recorder Karate from Music K-8 but I really didn't have funds for all the belts.... I thought about trying to bankroll the project on my own on the cheap, but knew that my students wouldn't be excited about a piece of embroidery floss and it would still cost a pretty penny. So, I decided to create a project on and leave the final decision with funding. If we got funding, then we would try it and if not, then I'd have some more thinking to do.

Music K-8 - Recorder Karate Page

Music K-8 - Recorder Karate Belts Page 
  The project

  • I had to save up enough points to create a project from Music K-8 because they aren't a vendor for, so I earned and saved 6 points. 
  • I created a project that would provide enough belts.... for two grade levels to participate for two years......with the little pesky rings and some mint flavored mouthpiece cleaner. 

Well we got funded so then I had some thinking to do 

Dilemma 1:  Only about 30% of my students purchase recorders each year. For years I taught at a school where everyone purchased their own recorder each year, but when I came to my new school I came right up against the reality that purchasing even a pencil for school was just not a priority. So, again came in handy because I was able to acquire enough recorders for everyone to have their own. That's great - but how can they practice if they don't take them home..... You are right.... they can't..... so I let them take them home..... they are supposed to bring them to school every day and return them if they move. I'm planning on checking them all in during the month of December as I expect to have significant turn around over Christmas.  More than likely if I get 90% back, I'll hand them out again.... It's funny, now that they have them at home, I have more requests to purchase them, so in the end, I believe that I will have a larger percentage of my students buying them which for so many reasons is ideal.

Dilemma 2: Remember those students who hated recorder, I wanted to give them a chance to redo their experience BUT we had to get ready for the symphony which was very early AND we our big program for 5th grade right before Thanksgiving, sooooooooooo  I took just 1 lesson, just last week and reviewed what they already sort of knew and sent them on their way...... I see them every morning as they are headed to their "reading station" before school, so if they are ready to play, they take their test..... My 5th graders haven't yet earned as many belts as 4th grade, but they are also having to find the time to test on their own unlike 4th grade who gets some class time to test. For some of them, their performance can't finish soon enough, they are ready to play recorder.... What a blessed change!

Dilemma 3: There aren't enough hours in the day to test everyone as often as they would like to be tested.....  So in the morning as they are transitioning to their reading stations I test on a first come first serve basis.

4th grade
4th graders have been working toward earning the privilege of taking their first belt test and taking the recorders home since the first day of school..... As in years past their enthusiasm was contagious and a little hard to contain but since I allowed them to take their recorders home last week, they have taken off like a rocket!  After three weeks of working toward testing on recorder, we took the time this week to do a mini-lesson about meter and then it was time for them to have their first opportunity to practice in small groups and test for a belt..... Oh My!

My students are BEGGING to take a belt test.... truly my only limit is time and my ability to discern if a student will be successful when playing.  Often the "belt test" turns into a very necessary reteach  or "recordervention" so that I can individually reinforce good habits and retrain students out of old ones.  The funniest part is that no matter how many times we practice the song in class, I have had so many students have "lightbulb" moments about an element of reading the melody or rhythm during those conferences.  All of my students are playing better, but as always some of them are still missing the point....

In these early days when the songs are pretty easy, many of them still don't understand that I don't just want them to memorize some notes that they hear, I want them to read the notes and LEARN the song......  Case in point, Yesterday while the students were supposed to be practicing the first song in small groups while I called up groups for belt tests, I actually had an impatient student who had just earned her first belt, come up to me during a test and wave the next song in my face..... while she did this she very impatiently said, "Ms. Spadden, I'm gonna need you to write the names of the notes on this one for me....."...... Yep, she didn't quite get it, but..... she WILL get it!

Tips!  - I bet I'll come up with more as I refine how Recorder Karate will work in my room.... Hope this helps

1. Wear an apron - During the times when I know that I will be testing, I wear an apron with lots of deep pockets filled with the belts that I think I will need and spare rings.  That way, I'm not sending students off somewhere to get a belt and risk them being tempted to "grant" belts to all of their buddies.  Belts come only from me.

2.  Keep track of who has what - Obviously, this is a perfect assessment, but if you don't know who has tested then you can't prioritize and you will miss someone.  Because my records are in good shape, I can go back and seek out students who haven't voluntarily played for me.... they may be shy or in need of some extra support.

3. Have plenty of songs ready - Depending on what you order, you may have purchased the student book.  I am using Recorder Karate in conjunction with another method book, so the "test" songs are all loose pieces of paper that I've copied (with permission). The students take them home to practice, but while the recorders generally make it to class, the music rarely does, so I've got plenty on hand.