Monday, November 4, 2013

Sing Along Series 1 - Jingle Bells

Who doesn't love a Holiday sing along!

Well if you've never done one before, they are great, but it's nice to have the words up so that everyone can see them....

Here is a FREE slideshow for the song Jingle Bells


I've included the words to 2 verses.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Patriotic costumes - the EASY way!

This year my 3rd graders are going to perform
Song and Dance Man: George M. Cohan by Jill and Michael Gallina.  I love having students perform this musical because it is both a patriotic and biographical piece. 
My students love the songs and the speaking parts lend themselves to easy memorization. 
This is also a great musical in terms of set design because the contents of an old attic are pretty easy to find, so you can use things that you have rather than things that have to be made. 
I'm a softie when it comes to "solo" parts and tend to use "featured" singers rather than solo singers.  I like to assign solo parts to 2-3 students to sing in a duet or trio which allows them to be more confident and collaborative, while rewarding them for their excellence. 
With that in mind we have some students who are going to have to wear "special" costumes. 
I love these vests because when made out of felt there are only two straight seams to sew!  That is hardly any sewing at all and if your name that is WONDERFUL news!  I ask the kids to wear jeans and long sleeve white shirts.  I provide a vest and a bow tie and hat.  EASY PEASY! 

this vest was made in felt and then covered in the shiny fabric.  I can't claim this one, my mom made it today....  She was smart enough to sew the fancy fabric onto the felt..... I'll admit that I would have tried tacky glue first....
This is my "Yankee Doodle Boy" vest.  He is going to wear this
vest with some knee length shiny shorts I found at Walmart on sale.

I made 4 of these out of felt and used fabric paint
to "embroider" the stars onto the vest.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

5 Teacher Attitudes that Foster a Great Elementary Choir Rehearsal

So rehearsal, whether it be choral or instrumental can make or break a group.  This is a post that I've had partially written since August and it seemed like a good time to finish it.  The funny thing is that as I've edited the post today, I've been reminded of what I want my choir rehearsal to look like EARLY tomorrow morning.  :)

Rehearsing an elementary ensemble, or any ensemble is it's own special brand of theater.  I think that a good rehearsal is a perfect balance between a collaborative student centered approach and a teacher centered "maestro" approach.  On one hand, you want everyone, even the most reluctant learner engaged, because that old adage IS true that "we" are only as strong as our weakest ensemble "link"....... And at the same time,  as the conductor and big boss musician, you want every member of your group right in the palm of your hand, at the edge of their seat, on the balls of their feet and right on the downbeat of your baton. Essentially rehearsal is as good as our ability to balance the needs of our students with the demands of the conductor

1.  ENERGY!  - I feel like I'm teaching (rehearsing) like a house a fire! I'm not acting crazy or anything, but I do my best to avoid down time, give quick instructions and to keep students moving toward the goal of mastery so that we can establish a beautiful sound..... Because we've got a lot to learn and are running short on time, the pacing is quite fast...... but not too fast.....

2. AWARENESS! - Sometimes you miss your mark and have to lead the students through the skill again..... It's better to stop a bad habit by replacing it with a good one than to leave it unaddressed and reinforce the bad habit by practicing repeatedly.  Also, as the one who can see everyone, be constantly aware of fatigue, boredom and focus.....  You can sing the same thing innumerable times if you change it up.  Keep expectations high and be their biggest cheerleader..... If they don't get it, don't lie and say they did, be honest and say, "that's not quite it, but keep working at it"..... If you expect your students to keep working, be ready with new strategies for each repeat.... .If memory work is your chore for the day.... they can sing to their shoes, to the ceiling, to their friends, anyone....  Also, don't be afraid to let them move..... I love performer etiquette too, but movement and play are normal and my students sing more sweetly when they get to do both, ESPECIALLY in rehearsal.  PLAY = LEARNING!   Any time I can get my notes learned in a playful way, I've noticed that my students sing more freely and sweetly.  If I don't have room to move, I work hard to be light hearted and funny.  A little well placed and wise humor can earn you several minutes of serious effort.  I especially love "playing" with hand singing as we do in ETM so that learning music with solfa becomes a puzzle type game rather than a chore.   Using hand signs and other motions offers students a visual reinforcement to the notes they are singing. 

3.  URGENCY!  - A sense of urgency, rather than impatience can give your students a touch of "giddy-up" that they may need.  I'm not rude about it, I've just learned that intensity counts.....warming up is essential, but once my students are working, I've learned not to let up, I use every minute. 

4. KNOWLEDGE!  - It is impossible to have intensity, awareness or urgency if I as the conductor don't know my music..... I've got to know it six ways to Sunday so that I can build it up, tear it down and build it back up again.... Without knowledge, there is no way that I can go in and correct minute mistakes...... Conductor!  KNOW THY MUSIC!!! 

5. CONVICTION!  -  When I rehearse I am a cheerleader.  I play a part of the most enthused and dedicated lover of whatever I am teaching.  We don't always have a choice about what we are presenting for the students to sing, but it's weird how a love of the song will improve the performance of even "hot crossed buns"  ..... on recorder...... IF you can convince those children that those flamin' and toasty buns are the best buns you've ever eaten in your LIFE!!!!!!!  Instead of plodding, you get spritely.... instead of rushed, you get stately, instead of black notes on a page, you get music......  Seriously, if the only stinking song you can think of to sing or play with your children is Wee Willie Winkie then We Willie Winkie better be your best pal and the coolest most fun song you have ever had in your life!!!! 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

7 tips for music teachers: keeping track of money without loosing your mind

As music teachers it sometimes feels as if we are SWIMMING in order forms and student money. This fall my list of orders include T-shirts, recorders, method books, field trip money, field trip lunch money, choir shirts, performance DVDs, and choir pictures. The responsibility is both endless and significant.  Over the years I've developed some mind saving, integrity safe-guarding habits that I hope you find helpful. 

1.  I print the order form on the envelopes themselves.  Yes - it IS worth the time and the ink to put all of that information on the envelop!!!!!  If you don't think that an entire envelop size of information is necessary, try printing the form on a label and putting that on your envelopes. 
     I include a place on each envelop for parents to provide the following information on each envelop       
            student first and last name
            homeroom teacher
            order details (i.e. shirt size, prices)
            amount enclosed
            parent name
            phone number

2. I do not accept money of any kind unless it is in one of my envelopes!  Ever! I can't be expected to remember that little Mary handed me her money - I can't even remember that Mary is really Marie!  And I don't know her last name either, so if the teachers name isn't on the form then good luck.....

3. I turn in all money every day - If I turn it in and it's locked in the safe with the correct documentation filled out neatly and accurately then I will ensure that my financial secretary likes me.  A happy financial secretary is a financial secretary who might push your music order through the system quickly in a pinch.... A unhappy financial secretary will not be in any rush to meet my needs.

4. I keep my own records besides what I turn in. Spreadsheets are my friend!!!!    That may make it seem like I'm doing everything twice..... You're right, I am.... but what if one of the checks I turn in doesn't clear or someone demands change for their $20.00.  I HAVE to know every detail.  MY spreadsheet also provides a convenient place to mark down the date in which the student received their items.  For reasons why this is important.....see the anecdote on #6.  If I had recorded the date of receipt for that particular item, I would have known that "little Johnny" never got his recorder.

5.  I write down the contents of the envelopes on the envelopes themselves including check numbers and cash amounts. What if technology fails?  Then I have a paper copy! 

6.  I keep the envelope forms all year.  One time I had a very quiet and reserved child purchase a recorder and then they were absent on the day we passed them out.... One thing led to another, and before either of us meant for it to happen, it took him 3 months to tell me.  I'm so glad I had a record that backed up his claim.  I had marked that he had bought one but never received it. 

7.  I never count money alone.  Most places have a procedure in place to help you avoid that situation, but just in case your situation is a little less rigorous in their financial set-ups, remember that you can always choose to be more careful than what is required.  Those procedures and safe guards are put in place to protect your integrity as a professional as well as the integrity of your program.    Although they seem inconvenient they are the best way to ensure that everything goes according to plan and that all funds are used as intended.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Reviewing and Introducing METER!

Reviewing meter is a GREAT time to compose rhythms!
It has been a crazy busy couple of weeks in my world and almost none of the busy has had anything to do with school..... :)  Be that as it may, my students and I have been steadily working on reviewing all of the things that we learned last year..... reviewing previously taught concepts, practicing rusty skills and basically preparing and gearing up to really dig into the curriculum for the grade levels that we are in now.  One thing that we are reviewing in 4th and 5th grade and introducing in 3rd grade is concept of meter. 

I wanted to share something that I've created this year for use with my students that I'm certain you can use....... 

METER / Rhythm cards

I recommend dividing these cards into different sets. 

I currently have printed these cards into 2 different sets.  I have a set for 4/4, 3/4 and 2/4 meter and a second more advanced set for 2/2 and 6/8......

So far because we are still reviewing we have only gotten out the basic set. 

I also found that color coding the cards helps with organization. 


Please feel free to download these cards for FREE!
Meter / Rhythm cards

Whole note cards The whole notes are on longer paper 11x17 paper

Sunday, September 8, 2013

I-IV-V Anchor Chart

My 5th graders and I developed this anchor chart as part of our lesson on I-IV-V chords.  After we built a version of this chart, we sorted our boom whackers into I-IV-V chords and accompanied ourselves while we sang "This land is your land".  I'm please with how the lesson turned out and I'm looking forward to keeping this on the walls to help my 5th graders contextualize the chords.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Ten Things I'm Grateful For! - the short list!

Spring 2002 - 2nd year of teaching with my co-teacher
 Meredith Leblanc.... We were trying for the "American Gothic" look
This is my 15th year of teaching general music.  This year I began teaching at my 3rd school and the changes have made me reflective and grateful.  Every day that I work in my new position, the more grateful I become.  There are several things that I am particularly grateful for at the moment. 

1.  I am grateful for collegues.  I can honestly say that over the years I have been blessed to work with the most wonderful and amazing people. 
I've worked with folks who have mentored me, challenged me, disagreed with me, helped me, encouraged me and sustained me while they kept me accountable through even the most wonderful and difficult days of teaching.  My co-teachers and teammates have been with me through every step! 

2.  I am grateful for administration. I have been blessed.........  I truly have had the very best administrators around who have challenged me to grow beyond my certification into areas of leadership and

Instead we ended up with the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz!
grant writing that without the opportunity I never would have had the opportunity to develop. 

3.  I am grateful for time and experience.  I have to admit, I enjoy not being new.  I like the fact that my years of experience and my few gray hairs make my job a little easier than it used to be.  There are always new mistakes to be made, but I'm not going to lie, I'm very releived  that some mistakes only have to be made once.  SOME things about teaching that I used to have to work really hard at, have become second nature..... what a relief!

My last team last year at my old school  on Go Texas Day!
4  I'm grateful that I'm young enough to do this job. - I've got lots of things I don't know and a ton of things I want to learn and get better at!  I'm not so fixed in and rigid with how I've done things before that I can't change...... I can STILL bend!  I am flexible :) mostly...... 

5. I'm grateful that 5 year olds are still 5.   - The more children that I teach, (approximately 21,000 students in 15 years) the more I understand that we develop the way we do for a reason.  There are certainly traditions and cultures and circumstances that make us who we are, but for the most part, 5 is still 5 and they all love to sing and play.  For that matter, 11 is still 11 and even though they want to be cool..... they still want to sing and play.   - IMAGINATION = INTELLIGENCE. 

6.  I'm grateful for families - Nothing empowers a child like a family that they can depend on.  Nothing breaks our hearts like a child without a family on whom they can depend.....  I'm thankful for those who stand in the gap for those children who need a voice, and advocate and a champion.  THOSE are the people who make a difference.

My current co-teacher Kristen and I at TILT with our
 entire school staff 

7. I'm grateful for school communities. - The places that center our neighborhoods, that give context to our affiliation with the outside world.  I'm grateful that public schools  where we have the opportunity to invite children to first become friends with folks outside of their families.  What a wonderful thing it is to sit in a classroom full of students from  all over the world!  I find that as an adult, I seem to be the only one in the room who has trouble with names... I've always been pretty good with names.... at least those that were familiar to me....My classes these days are filled with students who have names that I have never heard before and yet, these wonderfully complex names roll off the lips of all my students easily and without effort.  What a gift to be able to easily pronounce names from cultures representative of the whole world!!!    Like me, my students are eager for me to catch up with them!

8.  I'm grateful that as a music teacher I get to be a community builder - My students have the opportunity to build a common community with people who are different from them as I help them create aesthetic experiences together.  At a previous school I had a little rhyme that I would say when the students would show me their hurts... It was a poem that in translation means something like, heal, heal, if you don't feel better today, you'll feel better tomorrow.... there is also something about the tail of a frog that always makes everyone laugh.... which is really the students taught me to say in Spanish.....  it is such a habit that I find myself saying it without thought.....  At my old school, I would say it, and all of my students would laugh because they knew what it meant.....  Now I say the rhyme and no one knows it..... So just as my world has changed to include a much wider world, I get to teach my students something of one of our cultures that is in many cases, new to them. 

9. I am grateful for writing - I didn't know I could write.  I didn't know how empowering and reflective it could be.  I would have never learned to write had it not been for my desire to write music when it was met with the demmands of writing grants.  Those two things somehow came together to force me into writing a blog and I can't imagine teaching and living without one.  What a wonderful way to reflect on my day and I get to do!  I'm so glad that the Lord doesn't just hand out talents when we are young and say, "That's it!  That's all you get!"
I am glad that some things develop over time and are a product of the lives we've been given to live. 

10.  I'm grateful for my friends and family - So I've never been one to suffer in silence..... When I was a kid who had homework every night I shared my homework burden with the whole house, the neighbor down the street and my math teacher on the phone.....  I've not approached my life much differently than I did my math homework..... As a result, my friends and family have literally walked every grueling exhausting and overwhelming step with me as I've taught at first against my will and then against the circumstances of my students.  They have prayed, they have volunteered, they have encouraged and they have cut out more laminating than you can imagine... All the while, they've held my hand, let me be creative and let me complain.  Today I am grateful for them!

As you start off your new year..... What are you grateful for?  Please feel free to share in the comments below.... 

Monday, August 12, 2013

NEW WORDS! for the word wall!!! - FINALLY

So I've been busy getting ready for school and in the midst of that crazy two things happened.....

1.  One of the folks who wanted to use my word wall words had great suggestions that should be included in an new list of words 


2.  I found a similar list that a faithful reader had given me in FEBRUARY (gasp!) that I started and completed and seriously just forgot to post!!!

So, with great apology to my friend who I corresponded with about the word wall without delivering as promised and with the hope that these new words would fill in some gaps for everyone,  I decided that I couldn't rest until I got both of those lists completed for the new school year. 

As always, I publish the word wall words in two formats..... 

You can either print your words on sentence strips which makes them slightly larger and includes a color border that sorts the words by topic, OR you can print off the words using standard 8.5 x 11 paper which makes the words slightly smaller, and doesn't include the borders.


You might find this free tutorial helpful! 

For a complete list of word wall words follow these links:

Original Word Wall Lists






Monday, July 29, 2013

Marvelous Monday - My new room BEFORE!

To say I was eager to start work in my classroom this morning was an understatement! 

My favorite things about this time of year include the fact that
1. I'm well rested!
2. I get to be creative!
3. I'm free to work in my room ....... or not......I love that it's still optional.....

I was so excited I could hardly sleep last night and it made waking up at 7:00 a.m. even more dreadful than it might have been after I've spent all summer reacquainting myself with the joys of being a night owl. 

I rushed around and finally made it around 9:30.  My new co-teacher and I did some exploring and set about putting our rooms in order. I started with my classroom library.  I have lots of books and last year I formalized the way that I organized them.  Here is the link for my post about how I organize my library called Buried in Books! .  There are even FREE downloads!   I got all of my books loaded on one of the book shelves by the door, but I'm not finished with it and so I forgot to take a picture..... The big victory for the morning is that both of us managed to wrestle our stereos into submission..... 

This is my stereo!.....under the garbage bags...  The speakers are on the top of the cart!  Those speakers are literally the largest speakers I have ever seen!  They WORK!!!!!  You could literally fill the entire school with music with these! 

Then I took time at lunch to run errands and swing by my parents house.  When I got back after lunch at almost 1:30  I sorted through and put away all of the textbooks that had been left out for inventory.  Whew!  The problem was that by the time I did all of that and put away a bunch of stuff I can't remember, my initial adrenaline laced punch of excitement had worn off AND I was starting to feel my serious lack of sleep.....  So at almost 4:00 p.m. I decided to call it a day.... I came home ...........and decided I'd rather write this blog than work on school stuff....... at least for an hour or so..... now back to work :)

After seeing all of my things piled up on this shelf I realized suddenly that I don't teach music......I teach container and shelves anonymous..... hello my name is Bonnie and I'm addicted to sterelite..... Then I remind myself that when I'm organizing performances and teaching recorder at the same time, I  ALWAYS run out of available containers..

Small instrument and teacher storage.....
 If I have time I'll re-label the instruments - I like BIG labels

I'm proud of what I got done today, but somehow
 I thought I'd have time to get that bulletin board done.

Tomorrow Kristen and I are going to really dig into our planning in the morning when we are fresh and ready to go.  I'll post more when I've got more to show! 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday and Sunday Sabath

As part of this Ultimate Blog Challenge I have decided to challenge myself to write a blog post every day for 31 days! for TWO blogs!  Before this challenge, the most posts that I had managed in one month was 15 posts for one blog  and HALF of those didn't require writing.  The second blog was one that I only wrote for 1-2 a year!

Typcially I average between 7-9 posts each month!   

So here I am on day 20 with a combined 38 posts behind me  and my brain is empty of easy to write topics to sustain the blog while I slog through the work it takes to create the  BIG content with free downloads that my music teacher pals love so much! 

Which leads me to the topic of this post......

I am ask that you give me some feedback in the comment section!

What are your favorite "go-to" topics for blogging when you don't have any ideas, when you are tired, or when you just don't have time?

While you answer this question, I'm not going to spend my days blogging, I'm going to take a mini-break and I'm going to spend my time when I'm not at church tomorrow morning working on filling out the posts I need to get me through the end of the month..... afterall, I've got workshops next week.... how about you?

Friday, July 19, 2013

My 5 favorite things about being a music teacher

1.  Music: - the best thing about being a music teacher is the time that I get to spend singing and playing with children.  However, I'm not really talking about voices or instrumental technique.  I most enjoy that moment just after a class has created a really beautiful moment for themselves, then there is silence....... then..... "Can we do that again?".  THAT is the best part of being a music teacher. 

2.  Creativity: - I really enjoy the creative aspects of the job.  I like sewing, painting, designing, writing, composing, arranging, conducting, chereography, orchestrating, problem solving, singing, playing instruments and games, improvising, ....and of course teaching....and because I teach music I have the opportunity to do ALL of those things AND get paid! So being a music teacher is perfect.

3.  Variety:  - For about 7 years I had classes that were 50 minutes with 6 classes a day  and for about 7 years I've had  45 minutes with 7 classes a day.  Which means that just about the time that I get tired of doing whatever we are doing, I get a BRAND NEW CLASS!  So what If I only have the attention span of a TV drama?  No two hours are the same EVER!

4. Relationships: - With students coming in and out of my class every hour it is a challenge to build relationships quickly.  However, the pay-off is that I get to teach my students for years.   I get to enjoy the growth of my students over a long period of time and when discipline issues arrise, I have the investment of time on my side.  It may take awhile, but I will find a solution. 

5.  Joy: - It's nice to be a part of the joy at a school.  Schools are meant to be joyful in their pursuit of learning because learning is an exciting and joyful thing to be about!  There are so many influences and obstacles that can really rob a school and it's students of their joy.  I wish this happened more often than it does, but I am thrilled when the  students who came in dragging, tired, heavy-headed and weary leave my classroom with a skip in their step and a song in their heart, refreshed, energized having learned so much that they are ready to learn much more!

Those are MY favorite things about being a music teacher..... What are YOUR 5 favorite things about what you get to spend your time doing?  Maybe like me you teach music, maybe not..... Please share what your five favorites are in the comment section OR if you decide to blog about your favorite five, then link back here!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Leaving Well! - What my transition notebook looks like! (now that it's finally finished)

When I figured out this spring that I was going to leave and go to a new school this fall things got just a tad surreal for me.  I was in a fully invested situation where I had really dug in deep and made some roots.  Plus there were just things that I knew about and took care of that no one else thought about because although I'm not the only music teacher at my school I am the only one there all day and so that makes me the keeper of the details.

I could barely get through a class without thinking of something that the new full time music teacher needed to know.  I knew and am excited to see all of the fresh and exciting ideas that she will bring with her, but I knew that she was going to have to hit the ground running and ANY background information that I could provide her as a spring board into her new year would be helpful. 

I started making lists.... and more lists..... I started with a one inch notebook on my desk with some blank dividers that have pockets.  Throughout my day, as I started packing and cleaning out, I would put things in that notebook. 

I even blogged about the notebook as a way to formalize my thinking in hopes of getting it to fit in a nice neat format.  For that post click HERE.

So the last week of school came, I had more teaching to do and with the help of my 1/2 time music teachers I had  2 classrooms, a piano lab, a storage area and a stage to pack up!  That is a lot of putting away!  AND I had to haul all of my personal stuff to my new school.  So I had a moment of clarity and decided to ask if I could just take ALL the files home, give them a good going over and then return them them to the school when they were "de-Bonnie-d" . 

That is exactly what has happened and it has been a slow process. 

I think that maybe notebooks and files like these are probably more essential when you serve your campus in a somewhat specialized capacity.  Music, Art, PE specialists who may be the only person who does their job, certainly appeciate the ANY information that is provided by the person they follow.  We hope that on most grade levels on most campuses there is at least some overlap so that at least one person on the team can be the keeper of the details for that team while the new folks come on board.  In fact, when I left my first school that is exactly what happened.  I left a full time music teacher who kept all of the details.  I simply put my portion of my work on the campus server, sent a few emails, and I was done detangling myself from 10 years of being on the same campus because I had someone with whom I could leave the details. 

About four years ago I followed my friend Rosemary to the school that I've taught at for the last four years, both she and the 1/2 time teacher who had been there were leaving, so the only details available for me were the ones she put in her wonderful transition notebook.    I reffered to that notebook all throughout the entire first year that I was there.    Just this May I got to meet with Libby who I will follow to my new school this August.  She has made a folder box and file folders for me. I was able to meet with her and we went over the transition materials.  Her format was a magazine holder with LOTS and LOTS of file folders.  Same idea, different format.  For the transition at my school, the 1/2 time music teacher at my school is remaining, BUT she is going to be in Africa until the day before school starts, soooooo although her wealth of knowledge from being on campus a couple of years will be extremely useful, she won't be available during those first few days when the new full time music teacher is trying to wrap her mind around this new job. 

These transition notebooks are all about things that the new teachers will need to know.  In my previous blog post, I made a huge list of things that should be in the notebook.  In reality, the list below is what has made the cut..... These are topics that are unique to the campus that I am leaving.

Instructional information / Programs
  • schedule samples
  • district curricullum guides
  • campus traditions (school songs)
  • performance history - programs, notes and recordings

  • teaching resources
  • technology
  • grants - I got a grant for additional computers this last spring.  The new teacher will be the benefactor.  I included a copy of the grant so that she will know what she is getting
  • pictures of where I packed things
  • inventory of recorders
  • information about how and where to order choir shirts
  • list of items provided by

Choir - I made sure that I also have copies of the programs in case I want to incorporate some familiar music at my new school.
  • Repetoire for the last 4 years.
  • Copies of rehearsal CDs, and performance CDs
  • copies of critiques from choir festivals
  • information about field trips and bus request proceedures
Piano lab
  • The set up of this piano lab is tricky, so I included pictures and detailed instructions
  • Before I decided to leave, I was the coordinator for the fall carnival.  This is something that my team will carry, but this transition notebook is a central place to keep ALL of the the things that I was involved in. 

This morning as I was typing this post, I remembered another important thing she needed to know about the costumes and props that are available and where they are stored.  I am beyond the point of typing a new page, so I just wrote out the details on a notepad, put it in a sleeve, and added it to the equipment section

Another good tab that isn't in THIS transition notebook but is in the one that I will get to use this next year is information about budget and fund raisers. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Melodysoup Video Wednesday! - Vivaldi Recorder Concerto in C minor - BBC Young Musician final 2012

I am always looking for excellent clips to share with my students. THIS is really beautiful! 

I hope that you enjoy! 
I love showing students what a recorder is REALLY supposed to sound like!
I love sharing music from the Baroque period with my students.  I've found that the intricacies of the music really capivates them.  Love it! 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

6 personal essentials for your classroom - taking care of the teacher

 We always teach our best when our own needs are taken care of so here is a list of things I like to make sure I keep in my room. 

1. Water - Whether you purchase a case at SAMS, filter your own from home, or use the gallon in the teacher's lounge, make sure that you always have water ready and available for yourself!  Drink it even when you aren't thirsty!

2. A sweater or lightweight jacket - This sweater lives in my classroom.  I take it home on holidays to wash it, and it's visiting my house over the summer, but it is my classroom sweater.  I like it because it is fleece and has a hood and zipper.  THIS way I can keep warm no matter the temperature.

3. An electric fan  -  Considering that I teach and live in Houston where we are BIG consumers of air conditioning, I have had to teach OFTEN and REGuLARLY in climates that I found to be too warm for my liking. My fan is my best friend and my students appreciate it too! Remember to label your fan so that when it goes to visit someone else's classroom it always knows where to come home to!

4. Sunglasses and a hat or umbrella - Whether it's morning, recess or after school duty it is almost certain that you will spend time in the sun.  Protecting yourself from the sun, even while you are standing by a bus, is an investment
in the health of your skin, and will ensure that you wil feel your best when you are done. 

5. A change of clothes AND a stain stick!   - Living in Houston it is a regular occurance for teachers who have car rider duty to get totally soaked despite the use of HUGE umbrellas and ponchos.  Sometimes living in Houston is just wet business! That's a tough way to start the day!  After teaching soaked one too many times and once ripping my pants down the side when my pocket got caught on a door handle, I've started keeping a bag that has my "good" slacks .....from four years ago, a plain black t-shirt and a pair of black socks, a pair of white socks and a well worn pair of old work shoes.   This way I'm prepared for whatever level of drying is necessary.  My socks get changed out most often, because most of the time, it's my feet getting caught in puddles that causes the most water damage. If you have lunch duty, or if you are like me and sometimes miss your mouth, a stain stick is essential to saving your clothes from elementary school.  Some people would say that keeping a sewing kit in your desk for emergency mending is a good idea and while a safety pin well placed can go a long way,  I don't think my seamstress skills are quite mad enough to get any kind of mending requiring a needle done while at work.   It's simpler to change and wait to fix my clothes when I'm at home in front of the TV. 

6. Food  - THIS is a little tricky.  You need to store a few emergency food items just in case you get caught in need of a lunch.  However, you need to carefully consider storage, no one wants bugs or rodents in your classroom..... Plastic bins with lockable seals are my choice of container.  You also need to consider the food allergies of your students which means to be safe, peanut butter products are probably not the best choice.  I like to keep one or two of those microwave cups of soup by Campbell.  I also like to keep some of those inividual microwave safe bowls of oatmeal by Quaker and maybe some goldfish crackers.

Monday, July 15, 2013

5 things to consider when dressing for school - clothing considerations for music teachers and anyone else who teaches

Sometimes balancing the professional look of a teacher with the physical demmands of the job itself is tricky.

In my music class we run, hop, skip, jump, spin, roll and crawl, bend and reach.  Before and after school, I am painting, gluing, glittering, hauling, dusting and de-gunking. 
Hardly a day goes by when my clothes are free from the little gifts my students leave for me as they share their sneezy germs and lunch smeared hugs.

And yet, because I am a teacher I am supposed to look nice..... Sometimes I do a better job than other when I'm dressing for school.  Personally my taste runs toward fancy, but when faced with the reality of what I do, I'm always at risk of dressing lazily.  Somewhere in the middle of fancy and lazy is my goal; what I would term, "realistic professional"....  Everyday I want to wear clothes that will facilitate my ability to do my job.  I'm not going to wear a suit, and even though I might wish the powers that be would allow the music teachers to dress like the gym teachers,  I'm going to quit trying to find clothes in the athletic department and see if I can find things in my closet that will fit my desire to look my best while allowing me to move as easily as if I were wearing gym clothes.  I'm pretty sure this is on my mind because I'm right in the middle of going through my closet, so I am more familiar now with the contents of my closet than I will be until next summer!

One thing I know is that you can't dress appropriately for being a teacher if you don't have the right sort of clothes.  You also can't do your job as a teacher if you are always having to think about how to move in your constraining, too tight, too short, too low, too uncomfortable clothes.  So here are few things I'm considering as I clean out my closet and re-assess my clothing situation.  For this post at least, I'll consentate on the things that should be AVOIDED!

5 things to consider when dressing for school
(clothing considerations for music teachers and anyone else who teaches)
1.  Consider your shirts, tops and blouses and how they move when you move
  • No midriff - If you put your hands in the air and your midriff shows your shirt may not be long enough.
  • No cleavage - If you bend forward and expose ANY cleavage at all  you neckline may be too deep.
  • No bra straps - If your bra stap shows  your shoulders may be cut too large, or your neck line may be cut too wide..
  • No underarms - If when you put your arms in the air your neighbor can see your underarm, bra band, and/or side - your sleeves may be cut too large, or the bodice may be too big.
  • No tugging - If when you move, your shirt rides up - your shirt may be too tight.
ALL of these "shirt" issues can be solved with appropriate undergarments. Sometimes these issues can be solved with proper tailoring or even the right type of camisole.  Before you give up on a shirt, make sure that you are wearing a bra that is properly fitted and the correct construction for the shirt.
2. Consider your pants and how they move when you move
  • No underwear hints - If when you bend or twist you are advertising for your favorite style of underwear by exposing your lower back- your wasitline is too low for work. 
  • No hem tripping - If when you walk, hop, skip or run you have to pick up your pant leg, - your hems are too long
  • No puffy pants - If when your pants are buttoned and zipped, you spill over the top, - your pants are too small.  A pair of pants that fit, in a size chosen not because of the number on the label but because of how amazing they make you look is a much better choice.  Imagine having to ask a student to pick something up off the floor because you are afraid your pants will split.... (horrifying!) Buy a larger size please.
  • No droopy drawers - If you are constantly having to pull your pants up, good for you!  You are either loosing weight, OR you just need a belt. 
All of these "pants" issues can be solved by purchasing pants that fit, or getting them tailored.  You can eaisly learn how to hem pants.  Also, if you regularly have a problem of inadvertantly showing your underwear, then you should consider shopping at a different store, or covering up the waist band of your pants with either a camisole or those new knit waist bands designed especially to cover your lower back.
3. Consider your skirts, dresses and shorts and how they move when you move
  • No backs of knees - If when you stand straght, the backs of your knees are showing - your skirt or dress will expose your upper thighs when you bend or reach - Can you go an entire day without bending or reaching? at work?  really?
  • No upper thighs - If when you raise your hands your neckline dips to expose cleavage OR your hem line exposes your upper thighs - you have a length problem.
  • No transparency. - If you shine a light behind this skirt or dress, can you see the outline of the body? - you have a transparency problem
All of these issues can be solved either by lengthening your choice of skirts and dresses OR by adding some leggings or tights to your wardrobe.  Opaque leggings or tights add to the modestly of any dress or skirt.   Hosery is not as common as it once was, but I'll admit that I'm a fan of hose because I've noticed that they even make the legs of beautiful people more attractive! Also - ANY dress worn ESPECIALLY ON STAGE, or outside in the sunshine, or in a room where light shines behind you no matter how opaque it may seem MUST MUST MUST MUST be worn with a slip! 
4. Consider your footwear and outerwear and accessories
  • footwear should be comfortable and supportive so that you can reach the end of the day full of energy..... Ask yourself these questions
                       1. Does my footwear allow me to run, skip, hop and jump without impediment?
                       2. Am I likely to walk out of these shoes in an emergency?
                       3. Can you stand in these shoes for an entire performance?
  • jewelery - I bet you wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that I love dangly earrings.  I loved wearing them too until a student accidentally got their finger caught in my long loopy earring during a game..... When I know that I'm going to be engaging in movement activities with my students I get VERY conservative in my use of jewlery.  I love wearing the flashy stuff, just not while I'm teaching.
5. Consider your venue

Stages have backlighting.  Skirts and dresses that are worn without slips are transparent - EVEN ones that don't look transparent from home.

Stages or audiences are often elevated - Your audience will either be looking down on you or up at you.  If the audience is looking down, your neckline needs to be more modest. If the audience is looking up, your hemline needs to be more modest.

Dressing immodestly or unthoughtfully for a student performance is highly distracting to the participants and the audience. 
6. For the men among us.
Although this list is written primarily for women, some of the best music teachers I know are men.  Men have less issues with this because they have fewer clothing options. Nevertheless, here are some guidelines.
  • No midriff - If you put your hands in the air and your midriff shows your shirt may not be long enough.
  • No underarms - If when you put your arms in the air your neighbor can see your underarm, bra band, and/or side - your sleeves may be cut too large, or the bodice may be too big.
  • No tugging - If when you move, your shirt rides up - your shirt may be too tight.
  • No underwear hints - If when you bend or twist you are advertising for your favorite style of underwear by exposing your lower back- your wasitline is too low for work. 
Guys, so much can be solved by trying clothes on and a good pair of suspenders is always helpful when you are trying to keep your brand of underwear a secret.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

7 Habits for a great week

So It's a Sunday night in the summer, I've been blessed by a wonderful Sunday at church and I'm thinking about how nice it is to not have to get ready for a school Monday..... 

Which leads me to think about all the little things I do to ensure that I can hit the ground running come Monday morning during a school year. 
Here are a 7 habits for a great week that make a huge difference for the success of my week.

Me and my SSE team on Go Texas Day!
 Even though this picture was on a Friday,
 I laid out my clothes the Sunday night before

1.  I lay out my clothes.... Even if I change my mind, it comes in handy to have something set aside to wear since I'm not exactly clear headed as I'm dressing.  I avoid alot of mismatches this way 

photo courtesy of

2. I fix my lunch or make sure I have a lunch plan for the week.... So I'l admit, I'm not great about this, simply because even making a lunch the night before, doesn't mean that this lunch will make it's way into my car, into my classroom and all the way to lunch with me.... However I always have a plan, and WHEN I follow my plan I end up eating much healthier.  I can't imagine what would happen if I didn't at least try!

photo courtesy of

3. I catch up on laundry and make sure the kitchen is clean - no dirty dishes in the sink.  I am much happier on Monday when I come home and I don't have piles of laundry and my sink is ready for use.


4. I don't talk - Sunday night is a great night for vocal rest!

where I write my music

5. I pursue hobbies: reading, crochet, blogging, crafting, writing music or pretty much anything that sounds like fun that I will enjoy.    Especially on days when I'm trying to be quiet, working on piano accompaniments is something that I do on lots of Sundays.

photo courtesy of

6. I don't work. - MOST of the time, this is possible, if I REALLY buckle down on Friday and Saturday.... it's not ALWAYS possible, but I try because any time I can make my Sunday a real Sabath (day or rest) I can really tell a difference in the week that follows!

7. I go to bed on time - really! Because if I don't I PAY for my indulgence for the rest of the week

So now it' your turn!  Please leave me a comment, or better yet a link to your own blog explaining some of your favorite habits for a great week!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Classroom managment for new music teachers - 10 things to try!

This post is intended for anyone who is a new teacher, but especially music teachers because I am a music teacher, so all of my advice comes from that perspective.

Let me first tell you that although I have opinions I am no expert.  Like all educators, teaching is something I practice.  Now that I'm about to begin my 15th year of teaching I get it right more often that I used to but each victory that I've had in teaching has been a result a mound of personal reflection, refinement in my practice and most especially trial and error. 

Confession Time

So there I was in my second week of teaching EVER.   Admittedly a little high from the glow of fake-out, friendly, zombie-perfect behavior that greeted me the entire first week of school.

My first graders were lined up and silent under the scrutiny of their veteran teacher and looking at me with hopeful faces.  I smiled enthusiastically and said, "Come on in and make a sit down circle".  Then without a worry I held open the door

Imagine my SHOCK when they ran right past and NO ONE, not one student sat down in a sit down circle!   In fact, as each student hit the door they sort of scattered to the four winds.  At this point so early in the year, none of them were being particularly naughty, they were just placed in an intriguing environment and they wanted to explore.  For some that meant, crawling under all the chairs I had lined up.  For others that meant walking over to instruments and playing them.  Still others decided that an empty space of floor was meant for running and rolling and playing tag.  Once they were scattered I had no idea how to effectively get their attention.  I could have yelled, but that really isn't me.

Furthermore, when faced with the chaos of a off task class every idea, every objective, every song I had planned simply flew out of my head.

So rather than do what I had planned OR start yelling  I did things the hard way and spent the next 15 minutes trying to coax individual children  into giving up the activity that interested them and sit on the floor where no on was doing anything interesting at all.

It didn't really work very well, but eventually after wasting way too much time,  I finally got everyone sort of seated I was able to teach a little of what I had planned.  But guess what? As soon as I finished an activity and tried to start something new, I was faced with scattered and off task students.

That second week of school and the weeks that followed were some of the most difficult days I ever had as a teacher.

My inability to direct my class behavior meant that I was rarely able to teach with the depth that was needed to help my students create meaning.  When I would finally "wrestle" a class into a semblance of control, it would be time for them to leave and I'd have to start all over again with the next class.
To make matters worse, many times a plan that looked amazing on paper  would fall apart in the classroom when I was faced  with the actual developmental and instructional needs of my students.   It didn't always help to borrow my co-teachers plans because by that point, she had internalized many things that weren't yet obvious to me.  Additionally, when real behavior problems would arise I would sometimes make the situation worse because I didn't yet know or understand how to recognize situations for what they were.  I found myself over reacting to minor issues and underestimating serious ones and as such I was often the cause when behaviors escalated. 

Being a new teacher is REALLY REALLY hard, but for me the hardest thing about being a new music teacher was the reality that for all of the music I knew, I didn't yet know children, AND for all of the music education classes and student teaching I had done, I really didn't know what would work. 

That is enough confessing for one day.  I could say more about HOW things got better for me mostly because of the investment my co-teachers made in me.... However, for now all I will say is that things WILL get better,  you CAN be an excellent teacher! 

So you've found this post perhaps because  you are nervous about your ability to manage your class, OR you've got a few weeks under your belt and you are miserable!  Either way, I think that these tips can help.  By the way, although they are not in directly quoted, the biggest influence on my classroom mangment style comes from two sources.  First, my students with the Richards Institute and their work with Education Through Music, AND secondly professional development based on the book that I've read called Love and Logic.  Being a music teacher who lacks a home room means that follow through is a real challenge, but if you are familiar with the work you'll see the influence in the list.

So here is my list of
 10 classroom management tips for NEW music teachers
1. Tell them where to go - and demonstrate where and how. - Pick a place, any place, whatever place that fits your routine whether that be a place on the floor, in a group or in a circle,  and invite the most dependable student to go and have a seat.  Release them in small groups to follow.  Anyone who doesn't demonstrate the procedure gets to practice it again, right then. This will work for any class or any other time when you aren't singing them into the room.
2. Sing them into class. Don't be like I was when I started, choose a song or two or three that you can pull out when a class arrives.  Start singing it in the hallway and have them follow you in singing and moving as you go.  My favorite is "Come and Follow Me" from ETM and their "Let's Do it Again" collection.  Songs like this are a great way to focus the attention on you, and "Come and Follow Me" allows you to set up for your next activity while you are still actively engaged in this song. 
3. Be interesting .  - When students get to school if they see me on campus, they ALWAYS ask, What are going to do today?  I have gotten in the habit of answering, "Something really special that I just know you will enjoy." The more excited you are, the more likely it is that students will enter your class ready and in anticipation.  When you say something use your voice to inflect confidence that everyone will do as you ask.  Don't say, "if you want to read a book with me come and sit down." What if they don't want to?  Instead, with as much excitement as you can muster on your face, say, "Look at what we are going to read!"
4. Give instructions as if they will be obeyed When you say something use your voice to inflect confidence that everyone will do as you ask.  Let's say that you've just finished the song "A-Tisket A Tasket" and now you want to share the recording by Ella Fitzgerald while looking at the children's book for that song..... Don't say, "if you want to read a book with me come and sit down." What if they don't want to?  Instead, with as much excitement as you can muster on your face, say, "Look at what we are going to read!"

5. Teach the students who will - This really should be number one because if you can get this solved, then almost everything else will line itself out.  My friends at the Richards Institute are really big into this idea.  When I had my consultancy with Dr. Randal McChesney, THIS was what we concentrated on most.  You see, it is VERY tempting for me to beg, cajole and threaten the 5-6 students in my class who don't want to participate or who are trying to be disruptive.  Instead, I am slowly but surely getting better at teaching the 5-6 students who always follow directions and I'm much happier.  Now rather than the reluctant disruptive behaviors dragging the whole group down, the interested, engaged and enthusiastic behaviors are driving the class forward.  Because I am attending and teaching to those students who will come with me, then those 10-12 students in the middle who might be swayed by misbehavior or disinterest are coming along and before long, even my students who might attempt open and hostile sabotage join us in learning.
6. Learn multiple ways to perform each song.  - You just got done with an amazing beginning of the year in-service for music teachers.  You learned several new songs and have decided to use some of them.  You present "Down Down Baby" to your 4th grade class just like it was presented to you and it flops!  Now what?  The students are really loving the song, but it is obvious that to continue with the current set up will cause more problems.  Well then it's lucky that you are a smart cookie.  On your way home from the in-service, you figured out 3 different way to play the game, each one more closely structured than the last.   One of my favorite games to play is Rig-a-jig-jig.  As much as I like it and want my students to play it, I can't just start the game and let it go, otherwise it will disintegrate into chaos.  Because ETM uses a version of Rig-a-jig-jig, I've learned several structures and I can choose the one that best fits the needs of the class.  
7. Consider your room. - Is your room causing problems?  Maybe you need to put things away.  Maybe you need move the common supplies to an area more easily accessible.  If you can't move your supplies, then perhaps your room set up calls for a special procedure.  In my room I didn't really have a choice but to put some of the textbooks behind my desk.  I chose 5th grade because they are generally more in control of their bodies and I can trust them.  I also taught them a procedure so that when we passed out the books I didn't end up with 10 people behind my desk wrestling over books.  Remember those chairs that my sweet first graders crawled under my first few weeks of teaching?  I put them away.  I decided I would rather stack and restack my chairs rather than have them out when the younger students were there. As yourself if your room is set up for learning.  Are all of your teaching materials where you can get to them without any fuss? 
8. Play the "what if" game with your lessons -  What if they've already learned this song what other song could we sing with the same tonal set?  What if this game won't work because we had to move the risers in? What if I don't have enough books? What if the power goes out? What if the projector bulb burns out?    What if Johnny cuts his finger on a xylophone, or what if the phone rings, or what if Sarah throws up?  What if I have 15 minutes left in class and I'm done with my lesson?  So much of the potential classroom management issues can be avoided with just a little forethought.
9. Practice bulldozing. One of the most popular ways for students to disrupt learning is to get the teacher off task.  When you have a student determined to derail you from your teaching, it is VERY easy to be distracted. They will ask off topic questions, they will bother other students, they will get into things without permission, all to illicit your attention.  You can be kind, but you don't have to be put off.  One of the most dangerous things a teacher can say to a class is "I'll wait."  You may be waiting for silent attentiveness, but in the absence of interest neither the silence or attentiveness will ever come.  Instead, plow ahead and get the students engaged in an activity who are ready.  When the talking, disruptive and inattentive students miss out on something interesting they will take notice and either solve their behavior, or not.  However, the students who are willing won't be let down.
10. Invest in your future classes, by solving discipline problems out of class. For the last two years I have been blessed with morning duty.  I love it because it gives me the chance to talk with students.  During my morning duty time I target students who struggle in my class.  I work at building relationships with them so that eventually we can talk about their behavior in class.  Then when they come to class I meet them at the door and am often able to discreetly encourage them to do their best "for me."  When you teach music, it takes much much longer to reap those kinds of results because you don't see your students every day. However, since you will be their teacher for several years, the investment is well worth the effort.  Students are AMAZED when I attend their parents teacher conferences.  They are ASTOUNDED when I call home, all because they aren't expecting it.  Invest in your relationship with a troubled student today and although you might not see any change this year or the next, it will happen. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Melodysoup YUMMY Award July 2013 - Chicky Chicky Chook Chook by Cathy MacLennan *LESSON IDEAS*

It feels like I haven't given a YUMMY AWARD! in AGES!  And the truth it that it has been six months, so I am well over due!  This one was especially fun to write because the minute I put my hands on this book I had lots of lesson ideas.

I'm always looking for books that lend themselves to the development of music literacy.  I especially like books that provide a variety of uses for the same book.  Often these books will work with multiple grade levels depended on the simplicity or complexity of my ideas.  In any case, I found this book at TMEA and I've been looking forward to incorporating into my bag of tricks!

The Yummy Award for July 2013 goes to

Chicky Chicky Chook Chook by Cathy MacLennan

Ideas for Younger Children:

I think that after the children are familiar with the book it would be fun isolate a page of the book and then either play or post a rhythm and ask the children to identify which set of words goes with the rhythm.  For example.  One short except from the book goes like this,
 "Chicky Chicky Chook Chook
Chick Chick Chick,
Chicky Chicky Chook Chook
 Peck Peck Peck."
I could post several  known rhythms like and then ask the students figure out where in the page those rhythms happen.

Wouldn't it be fun to have students write a rhythm we were working with on a small post it note and then place it in the places when that rhythm happens?   I think they would love it! 

We could extend our work by orchestrating our book for various instruments. Each page is composed around a different hard consonant sound.  Perhaps the "Ch" sound could be played on the sand blocks while the hard "k" sound was played on the woodblock.  The possibilities are endless!

Ideas for Older Children:

Wouldn't this be a fun way to approach rhythm dictation? If students were well versed in rhythmic patterns they might enjoy the challenge of figuring out the rhythmic pattern.  It's a new twist on the "what rhythm am I playing?" game.  Students attempting this would need lots of aural discrimination practice under their belt, but I think that they could puzzle it out. 

An extra challenge might be for older children to compose another page for the book.  I think this would be an excellent opportunity to create a class book filled with original compositions that we could then play and orchestrate.

What about melody?!!!  This book has such a wonderful rhythmic pattern that it might be the perfect opportunity to ask older students to take known pitches and compose an original melody.  Imagine this book played as an original composition!!!! 

MY! MY! MY! - This is starting to sound like an entire semester worth of study and it's just 1 book!  - LOVE IT! 


Want to see what other books have received a YUMMY Award?  Click HERE!