Wednesday, December 31, 2014

7 New Years Resolutions from a Busy Music Teacher!

Resolution #1 - I will provide aesthetic experiences for my students 

No matter if I am teaching a song with two pitches, beginning recorder or a song with kazoos I will work to find ways to draw the attention and effort of my students to the aesthetic aspects of making music together. Our repertoire will be balanced so as to provide a varied pallet of experiences for my students as they collaborate together to create something beautiful.  

Resolution #2 - I will approach my practice of teaching with the same dedication and artistry as I approach the musical instruments I love.  

When I think of the time, dedication, reflection and refinement I have given to my preferred musical instrument I am reminded that those same habits and hard work would be of huge benefit to my teaching.  What if I spent as much time practicing teaching as I did practicing singing or piano?  I want to embrace that same level of exactness, of  precision.  I want to have an attention to detail and finesse that will leave me as satisfied with my classroom experiences as I am when I sing as a soloist.   

Resolution #3 - I will plan REALLY well. 

Nothing influences the quality of my lessons like a really well made plan.   So I resolve to plan early and plan often in detail.  Have you ever noticed how those little details that felt like extra work to add them into the plan actually save time?  For me the big time saver are CD numbers, track numbers and page numbers..... I really hate taking the time to add them into my plans but when I do it saves me valuable time when it's time to actually teach the lesson.  It's a little thing but it matters.

Resolution #4 - I will be RESPONSIVE and INSPIRED! 

Nothing can elevate teaching out of the lesson plan book and into the memories of my students like a little responsiveness and inspiration. Regardless of what I've written down on paper, I want to be sensitive to the needs of my students and adjust accordingly.  To teach responsively, I will sometimes say yes and sometimes say no to the request for "one more turn".   I will listen with my heart to determine which is the right answer at the moment.  
To act more often upon inspiration I will embrace every teachable moment and facilitate discovery and rehearsal more often than I demonstrate my own skill.  I will hone my listening skills as I "feel" the energy in the room and become more expert in steering the wave of enthusiasm called REAL "play". 

Resolution #5 - I will work hard and then go home at 5:00 p.m. every day! 

This is a resolution that seems impossible for me.... Since I'm don't have a family waiting for me to cook dinner at home, I stay at school WAY too late!  I'm better than I used to be, mostly because my co-teacher is such a good influence on me, but I still have a ways to go....I used to stay at work until 8:00-9:00ish..... now I rarely leave before 6:00.... An improvement for sure, but I think I can do better!  

Resolution #6 - I will take care of myself....mind, body and soul.  

When I work too many hours, I don't have time to cook healthy meals or go to the gym like I should.....When I don't eat well and exercise, I get sick more often and then I miss more work which leads to working more hours to catch up.... Yes... it's a vicious cycle.... Ya'll know!  

I am at my best when I take the time to pursue hobbies and activities for fun.  I enjoy singing, writing music and writing for my blog the most.  My goal is to be more intentional about all of those things. If I play when it's time to play then I'll be refreshed and ready to work when it's time to work.  

I will spend more time reading the Bible and spending time with friends.  

Resolution #7 - I will remember to express my gratitude.  

I have so very much to be grateful for.  When I'm busy, which is most of the time, it is easy to "think" about how amazing folks are without actually taking the extra time to tell them..... I want to find new and creative ways to express my gratitude to the wonderful folks that I have in my life.  So I'll start now!  Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog!  

What are your teaching resolutions for 2015?  

Please share your resolutions and hopes for 2015 in the comments below!  

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Teaching Music 101 - 3 Things to Consider When Choosing a University

Just recently I found myself in a conversation with a young lady who was trying to make decisions about where she should pursue a degree in music education.   Here are some ideas I hope she will consider as she looks for the best place to study.

If you enjoy this article, please feel free to read the first article in the series  Teaching Music 101

Most people first need to consider price and location.  However, when you get to the point where you are comparing two or three options that will work, you may need to consider a few things more carefully.  This is not an exhaustive list of things to consider, but a list of things that you might not think of initially that can make a HUGE difference in your experience at college.  Remember that no matter what school you choose, the quality of education you receive is most dependent upon you and your willingness to work hard and take advantage of the opportunities you gain as a result of your hard work.

1.  Piano Requirements - In these days of very expensive degrees,  most universities are looking for ways that they can trim can cut costs for students.  Music schools are no different. However, your goal should be to receive a degree that actually prepares you for real life.  I think that schools who cut down their piano requirement are doing a disservice to their students.  
  •   In real life, the music teacher is often the only pianist on campus. 
  •  In real life, no one will have time to come in and accompany your choir AND you won't have  the $$$ to pay them even if they have time to help you....
  •  In real life, sound systems fail but the piano in the corner of the cafeteria will still play. 
With that in mind, you should choose the school with the program with the most rigorous piano requirements for music education students whose primary instrument is NOT piano.  Request the information from the schools you are interested in.  For example: If one school requires 4 octave scales in just major and harmonic minor while the other requires you to also play melodic and natural minor, choose the one that requires all 3 minors. It's more work, but you'll be better for it.  The required repertoire should be varied and challenging.  Choose the most difficult piano barrier so that when you have met the requirement you actually have employable skills.  That little bit of extra piano will pay off and is worth the extra hours and you have to pay for and the extra work you have to do to get it!  

When I was going to school, I didn't know to look for such a thing because I thought that all the universities somehow got together and decided upon the same piano requirements for their music ed majors.  Not true!    I went to a small private school called Howard Payne University.  Our piano barrier was quite challenging and my piano professors were AMAZING!  Dr. Wallace rocks!!!!    When I shared my experiences with friends of mine who attended larger state schools, I was shocked to find out how little those students had to accomplish in order to pass their piano barrier.   I am NOT a pianist, but I left school ready to play what was needed and although no one would ever let me accompany if someone else with more skill was available, in a pinch, I can muscle my way through.... I would not be able to do that at all, had my university piano program been less rigorous.  I also want to say that I've never ever heard a music teacher say that they wished they had taken LESS piano! Everyone I know wishes they had had more!  

2. Observations, Music Ed Classes and Student Teaching - If you are hoping to be a music teacher it is important to choose a University that has both an EXCELLENT school of music but also an EXCELLENT school of education.  Your music education classes should prepare you well to pursue a variety of methodologies and prepare you to meet the needs of students in a variety of settings.  When you leave with your Bachelor's Degree in Music Education, you should know what to teach to who and have a good grasp on how a variety of methodologies would accomplish the task.  This is especially important since you may find that you are the ONLY music teacher on your campus, and there may not be anyone around for you to ask.... You NEED to know your stuff!    
Choose a University whose school of music and school of education have a good partnership and collaborate well.  You don't want to be half way through your education and find that you are in the midst of a conflict.  Both of your schools, your school of music and school of education should be accredited nationally and should be current in their pursuit of best practices, educational philosophy and research.   Pay close attention to schools of education who have strong Early Childhood programs in place have solid coursework in child development.    Early childhood is a very important and often overlooked reality of being a music teacher.  At least in Texas, the certification for becoming a music teacher is PK-12.  This is a REALLY wide range.  Most of the music teachers I know have to put more effort into planning, preparing and executing their Pre-k and kinder lessons than the rest of their day.  Therefore some focus on early childhood would be time well spent.
You won't begin your education classes until later, but it would be a good idea to find out about how observations and student teaching works.   You should choose a school that provides the most opportunities for observation and for student teaching.  Find out what partnerships are in place between your university and local school districts and even neighboring metropolitan school districts.  Some schools are more flexible than others about where you observe and student teach. Make sure that you understand their policies.  Additionally, be prepared to work with your education faculty to arrange observations in actual music classrooms.  I found that unless I spoke up, they would schedule me to observe whatever class was available, but I REALLY needed to spend the majority of my time in the music classroom.    

3.  Performances, Private Lessons Ensemble Opportunities -  As a music education major you should look for schools that have room for you to have opportunity to join the best studios and to participate in the advanced or elite ensembles and performances.  Sometimes schools are forced by the limits on their performance space and their calender limitations to give a significant priority to their performance students.  That is understandable and arguably the right thing to do for those performance majors , but depending on how you want to use your Music Education degree in the future, you may find that you really need to be a part of those more performance based elite opportunities.  There are schools that have plenty of room in their advanced programs for both performance and education majors.  There are schools that simply don't. You should find out about how private studios are formed and how ensembles and performance opportunities are cast before you enroll.   Are some auditions open to only certain majors?  Are some auditions open to only certain studios?  Do music education majors have the opportunity to give a senior recital?  (I think they should.) Choose a school that will give you the best opportunity to perform both in ensembles and as a soloist.

If you are a music teacher, please share a tip or advice that you wish you had known before you started your degree in the comments section! :)  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Teaching Music 101 - 5 tips for students who want to become music teachers

Occasionally, I get find myself in conversations with high school and college students who are hoping to become music teachers.   Recently, this seems to happen more often.  Here are the things that I tell my young friends when I have the chance.

Disclaimer:  Remember, these tips are especially for students hoping to become music teachers because that is the career that I know the most about.... 

1.  PRACTICE PIANO!!!!   - It doesn't matter what instrument you hope to specialize in while in college.  It doesn't matter that you have taken piano lessons since you were 3.  It doesn't matter that you've never even seen a piano. Please practice!  Practicing piano is important for these reasons

  • If you actually are an accomplished pianist, you can find work while in school and will be able to pursue really cool opportunities that will set you apart from other students. Those with the best skills entering in as freshman will be ahead of the game! 
  • If your piano skills are lacking - NOW is the time to get on the ball.  Most music degrees carry a piano requirement and in order to continue with your study you will have to pass a piano barrier. Don't let a lack of piano keep you from pursuing something you love, when a little hard work and dedication can get you to where you need to be.  
2.  BE INVOLVED!!!!  - Participating in musical ensembles will help you with the basics.  Often, there are opportunities to compete in a Solo and Ensemble setting or as a part of of an All-Region, or All-State competition.  Pursue those opportunities as an avenue to scholarship money.   The distinctions you earn as part of an ensemble or as a soloist can have a huge impact on the opportunities available to you as an entering freshman.  

3.  WORK WITH CHILDREN!  - As it turns out, spending every day with a room full of children is harder than you might imagine.  When you are working on your music education degree, there will be classes embedded in your program that try their best to prepare you for the realities of the classroom.  However, nothing can replace real live "boots on the ground" experience.  Seek opportunities to work with children's choirs at your local church.  Get a summer job at the YMCA  as a camp counselor.  Babysit.  Figure out how to redirect children without exasperating them.   Sing with children.  Teach the children in your life a song.  

4.  LEARN A NEW INSTRUMENT!!!  - More instruments mean more opportunities.  Take lessons now so that later, you won't be clueless.  University level private lessons move fast.  If you are a complete beginner you may find yourself REALLY squeezed for time.   

5.  LEARN YOUR THEORY!   - When I got my first letter from the School of Music that I had enrolled, it contained a list of things that would be included on my entrance exam that they use to place incoming freshman.  I literally had to take my letter to my choir teacher and have him explain things to me.... I was not a theory novice, but neither did I have what I needed to make a good start.  If you have access to an AP Theory class at your high school, take it.  If not, then take advantage of the internet and catch up. Between websites like and youtube, you should be able to create a good start in theory for yourself.  

Monday, December 8, 2014

FREE! 1812 Overture by Tchaivovsky - Listening Map

My students REALLY enjoyed this listening map!  Now that it is part of my google docs collection, I can easily share it with students.  I think it has been their favorite so far.  Enjoy!
Download listening map for FREE! 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

FREE! Swan Lake Listening Map

I love studying composers with my students.  Tchaikovsky is definitely a favorite, but when time allows, I dearly love sharing more than just the music from the Nutcracker with my students.  When I have time, I like to share several other pieces with them including the Swan Theme from the Swan Lake Ballet Suite.  I created a listening map using PowerPoint to go along with the piece.  When I shared it with my students I projected it and had them use a pointer to locate certain features that they thought were important.  After we had listened to the piece using the listening map, we then moved to the music to accompany our exploration of the traditional ballet positions.  The students had a wonderful time and loved getting to be real ballet dancers. 

Since I have put this slide show into google slides, now I can share this slideshow with my students on their devices that they bring to music upon request.  I hope that you enjoy it as much as I have. 

To view the slideshow listening map click HERE

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Liebster Award - Find some great music blogs here!

Thank you Jennifer  from In My Music Class  for nominating me for the Liebster Award!  I love to blog and only wish that I had more time to enjoy it, so I really appreciate the award. 

By the way, if you are interested in some really great ideas,
Jennifer has shared some very practical "boots on the ground" ideas from her music class in her blog.  I especially love her sub plan idea because it both simple and effective when you aren't blessed with a music sub.  To check out her post, follow the link HERE !

The Liebster Award was created to highlight blogs with growing audiences. The rules for receiving this award are:

1. In your post link back to the blogger who nominated you as a thank you and a 'shout out'.
2. Answer the questions that the tagger set for you plus create 11 questions for the people you've tagged to answer. (The questions I have answered please)
3. Nominate 11 people (Blogs with less than 200 followers) and link them in your post. 
4. Let your nominees know and provide them with a link back to your post (so they can see the rules)
5. No nominating the person who nominated you, however send them a thank you :)

These are the questions that are set for me to answer...

1. Why and how long ago did you start blogging?
In 2010 I wanted to start a website.  I tried to learn how to create a website from scratch and since I had a URL and a willingness to work, I created  It took me several months and lots of hard work to figure out that I really didn't want a website, I wanted a blog. So Melodysoup blog was born as an offshoot of my website that really doesn't have anything on it except a link to my blog.  Through trial and error I began to blog seriously and regularly in January of 2012.   The development of my blog corresponds with a time when I was at a new school and really feeling the loss of a great teaching partnership that up until that point in my career had provided a wonderful outlet for professional collaboration.  The blog was motivated in great part both by my need for professional collaboration with other music teachers, but also as a way for me to help out music teachers who might be like me and in need of a professional cohort.  

2. What one word sums up the heart of your blog and why?
Soup - I love teaching music and I love gaining insight from a variety of philosophies, ideas, and perspectives.  When I throw all of those sometimes quite divergent elements together into a beautiful mixture of techniques and experiences for my students it is sort of like a delicious soup made from all the great and sometimes random ingredients from my well stocked musical pantry.   As a result, my blog doesn't really embody any one particular musical method and hopefully as a result, everyone can find something useful in my posts.  

3. Is there something you learned late in your blogging journey you wished you knew before?

I wish I had understood the difference between content posts and opinion posts.  As a music teacher there are times when I am searching for content.  If I can find the content I need on a blog then I am totally there.  Opinion or editorial posts certainly have their place, but as far as blogs about elementary music blogs are concerned, the best posts that really drive traffic to my blog all contain real content.  

4. What is your favorite past time other than blogging?
I write music.  It is my favorite of all of my favorite things which means that I love writing music ALOT!!!  

5. How many hours per week do you dedicate to your blog?
The time that I dedicate to my blog totally depends upon what is going on at school.  In the summer I try my best to work on my "BIG" projects like my word wall or my planner posts because those take lots of time.  I also try my best to get several posts scheduled so that I can have time to start school in August.  I feel REALLY great if I'm able to post twice a week, knowing that when things get nuts at school, then once a week will be a miracle.  However, I always have multiple drafts in process and I write something every single day because some posts are just more involved than others.  In a typical week, I'll check on my blog for stats and comments every day.  I do this primarily to make sure that there aren't any spam comments that need to be taken down.  I'll write a bit, but typically write heavily two to three days a week.  (1 hour a day on average) 

6. What category of blog posts do you enjoy the most?
FREE Downloads!!!  I like to create things and I like to share them.  

7. Where does your blog inspiration come from?
I am inspired to write a post when I try to find something online and i can't find what I want.  I'm planning a post on listening maps soon.  The reason behind the post is because I needed a particular listening map and there were none available, at least not the kind I wanted.  So, I have created my own and will share it soon.  That same feeling of not being able to find what I wanted has inspired my word wall posts, my teacher planner posts, and all of my free download posts to date.  

8. Which post that you've written are you most proud of?

Useful, Useful, Useful and FREE FREE FREE! 

9. Is there any post you have been planning to do, but have been postponing it for a while now?
I plan on putting together a series of posts about how to create a black light show.  I inherited the black light show and cannot in any way take credit for the genius that it is, but it sure is fun and before I inherited, I had never heard of one or seen one, so I spent a great deal of time looking for information online and didn't find anything.... So it seems like a good subject for a post.   

10. What's your favorite aspect of blogging?
The collaboration.  My post about a Musical Word Wall  is both the most work I've ever done for a blog post but also the most collaborative.  The response to this post was huge and everyone had requests for words that they would like to see included.  The list of words got longer, the existing words got edited and on the whole, the entire thing was better and more useful because in the end, it was a resource created collaboratively.  I think that is blogging at it's best!  

11. Which recipe, project, or idea on my blog would you be most likely to try yourself?

In my lesson plans for last week I actually included a link to the Nutcracker Movement Activities because my 2nd graders were studying Tchaikovsky and I wanted a quick way to remember what we could do as a movement activity for the Chinese Dance. It was great and my students loved it!  

You may notice that some other music education bloggers have suggested these blogs too!  That is because they are awesome!  :)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

MelodySoup Video Wednesday - Aaron Copland - Appalachian Spring

Here is a really great video that combines the beautiful music of Aaron Copland with choreography inspired by the ballet created by groundbreaking choreographer Martha Graham.     To view the original choreography click HERE.....I probably won't have time to show my students the entire thing,  but WOW! I sure did enjoy it and hopefully we'll at least be able to view the Theme and Variations section.  GREAT JOB University of Maryland!  Thanks for sharing! 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

10 modifications and accomodations for Recorder! - FREE DOWNLOADS

Playing recorder is rather complex and it is often an area where significant modifications and accommodations are needed in order to meet the instructional needs of ALL students.  Here is a quick list of the modifications and accommodations that I use most frequently. 

1.  Preferential Seating -   I can often make quick adjustments for those who need it, simply by making sure that they are close to me.  Sometimes this is as simple as pointing to music or being able to quietly repeat the instructions

2.  Recorder Buddies - I'll often have another student who is making good progress on recorder be a "mini-me".  They can sit next to the student in need and call out note names or model fingerings

3.  Time for independent practice - One of the best ways to keep students progressing without frustrating those who need more time is by using independent practice wisely.  I have a silent practice rule in my class.  I'll assign different groups different songs to practice.  Then they take turns playing in small groups out loud for the class.  This allows me to provide more support to those who need it. 

4.  Note Labeling - Generally I don't allow students to label the notes in their recorder books, but when a student needs the support, it can be very helpful and provide another avenue for practice. 

5.  Note name calling - Sometimes students can play at speed who might not be able to read at speed.  If I call the note names to those who need it, they can play what everyone else can play.

6.  Finger modeling - Sometimes I will model the correct finger positions during a particular song which allows students see what to do instead of worrying about reading it.   I use this sparingly.  I want them to continue to develop literacy, but if they don't get to "play" they might give up, so it's important that they develop sound as well s literacy. 

7.  Letter reading - Often students who cannot read traditional music notation have no problem reading letters.  If you use "letter notation" you can get them to progress pretty far along.  Dashes can be used to determine the length of the note and rests can be incorporated as needed. 

8.  Big is often better - I have enlarged copies of the book we use because for so many students, simply making the print larger enables them to read real notation.  This works really well in tandem with my projector.

9.  Personalized music - Sometimes I create music just for specific children in mind.  This is especially useful if there is a para-professional who travels with the student as they can work with the student who has a personalized book side by side with the class. 

10.  Alternate instruments - Sometimes in order to accommodate for the physical limitations, you can use alternate instruments.  All soprano recorder music can be easily changed to xylophone.  There are even recorders designed for children with at least 6 fingers that can be adjusted to fit their abilities. 

Here is a link to the adaptive recorder


FREE Downloadable Rhythm Cards

Last year I made some of these rhythm cards to use as manipulatives for a meter unit. 

Now, a year later I have expanded the collection and use them constantly for all sorts of assignments. 

My favorite thing to is to give my students combinations of these cards including the new rhythm we are learning that day. 

First students work with a partner to create a chart of the rhythms they already know.  This chart reinforces the relationships between the various notes and gives them a chance for a quick review before moving on to new material.  This is also a great way for me to quickly assess where we are.   

I then give my students the new rhythms and ask them to compose measures containing the new material. 

I typically provide enough cards for them to compose 4 measures of rhythm.  As the measures are completed, the students are asked to perform the rhythms they have composed.  Everyone then travels from group to group in a sort of "gallery walk".  The students perform the rhythms as composed by their peers. 

Once we have read and performed each composition I ask the students to go back and choose their two favorite measures.  They share their two favorites with a neighboring group and work together to perform the new combination. 

Finally, the students are asked to choose their favorite measure and then ALL of the rhythms are set out so that we have a new class composition. 

If you want to print them, I recommend using a variety of card stock.  If you laminate them they will last for a long time.  I also put magnets on a set for myself so that I can use them as models on the board. 

quarter notes, quarter rests, barred eighth notes, half notes, half rests

single eighth notes and dotted quarter notes

sixteenth notes and sixteenth note combinations

whole notes, whole rests, dotted half notes  - must be printed on 17x11 paper!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Redesign underway

I am midway through a redesign - so if my blog looks a little whacky that's the reason, I'm cleaning things up, and putting things aright. Soon all of my elements should be working properly again.  Thanks for the patience.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Youtube Saturday! - Cool Videos for music teachers

Here is a really cool video that wanted to share.   It is a video of stunning beauty featuring a Ehru concerto.  The orchestra consists primarily of Chinese instruments and MOST of the instruments I've never seen before.  I only knew a couple of them.... Mostly I just wanted to share the video because it is excellent, but if you decide to show  this to students don't forget to use a great site that allows you to view videos safely without all of the advertisements and suggested videos.  Additionally, you can cut mark your start and stops and create a hyperlink using only the portion that you choose. 

But since it's Saturday and we've got time, relax while you enjoy this GREAT piece! 

Here is the video embedded directly from youtube which is fine for you and me. 

Wonderful Wednesday - 5 things that made today wonderful

1.  5th graders with determination and heart
 - Our 5th grade choir meets each Tuesday and Thursday.  This morning being Wednesday I wasn't expecting any 5th graders in my room, but was surprised when one stopped by.  He wanted to know if he could join choir.  The deadline for joining choir was more than a week ago and he isn't a new student.  Our choir is really wonderful and our students are well behaved and have a great time, BUT since we meet early in the morning, and because we work hard, choir is not for everyone, so we have a great turn-out, but we don't usually have students begging to join..... So I asked him "Why do you want to join choir?"  I was expecting him to say something about our spring field trip and his friends which would have been a totally fine answer.  Instead He surprised me when he answered, "Well, I didn't really sing too much in 3rd or 4th grade, but I've decided I that I want to make my parents proud."    Needless to say, I handed the forms and told him that I would be happy to see him tomorrow morning. 

2.  2nd graders who can play! - I love that magical time when a group of students in an ordinary class finally settle in together to truly PLAY a game.  When you see REAL play, all of the overly managed competitive, rough-housed, teacher dominated rather than facilitated stuff pales in comparison.  My 2nd graders have been working on playing the ETM version of "Oats Peas Beans and Barley Grow" since the beginning of the year.  Later as these students get older, we'll continue to examine "Oats Peas Beans", but for now, we are simply uploading the song for future reference.  During this uploading process they have had to learn how to give themselves over to the play so that the game keeps going without interruption.  . Today was a REALLY big day because they were ALL able to participate fully and keep the song going for enough verses for everyone to be skipping with a partner around the room.  There was beautiful singing, great comradeship among the partners, and everyone was completely in control of their bodies.  They literally could have played the game for another 30 minutes, but it was time to get into the meat and potatoes of the lesson since we had whetted our appetite for more beauty.  After we played "Oats" we played "Bluebird, Bluebird", and it was better than ever I think in part because Oats had gone so well.  The coolest part of the morning happened once we had finished the game and began having a look at the form book for "Bluebird, Bluebird".  Forms books are an excellent way to build music literacy in students.  My 2nd graders literally drank up every page.  They took turns following the song maps on each page.  When given a turn, the student is asked to decide if they want to sing alone or invite the class to sing along.  Today, I had one of my beautiful students say they wanted to sing alone!  For some that wouldn't be a big deal, for this student, it was HUGE!!!!  When the turn was complete, the entire class erupted in genuine heartfelt applause.  What a blessing to be in the same room with children so sweet to one another!

For more information about ETM, their classes, literature and materials, please click HERE.

3.  Author visits at just the right time - I'm not gonna lie, I am EXHAUSTED!  Being so tired meant that it was wonderful having a truly exceptional author come to our school today.  It was one of the coolest author visits I've ever seen.  The visit was scheduled so that there were grade level presentations during 3rd, 4th and 5th grade specials.  I really don't like missing my classes, but two things made it totally ok and an excellent way to spend my time today.  1.  I get to swap the kids I missed today for ones I've already taught on Friday - so no one misses this weeks lesson.  2.  Today's visit was SUPER cool!  3. Our librarian bought us lunch and we got to eat with the author which was a really super sweet thing that happened and made it a much more relaxing Wednesday than usual. 

4. Co-teachers who put the "C" in contentious - You know that realization that you could literally work 40 hours a week 52 weeks a year..... and never actually see a student?     There is just so much work that is hidden inside the job of music teacher!     All of you "single" ladies and gents who have to teach music all by yourselves have my deep condolences and compassion.  You are heroes!    We all do what we must, but it sure is a blessing when there is another music teacher there with you in the trenches when you are knee deep in recorder money or when you need another set of eyes to look over that note before it's sent home.    It's hard to go it alone!    Over the years I've worked with some amazing folks and last year when I joined the faculty at my new school....I literally hit the jackpot because my co-teacher is wonderful!   I get to work with one of the most efficient, hardest working people I have ever known and I am blessed to know her.   Every day I am thankful that I get to work with such a talented educator whose integrity is above reproach, who gives her best every single day and truly enjoys her students.  She is a gift to our school. 

5.  Conversations with my dad - So my dad is a little over a month out from having a stem cell transplant.  It was at this time last year that he first became terribly ill with what we thought was a simple case of bronchitis.  As his illness persisted he sought multiple types of treatments and several referrals. He pretty much quit eating in October and by November there were new illnesses to contend and lots of seemingly unrelated symptoms that started to point toward lymphoma.  Early in December 2013, he was admitted to MD Anderson and after several life threatening episodes and a million miracles, he finally reemerged from the hospital in March 2014 after 120+ consecutive days in the hospital and a diagnosis of Angioimmunoblastic T-Cell Lymphoma.  Between March and June, he had lots of chemo and then in August he began the stem cell transplant process.  He has been home for a little over a month and just as expected, the recovery from the stem cell transplant and related HUGE chemo has been very very slow!    Because he is still under quarantine and because I teach school which is like living in a petri dish, I haven't seen him very much since the summer even though I moved home when he got sick.  Tonight, he was feeling better than in days previous, so we had a lovely time visiting and chatting together.  I love getting to talk with my dad!

Today was a Wonderful Wednesday!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Lesson Menus For Substitutes in the Music Classroom - FREE DOWNLOAD!

There are several things that are true about having a sub in your music class. 
  • You can almost never afford to tread water with the class you miss because you won't see them again until next week. 
  • You never know who you will get as your sub, or their confidence level.  If you are blessed you will end up with a retired music teacher but it is equally likely that you will have a very kind sub who is not a confident musician and won't be comfortable singing.  You might even have a sub who has trouble running the CD player. 
  • Your sub needs choices.  When you have a musician as a sub, you don't want to disappoint them by having your students watch a video and if you have someone is musically uncomfortable, you still want them to be successful.  CHOICES are AWESOME!
  • Your students will act better if they have choices and expectations
  • Hands-on involved activities will work better than passive ones
  • Videos are never as effective as we wish they were and often cause discipline problems due to lack of engagement. 
  • Subs are often ill equipped to use technology and when would your technology most likely have a problem?  When the sub is there.... just to make their day more interesting. 
  • Even if you can't move ahead with this class, students can always use more time to practice newly acquired skills. 

That is why I developed a series of LESSON MENUS for my Sub tub. 


Here is how it works. 

  • This semester I have  3 different menus. (K-2), 3, (4-5)   next semester after the 3rd grade show, I will redo the menus so that they are (K-1), (2-3) (4-5).
  • Each activity has an approximate time and a point value.
  • The activities range in complexity and level of involvement in order to offer more in depth more interesting work for subs who can handle it and more accessible work for subs who need something simpler. 
  • Each menu item contains a brief description, but more in depth instructions and additional materials are in the Sub Tub including recordings, books, worksheets and game instructions. 
  • Most of my Menu items are ones that my students already have experienced and enjoyed, like the rhythm scavenger hunt.  This year I used the rhythm scavenger hunt as a pre-assessment in order to determine what needed the most focus during review before moving onto grade the new rhythms for the new year.  So that I could assess more than one grade level at a time, I color coded the cards.  3rd-5th had to do yellow, 4th had to look for yellow and orange and 5th grade had to find yellow, orange and blue.   I LOVE scavenger hunts because they serve as a great way to review anything.   If you would like to read my original post about Scavenger Hunts - click HERE.

August and Early September:
Nothing can replace the Emergency Plans - At the beginning of the year, in addition to classroom procedures I have a VERY simple Emergency plan in case I am out before I have had a chance to front load my students.   Those plans are exactly what my students used this year when I missed the 2nd week of school with a high fever and sinus infection.    Below you will find exactly what I have for my Emergency Plans.  They aren't the best, but they will do in a pinch.   ALL of the materials that are needed are in the SUB TUB. 

If you decide that you take a look at my Lesson Menus you will notice that one option for the sub is to sing a song and do an activity out of the Sub Survivor book.

This book is AWESOME! and I highly recommend it!


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pinterest Board! - Composer Biographies

I have a WONDERFUL librarian who is always working to provide books resources whenever we need them.  Today, I was looking to create a list of possible composer biographies we'd like to add to our school library AND I was in a hurry.  So I decided to create a pinterest board to share with her.    Some of these titles are new to me, that I intend to investigate before recommending for purchase.  Some of these titles are ones that I have used at other schools that I know for sure, students will love.  Others are titles that I have seen and have been curious about.  Perhaps some of these are titles you are familiar with, and some may be new.  The first thing I plan on doing is going through and notating which composers are studied in which grade levels as that may affect the eventual book the library will purchase.  Perhaps as I have time, I'll even have a chance to look up them up from a library vendor website.  However, for now, I'm happy to have a working list.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Google Drive is AWESOME!

Today we started choir!  Yippee! 

This year we had a much easier time starting choir than last year because THIS year, instead of asking parents and students to return a sheet of paper letting us know that they were coming to choir today, we sent home a hyperlink that sent our interested parents and students directly to a google form.  YAY! 

Students who wished to join choir simply filled out the google form and without any other steps, we had an instant spreadsheet!!!! 

Today, when we were ready to mark attendance, and take note of who is interested in auditioning for special parts or serving as choir officers, my co-teacher and I were able to work on the very same spreadsheet at the very same time!  Our changes were visible to both of us and we got twice as much work done in half the time.  We also were both constantly working from the most current document. 

If you are looking for a way to manage your extra choirs better, then I HIGHLY recommend using google drive! 

It is working AMAZINGLY well! 

If you haven't tried it, now would be a great time! 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

8 obvious and often ignored tips for music teachers who get sick.

So it's the second week of school and I'm already out with a nasty sinus infection.   If this post were about how to keep from getting sick I would remind everyone to
1. Wash your hands
2.  Get a flu shot annually
3.  Eat healthy and get plenty of sleep
4. find a good ENT and
5. Get allergy shots if needed

That's great but now I am sick..... Now what?  Here are the things I want to remember so that I can get better faster...... first, please remember that  I am not a doctor, nor is this blog intended as medical advise.  I am just trying to put my mind at rest by reminding myself of a few things while I work on getting back to school this week.
1. If you are ill, truly and contagiously ill, STAY home.     No one wants your germs and if you don't rest it will take longer for you to recover.   This is super hard on control freaks like me who have been known to go in to school dragging and drooling and sharing my sickness with staff and students alike.  You never know who among your co-workers or students may have or like me may be living with someone with a compromised immune system.  Caution is always the best option.  Your determination to go to work might be no big deal to you but you could accidentally put another person in serious danger.  If you suspect that you might be around folks who have a compromised immune system wear a mask and gloves.  I have lived in masks and gloves for 3 days already.

2. When in doubt Go to the doctor!  I am preaching to myself right now..... I HATE going to the doctor, especially  when I am sick!!!!! it takes too long and is too much work and by the
time you get there and go to the pharmacy half of your day of rest is wasted.  I had a friend who
recommend a Medspring clinic.  They have them in DFW, Houston and Chicago.  There may be
something similar in your area.  It is not an emergency room, but they are open until 9:00 pm, you are always seen by an MD and they call in your prescriptions before you leave the office.  Being a teacher means that I am never off during office hours, so I think this clinic just changed my life.
3. Drink water - not caffeinated fizzies, but water, water, water,.  Not even lemon flavored cough drops or diet coke will do.... So sad.... But here is a tip. when you get tired of water, try heating it up.... Its warm.

4. Invest in a nettypot. It's gross but far far far more effective than any medicine when you have a stuffy nose.....Be sure to use only distilled water.
5.    Be aware of what you are taking.  Some cold medicines are combinations of several drugs.  There may be elements that you don't need OR you may accidentally take more than you intend if you aren't being attentive.  Take your medicine as directed so as to avoid unwanted side effects.  Take all of your antibiotics  even after you feel better and don't forget that even homeopathic options can still cause issues if used indiscriminately.  For example,  did you know that echinacea
which is often used to as a cold remedy is part of the ragweed family?  If you are allergic to ragweed then a hot steaming cup of echinacea tea might send your simple case of the sniffles into a full blown allergy driven sinus infection....

6. Limit or reduce sugar intake. All of those medicines and remedies can create a perfect storm for elevated blood sugar.  This is especially true if you are prescribed a steroid as part of your treatment plan as elevated blood sugar is often a side effect.  Cough medicines and cough drops are especially high in sugar so watch out.   It is harder to fight an infection with high blood sugar, so while you are sick, it's not a good time to give into temptation.

7.   Quit talking -  Especially if you have any sort of sinus infection, throat infection or bronchial infection. your vocal chords will thank you for the rest AND anything you can do to avoid
 unnecessary coughing will speed your ability to vocalize well once you feel better.  You wouldn't
expect an athlete to run with an injury for fear of causing further damage.  The same is true for singing music teachers who hope to have a lifetime career and who also hope to avoid developing the dreaded "old music teacher voice".

8. Save an "easy-ish" lesson for yourself.  In addition to having good sub plans, try to save at least one or two easy plans for yourself so that if you MUST go to work when you are. not up to full teaching power, you can still give your students something good and curricular lay valuable.  On days like that I am liable to rearrange my roadmap and do  lessons where I have lots of listening activities like genre or composer studies.  Centers or other independent practice lessons also work well as long as your students are fairly independent on the skill you are practicing.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fantastic First Day Fun!

The first day of school is such a special day!  I love the way that my students come in shy and expectant with hopes of a good year in their eye.    I love the air of excitement that pervades the building and the extra special effort everyone puts into doing everything right.

I catch myself looking for familiar faces among the older students and realize that my "big kids" are now in jr. high and won't come back for a visit unless they have a younger sibling.  I find that I am surprised by just how small a newly minted 5 year old really is.    Its on the first day of school when we notice that all of our students have grown taller. AND it's on the first day of school when even students who have shined or struggled in years past get a chance to start over.

I enjoy the careful way everyone walks down the hall and the sense of wonder and excitement that comes when my students realize that THIS year, they actually get to do something they have looked forward to for a long time.  I can't help but find that the cheers that accompany an announcement about ordering recorders VERY encouraging.

Oh... and the singing! When I hear my students sing at this time of year I am reminded of why I have the best job ever!  I work really, really,  hard to do what I do, but I don't know of many folks who feel that their job creates joy. When my students are actively engaged in a musically beautiful moment, there is joy.... and I got to be there when it happened.  Today in music class the ice of an over air conditioned summer started to melt into the warm camaraderie of a back porch swing.  Today, on the first day of school, I have students who just met who have taken the first steps toward a life long friendship all while playing  Skip to My Lou My Darling. 

I could say more, but as wonderful as today was, like all first days, it was an exhausting one and I am BEAT! 

Oh yeah, the other thing I like about the first day of school is that because I'm a music teacher, I get to have a first day, every day this week!  I hope you all have had a great day!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back To School - Music Room Tour - part 2 -2014

One of the joys of not being new anymore is that I've had all year to inhabit my classroom and learn how the room flows with students in it.  As a result, my room set up is a little more refined and indicative of the way that students actually use the space. I finished my room last Friday and decided to hurry up and take pictures of everything before I messed it up again!    I'm very pleased with how things turned out...

The view from the entrance
my teaching nook
My computer area.... My personal CD collection is not yet put away because it is in need of some TLC
CD player and CD cabinet
The red bucket is where I keep my "today" teaching things.  The notebook is where I will keep printed lesson plans.  Objectives and reminders will be written next to the grade levels. 
I have the electric keyboard in the front of class because although I'm not a great accompanist, I like to play for class.  I'm much more likely to be successful if I am seated rather than standing on tiptoe over an upright.  I almost never use the removable music stand and prefer to play with my music flat on the keyboard so that I can see my students better. 

Our Orff instruments are always out.  We don't want them to get dusty.  Bandanas from Hobby Lobby some in a ton of colors and patterns and work great.  2 cover a bass.

I left this bulletin board blank on purpose because it will hold anchor charts as we create them.  The genre posters I hope to use during listening lessons
The recorders on top will eventually be assigned to students who need them so they don't have to share.  The drawer below has extra new recorders for 5th graders who might not have purchased a recorder yet.   Oh yeah, here is my pencil sharpener! :)

Managing instructional materials for 6 grades can be tough especially if some materials are shared.   Extra copies, shared resources, things that we are getting ready to teach.... THIS is the area where I will organize those things. 

This the view of the back wall from my "real" piano.... :)

I am going to try to house my textbooks like this.  I don't know if I'll like it, but I didn't think my plan last year was very effective.... SOOOO we'll try this and see how it goes. 
Each class has a folder to help me keep track of student work. 

When I look at this picture, I realize that I've got to sort my mallets. 
These bins are the perfect size for a class set of recorders.

pocket charts for my word wall. 

The empty shelves at the back will hopefully be the right size to store some of the things we may need for our upcoming performances. 

Have you ever notice that things accumulate over the year?  I think  I've finally left room for things I will receive.... like giant boxes of recorders, or performance shirts

Oh my goodness!  I have a desk! AND it's cleaned off!

Having been a teacher for so long I have a fairly extensive collection of things that I have made over the years that I keep on my laptop.  My resolution for the year is to actually set up my laptop everyday so that I can have access to those hidden treasures if I need them.  I would also really like to keep a clean desk.  After 15 years of teaching I don't know if it's possible, but its a new year and I can try.  MAYBE my desk decorations will last through the end of the first day....maybe not.... double sided tape is my friend.... If it gets messed up.... oh well!   This also reminds me that I need to do a post about sub plans.... one of these days! :)

who can resist musical bathroom passes? 
With school starting on Monday, I may not be free to write again for awhile, but I hope that everyone has a great time going back to school this year!

Back to School - Music Room Tour - 2014

  When you get to share a space with your favorite co-teacher, it's important to create a space where both folks can work easily, because it's a place you will spend a lot of time in throughout the year. Everything should have a place.    When you want to decorate and organize on the cheap there are a few tips that will help. 

1.  Be neat!  - Being neat is FREE! Did you know that turning magazine holders so that the high side faces looks neater even if you are like me and not particularly organized?  Before we changed anything our office environment improved tremendously just because we turned the magazine holders around to cover the mess.  Then over the summer we had a chance to organize things a little and it's improved!

2. If you are looking for cheap magazine holders, they aren't ghosts, they exist!  I got some magazine holders from IKEA!  You can't beat the price!

3.  Good wrapping paper!  I found some wrapping paper on sale at the container store. This paper is wonderful! Check it out HERE!

4.  Colorful and patterned Scotch Expressions (masking tape) .  Use this sparingly on surfaces that won't be hurt by the sticky side.... Masking tape is really much better for this than duct tape because it is easy to remove and as long as you are in a climate controlled environment it won't leave a residue.  The best selection is at Office Depot. Two rolls took care of ALL of the decorating that I did.

 Here is the product info for the masking tape I used

Blue Quatrefoil 3437-P9 00-051141-97688-4

Here is a multimedia catalog for all the various types of tape made by Scotch.

5.  When you get ready to hang things on a wall that you don't own, use command hooks!!!  The best selection is at Joann, but not online, you'll want to go to the store.  
Here is my current favorite: HERE! 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Music Teacher Hack - How to save your Giant BIG BOOKS with one easy trick!

As I was setting up my classroom I was looking for a place to store my MASIVE BIG BOOKS!  I found a good place for them that kept them accessible, out of the way and easy to move, BUT, the pages are not strong enough to stay upright and I don't want to damage the book....   All of a sudden in the midst of my annual beginning of the year mess, I spotted one of my HUGE binder clips!  It fits!!!!  AND it holds the pages to the cardboard back so that the book can be stored where I want it.   Woohoo!!!