Thursday, December 6, 2012 Blog: “Favorite Things” from Ms. McSpadden’s Music Room

I was recently asked to contribute to the discussion board.

The link below takes you to the blog.

Within the their post you can click on the "discussion forum" link to see my complete contribution.  Please be sure and leave a comment on the page!  THANK! Blog: “Favorite Things” from Ms. McSpadden’s Music Room

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Top 10 Tips for an Excellent and Stress Free "Holiday Sing Along"

I gotta tell ya'll that I LOVE our annual "all-school sing along".  I came upon the idea of a holiday sing along completely by accident as it was already a tradition at the school where I first started teaching.  I'm now preparing for my 14th annual all-school sing along and I can hardly wait.

We all have our own unique favorite parts of the holidays and activities that we involve ourselves in that make it feel like Christmas.  For some people, they don't feel like it's Christmas until they put up their Christmas Tree or wrap their presents.  For me, Christmas starts with "Sing Along".  My students love "Sing Along" too!  They come in after Thanksgiving begging to start getting ready for "Sing Along".  This year, with an entire extra week between Thanksgiving and Christmas break we've had time to do other very important learning, but we made sure to include at least a little "Sing Along" preparation in every lesson.

Top 10 ways to have an excellent and stress free "Sing Along".  

1.  Teach everyone all the songs - It's a "sing along" not a performance. This includes your fellow teachers

2. Even the most complex songs have parts that your younger singers can handle.... For example, Silver Bells has complicated verses, but even kindergarten students can echo sing the refrain. Every student should know at least part of every song.

3. Spread out the "fun" songs!  Spread out the "slow" songs!  Spread out the "sacred"! Spread out the "secular".  The idea is to keep the interest of your participants. Keep the contrast and movement alive!

4.  In every way possible tailor your song selection that represents the winter holidays celebrated by your students. There are so many great songs to be sung!  Maybe your campus needs more Hanukkah songs than mine.  I have songs in Spanish...maybe you need songs in Japanese for the Japanese Snow Festival.

5. Time your "Sing-Along - you might not have time for every song. Keep it simple! You don't need all the verses of Little Drummer Boy.... I promise! At my really busy K-5 school I aim to have everyone seated, singing, finished and on their way in 1 hour....45 minutes if I can manage it.  I constantly take the temperature of the room and will cut things or add depending on the feel of the crowd.

6. Use technology well but only if it will work for you.   Burning all the songs onto one CD or playlist is great. A hand held mouse can be a life saver.  Have ALL of the sheet music ready and have an alternate instrument ready if the power goes out.

7. If your "Sing Along" happens during the day time, make sure that your power point presentation is primarily white with black letters.  Don't put too many words on the screen at once.  You do want your students to be able to read the lyrics and if they can't see it in your classroom with the lights on there is no way they will see it from the back of the cafeteria.

8. If you intend to invite the entire student body, be sure to create a clear seating chart and path to and from the common area. Safety first! Keep movement during the "Sing Along" to a minimum.

9.  Nothing kills the Christmas buzz or shouts "unprofessional" like a cranky music teacher trying to get kids quiet....Train your participants to respond to signals. If you don't use a power point, then use some hand signals.  If you do use a power point, then use graphic cues.  Your students need to know when to sing, when to stop, when to listen. During musical introductions,  interludes, bridges and tags I have some animated graphics that "dance" to the music.  During times when they need to be silent I have a graphic that gives the quiet sign.

9 and a half.  Show case the talents of staff members and students.  My 4th graders audition for a chance to lead the songs.  I've had fellow staff members play guitar, and trumpet.  During one of my favorite "Sing Along" we even had a guest brass quintet.  Featured performers like soloists and dancing reindeer or sugarplum fairies are a plus, but think LONG and hard before you invite Jolly Old Saint Nick ..... After all, you don't want to Jingle Bell Rock your way to riotsville. If you choose to invite Santa, make sure he has a SAFE place to be.

 10.  Build traditions that students look forward to and change at least one thing every year.  Each year, there should be something new that keeps your "Sing Along" fresh.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Backdrop SOS - one idea that worked!

I've not had the time to blog as much as usual because our biggest student performance of the year was on the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving, so I'm just now recovering.  I'm also sad to say that we also had a death in our family so in the midst of my craziest season at work, I had the chance to help my family celebrate the life of my uncle who passed away from cancer two weeks ago. Believe me when I say that I missed blogging and looked forward to when I could get back to it.  I'm hoping that now that things have settled down a bit I can put together some meaningful posts that will be both encouraging and helpful.

This year I had a GREAT idea!

Why don't I have 5th grade students sign up to be in "theater tech".  The students in "theater tech" can meet after school as part of our grant funded after school program which provides both academic tutoring and enrichment.  

It really was a great idea.  My theater crew designed and created a beautiful backdrop.  They created and organized all of the show props.  They ran the sound for the show and created the program. What a great idea right?  I was hoping that my 5th graders would be a good help and not extra work for me.  I was not at all disappointed.  They did good careful work, they cooperated and accomplished as much in one hour a week as I would have accomplished in 12 hours a week. The hardest part was making sure that I actually had enough work to keep them busy.

My theater crew created a truly beautiful backdrop and were so proud of their work that I couldn't wait to show it off.  They decided to create buildings out of poster board so that we could fold up the pieces and easily store them without having to deal with them being in the way.  Each week the buildings were taken out and the students would add details.  Putting them away and getting them out caused them to be a little bit bent and roughed up, but I kept telling the students that no one would notice since the backdrop would be on the stage..... Little did I know how things would work out.....

My 5th grader tech crew was well on their way to creating a beautiful backdrop when I ran into a real and unexpected roadblock.  The cafeteria where my students perform is fairly narrow and as we got closer to the time of performance my co-teacher and I decided that we would change the configuration of where everyone was standing so that we would be less spread out.  Basically, the entire 5th grade would be on risers or steps on the stage. With this huge wall of students there was no room to hang the backdrop!  Until this year, not having space for a backdrop would have been a relief to me.  Last year I would have been thrilled because I would have just made the decision not to have a backdrop at all.  But here I was with a new plan to improve student performance AND a student created backdrop that my students were excited to share! Oh yeah..... and because I was dealing with a family crisis I was REALLY REALLY crunched for time.....even more than usual....  SO here is what we did.

 I hung the backdrop on the very inhospitable wall made of cinder block and acoustic panels next to the stage.  On the stage I have the option of using canvas, a track and hooks, or I can use butcher paper and a stapler.  But on this wall..... I had to get super creative.

Originally, since our cafeteria has been recently painted, I thought about using fishing line and an upholstery needle to sew the backdrop pieces to the acoustic panels.... but I thought that would take too much time and I had to get out of town in a hurry.

3M hooks were the pricey but necessary hero of the day.  Although 3M hooks and re-stick-able adhesive strips are a little steep, they are also reusable and you can find replacement strips for the hooks on

The day that we hung the backdrop, my co-teacher and tech crew did a whole bunch of problem solving and after an hour of guess work and figuring out, we knew what to do, but it was time for the kids to go home.

I was able to take what they had figured out and starting at 5:30, I was completely finished hanging everything by 7:00 even though I was working alone.  The backdrop was hung on a Thursday evening, survived the breakfast trash line, a Thanksgiving feast, a really cold cafeteria, a really hot cafeteria and a weekend and I only had one sign fall down.  Everything was ready for our Monday morning performance and didn't come down until Tuesday afternoon when we took it down. The backdrop took about 30 minutes to take down and I've got all of those hooks and strips for next years backdrop if I need them.

Each building was attached to the wall by two 3M hooks.  On the back of each building I built tape "hangers".  A folded piece of tape held down by two other pieces of tape created "pockets" for the hooks to hang on to. 

The musical marquees and anything else that didn't have a piece of wall to hang on were attached to the backdrop with the clear adhesive strips and packing tape.  

A little worse for wear, but overall the end result was nice.  Those were REALLY proud kiddos! 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Performance check-list - how this music teacher plans performances

Whether you are managing several small performances or one big performance there are always logistics that need attention, so here is my "to do" list for one big-ish performance.....If I do this then I'm on track and not panic-y.... This year I had a few interruptions but because I had this basic timeline in my head, I was able to make up some time and will have my students ready to perform on November 19th and 20th.... I'm VERY interested about what things you do to ensure that you can accomplish your performances in time.... 

6 - 9 months out

  • Get projected performances on the school calender.... (this may need to happen as much as 12 months in advance)..... the sooner your programs are on the calender the better! 
  • Choose music (the earlier you choose the music, the easier it is to get it in and start making detailed plans of what needs to be done)  Will you provide music for your students or will they buy their own? As you choose your music, is it the type that you can purchase the rights to copy for your classroom? 
  • Consider wardrobe - At what level will your students be costumed?  How much do you already have?  What needs to be acquired, borrowed or created?  Make a plan
6 - 3 months out
  • Begin advertising - In an ideal world where your performances are on the calender  you can begin telling students to expect a performance
  • Start teaching the discreet skills that your students will need in order to perform well.... Decide which songs you want to teach while developing your students music literacy and which songs you want to teach by route..... Some songs are a better fit than others and IF you are going to use the performance material for music literacy instruction you want to make sure they are ready for it..... 
    • example 1 : - IF you want to do a Veteran's Day program with 3rd graders it might be a good idea to at least give your 2nd graders a good solid look at patriotic music in May......
    • example 2: - IF you want your recorders to play Jingle Bells as part of a Christmas program they need to be well on their way to playing BAG, C and D by Thanksgiving. 
  • My school has to order air conditioning for special events, my campus also has to order seating and sound equipment - The sooner you order it, the sooner you get dibs on anything you share with other campuses.  Do you have enough risers? Where can you borrow them from? 
  • Wardrobe/ Costumes/ props - acquire, order, borrow, create items that are needed. 
    • example 1: - I prefer that my 5th graders wear "show shirts" for their annual November performance.... This implies that I have designed a T-shirt, found a vendor and ordered the shirts.... I also want my students to have the opportunity to pay for the shirts.
    • example 2 - Do you need kazoos? Kazoos are typically disposable, because who would want to play a used kazoo.... order them now!  
12 weeks out
  • Rehearsal CDs - I literally record myself singing  each song a capella and - boring but effective
  • ADVERTISE - newsletters, flyers, save the date notes - MAKE SURE that you get administrative approval.... this means that you've double and triple checked the dates and times with your administration.... sometimes things change that are beyond anyone's make sure you've got the right info on your flyers! 
  • Get flyers translated! - this is a necessary step if you have a strong 2nd language learner population
  • auditions - either after school or during class - This year we recorded our solo auditions - GREAT idea! 
  • special practices - I meet once a week with speaking parts after school
  • sets - This year I had my students sign up for an after school class to create the sets.... THIS has been the best idea I've ever had!  So far, this idea has saved me HOURS of work! 
  • figure out performance groups..... Which students will do what.... no sense in teaching them the choreography of a song that they are only going to be singing.... 
  • Begin auditioning solos 
  • Remember to teach your other stuff.... You don't want your students who are doing a program to only have learned "the program"....We all know that too much program wears thin very quickly... Your calender is your friend..... anticipate surprises, don't create them.... 
  • Decide if you want to do any fund raising and recruit the help needed to make it happen.... after all you've got a show and cast  to manage... so this will have to be something that can be taken on by someone who loves you enough to do it for you.... 
6-9 weeks out
  • Rehearse Rehearse Rehearse! Depending on the complexity of the music, the abilities of your group and what other curricular goals and how often you see your students....THIS is the prime time to do the bulk of your music learning and dance learning... you want your students to peak out on performance night....Some of my students have two music classes every six days and some have music once a week so these decisions are made depending on which grade level(s) are involved. 
  • Clear the deck for full rehearsals..... I have to share the performance area with breakfast and lunch and the after school program.... so I have to be a team player, but I also have to make sure that everyone understands that there are days when we NEED the cafeteria to ourselves.... SOMETIMES this means adjusting the schedule to allow for an entire grade level to rehearse together... Do you best not to abuse this privilege or your colleagues and administration won't be so willing and accommodating next time.  
  • Start recruiting staff to help during before, during and after full rehearsals.... This may mean working closely with your other specialists (art and PE) OR homeroom teachers.... The idea is to ensure that you are not left in an empty cafeteria with 125 students all by yourself while everyone else has a coffee break..... I have always been blessed with teammates and homeroom teachers who are the very best kind of team players, but I've heard horror stories of music teachers having double rehearsals and being the only adult in the room.... that is NOT COOL!  nor is it safe! Make sure your rehearsals will be attended by the adults who should be there. 
  • ORGANIZE wardrobe - These are the students who most likely will be in the performance so make sure that you have enough of what you need.... No one wants to have one child without a sailor hat because little Johnny moved to town last week and you only bought 25 hats so always have extra on hand.  
    • Ziploc bags - my district warehouse has these AWESOME no brand ziploc bags that are the perfect size for an 8.5x11 sheet of paper.  For each and every child I create a bag.  Inside the bag I have a paper that has their name, their teacher name and if needed their group or part written on the bag.  Sometimes I poke a hole in these bags and hang them on the costume when it is on a clothes hanger.... Sometimes I put their shirts and props inside the bag.... I've been using those bags and papers to organize costumes for over 10 years and I LOVE it! 
3 weeks out
  • Music should be off book! - Memorize Memorize Memorize! 
  • Check on the status of things you have requested....for me this means:
    • Check on the air work order
    • Check on the chair work order
    • Check on the sound equipment work order
    • Check on the flip form work order
  • Have a "heart to heart" with your custodian
    • They can only help you if they know what you need.  I provide a schedule of rehersals and a map of how things should be set up each day...
  • Assign kids/parents/ or teachers jobs
    • If you need someone to run sound.... THIS is the time to train them.... not during the first full rehearsal or night of the performance
    • If you are going to have a stage manager - meet with them
    • Lights? - 
  • Copy a bunch of the scripts - whether you write your own or not.... If you are giving your students something to memorize they need to have access to a backup in case they loose their copy. .... your students with speaking parts will thank you
  • Lyrics - You know the trouble spots now... the spots that students still stumble over - 
    • you may want to make large posters of key words that you can refer to during the performance
    • create codes - "when I put my hands over my heart, you should remember the word love"
  • Risers - The sooner students grow accustomed to being on risers the better.... We move 3 risers into our room so that we can practice getting on and off, sitting and standing and being safely on the risers.  
  • Program - make sure and include a section thanking all of the folks who helped! 
  • Lesson plans for the next month for all of your other grade levels.... You want to continue quality instruction while you are "programming" and it's not a bad idea to take care of that chore ahead of the crazy
2 weeks out
  • After school arrangements
    • Assist students in making arrangements to attend the evening performance - this may include calling individual parents, coordinating care with the after school coordinator, and pizza.... My students who stay for the after school program can't possibly ride the bus home and come back in time for the performance... so I make arrangements for them to stay with me until after the performance
  • Spell Check the program - Have other eyes look at your program.... Ask homeroom teachers to make sure that all of their students are listed.... Spell everyone's name correctly! 
  • Double check with administrators to make sure that you don't have a performance at the same time you are supposed to be teaching.... you don't know how to clone yet :) If necessary hire a sub for the day of the performance, especially if you have two performances in one day - In my opinion it's worth the cost. 
  • Plan on getting sick - For the last three years I've gotten sick within two weeks of my biggest show of the year....  You may have to adjust your time line accordingly.... I've missed Tuesday and Wednesday of this week due to an upper respiratory infection and laryngitis.... So make good sub plans 
6 days out 

  •  help the custodian every day if your teaching schedule allows
  • Communicate with your helpers, colleagues and students the procedures for costumes and props
  • Copy multiple copies of flyers, reminders, and call any parents with questions 
  • Make sure that the office crew has ALL the information that you have sent parents - they can field questions for you IF they have the answers! 
  • Advertise within the school - make sure each grad level knows when to attend....
  • Depending on the show it might be helpful to do a lesson on auidence ettiquete... Also, if your show is historical, consider doing lessons with your student audience about the characters. 
  • Friday before (1st full cast rehearsal) - objective - Get students in their places - practice getting from point a to point b, probably no singing this day, just good habits
  • Monday 2nd  full rehearsal - objective - Sing ALL the songs moving groups from point A to point B with props
  • Tuesday 3rd full rehearsal - objective - Add in Speaking parts ( may only get through 1st half) 
  • Wednesday 4th full rehearsal - objective - Add in Speaking parts ( may only get through 2nd half)
  • Thursday 5th full rehearsal - objective - run through
  • Friday 6th full rehearsal - objective - run through - remind students of costume and prop procedures

  • Thursday after school - After school theater tech crew put up the backdrop 
  • Friday after school - finish backdrop set up 

Performance day! 
  • Monday morning performance 1 - in front of an audience (dress rehearsal)
  • Monday night performance 2 - in front of an audience
  • Tuesday morning performance 3 - in front of audience

Day after the show - 
  • Meet with colleagues to critique the show - adjust the plan for next year.
  • Utilize the volunteers or students you've recruited to help dismantle the backdrop and put away the props. - Get it done as soon as possible so that it's all the way done. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Recorder Karate to the Rescue!

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

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

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

Music K-8 - Recorder Karate Page

Music K-8 - Recorder Karate Belts Page 
  The project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 30, 2012

MelodySoup - Monday Linky Party! - How do you generate funds?

So every day I learn something new about blogging! Today I am learning about linky parties.

I know that in these days where employment security for many music teachers is far from guaranteed we are all just grateful to be working..... Often in that environment where there is very little if any funding that we can count,  we work with and have become accustomed to the expectation that we will generate the necessary funds to make our classes work. If you are like me, you like being part of the solution rather than the problem, so I'm always looking for new and creative ways to ensure that I can accomplish basic things like purchase enough music,  repair and replace instruments and equipment and purchase the things that will make help my students shine brightly on program days.

So for this first Monday in October the linky party question is this...... "How do you generate funds for your music program?"

Do you sell tickets?  Do you do fund raisers? Maybe you write grants, or have become addicted to like I have..... Maybe you've found a great corporate sponsor in your community or Maybe you've partnered with the best PTA ever..... What do you do?

Here is what I do...... I write grants and use  The way I see it, the time I could spend writing and managing a grant is time I don't have to spend selling popcorn. or cookie dough..... but that is just my personal preference.....

The point is the great idea that you have might just be the program saving idea that someone else needed to read about..... so feel free to share.

How does this work? 
Here is how a linky party works......
1. You write a post related to this post.... ."How do you generate funds for your music program?"
2. Then link back here to MelodySoup......You can use my button if you wish

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Then your AND all the others will show up below!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The power of a name

As we move into middle and late September let us not forget the power of name games.  Most music teachers use name games extensively at the beginning of the school year in an effort to build community and as a way to get students singing. However as the demands of our performance and curricular schedule take over our thinking, name games take the back burner and it isn't long before they are a distant memory and a collection of songs that we take out only in August and early September.

I've studied with ETM for a long time and one of the most extensive strands of study in the institute is social and emotional development of children.  As part of my study my co-teacher and I were privileged to take part in a 2 year residency with the director of the institute Dr. Randal McChesney.  As part of our work together we talked extensively about what combination of song experiences were best to help facilitate the emotional well being of our students so that they would be available to all that we wanted to teach them.

Name games are the quickest means to that end because they build regard between the student and the teacher as well as with students. A name game well placed and well played at the beginning of the lesson can take up 10 minutes but earn you 15 minutes of quality instructional time rather than 25 minutes of tug-a-war as you drag your students into the music curriculum.

My favorite name games come from the "Let's Do it Again" book such as "I'm looking for a friend" and "Hickety Tickety" that we use in ETM.  In fact, many of the songs of ETM are found in similar versions as part of the standard Kodaly and Orff repertoire. The point is to facilitate the experiences with sincerity, regard for the child and with true playfulness.

This week my second graders were using Hickety Tickety Bumblebee. We did the version found in "Let's Do it Again" and we had a grand time exploring the different ways that we could say our name. We had such fun I was reminded of a very sweet story that a dear friend of mine named Tobey Unrath once told about a precious experience she had with a student.

My friend Tobey has been a music teacher for a long time and was one of the first music teachers that I met when I started teaching.  I met her during my very first ETM class and we immediately became friends. She invited me to visit her church because she knew that I was looking for a church home and it wasn't long before we were not only professional colleagues and members of the same church choir.  Now 13 years later we are still both teaching and we are still both in the same church choir singing 2nd soprano when we have a voice left after teaching all day.  Last spring Tobey was given the chance to share a devotional before choir began and because she is all things music teacher it wasn't long before her story, like most of mine, rounded the corner into a conversation she had with a little girl just that week.  As I try to remember how Tobey told the story, I'm sure I'll get parts of it wrong, so Tobey if you read this, please forgive my poor memory.  I think the conversation went something like this:

Girl : "I love you!"
Tobey: " Why do you love me?"
Girl: "Because you love me!"
Tobey: How do you know that I love you?"
Girl: "Because you sing my name"

I don't know about your students, but my students with all of the needs and troubles they bring with them to school are in desperate need of someone to sing their name.  What a difference we can make in the lives of the children we are blessed to teach when we sing their name.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Music Class Organization - teacher corner upgrade

Every year I try to get better and better at organizing my room.  Today I'm going to share how I overhauled my teacher corner.

This was my teacher corner last year.  I am somewhat bound in how I can set up the area because my computer has to be next to my activeboard.  I also like to keep my electronic piano as near to my computer as possible so that I can easily hook them up when I need to make a quick recording of something. I don't do it very often, but when I do need to record something, I don't have time to re-arrange everything.  I thought that if I taught in front of the keyboard then I would be in the way of curious fingers who want to touch all the chords they can get their hands on........ it didn't work...... 
I made several improvements and two weeks after school started I'm still happy with them.  

The first thing I did was make some of those handy dandy crate seats and I was able to store an entire grade level of text books in them.  I LOVE my crates for three reasons.
1.  My students sit on the floor and if they are going to lean on something, I would rather it be a padded crate than on the wall under the electrical outlet where my activeboard is  plugged in. (those crates buy me a buffer zone
2. My large or heavy students can sit on those crates and it's not the same as getting to sit in a chair. ]
3. When we use the activeboard in kinder and first grade, my students (with me right there) can use those crates as a stepping stool so that they can reach the activeboard.

When I was making my crate seats I purchased some crates thinking that I would make more and on a whim I stacked them up and voila!  A new shelf that not only helps me to organize my teaching materials, but keeps my little friends from playing with the chords on the back of my piano.

I have a basket for each grade level where I keep todays  teaching stuff.  This picture was taken the first week of school so I didn't have too many materials, but I can already tell that this system is going to help me keep my areas neat.  I hate trying to start a lesson knowing that I have set the one thing that I need down somewhere.... now each teaching tool has a home!

So far, I've used the baskets across the top to keep track of things that I need to copy, or return to the office, or for things that I need that are not necessarily for students like my clipboard that I used to help students find their homeroom on the first day of school.  I haven't labeled them yet because I want to make sure that the labels are really what I will use. 

My favorite part of my shelf is that there are holes - this way I can see if any of my friends decide to hide behind the piano. 

By the way - I found the baskets at my local Dollar Store Chain called "King Dollar"  It's the BEST Dollar Store ever..... if you are ever in Houston look them up! 

I don't know about you, but three things are true in my classroom.  
  1. I need a reminder about the daily schedule much more often than my students do. 
  2. My students have not all mastered the skill of how to read a traditional clock
  3. I am rarely if ever in the place where I need to be to see the clock
So to help alleviate this problem, I took a good idea that saw (but forgot to pin) from pinterest and posted clues on the clock to help my time tellers tell time.  I also posted a schedule right there.  That way the responsibility for keeping us on schedule is shared with the students (this is a skill they CAN handle and enjoy) AND when they aren't there and I'm sitting at my desk, I can use the schedule too.  

Organization never happens overnight!  I organized my desk drawers last May using some little food containers with snap lids that I purchased in packs of 5 for $1.00 at KING DOLLAR! It may not look like much to you, but can I just say that this is the very first time that I've EVER shown anyone the inside of my desk drawer because until this last May it literally looked like a bomb went off.  I've been able to find things easily and the best part is that I've even taken out materials and managed to put them back..... did I mention that I am a recovering mess maker? .....putting things back where I got them from is no small feat for me! 

My use of technology means that I have an over abundance of gadgets, remotes, pens and other usb devices that  I need to have readily available at all times.  - This basket is half way between my desk and the "real world" so I can get to it easily from anywhere.  - Basket from Dollar Tree

My text book CDs are right by my desk at eye level so that I can get to them quickly.  
The colorful boxes above are not labeled because they will be called into service to serve as a holding place for choir, guitar and piano materials which all take place after school and are not needed just yet. 

The student issues of Music Express Magazine are sorted by month and issue in hanging files that I got at KING DOLLAR! 

My teacher files are at eye level.  These files used to be on my desk, but my new goal for the year is to keep my desk clear for doing work.  

There is a box for each grade level where I will store student work - I have a whole system for student work that I will share in a later post. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Music Classroom has a Word Wall - NOW WHAT?

So - You've finally found the time to go to the extra effort to create a word wall just like in everyone else's classroom.  You've got the words, you've got the letters up, you staple and staple and staple, and then you realize.....

If this is all the word wall is, then it is just a fancy dust catcher!

That will never do!

So, if you are like me, you start trying to do some homework to figure out how the regular folks (classroom teachers) use their word wall.

Here is what I've found so far in my very hairy scary quick searches.

First I went to Pinterest and found this awesome blog called Excuse Me Mrs.C  Which as it turns out was a great place to start.

Then I did some basic searches and came across a great site ALL about instructional strategies.  This one is a site we should probably all keep in our back pocket when we go to meetings because it is one of those sites that can alleviate a great deal of confusion by providing common definitions to all of those instructional terms and methodologies we throw around at meetings expecting that everyone has the same definition.  A site like this can create a shared understanding YAY!   It's called Instructional Strategies and wouldn't you know it?  They have a page dedicated to word walls and how to use them. At the bottom of the page there is an awesome bibliography.  I bet your school already has copies of some of those books referenced in the site that you could take a closer look at.

Here is what I gleaned from my very quick read of these resources.

1. One very basic use of a word wall is to provide a reference point for students as they practice spelling and reading common words.

That is just fine if the words on your word wall are common..... but what if they are uncommon? or content specific words as most musical words are?

So I kept digging.

I came across a study that followed the use of word walls with older students study from the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy  This article gives lots of insight in how to help students be meta-cognitive about how they use the word wall. Great Questioning strategies for older kiddos!

And then FINALLY, I found the article I had been seeking!  An article about word walls in the music classroom  Here it is.  It was published in General Music Today , entitled Making Your Word Wall Work by Angela Leonhardt. AND it's AWESOME!  VERY useful, VERY practical, and VERY easy to read!

So here are the things that I am going to do now that I am informed about how to use my word wall more effectively.

1. I'm going to take down the words that I haven't introduced.

2. I'm going to use my colorful small pocket charts to sort our current words by grade level. Then as words are introduced I will add them to the big word wall.

3. I'm going to provide an opportunity for students to personalize their word wall.  Since my older students have music folders this will probably take the form of a paper added to their folder on which they can add words that we know.  Except on their personal chart, we will have the words categorized by theme....i.e. rhythm words, tempo words, etc....With my younger students who don't yet have folders and who need the support, I'll have to be a little more creative.  I'm sure that as the idea arrives, I'll share it on this stay tuned. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Music Lesson Plan Template

For the first 10 years or so of teaching music I was free to use any lesson plan template that I chose.  I'll admit that mostly I just made my music plans fit on whatever was available.  Then around the time that I really started thinking about what would be most useful for me and really playing with templates, my school district handed down a required online template.

I used dutifully used that template with as much success as could be expected and had actually made plans on asking for a special exemption this year when much to my delight and relief we were told that we didn't have to use the "mandated" template any longer and that several templates would be suggested, but that we were to focus on using lesson plans that worked for us.  HALLELUJAH!  And there was MUCH rejoicing!

So - I took all of my favorite elements of what I liked and got rid of what didn't work for my class and came up with my own template.

I write in the cells that are open and I highlight  the parts of the template that I need for the lesson.  My favorite part of the template is the bottom where I can make notes about the needs of individual classes. 

I am leaving this in spreadsheet form so that hopefully you can edit it to meet your own personal needs.  Let me know how it goes. If you run into trouble or are unable to edit the form, please let me know and I'll gladly send you the file.    Due to damage to the file, here is an updated version in a PDF form.  Feel free to print.