Thursday, May 30, 2013

The blessings of conversation in the midst of transition

I am feeling blessed today.  I got to have WONDERFUL and meaningful conversation! 

Today I got to help my 5th graders celebration their promotion into 6th grade.  It was a lovely ceremony and one of the best since I've been at this school.  The day was a little bittersweet because I know that not only are these students completing their time in elementary school, but I also know that when they drop by for a visit in the years to come, I won't be there to greet and encourage them.  
There I was, right in the middle of the temptation to pout and feel sad that I am leaving when I had the chance to get excited about the future.  You see this afternoon I got to meet with the music teacher at my new school!  

When I first accepted the position as music teacher at my new school I was so excited to get to work with her, and then just like me, she has found herself in a season of unforseen change and has now decided to retire at the end of the year.

So now instead of just creating a "transition notebook" for the teacher who will take my place, I am also recieving a "transition kit" from the music teacher whose work I will inherit. 

 It was so wonderful to have a good chat with her.  I know that I will miss getting to work with her becuase the more we chat the more I see what great partners we could have been.....

What a wonderful job she did of answering my questions, providing critical information and being organized.  Now in the midst of all that is the last few days of school, I'm spending my "free" thinking time in what I would call "informed" dreaming.  Let the creativity of summer begin! 

I hope that when I get a chance to meet with the music teacher that will replace me that I am able to be as helpful as my new friend Libby was for me. 

I am blessed!  What an amazing experience this change has been so far! 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Composing Rhythms in 2nd grade

Like everyone else, I'm in the last few days of school.  My students last day is June 5th and we have a workday on June 6th.  One of my chores is to get my computers in order.  As part of that chore, I found these pictures taken earlier this year (sometime in February/March) My second graders were writing a rhythm composition using quarter, eighth and rests. 
I made a BIG deal about being composers, and gave them special paper.  We folded the paper four times so that we had 16 boxes (beats). 
I then told them that they could draw a quarter note in any 8 boxes of their choosing. 
Then I told them to write 4 sets of eighth notes in 4 boxes of their choosing. 
I made a BIG deal about the "blank" spaces and suggested that they could either fill in the remaining four boxes with quarter notes or eighth notes OR they could draw a rest in each empty box. 
They were so proud of themselves and took great delight in sharing their rhythm compositions with each other. 



Sunday, May 19, 2013

Scratch recording students on the cheap without a lot of fuss.

Wildcat's Roar

Necessity is the mother of invention and in preparation for our annual round of standardized tests, I wanted to record my students as they chanted a rap that I wrote for them last year. 

Last year because of time I had no choice but to circulate a recording of me rapping..... no one wants to hear me rap..... so I knew that it was not a permanent solution.

I don't know about ya'll but sometimes my to do list doesn't fit in the hours I've been given, so it was REALLY close to testing time and I was faced with a choice.... suffer through another year of listening to myself rap on the announcements

for 3 weeks OR record my students....... Since I didn't suddenly wake up with a recording studio in my classroom I had to get creative. 

Here is what I did. 

1. I used one of my classroom macbooks. 

2. I opened up a track that included the instrumental loops that I h

ad used when I recorded the vocals originally.
3. I connected and then "

daisy-chained" 2 headphone splitters so that as many as 12 students could listen to the accompaniment at once and be free to record vocals,
4. I asked groups of volunteer 3rd,4th and 5th graders to come to the music room and take turns laying down tracks. 
5. Each time I would record a new vocal track, I would mute it so that the next group could match their voices to the original.
6. Then using Garage Band, I balanced the voices and mixed the tracks down to one.....

Not perfect, but sooooo much better than what I had before.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Transition notebook - Leaving a classroom and school in good shape!

Hey everyone! 

Here is how the end of the school year feels to me!!!! 

We are all facing the end of year rush and this year because I am changing schools I get to not only inherit someone else's work when I go to my new school, but I also get to leave behind a music program for someone else to step into. 

The last time I left a school, I also left a teaching partner with whom I had essentially shared a brain, so I didn't have to remember where the mallets were, or which key went to which cabinet because my former co-teacher already knew all of the things a new teacher would need to know. 

In the situation I am currently leaving,  even though I'm not teaching music alone, as the all day teacher who doesn't have to juggle multiple campuses I have become the keeper of information...... 

So I am starting a "need to know" book that I will leave behind for the teacher who follows me. 

The purpose of this book is purely informational.  I want to include the information that I keep in my brain about what I do that the principal, my teaching partner or the school secretary might not remember.  I want to aide the new teacher in their transition so that as they claim their new classroom and make it their own, they can do so with enough knowledge of what went on before to make their job easier. 

Additionally, this notebook will keep me on task as I create it and will help me ensure that I don't leave anything in a mess, undone, or un-findable. 
 1. Have a remembered to go into the costume closet and organize it nicely while removing personal items and returning borrowed ones?
 2. Have I "summarized" the piano lab in such a way so that someone else won't spend hours untangling a mess of cords? 

Here are some of the things that I will include in my notebook. 

I'm hoping that some of you who have moved recently will be so kind as to leave a comment with a suggestion.  When I get a book together that I like I'll pretty it up and create a free downloadable for everyone to have.

  1. District curriculum CD - Hard copy is in the classroom library
  2. List of performances that each grade level has participated in (including songs)
  3. Rhythm systems(ta titi, da da....) that students are accustomed to.....
  4. Melodic systems (fixed or movable do, or numbers)
  5. grade levels who have used recorder - method book
  6. A brief explanation of what my students covered and where I think there might be holes.
Management - STUFF
  1. This may be on a CD with important documents
  2. Equipment - (where are my manuals?) This list may be important if things are moved over the summer
  3. costumes, uniforms, and choir shirts - how many?  .jpeg in case there needs to be more ordered.
  4. vendor list  
  5. Money - what we have, how to use it, how to make it grow
  6. What has been ordered for the fall

Resources -
  1. Textbook series with resources - most important if these things are moved
  2. Magazine subscriptions (Music Express, Music K-8, Activate ) - with the volume
  3. list of projects

Tips and tricks -
  1. Is there a special way to open that cabinet?
  2. Is there something hidden somewhere else on campus like a CD burner in the library?
  3. pictures of possible room set up - My room is the place where ALL of the furniture in our pod ends up when they wax the floors in July, so providing a furniture list with pictures might be handy. 
  4. Setting up the DVD player so it will play on the activeboard......
  5. What items need attention - I can put a work order in for everything before I go, but it would be great for the new teacher to know what should have been fixed so that if it hasn't been addressed, he or she can address it in the fall.
Who to call
  1. If you need to know who the volunteers are
  2. If you need a parent to go on a field trip
  3. If you need an accompanist
  4. If you need another music teacher
Special projects
  1. Upcoming grant initiatives
  2. Campus events - planning (i.e. Carnival)
  3. After School program

Here is the sad part.... I haven't created ANY of this yet..... but NOW I have an outline and I have a notebook with pockets so I can at least start making a pile of things to go into my "need to know" notebook. 

Please leave a comment if you think of something I should add to my notebook!  :)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Super Sized Post-it Notes! Orff Instruments and a 4th grade "informance" that is finally taking shape.

I like to learn new things.  I am primarily a singer and as a result, I am generally more comfortable with performances that deal with singing.  Using instruments for performance is something I've been working up to..... Although my Orff training is limited to the classes I took in college (which I only sort of paid attention to) and a workshop here and there AND although I don't claim to have any kind of deep understanding of the work, what I HAVE learned of the Orff approach is fitting in nicely with the way that I already practice my teaching as part of my study with the Richards Institute of Language and Research....Many of my ETM friends from around the country are also great Orff educators, so I'm sure they will let me know if I misunderstand, but as far as I can tell, these philosophies dovetail in their belief that a formal label is only as valid as the experience it represents. Basically, LOTS of experience first, then when labeling is necessary it becomes a simpler matter because the quality of the experience is rich. 

This year as I was developing the idea of our 4th grade "informance" I wanted to use as many folk songs as I could that are a part of the ETM song experience game collection.... But I wanted to stretch my students as well as myself by trying to take the song experience games that we already know and love and adding accompaniment. 

So when I went to TMEA I was on the hunt for good Orff resources.  I wanted resources that would help me find success without a lot of fuss despite my lack of formal Orff training.

Here are some of the resources that I found that I have really enjoyed.   This is probably my favorite... because for me, as someone who doesn't quite think "Orff" ..... it provided a systematic support as we moved through each slide AND because the instructions are on each slide I didn't have to refer back to the teaching manual..... it's all right there. 

Interactive Folksongs by Christi Cary Miller

Orff Source Collection This link takes you to the Music in Motion Website.  Volume 2 and Volume 3 are easily available from several sources.... Volume 1 is harder to find online.

While at TMEA I purchased Volume 1 and Volume 2 and am now using arrangements from both volumes to accompany ETM songs.....

Which leads me to my primary source for the majority of the songs I use in my classroom and in this "informance". 

Often, when students know several of the ETM songs, we will put them all together as a set of partner songs.  It takes time to play the children into this experience, but it is always worth the time and effort.  One of my classes took the partner songs that they have sung and added their own instrumentation made up of yet another partner song......

Register for a Colloquium or Winter Course TODAY!

I have purposefully not included a link directly to a purchase page for this book because the book by itself is not nearly as useful as the classes themselves.  After all, if your only experience with a football game was the coaches playbook, you might not ever be inspired to watch an actual game..... If you are looking for a place of inspiration, information and insight, then a time of study with ETM is exactly what will meet your needs.  The link above will send you to all of the current course offerings.  If you decide to attend, please let me know!!!! 

Organizing it all! 

Because I was putting songs together from so many different sources, I copied the pages I needed, slipped them into page protectors, made notes about which classes had what responsibilities and then used my BIG post-it notes to remind myself of who was playing what.  The post-it notes are my working memory for the informance.....We are presenting our work on Thursday.....I'll be sure and let you know how it goes

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Following their lead! - Giving in to a hunch to follow the student

Have you ever had those moments in teaching when a comment or action from a student will send your lesson into an entirely new direction?  One of those moments when you realize that you almost missed the forest for the trees, but on a whim you followed an impulse and it turned out better than you could have ever expected? 

Well that happened to me last week! 

I was right in the middle of introducing new and reviewing known instruments to my 3rd grade class.  I had a blank instrument family chart on my white board and I asked students to come up and write the name of a known instrument on the board in the appropriate family.  The students had written down all that they could remember, flute, clarinet, bassoon, oboe (thanks to Peter and the Wolf which had been fully explored in Kinder and 1st grade.) and I was starting to augment the list to include some instruments that they were not as familiar with.....My plan was to build the chart and then watch short video clips as we moved from one family to the next...... The application and aural identification was to happen in a later lesson..... .....  On this day I was presenting the lesson to a reasonably responsive class, even though some were passive, everyone was at least politely attentive. 

I wrote down piccolo and realized suddenly that I was having a brain freeze and couldn't remember if I was spelling it correctly or not.  Since I had asked my students to copy the chart we were creating for themselves, I wanted to make doubly sure that I was spelling everything correctly.  I walked over to a text book, quickly turned to the instrument glossary in the back and corrected my spelling.......  I was JUST about to go on when I noticed that the entire class had followed my lead and reached underneath their seats and retrieved their textbooks!  Without being asked!!!!!! 

It quickly became clear that my students were FACINATED by the glossary!!!!!  Sooooo I slowed down, jumped off of my agenda and onto theirs...... I guided them through the process of using a glossary.  We researched instruments of all sorts for the rest of the class using only an 8 page instrument glossary.... After my students had researched the instruments on their own, the quick video clips that I had decided to use had so much more meaning and usefulness. 

Remember the woodwind family?  Well after I had mentioned the piccolo, they found the saxophone in the glossary.  They gleefully added it to our list and then were dismayed to discover that in the BBC woodwind video we watched, the saxophone was not a featured instrument.....  Imagine how much fun it was to explain to my 3rd graders a little of the history of the development of the modern orchestra and the inclusion or exclusion of the saxophone...... By the time we got to the percussion instruments they were really into their self appointed task of finding new instruments.......  My favorite discussion that I overheard was the rather heated debate about whether or not a piano was a string instrument or a percussion instrument......


Three things are true......

1. Even though after that class I made sure to include the glossary as part of our resources, the class discussion wasn't always as in depth or as interested.....and yet...... in every class I had students commenting on how much they had enjoyed the lesson and ask if we could get out the glossaries again for our next lesson......Not an everyday occurrence.....
2.  I almost missed it!  At this time of year I get so focused on not missing things I almost missed VERY important learning.    My favorite answer became, "What does the definition say?"  or, "Based on the picture, what you've read and what you've heard, what do you think?"
3.I should never forget that to this often media addicted generation of students we get to teach, a simple song, story or book holds all of the novelty and fascination that we THINK we are creating by oversaturating them with media and technology.   Honestly, when I reflect on this lesson, I think the reason why they liked it so much was because the pictures in the book were STILL and they could examine them and take the time to read and discuss...... I wanted to and did incorporate very short video clips into my lessons because they were excellent performances.... However, video, even well done video is ALWAYS passive.  Without the bedrock of their own active research my lessons would have been pleasant examples of polite passivity rather than eager learning.  Books and in this case plain old note taking are the ultimate interactive technology! 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Change is Coming! shoo shoo shoo

Well I am equal parts THRILLED and totally grieved that I am going to be changing schools and school districts at the end of this school year. 

I have been truly blessed during my time at my current school and the Lord has been faithful to give me a true love for the students I've been blessed to serve while at this school.  Not only has he blessed me with a love for my students he has provided an amazing team and the very best administrative support a music teacher could ever have.  I know that I am a better teacher than I otherwise would have been because of the great people I have worked with. 

At the very same time, the Lord has been faithful to lead me into a new direction with new opportunities and healthy changes that I am eager to see come to fruition. 

I am certain that over the next weeks and months as I prepare to go and start over at a new school I will face difficult days, but I really believe that my one regret is that I can't take my current school family with me because I know I would love keeping them near. 

Not only am I changing schools and districts, the culture of the neighborhood I am serving will change as well. 

For the entire 14 years I have been a teacher, I have served a student population with a high percentage of low-income, at-risk students who are learning English as a second language and who face significant often cultural obstacles that have kept them from reaching their academic potential..... Over the years my students have struggled to have test scores in the academically "acceptable" range and who have had to work extremely hard to reach toward an academically "recognized" school rating. 

Now I will be working at a school that serves primarily upper middle class students and although I know for certain that each of these students just like ALL students face obstacles of their own, as a school their test scores indicate that their students perform at an academically "exemplary" level. 

That my friends is a HUGE change for this music teacher to comprehend. 

On a purely personal level, its a great time for me to reflect on what I do and how I do it.....

What in my practice do I need to hang on to because it will meet the needs of any students?

What elements of my practice do I need to refine so that I can extend the learning of my future students past what I am accustomed to presenting?

I'm hoping that the next few weeks will illicit both thoughtful and useful blog posts from me as I process and prepare for the big changes coming me way.....

One thing I know for sure..... I am determined to leave my old school in good shape. 

It was not so long ago that I came to this school with more questions in my head then I could possibly ask about how things worked..... SOOOO I think I'm going to put together a notebook for whomever is going to be hired for the position that I leave vacant..... I'm going to fill it with things that would have saved me time when I was first starting here..... As that notebook takes shape I plan on sharing it with you..... We all know that leaving well is important as it benefits our students. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Best moment of the day.

Our choir concert on Tuesday was super sweet.  Our day yesterday at the choir festival was really special and today one of the 5th graders who played the djembe for one of our pieces got to audition for a highly coveted place in the 6th grade percussion class for band next year. 

After his audition he came back to class and said, "Ms. McSpadden!  Guess what?  I am going to be a percussionist."  The rest of the class was busy practicing recorder in small groups while I was busy testing..... No silly recorder playing for my young managed to find an abandoned, misplaced and forgotten rhythm stick in some alternate universe within the music room and proceeded to  "play" everything he could get his rhythm stick to touch.  For once, I left him to it.......

and THAT my friends is how a percussionist is born!