Tuesday, July 25, 2017

It Happens Only Once a Year

You wake up at 5:00 am.  You have your morning coffee and start your day with a delicious hearty breakfast.  You packed your lunch the night before, and you are ready to go.  You are dressed in your favorite teacher outfit.  You are wearing comfortable (and cute) sandals. You arrive at school with an hour to spare.  Your classroom is decorated. The floor is shiny and clean.  The chairs are arranged just how you want them.  The instruments are arranged and sorted appropriately.  Your first month’s lesson plans are written and you know them front to back.  You go to your morning duty and greet all of the smiling faces as they hop off the school bus or get out of their parent’s car.  You go back to your classroom and listen to the morning announcements.  Your principal is overly peppy welcoming everyone back from summer vacation.  This is going to be the BEST YEAR EVER!

There's five more minutes before your first class.  PANIC SETS IN!  Will the music be too loud (or maybe too soft) on my CD player?  What if the internet goes out?  What if the projector stops working?  What if I forget a student’s name?  Forget that, how am I going to learn 700 names this week?!  What if I mess up the words to that new song I just learned?  What if I play the wrong notes?  What if the students don’t like the lessons I have planned?  What if they get bored and start running around the room?  You know how those Pre-K kids are!  What if they don’t listen to anything I say?  Oh no! My stomach is starting to feel queasy.  I think I need to take one more trip to the bathroom.  My teacher bladder is gone thanks to the summer.  No one understands what it is like to be the Music Teacher.  No one!  Why did I decide to become a teacher again?  Maybe I should find another career - QUICK!  No one will notice if I walk out the side door and hop in my car right now, will they?  I can be on my way across the country in no time!

Does this sound like you?  Don’t worry!  Every teacher goes through this at some point in his or her career!  It will be okay.  You will survive! 

Here are a few tips to make it through the first week of school.

First, make sure your home life is organized.  Prepare ahead of time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Maybe that means making lists of what you want to eat each day for each meal.  Maybe you want to prepare the meals ahead of time.  Decide what works best for you.  Choose your outfits for the first week of school and organize them in your closet so you don’t have to take time in the morning to try on five different outfits and shoes.  Don’t forget your sweater - your classroom might get chilly even in the August heat!  Make a calendar with after school activities listed so you don’t forget something.  Post the list of meals and your calendar on your refrigerator door or somewhere convenient so you can look at it throughout the week. 

Second, give yourself plenty of time to get ready in the mornings.  Wake up earlier than you normally would and get to school 30 minutes to an hour earlier than normal.  This will give you a chance to be relaxed and prepared for the unknown that may (or hopefully may not) happen. 

Now, about those lesson plans.  There are many different ways and styles to prepare your first week’s lessons.  You could review rules and procedures, play name games, make seating arrangements, play review games, do some movement activities, sing or talk about the summer adventures, give pre-assessments (GASP!), and the list goes on and on. 

However, I’m going to tell you to relax and take it easy.  Your students are going through so many different emotions that first week.  Anxiousness, sadness, homesick, elated, tired, happy, angry, hungry, and hyperactive to name a few!  The most important thing is to make sure your students are engaged with fun and musical activities.  Learning something new is not the most important thing that first week.  Seating arrangements are not necessary either as you will have students come and go those first few weeks.  Take roll, and know who is there.  Get to know those students.  Find ways to learn about them and what they enjoy about music and about school.  Get them moving and keep them busy.  SING, DANCE, AND LAUGH.  Have so much fun they don’t want to leave your class, and they will beg to come back again and again!


The first day of school only happens once a year.  Make the most of it!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Write the Room in the Music Classroom

Rhythm: a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound.

Rhythm: the way the words go.

Rhythm: a pattern of sounds connected to the main beat.

No matter your definition, it's one of the most important things we teach to our music students. It is what drives each of our classes. Without rhythm, where would we be? What would we teach?

Just as a child hears spoken words, then speaks, then reads sight words, and lastly begins to write those words, I truly believe that students should hear, speak, read, and write rhythms in that order. Just as a child practices handwriting in their regular classroom, I believe it is important for students to write rhythms in the music classroom. 

We often use manipulatives in the music classroom to encourage students to write a song.  My students use cards with notes on them and put them in rows of four and read the rhythms.  That is great, and really helps with their reading and writing skills!  They can move the cards around and read the rhythms.  However, if I asked them to physically write a quarter note with a pencil on a sheet of paper, it would not look like a quarter note.  It would probably look more like a lollipop or a circle and a line.  How often do students not realize that the note is actually "filled in"?  This is why I started using write the room activities with my students.  

Before class, I print out flash cards like the ones below.  I cut them in half for one rhythm on each card.  I place the 10 flash cards around the classroom.  I do not hide the flash cards, but I do want students to search for them.  It then becomes a scavenger hunt for students to find each rhythm.  I use the flash cards with note heads because I want my students to practice writing note heads.  But, I do have the stick notation as well if needed.

I then give each student a worksheet like the one below.  Students work in pairs walking around the classroom looking for the pictures on their page and copying the rhythms onto their worksheet.  It is not a race to see who can finish first.  I truly want the students practicing their music writing skills.  I want them to see and feel the difference in writing a quarter note and a half note.  I want them to see and feel the difference in writing eighth notes and sixteenth notes.  

Once students have finished writing all of the rhythms, they bring it to me so that I can see their writing.  I usually need to remind students to fill in the note heads, or write two bars across for sixteenth notes, or - you get the idea.  If everything looks great, I ask students to practice playing the rhythms with instruments while the others finish up.  

I love having worksheets that can be displayed on the walls at school and students can take home to their parents.  In the end, students have had the opportunity to move around the classroom instead of sitting.  They have had the opportunity for a small bit of socialization with their partner.  Last, they have the opportunity to write rhythms with a pencil and paper and hopefully understand what the notes really look like.  

How do you have students practice writing their rhythms?  I love finding new ideas!