I Love My Room, Part 2

I finished. It was really difficult, because I wanted to include ALL the Pinterest ideas I had viewed the last year while on my academic leave at one time, but time (and Open House) doesn't wait forever.... So, here are the end results....

Welcome to my room! The little sign by my name says "Take responsibility for the energy you bring into this place", a quote by Jill Bolte Taylor. I hope it's a reminder to my kids that energy is OK, if channeled well.

This board gets pretty busy during the year! I have my Whole Brain Scoreboard. The teacher names are on laminated paper with magnets glued to the back to make it easy to change out when a new class comes in. I love using the "I Notice, I Wonder, I Value", something I learned from my Orff levels from Brian Burnett. Mr. Potato Head will come in handy as classroom management motivation for the younger kids (I make him dance when we get a smiley tally and do our "Oh, Yeah"). The seal looks weird, but he's a puppet on a puppet stand! (The SmartBoard is on not for any academic reason, but because I was watching Dr. Who on Netflix while working!) The sign with the orange tape is one of my silent classroom management tools I will just hold up. I'm using the following memes:
I just taped copies of these memes on the backs of older wooden rulers and plan to use them with grades 4-6. No words, just a picture, a chuckle, and we move on!

My room was made to be a classroom, so the coat racks come in handy. The things on the top? Magazine racks with music note duct tape. At the beginning of the year, each child receives a large piece of construction paper they decorate and fold into a "folder". I put puzzle pages and worksheets in the folders by grade (massive copying at the beginning of the year, but it's worth it). These are quick emergency sub plans. They also make great "the teacher is her own sub" plans for sore throat days or days when certain classes are ahead of other classes of their grade.

I add word wall cards as they learn them. The ones I have up now are on current class targets. The Tone Reminders poster is for singing and recorder.

My room isn't the world's biggest, and I have a lot of STUFF, but one of these days, this is going to be organized clutter! I have my dreams. The cookie sheets, of course, are cookie sheet staves. The handballs are used for beat and meter activities. The Thirty-One container on the table holds my Recorder Karate yarn. 

 The words hanging are non-locomotor movement cards. I wanted to come up with something to keep the kids in line, literally, while waiting for their teacher. When I substituted, I worked in a classroom where the teacher had stars in line on the ceiling that the kids used as guidelines. Since the end of my lines come close to my piano (and since kids like to play with the stuff on my piano!), I thought about the non-locomotor cards. A designated student can call out words from the cards and the kids can perform the movements while in line, keeping their hands occupied and hopefully off of any instruments still out or off of each other!

Orff Rhythmic Building block cards for 2/4 and 3/4.

The Thirty-One fold 'n files are going to hold Recorder Karate music, one for each grade. The other Thirty-One bag holds the school's non-soprano recorders: sopraninos, altos, and tenors. The bass is stored in the metal cabinet. I was so lucky to receive a local educational foundation grant to purchase those recorders so I can offer consorts at school.

I painted that at a Paintin' party! :-)

This shelving originally held my TV while I was staying at an apartment in Lawrence, Kansas during my academic leave. Now it holds my DVD player, resource books, and document camera.

Whew! I came home at 5:00, worn out from all this (and it took about 2 weeks' worth of setting up because I had so many personal items I used at school I had stored in my garage during my leave), but I am really excited. I've been in this classroom for 9 years, and I'm still excited to have it, after having taught in shared rooms, a gym, a cafeteria, and on a cart. 

School starts next Tuesday for me. Open House is tomorrow night, and I think I'm ready! Here's wishing a great start of the year for all of you!

I Love My Room, Part 1

After years of sharing rooms with art teachers (not at the same time!), teaching in cafeterias, kindergarten classrooms, and even one year teaching in the gym, I've loved my current position (I think it's been nine years. I've lost track!)
After taking my sabbatical last year to work on my Ph.D., I realized one of the things I missed the most was.....setting up my classroom. Weird, right? But there's something about tweaking a bulletin board that is just rather cathartic. Since I worked as a substitute while on my academic leave, I could gather quite a few new ideas and was very excited to incorporate some and make them my own.
Today, my room was ALMOST FINISHED. I did finish my bulletin boards and would just like to share things. Later, I'll post pictures of my whole room.

OK, this isn't today, and this isn't a bulletin board, and the room is still rather messy, but I wanted to share my Sub Tub. Every year, I'm trying to find just the right twist so I don't return from a day off to find out a sub has shown my kids Gangnam YouTube videos. (Yes, that happened).
I substituted for a totally organized teacher who set up this folder, with class rosters, explicit directions for electronics, wonderful details on classroom management, and other important details, tabbed and organized by category. My three ring binder has my main schedule, schedule by block days (we're on a 4-day rotation), class rosters, seating charts, electronic directions, medical advice, IEP and special education advice on a need-to-know basis, and tips on being a good substitute, as well as notebook paper. The cart has a drawer for worksheet masters and games directions, a drawer for the games themselves, and a drawer for substitute-but-also-curricularly-appropriate videos and DVDs, including approved downloaded YouTube videos and videos from Discovery Kids. Crossing my fingers......

I have had an old green chalkboard in the back of the room that I usually used as an "art gallery" for kids' drawings, but really, it sort of made my room look dingy. This year, I covered it in yellow paper with a duct tape border (music note!), which held the paper in place. I printed off targets for the first few weeks and glued magnets to the backs of the paper (after laminating) because the chalkboard was magnetic. There is a little baggy hanging up by the letter "K" with images of targets. As the classes achieve mastery on a music target, I will add a little target image next to the goal to show progress and mastery, then switch the objectives out as time goes on. (The colored cart below? Work in progress. Old labels do not yield easily...The hanging bag is from Thirty-One and is perfect for my accidentals bars for my Orff instruments)

This is my Vocal Football board. I will have little shirts with kids's names on them and a set order of simple solfege patterns that are grade appropriate. As the students individually demonstrate proper singing with various patterns, which get more difficult progressively, they will advance to one of the goal lines. This is a project that needs tweaking, but will be made available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Stay tuned!

ELEMENTary, My Dears!  This is the bulletin board I use to introduce the music elements. The yellow paper is the "puzzle" board. As classes show understanding on various music elements, one student gets to put a piece of the puzzle on the board until the puzzle is all complete.

This is my Rhythm Racers poster. It is similar to the Vocal Football and Recorder Karate motivational boards. Each teacher is assigned a race car pattern, and each student gets a smaller version of that race car. As they demonstrate the ability to either echo certain rhythmic patterns through clapping or other body percussion or show the ability to read rhythm patterns (more advanced), their cars get closer to the finish line. And yes, I do realize as I look at this the poster is upside down! Need to fix that tomorrow.....The carts below are for class recorders; a third grade cart, fourth, fifth, and sixth. Since I have three classes per grade, this works out great. The Thirty-One hanger is one that I purchased used from one of my consultants. (It's dangerous. One of our former kindergarten teachers and my current student teacher both sell Thirty-One, and I'm an addict). That hanger will be for vocal football self-assessment papers and the little paper figures the kids will use for Rhythm Racers, Vocal Football, and Recorder Karate. They will be in envelopes by teachers until students "get on the board".

My Recorder Karate board. At the left are little clip art characters from the Recorder Dojo section at Music K-8.  Again, each teacher will be assigned a character from the K-8 clip art, and their students will have miniature versions of the characters. As students pass a belt, they will put their characters on the corresponding color. The clipboard to the left was a Pinterest idea. I used old music and ModgePodge!

I have had so much fun with this hallway bulletin board. Using a diecut, I cut out small colorful music notes. As teachers have been showing up for work (and students hanging around!), I asked them to sign their names on a note, and they go up on the bulletin board. One of the things I want to do for Open House in a couple of days is ask parents and kids to sign notes as well. Everyone involved with a building are notes in a school's symphony, and together, we can make beautiful music!

More tomorrow as I put my room together finally.....

Cross-Curricular by Any Other Name Is....Cross-Curricular

Students creating chance music compositions
I recently participated in a national elementary music symposium this summer, presenting a short session based on the title of this blog. The thought of the presentation, as well as this blog, was based cross-curricular and Common Core-connected requirements coming down the pike for many music educators. I received quite a few grateful words of thanks, but I also received some real concern about "planting" standards from other subjects into music. I started thinking about these concerns and came to some conclusions:

  • The term "Common Core", right now, is politically polarizing, and for many reasons, rightly so. These standards are tough. These standards are NOT federally mandated: however, they are sort of a carrot that can help states get federal funding. This is the reason, I believe, for so many states jumping on the bandwagon without thorough thought about implementation or piloting. I think it's also the reason some states are jumping out of the fire they jumped into when they were in the frying pan. Because these standards are being implemented and interpreted in an array of different, confusing ways, people are up in arms, and they SHOULD be.
  • Common Core and the New National Music Standards are not the same thing, although the new music standards were modeled after these. My friend Tim Purdum does a much better job of expressing his views on this than I ever could, but suffice it to say, there is still quite a bit of confusion and worry about these standards as well. However, from my understanding, unless a state or district officially adopts them, music teachers are not required to follow them. It might be advisable to become familiar with them regardless. Education in this case is our best friend, and prevents confusion and mis-information: New National Arts Standards
  • As I've done research into interdisciplinary activities and cross-curricular activities for my Ph.D. papers, there is a common theme: this manner of teaching and integrating is very beneficial because this is the world in which our students live. Math facts should not live in a daily hour block, only to be put off until the next day. There ARE connections between math, language arts, social studies, art, physical education, science, and music. The trick is to make them relevant. And, honestly, in my experience, the kids love those connections. It makes them feel smart and it makes what they learn relevant. However, inserting multiplication facts in a song isn't cross-curricular. Incorporating multiplication facts as an improvisational part of a common version of  "Weevily Wheat" can be, since it is integrating aspects that already exist in the original. Singing a piggyback song a classroom teacher throws at you to learn spelling words is not cross-curricular, truly. Teaching students body percussion from Orff-Schulwerk's Rhythmische Ubung and asking the students to create a chant to help them with spelling words and that fit the rhythm is. 
  • That being said, classroom teachers definitely need to return the favor, so to speak. I'm excited about being an adjunct this coming school year for an area university, teaching music and movement integration to classroom teachers and how kinesthetics and music can help students learn (and if I have my way...beyond piggyback songs unless the kids write the lyrics!). In all honesty, I believe this is part of Common Core suggestions: that other areas are incorporated into language arts and math. I would just hope it goes beyond having students read books on musicians. This would NOT be a class about teaching classroom teachers to become music teachers. It is a class to familiarize them with the benefits of music and the importance of music.
  • I'm not totally sold on "forced" integration, such as "you MUST make the kids write in music." There are musically beneficial means to incorporate writing. As a professional, however, we must be the ones to make this decision. As we stand up for our rights and the integrity of our profession and our discipline, however, we need to be careful and prepared. Teachers are more vulnerable than ever in regards to their positions and refusing to cooperate outright not only hurts our jobs; it hurts our kids. We need to continue to do what we do, even if we need to add the correlating Common Core objectives to our lesson plans in writing. Sometimes, our administrators don't get it because they don't live it. Their musical experiences might not be the musical experiences we give our kids. Times have changed. Put it in writing and let the kids point it out. Sell the kids, sell the parents, and the administrators will be sold. 
    Students create recorder compositions from acrostic poems.

    Hopefully, there will be the day when the layperson can say, along with the music teachers," This higher level thinking and creating, reading, and math connections? The music teachers have been doing this all the time doing what they do!"

Writing Ideas in the Music Class: Listening Stations and Writing

It's been a busy past few weeks as I have been winding my Ph.D. residency down. Workshop and research presentations, trying to get papers in order, homework......but the light is coming, and soon, all that will be left is the dissertation.
Back in my other life, getting ready to return to public school teaching:
I was very excited to find out I received a local education foundation grant for listening centers for my music classes. Three small Boomboxes (because IPods would have been tricky through our technology department at this time) and listening center boxes, some burnable CDs, and I have the settings to begin some cool writing/listening activities.
With any of the activities, the students will divide into groups. Each group will be assigned a particular work, so there will be a variety. Topics can include:

  1. The music critic. Each group will listen to a different work. Based on previous knowledge of musical elements, students will write an opinion paper on their groups' selection. By working in groups, the kids have others with whom to share ideas, but in the end, of course, the writing and opinion paper must be their own. (Good opening to discuss plagiarism and copyright issues). Provide prompts for all groups, such as:
              *What is the media of the recording?
              * What mood does this recording bring out? Why?
              * What is your favorite part of the recording? Describe the musical elements that help sell you to the recording.
              * What do you feel needs improvement? Why? Describe the musical elements you feel are missing.
  2. The soundtrack script writing. Again, each group has a different musical selection. From this selection, the students will write a descriptive paper on a movie scene or plot they believe would be enhanced by the particular work. Again, music elements come into play. What elements bring across the emotion or action imaged for the film? What are the personalities of the characters based on the music? Could this be the theme song for a particular character? Why? Use the music elements to describe your choices.
  3. The choreographer. Upon listening to the music selections, the students will describe a dance routine that will best fit their song choice. If you get ambitious, have each group choreograph their work after writing directions for it. This is a great time to utilize Laban action words and other movement phrases such as levels, locomotor, non-locomoter: OR, from the directions, another group will be able to perform the movement activity.
  4. The historian. Select common pieces related to events in history (Civil War songs, World War II songs, work songs). The students will describe what events they believe inspired the songs and why, based on lyrics and other musical elements.
If you can get multiple listening stations for your classes, there can be unlimited possibilities for your older students. If you can only set up one listening station, consider regular centers activities in which the listening station can be one of several other activities. These activities can incorporate writing as well as fulfill the current music National Standards 6, 7,8, and possibly 9, depending on your activities.

Make sure you display the best writings and keep them as artifacts. If the classroom teacher does not want to use these as writing samples, you can still keep them (or copies of them) for your own use or for the students' portfolios. 

As for me, I am excited about being able to order these stations and get going on these next year! I'm intrigued as to the results. I plan on using thee ideas with later fourth grade, fifth grade, and sixth grade.

Some of you are winding down your days, and some have a little time left. I will be going back in a couple of weeks to finish out the year for my sabbatical replacement, who will be starting a new life in the National Guard and as a Masters student. I appreciate everything he has done!

Writing Ideas in Music, Part 3: Crossing the Acrostic for Compositions

Sometimes, the best inspiration for lesson plans for music (if you expand your horizons) can come from a school hallway. A few years ago, I walked past the third grade classrooms in my building and noticed some neat acrostic poems the kids had written based on the word "Missouri". I was looking for some unique ways to enhance and reinforce recorder playing for my third graders, and I was inspired. I asked the teachers to have the kids keep their poems at school a little while longer after they were taken down and I copied each one so the kids could write more on them.
First, the kids divided their words into syllables then notated the rhythm. I made sure they used natural speech rhythm, known as "prosody", to the best of their abilities for the rhythms with which they were familiar at the time. They wrote those rhythms above their words.
Next, the students got to select whether they wanted to use their recorders or barred Orff instruments to create their melodies. If the students chose recorder, they were limited to high C, A, or high D, the pitches I teach at that age. (More on that rationale in another blog.) If they wanted to include more pitched, they could use the barred Orff instruments. I encouraged them to build on a pentatonic scale to make it easier to create an improvisational accompaniment, but if they wanted to include fa and ti, then I told them they had to end on C. Some students chose to experiment with their instruments to come up with just the right melody; some chose to create a "mystery tune" and be surprised.
Finally,we had a practice session day. The next music day, students were given worksheets, and I called up one student at a time to play for me while I recorded their composition on Audacity. If they wanted me to (and their parents had signed the technology permission form), their clips were then included on my music class website.I also created a copy of their creation in Finale, so they could have a "real" printed copy of their composition.
In subsequent years, I took an extra day to have the kids write their poems in music class. Because of the Common Core changes, the writing focus in the regular classroom went away from poetry writing to more prose, opinion, and descriptive writing. I like the idea of being able to keep the creative writing, the poetic writing,in the music classroom.The students get practice with their penmanship and spelling, get a feel for rhythm and phrasing, and have a springboard for composition.
The last year before my sabbatical, my third graders' program theme was "School Daze". The students wrote acrostic poems about SCHOOL, and selected ones were used as introductions to each song that was performed. So, for instance, if a student had included a reference to physical education somehow in their poem, one of those poems would be read to introduce the song Exercise Tango from Plank Road Publishing. This idea, I believe, really helped make the program more "of the children's" and not so teacher oriented and run.
Sometimes, incorporating Common Core standards does not have to mean verbatim (unless you have strict directions to the contrary, which I find very unfortunate. Writing and other cross-curricular implementations should fit naturally with music, and vice versa, not forced. Kids know the difference). Don't be afraid to have them write a poem. Don't be afraid to post their poetry on the wall! We are about form. We are about structure and phrasing. We are about rhythm. And so is poetry.

Assessments and Worksheets and Handouts, Oh, My! The Organization Game

As music teachers collect more and more professional material (including Common Core standards for integration, handouts, schedules, IEPs, forms, resources.....) our rooms can look like a pack rat's idea of heaven. I'd like to share a few ideas, hard copy and cyber, to feel a little less stressed.

  • Glean and clean. Before starting, start trashing old papers in the recycle bin.Haven't used that worksheet in years? Part with it. Have a resource book you haven't looked at in a while and "someday" never comes? Pass it on to a new teacher. Rule of thumb: if it hasn't been used in three years,it probably never will. 
  • Take advantage of Target Dollar bins Dollar tree containers. When I was substituting while on my sabbatical to work on my PhD, I saw wonderful organization ideas. Those three drawer carts with wheels are awesome for instruments, class recorders, and other items. I found dollar plastic containers in the Target bin I play to use for my teacher resources (labeling them "Orff resources", "recorder music", "movement", "folk songs"....you get the idea). This means, that when you are looking for a resource, it is much easier to find in the cabinet.
  • A little expensive, but so nice looking....I'm in love with Thirty-One. I swear I'm not a consultant, but if it's an option, the company has wonderful folding file boxes, tote bags, and other items. Every once in a while, Thirty-One has a clearance sale with some great stuff. It wasn't cheap, but I recently purchased this item from them that I plan to use for accidental bars and mallets:

  • Three ring binders are wonderful. I've also asked parents to donate sheet protectors. I've used the binders for Music K-8 word sheets, worksheet handouts, and lesson plans that I've printed.
  • With children's literature, use the basket idea from Dollar Tree and use the little circle stickers for garage sale pricing and color code your books by topic (such as "rhyming", "song stories", "good for instrumentation", "vocal exploration", etc.)
  • For classroom management, another great idea I've seen: I blogged about a hanging chart that looks like a guitar  where I used clothespins for the kids to clip indicating their behavior level. Recently, I saw a few classroom teachers who would come to specials with a similar tool, only this was a cookie sheet with circle magnets with the students' names on them. Colored tape indicated the behavior level the kids were at. I've also seen this traveling "behavior scale" with a yardstick covered in colored tape with clothespins, but these clothespins would often get knocked off. The cookie sheet idea, however, worked very well! This could be a simple behavior chart if you can find inexpensive, small cookie sheets, one for each class, that you can keep in a larger plastic bin or "milk" crate.
What about cyber-storage?
  • Dropbox is a lifesaver. I love it. One year (when I was beginning my PhD program), I mistakenly left my flash drive by my school computer. I saw it before one class; after the class, it was gone. I looked all OVER for it, to no avail. It was my first semester or so, but I still had class notes on it from the webcam classes and the beginnings of my first paper for my comprehensive exams. Luckily, my adviser still had the copy of the paper I had emailed to her, and I was able to get notes from classmates. I cringe to think of what would have happened had I been working on my dissertation! That very day, I signed up for Dropbox and I don't regret it. I keep my school files, PhD files, handouts from my various presentations, Teachers Pay Teachers files,and many other items. The beauty of it is...you can download the software to any computer you work on, so I had it installed on my school computer and my laptop. On each computer, you can select which files you want to have downloaded to your hard drive, or you can access your files directly through the web browser.You can also share files.
ONE WARNING ABOUT FILE SHARING: If you share your link and share your files, ask those who downloaded your files to either change the file name or copy their files to another place. If they delete the file while it is in their DropBox folder, it will delete from everyone else's until you turn off the sharing feature in Dropbox for them.

I'm still learning about organization, but when I make myself stick to these ideas, my life is a lot easier!

Stay tuned for Facebook Frenzy! 

It is a great way to get some free products from various music teachers who are part of Teachers Pay Teachers. You can use my Facebook page as a launching point. If you like my page, you can download this free product:
Then, click on the link that takes you to the next music teacher Facebook page, like that page for another freebie, and so on. There are about 26 teachers participating!

Next time, I will discuss the writing and composition ideas I had mentioned in my last blog.

"I'm linking up with Lindsay Jervis from Pursuit of Joyfulness".

Part Two of Writin', Writing....Jazz Band Talk Show (or Classical Composer or Contemporary Musician....)

Under the Common Core standards for fifth grade includes writing narratives, conducting short research projects, and using the Internet for research. You could go the route of the regular research paper, but this is music. Music should involve a little creativity and performance!

One of the most entertaining units I've ever done with sixth grade is a jazz band talk show. With the writing requirements in Common Core, this can also be done for fifth grade.  Here is how I handled this:

  • I compiled a Power Point of basic information on Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Scott Joplin, and Ella Fitzgerald. This Power Point was merely to give them an idea of the backgrounds of these musicians so they could choose on which one they wanted to focus. (The Power Point is linked here.) I was very selective on the information, which you will see in the next steps. There are some hard knock issues on these musicians I wanted my students to know, such as drug abuse, but others, such as Billie Holiday's means of making a living, I deemed inappropriate for this age. You, of course, need to use your best judgement.
  • I used my Group Selector in Smartnotebook to select groups. I then went over the jobs each student in each group would have. The group members needed to decide on a musician, who was going to play the musician, the talk show host, and other jobs, such as sound, props, a director, cue card person, etc. It was their decision how to divide the jobs and how everyone needed to stay on task, and to report to me if there was someone who was not cooperating (backed by my observations).
  • The first step was to research their musician. I have various books for students that are about jazz musicians, plus age-appropriate websites (listed at the end of this blog). They were to compile 10 questions AFTER their research and couldn't limit themselves to "When did you die? "When were you born?", etc. I explained to the students that talk show hosts (or at least, good ones) and reporters do a little background work and formulate their questions based on what they already know about their subjects, so the interview would be more interesting. 
  • As the students compiled their questions, they wrote a script and began to formulate their performance. I didn't mind if they used cue cards, but they would be graded on if it appeared that they were actually reading the cue cards instead of glancing at them.
  • If the students were on task and had time, they were allowed to create a short commercial for fun, but the commercial would not be allowed if focus was taken away from the talk show.
  • Performance day was always so much fun! Sometimes, unfortunately, the students were reading from the cue cards and had not made good use of their time. Some of the performances were wonderful! The students learned a new respect for jazz, as well as teamwork.
Here are books that I have used, directed to their Amazon page:

Ella Fitzgerald: 

Louis Armstrong:

Benny Goodman
Miles Davis

Charlie Parker

Duke Ellington

Scott Joplin

The Chuck Vanderchuck website now houses the information PBS Kids used to have on jazz music. Please be careful and limit your students to only websites you have added to the school favorites. Make sure you cover yourself by sending a letter home about the project with links, letting parents know that, if students decide to do their own research, you have provided the links. Or, if you have Moodle (or something like Blackboard), include the links there.

You can, of course, also do a similar project with classical composers, other American composers, contemporary composers.....or those in various musical careers. You are staying musically relevant, you will provide performance opportunities, and you will be including Common Core-focused writing standards. 

Next up in incorporating writing: writing poetry and composing....

Writin', Writin', Writin'...Keep Those Kiddos Writin'......

Well, maybe not THAT much. But I know quite a few of you are being asked to incorporate writing, specific types of writing, into your classes. Writing that includes opinion pieces, informational pieces, narratives....where's the music in that? 

It seems frustrating at times to many to include such things and being concerned that this is one aspect for which you are responsible for assessing. Chances are, you are only responsible for reinforcing what the classroom teacher is teaching. But still, with limited time, how can you incorporate writing and make it musically meaningful? I'm going to be starting a series of ideas of incorporating a variety of writing styles in your music class AND make it meaningful, creative, and fun for your kids.

First of all, establish just how much writing you are expected to incorporate. You might be pleasantly surprised that you are only requested to include writing once a semester or once a year (at least, these specific types of writing). Considering that one of the music careers you could introduce to your older children is that of a music critic, there is a ready-made writing prompt right there.

Activity One: Music Critic of the Students' Own Music Program

Grades 3-6
Common Core Standard: Writing Standard One


  • Video of the classes' last performance or previous performance. (Or, find a YouTube of adult performances. I would not use performances of other children).
  • Paper, pencils, classroom dictionaries
  • Various clippings from music critics. (You can check online for various newspapers. Be careful! Some critics are pretty harsh, and that's not the purpose here).
  • Classroom rubric on writing from the classroom teacher

  1. If you are using your own class's video, I would show it once before this writing assignment. The kids will want to laugh at themselves and their antics and observe it more like a show. They will need to get this out of their systems first. Do this on a different day and do NOT discuss the logistics about the performance! Save it :-)
  2. On the day you begin the writing assignment, discuss the job of a music critic with the students. Discuss the meaning of "critique" and make sure the students understand that "critique" does not mean "negatively criticize". Discuss ways to phrase words to give constructive criticism without being demeaning.
  3. Give the students the following scenario: They are a music critic watching this performance from an audience. They MUST forget they were a participant in this show. They need to provide two descriptive sentences, using adjectives, adverbs, and any other means of writing required in their classroom. Display the writing rubric they use in class.
  4. Post the following writing prompts: a. Describe how well the performers projected their sound. b. What was the best part of the performance? c. Where could the performers improve? d. Tell us why you would or would not recommend this performance to your friends.
  5. If you have a computer lab or extra computer time handy (or if the kids can do this in their classroom with approval from the teacher), ask them to type their critiques, using a newsprint-type font. Display the best, most creative papers for your hallway. You can also copy the originals if a child would like to type this at home, and give them the copy so the original survives.
  6. If you have time, allow the students to illustrate their writings, or include photos their parents might have taken from the program. (The digital world can be wonderful, and it can give it that added "newspaper" feel).
  7. Keep a writing portfolio handy for these assignments. The classroom teacher might want to use these as samples or for support with the parents. 
  8. If several of the students type these, you could also make this into a book and keep the handwritten originals for samples. Many ideas!
Right here, you have met a few objectives: You have met a writing objective. You have given the students the opportunity to assess performances. You have helped the student develop their use of adjectives and adverbs. You have given a few of them bragging rights about having work displayed from music class. You have given them keyboarding practice. You have provided an opportunity for higher level thinking as they take prior knowledge and apply it critically. AND, it kept musical integrity, since performance critique and assessment is often a standard in state curricula. 

If you do written critique assignments with your own classes, please feel free to share these in the comments section! Next blog update on writing: finding a way to incorporate narrative and research without writing a whole musical ;-)
Think spring! I heard a robin sing today....

animations from http://www.netanimations.net/books.htm and http://www.pinkbirddesign.com/animation1.html

Proposed National Arts Standards Drafts: Heavy Thoughts on a Heavy Subject

As you most likely know by now, a coalition of various arts education organizations formed to review and propose new national standards. 

The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards began organizing in 2009 to formulate standards to revise and serve as a "re-imaging" for the 1994 Arts Standards (NCCAS Conceptual Framework. )

Drafts for each arts standards was up for review last summer and apparently met with some strong opposition, based on what I had seen on music education Facebook groups. New draft previews were just launched on February 14, with comments closed on March 1. 

My thoughts? Well, my friend Tim Purdum highlighted my concerns very well (and probably more eloquently than I can!). This is a good read, but I will go ahead and voice my concerns as well (a little more colloquially, to be sure, but it's from the heart, as I listen to the Lenscrafters commercial, where the background music is "Street Song" from Music for Children Volume 3, Murray edition!):

  • As most of you know, I am working on my PhD. Now, readings for PhD sometimes take 2-3 rounds before the concepts sink in. Unfortunately, I had to apply this same process to these standards drafts. I'm an experienced teacher of 20 years, many hours of PD trainings, and becoming extremely experienced in the art of research. If these standards confuse ME, what would they do to a new teacher? What teacher, even an experienced one, is going to have this kind of time deciphering these between incorporating Common Core into music, working on programs, turning in lesson plans, doing grades, being a counselor, working on after school groups, and being a regular member of his/her family?
  • Where are the regular objectives? Why is it so difficult to decipher what were the original 9 music standards, so simply stated and so eloquently to the point. Would not composition and improvisation satisfy the higher order thinking and thought processes? 
  •  If a committee of teachers meet state-wide to draft new state standards, where is the independence for each state? It's not supposed to happen. Which leads me to the next bullet...
  • Not all music programs are created equal. Some teachers are lucky (like me when I am in my regular teaching position) and can see students 30 minutes every other day. Some teachers are lucky if they see their kids 30 minutes once a week. With holidays and snow days, many teachers don't see their kids at all. Some teachers see combined classes. Some music classes are taught by non-specialists. As desirable as it would be to have arts programs more equitable, it still isn't there. While we are still fighting for music programs all over the country, adding these standards and hoping they will be adopted will make a frustrating situation even more frustrating. Leading to yet another bullet point:
  • I am concerned that the true purpose of these standards is to "prove" that we teach higher level thinking. I'm really tired of "proving" ourselves. I feel I have proven myself to my students, my parents, and most of my colleagues, who acknowledge the importance of and a love for the arts. I am also concerned about the potential for forced assessment. I do not wish to be mandated as to which higher level skill is assessed, and HOW I do it. This is taking the autonomy away from the teacher. Classroom teachers are facing this more and more, and now, in classes that are havens for students away from this hardcore drilling, the shadow looms again. 
  • Like the Common Core standards, are all of these standards age-appropriate based on child development and again, amount of time in music class (called experience, review, and recall time?)
  • It is obvious from the title of my blog that I am not TOTALLY anti-higher order thinking and anti-Common Core, at what I consider the heart of the matter: cross-curricular at all levels to show how all learning disciplines are connected directly and indirectly AND teaching our students how to think for themselves. But when I have students ask me what time it is when the clock is right above them (and these are intermediate-aged students), it becomes apparent to me that students want answers given to them, which I believe is a side-product of too much teaching to the test. It is NOT the fault of the classroom teachers. It is NOT the fault of administrators, even. They are mandated these stipulations from those in government who have no idea what a child stage is like. I don't want our coalition of arts educators to feel they need to join in lock-step in order to save jobs.
  • I wish I had known about this coalition and volunteers. Somehow, I missed it. But, I feel these standards can meet the goals and desires of 21st Century Learning without being so vague, so difficult to read, and so esoteric.
But that's my opinion. Check out the standards for yourself and see what you think. Remember, preview and opinions are due by March 1. Please feel free to comment your concerns or accolades if you agree with the standards here as well. We learn from each other. I am always open to seeing possibilities in a different light, and I believe, as educators, most of my readers might be as well if explained in a thoughtful manner.

On to positive topics: Brace yourself for a Teachers Pay Teachers sale! More later......

Newest product at the Musical Cure for the Common Cure Store:
Sneaky way to get in some of that math Common Core using a popular folk song.


We are teachers. We like STUFF. I'm going to take the opportunity to present some items that can help you with your Common Core integration and some that are just plain old fun.

When you are looking for items for teaching, a great place to start, of course, is Teachers Pay Teachers. Besides my store, there are other great teacher stores with items that can make your teaching to the Core a breeze. Case in point:

  • Aileen Miracle is a popular TpT seller with a great product for kindergarten:
    Teaching Common Core through Music-Kindergarten. The kit can be used by both music teachers and classroom teachers and includes language arts and math integration with singing and movement. 
  • Cori Bloom's listening activity, Love Songs Music Listening Activity provides great writing opportunities for grades 2-3. Students have the opportunity to write and journal about the songs they hear.
  • I Am Bully-Proof Music provides many songs on character education, which are great segues writing 
     and critical thinking on facing life's challenges as a kid, such as Einstein.    
  • Tracy King is no longer known just for her great bulletin boards. She now has a wonderful exit ticket packet, which is an easy way to complete formative assessment.The packet includes tickets on assorted music objectives. Makes assessment more simple.
  • Highlighting one of mine:
    The Subject/Predicate Activity Game is a fun way to reinforce the LA objectives of sentence forms, while incorporating creative, higher order music/movement thinking. Students group together to form whacky sentences that can be creatively performed through vocalizing, movement.....for the rest of the class to guess!
Throwing in one more fun activity: my blogger friend Lindsay Jervis at The Pursuit of Joyfulness invited us to post about our favorite manipulatives. Well, I can get a little weird about that. When I want my kids to use something in a tactile manner, I often connect it with movement or games. One of my favorite activities is a note identification game popping balloons in Smartnotebook with a Koosh ball:

Good thing Smartboards are tough! (Games will be coming up in the store in the future.)

I also learned a great ball bouncing activity from my Level III Orff training at VanderCook University from Jean Hersey. The activity involves handballs, kids in a group, and numbering. 
The kids in each group are numbered, but they cannot be numbered in order. For instance, Kid 1 should NOT be next to Kid 2. Playing a work with a strong downbeat (I used "Thriller" by Michael Jackson), each student bounces the ball to the student with the next consecutive number. Sounds easy, right? Not when you start adding balls to the groups. <insert evil laugh here>. I took my fifth graders outside last year with my trusty sound cart and let them go. I think I got all my handballs back............

Thanks to all of you who participated in the comments about your requirement documentations and activities on Common Core. The insight is wonderful. I love hearing from you! I feel it is important that we understand what is going on from state to state so we can help each other out.