What's in a Name (Game)? Music Class SEL and Assessment

Names. We see 100-1,000 or more kids in music class. Sometimes the kids have music every other day. Sometimes they have music a steady 3 times a week, 2 times, a week.....or a weird block schedule where they will not see you every week. How can you even begin to learn names in a music classroom?

But, putting yourself in someone else's shoes:
Do you have an unusual name or spell your name in a not-so "common" way? 
Raise your hand if you got extremely frustrated when people would mispronounce your name, comment on how "ethnic" it is, or misspell it.

My maiden name is fairly common around the area where I grew up (Missouri "Rhineland") area, but it's not that common in the wider world. It's Whithaus (short "i"). It's a derivative of the original German name of "Witthaus". Anyway, when I went to college, one of the orchestra/strings teachers would insist on calling me "Veethaus". True, that's most likely how it's pronounced in Germany, but I wasn't thrilled that he called attention to it. And, then, there's the changes to "Karen". (Kathy, Sharon, Katie, Katherine, etc.). Most of the time this happened when I was middle school or older, but man, it bugged me. It made me think I wasn't important enough to at least be called by the right name. 

I get it. After becoming a teacher and getting kids mixed up with siblings and calling kids by the wrong name because they reminded me of another student, well, getting names mixed up happens. 

As teachers, we can sometimes tell a kid sorry, but move on. And honestly, for the children who have been traumatized or otherwise have a low self-esteem, acknowledging their names and owning up to mistakes means a great deal to them. How can this be done?

  • Seating charts. I know the jury is deadlocked on music teachers using seating charts. Honestly, I found them very handy for subs, for being organized at the beginning of class, and for a "home spot" for talking (much like primary age kids gather on the rug.) I LOVED, loved, loved using iDoceo for seating charts as well as grading records. I could easily take individual pictures while assigning kids to other tasks or games and embed them on the child's profile. iDoceo is NOT web-based, so there was no confidentiality issue. It's wonderful for the Save the Sub binder. I had a Noteworthy Rug, so I could upload a picture of the rug and slide the student images to the correct square.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition. I made sure I spoke the names of at least 5 students every day if I didn't know them, even if it was just, "Great job, Joe!"
  • Make it a challenge. I used a modified version of Whole Brain Teaching in my classroom and had a scoreboard. If I got a student name wrong, I'd give myself a minus.
  • Empathize with them, but let them know mistakes happen. Like I said, people mixed my name up quite a bit. AND, if you haven't already discovered, kids will mix your name up with another teacher's. I don't know how many times I was called by the art teacher's name. So I came up with a gentle solution that simultaneously reinforced my name and let a child know I understood. "I'm so sorry I keep goofing up on your name <insert name to reinforce it>. I know how you feel, because sometimes kids will call me by Ms. Potter's name. Do you want to start the next round of.....<insert smooth transition back to the task on hand.>
  • Ask them for THEIR help. It's OK to admit that you have trouble with names sometimes. Chalk it up to old age or whatever, but I'd avoid saying "I've got SO many names to remember!" unless you connect with, "I'm betting you might be overwhelmed with your class teacher name, art teacher name" etc. Again, by doing it this way, you are showing understanding and empathy. Otherwise, a child MIGHT feel that they are just part of a multitude and won't feel as important.
    Ask the child,"Can you suggest a little trick to help me remember [how to spell] your name?" You involve them in a "teaching" process AND they will come up with solutions that are OK with them, and you won't accidentally offend them (like connecting their name with the way they look, for example). 
  • Learn with games! HERE's the fun part. But did you know you can also use these games for pre-assessment or to assess retention? Here's a fun call and response game I used with my third graders every year. I assessed their ability to retain a melody and their understanding of call and response.
Telephone Game

  • I can remember the melody of the song through audiation.
  • I can demonstrate the hand position and pitch of re in relation to mi and do.
  • I can demonstrate a knowledge of call and response.
  • I can demonstrate singing alone within my comfort zone and communicate what that comfort zone is.
  • Assessment Checklist (find out how to get a free one at the end of this post)
  • Optional-toy cell phone (not advisable as long as any strain of COVID is around!)
  • Solfege warm-up, gradually adding the fragment "mi-re-do". Scaffold by doing so-mi patterns first. Do not add other solfa until the class is able to do the first patterns.
  • Segue into teaching the whole melody of the Telephone Song.
  • Introduce call and response by making up a short example. (For instance, tell them when you point at them, they must say "Yippee!" no matter what else you say.)
  • Demonstrate the telephone song by taking turns being the call and response with the students. 
  • Explain the directions to them. (It is up to you whether you let them have a redo)
  • Select a student randomly to begin.
  • The class and soloist does the first round. Assess during the solo.
  • If you can tell a student is very nervous and anxious, don't push them. Offer to let them pick a friend to do it with them away from the class or ask them, "I understand. How many people do you want to go before you until you feel you've learned it enough to be comfortable?" Or just, "Let a friend know if you want [them/him/her] to choose you." 
    Remember, performing in front of a group solo is not the objective right now. Safe space is.
  • Don't do this all in one day unless you have a high achieving class or one that can just stay on task. For my average class, I would have 5-6 sing each period and then do something kinesthetic. You will be keeping track of who has had a turn with your assessments and tell the class each time who still needs a turn.
And there you have it! A fun name game and a quick assessment.

I mentioned earlier I had a simple assessment checklist for the Telephone Game. Here's how you can get it AND a number of other things:
  1. Click on my sign-up page for my newsletter and read carefully. (I just want to reassure you I'm not a spammer, but a real person!)
  2. Sign up for my weekly newsletter.
  3. You should be redirected to a thank you page that leads to a Google spreadsheet. Click on the link
  4. There you will find links to a variety of freebies, including the Telephone Game assessment in Word and PDF!

Teachers Pay Teachers is having their back-to-school sale on August 3 and 4! In my store, you will save 20%, OR use the TPT code BTS21 for an additional 5% off. And...guess what, speaking of name games.....I have a nice name game bundle with a variety of games and worksheets for grades K-5. You could get that for 25% off!

Thinking about all of you. PLEASE be safe. PLEASE listen to guidelines. Take care of yourself, and I'll share again with you next week.

Music class preparation checklist

Countdown to First Day: Be Prepared for Your Music Classroom with Checklists

       It's the middle of July, and you know you still have vacation left. But, you are noticing announcements of PD Days for July. You see the dreaded Back to School Sales. It dawns on you that the fight for the copiers will begin August 1. And unfortunately, the COVID cloud is hanging over once again as the vaccination dance continues in earnest. Then...............THE LETTER arrives. I don't know what you receive, but we always got the "Yeah, it's starting!" letter from the superintendent, along with schedules and must-dos for convocations, team meetings, deadlines for insurance, building meetings, deadlines for watching the required HR videos.....the things that make your head spin because there are so many, no matter how experienced you are. Top that with excitement of seeing colleagues again, and suddenly you realize you're on Day One, and your bulletin board isn't finished, and it's Open House.

We all know that checklists are important tools. When I use an organizer, I feel smug and adulting. When I don't......Let's just let me state the obvious and say you need to be thinking about this. You don't need to necessarily ACT on it right away, but making a list right now could save you headaches in late August or early September. What should be on these lists? Based on my experiences, your to-do list to be ready for the first day of school might look something like this:

  • Make substitute folder. I know this is one of the most obvious and required things to do, but honestly, it's also one that many teachers put off because it's tedious, not fun, and difficult to think with the brain of a non-music teacher. And as substitutes might be more difficult to find again this year, someone from your building may need to step in. Below, I've listed a couple of fabulous blogs that might get you jump-started with this folder. Because you never know when you might need a sick day.......
  • Write down important dates (PD, Open House, End of Marking Period). Again, that should go without saying, but it's easy to forget. And at the risk of sounding like an old Luddite: write important dates down instead of relying on your phone. Write them on a monthly calendar. Why? Often teachers live in the moment and don't have time to think toward the next hour, much less two weeks ahead. With a monthly calendar, it's easier to glance and see what's coming up. I'm not saying DON'T use your phone. I do all the time when I'm away from my calendar. Just make sure you transfer the information as soon as you can..
  • Have a number of 5-10 minute activities for kindergarten. Ah, kindergarten.Cute,adorable...energetic.....shy........terrified...........spunky........what a gamut you will get! Experienced teachers know that on the first day, there will be the child who is running around touching everything to the child who is wailing at the top of their lungs. General rules of child development says to have a minute of the same activity for every year of a child's age. This is when having a treasure trove of movement. I will say, although I'm not a huge fan of using GoNoodle for the music classroom (because I just believe music should be created by the child), this website is a lifesaver for those first weeks. I would just advocate to gradually use other music movement, because classroom teachers use GoNoodle, too. If you want terrific recordings, Denise Gagne's publishing company has great books on movement activities for children. (My students wanted to do "One Green Jelly Bean" through 4th grade!) I also have ideas on this blog post on corraling kinders.

  • Build Spotify/iTunes playlists. Spotify is a LIFESAVER. Before iTunes went to pay-per-month, I had many songs on my phone (and iPod before that), ripped some CDs, connected with Bluetooth, and walked around with the music, or kept the phone on a dock. Now, I use Spotify. Need a last minute song to go with giraffes? I just put in "giraffe" and see if there are songs with the word in the title that stylistically fit my gameplan. Here is my Spotify playlist called "for school." (It would be a lot bigger if I hadn't retired.)
  • Organize a number of kinesthetic brain breaks. This is where your playlist comes in handy. For example, use this Laban chart to get you started. Ask students to mirror you. Kids third grade on up can mirror each other. Use selections to go with the use of yoga cards. Use an art manniquin. Only use GoNoodle in an "emergency."
  • Write grants and store in safe place until time to submit. Determine your wishes and write that rough draft out. It's especially helpful if your principal or music supervisor tells everyone about a terrific grant opportunity, but you need to work fast because the deadline is tomorrow. I will have an upcoming blog on writing grants.

  • Make only a week’s worth of plans. Unexpected assemblies. Calls to go virtual. Late summer floods (yup, been there). Sudden change of schedule. The first week is very fluid. Don't make plans that are concrete. You can still lay a foundation for concepts with movement activities, name games, or assign "Getting to know you" papers.

  • Make Plan B’s. Speaking of the unexpected: always have a Plan B. What if the class can't handle movement right away? What if a kindergartner pees on your rug? What if a student escalates into their red zone? What if a sudden assembly is called? Always have a Plan B. 

  • Be prepared for last-minute changes. This always goes with Plan B. Unfortunately, disciplines like music can be fodder for taking a room away because more class space is needed, or teachers are assigned to new buildings for whatever reason.

  • Organize room for just what you need for about a week. Speaking of Plan Bs, if you organize your room for the first week only, there is less of a chance of a child with a lack of impulse control trying to grab everything in sight. It also prevents kinders and new kids from feeling quite so overwhelmed. If you get a chance, ask older kids to help add items later as you get a feel for classroom management issues. Proactive is always best.

  • Establish rules.What worked last year? What didn't work? Plan it out now, in accordance to whatever character ed or management plan your building adopts, post it, and put it in your newsletter.

  • Get class roster rough drafts ready. I say "rough draft" because you want to take some semblance of attendance on the first day, but you will probably get a number of students enrolled at the last minute or some that never show up because the adult in their lives didn't withdraw them. (Remember: if you hate paperwork, treat your administrative assistance in the office kindly.)

  • Update insurance and other HR paperwork and turn in.

    via GIPHY

    Is this your life? Just get it finished as you receive it, even if you have to put a DO NOT DISTURB sign up to keep people from popping into your room to chat. Unless, of course, you LIKE missing out on that extra vision insurance you wanted or like getting nagging emails.

  • Turn in all summer PD forms to make sure you get credit. Have a safe place for it. If your district asks for a spreadsheet of all your PD activity, don't wait until May to do it. (You say people don't procrastinate? You don't know me very well! 😁)
  • Outline curricular goal for the year. You gotta have a plan so you know where your boat is going to land.
  • Copy a number of exit tickets, reward cards, etc. These work. They are nice to have, especially for those kids who don't get much attention. See below about a free exit ticket.

  • Obtain as many existing IEP documents as you can. BY LAW, ANYONE who works with a child should have access to at least an outline or "snapshot" of the adaptations for any child who is in a program of some type. Although you won't obviously be able to receive definitive information on new students or students who have never before been referred, you can get an understanding about the students who have qualified for special services and get the updated IEP after their new assessment. If you don't, you are opening yourself up for trouble. Trust me. This was the topic of my dissertation. Get them and look at those babies! You will be doing what is needed for the child AND saving yourself some potential classroom management problems. Please make sure you keep them confidential and in a safe place.

  • Make any necessary orders for what you will need for the first 9 weeks. Generally, the new fiscal year starts July 1. If you have any budget money at all, take care of office necessities at least, or items you KNOW you will utilize. If the building is all under the same budget (like mine was) be sure to have talking points to objectively advocate for what you need for music before it all goes to someone else. The principal may have to weigh which is more important, but at least you will be in there early advocating. Make sure you give the money decider a copy of your talking points and keep one for you as well.

  • Write music class newsletter. This is another item that music teachers may not want to do, but I did it every year and asked parents to return the signature page. I did this for several reasons: (1) It helps to establish music as part of the curriculum instead of playtime (2) If a parent returns the signature page and then says later in the year they didn't know the concert dates (or your classroom management, etc.) All you have to do is pull out the signature page. Honestly? I just kept them in a portable file box in folders by teacher. Check the end of this blog to find out how you can receive a free newsletter template.

  • Enjoy what time you have left in the summer. This checklist doesn't need to consume your life, even if it seems overwhelming. HR papers, for instance, only take a few minutes. Put up a "Do Not Disturb" sign, set a timer and a focus, and then promise the colleagues who want to catch up with you a time for lunch or Happy Hour!
Every once in a while, teachers need last-minute help or a boost. I remember getting frustrated trying to advocate for my discipline, needing some brainstorming motivation, or just wanting to see a pick-me-up in the form of freebies that made my life a tiny bit easier.
In my blog, I mentioned a newsletter template and an exit ticket template. By signing up for my weekly newsletter, you will receive a link to a spreadsheet that has links to all my freebies as they're added. That means you don't miss out on earlier free things. You'll also get pick-me-up messages, find out opportunities to share3, a heads' up on TPT products and sales, and more! And....

By clicking on this link, you will be taken to a page to get you started. 

In future postings, I will have that blog on grants, first day ideas, and more. Take care and feel free to email me if you have questions or just want to share!