Thursday, April 7, 2016

Fostering a student-centered environment in the music room

Hi everyone! This is Aileen from Mrs. Miracle's Music Room. Today, I'm blogging about something that has been on my mind quite a bit lately as I've been planning lessons: how to foster a student-centered environment in the music room.


There are so many things that I love about the Kodály-inspired classroom...but at times, it can feel somewhat teacher-centered if taught in a traditional way. Sometimes, students DO need a whole-class approach. They need to sing together as a community, they need to prepare and practice rhythms and solfa together, they need the teacher to share musical knowledge. However, at some point, in order for students to transfer their knowledge, the teacher does need to step away and become more of a facilitator. So how do we do that in a Kodály-inspired classroom? Here are my favorite strategies!

#1: Rotating Centers
Several years ago, I began experimenting with centers in my classroom. I had seen them done well in my daughter's Kindergarten classroom, and thought I would try it in my room. It has been a wonderful journey, and a great way to not only foster a more student-centered classroom, but to provide time to work with and assess students one-on-one while the other students are engaged in exciting activities! With rotating centers, I typically have four centers around the room that are focused on practicing the same concept in different ways. For example, for ta and ti-ti, I might have one center at the SMART board, where students are throwing a squishy ball at the board and then reading patterns, another center in which students play rhythm patterns on non-pitched percussion, a third center with worksheets for ta and ti-ti, and the last center with me, in which each student individually reads five patterns. Every five or so minutes, I have students rotate to the next center until they've been to all of the centers. It does have a much more student-centered feel to it, because instead of you teaching the students, students are often teaching each other! Whether they are explaining to each other how to play High D on the recorder, or reminding each other that la is a step above sol,  it's a really awesome thing to step away and let students process the information and teach each other! If you're looking for more information about centers, here are several blog posts with more details about using centers!

#2: Floating Centers 
This is something new I tried last year. The idea is similar to rotating centers, but I often have six centers instead of four, and students get to choose which center to go to, when. I only ask that they visit at least three centers during the class time (and will give them reminders every so often as they do that.) As the students are at centers, I've been working with students who are struggling with a particular concept (depending on the concept of the centers), and it's been GREAT to have that time to figure out where their breakdown of knowledge is! If you want more specifics on how I did this for ta and ti-ti, check out this blog post.

#3: Small group work
I have done a few small group activities recently that really felt student-centered. Even though I may give somewhat specific directions to the small groups, there is something about having students work with a few other students instead of as a whole class that does not feel quite as teacher-directed. One of these was Cori Bloom's dice activity for listening. You can view it by clicking the picture below.


My former student teacher Emily did this a few weeks ago with the fifth grade. In the first lesson, she did it as a whole group activity--she rolled the die and then the students discussed it as a class. I suggested in the next lesson that she try it in small groups, and we were both floored by the difference! Kids were getting much more of an opportunity to talk to each other about the song in a small-group setting vs. students having to raise their hands to contribute! I think students also felt like they had more ownership because they were holding the die and the listening sheet instead of it being in front of the room, and they were actively participating in the small group discussions. It's a great activity for ANY listening lesson!

Another small group activity that I just did this week was having students compose rhythm patterns with fruit. Student work with small groups to compose a 4-beat pattern--I just asked that it had one watermelon (or tika-tika) in it. Again, I gave them pretty specific directions, but because they could talk to each other and make decisions as a group, it felt much more student-centered! Here is a picture of one of the patterns:


Click here to read a blog post about a similar activity for ti-tika (using raspberries.)

#4: Creative movement
I have done some creative movement here or there over the years, but after going to my good friend Andrew Ellingsen's creative movement session at the MKMEA conference in Wichita, I was inspired to really dive in, and I am so glad I did! I've been having students be each other's mirror as we listen to music, and now I'm having students do complementary shapes with each other. The feel in the room is quite a bit different than a traditional lesson, because they are continually making decisions every few seconds as individuals and with their partner about what they are doing next!
Even though creative movement isn't necessarily a goal of a Kodály-inspired classroom, I find it fits into the curriculum rather nicely. It gives students a brain break, it gives them opportunity to listen and respond to many different kinds of music, and it teaches students about musical terms, such as complementary, that fit well into any discussion about ostinati, counter-melodies, etc.!
If you ever get a chance to see Andrew present, you should definitely go!! He is amazing. If you're looking for accessible creative movement resources, I've heard this book is outstanding...


...and the Eric Chapelle CD's, like the one shown below, are also really easy to add into a lesson!



#5: "Reward" Day
This summer, I read this book about behavior management in the related arts classroom:


I really liked his idea about giving points to each class, each lesson, and then having a reward when they get a certain number of points. My reward for them this year (which happens maybe once every quarter) is that they get half of their next class as a "reward" day, in which students get to choose what they want to do. Sometimes they choose games like "We are dancing" or "Ye Toop Doram," sometimes they choose iPads, sometimes they choose instrument playing...it is totally up to them, and it is very student-centered! I love hearing what they are the most excited about, and although I am all about teaching them musical concepts, sometimes they just need to play and have fun!

If you're looking for more ideas for a student-centered environment in the music room, check out my good friend Nyssa Brown's blog. She is the first person to really motivate me to explore how to make my lessons more student-centered, and she is an amazing educator and person!

What are your favorite strategies for fostering a student-centered environment? Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Using Socrative in the Music Classroom



Hi everyone! This is Jamie Parker. A week before school began this past year, I arrived in my classroom to find five iPads sitting on my desk. I was thrilled! BUT I had no idea how I was going to use them with my students. I wanted the iPads to be used in a meaningful way. I began digging for different tools where my students could prepare and practice different elements, could create something new, and could be assessed on known material.

One app I found for assessment is Socrative. This app allows teachers to create their own questions and tracks all answers from individual students. I began exploring how I could use this app with my students:


I. Getting Started
  • My first step in getting started with Socrative was to create a teacher account (completely free!) on the website: www.socrative.com.
  • Then, I downloaded the student app on each of my devices (also free).
  •  Once I was set up, I tried to think of ways I could create quizzes. I wanted my quizzes to directly reflect what the students were learning. I realized that I could not input musical notation into my question, but I could insert a picture (more on that below).


II. Creating a Quiz
  • The quizzes on Socrative allow for multiple choice or short answer questions. When you login as the teacher, you can create a quiz by clicking on “Manage Quizzes” and then “Create Quiz.”
  • When I created some quizzes, I ran into a problem—I wanted to use musical notation, but the app didn’t allow me to. My solution was to create a picture for each question. I created the pictures using PowerPoint. Each question was one slide, and after I finished, I saved the slides as jpegs.
  • The music notation font I used is the Music Ed Font, which you can purchase here.
  • Here is an example of a syncopation quiz I gave to my fourth graders (thanks to Pitch Clips and Kelly Benefield for the papers and borders) :

Question 1:

Answer choices:
a. Three even sounds over three beats
b. Three sounds (short-long-short) over two beats (correct)
c. Three sounds (short-long-short) over three beats
d. Two sounds (long-short) over three beats
e. Three sounds (long-short-long) over two beats

Question 2:

This is a short response question. The students typed their answer in a text box.

Question 3:
Answer choices:
a. Alabama Gal
b. Big Bunch of Roses
c. Canoe Song (correct)
d. ‘Liza Jane
e. Weevily Wheat

Question 4:

Answer choices:
a. 8 (correct)
b. 6
c. 9
d. 4
e. 7

Question 5:
This is a short response question. The students typed their answer in a text box.


III. Managing the Class
  • Since I only have 5 iPads, I had to think about how my class structure would work when using Socrative. I decided that the best use of my class time was to have rhythm centers. One of the centers would be an iPad station.
  •  Before the students started centers, they were given a few directions of how to use Socrative.
    • When they got to the station, they needed to type my Room Code into the app. This is a code that gives students access to my quiz. I put the code on the board for the students to see. Initially, I thought this task might be difficult for some of my students. However, I found it to be quite easy for them. They are so used to logging in to different activities throughout their day!
    • Next, the students needed to type their name into the app. Again, no problem.
    • Then, the students had to complete the quiz.
    • After they were finished, they needed to log out.
  • The students all did a great job managing the actual app. The only issue that came up was that it took some students longer to answer the short answer questions. Their time at the station was over, but they weren’t finished with the quiz. I realized that I needed to lengthen the time at each center to make the iPad station work (I lengthened my station time to about 8 minutes). 


IV. Getting the Results
  • After your students finish a quiz, there are many ways you can view their results. You can get an entire class excel download, an individual student PDF, or a question specific PDF. You can also have the file emailed to you, or you can do a direct download.
  • If you’re looking to use the quiz as an assessment, the entire class excel download is a great choice. It shows correct/incorrect answers by student, and it gives all short answer responses.


I’m sure there’s even more I can do with this app, and I’m so excited to try more! I’m also still digging for more useful apps for the music room. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.