Thursday, October 1, 2015

SLO's in the Kodaly-inspired classroom

Hi everyone! It's Aileen from Mrs. Miracle's Music Room. This week, I submitted my SLO's, or Student Learning Objectives, to my principal. If you are in Ohio or another state that requires SLO's, you know what I'm talking about and perhaps just submitted yours, but if you are in another state, you may have no idea what this means! In this blog post, I'll write about how I use SLO's to inform instruction, as well as how I use pre-tests and post-tests to improve each student's learning. Whether or not you have to submit a SLO, I hope you find this information helpful!

Looking for strategies for implementing SLO's, or Student Learning Objectives, in the Kodaly-inspired classroom? This blog post includes suggestions for pre-tests, post-tests, tracking data, and more!

First, a bit about SLO's. I wrote this blog post about creating a SLO, but just in case you haven't heard this terminology before, I'll briefly explain. In Ohio, teachers now have to turn in at least one SLO, which is a plan that tracks students' growth. The results of a teacher's SLO count for 50% of the teacher's evaluation. Admittedly I was a bit nervous when I first heard I would have to do this, but I believe the process has made me a better teacher and more mindful of how well students understand specific concepts in my classroom.

In my district, we are allowed to focus on one concept, and we are allowed to choose more than one class for a particular SLO. So this year, I have one SLO focused on rhythm (ta and ti-ti) for four first grade classes, and one SLO focused on lines of the treble clef staff for five third grade classes.

Creating and implementing SLO's can take a lot of time, but through the process I feel like I have learned a lot about collecting data, tracking student growth, and improving my own teaching! So here are more details:

The pre-test
When I first begin giving pre-tests, I used them here and there after presentation of a concept. For example, at the start of the year, I'd use a quarter rest pre-test to see what second graders remembered from the previous year.  This gave me information about how much practice I needed to do before moving onto the next rhythmic concept.
Once I had to implement a SLO, though, I started using pre-tests as a way to collect data and to show student growth (comparing the pre- and post-tests.) The tricky thing about this, though, is that I had to begin giving pre-tests for ta and ti-ti to students who had never learned ta and ti-ti...which seems a little ridiculous! Many Kodaly-inspired teachers in my district had anxiety over how anti-discovery learning this approach is. Not to mention the first graders in tears because they don't know any of the answers...because we never taught them!
Over the last few years, though, I have gotten used to the idea. I've gotten much better at my talk with the students (i.e. "Boys and girls, I'm going to do something REALLY silly today. I'm going to give you a test on something you've never learned! Does that mean it's okay if you don't know it? YES! It's not for you, it's for me to become a better teacher.") No tears this year, so I must have gotten better at prepping them!
I have also appreciated evaluating the pre-test results. Most of the results are dismal (kids answer nothing correct, or make a couple good guesses) but a few of the students actually either get everything correct or get almost everything correct, which astounds me!

Teaching throughout the year
The great news about the SLO process is that after the pre-test, a typical Kodaly-inspired lesson will do exactly what it needs to do to prepare and practice concepts with students. We prepare and practice in many ways, through games, activities, worksheets, name it, we put it into our lessons! I have noticed myself being a bit more deliberate in how I taught the SLO concepts, how much practice students received, etc., making sure that students were receiving the instruction they needed to succeed--not just because it looked better with my SLO results, but because this is just good teaching!

Things I changed
Although most of my teaching was very similar in years past, I did add a few changes to my lessons to best help students reach their growth targets. I began doing learning centers to really focus on the concepts, pulling students out for intervention as needed. This past year, I created a "rhythm intervention binder" for my 1st graders so I could really track the students who were struggling and could figure out where their breakdown in understanding occurred (see this blog post about that process.) With 3rd graders this past year, I used the app "Staff Wars" in small groups and as a whole class...which they loved AND it helped their speed and accuracy!

After almost a full year of focusing on the SLO concepts, it's time for the post-test! In my district, the post-test can look exactly like the pre-test, but I've heard that in some districts, the questions need to be in a different order, slightly different wording, etc. For my SLO's, students who receive a 1 or 2 on the pre-test (which means they answered no to little of the questions correctly) need to receive a 3 on the post-test (which means they have a good understanding of the material--maybe just get a difficult pattern incorrect on the dictation portion.) Students who receive a 4 on the pre-test (answering everything correctly) have to show "stretch" by dictating a known song or chant (like "Bee Bee") without any assistance.
This past year, because I really tracked the students who were struggling, I was so interested to see the results. In most cases, I was not at all surprised by the results. The kids who I knew were struggling may still be struggling on the post-test, but in a few cases, I was happy to see that the students who had been struggling met their growth target and had a good understanding of the concept! This year, I began tracking student growth from the previous year, compared to how they did on their first rhythmic assessment this year. Again, so interesting! I'm planning on continuing this tracking through the years to keep meeting the needs of those students and helping them grow musically!

The process as a whole
The process is time-consuming, and it's scary...but it also made me a better teacher and helped me figure out new and interesting ways to reach my students. Last year, even though I saw my 3rd graders less than the year before (as our schedule changed), the percentage of students meeting their growth targets increased from 93% to 96%, which I credit to more deliberate activities, and to Staff Wars (love that app!) My first grade data also increased, which I was very happy about, but more than that, I knew I was meeting the needs of individual students better than I had been before.

If you have to do a SLO, I hope this has been helpful. If you don't have to do a SLO or similar plan, you might consider tracking data to better inform your instruction.

 If you are interested in hearing more about data collection in the music room and you teach in the Midwest, I hope you'll join us at the MKMEA conference in Wichita, October 23-25, as Karla Cherwinski and I will be presenting a session about data there! Check out this blog post by Lindsay Jervis for more details about the conference.

How have you used pre-tests, post-tests, and SLO's in the Kodaly-inspired classroom? Feel free to comment below!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Improvisation Part 2: Melody

Happy new school year! This is Jamie Parker. It’s been awhile since I last blogged, and I realized I never finished my series on improvisation. In my last blog post, I talked about rhythm improvisation. Today, I’ll go over some thoughts on melodic improvisation.

(Thanks to Sonya DeHartKelly Benefield, and Melonheadz for the graphics)

Melodic improvisation can be tricky! In my own classroom, I’ve experienced several situations in which my students did not feel completely comfortable with what I was asking of them, and the improvisation activity was a complete disaster. Ever had that happen to you?

More than anything, I’ve learned that creating a risk-free environment with relationships built on trust and respect helps students to create and improvise freely. When doing melodic improvisation activities in my classroom, I try to refine my presentation process so that students completely understand what I’m asking and understand that it’s ok to make a mistake.

Here are some of my favorite melodic improvisation activities:

I. Put Melody to Known Chants
When first starting melodic improvisation, I sometimes take a chant that is very well known to my students. One chant I’ve used for this activity is Bee, Bee Bumblebee:

Instead of performing the chant normally, I might perform it something like this:

Then, I ask these questions:
  • Is that how we normally perform Bee, Bee Bumblebee? (no)
  • How was it different? (you used a singing voice instead of a talking voice)

I might give the students one or two more examples of different ways to perform the song with a singing voice. Then, I ask a student to create his or her own way of singing the song.

When doing this activity, you could give the students a specific tone set to use or you could just allow them to explore with their voices.

II. Questions and Answers
For this activity, I have purchased flash cards like these:

You can purchase these from your local teacher or store from Amazon here.

When I first start with the cards, I take out several stuffed animals I have at school and give them each a card. Then, I perform questions and answers something like this:



I continue with a few more questions and answers, changing the melody each time. Then, I ask the students some questions:
  • What kind of voice did I use for those questions and answers? (singing voice)
  • Were all of the singing patterns the same? (no)
  • I wonder if you could create a question and answer.

I then pass out a card to each student. I start by asking a student a question (Ex: “Who has the butterfly?”). The student with the butterfly creates his or her own musical answer to “I have the butterfly.” Then, that student asks for a different object with a musical question (Ex: “Who has the fish?”). The game continues until all have had a turn to create a musical question and answer.

When doing this activity, you could give the students a specific tone set to use or you could just allow them to explore with their voices.

III. Improvise to Known Songs
When choosing known songs to use for melodic improvisation activities, I love to search for songs that have the same rhythm for each line but different melody patterns. One of my favorites is See the Rabbit Running. This is actually an exercise from Kodaly’s 333 Reading Exercises (#161) and the text is added by Molly McNamara:

For this activity, my students could read the original song in either staff notation or stick notation with solfege. Then, they could figure out the form of the song (a b a c). After they complete those tasks, I perform the song something like this:

Then, I ask the following questions:
  • Was the text of my version the same as the original? (yes)
  • Was the rhythm of my version the same as the original? (yes)
  • Was the form of my version the same as the original? (yes)
  • Was the melody of my version the same as the original? (no)
  • I wonder if you can create your own version that has different melody but the same text, rhythm, and form.

If students are creating individually with their own melody, I’ll often have them “babble” at the same time as the entire class. This allows them time to practice improvising and feel more comfortable. Then, I’ll have some students volunteer to share their improvisation with the class.

I’ve also done this activity in small groups. One student in the group is in charge of the “a” lines, another student is in charge of the “b” line, and a third student is in charge of the “c” line. The students put their song together and perform for the class.

For this activity, I have never had to specify a tone set for my students to use. Since the tone set of the song is (l, drm), my classes always seem to stay within a pentatonic tone set when improvising.

I hope your year is off to a great start!