Sunday, September 21, 2014

Setting Procedures for Success


Hi everyone! It's Jamie. Each year, I am reminded about the importance of setting expectations for my students. It is so easy to assume that my kids know how to get supplies, transition to different activities, and interact with each other peacefully. I can tell immediately when I have not done a good enough job setting an activity for success—we’ve all been there! I try my hardest to predict possible opportunities for students to become disengaged, and I’d like to share some ways to set procedures so that this does not happen:
(Thanks to Creative Clips for the graphics.)
 
1.   How to Make a Circle:
·      My students sit in rows when they come into music class, but we often have to transition to circles for singing games, folk dances, and other activities. It is my goal that students make their circle quickly and efficiently, without wasting class time. Here are some steps I take:
o   At the beginning of the year, have students practice making a circle. Remind students to use walking feet. See how quickly each class can make a circle in an appropriate way.
o   Use non-verbal cues to let the students know it is time to make a circle. For example, after singing through a song that has a circle game, put your hands up and make a circle motion. Teach the students that this means, “Stand up and go to your circle.” Then, once the students are at a circle, either show them to stand or sit with hand motions.
o   When transitioning back to row spots, keep the students engaged. Give them a job to do:
        •  Step the beat as they sing the song 
        •  Step the beat and clap the rhythm at the same time
        • Inner hear the song as they march the beat. At a given signal, have them sing the song out loud.

2. “Connecting”
·      In my class, we connect (hold hands) all of the time. I never use the term “hold hands.” Instead, I say, “connect.” Teach the students how to connect with each other:
o   Connect lightly without squeezing
o   Connect with the whole hand (no pinky or sleeve connecting)
·      When teaching the older students how to connect hands, I start with a game in which their connections are a vital part of the game. One game I like to use is Dance Josey:


·      In this game, if students don’t connect, the farmers can get through multiple places in the circle. The game is literally ruined if all students aren’t connecting appropriately.

3. Turns:
·      In my class, we don’t have time to play a game until everyone gets a turn. I have to teach my students from the earliest age that you might get a turn today, but you might also have to wait until the next time to get a turn.
·      One way I choose “it” is through this simple chant:
Acka  backa soda cracker, acka backa boo
Acka backa soda cracker, out goes you!
·      I also tell the students before we start, “Today, we have time for 5 rounds of this game.”
·      Before the last round, I will always tell the students, “This is our final time.”
·      While some students have a hard time with turns at the beginning of the year, they will get used to it if you use the same process each time!

4. Choosing a Partner:
·      There are many times in my class that students need a partner to work/play with. Before we do any partner work, we always practice the steps of getting a partner:
o   Walk up to a friend you’d like to have as a partner. Ask, “Will you be my partner?”
o   The answer to this question in my classroom is always, “OK.”
o   At a given cue (I will normally play an instrument to get the students’ attention), raise your hand if you don’t have a partner. Find another kid with his/her hand in the air.
o   If the class has an odd number of students, you (the teacher) should be partners with the last student if doing a partner game. If working with manipulatives/doing other small group work, have the student join another pair to make a group of three.

5. Transitioning to get Supplies/Instruments:
·      Again, I want any transition to be quick and effective. Teach the students how to get instruments out, how to put instruments in rest position, and how to wait for directions. If using papers and pencils, have a routine for passing out supplies.
·      As the students are getting any supplies out, keep them engaged by continuing to sing:
o   Continue singing the song they are working on
o   Echo melodic/rhythmic patterns
o   Have the students decode patterns as they get supplies out (tap/hum a pattern and the students respond back with solfége or rhythm language)

 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

NCCAS standards and Kodaly-inspired teaching

Hi everyone! It's Aileen from Mrs. Miracle's Music Room. This past summer, when the final draft of the music standards from the NCCAS (National Coalition for Core Arts Standards) came out, I was swamped with work teaching Kodaly Level I at DePaul University, and just didn't have time to delve into them. I did, however, hear a decent amount of concerns from other music teachers, so as soon as my work cleared up, I sat down and studied them.

Like others, I did have concerns. I read several blog posts about concerns (like the posts here, here, and here, although I should note that these blog posts are written about the draft, not the final standards; a newer blog post about the final draft can be read here.)

I could write about my concerns here, but honestly, since the standards are final, and I'm a half-glass-full kind of girl, I'd rather move onto the acceptance phase and talk about how we can use them in a Kodaly-inspired classroom. I am not required at this point to align my lessons with the national standards (as my school district uses Ohio's learning standards) but I decided to align my lessons with the standards as a way to really start to understand them, and I can honestly say they've made my lessons more deliberate and creative. So that's a good thing, right?!?! Here are three strategies for understanding the standards within a Kodaly context:

#1: Read and write out the standards
Okay, I know, this seems simple, but I have to tell you, it took me longer than I thought I would to find the website, and finally, the new standards. I was finally able to view the new standards here. I also customized a handbook for K-6 music here.

Even after reading the standards, though, it was hard for me to really comprehend what exactly they meant until I typed up a list for each grade level and each strand. Just like writing out folk songs for retrievals help us learn that folk song, writing or typing out the standards by grade level and strand helped me wrap my mind around each standard.

#2: Align your lessons to the standards
Although I am not required to use the standards at this point, I did think it would be good for my understanding and my teaching if I began aligning. I've done this in two ways--by simply including a check box on my lessons for creating, performing, responding, and connecting, and by including those words along with the verbs beneath those words (such as analyze and interpret.) Here is a shot of the simpler alignment; I included checkboxes (under "forms" in Word), but you could also just bold or italicize the appropriate words on your lesson plan:


And here is an example of the more detailed alignment:

By looking specifically at each of my lessons and how it is aligned to the standards, it has helped me not only understand the standards better, but make small changes to my lesson to better align (more on that in a minute!)

#3: Focus on your classroom, not the classrooms of others
One of the criticisms of the standards is that they do not use the word "sing." Of course, as Kodaly-inspired educators, this is a bit frightening, as singing is such a focus of what the students do. Someone else who is not comfortable with singing might interpret the standards to mean, "Oh, great! I don't have to sing at all with the kids!" Yes, that could happen...but don't concern yourself with others. Think about how your lessons align with the standards. Instead of using the word "sing," they used the word "perform," so all of your students' singing can fit perfectly within the framework of the standards.  If you look at the standards through the lens of what you can add to your lessons, instead of what you have to do to vastly change your lessons, or how others might be interpreting the language, the standards become much more accessible.

Here are three strategies for using the standards to improve your teaching:
#1: Make small changes
Once I sat down and looked at how my current lessons aligned with the new standards, I realized that often, there are minor adjustments I can make to my lesson to address some of the standards. For example, in first grade, it says in the create strand that students should, with limited guidance, "use iconic or standard notation and/or recording technology to document and organize personal music ideas." After students work with popsicle stick manipulatives to dictate rhythmic patterns with ta and ti-ti, why not have them create their own pattern? When working with solfa manipulatives to dictate melodic patterns, why not have them create their own pattern, then try to sing that pattern? It could take just a few extra minutes but could give students ownership with the process.
There are opportunities for alignment, making small changes, throughout all of the standards. Whether it be giving students a list of known songs to decide which they'd like to perform (and then explain why), or after listening to Haydn's "Surprise Symphony" for ta and ti-ti, having students describe how the music sounds, the standards are full of opportunities for reflective and thoughtful discussions, as well as opportunities to give students choices.

#2: Think in terms of student-friendly language
I think one of the biggest downfalls of the standards is its use of somewhat scholarly language. For example, in first grade, it says that students, with limited guidance, should "demonstrate and discuss personal reasons for selecting musical ideas that represent expressive intent."
Um...what?
I had to read that a few times over to understand what it meant, and I'm in my sixteenth year of teaching music. I really wish the committee had included simpler language for those music teachers just starting out. I wish they had thought about "student-friendly language," a term that I have often heard in my district.
The essential questions are also very wordy and at times, confusing. I found that going through them one by one and thinking about how I would word the questions to students was a very helpful process (I created this Essential Questions set with student-friendly language for others AND for me!)
Lastly, the cornerstone assessment they've included on the website has many good ideas about how to transfer the standards into reality...but they are also, in my opinion, complicated and overwhelming. I've always been taught to keep assessments focused and simple, and the assessments they included seem like they are trying to do way too many things. However, since I am a half-glass-full kind of girl, I'm going to look at the ideas and songs presented and make them my own. I love the idea of giving students a list of known songs and having them choose to perform one, then explain why they chose it. I love the fact that the assessment calls for students to sing on pitch with proper performance etiquette. There are a lot of great things that can be pulled from the information they've presented.
Think about how what you've read can be simplified and adapted. I'm not encouraging anyone to make the standards easier--instead, simply to reword the standards and assessments as needed to make them accessible to both you and your students.

#3: Keep track of which standards you've covered.
I made a checklist for myself to help keep track, by grade level and strand, which standards have been taught throughout the year. Halfway through the year, I plan on looking at what has been checked and what hasn't been checked, so I can brainstorm ways to address those standards I haven't really touched. You could do this by typing up a checklist, or simply printing out the PDF of standards and highlighting as you go.

I know the standards can be quite overwhelming, but I hope this has helped you figure out how you can integrate them into your own teaching. I feel like the work I've done so far with them really has made me more intentional with students, to integrate more creativity and reflective questioning into my Kodaly-inspired lessons. I plan on blogging about more specific lesson ideas as they relate to the standards in a future blog post. I have also heard that information about specific musical skills, and where they fall within the standards, will soon be coming from NCCAS.

How have you used the new standards in your Kodaly-inspired classroom?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Keep Calm and Teach On


I hope that, by now, you have all enjoyed a fabulous start to your school year! I know that the excitement and energy that accompany the first days of school are among my very favorite things!

I don't know about you, but I know that I always approach the school year feeling totally on top of things, and then that feeling begins to... fade... far, far away. Assemblies, safety drills, field trips, committee meetings, conferences, reports cards and so many other things cloud my mind and result in a never ending battle to stay organized and prepared.  However, staying organized is SO critical to your student's success in the Kodály sequence.  Christopher wrote an awesome post discussing the importance of reviewing what you have done (among other things!), but that can get tricky if you don't know which class did what! So, today, I am going to share...



Like most Kodály teachers, I carefully craft year-plans, concept plans and daily lesson plans. However, that doesn't mean that things always go according to plan! There are many times where, for one reason or another, classes get on different lessons, activities work in one class but not another, students need extra time for an activity, etc., etc., etc.  With hundreds of students walking in our door each week, I sometimes find it hard to remember who did what and when. However, I have found a few handy tricks that have made a big difference in keeping me organized and ready for each class!

Trick #1: Number Your Lessons

I assign all of my lessons with a number rather than labeling them by date or weekday.



I have a binder for each grade level, where I keep my lessons in numerical order.  In order to keep track of where my classes are, I created a table that I laminated to write down which lesson each class is on.  I use a dry erase marker so that I can update it every day.


At the end of each day, I update my chart so I know exactly what lesson we left off on. This way, if a class was gone for a field trip or had to miss music for another reason, I know what lesson I need to turn to.

Trick #2: Add a "Notes" Box to Your Lesson Template

Even if I know a class is on lesson 4, that doesn't necessarily mean that they got to everything in the previous lesson. As you know, each class has a personality of it's own, and some groups need extra time while others will fly right through your plans. Therefore, I have built a box into my lesson plan template where I can write notes for each class. I try to be diligent about noting anything that I will really need to remember for the next class BEFORE the class leaves my room. If I don't, chances are I will forget! 


Having it right there on my lesson plan makes it easy to remember to write things down and helps me when I am going to teach my classes. I promise you will thank yourself later for taking those 20 seconds to write yourself a note! :)

Trick #3: Keep a "Done" List

I absolutely adore To-Do lists. I write them during staff meetings (I mean...I always pay attention during staff meetings), color code them by activity, keep them on my phone, ipad, and computer, and love the satisfaction that comes from checking off one of my boxes. However, I have found that keeping a "Done" list is extremely helpful when it comes to staying organized. I use my song-list and concept plans to check off activities and songs as we cover them in class. That way, I don't accidentally repeat a song or activity with a class.

When doing activities from activity books or other resources, I will put a sticky note on the page with the date and grade I used it for. That way, I know exactly what I have used when I go hunting for a new activity to teach!

Trick #4: Think BIG

You've read it here before... year plans are awesome. I am a HUGE fan of having a year plan to use as a guide as you design your sequences and plan your lessons. However, it can be hard (if not impossible) to design a year plan when you are new to a building, new to Kodály, or even just beginning your career.

That being said, even if you can't plan your whole year in detail, you can do a few things to keep the big picture in mind. The core of my year plan is my melodic and rhythmic content. However, I totally love all the cute things, celebrations, and other fun that comes with working in an elementary school. So, I have a crate in my classroom that has a binder or folder for every month of the year where I keep different activities that I want to be sure to include in that month. For example, in my March Binder I have...

  • A list of my favorite St. Patricks' Day children's books
  • A St. Patrick's Day song and dance
  • Shamrock rhythm flashcards (printed and stored inside a sheet-protector)
  • St. Patrick's Day beat strips
  • A "Music in Our Schools" poster that I like to display
  • A reminder to sing "No More Pie" on Pi Day (3/14)
  • A list of recordings of my favorite Irish Music
I always make sure to look in my my "Month Box" when I am writing my lesson plans to remind myself of the fun activities I have to use!  You can also do this for concepts (have a tika-tika crate) or grade levels to help you keep your ideas and resources organized. 

In addition to having a place to store your hard materials, you can keep folders on your computer labeled by concept or month to help you remember what you want to use. I upload MP3 files into my month files on my google drive in order to remember which recordings I want to use for movement activities, beat games, and listening lessons. It's so helpful to have them all in one place! 


It seems that every school year is crazier than the last, but I hope that these ideas can help you keep that "beginning of the school year calm" going throughout the year!

Happy Teaching!


 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rockin' Lesson Segments



Hi folks!  Christopher here.

One of the things that I love about a good Kodály-inspired lesson is the way that each 30-minute class period addresses many different objectives, from rhythmic and melodic development to composition and improvisation to  beautiful singing and fun.  In my classroom, that means that most lessons from Grades 1-5 have between six and eight activities in a lesson, each with a different objective. (For me, Kindergarten is a whole ‘nother ball of wax – those kids can’t focus for beans, so we will often do as many as ten activities in a class.)  Reasons for so many activities in a given lesson?
-                    Musicians have so many skills that we have to develop, and creating lessons in which they are able to work on a variety of skills within a lesson is essential for ensuring that those skills don’t atrophy from under-use. 
-                    Plus, a lesson with six different activities will often allow for differentiation: Students who are successful at decoding melodic patterns may have a difficult time learning a folk dance; and students who have a hard time matching pitch might be a wiz at reading rhythm cards.  If we were to spend a whole class period writing a composition in Western staff notation (or any of my common objectives), some students might feel like failures in music.  Providing different experiences in each class alleviates that.

However, in order to make all this fit, each individual lesson segment has to be fairly short, generally lasting between four and six minutes.  This post will focus specifically on writing those short segments with music literacy segments in mind.

Rita Klinger created an approach to writing music literacy segments that uses a three-pronged process, which she labeled Review, Point, and Reinforcement.  She writes about it in this book Lesson Planning in a Kodály Setting, one that was just re-published by OAKE: 


In many ways, the Review/Point/Reinforcement approach is like the classic Prepare/Present/Practice concept that is practiced throughout the Kodály world in the United States – just applied to a five-minute lesson segment.   The steps work in this way:

            Review: A brief summation of what has already been learned
            Point: The learning objective for the segment;
            Reinforcement: The immediate practice of the point

That’s general, so let’s look at how this plays out. 

EXAMPLE 1

I’m going to use the concept of ticka-ticka, which I’ll be teaching to my second graders this year in the spring.  After they learn repertoire containing ticka-ticka along with the other rhythmic concepts they learned in first grade and the beginning of second (ta, ti-ti, rest, and half note), I want to make sure that they can clap the rhythm accurately.  Sometimes, getting all the claps in there for a ticka-ticka can be a challenge for those little hands.  For this step in the sequence, I will use the song “Old Aunt Dinah,” a great little song I found a couple of years ago. 


 Source: Erdei, I., Knowles, F., & Bacon, D. (Eds.) (2002).  My singing bird: 150 folk songs from the Anglo-American, African-American, English, Scottish, and Irish traditions.  Columbus, OH: Kodály Center of America. 

Their source was: Brown, F. (1962).  Collection of North American folklore, vol. 1.  Durham, NC: Duke University Press.



When creating the lesson segment, I start with the point, which is essentially just my objective: 

Review

Point
                        Ss (students) sing song and clap the rhythm, without teacher help
Reinforcement

At this point, I ask myself, what do they need to do to get to the point?  What do they need to know and demonstrate?  Well, for this part of the process, they really don’t need to know much – just know the song!  If they can’t sing the song, then they can’t hear the rhythm well enough to be able to clap it.  So, adding in my only review step makes the segment look like this:

Review
                        Ss sing known song “Old Aunt Dinah”
Point
                        Ss (students) sing song and clap the rhythm, without teacher help
Reinforcement

The reinforcement is the way that the students are able to immediately practice the new learning.  This usually consists of repeating the point, with a slight twist.  There are two major ways to reinforce:
-                    Have the students repeat the point, but in smaller groups
-                    Have the students repeat the point as a whole group, with different student leaders
In this case, I’ll have the students perform in smaller groups, using the text of the song to provide a way group my students into smaller chunks.  After the reinforcement, the activity looks like this:

Review
                        Ss sing known song “Old Aunt Dinah”
Point
                        Ss (students) sing song and clap the rhythm, without teacher help
Reinforcement
                        Half the class sings the song and claps the rhythm
                        The other half of the class sings the song and claps the rhythm
                        Ss with more than two aunts sing the song and claps the rhythm
                        Ss with more than three aunts sing the song and claps the rhythm
                        Ss with more than four aunts sing the song and claps the rhythm
                        Whole class sings and claps the rhythm

The reinforcement is the part of this process that is most easily forgotten.  Why do it? 

-                    Allows the students a chance to practice
-                    Allows the teacher a chance to assess
-                    Allows the teacher to decide when to move on

This last one is key: As we all know, some of these skills take time for students to develop!  Many of the objectives in your preparation steps need to be repeated on more than one day, with different songs, in order to ensure that the majority of the children can perform the given task or understand the idea.  When I’m doing my reinforcement in small groups, I am usually paying particularly close attention to some of the kids who are “medium-low” performers.  Once my medium-low kids have it, I’m ready to move on to the next step in my sequence.

EXAMPLE 2

I’m going to fast-forward three or four weeks to use a different objective for one more example of this review/point/reinforcement process.  At this point, the students have done the following:

-                    learned repertoire that contains ticka-ticka and previously learned notes
-                    clapped the rhythm while performing this repertoire
-                    identified that there are some songs that have a new rhythm, and that it this new rhythm consists of a lot of sounds on a beat
-                    identified exactly where this new rhythm occurs in specific songs (i.e. which beats it falls on)

All of this learning has taken about a month, probably, with some of the steps above repeated on different days.

Now I am at the point where I want the students to figure out that there are four sounds on a beat.  I could simply tell them that this is the case, but in this discovery learning approach, the children figure it out for themselves. 

For this step, I’ll use the song "Paw Paw Patch.” This song works particularly well because the new rhythm occurs four times, and at different places in the song:


 Source: Erdei, P., & Komlos, K. (Eds.) (1974).  150 American folk songs to sing, read, and play.  New York City: 
Boosey & Hawkes.

I start with the point:

Review
                       
Point
                        Ss identify that the new rhythm contains four sounds over one beat
Reinforcement


What do they need to do to get there?  Well, they definitely need to sing the song, and make sure that they can clap the rhythm, so I start there:

Review
                        Ss sing song and clap rhythm
Point
                        Ss identify that the new rhythm contains four sounds over one beat
Reinforcement

In previous classes, they have discovered that this new song has a new rhythm that has a whole lot of sounds on a beat, and determined exactly where in the song those new rhythms have happened.  So I’ll add that to my review:

Review
                        Ss sing song and clap rhythm, while the T writes beat icons on the board
                        Ss sing song, and id that they new rhythm occurs in this song
                        Ss id that the new rhythm occurs on the third beat of lines 1, 2, and 3
                                    And the first beat of line 4
Point
                        Ss identify that the new rhythm contains four sounds over one beat
Reinforcement

Now that the students have reviewed what’s pertinent, I’ll add some detail to my point, to show how I expect them to identify that the first beat has four sounds on it.

  Review
                        Ss sing song and clap rhythm, while the T writes beat icons on the board
                        Ss sing song, and id that they new rhythm occurs in this song
                        Ss id that the new rhythm occurs on the third beat of lines 1, 2, and 3
                                    And the first beat of line 4
Point
                        Ss id that the words that are sung on the first line 1, beat 3 (i.e. “pretty little”)
                        Ss id that the words “pretty little” contain four syllables
                        T places four marks on the board over the beat icon
Reinforcement

Reinforcing this step can be a challenge – because once they know that there are four sounds on this new rhythm, they can’t really forget it.  However, what they can  do is to check whether the other places in the song with a new rhythm also contain four sounds on each beat.  So that’s the first part of my reinforcement:

Review
                        Ss sing song and clap rhythm, while the T writes beat icons on the board
                        Ss sing song, and id that they new rhythm occurs in this song
                        Ss id that the new rhythm occurs on the third beat of lines 1, 2, and 3
                                    And the first beat of line 4
Point
                        Ss id that the words that are sung on the first line 1, beat 3 (i.e. “pretty little”)
                        Ss id that the words “pretty little” contain four syllables
                        T places four marks on the board over the beat icon
Reinforcement
                        Ss check if line 2, beat 3 contains four sounds
                        Ss check if line 3, beat 4 contains four sounds
                        Ss check if line 4, beat 1 contains four sounds

Another way to reinforce this step is to have the children sing the words “1,2,3,4” in place of the text of the song on each of those beats.  If time remains, then, I’ll add that piece:

  Review
                        Ss sing song and clap rhythm, while the T writes beat icons on the board
                        Ss sing song, and id that they new rhythm occurs in this song
                        Ss id that the new rhythm occurs on the third beat of lines 1, 2, and 3
                                    And the first beat of line 4
Point 
            Ss id that the words that are sung on the first line 1, beat 3 (i.e. “pretty little”)
                        Ss id that the words “pretty little” contain four syllables
                        T places four marks on the board over the beat icon
Reinforcement
                        Ss check if line 2, beat 3 contains four sounds
                        Ss check if line 3, beat 4 contains four sounds
                        Ss check if line 4, beat 1 contains four sounds
                        Ss sing song, replacing “pretty little” and “way down yonder” with “1,2,3,4”
                        Ss sing song with correct words of the song


At this point in my lesson, then, they're moving onto the next activity, which will usually will include some sort of movement -- a singing game or play party, folk dance, or instrumental practice activity.

Happy lesson planning!