Monday, April 20, 2015

Kodály Levels Programs



Hi folks!  Christopher here.

The internet has been a remarkable tool for professional development of music teachers.  From Facebook groups and blogs to M.A. programs in Music Education that operate fully online, there are an incredible number of ways to get new ideas and repertoire for our classrooms.  For music teachers, who are often the only music specialist in a building, it can be particularly beneficial.

But for those who are interested in Kodály-inspired education (or Orff or Dalcroze, for that matter), there is nothing like a Levels class.  These all-day, intensive classes are most commonly offered during the summer, and last either two or three weeks.  I took my Kodály Level I right after I finished my teaching certificate, because I scored a job teaching elementary music and I knew enough to know that I didn’t know anything.  I needed more goods.

On the first day of the course, I sauntered in, critically surveyed the class, then beelined towards the back of the room to sit next to those students who looked like they were the most likely to talk.  Fun: that’s what I was here for.  To be sure, I also hoped to learn how to be a good music teacher, but I definitely wanted to meet some awesome music teachers, and crack jokes in the back of the class.  A wrench invaded these plans, however, and that wrench was Rita Klinger.  As she started talking the first day, it quickly became clear that what was streaming from her mouth was not mere words and music, but gold – wisdom that, even as a 20-something, I knew that I could not afford to miss out on.  Regretfully, I bid adieu to my too-cool-for-school friends, moved to the front of the class, and never looked back.  The good news for my quest for fun was that the laughter never ended – at its core, Kodály is about joyful music-making for everyone, and I continued to laugh with my classmates and teachers.  To be sure, I was constantly challenged, and I worked hard to improve my musicianship skills and my teaching chops.  But that challenge helped me learn to hold myself to high standards as a teacher, and ensure that my students are both learning and having fun – the holy grail of teaching.

I’m here to say: Take a Level!!  And if you have already taken your Levels, consider going back for related study (and look down at the bottom of this post for some specific suggestions to consider).  As educators, we never stop learning.

What's in a Kodály Level? 

Zoltan Kodály said a lot of things (“Honey, have you seen my slippers?” probably came out of his mouth at some point), but when it comes to music teaching, one of the core aspects is this: That the best music teachers should be two things:
     - The best possible musicians
     - The best possible teachers
Both of those things, musicianship and teaching skills, are crucial to good teaching.  So, Kodály Levels courses address both of those needs, with five different classes:

(1) Materials, where participants learn quality music to use in the classroom, and study folk song analysis;
(2) Pedagogy, where students take those materials and create masterful lesson plans that maximize student learning but also have fun;
(3) Musicianship, where participants develop their own personal musicianship skills;
(4) Conducting, where participants work with master choral conductors to enhance their personal conducting skills;
(5) Choir, where participants sing in a choir, intended to create a top-level choral experience.


Where to take a Level?

There are programs throughout the country.  You can find a list of programs on OAKE's website.  If there is not one in your area, many of the programs offer fairly cheap campus housing.

Many of us who post on this blog teach in summer programs as well:
                                                   Westminster Choir College (New Jersey)
(That’s right, there is a trifecta there: Three bloggers from CSU!)

Aileen Miracle, who started this blog and is incredibly awesome, is taking the year off of teaching Levels.  If you are looking to take a Level in a future year, you might want to consider following her around to wherever she teaches.  I know that I want to!

 What if you already have your Levels?

For those of you who already have your Levels, education does not end!  To be sure, local workshops and national conferences are awesome, but there are other courses in a variety of places to consider, in order to provide new perspective on teaching and learning.  Some options: 

Revisit your old program.  Many programs offer “Refresher” courses, either formally or informally.  Pedagogy was my main love, and I came back and sat in on different pedagogy classes a couple of years after I finished my Level III.  There were tons of ideas that I had missed the first time around, that I understood more fully with the benefit of experience.  If there aren't official programs offered, contact the course director, and you may be able to set up something individually.

Try a new program.  Visiting a program that has different faculty than yours will often provide you with a slightly different perspective on the approach.  After I finished my Level III, I knew I wasn't done, and traveled to Calgary to see how they did it up there.  As a Levels instructor, I still try to get out to observe other programs when I can, even for a few days.  It allows me to get a better perspective on my own teaching. 

Other possibilities to consider:
  • Smithsonian Folkways Workshop in World Music Pedagogy: This week-long course looks at a variety of ways to take world music and teach it in K-12 and University music classrooms.  All courses include visits from culture-bearers, as well as practical experiences designed to help you take unfamiliar musics into your classes.  The flagship program is at the University of Washington, and this summer, a similar course is offered at West Virginia University.
  • Holy Names University in California is offering a four-day, afternoons-only class on Teaching Music Reading in the Choral Classroom.  
  • George Mason University (Virginia) offers a range of one-week classes on special topics including Folk Dance Repertoire, Dulcimer Building and Laban Applications for the Music Teacher
  • University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) offers a number of shorter courses that may be of interest to those who already hold Kodály Certificates, on topics such as Choral Conducting and Children's Vocal Development.
  •  New York University (NYC) is also offering a couple of shorter courses for those with experience in the Kodály approach, including a class on Advanced Curriculum and Pedagogy

One of the great things about music teaching is that learning never ends.  And there's nothing quite like summer coursework to help that learning occur.

Learn on!


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Highlights from the 2015 OAKE Conference

Two weeks ago, I had the honor of chairing the 2015 OAKE conference in Minneapolis, MN. It was a whirlwind of meetings, sessions, and events...but it was so wonderful to see the two years of committee work come to fruition! I didn't get to attend as many sessions as I usually do at a conference (as I was running around making sure everyone had what they needed) but I did get to sit down and enjoy a few sessions. Here are a few highlights and lessons learned from the conference:


  • From Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, I was reminded that conducting and outstanding pedagogy can transform a choir's sound. Fernando presented the mini-conference with a demo choir of participants, in which he worked one-on-one with eight conductors. Although I only saw snippets of the mini-conference, as I had an OAKE board meeting at the same time, I was once again amazed by his ability to not only constructively work one-on-one with conductors--gently helping them to improve their conducting and thus, the choir's sound--but his own musicianship and conducting. I walked into the mini-conference again at the very end of the mini-conference, as Fernando conducted the demo choir, and was amazed by how much he had transformed their sound in 3 hours! (As an aside, Fernando teaches with the American Boy choir, and will be featured in the film "Boy Choir" with Dustin Hoffman! See the trailer below!)

  • From Sue Leithold-Bowcock, I was reminded of discussing a song's context with students so the song has more meaning to them. As she had students sing several songs in her demo session, she had them discuss the culture and context of each, and I could tell she was intentional with the details she'd give them to make each song more meaningful!
  • From Joan Litman, I was reminded to show my students videos of students from another culture singing, not only to help them learn a song better, but to help foster multicultural awareness and acceptance. I also was reminded to slow down. As she passed out rhythm sticks, she took her time, and wisely quipped something like, "Could I be passing these out faster? Sure. But we sometimes need to slow down." Aren't we always worried about passing out rhythm sticks or anything else as quickly as possible, since we don't have much time with our students? YES! But what a wonderful point she made...if we are constantly in a rush as a society then our children will not learn to slow down and enjoy life. 
  • From my dear friend Nyssa Brown, I was reminded to take the new NCCAS standards one step at a time. She did her entire session from the Netherlands--through Google Chat--and I was so excited that the technology piece was smooth AND to see her smiling face! She gently reassured the attendees that although the standards don't look exactly as we'd like them to, we can improve our own teaching and our students' learning by using resources provided with the standards and looking at our lessons through a different lens. You can read her wonderful blog here.
  • From Lennie Davis, I learned a few new tricks on GarageBand and MadPad. Both apps I have worked with extensively, but not surprisingly, he showed some great (new to me!) strategies for working with both apps and bridging the gap between the Kodaly-inspired classroom and using iPads to create.
  • From Donna Gallo, I learned how to have students "cover" a song on iPads to help connect the music they listen to at home with the music they sing at school. I have had lots of enlightening conversations with Donna about using pop music in the Kodaly-inspired classroom--something I balked at the first few times I heard about it. (Christopher Roberts wrote a wonderful blog post about using pop music here.) Through these conversations with Donna, as well as through her session, I've come to realize that if we never make the connection between their music from home and the music from school, many of them will never make the connection on their own. I have already began the process using Katy Perry's "Roar" with my fifth graders and so far, they love it! (And admittedly, so do I!)
  • From Karen Howard, I was reminded of how awesome it is to sit down and make music! Her session about Ghanian drumming was inspiring and so musically rewarding!
  • From my own panel about Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), I learned that while different states have different takes on how to implement SLOs, the goal is the same: to improve student learning. Although it seems like an overwhelming task to track all of the data, it has improved my teaching and my own students' learning.
  • And from my committee and from people at the conference, I was reminded of how amazing my friends are, how they are willing to step up to the plate to do whatever needs to be done, and how hard work, collaboration, and teamwork can help foster a very rewarding event!
What were your highlights from the conference? Feel free to comment below!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Improvisation Part 1: Rhythm


Hi, everyone!  This is Jamie Parker. Like many of you, I am on spring break this week. Each year on break, I like to set aside some time to think about how my students are progressing and where they still have room to grow before the end of the year. One skill area that seems to need improvement each year is improvisation. Personally, improvisation has been an area of weakness for me, and, as a result, I feel the need to add purposeful improvisation activities to my lessons. I have decided that I’ll spend the next couple of blog posts discussing different improvisation areas, and today I’ll be going over rhythm improvisation.

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


When doing rhythm improvisation activities in my classroom, I tend to start with four-beat rhythm patterns. Before I hold my students accountable for any patterns, I always go through the following process:
  • I tap and say many four-beat patterns and the students tap and say the patterns back.
  • We have a discussion about each of our known rhythms and the amount of beats each rhythm takes up.
  • I tell the students to think of their own pattern. Then, I give them a little think time.
  • The students say their patterns at the same time as the rest of their classmates. This “babble” time gives them an opportunity to practice and revise.
  •  I ask for some students to volunteer on our improvisation activity.


Here are some of my favorite rhythm improvisation activities:

I. Rhythm Conversation
My students and I imagine that we are in a land where the only known language is rhythm language. The only way we can converse with each other is by tapping and saying different rhythm patterns. I have structured this activity a few different ways:
  •  Option 1: The students sit in a circle. The teacher goes around to each student and performs a pattern to him/her. Each student responds with his/her own pattern back to the teacher.
  • Option 2: The students are grouped in pairs or small groups. The students converse with the others in their group with rhythm patterns. You might set guidelines on how long the conversation should last.
  •  Option 3: The students sit in a circle. One student performs his/her rhythm and the entire class copies the pattern. Then, the next student in the circle performs his/her pattern and the others echo. This keeps going until all students have had an opportunity.


I like to use this activity when my students are very confident with a new rhythm. Sometimes, I require that they must include 1 of the newest rhythm they know. I’ve also used this activity when my students have learned a new fingering on recorder. They play a rhythm using only their newest note.


II. Rhythm Improvisation to Form
In this activity, students improvise on the “b” or "c" section of a known song.  Here is the structure I follow:
  • The students read the rhythm of a known song
  • The students discover the rhythmic form of the song. I like to use songs with the form “a a b a” or “a b a c.”
  • I remove the “b” and “c” lines of the song.
  •  In place of the “b” and “c” lines, students create their own rhythms.


Here are some of my favorite songs for this activity:
  • Hot Cross Buns
  • Rain is Falling Down
  • Let Us Chase the Squirrel
  • Dinah
  •  Canoe Song



III. Add Rhythm Interludes to Known Songs
I love when I can find songs in my folk song collection in which I can add improvisation activities. One of my favorite songs to do this with is Who’s That?:



Students will sing individual classmate names on “Student 1” and “Student 2.” After the song is over, student 1 will tap and say a four-beat rhythm and then student 2 will knock and say a four-beat rhythm. The song will continue with new individuals improvising.



I hope you have a restful break!