Sunday, May 17, 2015

Celebrate and Reflect

Hi! It's Kate from Kate's Kodaly Classroom. I have been a little bit absent from the blogging world recently, but am so glad to be back on the Kodaly Corner!

If you haven't read Karla's latest post for surviving the end of the year, make sure to check it out! There are so many great ideas and reminders for surviving the wonderful and incredibly chaotic time of year!

The end of the school year is one of my favorite times of year for so many reasons... kids and teachers are excited for summer vacation, celebrations are happening left and right, field days, performances, graduations... it really is a wonderful time. It is also around this time of the year that I make a conscious effort to reflect. I believe that reflection is one of the most important things we can do to grow and develop as teachers. I know that our schedules in May and June are JAM PACKED, but I truly believe an hour with a latte and a notebook can make a huge difference in your professional development and growth. So, for my post today, I am going to share with you some helpful hints for (drum roll, please!)...

Step One: Celebrate
Just about every teacher I know works incredibly hard all school year (and summer- let's be real) long. So, before you develop a list of "I could have" or "I wish I would have," take a few minutes to celebrate the "I did." Chances are you did A LOT of amazing things this school year- whether it was surviving your first year teaching, connecting with that one student that you struggled with, or finally cataloguing you choral library- so take a few minutes to celebrate your victories.

Ask yourself...

  • What did I teach that my students loved?!
  • What did I teach that I loved teaching?!
  • Did I inspire or connect with a student or students in a new or meaningful way?
  • Did I have have any great collaborations with colleagues? Parents? Community members? 
  • What went really well?
Make sure to smile knowing that YOU made an impact this year.

Step Two: Evaluate
If there is anything I have learned in my eight years of teaching, it is that we are learners first and teachers second. I continue to find new tricks and new ideas to use in my classroom on almost a daily basis! With the constant change, it's important to evaluate what is a "keeper" and what you might consider changing in the future.

As I reflect on the school year, I try to break it up into a few different areas. Here are some of the areas I try to give some thought to...

Concepts and Instruction

  • What concepts did I teach really well? 
  • Are there any holes in my instruction or sequencing?
  • What concepts do I need to spend more time/effort on? 
  • Do I need to develop any manipulatives or teaching materials?
  • Were there any activities that my students respond well to? Any that they didn't? 
  • Which performances went well? Which didn't?
  • Did I have enough time to prepare for performances?
  • Were there any themes/programs I want to keep? Any I want to change? 
  • How did my performance schedule work? Were any times of the year TOO busy? Can I make any adjustments? 
Personal Goals
  • What did I improve on as a teacher this year? 
  • What professional development/professional learning was really meaningful?
  • What kinds of professional development and growth do I want to pursue in the future? 
  • How did I handle my life/work balance? Did I use time wisely? Could any of my effort be better spent elsewhere? 
Being honest in assessing your school year is a great way to prioritize your goals looking forward. Which leads me to the last step in my process...

Step Three: Look Forward
I could probably write a 100 page list of things I would like to improve on as a teacher. It's easy to get overwhelmed or even disheartened by the never-ending "to-do" list. So, I really try to set achievable and reasonable goals for myself. I find that this helps to keep me motivated and inspired throughout the year, and it also feels really great to be able to check something off the list. 

Here are some ideas of ways you can keep it simple, but still set meaningful goals...
  • Find one concept or unit you want to improve on.  Build up your song library for that concept, make a set of post-office or other manipulatives that you can use to teach it, develop an assessment or find a great worksheet you can use during your teaching.
  • Create one professional growth goal. Whether it be improving your knowledge/use of technology, attending more workshops, or finally creating a library of all your children's books, come up with one goal you think you can achieve in the coming school year. 
  • Fix one problem. Teaching is definitely trial and error. No matter how much we plan, there are bound to be things that don't go well. See if you can identify one problem from this school year that you can correct next year.
At the beginning of each school year, I write a list of "hopes and dreams." Sometimes, it is as simple as "leave before 5:00 more" or "give at least one student a day personalized feedback" and sometimes they are bigger things like "finish all my rhythmic flashcard sets" or "learn and include more folk dances in my instruction." I love the feeling at the end of year when I can say "I did it" and ask myself "what's next?!" 

During the insanity that is the end of the year, try to find a few minutes to go grab a latte or a lemonade and reflect. I promise it is time well spent. 


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ideas to Survive the End of the School Year

Hello!  This is Karla from CMajorLearning.  Can you believe it is the end of the school year already?  On one hand, it seems as though this year has flown by and on the other, it has lasted forever!  As I end my school year (Canal Winchester Schools has 13 days left as I'm writing this), I'm looking for ways to survive!  Here is my list of the top 10:

Sing Sing Sing!  Yes, this may seem obvious, but keep the kids singing and making music together.  Pull out the favorites of this year or your personal favorites to sing with the students!  Something with lots of repetition is good so that they can learn it quickly and then be making music.  If they are singing, they can't be talking at the same time!

Play Play Play! Again, maybe another obvious idea but keep the students engaged by playing games and playing instruments! Personally, I know it is hard to keep the pedal down during the last few weeks of school because we, as teachers, are just tired, but letting up only lets the opportunity for trouble to begin!  Is there a game or piece that you have not had the chance to get to this year?  Now is the time to pull it out and let the students PLAY!

Move Move Move!  Going right along with singing and playing, have the students dance, choreograph or free move in every lesson.  First, the love to do it! Second, it burns off some energy!  Third, it is just FUN!  Keeping everyone busy (the teacher included) helps to make the class time go more quickly, so dig out your Rhythmically Moving (Weikart) or New England Dancing Masters (Amidon) books and get moving!

Do purposeful worksheets or assessments!  Don't just give the kiddos worksheets to keep them busy - make sure they have a purpose and that the students know that!  I find that my kiddos really enjoy the interactive ones like my "Write the Room" Series and Aileen Miracle's "Popsicle Stick Rhythms".  You can also be taking end of year assessments through the singing games the students are now comfortable with and love to play!  

Drumming!  Getting out those drums is always fun - no matter what age - kid to adult!  This time of year is a great time to have learning about drumming and play composed songs.  Dig a bit deeper in their understanding by working in groups to create their own drum compositions and then write out the rhythms and drum sounds.  Students can then decide how to perform their compositions - solos, duets, ostinatos, layering - the list goes on and on!  (Thanks to Katie Wynkoop for input on this idea!)

Try Something New!  We all go to workshops and conference and learn so many new things!  Take these last few weeks of school to try something new!  The kids will LOVE embarking into a song, game or activity that is new to them!  This keeps them on task but also allows you to dabble in something out of your comfort zone!

Set the Stage for Next Year!  I know - who wants to think about starting school back up again in August now, but think of what concepts and skills you will be working on in the next grade level, is there a song or game that you could introduce at the end of this year that could then be built upon come August?  I have done this for the past couple of years with my K's and 1's and find it to be a very purposeful use of my time as well as making the start of the school year a bit less taxing on my voice!

Game Choice Day!  This is quite possible the very best (and easiest) lesson plan that I ever have to write!  Let the students decide what songs and games are played that day!  I have my classes make a list of their favorites (anything we did in that school year) and then we vote (I let them vote for their top 2 choices).  We then start with what received the most votes and play through as many as we can until class is over! The kids LOVE it and I learn what was the big hit from the previous year - sometimes I am really surprised!

Remain Calm!  Boy - it is easy to get overwhelmed with end of year stuff - grading to do, classrooms to clean up, programs to finish - the list goes on and on.  Don't let yourself get bogged down in all of that and bring a level of anxiety and frustration to your classroom.  The kids pick up on this so quickly and unfortunately, they don't help us out by doing their best but see it as an opportunity to run wild and free!  Take a deep breath and enjoy each day for what it brings! 

Have Fun!  I am very fortunate and I love my job and the school where I teach and one of my main goals for the music classroom is to bring joy to each student through music - singing, playing, dancing, creating.  Take a minute and really enjoy the amazing opportunity that you get to instill this love and joy of music in your students.  I don't care if they become music teachers or concert performers (although i would love that), I want them to look to music in times of happiness, sadness and everything in between for the rest of their lives.  So remember to HAVE FUN these last few weeks of school!


Thanks to Graphics From the Pond for the number clip art!

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!