Summer...the time of annual plans

Hi all!  Christopher here, out in Seattle.
At the end of June, when I tell people that I’m a teacher, I often get jealous stares by non-teachers, saying, “Boy, you must be happy to have all that vacation.”  It reminds me of the comments that I sometimes receive when I tell people that I teach elementary music: “Wow, how fun!”  My answer to both of these is always, “Well, yes, but…. It’s so much more than that.”

Is summer great for teachers?  Yes, definitely!  I love the change in structure, giving me the time to reflect on my school year, considering what went well and what needs change.  If you haven’t read Karla’s great post on self-reflection, go here:  Many of us have administrators that don’t have much (if any) musical experience, and they may not be able to give us feedback on all the different parts of our work.  So holding our own practice up for critical review is essential.

The summer is also a time to think about the next year.  What do we want our students to learn, what repertoire do we want to teach?  Taking time to create a long-term plan for each grade level during the summer can help give shape to the upcoming year. 

Here’s an example of the final product for my first graders, from this past year.  First things first: This is my handwriting, which is NOT a good model for my 11-year-old son (as he repeatedly tells me....).  Apologies for the visual challenge, but hopefully it is enough to get the point across. 

And an up-close version of September:

My sequence for getting to this point:

(1) Supplies.  For me, to make this most usable, I want a one-page snapshot of the year.  So I get a piece of tagboard from the art teacher that measures slightly larger than a standard letter-sized piece of paper, then divide the page into months.  The firmness of the tagboard means it will hold up over the course of the year, since I’m referring to it every time that I create lessons. 

(2) Songs they absolutely have to know.  There are some songs that I feel are essential for students to know, but that may not have a different pedagogical purpose.  Kodály-inspired teachers focus a lot on music literacy (I count myself as one of them!), but we always have to remember that there are songs that we think the students just need to know because they’re fabulous songs.  If you look at the example above, a couple of “songs-for-singing” are Bought Me a Cat and What Shall We Do When We All Go Out in September, and La Macchina del Capo and Mr. Rabbit in February.  There may be other experiences that will accompany the song (e.g. making up verses or other improvisatory experiences), but they do not directly connect to my music literacy sequence.
(3) Monthly objectives.  At the top of each page, I use the Prepare-Present-Practice language for my music literacy goals.  Although I try to address all the national standards in my curriculum, these are the ones that are the most sequential, and require the most advanced planning.  If you look at the left side within each month, you’ll see that I start with so-mi preparation (“s-m prep”) in September, then have so-mi presentation (“s-m pres”) in October.  In November, they practice so-mi (s-m prac), while also learning the musical material that we will use to learn la, later in the year – hence, the objective of “la rep” (as in repertoire).  That continues until February, when they will have so-mi practice while also moving into la prep, the conscious steps where the children are beginning to deduce certain aspects about la.  La then is presented in March (“la pres” on my planning page), and practiced for the rest of the year.  I also want to ensure that my students will be learning the repertoire for the concepts to be used for the following year, so there are do rep and re rep categories. 
I repeat the same process for the rhythmic elements on the right side of the box of each month.
(4a) Choosing songs for each month: Musical objectives.  After the objectives for each year are noted at the top of the page, I go to the retrival system index that I created as a part of my Levels program.  (Note: If you have not taken a Kodály Levels class, the bottom of this page for an explanation of a retrieval system and index.)  In September, my literacy objectives consist of so-mi preparation and ta ti-ti preparation.  Looking at the list of songs I have for teaching ta ti-ti, what are the songs that I would like to teach this year?  It turned out that there were a number of songs that the students had learned in kindergarten, so they’re placed at the top of September’s box, under the word Review. 
Some songs were placed in that month because there were other connections I could make, as well. Lemonade, for example, is a song that works for so-mi, allows me to assess solo singing.  In addition, the movements accompanying the song, which include the opportunity to pretend-drink a glass of lemonade, are a suitable activity in the warm month of September.
This process is then repeated for the melodic objective of the month.
To the right side of each song, in parentheses, I write the rhythmic and melodic objectives for each song.  In September, for example, Engine, Engine has (ta ta ti-ti) written in stick notation, with no melodic objective since it is a simple chant.
(3b) Choosing songs for each month: Game songs.  Singing games constitute a core part of most of my classes, particularly in the lower elementary grades.  I want most months to have at least one new game, activities that sometimes have melodic and rhythmic purposes, and which sometimes do not.  On my long-term planning document, I put a small letter “G” in a box to the left of the song, to indicate a game.  In September, for example, toward the bottom of the month, is the song Just from the Kitchen.  You can see the “G” to the left of the song name, and can note that there are not melodic or rhythmic objectives for the activity – it is just a great game to play at the beginning of the year.
(3c) Other objectives.  There are other experiences that enter into my class, and so there are other boxes to the left of the songs that represent varying objectives.  For example:
a.     “PE” stands for pitch exploration, in which the students use a variety of tools to access their head voice.  In lower elementary, each month has a different technique that I add in, to ensure that I remember to address the skill in different ways.
b.     “B” stands for picture book.  At the bottom of each month, there is a song with an accompanying book, activities that I find to be particularly good toward the end of the year.
c.      “S” stands for songs-for-singing, which I mentioned above.
d.     C” stands for canon.  In first grade, my students aren’t singing actual canons (although sometimes they may sing a song like Here Comes a Bluebird) in canon, but by third grade, I typically want one different canon for each month.
e.     SS” stands for story songs.  My fifth graders like story songs, strophic or verse-chorus songs in which some tale unfolds over time.  Each month in fifth grade will have a different story song, like Greenland Whale Fishery or The Ballad of Springhill
f.   Other options: "O" for octavos, "PW" for other forms of part-work, "I" for textual or musical improvisation -- the possibilities are endless. 
 (3d) Other objectives, redux.  Sometimes, there are periods during the year when other activities occur for a couple of weeks or a month at a time.  Those experiences are typically marked in another colored pen.  For example:
a.     World Music Unit: On this map, we had specific times that I created units of music from a different culture. In this case, my yearly calendar reads “Australia” in January, and “Canada” in April (although that last one was ultimately changed to Mexico).  These were a series of 5-10 minute activities that occurred as a part of each lesson over the course of 6-8 class periods.  In this case, the units pertained to specific aspects of the first graders’ classroom curriculum.
b.     Concert prep: Sometimes, just to remind myself that the students have a performance coming up, it will be written in the month.  It’s amazing how I can forget that type of thing!  It’s helpful when I’m teaching in February to be able to easily scan and remember that in April, I’ll have a performance, and be able to plan accordingly.
c.      Instrumental units.  In upper elementary, I will have stretches of time when they have longer-term units on drumming, recorder, and guitar.  Those are also noted in a different colored pen.
d.  Composition units.  Some years, there are longer-term composition units that I will place in the yearly plan, once I know when I have a good block of uninterrupted time.
The benefits for including these longer projects are that I want to make sure that a world music unit and composition unit don't happen at the same time.
(4) Other notes.
a.  Retrieval system.  Most of these songs are in my retrieval system, where I have analyzed them for their rhythmic and melodic properties (and other purposes!), then placed them alphabetically in a series of binders.  Connected to this is an index in which all the songs to address a specific musical or extra-musical idea –- from ta ti-ti to circle games to music with texts about food to music from the Caribbean -- have their own page.  This is created in most Kodály Levels programs, and is invaluable, being both practical and personal.
b. Songs not in the retrieval system. Occasionally, there are some songs that I want to teach but that I have not had the time to place in my retrieval system yet.  For example, Mi Gatito is a song I found in a new book by Lydia Mills, Salta Conejo!  In case I forget where I found the song, I will put a small note next to the song on my page, so that I can find it.  But most songs will be in my retrieval system.
c.  Knowing your situation.  You’ll see that November and December don’t have very many new songs or any new objectives.  That has to do with my particular teaching situation – the days I see the students is always cut short in November due to Veteran’s Day, student-teacher conferences, Thanksgiving, and my typical attendance at the Orff Conference, so I know that I won’t get through very much new material.  In December, we have a big performance, so, similarly, there is little new musical material then.
c. Do I get to everything? No.  I put a check mark next to each song once I teach it, and you’ll see that there are some songs without a check mark.  No big deal.  Or sometimes, I’ll decide that I don’t like a song anymore; or I find a new piece at a workshop or in a resource that I want to plug in right away.  This is always a working document. 
e.  Can I recycle from year to year?  No.  Classes are always different, with some groups of kids able to move through conceptual material more quickly than others.  So in my case, they just won’t be in the same place from year to year.  For example, my third graders this year just need more time to practice skills – as an overall group, they just don’t seem as sharp as other classes.  So they won’t get as far each year.  I refer to previous
e.  Can I recycle from year to year (part 2)?  Again: No. I get sick of some songs!  I used to do Little Sally Walker each year in the fall, and decided I really didn’t like it anymore.  The next year, out it went.  Plus, if each year was the same, it would just get really boring to me as a teacher.  We’ve always got to be thinking about mixing it up.
f.  Can’t I just buy these things?  Yes!  There are published yearly plans out there, but personally I can’t imagine how you’d be able to implement someone else’s curriculum.  All of this is crafted towards my own teaching situation, with my own experiences in mind.
Now, about that summer….in addition to reflecting on the past year and planning for the upcoming one, there’s definitely time for downtime!  Where’s that sunscreen again….?
Hope you all have a great summer!


  1. Great post! Lots of great ideas I can incorporate into my yearly planning!

  2. I love this! Thanks for putting all the little pieces together for us. :-)

  3. Thanks! It certainly has helped MY teaching a ton!

  4. My goodness! Wonderful, in depth, and thoughtful post on planning! Love all the tips and a great post for new teachers and those who've been teaching a while too. Thanks!

    My Musical Menagerie: Kodaly and Orff Classroom


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