Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Reflections for the 2015 OAKE Conference

Reflections from the 2015 OAKE Conference


Happy spring break!  We’re off from school this week and it has been a very much needed break from working and a time to reflect (and also to recover from a cold….).

About two weeks ago, I had the pleasure to attend the Organization of American Kodály Educators’ 2015 National Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  This was my second National conference (I attended last year’s conference in Atlanta) and it definitely did not disappoint!  It is such a thrill to spend time with such amazing and dedicated music educators and to be able to talk through shared issues and situations.

I attended many fabulous sessions and performances, but what I enjoyed most about this year’s conference was the numerous wonderful sessions about Kodály inspired teaching in the choral classroom.  Today, I am going to talk a bit about the various choral related sessions I attended.

Mini-Conference with Fernando Malvar-Ruiz

When I read that Fernando Malvar-Ruiz (conductor of the American Boys Choir) would be doing a mini-conference on Thursday of conference weekend, I knew it would be a great session.  A few days before the conference, they sent out an email to the registered participants looking for choir members for a demonstration choir during the workshop and I jumped at the chance!  Honestly, I figured it would be just singing a bit to demonstrate a few things, and that would be the end, but I am so glad that it turned out to be very different (in a good way!).

Since there wasn’t really a lot of time to prepare the music, I actually was learning the music on the plane to Minneapolis (thank goodness for my Solfa classes!) and was a little nervous to be singing in the demonstration group.  Members of the demonstration choir met about a half hour before the session to rehearse a bit.  From the moment Fernando greeted us and started us on the first piece, I felt immediately at ease.  Something about his manner and his conducting gesture just erased all of my nerves.  I noticed during the quick rehearsal how Fernando conducted us really brought out the musicality of a group of musicians who had never sung together before.  His gesture was so simple, yet so musical, I could feel the way my breathing was even affected just from his gesture.  It was amazing!

The workshop was a conducting masterclass with several different conductors coming up and conducting the choir and Fernando working with each.  I definitely didn’t realize we would be singing the whole time, but I’m glad that I volunteered to sing because we had the best seats in the room!  To get up in front of a group of highly trained music educators and conduct takes so much bravery, and I commend each of the conductors that got to work with Fernando during the class.  What was so amazing, and what I don’t think I would have felt as much if I wasn’t in the choir, was the huge impact the conducting gesture makes on how a group will perform.  Granted, we were a group of trained musicians and teachers, but with each new conductor our sound was different, our phrasing was different, and my soul felt different (that’s cheesy, but exactly how it felt!).

Fernando spoke a lot about connecting with the members of the group you are conducting (Eye contact, breathing with the singers), and keeping your conducting gesture simple.  At one point with one of the conductors, he talked about how if your gesture is always big because you’re trying so hard to get dynamics, phrasing, etc from your group, then they will always be used to that and they won’t react musicially.  Instead, keep it simple and make changes in the size of the gesture to reflect what you want to hear, not as a reaction to what you’re not getting from them.  He also added that if they are not reacting to the gesture the way we want, we must train them to do so.  That made so much sense to me.  Besides the fact that I don’t really conduct in my chorus rehearsals (I’ll get to that in a moment), I’m so busy making sure they know the music, that I’m not always teaching them musically.  Why not always teach with musicality?

Fernando was amazing to watch work with the other conductors!  He was there to work with them and give them critiques, but he did so in such a disarming way that I think everyone was at ease in an admittedly stressful situation.  Watching him work with the conductors reminded me of how much can be accomplished when people feel at ease and as such I’ve thought a lot about how my teaching can accomplish the same thing.

After each of the conductors worked with Fernando, he took questions from the room.  One of the questions was how do you get from teaching the music to your students to teaching them how to be musical.  His answer was basically to be teaching musically all the time even when it’s a brand new piece of music, even when they’re sight reading, everything must be done musically and then eventually it will become inherent.  This is where I realized that I don’t really conduct in my chorus rehearsals, because I’m pointing to the board to show my singers where in the music we are.  Really, if I want them to be musical, I need to exude that all of the time.  Since the conference, I’ve had one rehearsal with my chorus group and I challenged myself to do everything musically.  It definitely felt strange to be conducting (which it shouldn’t….), but I noticed a marked change in how my singers sang when I called their attention to my conducting gesture.  Why not do it this way??

Teaching Music Literacy at the American Boychoir School

Friday morning, Fernando did a session about music literacy with his choir.  He concentrated on how you can use sight reading to further musicianship goals not just in literacy, but in musicality.  Fernando demonstrated to us as well as showed us actual videos of the Boys during some sight reading exercises during various rehearsals.  I was so struck by how musical they were!  One thing Fernando uses with the boys during the sight reading segment of rehearsal are hymns.  Fernando had mentioned that someone gave the school a set of hymns, but also what he likes about using them is that hymns were written for everyday people to sing in church so the ranges are not large and the voice leading makes sense to our ear.  To empower the Boys, they play games, various challenges with the sight reading examples that the boys themselves come up with and choose!  Here’s a list of some of the things they do:

-sing every other measure (inner hear the measure that is not being sung)

-only sing beat one and beat four (inner hear the beats that are not being sung)

-make a 4/4 time signature into a ¾ time signature by combining two beats (that one sounds tricky!)

-add an ostinato

-read one part in one system, on the next system change to another part

-change the mode

-make it melodic minor

-read in absolutes

-if you make a mistake, sit down

-transpose with absolutes

-sing the beat according to your birthday (1st quarter of the year, sing only on beat 1, 2nd quarter of the year, sing only on beat 2, etc)

-walk your rhythm while singing (half note would mean you would have to stop for two beats, etc)

-walk only if you’re singing the tonic

-only sing do, mi, or so

-Soprano and Alto lines switch on beat 4

-sing in retrograde

-stand up (and sit back down) if you have ________ (could be when you sing do, or re, etc)


What great ideas!  During the video clips he showed us, you could definitely tell that the Boys enjoy this game.  I also noticed that with each new challenge a boy suggested, it “upped the ante” from the previous challenge.  Thus, inspiring the boys to see how far they can take themselves, how great!  Now, the boys were doing all of this with hymns written in four part harmony (and so were we during the session), but this idea can easily be adapted for anything (an 8 beat rhythm exercise, or a simple 4-measure melody).  Besides being a great way for them to practice sight reading, Fernando also uses the hymns as a way to practice singing with musicality.  He said “we want them to analyze, not just read” meaning that we as teachers need to insist that sight reading is done musically (looking for phrases and other opportunities for expressive qualities), because that knowledge will transfer to the other music we perform.  Because the Boys love these challenges and it’s playing to them, making mistakes is not scary!  Another very interesting tip Fernando gave for not only sight reading, but music reading in general is to have the singers sing everything staccato.  This forces the singers to read with better rhythm and intonation, and as the Boys say “no leeching!” because there isn’t time to hear the note then join in, you have to sing it right away (I definitely have some leeches in my choir lol).

A resonating theme throughout the session, was the fact that by empowering our singers and creating a safe atmosphere, they will push themselves.  Isn’t that what we all want?  To inspire our students to themselves have the intrinsic motivation to aspire for more?  This session (and Fernando himself) reminded me of my Level III Solfa class and instructor, Dr. Alice Hammel, who is also an incredibly disarming person who welcomes anyone with open arms.  She pretty much did the same thing I watched Fernando do with the Boys with a group of adults.  Somehow, Alice inspired us to each reach for our own personal best and to constantly “up the ante” for ourselves, but never did she directly tell us what to do with the exercises we were assigned each day.  As a result, all fourteen of us differentiated for ourselves for wherever we were in our personal musicianship journey.  Great teachers clearly think alike J.


The Process of Teaching a Choral Octavo

Saturday morning, I went to a session with Dr. Georgia Newlin about the process of teaching a choral octavo, beginning with the preparation we as conductors must do before we present a new piece to our students.  Being an instrumentalist primarily, this is something that I feel I am still finding my stride for so I was really interested in what she had to say. 

The first step to preparing a choral octavo, is to analyze the form first as this will inform your decisions about how you present the music to your singers.  After looking at the form, analyze the key, tonal set, and rhythms.  Depending on the piece, you may have the students begin from the beginning with the rhythm then add the solfa, or you may begin in the middle with just the students learning the rhythm if the tone set is one outside of what they already know/are ready for.  She demonstrated a piece that you would start from the beginning with, Bim Bam, arranged by Shirley McRae.  In this piece, the rhythms are not complicated so the students would start there.  The solfa is also not super complicated, so you would also teach that after.  She then demonstrated a piece where starting from the B section would be better, I See the Moon.

Interestingly enough, I already do all of that so I felt re-assured that I’m on the right path as I continue to become a better choral conductor.  Here is what I don’t already do and what I learned from her session:

-Use octavos!  For the past two years now, I have used stick notation on the board to teach my students the music as they are not far enough along on the sequence to be successful at staff reading so much music at once.  I found that before I began my Kodály levels (and also for the year after) when I used the octavos, the kids were just reading the words and having to keep track of all the music was a hassle for me and also a distraction because they were never all in the correct place in the music.  But even if they can’t read everything, it is our responsibility as music teachers to ensure that they have the experience of working through an octavo score.  If I have something in stick notation on the board, they can find it in the score and if that’s their only experience with “reading”, that’s okay.  They should know where in the score we are working, even if it’s just finding measure numbers and identifying rhythms or a few key melodic phrases.  I agree with her on this, and have been seriously considering how I am going to make this happen for my choir.

-Only work on small sections at a time, then move on!  While I diligent create rehearsal plans breaking down what will be learned in each rehearsal leading up to a concert, I find that I often am not sticking to the plan.  Sometimes that happens because instead of just going to the new part that needs to be learned, I go back and review parts they already know well.  While I think this is necessary to ensure that they aren’t just learning all new stuff all the time, I definitely need to plan better for which pieces to do the review of and which pieces the review can wait for another rehearsal.

-Let the new part of the music be the last thing they hear:  Especially when we work on parts with close harmony, I am often finding it takes us a couple of tries in the next rehearsal to sort out which part is which.  I think this is because when we learn a new harmony part, I rush to have them do it with the melody (which they already know well) which leads to confusion when we return to it.  Instead, I need to trust that my singers can retain the melody from when they learned it so that we can concentrate on what’s new.  The original melody of a song is always the most remembered, so it’s important to play around with the harmonies a lot more.

One last thing she said that really resonated with me was:  they’re not going to love every piece, but it’s their responsibility as a student to do it anyway; they don’t love math all the time either.  In regards to concert programming, this is something I wrestle with when planning with my co-director, but I agree.  How will they ever learn to love music, even the music that seems far removed from them, if we don’t include it on our programs and teach them to appreciate it for music’s sake?  While I think there can definitely be a time and place for including music from the radio and Disney movies on our concerts (and this is a whole other discussion) what are we really teaching them?


Nurturing Boys’ Voices from 6-16 and The Blake School Choristers

This session with Dan LeJeune was like a whole new world for me which is why I wanted to attend.  I really have a hard time working with my boys (be it in choir or general music classes) whose voices are beginning to change.  I have several boys in my sixth grade classes who are experiencing the beginnings of the change.  What I liked most about Dan’s session was that he didn’t just talk to us about how to navigate the changing male voice, he let us listen and gave us practical ways to make it work.  We listened to many recordings of his actual students and choirs and that had so much more of an impact than just talking would have.  

One interesting thing he talked about a lot was to honor the boys’ singing where they “ring”.  This means, that as teachers and conductors, we need to make changes in our music so that our boys can be successful right at the place in their current range where they sound best.  He presented several ways of doing this:

-have the boys double the upper part an octave lower

-have the boys double the upper part an octave lower where they can, and to drop out where they can’t

-pick a key that is better for the changing voices, even if it’s not what the music says

-write a new part that will honor where their voices currently are

-let the boys decide what they feel comfortable doing (this may mean they sing in falsetto, create a new part, sing a mash up of two different parts, drop out when it gets beyond their range, etc)

Dan made a point to say that we need to make singing as inclusive as sports so that we can keep our boys singing through the change and not lose them to singing forever.  This means that as teachers and conductors, we need to be sensitive to how they feel while their voices are changing and creative about the choices we make to keep them singing.  You can read more about his session and also access the session notes and powerpoint on his website

In addition to presenting a session, Dan LeJeune also did a secondary reading session which was great because it wasn’t only secondary choral music, it was also things that I could do with my elementary choir so I’m glad I went to that and picked up some new music!  Part of his reading session included music from earlier that day when one of his chorus groups, The Blake School Choristers, performed (they were amazing and sang with so much joy and musicality!).  What I really enjoyed from his reading session was that he was able to talk about the various pieces he programmed for that concert, why he programmed them and such, but also what changes he made to them to accommodate some of the changing voices he has in that group.  It isn’t very often that I’ve gotten to hear why people program music the way they do so it was really insightful to hear him talk about his choices.


As you can probably tell by the short novel I have just written, I got so much from this conference!  There were so many other sessions not just choral related that I attended that I hope to write about in future posts.  Other than the fantastic sessions I attended, it was such a joy to re-connect with teacher friends from other states and discuss what we’re all doing and celebrate our successes and get new ideas.  I wish I could have taken all of you home with me to keep those conversations going! 


I would love to hear what others thought of the conference and what sessions really got you thinking, so leave a comment below!





Saturday, March 7, 2015

Re-Assessing for Student Growth

Hello from snowy Virginia!  We have gotten so much ice and snow over the last couple of months, I think I have forgotten what it feels like to teach for more than a day or two a week, haha!  We just had another storm which closed schools Thursday and Friday, so another long weekend for us!  I haven’t actually taught more than a few days a week over the past month, so hopefully next week won’t be too rough since it looks like spring is finally on it’s way! 

While I do love my job and working with the kids, one very nice thing about having weather related closings is that I get time to catch up on creating products for my store and I also have time to truly reflect on progress and think about what more I can do to really ensure my students have a deep understanding of the material we’ve been working on.  I often create new visuals and materials during snow days that I wouldn’t necessarily have time (or the energy!) to make otherwise.

As a Kodály inspired teacher, I’m constantly assessing my students’ progress to determine when they’re ready to go on to the next step in the Prepare/Present/Practice phrase, but sometimes with the schedule demands of being an elementary general music and chorus teacher (you know what I mean….), I don’t always have time to just sit and think. 

This week, while working with my fourth graders I noticed that I needed to take some time to reflect when I noticed how hard some were struggling to play the recorder piece we’ve been working on since the beginning of February Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In.  My fourth graders are doing pretty awesome considering this is my first year with them and pretty much everything I’ve taught them has been new territory for them.  They are awesome at rhythm (we flew right through our takatiki unit in about a month!  Improvisation and everything!), but melody does not come as easily, and recorder playing/reading is quite difficult for a few of them.  I picked Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In because it uses the two new notes I wanted them to learn, high C and high D (and it’s a great song!).  We started with just singing the song and reading the letter names from the staff for a couple lessons which went pretty well.  In those same lessons, instead of playing the song, we worked on echoing phrases that use high C and high D.  We then went on to working on the song.  I was kind of figuring that by about the beginning of March, we would be able to finish working on the song, but we are still quite far from finished.  Part of that is all of the interruptions with the weather, but I also had to take a look at my own teaching process and identify what more I could have done and where we should go now.

When I saw how hard some of my students were struggling in one of my fourth grade classes, I planned to step away from the song for a lesson and have the students just work on reading and playing patterns on the recorder.  For that, I used one of Amy Abbott from Music a la Abbott’s fantastic games, Swat the Fly for GABC’D’. 
I LOVE this game and so do my students!  I love it, because it gets them to drill patterns and help teach each other instead of me directing all the teaching.  My students love it, because it’s a game and they love trying to get as many of the flashcards as they can to win!  Unfortunately, I realized that an activity like this was necessary after I already saw one of my fourth grade classes for the week (they missed their other class due to schools being closed) so they will do this activity another time.  As for the class that did do this activity, it helped for some, but still not for everybody.  More of them were reading the right notes, but many were still not fingering the notes correctly.

So, I had some thinking to do…I first thought about the process I used and came to the realization that I left a step out.  I started with just learning to sing the song and learning to read the letter names and that was great.  I then went on to them echoing patterns with high C and high D on the recorder, which was also great.  But then I went right to the song and that’s where I realized I should have held off on that.   Before going on the song, I should have had them read and perform patterns from the staff so that they could connect the “reading notes on the staff skill” with the “fingering the right notes” skill. 

After having come to that realization, I created a really cute (if I do say so myself) file to help my students with that middle step I left out before going on to the song. (if you click on the image, it will take you to the product listing)

The home page is two trees with different colored apples on each.  When you click an apple (it actually says to throw a ball at the screen since I know my kids love that, but it will work without that), it will take you to a pattern that uses GABC’D’ (not all the notes are in each pattern though).  From there, the kids play (or just say or just finger) the pattern.  I made it into a game, of course, where two teams will compete to get points based on how well they perform the pattern.  I always try to give points for effort to encourage my students, so when I do this with them next week they will get two points for the team playing the pattern correctly or one point for trying.  Before we play the game, we will work on the patterns together as a group with a warm up file that I created that is just the patterns.  I think we’ll work on fingering and speaking the letter names and I’ll have a student or two play the phrases as a solo as we work through each one.

I’m hoping this will help those of my kids that have been struggling with connecting the fingerings to what they’re reading, but I’ll have to wait and see over this next week!

How do you reflect on your teaching?  What do you do when you find that something is not working? 
I'd love to hear from you!  Leave me a comment, and I'll send you the warm up file for free!
Until next time,

Sunday, February 22, 2015

February is Black History Month!

Hello there!   

I rarely teach thematic units that are being taught across all my grade levels, but in February I make an exception to discuss the numerous musical contributions and historical significances of African Americans in our country.  Part of being committed to fostering a love of and understanding of music in my students means finding connections and deeper meanings in the music that I teach.  Studying the history behind the African and African American influence in our country is so crucial to understanding the music of our culture today.  I have always had a love of jazz and hip hop and have loved being able to share that personal interest of mine with my students.

While I would love to discuss the full history of African and African American history in our country with all my students every year, there is just not enough time!  Instead, I have split the various time periods up and spread them across the grade levels I teach.

In my classes with my younger students, we sing spirituals, play African American singing games, listen and move to jazz music, and talk a bit about famous African Americans and why it is important to study Black History Month.  We’ve had many great conversations about how the conditions of slaves led to the kinds of things they sung about.  My favorite songs to sing with my little ones include “I’m On My Way” (a great echo song), “This Train” (a great call and response song), “The Telephone” (good for solo singing), “This Little Light of Mine” (great for comparing same and different phrases), “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” (great for improvising new phrases), “All Night, All Day”, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (also great for comparing same and different phrases), and “Follow the Drinking Gourd”.  Last fall I bought the story book version of “Follow the Drinking Gourd” by Jeanette Winter and used it for the first time when teaching this song to my 2nd graders this year.  They loved it!  I really like how the story and song are woven together in the book.  In kindergarten and first grade I also present the book “The Jazz Fly” by Matthew Gollub which is also always a hit.  This year, I’ll also be bringing in my sax to present to the kids.  I’ve already talked that up to them and they’re pretty excited! 

Some of my most favorite singing games I keep for February when we study Black History Month like “Little Johnny Brown” (always a hit!), “Oh, Green Fields, Roxie”, “Head and Shoulders”, and “Draw Me a Bucket of Water”.  I actually learned these during my Kodály levels when we studied Bessie Jones’ Step it Down.  After I teach the games to the kids, I like to play them the corresponding recording on Bessie’s CD recording “Put Your Hand On Your Hip and Let Your Backbone Slip” so we can hear a different way of singing and compare it to how we sing it.  They usually comment on how she sings much lower than we typically do and the little “scoops” and “slides” she utilizes when she sings.

In my older classes, we talk a lot more about the history behind why we celebrate Black History Month.  We began lessons at the beginning of the month by compiling a list of famous African Americans, important events, and important “things.”  It was very interesting to have this discussion with my various 4th-6th grade classes, because no two discussions were the same.  In some groups, students had a lot of background knowledge and we had a lot to talk about.  In some other groups, students had some background knowledge and I presented a lot of material to them.  This being my first year at my school, I wasn’t quite sure what background knowledge kids would have so the various discussions were very eye opening to me as to what the classroom teachers teach and in what grades.

In my older classes, we sing spirituals and discuss their importance along with studying the blues lyric form, 12-bar blues, and jazz.  In fourth grade, we began our blues lessons by singing and identifying the aab lyric form of the song “Good Morning, Blues” and then writing some new verses as a group.  It was a lot of fun to hear what they came up with!  Last week due to snow and the cold, I didn’t see any of my fourth graders, but in this coming week they’ll be working to write their own blues lyrics in small groups using the aab form and then performing their songs for the class.

My fifth grade classes have also been studying the blues by identifying the aab lyric form and writing new verses as a class, but I didn’t have them work in small groups, because I wanted to go on to study the 12 bar blues.  I only saw one group of my fifth graders last week since we only had one day of school, so we discussed how Roman Numerals identify the chords (rather than using solfa) and then they identified which chords they heard while I played the 12 bar blues on piano.  Following that, we took it to the barred instruments and they played the form there.

In sixth grade, we’re doing an overview of Music in America from the 1800s to present day.  They started with spirituals, then we discussed ragtime, then the blues, and over the next few weeks we’ll do some lessons on the 12 bar blues, and playing some jazzy pieces on recorder including a lesson on mixed meter with Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” 

This is definitely my favorite unit of the year to teach!  I could go on and on!  Do you do anything special to celebrate African American music during the year with your students?


(Credits:  Thanks to Graphics from the Pond for the border graphic!)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Current Happenings

Hi there!

We have had a couple of very interesting weeks back from winter break here in the Washington, DC area!  Last Tuesday, we unexpectedly had snow.  Anybody who lives in this area can tell you how crazy that morning was!  We did still have a full day of school that day, but morning classes did not start on time due to many teachers being unable to arrive on time.  The next day, we had a 2-hour delay, and the following day after that the temperatures were very, very cold so schools were closed altogether.  The following morning, Friday, we had another 2-hour delay.

I had hoped that this week we could get back to normal, but this week we have had another delay and another day of schools being closed.  Yikes!

What does this mean for my music classroom?  Some of my classes, I have only seen once, and as a result a lot of my classes are on different lessons than the other groups in their grade levels.  Not a huge deal especially since we’re getting to the end of the quarter and luckily I have completed a lot of the grades so many of my classes are firmly in the practice stage of the various elements they are working on and preparing for the next.  

In light of all the happenings these last couple weeks, I thought this would be a great time to talk a little about what my various classes are up to.  So, this week’s post will be a peek into what is currently happening in my classroom.


For the past couple of weeks, my kindergarten classes have been working on getting into their head voices, describing “how the words go”, and their first play party in a moving circle.  

I begin my kindergarten classes with vocal warm ups, primarily aimed at vocal exploration, but this week (and last) we have been focusing on head voice (a term I don’t use with them yet).  I’ve been using my slide whistle primarily to work on this as well as pretending to go on a roller coaster ride where they use their voices to simulate the up and down motions of the ride.  I also remembered a neat Smart board trick I learned from Aileen Miracle when she came to present to VOKE last year.  She demonstrated how you can change the pen settings to draw a rainbow color.  I used it to draw different wavy lines and then had the students follow the lines with their voices.  They loved seeing the rainbow!  After I demonstrated a few times, I let two or three students also come up and draw a wavy line and direct us to perform it.
A favorite kindergarten activity of mine for around this point in the year is using Eric Carle’s book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  to work on solo singing and singing on cue.  We worked at first with me singing all the questions, then them singing the answers.  Then our final lesson with the book, we went around with the class singing the questions, then each student taking a turn to solo sing an answer.  They did a great job!  Let me know if you’d like more info on how I do this with my students!

We also learned a singing game for “All Around the Buttercup” and then practiced playing the triangle (in the rests, but I didn’t tell them that), and the claves “how the words go.”  This was our first time playing this way and I was shocked (again) that when I asked them to describe how I played the claves, in each of my three classes, someone answered that I played with the words.  They really are a bright group!

They also learned their first moving circle play party, “Skip to My Lou,” which was really cute and fun!

First Grade:  

In first grade, we are firmly in the practice stage for quarter rest, so-mi, and using the musical terms allegro and largo.  I also just presented ABA form.

Our first week back from break, we did an activity called “Read the Room.”  Every student got a clipboard, worksheet, and pencil and were instructed to search the room for six flashcards that all used ta, ta-ti, and rest.  I put up six flashcards, and they copied each one into the corresponding box on their worksheet.  The purpose of this activity is to practice writing, because soon instead of aural decoding they will be ready to also take written dictations using rest.  They had a great time and it allowed me to give feedback to individual students on their writing as I walked around the room.  Side note, I’ve been working on getting a “Read the Room” set up in my TpT store.  It is almost ready, so be sure to keep an eye out for it!  I made several different rhythmic sets including several that use triple meter rhythms.

When it came to working on melody, it was very apparent how the disruptions in class meetings have taken their toll.  I see first grade first thing in the morning, so if we have a delay, I miss them.  One of my classes has been lucky that they have not missed much due to the weather and their aural decoding of so-mi is right on point.  My other two classes…well it was rough.  In addition to our daily aural decoding, we also did an activity to practice reading so-mi on the staff.  I used the “Catch the Star” activity (also in my Tpt) store in which I organize the students into four teams (it looks like a box) and they compete to get the most stars.  I print and cut out several stars that have various so-mi phrases written in stick notation.  On my Smart board, I project a star with a phrase written on the staff.  One person from each team then goes to the center of the “box” and they try to find the star with the stick notation pattern that matches the one on the board.  When they think they have found it, they must sing what they found and then the class tells them if they were right or wrong.  That last part is something that I don’t think I included in the directions if you find the product in my store, but is something that is totally necessary in keeping the entire class engaged as well being able to informally assess reading and singing.

We’ve been working on the song “Blow, Wind, Blow”, our first ABA form song so we discussed why it was ABA and we also were able to review the term largo.  

In some groups we had time to end with a new story song, but unfortunately not all so I plan to continue this next week.  We had already sung “Over in the Meadow,” but I also discovered a series of picture books that uses the tune, but changes it to reflect different habitats like a forest, the ocean, or the jungle!  I went ahead and bought, “Over in the Forest” and that is what we started this past week.  Definitely check out the other related books in the series!

Second Grade:

My second graders are improvising using la, preparing for ta-te (quarter followed by an eighth) in triple meter, and also reviewing ABA form.

My favorite activity they have been working on uses the song “Farewell, Dear” which can be found in the pink 150 Rounds for Singing and Teaching book.  I will soon present ta-te to them, so I thought this would be a good prepare song to sing as well as to create a simple ostinato on the bars to.  I don’t often use the barred instruments with my second graders, so getting to work on them was exciting for them and they were eager to play.

We also sang “Fais do do” to review ABA form as well as to prep for ta-te, and played “Wishy Washy.”

We are just getting to the last stage of practice for la, so we began improvising this week.  I wrote several phrases using la on the board in stick notation and we practiced alternating between a body percussion pattern and singing one of the phrases altogether.  Even though everyone improvised at the same time, I could definitely hear that most of them are ready to start singing solo next time I see them!

Third Grade:

My third graders are beginning recorder next week!  So this week we continued working on decoding mi, re, do and learned a couple more songs that we will then be transferring to recorder.  Unfortunately, I only saw them once this week so I didn’t get to everything I wanted to, but I feel confident that we are ready to start with the recorder next week!  This week we focused on “Frog in the Meadow”, “Hot Cross Buns”, and “Blow, Wind, Blow.”

Fourth Grade:

My fourth graders have their annual “Colonial Day” celebration next Friday.  This is an all-day celebrations of all things colonial!  Throughout the day, classroom teachers and parent volunteers lead them through various activities.  Additionally, they also have a short music performance which we have been preparing.  The other music teacher and I have been combining our classes to give the kids and idea of how it will be for the actual performance and yesterday, we did a full rehearsal with everybody in the gym.  I am so glad we did a full rehearsal in the gym, because with both me and the other music teacher being new, we had no idea of how the acoustics would work out and it was definitely rough.  We will definitely need to tweak some things so that all the parts can be heard, but overall the kids did great in the rehearsal, especially considering it was an hour!

Fifth Grade:

In fifth grade, we are practicing takatiki (four sixteenth notes), finishing up with the notes of the do pentatonic scale, presenting low la, and working on matching of pitch.

Having only just presented takatiki last week, I am pleasantly surprised that my classes are already ready for written dictations, they really caught on quickly!  One of my groups did not get to the presentation of low la this week due to our day off, so I’ll have to catch them up next week.
My major focus with my fifth grade this week (and last) has been on accurate pitch.  Since this is my first year with them, it has been my priority to first form relationships with my students and create a positive atmosphere.  Now that I feel good about that, I’m ready to really focus in on pitch which can be a sticky topic with older kids who may not want to sing in the first place.  We’ve been working on “Hill and Gully Rider” and now that they know it so well, I asked them to really listen for the overall pitch of the group.  I had them describe what they heard (both groups have several very out of tune singers) and then asked them what they think they should do to improve.  In my smaller group, I then split the class in half and had them really listen to the other half sing (this group is only 15 kids).  They quickly heard the issues, and a few were able to fix it.  For the couple that were not, I was able to work with them a little individually to get into their head voice.  Without establishing a solid relationship with them first, I really don’t think this would have been possible because they really had to be willing to be vulnerable.  In my other group, which is a bit larger, I had them arrange themselves into trios to sing the song after we sang it as a group.  Each trio sang the song while the class listened, and at the end we discussed what they heard.  I gave them a few minutes to practice with their group before each trio performed so I had a change to walk around and work individually with the kids I heard were not singing on pitch.  Again, an activity where they had to be vulnerable in front of their classmates, something I would not have been able to do until now.  I’m very proud of the atmosphere that the kids and I have created together with both groups, where they feel safe enough to do things like this :-). 

Sixth Grade:

In sixth grade, I presented low la and the la pentatonic scale.  They also finished up work on their do pentatonic compositions.

After presenting low la, we discussed the difference between major and minor songs and how when we start a scale on low la it sounds more minor-ish.  I also played some of our major songs on guitar and then changed the chords to minor so they could hear the difference.  I have two sixth grade groups that I see once a week because their other music day is their instrumental class (band or strings).  Both groups are quite good at reading rhythms, reading on the staff and playing recorder, so I have found that I have really needed to step up my game to challenge them.  I wrote two recorder parts to accompany the song “Hold On”, and finally I have found something to challenge them!  We worked on the individual parts, and in another few lessons we’ll be ready to put the whole thing together.

For the other part of class, they finished up writing a 4-measure composition using the do pentatonic scale.  Because I already knew that they probably know rhythms that we have not yet discussed in class, I did not give them a firm direction on what rhythms to use, except that the song had to be in 4/4 time.  Walking around to check on how everyone was doing, I saw a lot of great writing!  Some students even used slurs and staccato markings!

Whew!  Thanks for making it to the end with me!  What are you teaching now?  Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear :-).