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 :-).


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