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,