Thursday, June 19, 2014

Teaching Tips from the Trenches

This week, I am very happy to be linking up with Lindsay Jervis at The Pursuit of Joyfulness for Teaching Tips from the Trenches Linky Party!

I have been teaching for over 20 years and things in the world of education have changed in so many ways!  Here are a few tips to my fellow educators:

#1 -  Stay Current - or at least as current as you can in the world of education.  This is not an easy task at times because it does require hard work!  I have found that by being involved at my building level with leadership teams and serving on district committees goes a long way to keeping me informed.  I also think it is so very important to attend music workshops and conferences.  This can be at the local, state, regional or national level - just attend!  As we are often ‘loners’ in our building, being the only music teacher, meeting with other like minded educators is so empowering!

#2  - Integrate Technology - No matter what your school provides in regards to technology, integrate it as much as you can.  Remember, the technology should enhance the learning that is already taking place.  Do not integrate technology for the sake of technology.  Also, start simple. Don’t try to bring something new to every single class every day.  Integrate 1 new idea for 1 grade level a week or more or less.  It all depends on your specific situation.

#3 - Routine Routine Routine - Create a routine in your classroom so that the students know what is expected of them.  A few simple things that I incorporate are:
       -meet and greet at the door and invite the students into the music room;
     -when the students walk in the room, they are to make their circle, join hands and wait for the next direction;
     -let the students know the game is about to end by saying something like ‘one more time’.  This really helps those kids that do not transition well, they have time to get ready to move onto the next activity;
     -have a line up procedure for the end of class, in my room, students are called to line up in various ways (boys, girls, birthdays, colors they are wearing, etc).  Once in line, I choose my start student for the day (read my blog post about star student here and check out my star student SmartNotebook file for sale at TpT here - get it now while it is still on sale for half price!)

#4 - Learn Names - In my classroom, I do not have assigned seats so I am very diligent about learning students names - not the just the good, the bad and the ugly, but EVERYONE!  I do this through the use of names games, using names every time I speak to a child or when lining up - basically anytime I can say a name, I do.  This not helps with classroom management but also builds great relationships with the students!  I have around 800 students in my building so this is a very big task for me. It does come in very handy when i’m on bus or cafeteria duty and can rattle off students names - the other staff members love that part of being on duty with me!

I hope you get a few Teaching Tips from the Trenches and I invite you to like my facebook page here and TeachersPayTeachers store here to keep up to date with CMajorLearning!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dazzling Discipline Linky Party

Today I am very excited to be joining linky party on Dazzling Discipline!

Before I delve into my ideas, I thought I should share a little bit about my teaching situationas I think the situation significantly impacts the approaches:
  • I teach at Indian Trail Elementary in Canal Winchester, OH (about 20 minutes southeast of Columbus) in a K-2 building of approximately 850 students (yes - that is about 12 classes per grade!):
  • I have been at this school for 16 years, 21 years in my career;
  • I am very fortunate to have the respect of my administrators and fellow teachers.  The related arts classes are not considered 'baby-sitting' for the kids and because of this respect, there is high expectations of the students no matter where they are in the building;
  • Our school has developed a building wide language that all teachers use to mean the same thing no matter where there are in the building.  For example, traveling position means you are ready to move around the building with your hands at your sides, your eyes forward and your voices quiet; or listening position is where the students are sitting criss cross applesauce with their hands in the laps and their eyes on the teacher.  
  • Along with this common language, we also have a "Behavior Matrix" for each grade level that lists both positive and negative age appropriate consequences for the students actions.  They are color coded and some teachers flip cards, move magnets on a cookie sheet or track on charts at students desks.
With all of this in mind, I guess I do have some advantages in place before the students even enter my classroom.  However, I do build upon these ideas and make them work in the music classroom and I thought I would share the top 5 strategies that I think really make a difference.

Meet and Greet ~ My classroom is located on the main drag of the school building.  I have all kinds of traffic (both good and bad) past my door as everyone moves about the building.  I often times joke with my principal that it is like we are in a cage at the zoo and everyone stops to look in as they go past!  

Because of the location, it is often very congested in the hallways at related arts switch times.  I have worked it out with all of my teachers as where the best place to wait in the hallway is in case they are early or I am running late.  I make it a point to greet the teachers and class and invite them into the music room.  This is often a time where the teacher tells me what kind of day they are having, rewards they are close to geting, or if there are important things I need to know relating to the students (like Sarah has her book bag because she is leaving at 10:30 for a doctors appointment, etc).  

Having dialog BEFORE the students even enter the music room helps me know where the class is that day both behaviorally and socially but also reminds the students even though it is subconscious, that the teacher and I talk and have the full support of each other in regards to consequences and rewards.

Set Up Expectations From Day 1 ~ While the first weeks of school are exciting they are equally exhausting for me.  It is during this time that I do the most "talking" about classroom behavior and expectations, especially with the kindergarteners.  I liken these days to the month of March - I come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.  

It is during these first lessons that I am constantly reminding the students of what is expected of them, classroom procedures and routines and the consequences or rewards that come with their choices.  As the year goes on, I wouldn't say that I lighten up my expectations, but I find that I spend less and less time talking about them because the students know what is expected and what happens when they do or do not meet those expectations.

Positive Recognition ~ I hope you have noticed that I have mentioned the negative consequences as well as the positive ones in my writing thus far.  I believe with my whole heart that kids do like to please their teachers and do things that make themselves feel good.  There are many ways that this has evolved at our school.  The school wide language and behavior matrix have definitely helped but I have also learned that if I can find out what the class is working for in their homerooms, I can use that as incentive in the music room too.  This includes using class dojo where the teachers bring their class ipad to the classroom and I can give and take points throughout the class period;  earning points or money or puzzle pieces that work towards a class or individual student reward; or helping students earn cotton balls, scoops, marbles, etc to fill up their reward jar.  The students, even at the young age of 5, really do get that their behavior follows them throughout the entire school from the classroom to the playground to the cafeteria to the related arts classrooms to the bus.

I also do rewards for students or the class in the music room - this could be as simple as having 3 extra minutes at the end of class to play their favorite game, to allow them to choose that game, to letting the students "be the teacher" at the smartboard during interactive activities.  My most favorite routine that I have implemented is the "Star Student".  This is done at the end of class each and every music time.  I choose one student who has done a great job - maybe it was a very hard skill that the mastered or they used their singing voice for the first time or their behavior was amazing that day.  Each student is chosen once before a 2nd awarding is done.  When they are chosen, the student gets to come up to the smartboard and place their name inside the star of our star student file and then pop a balloon on the following page.   They also receive a "Star Student" sticker! 

If you are interested, you can click on over to TeachersPayTeachers to purchase the smartboard file I've created.  It is currently at the 50% off "Dazzling Discipline" price for a limited time!

Yes, There Must Be Negative Consequences ~ I wish I could say that all of my students are angels and I never have any discipline problems, but that would be a lie!  Kids will be kids and they will make bad choices.  I think the key to dealing with any issues that occur is constancy.  I use a 3 strikes and you are out approach.  Students get 2 warnings and on the 3rd time, they are done.  Now this could be "done" with that game, "done" with the instrument, "done" with the music class - it really does depend on the specific situation.  I do use time outs in the class and this, again is a school wide policy.  We spent a good deal of time learning about the time out process and what does and does not work for this age of students.  

Here are the steps we use:
  1. remove student from the activity - depending on age and activity this can be in or out of the classroom
  2. the student is only out of the activity for 3-5 minutes
  3. before returning to the classroom, ask the student why they were removed and discuss the choices that led to the time out
  4. invite the student to join the class again and finish the activity they were doing when they were asked to leave - this is tricky because I move pretty quick in my lessons and often times we are on to something else in the 3-5 minutes the student was out of the building.  But if it is possible, the student returns to what they were doing before being removed, this time doing it correctly.
  5. move on - if the student is making good choices, there is no need to discuss the issue further.  If bad choices occur, there are further consequences that follow our behavior matrix

Treat Students Like They are You Own Children ~ I didn't really get this until I became a parent - I believe that I always treat my students respectfully but when you have kids of your own it is just different......that being said, I am very conscious of the tone that I use when dealing with discipline issues, always treat the students with respect, remind the students that it was their choice, not mine, that got them into this situation, and ask the student if they understand why they received the consequences they did.  I always have in the back of my mind - if this were my child and they had made a bad choice (and really what kid doesn't at some point in time to varying degrees), how would I want and expect them to be treated by their teacher.....try to think about that next time you are in the heat of the moment.

I hope that you have found some "Dazzling Discipline" ideas here and invite you to like my facebook here and TeachersPayTeachers store here to keep up to date with CMajorLearning!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Blog Hop - Perfect Poolside Planning!

I am super excited to be participating in a blog hop with fellow music bloggers!  Check out my blog and at the end click on the "Perfect Poolside Planning" to be linked to the next hop in the blog!  Thanks go Lindsay Jervis for organizing this fantastic idea!

In the spirit of "Perfect Poolside Planning", I am drawn to thinking of ways to plan and incorporate movement into the Kodaly classroom.  We all do movement activities through folk songs, game, playparties and structured movement, but have you ever found this great new dance or activity and when you teach it to your students it goes sooooo badly?  Well, that happened to me a great deal when I first started teaching.  When the class was over, I thought to myself, that didn't go so well....  I was sequential in teaching the steps, broke it down in to smaller sections, gave time for practice and kept the tempo slower gradually getting up to the correct WHAT did I do wrong?  Maybe it was just that class that struggled - I'll try again tomorrow with this other group of students.  Well, you can guess what happened, the next group bombed it as what do I do?

I decided to find anything I could about teaching movement, now mind you this was many years ago and the resources available were much fewer than the books available today.  I started with two fantastic resources that were already in my collection:
1.  The Kodaly Context Creating an Environment for             Musical Learning by Lois Choksy
2.  120 Singing Games and Dances for Elementary                Schools by Lois Choksy and David Brummitt

Both of these books have wonderful songs and I had used them for that many many times, but I had not taken the time to actually READ the sections about movement and dance.  So I dug in!

I started with The Kodaly Context.  Click the picture to link to the book available for purchase at (it is pricey but you can buy it used for a significantly less amount of $$).

I found such interesting information in Chapter 3 "Movement and Dance in Kodaly Practice" from this book.  Specifically regarding movement in Hungary and historic roots of dance in America but the best part for me was the "Developmental Sequence for Teaching Movement and Dance Via Kodaly Principles" found at the end of that chapter.  Choksy has broken down types of movement and the skills involved into 17 different categories - this was mind blowing!!!  No wonder my kiddos were unsuccessful at the dance I was trying to teach then, I had skipped many of the movement skills necessary to do the one I was asking the to do!

I also dug into the 120 Singing Games (while I realize too this is an expensive book to purchase - it is well work EVERY penny - I have used nearly every song in the book at some point in time over my 20+ year career!).  Click the picture for a link to the book available for purchase from West Music.  

As I said, I was familiar with the song material but did not realize there was so much insight in the Forward, Preface and Introduction to the book!  And upon closer inspection, I discovered that the book is organized in such a way as to take you right through the sequence for teaching movement and dance to your students.  Choksy and Brummitt have laid the categories out in 9 sections:

1.  Moving in Space
2.  Free Movement in Space
3.  Circle Games and Dances
4.  Singing Squares
5.  Line Games and Dances
6.  Passing Games
7.  Clapping Games
8.  Games That Don't Fit
9.  Creating Games and Dances

Now that I had thought through this sequence of teaching movement and dance, how to incorporate it into my teaching?  PLANNING!!!  It is imperative to move through a progression of  skills when teaching movement and dance, much like teaching rhythms and solfege.  I compare it to a year plan where you skipped over tika-tika (4 sixteenth notes) and went right to ti-tika and tika-ti (eighth 2 sixteenth and 2 sixteenth eighth).  Your students would eventually get the concept and skills but it would be a much harder process than if you had not skipped over tika-tika (in my opinion).  Master teacher Jo Kirk stresses in her teaching that EVERYTHING you do in your lessons has a purpose....this is just as true when it comes to teaching movement and dance!

These new ideas significialy impacted my teaching oh so many years ago and now, as a Level III instructor at Colorado State University, learning how to teach movement and dance sequentially has become at the forefront of our studies.  Many teachers are hesitant or unsure of how to incorporate some of these ideas into their teaching.  It really is no different than learning how to prep/present/practice concepts and skills!  Throughout the years, I have compiled a listing of songs to fit the categories stated in The Kodaly Context.  This is by no means all inclusive and I give thanks to all of my former students for their contributions, specifically Jenny Authier, Mallory Harris and Jodi Shoppmann Roberts.   Please click on the link below to download the file.

If you know you want to include a certain dance or structured movement in your lessons, take a minute and refer to the sequences discussed above.  Are you students ready for all the actions called for?  If not, what are they missing?  Do they need experience with a certain type of action before they are ready for this dance?

I encourage you to take some time and go through your current song repertoire and take note of the types of movement you are already doing, I'm sure there are things already in place that set your students up for great movement success!  Are there steps that are missing?  Can you incorporate the missing elements with other song/game material?  

If you are interested in learning more about teaching movement and dance, I encourage you to attend workshops, read and talk with your peers about this topic!  There are classes on Dalcroze Eurythmics offered around the country as well as amazing workshops being presented - if you get the chance, check out Andrew Ellingsen, Sanna Longdon and Sandy Knudson just to name a few!

I hope you found some interesting information in this blog, you can follow CMajorLearning on facebook here and on Teachers Pay Teachers here.

And don't forget to click on the image below to make your next stop in the blog hop for more "Perfect Poolside Planning".