Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Every Kid, Every Time

At the end of the 2011 school year I came to the realization that I had not been doing a good enough job reaching all of my students.  Yes, I planned lessons that were engaging and had activities that would reach a number of learning styles but there were kids who I felt were slipping through the cracks.  Now this may seem like a drastic statement but with as infrequently as I saw my students, it really felt like I could be doing more to reach my painfully shy kids.  While I knew they were getting the information because they could always demonstrate the skills, it sometimes felt like weeks since I had said their name or spoken a word to them directly.

I was ashamed of myself.  I felt terrible about not, if anything else, knowing these kids better.  Let's face it, this is a tough one as a special areas teacher but I knew I could do better.  So, going into the 2011 - 2012 school year I made a plan.  During a lesson, I would in some way recognize or talk to every child in each class.  I knew it was an ambitious goal, especially when my lesson is cut short on early days (Wednesday in my district school let's out an hour earlier) and I thought it may impact what we were able to get done.

Initially some of my fears were correct, my lessons were a bit disrupted but most of that was because I was adjusting and the kids were adjusting.  Over time, we all got used to this new addition to our classroom routine.  It caught some of my shy kiddos off guard.  At first they resisted the idea that I may just call on them for any number of reasons.  I started off slow with this.  In a lesson it may have been just to get the lights.

Now that I've been doing this for over a year, I'm starting to see the difference.  My kids are more confident.  They know that I want to hear from them and that we won't laugh if they are unsure about something.  I feel as though I know them better as people and musicians.  And more and more kids are offering answers and asking questions.

I didn't do anything radical, I just made one simple change but what impact it has had.  Some of the ways that I try to get to everyone every day are:

Asking them to help with a task (running and errand, getting the lights)
Answering a question
Demonstrating a skill
Sharing a musical experience related to what we are learning
Complimenting them on behavior
Greetting them and saying goodbye

These are things we do everyday and it really isn't hard to make sure that every child is included during every lesson, even in a small way.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chorus Roster

Wow!  It's a hectic time of year.  Testing, spring performance in less than 3 weeks, Art show performance in a month, MIOSM, my evaluation, Aah!  I don't remember February/March being this crazy in past years.  I have a few lessons I'm planning to post about but I'm afraid they will have to wait until I have a bit more time to organize all my pictures, materials and thoughts.  For now, another Freebie!

This is my chorus roster.  I use it to help keep me sane.  I can see which kids are in which grade and which teacher they have.  (That was a lot of whiches!)  It's a great way to take attendance, sign-in/sing-out kids for events, and much more.  It's also a great document for me to use to help keep my classroom teacher's informed.  At the beginning of the year I send out the list of students who have completed a contract and submitted their fees and I repeat this process every few months.  My teachers appreciate this because it helps them keep track of where their students go at the end of the day.  I don't lose too many kids throughout the year but there are always a handfull, usually due to 5th gradeitis.

I have uploaded this document and you can request the file in the Freebies section of my blog.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Best Thing Ever

Every now and then I have those "ugh" moments where I drag and nothing seems to be going  as planned.  Well the past few days have been like that.  My lessons weren't going the way I wanted, I wasn't completely satisfied with how they had come together and I was just tired.  It seemed at the moment when I needed a positive image, one worked its way out of the depths of my memory.

I was 7/8 years old, sitting criss cross apple sauce in my elementary music room, playing the glockenspiel for the first time.  I remember thinking this is the best thing ever.  After taking a trip down memory lane, I thought how cool is it that I get to do "the best thing ever" everyday at work?  

This happy little memory put a smile on my face, a damper on the negativity, and put things back into perspective.  A day outside for Jump Rope for Heart on Wednesday and sweet Valentine's today didn't hurt either!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


You know those earth shattering, eye opening moments when you think Oh My Gosh, why haven't I always done this?  Well, a few years ago I had one of these moments during rehearsal.  One morning I thought I would write an agenda on the board to help keep myself organized during rehearsal.  Over the years I've learned I can't keep one on my stand or in my hands because it very quickly gets lost somewhere in my room.

My rehearsal that day went so smoothly.  I felt like I was on my A game and my chorus was so well behaved.  They were never an awful group but always chatty, bubbly and full of so much energy.  At the end of rehearsal I remember thinking, "What was different today?".  When I realized that it was the agenda, I tried it the following week, and again great results.  

Now I don't claim that an agenda is the end all of managing a chorus or orff rehearsal but it is a great tool.  My kids know what we need to accomplish and they can see how far we have made our way through the list.  They are so proud when we accomplish everything and humbled when we don't.  This is because what keeps us from accomplishing our goals seem to be behavior problems.  

Agendas also help to define time for specific tasks, like signing in or asking questions.  I have 3rd graders in my group and a lot of gifted students.  If you know anything about having an after school group with these students, you know there are A LOT of questions!  I have started a policy of not answering questions about concert dates, attire, etc. until the end of rehearsal.  I usually leave about 5 minutes for this before packing up.  We fit in the questions we can, the rest are left for the next day or an email from a parent.  I have noticed that I deal with less of these questions throughout my rehearsal because it typically is part of our agenda for the day.

This has become an integral part of how I run my chorus/orff groups and I can't imagine life without it. The best part is, it takes less than a minute for me to do before rehearsal.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Video: The Thank You Song

I have uploaded a video of The Thank You Song to SchoolTube.  It's definitely not our most refined performance but you can hear the lyrics and see the movements the kids created to go with the chorus.  You can access the video here and see my crazy kids!  I think you will probably have to create an account (if you don't have one) in order to see it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Thank You Song

Recently my principal asked for my kiddos to sing for a teacher appreciation event after school.  It took me awhile to figure out who I wanted to perform at this event (chorus, orff, a class, ASP kids) because of how close this event is to our spring concert.  We are 5 weeks away at this point and have not learned much of the music, yikes!

So finally I decided chorus would be easiest.  We could sing to a recorded track, learn it fast and they stay after school often to begin with, so I knew I would have less of an attendance problem.  My next dilemma was choosing a short, appropriate piece.  I knew I wanted something familiar to aid in learning the piece quickly but I wasn't happy with anything I had done before, I needed something fresh.  For inspiration I began searching YouTube for thank you/teacher appreciation songs and I came across this video of Nesbit Elementary School.

I liked the idea and I remembered my kids were already familiar with The Lazy Song (they were screaming along to Kidz Bop or some track like it at a non-music outdoor school event).  I must admit I feel a bit hypocritical.  Recently there was a post on best choral practices on Beth's Music Notes.  I loved these posts because, as a woodwind player, I feel as though I am continually improving in this area.  Anyway, I had responded to one of these posts in regards to using pop music in the elementary classroom.  I honestly don't use pop music in my classroom often, and when I do, it is usually not to sing.  You can read Beth's post to see some of the reasoning for this.  

Once I decided on this piece, I realized the lyrcis in Nesbit's version weren't quite right for our event, so I set myself to the task of lyric writing (not one of my favorite things to do).  After coming up with the chorus, I asked a couple of my super creative 4/5 kids to help finish the lyrics.  I am proud to say that they created the three verses and even tweaked a bit of the chorus to their liking.

Below is an image of the powerpoint I used to teach the lyrics.  It's nothing fancy, but if you would like to download it, request the document in the Freebies section.

You will notice I used 2 different colors.  That's because I had a duo perform the verses and the rest of my group sang the rest.  This was another time saver with my limited amount of rehearsal. 

Our staff loved the song!!!  The kids got a big kick out of how emotional some of their teacher's were.  I would say it was a success.

Monday, February 4, 2013


It took me awhile but here is the post on auditions that I promised!

I'm not a huge fan of auditioning kids to join after school performing groups but I do use them when it comes time to assign roles in our spring musical.

Before holding auditions, I have already previewed the musical and begun teaching anything that may be part of the audition (i.e. solos).  I also make sure that every child gets a copy of the Script and the Audition Information Packet with Permission Slip.  This was something that my supervising teacher introduced to me during my internship.  I continued this in my own program because it really keeps everyone on the same page.  Below is a sample of what the packet looks like:

Page 1 - Contains all information for the parents.

Page 2 - Describes each characters role in the musical.

Page 3 - Permission Slip to be signed by a Parent/Guardian.

Auditions are held one day after school a little over a month before the performance.  Any student interested in auditioning meets in the music room and is required to stay for the entire audition process.  This makes many of my kids nervous but I explain that if they can't do it in front of people they know well from chorus, they're probably going to have a more difficult getting up on stage.  It is also for me to get a more realistic idea of their strengths/comfort levels.

When we audition, I only allow them to audition for the 2 main characters.  This makes the audition process sooooooooo much easier (that may have been an excessive amount of o's)!  Instead of breaking the auditions down into multiple sub groups, I can audition kids for the roles 2 at a time because I pick characters who have dialogue together.  If your kids are like mine, you usually have a lot of auditions to go through and this speeds the process up so much.

Before starting auditions, I have the kids quickly jot down their top 3 choices and any character they would not like to be.  This way, I can best place kids by how they auditioned and by what they would like to be.  It's still a balancing act but it seems to be a pretty fair way to place the kids in roles.

During auditions I sit at the back of the room behind the green and blue risers.  (Check out my classroom set up.)  All the kids must sit on the bottom of the risers facing forward because I take notes while the kids audition.  I rate each child based on preparation, voice projection, stage presence/character personality, and attitude/chorus participation.  I keep track of everything using this form.

Audition Rating Sheet
(This has been added to the Freebie Section of my blog.)

After auditions are over, I do my best to place kids in roles by how the auditions went and what their preference was.  I create a list of who has been assigned to each character and post it in the window of my door.  In addition to that, I create a congratulatory letter for each child to take home and share with their parents.  This is a great way to inform parents and give them a list of upcoming rehearsals.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Brand Spankin' New

Our brand new Log Drum came in today and I'm so excited!  It is a beautiful instrument that we will debut in our spring concert.  I tried to record the beautiful color this afternoon to share with you but my recording devices left a lot to be desired.  I'll try again next week.

This was a bit of a splurge but costuming for this years performance is not quite the budget buster it has been in past years.  I ordered mine through West Music. Here is the link:  Log Drum on West.
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