Advice for Music Teachers Starting at a New School

There are so many things that need to happen at a new school. Meeting colleagues, remembering new school routines, memorizing your copy code, what’s protocol for the last coffee in the coffee pot, school discipline policy. . .

It’s enough to make your head spin.

And what’s crazy is that none of that even has to do with your actual teaching!

For any teacher at a new school, it's important to remember that adapting to a new teaching environment will take time. It will also take time for your students to get used to you. 

Give it time. 

Don’t worry about underperforming in comparison to the former music teacher. And don’t worry about outshining this former teacher. DO worry about setting your students up for success with you from day one.


 
Advice for teachers at a new school
 

In all likelihood, your teaching practices and teaching philosophy differ from what your students are used to.

With that in mind, give students (and yourself) time to adapt. This new philosophy doesn’t need to be implemented right away, but we do need to start preparing students right away for how music time may look different than before.

Today I’m sharing the top three MUST DO things for music teachers at a new school.

These have nothing to do with remembering your copy code, nothing to do with the process for replacing your lost teacher ID.

Instead, they are actionable steps about your music, your philosophy, and your students - the reasons we teach!


1. Establish routines

We’ll have a hard time learning together without good classroom management, and routines are a cornerstone for a classroom management system that works.

How do you want students to enter your classroom? What’s the easiest way for your class to get in a circle? How can you line the students up without kids bumping heads or cutting in line? Procedures are the glue of a class that runs smoothly.

While it’s hard to waltz in front of a new group of students and inform them of the new list of routines, it’s very worth it. It’s never too late to start implementing how you want your classroom to run, but it’s best to start the very first day of your teaching. Even teachers established at the schools take time to rethink routines and make sure they’re allowing the classroom to operate well, so don’t be afraid to change it up if the old system doesn’t work for you.

Think through your routines for entering the room, sitting, standing, making a circle, getting out instruments, moving to different parts of the classroom, changing activities, and lining up.

Learn Names

Even if you have an established, working curriculum, it won’t be fully implemented the first day, week, or even month. It will take time for the students to get on board with your new philosophy  and learn how their new music teacher will run things. It will also take time for you to get to know them, and that starts with knowing their names. Yes, all their names. It’s a process that takes a LOT of time. But it is very worth it. Here are some things that can help you remember the 600 or so names a little easier.

  • Name tags - many teachers have these already and are happy to hand them out before coming to your class. Send a quick email and find out! If teachers don’t have name tags, what’s a quick way you could create them? Could you print out stickers? Slip their names into a plastic name tag holder that can go around their neck? It’s worth the effort not to call a kid “buddy” for the rest of the year.
  • Seating charts - At the beginning of your time at a new school I recommend a seating chart, even for your littles (especially for your littles). You might assign their seats yourself, or let them choose their own and you can move them if it becomes a problem. You might also consider sending your seating chart to their classroom teacher for feedback.
  • Yearbook - This one is a great memory tester. Once you think you’ve got a lot of names down, see if you can get your hands on a recent yearbook. Cover the students’ names below their pictures and check if you can remember their names without help. It’s an added challenge that they won’t be in the class groupings you’re expecting!

2. Find Out What They Know

Pre-assess

A pre-assessment is a MUST DO with a new group of students. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to be painful.

Pre-assessing won’t give you all the information you need, but it will be a start. You’ll find other surprising information about the students later in the year, but the goal here is to get up and running. Remember that every assessment has limits to the data you can get from it, and remember that finding out what they don’t know is just as valuable as finding out what they do know. So don’t be discouraged if your students don’t do well on your assessment.

>>>>>>> Read: Assessment in music Part 1 and Part 2

Talk to their teacher

The absolute best resource you can use when creating your pre-assessment is the former music teacher. If he or she is around, you can have a nice long chat about curriculum, procedures, administration and parent expectations of the program, and what’s worked in the past. This would create a beautiful spring board for creating assessments so check to see if it's a possibility.


3. Sing Sing Sing

Don’t forget to make music in your first lessons!! Pick some easy, engaging songs (preferably with movement) and start singing.

While you’re in the process of figuring out what your students know you can still have meaningful and musical experiences. Don’t worry about songs being too advanced or too easy - just start singing. You don’t need all the data in to start making music.

  • Singing right away buys you time. Give your students time to adapt to your way of teaching, and remember that we can be musical even in the transition to a new philosophy or curriculum… The key here is to buy time, not waste it. Singing is perfect for accomplishing this.
  • Singing gives you valuable information about your students' musical maturity. Do your students know where to breathe in a phrase? Can they match pitch? Do they pick up on songs quickly and accurately? How is their tone? Can they notice melodic or rhythmic patterns? Singing together, asking a few questions, and observing will give you an enormous amount information on where your students are in their learning.
  • Songs you teach will become the backbone of your curriculum later. As music teachers, our songs are our curriculum so it makes sense to sing right away. Every time you’re confused about what your students know and can do, have them sing. Even if you teach a song in the first weeks of school and discover that your students aren’t ready to tackle concepts in the song, you haven’t wasted time. Students have enjoyed themselves and been challenged musically. You can pull the song out later when they are ready and they will have already have learned it! They’re ahead of the game.

 

Wondering what to sing? I have some great songs in the Song Library. It’s a collection that I made for my own classroom and I use it all the time.

 


There are so many things to do when starting at a new school.

It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the list of things that need to be remembered, accomplished, and planned in the short term. However, remember that as teachers at a new school we're playing the long game.

When we need ways to get up and running in a way that will set us up for success both now and later, these tips will do the job!

Happy teaching.


The Hardest Thing Is:

Whether or not you're at a new school, I'd love to know: 

What's the hardest thing you're facing right now in your teaching?

Type your answer below. I'd love to hear from you!

5 Resources I Don't Lesson Plan Without

It was Sunday night and I was staring at my lesson plan for 2nd grade the next day. It was blank.

I racked my brain for engaging, purposeful lesson ideas.

My brain was blank.

. . . . .

I thought to myself:

“Tomorrow morning 23 second graders will come bounding into my classroom. We’ll sing our hello song and go through our warm up routine . . . and then. . . “

Nothing.


Have you been there?

I think that all teachers have experienced this inner dialogue in at some time, in some form.

Let’s face it. We’re busy people and sometimes the lesson planning process sneaks up on us. Sometimes we remedy this by quickly throwing together a collection of songs and activities that will do the job. . . but perhaps we haven't thought about where that lesson is leading and why each individual activity is important. 


Today I’m sharing my tried-and-true resources for lesson planning. These resources save me loads of time in my daily lesson planning because they've given me a framework around which to create activities.

Zooming Out

It starts with a zoomed-out, big picture view of what I want my students to learn by the time we're done with our time together. What should every student know after being my student? What should every student know how to do? These are big questions but they're important to tackle first. 

Zooming In

Then we zoom in more and more until we're planning daily lessons. What specific learning activities will help my students accomplish their goals? What are bite-sized take aways I can give my students?

These resources have helped me wrestle with these questions and create a framework I use for every single lesson. 

I hope they do the same for you!

But first, let's establish some goals in our planning. . . 


 
lesson planning resources
 

Big - Picture Planning Resources: 

Good lesson plans start with knowing the big picture of what you want your students to know. That big picture is based on your teaching philosophy and what you think is important for students at your school to be able to do by the end of their time with you. It's a huge, sweeping view of your teaching. 

When it comes to that important zoomed-out view, these are the books that have been life savers for me.


1. Understanding by design: 

If you haven't read this book already, I highly encourage it.

The basic premise of the book is that instead of starting with daily tasks and learning activities, and then creating assessments. . . we should start with what we want students to know. Then decide how we'll know that they know it. . . then create learning tasks that reflect those goals. 

It's a dense read, but very worth it!

Short on time? Still buy the book and save it for a rainy day. For now just read the chapter 6 (crafting understandings) and chapter 7 (thinking like an assessor)


2. Lesson Planning in a Kodaly Setting: 

I picked up this book after hearing Aileen Miracle mention it on her podcast and I'm SO glad I did! 

This book has been huge for me as I think about what songs to use for what concepts and what my core teaching goals are for my students. When I got the book I was struck by how small it was but I can guarantee it packs a punch with how much information it delivers in a small package. 

You won't be disappointed if you dig into this book. 


Small-Picture Lesson Planning Resources:

When it comes to thinking more specifically about learning activities in daily lesson plans, here are the resources that have helped me the most: 


3. Kodaly in the Classroom series

I'm not strictly a Kodaly teacher but I love the philosophy that encourages students to use "direct intuition" in their approach to learning music. This book is the perfect companion for Kodaly and non-Kodaly teachers alike.

Inside the books, I've found great ideas about listening lessons, songs to use for specific grades, and teaching strategies for when you feel stuck. It's a wonderful addition to my bookshelf and I reference it often.

There are lots of grade levels for which you could buy this book. I'd recommend purchasing one for a lower grade first if you haven't used these books before. 


4. Elementaria: 

This is a more recent read for me, but already SO helpful!

Elementaria is hands down one of the most actionable Orff books I've ever read. It gives very specific examples and music activities, all the way down to the sheet music. There are lots of books out there on the Orff philosophy but I've never come across anything this specific. That makes it perfect for the zoomed-in part of planning. 

I find myself flipping through this when I'm looking for specific engaging music activities, especially for my upper level students. If that sounds like something you could use in your tool belt, I highly recommend this book. 


5. Song Library

The backbone of our curriculum as teachers is the music we choose. I love singing folk songs in my classroom and needed a way to keep track of some of my favorites. That's how the Sheet Music Library was born. 

I use it to document songs I've used and songs my students love to sing. It's about to get a major facelift in the next few months with more songs and easier navigation, but it's still a resource I personally use for my classroom ALL. THE. TIME.

If you haven't checked it out yet, it's totally free.

You can sign up here: 


Lesson planning can be a headache, but it doesn't have to be. 

With these resources you can begin your journey to headache-free planning....  And it can actually be fun! 

Don't feel the need to purchase and read all the books at once. Pick your squeakiest wheel in the lesson planning process (big picture ideas or small picture activities), grab a book, and read it in small sections over your morning coffee. 

You'll be glad you did.

 

Assessment in the Music Room - Part 2

Walk into an elementary music room and you're likely to see students singing, reading, playing instruments, listening, improvising, and moving. Each of these activities can give us crucial insight into how our students are learning, and how we can help them.

That insight is called assessment. 

Sure, assessments could look like students sitting with a pencil and paper, writing down responses to the teacher's questions. 

It could like students using ipads

Students working in small groups at centers

Students playing percussion instruments

It might look like dancing. . . 

Sound like singing. . . 

In short, assessment in music can - and should - look basically like a typical day in your music room.


Assessment in My Music Room

I try to take down some form of assessment in every single lesson. Many of these assessments will never make it to a grade book, but they make me so happy to look at. 

Why? 

Without these daily assessments I might forget that the student acting out and running all over the room can complete every musical task well above my expectation. 

He doesn't need to try harder to focus. He's bored. But I might forget, or never know at all, unless I've been tracking his performance. 

Daily assessments point out that the child who more or less matches pitch in March but still couldn't find her head voice in January. That's an accomplishment worth celebrating. But with all the students I see in a week I might forget how far this one student has come, or never notice her progress at all.


 

When our assessments are thoughtfully constructed and consistently implemented they give us a direct picture of our effectiveness as educators. 

 

We don't assess our students because the state says we must. We don't do it for our principals. We don't do it because it's trendy to track data.

We do it because we need to know what our students need from us.


5 Assessment Strategies for Your Elementary Music Classroom

Today I'm giving you a peek into what works for me in my classroom. These are simple assessment ideas that are easy to implement. And the best part is, you're probably doing many of them already! 

 
Assessment in Elementary Music
 

 

I know every teaching situation is different, and some schools have more tech tools available than others. However, these ideas are easily modified to fit in a variety of scenarios. 

Nearpod
 

Nearpod is a new (to me) app that allows you to post an interactive presentation across multiple screens. That could come in handy if you're at a one-to-one school where every student has an ipad. You could make a one question multiple choice quiz for an exit ticket (more on that later). 

You also could create a very simple presentation giving your students instructions to follow in centers if your class only has one ipad. Embed a recording of yourself speaking the directions or type them out, include images of what the final project should look like. . . Whatever your needs are!

Audio Recordings
 

Audio recordings could also can be used in centers if you have students practicing sight reading or sight singing. Simply have students press play on the recording device of your choice, then state their name and class, and get going! It lets you be in another part of the room, either assisting or taking grades of your own, while the students collect the data for you.


This can also be done during whole class instruction if you don't want to carry around a clipboard. Record the activity in which students are soloing and then listen back to the 5 - 10 minute clip you recorded to write down your grade. 

With careful planning this idea could actually save you a lot of time!


This idea is tried-and-true by so many music teachers, and there's a reason it works so well. The goal of a singing game is to get students to sing along in a fun, stress-free environment. 

Primary Singing Games:

Kindergarten - Good King, Leopold
What to Assess: Singing voice, speaking voice, yelling voice, whisper voice
** By the way, Anne Mileski just released a great podcast about solo singing in kindergarten with some great assessment tips.

1st Grade - Cuckoo
What to Assess: Singing voice; sol, mi; steady beat; quarter, eighth notes

2nd Grade - 'Round and 'Round
What to Assess: Singing voice, La, quarter, eighth notes

3rd Grade - Dinah
What to Assess: MRD, 16th notes

Upper Level Singing Games:

4th Grade - Big Fat Biscuit
What to Assess: Low la; dotted quarter and eighth note

5th - Liza Jane, John Kanaka, Sail Away Ladies. . . 
What to Assess: high do (Liza Jane, John Kanaka), 16th note patterns (Liza Jane, Sail Away Ladies), syncopation (Liza Jane)
Any song that has an easily dividable form can be given out as solos and made into a call-and-response activity. With your older kiddos the possibilities are endless and you can easily modify the call or response to fit your assessment needs.

 

Modifications:

  1. Most of these songs could be put on instruments - either rhythmic or melodic. Assess playing abilities just as easily as singing abilities.
  2. You could also challenge your students to play a response that they make up (still using the target element) instead of the "real" response.

This is an incredibly simple way to quickly jot down an assessment and it can be used for many operations in many different grades. 

Consider the following scenarios: 

Thumbs up, thumbs down:

  • 4th Grade: Teacher plays a new melodic phrase written on the board and asks students if she made a mistake. On the count of 3 students respond with a thumbs up (yes, you played it correctly) or thumbs down (no, that was incorrect).
  • 2nd Grade: Teacher sings a new song and asks the students if that new song uses their target element they're preparing. Give students a moment to think, sing the song again, then on the count of 3 students respond with a thumbs up (yes, I hear the mystery note) or thumbs down (no, this song doesn't use the mystery note).

Sign Language: 

  • Kindergarten: Teacher claps the rhythm to a known song and asks students if she was clapping the steady beat or how the words go. On the count of 3, students hold up W in sign language for "how the words go" and a B in sign language for the "steady beat". These signs are simple enough that kindergarten students will be able to form them without trouble.
  • 5th Grade: Students are practicing their new element: fa. The class sings known song (with fa in it) on solfege, then helps the teacher notate a phrase of the song on the staff. When the teacher asks where fa should go on the staff, students hold up the correct alphabet letter.
  • 3rd Grade: Students have been practicing a new element re 

Numbers: 

  • 3rd Grade: Students have been preparing 16th notes. The teacher sings a known song containing 16th notes. Then students clap the rhythm to a phrase while the teacher points to 4 beat icons. When the teacher asks what beat the mystery rhythm is on, students hold up a 1, 2, 3, or 4.

 

I like to have students wait to show me their answers until the count of 3 for a few reasons: It gives students time to consider their answers before throwing a hand up. It also discourages students from just looking around at whoever had their hand up first and copying them. Once the hand goes up, it freezes like a popsicle! 

It's likely that you're already doing the visual method of assessment in some form anyway. All that's left is to jot down student responses! 

To save time in this area, sometimes I jot down only the answers of students who got the question wrong. This makes it quick, especially when most students understand the concept except for a few who need more time. (That might sound harsh but I assure you it's purely for time-saving reasons!)

If the responses are more mixed than that, I might take a quick snapshot of the class and record individual responses later.


Sometimes written assessments get a bad rep in music classes because they're not as active as dancing or playing instruments. I tend to use them sparingly, but it would be a shame to not use them at all!

Exit tickets

Exit tickets are one of the easiest ways I know to get a very quick, physical answer from the entire class. These are targeted, easy questions based on the day's lesson.

Here are some examples of exit tickets you might use in your classroom: 

  • Name one instrument in the strings family.
  • How many beats does a half note get? 
  • Listen to your teacher sing this phrase. Does it have our mystery note in it? (circle yes or no)
  • What is the name of this symbol? (picture of a treble clef, quarter rest, repeat sign . . . Anything you want!)

Tracy King has some amazing tickets for sale on her TpT store. You could also have a question on the board and have students respond on post-it notes, index cards, or scratch pieces of paper. 

Worksheets

There are so many fun ways to use worksheets as assessments. If you can't think of any, enjoy the millions of ideas on Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers! 

Here are just a few to get you started:

  • Students can write down short compositions that involve the target element you're practicing.
  • They could dictate new melodic or rhythmic phrase (using staff notation, solfege, or stick notation)
  • Write or draw a response to a piece of classical music - How did this music make you feel? What did it make you think of? (Note: This is would be great to use for learning tempo markings or dynamics. Play a slow, peaceful piece of music. Students can show you that they're responding to the mood of the music and later you can go back and explain that one way to make music sound peaceful is by using a largo tempo.)

Centers are another tried-and-true method of assessing students, and with good reason:

  1. They don't put kids on the spot. This is so so so important. Students who are hesitant to volunteer during whole-class instruction need a place to show what they know. If they flop when all their peers are looking at them, centers provide a lower pressure environment for those students to shine. 
  2. You can differentiate! Some teachers prefer to mix up the centers groups so that lower achieving students are together with higher achieving students. The idea is that the higher achievers can help the struggling students. I actually prefer the opposite. I think that organizing students by ability carefully (so that no one sees your groupings and thinks that some kids are "good at music" or "bad at music") can do wonders for targeting different learning needs.
  3. You're free to be wherever the room needs you. If you feel that the lower achieving students might need your help completing the activity, you can be with them. If you think everyone has it under control, you can have your own center where you hear students sight sing or play instruments individually. It's a great way to work one-on-one with students.

I recommend that you fill your centers with activities you've already done as a class. This saves time giving instructions and cuts down on questions, leaving you free to work with students. From an assessment point of view, you can write down student grades knowing that this isn't the first time they've tried a particular activity. 

Track student responses to the activities by using some of the tactics mentioned above: 

  • Use technology and have students record themselves 
  • Use written assessments by having students notate their own compositions
  • Use written assessments by having students dictate a phrase you've pre-recorded for them

 

But there's no time!

Centers don't need to take up the whole class period - although they certainly can if you'd like. Especially if you have a longer block with your students, you could do a welcome activity, then centers, then a whole-class practice activity with another element before you close. Repeat this structure the next time you see those kiddos so everyone has a chance at each center.



Assessments are. . . 

Assessments are informative, but limited.
They take time to execute, but save time in planning later.
The data takes time to record, but the information we receive is worth it. 

When our assessments are thoughtfully constructed and consistently implemented they give us a direct picture of our effectiveness as educators. 

Enjoy your teaching week, friends.

Assessment in the Music Room - Part 1

Trying to figure out what kids know and don't know is one of the main tasks of educators. It tells us when to move on to the next lesson and when to stay put. It can give us valuable insight into which students are struggling and which students are excelling.  It's the core of so much that we do, and yet many of us feel overwhelmed by words like "data" and "assessment". 

Its not surprising. As music teachers we see somewhere around 400 to 600 students a week. Sometimes more. The sheer volume of assessments to give is enough to make my eyes grow wide as I run for the nearest exit. 

In addition to the numbers, there is also the question of what medium to choose. Music is not a paper-and-pencil subject. At least not all the time. Music means singing, playing instruments, dancing, improvising, and listening.  

So how can we assess our students' learning in a way that's manageable for us, and fair to them? 

 
Assessment in the music room
 

Assessment Guidelines:


These are general thoughts that are good to keep in mind as you structure your assessments. They're things I've learned through observation, being a music student once myself, and through good old-fashioned trial and error.


Knowledge is not (necessarily) skill

Imagine giving your 4th graders a multiple choice test in which one of the questions reads: 

"Which of the following are sixteenth notes?"

This kind of question can give you some valuable feedback on the student's knowledge of sixteenth notes. It measures how accurately a student can recognize a specific shape, and then give that shape the correct name. Good stuff to know. 

Assessment in Elementary Music

It does not, however, necessarily mean the child could dictate a rhythmic phrase containing sixteenth notes. It doesn't necessarily mean the child could aurally identify sixteenth notes in a new song.

Assessing knowledge is a good thing to do. But it's just knowledge. We can't confuse it with skill. 


The Medium Matters

I once gave a very short multiple choice activity to a group of kindergartners over opposites in music (loud/quiet; high/low; fast/slow. . .).

But I didn't realize how much help those poor youngsters needed following the outline of this paper and pencil assessment. Numbers to follow, letters to circle that correspond with musical terms and choices they needed to make. . . Those poor kids. They stared up at me with clueless faces as I tried (in vain) to coach them through the assessment.

What I took up was a mismatch of papers with zero questions answered, papers with literally everything circled, and papers with some right answers some wrong. 

This was not data I could record and it didn't help me understand what the students could do.

Assessment in Elementary Music

The results didn't necessarily mean that these students didn't know the material. It just meant that the medium I asked them to use didn't allow them to shine in the way they could have. 

We have to give students assessments that let them shine, and point to the things they know and can do - not the things they don't know and can't do. 

This means thinking through our modes of assessment very carefully.

Modes of Assessment:

If you're asking a student to sing a solo for a pitch matching assessment, will that student shine when asked to sing in front of his entire class? Or be too shy to sing on pitch?

What other methods can we use in addition to solo singing to get a clearer understanding of our students' abilities? 


Keep Grading Time in Mind. 

Let's say you want to give out a very short assessment to 3rd grade in the form of an exit ticket. It seems easy to assess since it's only one response. Plus it takes so little instructional time. But keep in mind that by the time you're done taking up the data from your whole 3rd grade you suddenly have around 100 exit tickets to grade. The short assignment for them means a lot of grading time for you.

Or, let's say you want to test a skill such as improvising eighth note patterns on barred Orff instruments. I once saw a suggestion on a music educator's website that suggested videoing your classes so that you could go back after class, replay the video, watch each student's response, and give each student a grade.

Let's be honest.

Both of these scenarios take so. much. time.

Assessment in General Music

That doesn't mean you should avoid doing activities that you have to grade. It just means that you need to be prepared for the amount of outside class time that goes in to collecting and inputing that data. The goal is to get evidence that your students are learning, not for you to get burnt out on paper grades.

I've been guilty of biting off more than I can chew in this area and it doesn't help me become a better teacher. It makes me tired after grading assessments all weekend. 

It's important to take down information about students' abilities. But it needs to be done in a manageable way that supports student learning in the long term by not draining you of your love for teaching. 


Never Ever Ever Embarrass a Student in Front of his Peers. . . Ever

In early grades like preschool and kindergarten, most students are thrilled at the opportunity to sing and play by themselves. They love getting the attention of their peers and teacher as they perform a solo. 

However, something changes as students get older. They become more aware of who is succeeding in music, and who needs more tries to be successful. 

And some tricky beliefs about music now enter the music room with your 3rd grade class:

"I'm not good at music"
"Boys don't sing like that"
"I play sports - I don't do music"
"Everyone will know I can't do it if I play by myself"

As students become more self-aware, they also can become self-limiting.  

The social influence of peers, families, and media play a part in how our students engage with music as they get older. 

This should absolutely change the way we assess our students. 

Assessment in General Music

One of the worst things we can do as music teachers is to give a student an embarrassing experience in our music rooms. Music assessment is so different from any other subject because it involves frequent solo performances. That can be terrifying for students who care what their classmates think of them. 

Let's be aware of how social influences play a part in our classrooms and never set a student up for failure in front of his peers as we assess abilities.

What We Can Do Instead

Work to create an environment of safety in your classroom well before you take any grades. If you can, start the process young while students are still excited about performing alone. 

Set a firm class rule that there is never any giggling or name-calling after someone sings or plays by themselves. And then reinforce it. If there's a group of students who laugh at their peers, talk to them outside of class. If there's a student who seems terrified to try something new in music (especially for a grade!) talk to him after class as well.

Praise effort when students perform alone - for high achieving students and low achieving students alike. 


Every assessment is flawed.

The sad truth is that no assessment you give can ever really and definitively tell you what a student knows and doesn't know.

An assessment can only tell you how a student performs on an assessment. 

Assessment in Elementary Music

Some students don't perform well under pressure, so they may flop when asked to echo back a rhythm. Others (like my kindergartners) may be totally competent at differentiating opposites like high and low but unable to portray that knowledge on an exam. Students may ace a singing assessment over Sol and Mi but be unable to use it in improvising. Or perhaps they can play a rhythmic element but be unable to recognize it in a classical work. 

You get the idea. 

Assessments are valuable, but limited


The Perfect Assessment

I wish I had all the answers to how to create a perfect assessment every time for every learner. 

However, every time I take a grade in my classroom it's clear to me that I'm still learning my students, my craft, and how to take effective data.

Each student is so different and shows off what he can do in unique ways. That student will grow and change developmentally year after year, meaning that the way we check for musical ability may have to evolve with him.. We also have different data and assessment expectation with new policies, administrators, and educational trends.

But as teachers we land on our feet. We understand that we're learners first. So we continue to learn about assessment, knowing that it's the best way to learn about our students.


When our assessments are thoughtfully constructed and consistently implemented they give us a direct picture of our effectiveness as educators. 


Enjoy your teaching week, friends.

 

Want More? 

These two resources have proved to be invaluable as I work through the big, sticky issue of assessment:

Understanding By Design

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe

If you haven't read this yet, I encourage you to pick it up. Don't feel like you have to sit down and read the whole thing if you're short on time. Just read the assessment chapters. It will change the way you create assessments, and the lessons that prepare students for them! 

 

Data-Tracking in the Music Room

Aileen Miracle

Anything Aileen does is a big hit with me. Her products are always very thoroughly put together, with easy to follow directions on how to implement the concepts in your own classroom. 

This data-tracking set is bundled K - 5th grade but you could also start small and purchase one grade to focus on assessing.

3 Songs to Teach Form

It's so important to teach our students how to listen for the form of a song. Sometimes we (or perhaps just I!) get caught up in teaching rhythmic and melodic concepts and have to remind ourselves not to let poor elements like form, texture, and harmony fall by the wayside. There's so much to teach, so little time.

Well no more! 

Today I'm sharing my favorite songs for teaching form. They're fun, action-oriented, and perfect for introducing "big picture" listening for AB form. 

Enjoy!


 
Songs to teach AB Form in Elementary Music
 

Why Teach Form?

Before students can analyze the form of a Beethoven sonata, or even before they can tell a chorus from a bridge in a pop song, they need the ability to recognize form. 

Being able to look at music on a large-scale level is so important for any musician at any age. Sometimes our lessons are geared toward specific isolated rhythmic and melodic concepts that have us focusing in on one small phrase of a song. We need to help our students stretch their ears and take in large chunks of music.

When students can recognize form they can write more interesting and cohesive songs of their own. They can study a sonata score. They have a better framework for listening to classical music. 

Kind of a big deal. 

For us in elementary music, it starts with the simple recognition of same and different: AB (binary) form. 


Wake Up, You Lazy Bones: Preschool and Kindergarten

This song is hilariously fun to sing with young students. The actions involve pretending to fall asleep while waiting for the cows to come home. Students stay asleep until the teacher slaps the floor and yells "Wake up, you lazy bones!". They giggle through their snores as they wait for the teacher's call to jump up and start the song again. So much fun for everyone. 

There are several ways to approach students learning AB form in this song. As students play and sing they'll experience contrasting tempos, meters, and dynamics. Have your preschoolers or kinders identify the changes in dynamics and tempo (using whatever vocabulary they know) to figure out the form.

I honestly don't remember where I learned this song. I'd love to credit the composer if anyone knows who wrote this! 

How to Play

"Wake up you lazy bones" - Students stand in a circle and jump in place, waving arms above heads. 
"The sun is hot" - kneel on one knee
"The cows are gone" - kneel on both knees
"I think I'll rest" - place one elbow on the ground and put fist underneath chin
"Till they come back" - Place the other elbow on the ground and put fist underneath chin
At the fermata, students pretend to fall asleep until the teacher slaps the ground and cries, "Wake up you lazy bones!"
All students jump to their feet and the song begins again.


Little Jonny Brown: 1st or 2nd Grade

I learned this song from my cooperating teacher when I was student teaching and then used it again with Grade 2's when I was teaching in Guangzhou, China. I can truthfully say that children love this song all over the world! 

The first part of this song is much higher and slower. During the verses the range lowers and the tempo picks up. Students will be able to identify these changes easily after singing the song several times. 

For your 1st and 2nd graders, this song also perfect for preparing or practicing half notes.

The game has several steps, but they're all sung in the song. If students are listening it will be easy to follow. 

How to Play: 

I've seen several ways to play this game online, but here's my preferred way: You'll need enough handkerchiefs for half the class (they'll pass them to another student later in the song).

"Little Johnny Brown, spread your comfort down" - lay handkerchief down on the ground. This part of the song is quite slow.
"Fold down the corner, Jonny Brown" - fold one corner of the handkerchief inside. Continue folding until all four corners have been folded in to create a smaller square. The tempo of the song picks up here.
"Take it to a good friend" - The student picks up the handkerchief and gives it to another student.
"Show him a motion, Johnny Brown" - Now the real fun begins. The student who just passed off the handkerchief does a motion (jumping, patting head, chicken dance, disco) while the student who now has the handkerchief copies the motion. (Be sure to have a quick, simple conversation about the difference between silly and fun, versus inappropriate motions!)

Sing the song again from the beginning. This time a new group of students has the handkerchief.


Floating Down the River: 3rd - 5th 

I like Floating Down the River for teaching form because it uses two meters. The song starts out in a slow 6/8 and then moves to a fast 4/4. It's a great opportunity for students to practice feeling the subdivision difference between the two meters, even if you're not going to introduce 6/8 time for a while. 

Your 3rd and 4th graders can practice 16th note patterns easily with the second half of this song. If you teach 6/8 time in 5th grade, you can pull it out to use as an example so students can understand the meter change using a song they already know .

How to Play: 

"We're floating down the river" - Students take hands and walk in a circle, keeping a steady beat with their feet. One students stands in the middle of the circle.
"Two in the middle" - The student in the middle chooses one student to join him or her and jump inside the circle.
The song begins again, except this time, both students in the middle choose a partner to jump with and the lyrics change to "four in the middle". 

Continue until everyone is jumping! 


Child's Play

Recognizing same and different in music is the core building block to some much more complicated form analysis later. But as always, when our students learn these concepts through play, they'll discover that what they have mastered is child's play. 


I hope you enjoy these songs for teaching form to your students. 

Have a musical day!