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July 23, 2017

Focus on the First Week: Kindergarten

*This is a repost of my original posting that lives over at my old blog.  Long story, but the posts couldn't migrate over to my new blog.  I am the original author, though, don't worry!*

School is just around the corner, so I thought I would start a series of posts that focus on the first week of school.
The most intimidating group for most teachers at the beginning of the school year is Kindergarten.  Though many Kindergarten students have had some school experience through a Pre-K program, some have not.  At my school, some children are experiencing being away from mom all day long for the first time!  That leads to...

Goal #1
:  Create a warm and welcoming environment.  If at all possible, visit with your Kinder friends BEFORE THEY COME TO MUSIC!  I like to try to meet as many Kinder students and parents as possible during our Lemonade Social the week before school begins.  Get them excited!  Tell them how happy you are that they get to come to your class and give them some things to look forward to.  Have your schedule ready and look up the day and time the student will come to Music.  "Oh, you're in Mrs. Kinderteacher's class?  You're so lucky!  You get to come to see me on the very first day of school!  We are going to sing, play some games, use beanbags and read a book together.  All of your new friends will be here with you, too!".  If your school doesn't have a "Meet the Teacher" type of event before school starts, try to make the rounds in the morning before you get started teaching.  Help the parents and students find their classrooms and confirm a time that will be convenient for the homeroom teachers to step in and just quickly say "Hi" and tell them how happy you are that they will come to your class.

Goal #2:  Procedure, Procedure, PROCEDURE.  And did I mention "procedure"?  Lol!  Your Kindergarten students don't have any experience in how your music room works.  They don't really know how SCHOOL works yet!  Greet them at the door, modeling good line behavior.  Be positive and professional with their teacher even if he or she brings them barreling loudly down the hall and exclaims, "GOOD LUCK.  They have a LOT to learn about behavior!"  (Well, of course they do...that's what we're here for!).  Be the one to open your own classroom door.  I cannot stress this enough!  You are the one who welcomes the students into your classroom.  They should be welcomed in with DIRECTIONS and only when they are behaving in a way that is appropriate. "What a wonderful line!  I can see that you are ready to learn.  We are going to walk in a line following the leader and then we will find a place to sit on the white circle.  Let's see who can do the best job!".  If you do not tell the students exactly how to enter the room, they WILL walk in and go "WOWWWWW!" and start heading for whatever looks the most interesting.   

Goal #3:  Keep them busy with meaningful activities.  The first day of music in Kindergarten should be pretty packed.  The busier the students are, the less time they have to miss Mommy.  Resist the temptation to give a lecture about the rules.  Many people are in a rut with this.  First day of music:  rules must be covered.  Blah, blah, blah.  The rules can be covered as you go.  Especially in Kindergarten, you will not (unless you are crazy) be doing things like playing Orff instruments, getting out a ton of manipulatives, etc. during the first few weeks of school.  Reinforce sitting correctly when needed.  Model what do do with hands and feet.  When you ask the children a question, say, "I am going to choose someone who raises their hand quietly to answer this question...(ask question) Oh, thank you Billy Bob for raising your hand and waiting to be called on."  Give instruction about how to move from your seating arrangement to the line when it is time to line up, etc.  If you unload rules on them all at once, they will forget anyway!  Sing and play.  SING AND PLAY!  Did I say that loud enough? ;) 

Goal #4:  End on a calm note.  I always time my first Kinder lesson so that I have exactly enough time to read Everyone Asked About You by Theodore Faro Gross.  It is a very sweet story about a girl named Nora Blue who stayed home from school.  Her friend stops by and tells her, "Nora, Nora, open the door!  Open the door Nora Blue.  I came to say that at school today, everyone asked about you."  It has a WONDERFUL song that goes along with it that can be downloaded on iTunes.  Every time I end class with this book and song, the students are mesmerized.  I close the book slowly and tell them in a calm voice that class is already over but I will see them again next week.  I ask them to stay in their seats while I open the door and at this point, their teacher is usually there with a WOW look on their face because they are silent!  I stand at the door and ask the line leader to please walk and come stand in front of me.  Then, I start calling by clothing, reminding them to WALK.  Calling them by clothing goes well because one of the songs we always sing the first week is "What are You Wearing" by Hap Palmer.  (If you do not have Hap Palmer's Learning Basic Skills, GET IT.  It will make your first week awesome.  It is all about listening and following directions.  Three songs that I do the first week are "Colors," "What are You Wearing" and "Put Your Hands Up in the Air.")

What are some of YOUR favorite tips for the first week of Kindergarten?  Share in the comments!

Have a great last few days of July!  EEK!

July 20, 2017

Planning With a Purpose: It's More Than a Greatest Hits List

I know a lot of teachers who are already in planning mode for the upcoming school year.  While we might not all be back in our rooms yet (some are!), many of us are taking a look at the calendar and realizing that school will be in session before we know it.  Blink, and summer is gone!

We spend a lot of time preparing our classrooms for our students.  What decor should I use?  Will I have a theme this year?  Do I want to change up how I do seating?  What discipline plan are we using this year?

But, a classroom, as put-together as it may look, is nothing without a great teacher with an amazing plan.  And I do mean A PLAN.  Not lesson plan(S).  Get it?  I mean a goal, a mission, an ending point towards which you will strive all year long.

I know many music teachers from all over the country who spend countless hours writing lesson plans.  They neatly compose their plans and enter them into their planners with pride.  Intentions are good.  But...is there always an end goal?  I mean, aside from "I want my students to leave me with a lifelong love of music."  No.  Not always.  And here is what I mean.

Music class should not be planned like a greatest hits list.  "I LOVE this song.  My 4th graders will love it too, we are SO DOING THIS next week!".  "This professional development is BLOWING.MY.MIND!  I am teaching ALL OF THIS next week...".

A lot of times, music teachers are left alone as far as planning.  Administrators are almost never really aware of what children should learn, when that learning should take place and HOW that learning should look in the music classroom.  So, it is very easy to just thumb through your materials and pick and choose your favorite activities throughout the year.  I mean, the lessons are PLANNED, right?  That's a lesson plan!  DONE.

Well...ehhh...no.  Now, don't get mad at me!  I will fully admit that my lesson planning looked a lot like that when I first started teaching.  I started out in a district where there was no curriculum.  And no, I do not mean "no books" although, that was also true! Curriculum and materials are not the same thing.  (Pet peeve of mine, I'll admit that!).  What I mean is, there was no standard framework upon which music teachers could plan their year.  There was no, "By the end of 3rd grade, students should be able to ________."  Now here is where I wish I could get into my school right now and take a few pics of my plan book from Fall of 2002.
*Side note:  new teachers, do yourself a huge favor and bind, archive, whatever you have to do to SAVE your first year of lesson plans.  Unless you are a super genius and just utterly flawless, you will have something to look back on and get a good laugh later...I mean...mine are...STELLAR! HAHA!*
**Side note 2.0...I only taught in that district for two years, then moved to a district where there was a curriculum document.  But I digress...**

What did I do that first year?  Well, I spent a lot of time in the computer lab of the local university (remember folks, I was poor then and wasn't about to pay for internet at my apartment that I could barely afford, lol!) and I searched and searched and searched for long range plans, random districts' curricula...anything I could get my hands on.  Then, I printed it all out.  I had binders full of curricula based on different states' standards, national standards, you name it.  I just wanted some direction, after all.  Then, I went into Lois Choksy's The Kodaly Method I, and I copied every single skill onto my calendar for every single grade level.  Honestly, I should have just started with that!

Luckily, there are now many more published resources from which to gather a clue (picture me laughing here, you know, because I was clueless).  If your district has a well-written curriculum framework with clear expectations of skills for each grade level, please use it.  Don't just tuck it away and fly by the seat of your pants.  And if your district does NOT have anything, do yourself a HUGE favor and find a great resource where the framework is already laid out for you.  The Kodaly Method I (mentioned above), Game Plan (Kriske and Delelles), An American Methodology and it's companion book Yearly Plans (Ann Eisen and Lamar Robertson), Kodaly Today (Miche├íl Houlahan and Philip Tacka) and many more.

I would like to add that I do not consider any of the above to be a "Bible" of music education.  I think that there is good information to be gleaned from all of those AND more!

The takeaway is, have a LONG TERM goal, then do the little things that will take you towards that goal.  You can use those favorite lessons when the time is right, don't worry!

Here's to a great year of planning!