A few weeks back I went live on Facebook with the amazing Katherine Miller. We shared a few of our favorite ways to use technology in the music classroom.
Are you trying to implement technology in your classroom, but don't have access to a lot of devices? Don't worry. During the free e-mail challenge, we'll share some great ways to implement technology with whatever devices you have.
There are so many apps that can be helpful for piano students in and outside of each lesson. I've tried a lot of different apps in my own experience as both a piano student and teacher, and I've gathered a few of my favorite apps that I recommend to my piano students.
According to Google, Chrome Music Lab is "a website that makes learning music more accessible through fun, hands-on experiments."
If you were to ask me, I would tell you that Chrome Music Lab is one of the easiest ways to allow our students to explore music composition and the science of sound.
Each of the 13 different "experiments" cover different areas from harmonics, oscillators, to color-based composition. What makes these experiments extra awesome is that they are entirely free and web-based, which means you don't need to worry about installing any apps!
I've used Chrome Music Lab in a few different ways. When I first started using these with my kiddos, I projected it onto my interactive whiteboard and we worked as a class to create a composition using the Song Maker experiment.
That being said, my all-time favorite way to use Chrome Music Lab in my classroom is as a center. I unfortunately don't have 1:1 devices in my classroom, so when I am able to reserve Chromebooks or iPads, it's usually just a few.
I use centers in my classroom for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason I use them is to allow me to work with smaller groups to help differentiate my instruction.
I like being able to leave these task cards as a center because it allows my students to work through each card without them needing my help.
Let's be honest, if you've tried centers before, you've probably had at least one day where you ended up spending the entire class helping students in centers rather than working with groups individually.
All students need is an iPad, Chromebook, or other web-enabled device. Point a QR code reader (already installed on most devices) and each card brings up the appropriate web app! No set-up required! Just print and go!
I also absolutely love using the Spectogram experiment, especially with my younger kids. It's a great way to show melodic contour, and I love that you are able to use the microphone on your device to have my students make their voices go high and low.
I've been working on including more opportunities for vocal exploration with my younger kids, and this is a great way to mix modalities to hopefully reach more of my students in order to help them discover their head voices.
All in all, Chrome Music Lab is one of my favorite free resources to use with my students. If you have never experimented with the 13 experiments, I strongly encourage you to take a few minutes and just play around with it for a bit.
If you end up using Chrome Music Lab in your classroom, I would love to hear how it went! You can always send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or can DM me on Instagram at @ThatMusicTeacher.
Want to learn more about how I use technology in the music room? Join my free five-day challenge on implementing instructional technology into your music curriculum! Click here to get started!
Yup. It's that time of year when a quarter of the school is out sick. As flu season fully kicks off, I think it's a good time to talk about staying healthy when we see hundreds of germ sponges, I mean children, each and every day.
1. Wash Those Hands
Okay, you knew this was coming. I really hope that hand-washing is not a novel concept to us as teachers. While it might sound like a given, I think it's too important to leave off the list.
I am lucky enough to have a sink in my classroom at my elementary classroom. I take a few seconds at the end of each class during flu season and wash my hands. While I don't have a sink to wash my hands in my middle school classroom, I do make it a point to use hand sanitizer at the end of each period.
2. Sanitize, Sanitize, Sanitize
If your school has students bring in Clorox wipes at the beginning of the year, I recommend asking your teachers if they have a couple they could share from their stash.
Especially with things that are shared between students like mallets, Boomwhackers, and other instruments, it's important to sanitize them as often as possible.
3. Stay Hydrated
This is a great tip for anytime throughout the year, especially for those of us that end up singing most of the day. I have a large insulated cup that I fill up multiple times throughout the day.
Drinking water is an easy way to help our bodies be prepared to fight back when we inevitably are exposed to the newest strain of stomach bug.
4. Have Your Students Wash Their Hands
I am lucky that my elementary classroom is right next to the bathroom. I don't do this all of the time, but when attendance lists begin to look extra bleak with students out sick, I actually have my students wash their hands before they enter the classroom, especially when I know I have folk dances or passing games in my lesson plan.
5. Take a Sick Day
If you are sick, you are sick. I know it can be a crazy amount of work getting sub plans ready. I know that we have a nation-wide sub shortage. I get it. But if you need to take a day, take a day.
Let's face it, we're all gonna get sick at some point. We are surrounded by little humans, it's just part of the job. But hopefully by following some of the things on this list you will be able to take fewer sick days, stay healthy, and stop the music room from becoming the epicenter of the newest plague.
During my field placements in undergrad I had the amazing experience to observe and teach with some amazing cooperating teachers. From day one I was in awe of their knowledge of their content area and their ability to sequence their lessons in a way that made everything they did in their classrooms incredibly purposeful.
But as I look back at my time with these teachers, I was blown away by the community that they were able to create in their classrooms. The amount of respect they had for their students was only overshadowed by the amount of respect the students had for them.
Once I got into my own music classroom, I knew that I wanted to have that kind of mutual respect for my students. During my field placements I noticed that by having this kind of positive community makes students want to do what they are supposed to and helped cut down on me needing to implement any negative responses to their behavior. When our students have that intrinsic motivation to succeed and behave well, we as teachers can focus more on the educational aspects of our job instead of feeling like we are putting out fires and constantly dealing with classroom management.
Where My Experiences Began
My first experiences in a classroom were actually in the lab preschool during my sophomore year of undergrad. I honestly believe that ending up in this classroom changed my entire trajectory as an educator. It all started with needing community service hours relating to education for a class in the education department. I had no idea what I was going to do. I eventually gathered up enough courage to email the director of the lab preschool to ask if they had any hours available for me to work as what was essentially an aide.
At this point in my college career I had never worked with small children, and I will be entirely honest and say I was terrified on my first day. I thought I wouldn’t have a clue what to do or how to respond to the students, and I just psyched myself out the days prior to me starting.
But the strangest thing happened when I started, I LOVED it! Everything I knew about education changed at that point. When I had reached the amount of volunteer hours I needed, I was offered a job in the same position and I ended up working in that classroom until I started my full student teaching placement.
I had an amazing teacher that I worked under, and I attribute a lot of what I have learned about building a positive community from her. Regardless of the situation that presented itself, she always responded calmly, logically, and from a place of empathy.
As I began to have more field placement experiences, and as those included me teaching more and more, I began to implement the calmness, logic, and empathy that she modeled for me each and every day. This just felt right to me. I was being completely genuine with my students and I felt that this approach gave me the confidence to run the classroom, when in reality, I still really didn’t have any idea what I was doing!
Love, Logic, and the Responsive Classroom
As I continued working with students I came across the Love and Logic parenting philosophy on Pinterest. As I read some of the blog posts and articles, I feel like what I was reading really resonated with me. Even though I’m not a parent, the idea that we love our students enough to set and enforce limits and using logic and empathy to help our students grow really stuck with me.
During the summer before I started my first music teaching position, I read the book, Responsive Classroom for Music, Art, PE, and Other Special Areas. I feel like this philosophy went well with what I already believed, and it helped me take that and create systems and procedures that complimented those beliefs.
This book talked a lot about setting routines and procedures that would set students up for success, which I instantly fell in love with. If you know anything about me, it's probably that I love having systems in place to make things easier! This text offers practical applications for the music classroom that allow students to feel as if they are being understood and appreciated.
Another huge tenant of this particular book, as well as my own philosophy of classroom culture is positive teacher language. I first began to understand the power of teacher language back at the lab preschool in undergrad. I began to see that the words that I used to respond to my students really mattered.
Teacher Language Matters
NHere’s a situation that I was in a lot when I was working at the preschool. A student would come up to me and show me a drawing that they made. If I were to respond with “I love it, it's so pretty” that’s a fine answer. It isn’t bad. But what is it really showing the student that I value about what the student had done?
Again, this is by no means a bad response, but it can be better. For instance, if I were to respond with “Thank you so much for sharing this with me! I can tell that you spent a lot of time on it and worked very hard,” then the value is being placed on the work that the student had to do in order to create their drawing.
In the music classroom, a lot of what we experience is incredibly subjective. I think it is important for us as educators to be aware of our teacher language and make sure that we are placing the value in the right areas. Instead of only placing value on the merit of the end product, it is important to recognize that the student may have worked hard to get here. This is a great to tie in the Growth Mindset that many administrators are (rightfully) pushing nowadays.
I know I keep drawing in bits and pieces of different philosophies, but I just had to share one more. I use a lot of restorative practices in my classroom as well as what I’ve already shared. Restorative practices, in my mind at least, are all about making sure the consequence of an action allows a student to take steps to repair any relationship that may have been damaged by that action.
For instance, if a student pushes another student down, whether it be an accident or on purpose, I would argue that we should start by having that student make sure the other isn’t hurt, and to help them up. I find that when students accidentally hurt another student, such as if we are doing a movement activity and they end up hitting each other, they assume there is no blame. I use these as teaching moments to show students that even though it wasn’t intentional, someone still got hurt and it is their responsibility to try to help in any way they can.
I don’t think that we will ever have one teaching or classroom management philosophy that will be perfect. I think it is our jobs as educators to pick what we like about each of those that we see and include our own life experiences to create a philosophy that works for us.
Our students deserve a positive community of learners in the music classroom. When they feel safe they are more willing to take risks and try new things. When they feel appreciated they are less likely to act out. And on a purely selfish note, when our students feel safe, understood, and appreciated, they are more likely to follow instructions and try new things when we as teachers are teaching.
So if you only had one takeaway from this blog post, I guess that I would hope that you realize that your teacher language matters. Like a lot. Even if you don’t intend for something to have the implication that a student receives, it can be there. I urge you to think about the types of phrases you use with your students and think about ways that we can empower our students through our words in a way that allows them to understand that we genuinely care about them and their time in and outside of our classrooms.
It's no secret that I love using picture books in my classroom. I've written a post before about some of my favorite books, but I have so many favorites that I needed to share some more with you today!
If you are anything like me and order considerably more books for my classroom than I probably should, I strongly encourage checking out ThriftBooks. I buy 99% of the books for my classroom from ThriftBooks and I have always been impressed by the prices and shipping times.
1. Harold Finds a Voice, Courtney Dicmas
Harold Finds a Voice is an adorable book about a parrot that hasn't found his voice. He goes around imitating other sounds, but he can never find his squawk.
I use this book with my Kindergartners for vocal exploration. After we read the book I have a parrot finger puppet that I give to a student to make "fly" up and down. As they are doing this, the student and the rest of the class show the vocal contour of the line being flown.
I find that this activity is easy to transition into having students explore their vocal ranges through lines, mountains, roller coasters, and other forms of visual representation.
2. Clickety Clack, Rob and Amy Spence
I use this book at the beginning of the year with my Kindergartners and First graders. The students enter the room on a "train" speaking the chant Engine Number Nine. This chant is perfect for teaching those comparatives such as fast and slow.
I use this book as a transition towards an activity with sand blocks where students start as a slow train and then gradually speed up and slow down. This book also has a great rhyme scheme to prepare rhythmic patterns.
3. The Pout Pout Fish, Deborah Diesen
Another book that has a great rhyme scheme is The Pout Pout Fish. This book is a little longer, so I usually use it for second grade. It pairs really well with Charlie Over the Ocean, too!
I've had students notice which phrase is the "refrain" and assign instruments for each of the specific words to create a percussion piece that goes along with the book. I've found this is a great way to get my students to begin to make choices that will help them when fully composing their own compositions.
4. There's A Hole in the Bucket, John M. Feierabend
This classic song-tale is one of my absolute favorites! I love using this book with any age of kids, really. It is a song all about trying to fix a hole in the bucket and all the tools and steps that would be needed in order to be able to fix it. Its a comical story and one of my kiddos' favorites!
5. Fred the Bee, Kali Barnett
I couldn't leave this book off the list! This book is a fairly new story by Kali Barnett. Kali was a music teacher for 12 years before leaving the classroom to run for U.S. Congress in 2019.
This story is about a Bee named Fred who is having a little bit of a rough day. I love it because it includes its own text set to the tune of Bingo. It also references Bee Bee Bumblebee, which is one of my all-time favorite chants to use in my classroom.
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Dear First-Year Teachers,
Thank you. Thank you for pouring yourself into your classroom day in and day out. Thank you for shedding blood, sweat, and tears for the sake of our students. Thank you.
I see you. I see you taking work home with you each and everyday. I see you spending nights and weekends crafting lesson plans. I see you providing the basic needs to your students when you need to. I see you.
You make a difference. You make a difference to the students that love coming to school. You make a difference to the students who have traumatic homes. You make a difference; even on bad days.
Being a teacher is like being pulled a hundred different directions. Meetings, conferences, professional development days, and edTPES are only a few of the things we juggle in addition to teaching students. Being a first year teacher is like reinventing the wheel. Starting from scratch, and trying to be perfect.
Being a first-year teacher is one of the hardest things you will ever do. But you will make it through. You will come out the other side a completely different person, and those moments in your first year will forever change you as an educator.
Thank you for joining this thankless profession. I see you putting your entire being into being a teacher.. You make a difference in the lives of so many.
Thank You. I see you. You make a difference.
It's parent-teacher conference night. Yes, the night where you teach all day and then aren't aloud to leave for another four hours. Let's be honest, we've all wondered why we (as music teachers) have to be there. Even a seasoned music teacher is still probably able to count their conferences on two hands.
I'll be the first one to say that I used to feel this way. I felt like nobody wanted to meet with me and I had nothing of value to share with my parents. I stayed in my classroom and got work done on conference nights. I developed curriculum and planned performances.
But this year I tried something different.
Filling My Schedule
I reached out to the teachers in my school and asked them to share their conference schedules as they came in. Once I got these lists I went through and started making my schedule for the conference nights.
I looked at students that were being leaders, those that were new to the school, and of course those that I had some behavior concerns about. I knew that I needed to talk to a few parents, as their students' had been having issues staying on task and participating fully. But I knew that I wanted to have more positive conferences than negative, so I filled up my schedule with that in mind.
I was able to create plans with parents whose students hadn't been working to their fullest potential by dropping into their conferences. I didn't take a large amount of time, as I know that the classroom teachers have so much that they need to get through. I just took a couple of minutes to voice my concerns and then worked on creating a plan to help these students make appropriate choices.
With those students who were "star students" I was able to tell parents how hard they work in my class, and how I look to them as leaders in the class. I was able to answer questions some parents had about private lessons and what would be best for their student to pursue music outside of my classroom.
Advocacy as an Educator
We all know that it can be easy to assume that we, as music educators, aren't really teachers. It can be easy for parents (and other staff) to be blind to the role we play in the education of our students.
I think it is important for us to be involved in conferences so that we can be visible doing things educators do. As Anne Mileski puts it, we are teacher musicians. I love this label because it reminds us of the musical content and understanding we have. I also use this label for myself because it includes the non-musical aspects of what we do.
Let's face it: we have hundreds of students. It can be hard to really understand what makes each student tick. It's nearly impossible for us to understand and remember how each student is performing outside of our classrooms. That is why these conferences can be invaluable for us as music educators.
There are direct connections between how a student performs outside of our classroom and how they perform within our four walls. They won't always directly influence the other, but I think it is incredibly useful to understand how a student is progressing in other subjects.
As I've mentioned in the past, my eyes were opened to the rest of the educational "machine" during my first year out of college. It's because of this experience that I strive to be a part of all of my students' education in and out of my classroom. Part of that is knowing their strengths and weaknesses outside of our classrooms.
Listen, I get it. We are constantly spinning more and more plates as music educators. There's a good chance you think I'm crazy for choosing another plate to spin. It truly does add to my list of responsibilities.
But to me, it's totally worth it. To me, losing a couple hours of unstructured time in my classroom is definitely worth being able to foster better relationships with parents while being more involved in the holistic education of my students.
Because when it all comes down to it, we're educators. We just happen to teach music.
We've all been there: you spend an hour on a lesson and are so excited to finally get to share it with your students. You prepare all of the manipulatives and resources and jump right in with your students. Then the worst happens: the lesson completely flops.
There's nothing quite as unnerving as realizing the lesson you've worked so hard on isn't being received by your students in the way you had expected. It happens, and it stinks. It can be such a nasty blow to our confidence, and we begin to second guess everything.
Unfortunately, this is all just part of the gig. Lessons fail. Sometimes lessons fail for things that have nothing to do with you. In fact, I'd argue that most of the time the reason a lesson flops has nothing to do with you. So how do we learn from these lessons? How do we take it in stride and keep moving forward.
Step One: Pivot
I don't even want to think about the amount of times that I've been in the middle of a lesson and realized I needed to change gears completely. Sometimes our students aren't ready to move on to a new concept, and sometimes they need to move quicker than you had expected. But sometimes you just need to completely pivot.
It can be so intimidating to abandon a lesson that you've spent a good amount of time planning and going "off-script" in your classroom. But sometimes it needs to be done. Don't be afraid to abandon a plan if you're at the point where you don't see it end successfully.
Step Two: Reflect
After the students have left and the dust has settled, take some time to think about why the lesson flopped. Had the students been testing all day? Were they not in the right headspace for what you tried to do? Was it too simple or too difficult? Did you give your students the tools they needed to be successful?
Take some time to think about whether or not anything was wrong with the lesson itself, or maybe it was just a problem in timing. Look at the entire lesson and see what was successful and what could have gone better. Take a look at the sequencing and make sure that you've given your students the tools that they need in order to have been successful with the lesson.
Step Three: Try, Try Again
Don't let a lesson flopping get you down. Regroup and try again. Teaching is a marathon, not a sprint. Each lesson will bring you one step closer to having the perfect lesson. Nobody expects you to have everything perfect from day one. Make sure that you give yourself the grace to try new things and take steps to improve your lessons.
Even veteran teachers will have lessons that flop. Failure is part of the job. It's what we do when something doesn't go perfectly as planned where the art of teaching comes in. Teaching is a job where you have to learn every day. In my opinion, it's the flops that help us become better educators. Its the moments of vulnerability that help us grow.
Across the United States there are music educators that are teaching students with varying levels of exceptional needs. One of the sub-sets within this student population are students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Just as ASD itself lies upon a spectrum, so too does the need for accommodations and supports for students with ASD to have successful musical experiences.
Unfortunately, music educators often find themselves ill-prepared to meet these exceptional needs. I spent my first year outside of the music classroom in various intervention and special education roles. I learned more about teaching students with exceptional needs in that year than I ever thought I could.
Least Restrictive Environment
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that all students be taught in the least restrictive environment, or LRE. The implementation of this requirement often becomes students with exceptional needs attending music class with age-similar typical students. For others it might mean receiving music instruction as a self-contained classroom, while other students may receive a combination of both.
Depending on the severity, students with ASD are often mainstreamed with age peers on the basis of social development. In these cases, music curriculum is modified, and the student is not expected or required to meet the same educational goals as his typical peers.
In cases of social mainstreaming, the argument relies on students receiving valuable social interactions with like-aged peers. However, the reality is that mainstreaming may not be in the most appropriate setting for music education.
Social Mainstreaming and Adapting Instruction
In social mainstreaming, the primary concern is rarely music instruction, but providing opportunities for students to develop their social skills. However, for many students with ASD the musical content being taught to their typical peers may be too advanced for them to fully comprehend and retain.
In this setting, music educators must adapt activities and curriculum in order for students with exceptional needs to progress musically. Music educators must often use creative problem solving in order to apply modifications and accommodations for students.
Mary Adamek describes the following methods of adaptation that music educators can employ in their classrooms:
The way in which we as music educators implement any combination of these adaptation strategies will vary greatly between students, as all students will have differing levels of musical success without any instructional adaptations. Special educators and any related services therapists can help us determine to what level each student may need adaptations in a classroom with typical peers.
Self-Contained Music Instruction
While there is inherent value in allowing students to experience music through what may be their least restrictive social environment, this often comes at the expense of their least restricting musical environment.
Many of the most common practices among primary music educators is teaching by rote. While this is often regarded as a highly effective strategy for teaching typical students, it can hinder students with ASD. Students with ASD respond differently to imitation than their peers who are typical.
Research suggests that students with ASD imitate the actions of others with a different level of understanding and fluidity than their typical peers. This difference in ability to learn through imitation puts students with ASD at a disadvantage in the mainstream music classroom, as children often learn new skills through imitation of those around them. For this reason, imitative behaviors should be encouraged in students with ASD, but music educators need to properly understand the associated difference in language, play, and joint attention.
Students with ASD may not appear to be responding to the music, but this can easily be attributed to the difference in communication. Specifically, students with ASD tend to struggle with Joint Attention, or the ability to share the attention of observing an event or object with another individual.
For example, many students with ASD struggle with making eye contact, or focusing their attention on a specified object. Due to multiple constraints, initiating Joint Attention in a mainstreamed music classroom would be difficult, if at all possible. However, working within a self-contained classroom, music educators can help use music as a medium to encourage bids for Joint Attention in our student with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Why Not Both?
As previously stated, there are valuable aspects of having students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in both the self-contained and mainstreamed classrooms. Having students with ASD included with their typical like-aged peers allows them to develop the kinds of social skills they need to improve through interactions in the music classroom.
However, as stated previously, the goal in social mainstreaming is not for improving musical learning, but to expose students to differing social environments. If music educators were to allow our students with Autism Spectrum Disorder to experience music with their typical peers as well as with other students with ASD, they will be able to make both social and musical growth.
These students will be able to grow towards their social goals while attending music class with their typical peers; while attending in a self-contained environment can allow music educators to focus specifically on the musical goals of these students in a more direct setting.
Music educators should always strive to allow all students to experience music in the way that best serves them individually. A student’s Least Restrictive Environment should always be respected, but the way this looks for each student will vary.
Some students with Autism Spectrum Disorder will be able to progress both socially and musical in a music classroom shared with their typical peers. Contrarily, others will require a smaller setting in a self-contained classroom to increase their musical skills and understanding.
Additionally, these self-contained music classes can also help students with their non-musical goals. Music educators should advocate for their students with ASD to receive appropriate instruction in both their social and musical Least Restrictive Environments.
Bryson Tarbet is the music educator and blogger behind That Music Teacher.