I am so excited for you to hear this conversation with Melissa Stofer. Because let's be honest, the end of the year is this crazy time where we're trying to get everything done and trying to cross our T's dot our I's without pulling our hair out. So how do we do that in a way that allows joy to happen? How do we make sure that we're using the most of our time at the end of the year, but also doing it in a way that understand that the end of the year is kind of different than the rest of the year? So I'm really excited for you to listen to Melissa. This conversation with Melissa because she's just amazing, and I'm super excited to have her back on the podcast, was a staffer is a music teacher in Michigan. She's taught infants through middle school general music elementary and middle school choir as well as a middle school band program which he founded while teaching on a cart. She has a BS in psychology and BME and music education from Central Michigan University and is Coda level three certified. She serves as the president elect of the Michigan Kota educators, the MMC Planning Committee representative for the Michigan Music Educators Association, the mmea Professional Development co chair, the Midwest, one representative for Oak, the APR committee co chair for Oak as well as the oak national conference marketing chair. She's a frequent presenter and the creator and author of Mrs. taufers Music room.com
You're listening to that music podcast with Bryson Tarbet, the curriculum designer and educational consultant behind that music teacher at the elementary music summit each week, Bryson and his guests will dive into the reality of being an elementary music teacher, and how music can truly be transformative in the lives of the students you serve. Show Notes and resources mentioned in this episode can be found at that music teacher.com
This episode is brought to you by that music teacher masterclass series. This month, we're going to have Melissa Stauffer on to talk all things end of the year. How do you make the end of the year purposeful and joyful while also understanding that we're all a little burnout, the kids are a little tired, we're a little tired. So this is gonna be a masterclass, you're not going to want to miss, it's gonna be May 2 at 7pm. Eastern, if you can't join us live, the recording will be available as well. Head on over to that music youtube.com/masterclass to grab your ticket and we hope to see you there. Welcome back to that music podcast. Once again, I have Melissa Stafford to talk about something that is probably top of mind this time of year, which is all about how we can make the most of the year and do it joyfully and all that stuff that we just want to get through at the end of the year, but make it so meaningful. So Melissa, thank you for being back on the podcast.
Oh, I'm super excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
Of course. So I will. First of all, I want to invite anyone that has not listened to Episode 84 of that music podcast where I talked to Melissa all about classroom management. That is an episode you're not gonna want to miss. So feel free to check that out. But for those of us that have not listened to that podcast before, Melissa, can you introduce yourself and give us a little bit of an overview about your background in music ed?
Sure. So um, I am Melissa Stoffer I, I have taught everywhere from infants like I've had a six week old in my class to eighth grade. In the classroom I student taught in high school. So I've had those guys as well. My last job I was teaching preschool through fifth grade general music, elementary choir, middle school choir and to middle school bands, that I found it on a cart with no budget. And the tool cart lady if you remember the tool cart that went viral in spring COVID And I'm codeine certified. And I just love making music.
All right, well, I'm really excited to kind of get into what this interview is really about. But can you tell us a little bit about your the upcoming masterclass that you'll be hosting?
Sure. So this time of year is just it can be awful. I mean, I'm we're gonna just be truthful here. It can be really awful if you, especially if you've kind of run out of curriculum, things to do or if the students have like, super checked out, but you need to keep them on task you still have assessments to do you still have things that you need to get done. Especially that need to get done is really almost worse when you have that. Yeah, you still have to know this before the end of the year. I still need to assess you. Before the end of the year. The kids are like no, I'm done. Can I have a pool to pool day? So I will definitely be talking about, you know, finalizing the year when you do have conceptual learning that you still need to do. We'll be talking about assessment strategies and really, truly maintaining joy which is I The biggest key to everything that we do. I always think that if you are not having fun and the students aren't having fun, like nobody's having fun, something's wrong.
Yeah, and I am so excited for this masterclass, we're so excited to have you, as our guest host. So anyone that would like to join us, please head over to that music teacher.com/masterclass Grab your ticket and join us for the fun. So let's go ahead and dive into today's episode, which is going to be a little bit of a teaser for the masterclass. Can we talk a little bit about what you mean by conceptual learning? Why is it important? And especially why is it important towards the end of the year?
Sure. So conceptual learning by that, I mean, we're not just kind of like doing activities just to pass the time, we're not looking for like the latest thing or, you know, something that we can just kind of pull out that has no real value on their their core learning. Now, I'm not saying that those things are bad things. I mean, they're definitely great supplements, and I think those have a place in the classroom. But the bulk of what we do in our teaching, is actually teaching concepts that the students can hopefully use and know and, you know, put a name to. So when I say conceptual learning, I'm talking about those things that we want them to acquire that really help them be better musicians throughout their lives. Or, you know, if they're kindergarteners, you want them to come back knowing these things next year. If they're a fifth graders, and you're passing them on to middle school, you want them to know these things before they leave you.
i Yes, that's the end of the year is because I always feel like the beginning of the year, I'm like, Oh, wait, these kids should know this. And I'm like, oh, no, I kind of burnt out at the end of last year, we didn't quite get that as well as I would hope to. So can you share some practical tips or examples that you've used of how you would incorporate that towards the end of the year? Especially when it comes to really doing that in court? That conceptual learning?
Sure. So I mean, I think what you really need to do when you think about conceptual learning at the end of the year is you need to think about those things. That, first of all, you need to list what they need to know, if you've not listed every year, what the students need to know. And you should do this in September. But if you haven't, this is a good time to go and say, Hey, what do I want him to know, by the end of the year, list those things and say, okay, they know how to, you know, sing and decode and read law, I really want them to be prepping this, whatever it is, have those things in your mind and know that at the end of the year, if you're still going to be doing concepts, you have to space things out so that you still have things at the end of the year to keep them engaged. And not just kind of like looking for an activity, because if you're kind of trying to give them conceptual learning in May, and all of your best activities have been used up. And all of your good songs have been used up. And you're kind of like, I still need you to know this and you're hunting and pecking. It's not going to be successful for anybody. And I think that that's really the biggest thing about incorporating conceptual learning so late in the years that you need to have it be something that's engaging, and I feel like the two worst times of the year are right before any holiday break any, you know, week off long weekend. And May, those are the worst for student engagement. So you need to give them the things that are going to keep them highly engaged. And that's how you really incorporate conceptual learning all the way through the end of the year.
Yeah, I always find myself like me personally, like I always take a couple days over the summer and like relook at my curriculum, absolutely. What we can do any to make, but then when we get to, you know, spring break, I take another look and I go Alright, where are we actually? Because there's never I've yet to find the perfect solution where I didn't have to adjust. So I think that you bring up a really good point in Alright, even if you have even if you did do it at the beginning of the year know what they want to know. Or you say, Alright, where are they now? Realistically, what can we get done? And then like you said, How are we going to do that in an engaging way so that the kids aren't just going to be feeling like we're shoving curriculum down their throats rather than actually letting them engage with the joyfully
Yes, absolutely. That's, that's the thing. You just need to keep going over it. And not every class is going to be the same. I mean, we all look at you know, 2020 is the, you know, ultimate example of everything and know that those kids didn't finish their conceptual learning that year and we had to adjust and it should be us adjusting our curriculum every year. Like both you and I, I know use a sequence but you know, the sequence holds We work. So if you go with the pace the kids do. And I think that that's important to keep in mind too, you know, with conceptual learning, you don't want to shove it down their throats, like you said, you need to make sure that it is engaging. And, you know, sometimes you make those choices of what I rather have you learn one more concept and or one more thing and notice one more thing, or would I rather you be engaged in really no, these other things instead?
Yeah, I'll be honest, there have been times where you know, where we get to the end of the year, I'm like, Alright, could I potentially do another rhythmic thing? Maybe? But like, are they really going to know it? And are they going to enjoy it? So a lot of times, I'll push it to the next year, I'm like, Alright, I would much rather do it at the beginning of the year, when I know that they're going to really learn it truthfully, and also enjoy it so that we're not just like, bearing down on things at the end of the year, because let's be honest, there's testing and stuff going on. The schedules are all weird. So it can be really hard to juggle all those different pieces.
Yes, absolutely. And, you know, I think the goal for most music teachers is that we, we give them as much as we can, because there's always more that we could give them, I think that's the thing that we need to remember as teachers is it's not just some finite amount of, you know, facts that they need to know. And then they're done with us. There's places for everybody, including, you know, the top performing professionals in the world, everybody can still keep learning keep improving their skills. So it's not the end of the world. If we don't get every single like, check mark done that that's important for us to keep in mind as well.
I agree completely. So can you give us a little bit of a sneak peek into some specific things that you might be sharing during your masterclass about conceptual learning?
Sure. So we're gonna definitely talk about kind of like, activities that you can do to work on conceptual learning, we'll kind of talk about some of like, the favorite things I like to do at the end of the year for different, you know, concepts. Definitely some of my favorite practice games, I think conceptual learning when you're working on, you know, any sort of rhythm or melody concept, practice is such a huge part of it. And some of those really engaging practice games are ways to help that make you make sure that they're still really getting those concepts. And I think we need to remember, it's not just the next one, but it's also making sure that concepts are usable and understood and those things, then we'll talk about some things that are kind of outside of the, you know, core of rhythm and melody to and those, you know, sort of more abstract concepts that we'll we'll talk about as well.
Well, I can't wait to see what you share, I'm a little selfishly waiting, because I'll be honest with this year has been a lot for me, and I'm a little bit more burnout that I feel like I normally am at this time of year. So I definitely need some new things to throw into my toolbox to get me through the year. So let's talk about assessment. I know assessment always gets a bad rap, because just for so many reasons, but especially at the end of the year, how do we you know, what are? Well, let me take a step back. What are some of the challenges that music teachers face? With assessment, especially when it comes to the end of the year? What how does that make it even harder than normal?
Yes. So I think assessment as a whole for music teachers is just kind of like a vague sort of cloud that we walk through to try to like, how do I assess. But when we really step back and think about it, we constantly assess, especially if you are a coda teacher, because we don't move on from preparing a concept until the students are ready. We don't move on from, you know, early practice until the students are ready. So we've assessed them, we might not just not have it, in that sort of traditional assessment, the way that we think. And I think that that sort of mindset is actually our biggest challenge as music teachers, because we're not thinking about assessment. Really, as music teachers, we're thinking about it as this is the assessment that we're supposed to do that we have to write down for the principal because they need it for our records. And it has to be boring and terrible. Like every other, you know, class that we think of, you know, when we were thinking of assessments is us as students.
Yeah, whenever I talk to teachers about assessment, it always comes to the same thing where like, I hate giving tests like, okay, don't don't give tests. We as just musicians and music educators, we are constantly assessing and giving in, you know, informal feedback all the time. Sometimes you'd like you said we have that shift where we don't realize just how important That is just how valid of assessment that is. But also sometimes as teachers, we just don't take it the next step and write it down. And say like, alright, this is, this is now a recorded piece of data rather than just an on the fly assessment that's gonna sit in your brain, which is super valid. But again, it there's a another step that you can take with it. So when what are your sort of, what are some of your favorite strategies and tools for assessing your students, especially when we're all starting to feel a little bit checked out?
Okay, so my two favorite things for assessment is, first of all, and which I know you can't really incorporate at this time of year, so I'm just gonna give you this one for a sneak peek for fall, go and get, I think you can get them at Michael's I've seen them before, you can probably get them on Amazon. I've seen like these classroom borders that sort of look like movie tickets. They're all like multicolored, they're adorable. Cut them up, take an hour, or two hours, however many students you have, and write everybody's name on a ticket, and then go send them through the laminator, get a parent volunteer to cut them out for you. And then you can use those as exit tickets, every single class period if you want. Or however often you want to use them, you've got something that has their name on it, if you get a new student, you just make a new one, really easy. If you want to do it color coded by class, however you want to do it. Or if you're in a school, this could be really lucky for you, if you're in a school, where students use a classroom number like I'm, you know, my, my maiden name was Andrews, I was always number one in the class. So I get to get number one, and you make two sets of them so that you can, you know, do assessments back to back between, you know, classes, and then just dry erase them right away. Or just enough to get you through the day, you don't have to do everybody's name, that might be a faster way for you to do it. But give yourself you know, something that you can easily assess them that you don't have to like, constantly, you know, cut out papers, print things, give, find some method for yourself, that you can do those in the moment assessments much more easily, which I know telling you this at the end of the year is not helpful, but incorporate this for next year. And it'll make everything easier for you doing those assessments next year. My other big assessment strategy is that students love games, and they don't know they're being assessed, which is even better.
I yeah, I love the idea of assessments in games. That's, that's my kind of philosophy too. And what I love about it is the kid, it's funny, the kids were like, at the end of the quarter, like, wow, we, we usually get a choice day at the end of the quarter. And like, yeah, you typically do get to choose the games. Because what it what it really is for me is I know that alright, Johnny wasn't here when we did our singing voice assessment last time. So at one point, during this thing, Johnny, I'm going to make sure Johnny gets a turn on the soloist singing game or something like that, where not only are the kids able to choose the games they want to do, they're able to, you know, just play games all day, but I'm able to get a lot of assessment in that, you know, we need towards the end of the quarter especially and I love doing assessment because just like you said, they don't know they're being assessed, without getting too far on a soapbox, kids, this tea these days are tested so much, and they put so much pressure on themselves. So sometimes when we say Alright, I'm gonna put this in the grade book or like, Hey, this is a great, they, they can really freak out. And that can really hinder their performance on that. So whatever we can do to not necessarily trick them into doing great, but make them not nervous about it is just so much more beneficial and so much more accurate of data we're collecting.
Yes, and absolutely. That's such an amazing point about how much stress there is on assessment and they know that stress is there, which, you know, going back to those exit tickets, that's a perfect way to get them used of having some little written something so that when you actually do want to mark it down in the gradebook, they they're accustomed to that and they know that this is not the end of the world. It's not the biggest deal. It's not going to you know, destroy their your grade and they're gonna you know, have to be grounded because mom said I needed a and all my specials or whatever it is, you know, and if you don't have a great exit ticket for one of your class periods, write down, you know what your exit ticket is, what was your favorite thing we did in class today? It doesn't have to be, you know, some great thing that you're doing, just make it something simple, so that they get used to that little bit of written assessment from you. If you have, especially if you have to do written assessments because of how your school is set up. If you're lucky, and you don't have to do lots of written assessments, then this is maybe not something you need to lean into as much. But, you know, I know we're trending more that way.
Yeah, I really think that I talk a lot about the way that we assess should look like the way that we teach. If we're shifting gears for we're assessing, then our assessment is completely invalid. Because we're, we didn't teach it in a way that allows them to access it that way. We, if we really want to know the core root of are they able to do XYZ, then assess them in the way that they've been experienced? Are you experiencing that concept already?
Yes, absolutely. So true.
So again, I would love a little sneak peek. Do you have any sneak peeks? On what you're going to be covering assessment ways for that during the
Yeah, so I'm actually going to talk, I'm gonna give you guys a bunch of my favorite games to play that you can assess different things with, and we'll kind of go through, like, how you play each one and stuff. So I'm pretty excited about some of these games like, yeah,
all right. Well, I'm excited to see those two. So let's talk about the elephant in the room, or at least what I hope is the elephant in the room is how do we make sure all this and even whether it's the last day of the school year, or if you know, we're a month away? How do we maintain the joy? So I was
thinking a lot about this in preparation for this masterclass and for our interview today. Because I constantly say joy is important. We need to have joy in the music room. So like, what do I really mean by that like, and like I said, at the beginning, I think that joy can really be obvious if I'm not having fun, and the students aren't having fun. Clearly, there's no joy here. Like, if I'm struggling a little bit, and the students are having a ball. And they're behaving, then yeah, there's this is this is working. If I'm having a ton of fun, and I have a bunch of students having a ton of fun, and there's a few that I am I do this, then there's still enough joy in the room, because you're not going to please everybody every time. But really, I think the key to joy in the music room is action verbs. They're active verbs. It's not passive learning. So we're playing, we're moving, we're dancing, we're singing, we're, you know, whatever we're doing, there's an ing at the end of that word. It's not. I'm sitting here listening to the teacher talk. Like they're, that's a passive verb there, they're not doing anything active. And I think that that active, you know, I'm playing an instrument is the joy. It's those action verbs, I think that really make the difference. And I know sitting is an action verb, but it's a very passive one.
I love that like that. I love that idea of action verbs and thinking of, Oh, that's great. You just like opened my mind right there. I love that. So if you could pick one of your top favorite activities, games, whatever, what that you kind of keep towards the end of the year? Maybe? What would you recommend for anyone who's listening? And that is like, Alright, what do I do now? Okay, so
it's kind of like a bring back to the best of? Well, I think that that's fun. Like, okay, we're still we're having a struggle day, I still want you to work on a concept. Maybe it's a concept that we worked on earlier in this year. So I want you to think about all the best things that we did this year. Was it something we created? Was it something that we, you know, we were dancing, was it a game we played, you know, and you can give them lots of examples, go through your lesson plans, and say, Hey, we did this, and this, and this, and this, and this. And this, like, don't like just kind of leave it up to chance for like that one game that, you know, they'll love. You know, give them examples of what you've done and say, these are some of the things, let's talk about the best of the stuff that we did this year. So I want you to pick a couple of these best of things. And we're gonna do them next week. And you can drive home those concepts that you've talked about through the year, make sure that they're still tracking, if you want to get an assessment on those, that time, you can do that as well. And then on top of it, they're giving you feedback for next year that yeah, this activity was amazing. And you need to do it again. And you know, you suggest some activity that you thought was a hit and they're all like, oh, no, not that you'll be like, Oh, okay, I'll mark that down as maybe it wasn't as popular as I thought. So you're getting a ton out of it if you let them have that say, besides the fact that I think giving them a say is also something that'll give them joy,
for sure. And I what I love about get asking like what their favorites are sometimes they'll say something and I'm like, Oh, I totally forgot we did that. Like, clearly that's stuck with you. I haven't even stuck with me so yeah, okay, let's do that. It's like it kind of wasn't it like, Alright, that was really clicked, we need to make sure we do that. And again next year, what I love about elementary music is the joy. But the end of the year, sometimes that joy can feel a little monotonous and it can feel a little bit forced. So I love the idea of getting their input and say, Alright, what do you think? Would the neck be the next step? And I think that is a great way to keep that conceptual learning and keep that engagement up, allow for assessment and just allow for the understanding of what the reality of the end of the school year is. Yes. All right. So can you remind that anyone listening of what basically, if you come to the masterclass, what are they going to get out of it? What's kind of the big takeaway that you hope people get from it?
Sure. So I think I really hope that if you come, what you really leave, is feeling a little more in control of the end of the year, and not like you need to kind of pander to the easiest solution for keeping them on task. I think that that's, you know, really, I think the biggest key of what I want you to get out of this, I want you to feel empowered to be able to continue conceptual learning, to give them assessments that seem authentic, and you know, not terrible, no Scantrons. And feel like there's joy in the things you're doing in May instead of slugging to the end going, Oh, my gosh, I can't believe I survived. They ate me alive. Which I mean, I've definitely been there before. So I think that those are the things I really want you to get out of this. You know, and hopefully, I'll give you some practical tips, some, some activities, some songs, some games, things that you can go and take to to make that happen.
Love that. And I'm going to throw a little on the spot. But is there anything that you that I didn't ask you that you wish I would have asked you. And then you also share how anyone listening can reach out to you if they want to connect?
Sure, absolutely. So I don't think there's anything big that you didn't ask me. I did kind of save a few of my like, big tricks about keeping kids engaged. So we won't talk about those unless you come to the master class. If you do have anything, especially before the master class, if you want to ask me to include you can absolutely send me an email at Mrs. stuffers, music [email protected] Or go to Mrs. stuffers, music room.com and send a little note in the sidebar over there and I will try to make sure that I include that for the masterclass. All right, Melissa.
Well, we thank you so much for chatting with me today and I cannot wait for this masterclass. Again, anyone listening you can sign up at that music.com/masterclass We'll be sure to put the link in the bio or in the show notes as well. Melissa, thank you so much.
Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.