Sunday, April 11, 2021

Classroom Management during a Pandemic

 "Ugg! Classroom management....again?!" "Why can't I just teach?!"  "I spend hours creating great lessons! Why don't my students appreciate my hard work?" "Why can't they just behave??!!"

These are just a few of the comments that I have heard or even thought throughout my career. The truth is the kids are kids. They delight in getting away with something. They want to appear "cool" to their peers. Some of them may even be thinking about their rough start to the day or a situation at home. And honestly, some kids don't really care about music. <so sad>

So before you can teach anything, you have to have their attention. Thus classroom management. YOU need to get and keep their interest in your lesson.

As I have mentioned in my most recent posts, my students and I are spaced 6 feet apart so some of my usual management strategies have been adjusted. One of my go-to strategies is proximity - moving closer to students who need help with paying attention or need redirection. Having the teacher stand next to you can be highly motivating for students who are chatting with neighbors or playing with a toy. Now in my current classroom, having the kids spread 6 feet apart has helped a lot with side conversations. Still there are some situations where I do leave my chair in the front of the room and just walk over the inattentive students - usually for less than a minute - and that is within the guidelines of my school district. I continue the lesson without directing the rest of the class's attention on the misguided students. Their eyes are just following me as I move within the room.

If subtlety doesn't work, I will wait until a time when the class is not relying on me to directly deliver the instruction - during a video clip for example - and walk over to the inattentive students and quietly ask them to stop whatever is taking them away from the lesson. This is done discreetly so that the other classmates are not aware of it taking place. You've spared the distracted students their image by not bringing it up in front of their peers and most times, this does the trick.

However there are times when neither of these strategies work. In that case I stop the lesson and ask the offending students to meet with me away from the rest of the kids - out in the hallway but leave the door open or in your office (if you have one) or even up to your place in the classroom. Keep your voice low and calm. Ask if there is anything you can help them with. Comment on the unacceptable behavior that you see and be clear about your expectations. This is also the time where you want to add some accountability. If your school uses schoolwide consequences for poor actions, this is a good time to remind the offenders of those consequences and if the behavior continues, you will assign one. Then everyone goes back to their seats and the lesson continues without any further attention being brought to the disruption.

There are 2 important parts here.

1) Be respectful to the students whether they are respectful or not. Do not get emotionally involved - keep your cool. Speak in a calm but firm voice. 

2) If you say you are going to do something, you must follow through and do it. This is your credibility on the line. Kids will totally respect you if you keep your word.

Establishing clear class rules are essential for maintaining order in your classroom. I will discuss that more in the next blog.

I hope you found this helpful. If you have any questions, please reach out to me. We're all in this together.

Hang in there! Ellen 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Teaching Music in a Pandemic part 3

 Hey There!

So here is the final installment of my face-to-face music lessons during this pandemic. If you haven’t read the previous 2 blog posts, please go back and check them out. They will explain the first 6 sections of the lesson. Now I will talk about the last 3 parts: the Instrument of the Week, the Musician in the Spotlight and the Bonus Video.

The Last 3 parts

For the Instrument of the Week, we cover a new one each week. Prior, I mapped out all the instruments that I wanted to cover. Then I searched for 2 videos of people performing on each instrument. I tried to find a variety of music but the kids definitely respond to current songs that they recognize. For example, I showed my students this YouTube video for the flute . This young woman has a beautiful tone and the kids really like to hear the song.

The Musician in the Spotlight is near and dear to my heart. Kids are so interested in learning about musicians and their music. We use my products and I insert the pics into my presentation. The kids see the faces of the artists, read about some important facts, identify the genre or style of the music and listen to a song. We study the same musician for a month – revisiting the facts and listening to different songs.

Finally, we watch a BONUS video!

This can be a great management tool to motivate the kids to settle down and get through the lesson so there is time for this highly anticipated video. Sometimes it’s a video by the quirky group called Walk Off the Earth. Mixing a classical piece with a pop song is a specialty of The Piano Guys. The Melodica Men and Line Rider are always hits as well. This ends the music lesson on a happy note.

I hope you found this series of blog posts helpful. Even adding a few of these ideas into your lesson can relieve the stress of planning/teaching during these difficult times. If you have any questions, please reach out to me. We’re all in this together.


Hang in there! Ellen

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Teaching Music in a Pandemic part 2


Welcome back!

In my last post, I shared the way I am teaching music during a pandemic. I handled the limitations that I was given by going OLD SCHOOL. Everything we do is shown via my promethean board. I describe my lessons like this:

1.   “Would you rather…” group discussion ending in a vote

2.   Group Greeting followed by a brief “brain hookup”

3.   Songs for Humming – we can’t sing but we can hum

4.   Rhythmic reading

5.   Body percussion

6.   Read aloud book

7.   Instrument of the Week

8.   Musician in the Spotlight

9.   A fun “bonus video”

In this post, I will continue with parts 4, 5 & 6.

The 2nd 3 parts

Rhythmic reading has been a part of my teaching for a really LONG time. When I came to my new school several years ago, the kids “convinced” me that they did not use the common rhythmic syllables that you and I would be familiar with. They informed me that a quarter note was called “coke” and 2 eighth notes were “pepsi”. I went along. Over time we have changed rhythm words to holiday words or sports words but we generally come back to these.


For the 1st few weeks, each grade reviews the rhythms from the previous year. Then I introduce a new note and we generally stick with rhythms including the previous notes and the new one for the year. Sometimes when I sense the kids are in need of new material, I will introduce the next note. After spending a year with a specific rhythmic pattern, students really master it. So these are the rhythms that we focus on:

We read 8 measures in each music class. I change the 8 measures about once a month. We used to play them on hand percussion and recorders but now we use clapping, snapping, patting, tapping and even playing our chairs like a drum.

After rhythmic reading, we do Body Percussion. At first I used Jim Solomon’s Body Rondo book. Then we moved on to youtube videos that people have created using pop songs and body percussion graphics. The kids really like these. One example is Try Everything by Shakira created by Brian Itzkowitz. These videos get the kids moving (even if only in their chairs) and listening to pop music is always a hit!

At this point, they have performed rhythm and done some body percussion movements. Hopefully the wiggles are out and they can sit still for a few minutes. Now we do a read aloud book. Because I felt like the Promethean screen gives the kids a MUCH better view of the illustrations, we watch that instead of me holding a book in front of the class. Sometimes I read a book as I show a Kindle version or Epic version on the board. And most times, I think it’s nice to hear some other person’s voice reading instead of me. Sometimes I ask the kids if they would like to read a page aloud. You can find A LOT of people reading stories on youtube. I’ve combed through MANY videos to get the ones I think are just right for my students.

Hopefully, this has given you some ideas for your own lessons. In my next post I will cover the last 3 parts of the lesson: instrument of the week, Musician in the Spotlight and long awaited Bonus Video. If you have any questions, please reach out to me. We’re all in this together.

Hang in there! Ellen


Saturday, March 13, 2021

Teaching Music in a Pandemic part 1

The Problem

In March 2020, my school went virtual. I was in a panic, just like every other teacher. I had no idea how I was going to teach and what was expected of me.

My school re-opened in September 2020 for both virtual classes and face-to-face classes. After a week on a cart, I set up my room in a new design to keep my students safe during this time.

My 24 chairs are spread out 6 feet apart so I don't need plexiglass (truly grateful for that). I stay at the front of the room usually sitting. This was awkward at first because I use proximity as part of my management system. But I was learning that this was a totally different world (and way of teaching) so I needed to embrace it.

In my district, we wear masks all the time. We are not allowed to sing. We cannot share materials – so no drums, hand percussion, recorders or xylophones. We must stay 6 feet apart so there’s no folk dancing or movement with partners. All those things were the meat of my music program.

The Plan

What did I do? I went old school. I had already incorporated music history and rhythmic reading into my lessons so that’s where I started. That evolved into full 45 minute lessons. Here’s what they look like.

1.    “Would you rather…” group discussion ending in a vote

2.   Group Greeting followed by a brief “brain hookup”

3.   Songs for Humming – we can’t sing but we can hum

4.   Rhythmic reading

5.   Body percussion

6.   Read aloud book

7.   Instrument of the Week

8.   Musician in the Spotlight

9.   A fun “bonus video”

So this post doesn’t drag on, let me expand on the first three in this post and the others in future posts.

The 1st 3 parts

Using my Promethean Board, I have a slide presentation on the screen and the 1st slide already showing as the kids walk into the room. It reads “Would you rather…?” I started by using Rachel Lynette’s freebies and branched off from there. This is a great way to connect with my students. I love how this gets so many students engaged and I get to see a different side of some of them.

During our teacher meetings that occurred before the kids came back, we were told that the district wanted us to do more SEL (Social Emotional Learning) with our students. I feel beginning my lessons with kids sharing opinions and feelings is fulfilling this.

After discussion and voting on the question, we greet each other with “hello” in a different language. Before Covid, I used give my kids fist bumps when they came into the room. This is my substitute for that. So far we have used greetings for France, Spain, India, Germany and Africa. Many students get excited when they already know a language or a greeting.

We follow up with a few breaths while our bodies are in the brain hook-up position. (Here’s a very quick clip of what that looks like. brain hook-up ) I explain to the kids that this gets both parts of our brain laser focused on one thing AND relaxes us. This is a great strategy to use when someone gets nervous right before a big test. We definitely need some chilling out after the excitement of the Would You Rather question and this does the trick.

The next part of our lesson used to be singing BUT as I mentioned before, we are not allowed to sing. So… we hum along to songs. Most of my songs come from Music K-8 magazine. I’ve created powerpoints that show the lyrics of the songs while we’re humming. We usually have 2 songs per class. (Music K-8 magazine/ is a huge resource for me. They even include powerpoints now.)

Hopefully, this has given you some ideas for your own lessons. In my next post I will cover the next 3 parts of the lesson: rhythmic reading, body percussion and a read aloud book. If you have any questions, please reach out to me. We’re all in this together.

Hang in there! Ellen

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Recorders everyday!

Many music teachers teach recorders as a unit during the year and review that material the following year. I tried that. I found that my students did not retain much from year to year without practice. Gee, I can barely remember how to input grades in the latest version of Powerschool from semester to semester.

So how could I get my kids to retain more skills?

Teaching recorders on and off throughout the year seemed like a good idea but when I tried that idea, my lessons were kind of hit and miss. Sometimes my students would remember their recorders, sometimes not. And the progress was not where I wanted it to be.

I noticed that my students are required to wear sneakers on P.E. days, bring a pencil to Art and headphones to Computer. They are used to bringing items to Special Area classes. I wanted to capitalize on this idea and have the kids bring their recorders to every Music class.

For years we have done rhythmic reading during each class. The kids clapped, stomped and created body percussion sounds to practice reading rhythms.

Now we play the weekly rhythm on the recorder. So they are touching that instrument every class. I started with the easy notes (I teach recorder beginning with E) and eventually challenged the kids to play more difficult pitches.

Sometimes, I have a different note on each line of rhythm (4 lines of rhythm).

Sometimes we create harmony with 2-3 different pitches.

This has become an amazing confidence booster for my students. Consistently playing the recorder each week has helped them remember fingerings and allows them to focus on technique. (My kids do not like tonguing!)

Now if a student does not bring his/her recorder, s/he stills play an instrument. We have a bucket of recorders to borrow. What I have found is that more and more students are purchasing their own recorder. I think this weekly practice is contributing to that. WIN!

Any questions or comments? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Honking! Ellen

Don't miss this week's Musician in the Spotlight
 ...   Katy Perry 

and ...Ed Sheeran

Be the first person to leave a comment below and I will send them to you for free! 

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

How to Keep Kids Motivated to Play Recorders

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about teaching recorders by starting on E. It totally changed my beginning recorder program and truly made a difference in the tone of my beginning students. Two years later, I am still sold!

 My students cannot get enough of these squeaky little instruments. I am asked DAILY "when are we gonna play for belts?" It took me a while to figure out how to carve out time for individual testing for new belts BUT... this is my current strategy.

On the first week of the month, I set aside MOST of the class time to work on belt songs. I pair students up according to what song they are working on. For the kids who are several belts behind most of the class, they get to choose another student who has mastered a few more belts than they have and get "tutored"! THEY LOVE THIS - both parties, the tutor and the "tutee"!

All the kids are playing at once or taking turns with their partner. Yes! it is quite a cacophony BUT the kids are SO motivated to practice! When a student feels prepared to play for a belt, s/he walks up to me to perform. I usually have a waiting line. In addition to listening, I am always scanning the room to ensure that everyone is on task!

I LOVE the motivation this first week of the month generates and I want to keep it going. So I open my room up twice a week for a half hour before school to let individuals play for belts too.

How do you work recorders into your curriculum? I'd love to hear!

Happy Honking! Ellen

Don't miss this week's Musician in the Spotlight
 ...   Men and Women of American Idol

Be the first person to leave a comment below and I will send them to you for free! 

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

How to survive interruptions to your plans

Half days. Early dismissal days. Teacher work days. Even assemblies. If you are on a weekly schedule (in other words, you meet with the same classes on the same day of the week), this can really throw off your attempt to keep all your classes on the same page.
After a couple of these days, you probably want to throw up your hands in frustration!

Relax! It's all good!

First of all, take a deep breath and remind love this job! You chose it because you love working with kids, you love music, you want to share your love of your subject with your students, perhaps even inspire them. So...with your attitude realigned, let's talk about what is truly important and what you can let go of.

Adapt your lessons. If all your 5th grade classes learned "casting off" with Alabama Gal but 2 classes missed it, YOU get to decide what was important about the lesson and what could be dropped out. If you dance alot in music class and the 5th graders will be learning more dances incorporating "casting off", then that dance step is probably not one to skip.
So as you review last weeks' lesson with all the kids that learned "casting off" last week (kids LOVE repetition but change it up a little), teach Alabama Gal to the kids that missed it. And then like Elsa, LET IT GO!

If you try to cram all of the material you covered in 2 lessons with the majority of the classes into 1 lesson with the kids you missed, you will stress yourself out and the joy of the material will not reach your students. And isn't that the point?

We have the loveliest job! To teach kids how to connect to the beauty of music. Obviously music means a great deal to you or you wouldn't be in this business.
Don't forget WHY you are here!

To make a difference! This is all about ATTITUDE here!

On the surface, you may feel like you are just a break for classroom teachers. They may not realize that you actually have plans and standards that you are planning to teach. But quite honestly, we are ALL in our own little microcosms. Classroom teachers are focused on their plans and standards just like we are. Sometimes you meet some classroom teachers who "get it". They understand that we are actually teaching content. CHERISH THEM!

For the others who cannot see beyond themselves, be kind. People cannot understand what they have not experienced. Be patient with adults as well as kids. Again your attitude says so much about who you are.
And how people will accept your music program.

You can't do everything! Do what you can and remember to make it musical and joyful. That is what the kids will remember!

Hang in there! Ellen

Don't miss this week's Musician in the Spotlight
 ... the very sassy  Mariah Carey

Be the first person to leave a comment below and I will send it to you for free! 

Visit my store at
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