Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Spotlight on CHICK WEBB

Before last month, I had never covered Chick Webb in my class. I had heard of him but

I really didn't know who he was or his contribution to the world of jazz. I was searching for a read aloud and found "Stompin' at the Savoy" by Moira Rose Donohue read by Literally Cultured. It is a great story about Chick with eye-catching illustrations. It talks about Chick's childhood, how he got his nickname and his disability. Then the book goes into
band battles which were very popular at the time.

As I was searching for more background info, I stumbled upon a brief documentary about the band battle featured in the book. (I didn't share this video with my elementary students but it gave me more history so I could accurately explain the details to my students.) Band battles were common in jazz clubs and people loved them. 

This event occurred at the Savoy Ballroom in 
Harlem - a battle between Benny Goodman's band and Chick Webb's band. Webb was used to winning these battles and this competition came about because Duke Ellington's band had recently won a battle against Chick's band. Chick's ego was bruised so he set up a battle with Benny Goodman's band which featured drummer Gene Krupa. Ok... enough name dropping.

So I taught the lesson like this:

*we listened to the book "Stompin' at the Savoy"

 *we measured 4'1" (Chick's height) on the wall and got a sense of his size

* I presented the slides on Chick Webb and talked about what we had learned in the book.

This is a FREE resource found here.

*we listened to Chick's band playing the title song, Stompin' at the Savoy. (approximately 1 - 2 minutes worth)

*we made connections between Chick and Ella Fitzgerald (a  Musician in the Spotlight from earlier in the year). When Chick died, Ella took over the band.

 *then we explored the drum set as the Instrument of the Week and watched Michael Jackson's drummer play a minute or two of Beat It. Kids love hearing familiar pop songs.

*we finished up with a clip of the last competition in the movie Drumline. Although there is inappropriate language in the actual film, this clip is totally school cool.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me. Hang in there! We're all in this together!



Wednesday, April 28, 2021

How to Keep Students Engaged During a Pandemic

Last week we continued with April is Jazz month! The kids are enjoying this music so much! Here's what we did... 

Would You Rather (our SEL section of the class): The week's question was Would You Rather spend a day planting vegetables in your garden or spend the day hiking in the woods? There was plenty of discussion about animals in the woods and how much back pain you would have after planting. Some students avoided the question all together by going into the woods, creating a shelter and playing video games. I wasn't quite sure that the answers were rooted in reality but I definitely got many answers that stretched the imagination.

Group Greeting: This month we continue greeting each other in Chinese, with "Ni Hau" and a hand wave.

Brain Hook-Up:
 More and more students are ready and in position before I even mention "brain hook-up". Love that!

Songs for Humming:  I choose students initially by pulling sticks from a cup. The sticks are "popsicle sticks" with numbers that match the numbers on the chairs. I keep track of the students who are chosen and before I choose those kids again, everyone else has to have had a turn choosing a song. The 2 students chose 1 song each from a group I selected from MusicK-8. This month's songs are Play That Music, Jazz, Jazz Is On It's Way, The Blues and All Jazzed Up.

Rhythmic Reading: we reviewed that notes are measured by beats not seconds. We double checked the length of each note in the sight reading example and then performed it on the chairs or using body percussion (snap, clap pat legs, stamp feet).

Body Percussion:
 Thank goodness for the talented people who post body percussion videos set to pop music. My students love them and I wouldn't know where to begin to create one. We grooved out to Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" which was also used in the film "The Secret Life of Pets"

We switched the order of the lesson around a little because it made more sense this way. The Instrument of the Week was the bassoon. The two video clips we watched were Dance Monkey and Game of Thrones. When I show these videos, I do not show the entire 2-3 minute video. We watch about 30-45 seconds of each. I post the links to the entire video on Canvas LMS which is the program our district uses instead of Google Classroom, etc. The kids who want to see the whole thing can watch at their leisure.

The Read Aloud was Mister and Lady Day, Billie Holiday and the Dog that loved her. Our town LOVES dogs - they bring them to every event - even to restaurants. So the kids were totally into this book.

So of course our MITS (Musician in the Spotlight) was Billie Holiday. We watched the first minute or so of God Bless the Child.

Savage Love (clean version) by Walk Off the Earth (one of our favorites groups!) was the Bonus Video . 

I hope you found some ideas that you can use in your lessons. If you have any questions, please reach out to me. We are all in this together.

Hang in there, Ellen

Sunday, April 18, 2021

April is JAZZ Month

When I told my students that April is Jazz Month  - they cheered!! Gotta love that, right?
Last week, I taught a lesson about Charlie Parker and the saxophone and we all loved it! Here's how I broke it down...

Would You Rather (our SEL section of the class): catch a frog and enter it into a frog jumping contest OR make a kite and enter a kite-flying contest? LOTS of discussion here from loving frogs to finding them disgusting and more than I wanted to know. So much fun! I laugh ALOT!

Group Greeting: This month we are greeting each other in Chinese, "Ni Hau". The kids get a kick out these greetings and often greet me with one when I see them in the hallways.

Brain Hook-Up: to settle us down for the lesson. This is referred to in my post of  Teaching in a Pandemic part 1.

Songs for Humming: The kids chose 2 songs from a group I selected from MusicK-8. You already know I love that resource. The songs for this month are Play That Music, Jazz, Jazz Is On It's Way, The Blues and All Jazzed Up.

Rhythmic Reading: we reviewed that notes are measured by beats not seconds. We double checked the length of each note in the sight reading example and then performed it on the chairs or using body percussion (snap, clap pat legs, stamp feet).

Body Percussion: Because the lyrics in Sir Duke references jazz greats, I chose this Stevie Wonder youtube clip.

Read Aloud: Charlie Parker Played Bebop by Chris Rascha. I used this youtube clip.

This leads to a 

MITS (Musician in the Spotlight) discussion about Charlie Parker and Bebop. I played about 1 minute of this Charlie Parker clip. We had previously discussed George Gershwin and his Opera Porgy & Bess. This was a nice connection to make even though it wasn't bebop.

The Instrument of the Week was of course, the saxophone. We listened to this clip of Ed Sheeran's cover, The Shape of You. Throughout the video, there are alto, tenor, baritone and bass saxophones featured. Very cool! And if there was time, we watched the saxophone version of  This Is Me from the The Greatest Showman.

And finally the beloved Bonus Video High Hopes: Behind the Scenes

And that's a rap for the beginning of April. If you have any questions, please reach out to me. We are all in this together.

Hang in there, Ellen

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 another 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

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