Saturday, July 29, 2017

How Can I "Write the Room" in Music class?

I have longed to do some of the activities that classroom teachers do. Because there are so many classroom blogs, I seem to see their activities more often. I get excited and then deflated when I realize I really can't do that activity with my 1300 students that I see only once every 6 or 7 days.

However this past year I decided I would challenge myself (and my students) to "Write the Room". It was a GREAT success and here's how I did it!

Materials: clipboards, sharpened pencils, paper, posters all over the room to get info from

Presentation: I showed this slide in my daily Smart notebook file

When I give directions, I have them written on the board, I say them aloud and then I ask the students to repeat the directions to a neighbor. This seems to help visual learners, auditory learners and social learners.

Then... I let them go! The info they were looking for was on the walls. I used the Beatles MITS- each member's poster set was on a different wall. Their mission was to write down 2-3 pieces of information in each square of the paper. Each square was labeled with a Beatle member's name.

Some of my SpEd kids needed to write less and/or a partner to lend a hand, some of my gifted kids wrote more (their choice). I loved being able to sit back and watch them gather information ("Ringo is allergic to pizza??") 

I look forward to doing this again. I believe I would stick with members of a band to give a sense on cohesiveness but it might be fun to choose a STYLE of music and use 4-5 musicians from that genre, ie. Rock 'n Roll, Cool Jazz etc.

Now for the FREEBIE! Last week I mentioned that I had a freebie pertaining to a product I was working on. Tada! 
Click on this link or this picture
and you will receive a complete FREE MITS set of  Emma Bunton "Baby Spice" from the Spice Girls, that attention grabbing girl band from the 90's.

And if you think it would be fun to "write the room", I just released the entire set of the Spice Girls - all 5 members and a whole group set. Get it here @ TeacherPayTeachers

Sunday, July 23, 2017

How to Use SQUILT to teach Music History

SQUILT: Super Quiet Un-Interrupted Listening Time

How I use it - Before doing any listening, we talk about what polite listening looks like: silent mouths, silent bodies, distraction free behavior. We talk about how to resist the urge to laugh or giggle: closing eyes, staring at the floor, focus on relaxing the body. Then we practice the desired behavior - first without music to get a sense of how it feels in the body. Then...we add the music.

The first few times we do SQUILT, the music selections are VERY short - 10-15 seconds. The brief selection allows the students to practice the new skills and not become overwhelmed. After a few opportunities to participate in SQUILT, they are learning to listen to what they are hearing.

Following the selection, we discuss what we heard. When introducing this activity, I choose music that is tied to elements of music (ie. dynamics, tempo, timbre, etc). The kids can easily comment about what they heard. Judging how well the class is doing over time, I increase the length of the music (max. 1-1/2 to 2 minutes) and ask for more responses about what they heard.

Once we have experienced SQUILT for a while, then we move from identifying / discussing elements of music to composers
and their music. We still share our thoughts about the pieces using the music vocabulary, we just add the history into the mix.

Now I have been using this fun activity for years. It is a great way to incorporate different styles, instruments and musical periods as well as the previously mentioned vocabulary. But... once I incorporated more pop/jazz musicians into the mix, this activity took on a life of its own.

My students absolutely LOVE this part of the class. I schedule this activity at the end of each music class and if, for some reason, we run out of time and do not get to it, I HEAR ABOUT IT! We focus on one musician a month (Musician in the Spotlight)
and spend about 10 minutes during the first class introducing him/her and then 5-7 minutes in the rest of the month's classes listening and ENJOYING the music. We listen to ALL kinds of styles and make connections between them. We discover the similarities of diverse musicians and the differences between those within the same genre.

Music History can be dry at times and it can be difficult to get your kids to see how this "old" stuff relates to them. Mixing in jazz, pop and country artists with composers from 200 years ago might be just the trick to get your students engaged.

FREEBIE ALERT!! Next week's blog will include a free set of one of the members in my latest MITS bundle. I have been working on a 90"s band whose battle cry was "Girl Power"! Can you guess who they are?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

How a Routine can Save your Sanity

After 15 years in the Music Room, I thought "I've got this!" Yes my urban school had definitely evolved into a different place - kids were tougher, teachers were more stressed, high stakes testing was in place. But hey, I was still happy in my little classroom. Until it hit...

That year I had significant groups of students who just seemed to test me ALL THE TIME! The lessons that I had planned for them were constantly interrupted and I felt like I was losing control of some of my classes. I dreaded them!! And of course so did the P.E. teachers, art teacher and even their classroom teachers!

I managed to get through 2 more years like that. I would worry all summer about the behavior of certain kids and how I was going to handle them. It was haunting me and basically I was burning out.

So by February recess one year, I was at my breaking point. With a really tough schedule and some challenging kids, I'll be honest - I wasn't sure how long I was going to be able to force myself to go into school. was bad. BUT...I was determined to WIN this "battle". I re-read Harry Wong's " The First Days of School" and decided that it was time for some SERIOUS structure in my classroom. My students needed a new seating configuration, new routines and a no-nonsense teacher. They got it.

Fast forward to now. I essentially have kept the same routines from that year - tweaking here and there. I've added elements from "Teach Like a Champion" and but the ROUTINE is in tact.

So here it is...

     (I greet everyone of my students as they walk in to my room - a hand shake, a fist bump or a hug)
Brain Hook-Up
     (In order to get the class focused within my room, we start with a few seconds of that - link to video)
Rhythmic Reading
SQUILT / Musician in the Spotlight
     (Super Quiet Un-Interrupted Listening Time)
Earned Game Time
     (based on WBT scoreboard strategies)

This super structure allows the kids to be less stressed and more in control of themselves by making it predictable. A poster with each step is posted in the front of the room. The students are also leaders in most of the steps (see my previous post). And saved my career.

Sunday, July 9, 2017


I have used student jobs for over a decade now. I decided to create them in order to give my students some ownership of the Music class thereby hoping to have the kids more invested in my class. worked!

I will tell you up front that initially this is an investment of time on the teacher's part. Because special area teachers rotate through TONS of classes, selecting students to fill the jobs can take a bit of time.

In my room, every class has a brain hook-up leader who begins each class. After that the computer operator goes to the laptop and scrolls through a powerpoint of the lyrics of the day's song along with the iPod person who starts and stops the song.(At least I'm no longer using cd's.) Next the rhythm master leads the students in clapping a written rhythm on the smartboard screen. As you can see, the kids have many leadership roles.

Choosing jobs can take a long time if you choose the kids themselves based on cooperation, good behavior, etc. I have done that. I have also pulled sticks out of the can (popsicle sticks with chair numbers on them) and let fate decide. Sometimes that makes me very nervous but I have found that kids really step up and generally do a better job than I expected. Win-win!

How many jobs you choose is of course up to you. I try to involve as many kids as possible so if I can, I have a job for everyone. That doesn't always work though. Currently I have up to 30 students per class so my solution is to switch jobs at the end of the quarter or semester. That way EVERYONE has a job sometime during the year.

Here is the template that I use. Yes, I update it all the time - adding jobs that I think would work well and taking off ones that don't get used much.

job template (word)      or      job template (PDF)

Do your students have jobs within your classroom? How you decide who gets which job?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Recorder Belts + a new FREEBIE!

My students are CRAZY for recorders! And earning those yarn belts!

This was the second year that I used "the belt" method and the kids were even more motivated than last year! Whole Brain Teaching says competition can promote better focus and achievement. I avoided competition in all my previous years. Why? Because I wanted kids to succeed at their own pace and not become intimidated by the goals of others. Not a bad way to think but I never saw the kind of excitement that my students have now playing for those little pieces of yarn.

I use the "Rainbow Belts" and you can read about it in my blog post, Beginning Recorders on E. This year I posted everyone's progress by class. This allowed me to include students who had lost or did not own a recorder to participate. I was surprised that kids actually began buying/replacing lost recorders, just to get that sweet little piece of yarn on the instrument.

Using this tracking strategy also helped ME remember who had accomplished which level, who I could choose to coach another student and where each class needed to focus their attention.

I added another PDF to my growing bundle of songs for these Rainbow Belts. I use them on my Smartboard so everyone can see them. Go ahead and snatch them up for ...FREE!

Do you use recorder belts? Some of my students have run out of space for more belts on their recorder. Have you experienced this? What did YOU do?
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