Sunday, October 30, 2016

Building Rapport - The Boy with a Chip on his Shoulder

Most teachers have had a student who comes to class already angry, seemingly at the teacher and his classmates, and no matter how hard we try, this student will not talk to us about it. Maybe he talks back to the teacher, refuses to do his work, or seems not to care about any consequences he might face for his behavior. It breaks our heart when this happens. We want to reach him and help him realize he is safe here. We want him to know he is loved and cherished and valuable. We also need to teach him. As a music teacher, we only see this student for an hour a week (or less). How do we build a rapport with him so he will trust us while also teaching the lesson? That is the struggle. 

I teach my kids from kindergarten up through fourth grade, so if they come when they're little, it seems pretty easy to build a rapport with them. I'm a naturally light-hearted teacher who enjoys playing silly games while I teach, and I give lots of hugs and listen to lots of stories, so the little ones love me pretty easily. We build a history together. As they get older, I can remind them about fun things we did together - musicals, Christmas caroling, kindergarten graduation, fun games, campfire songs, etc. This multi-year history is so important in building a rapport with students you don't see every day.

But when I get a new student in third or fourth grade, we don't have that history. With most students, this missing history isn't a big problem. I talk to them a little in class to get to know them, and I try to talk to them in the hall whenever I see them. That is enough for most kids to relax and enjoy music class in the upper elementary grades.

However, for the boy with a chip on his shoulder, this is not enough. He doesn't have the years of experience that tell him I don't get angry, I don't yell, I don't embarrass students. His reaction when he comes to my class is to smirk at every instruction, talk back after any correction, and try to collect followers who will join him in the smirking and talking back. I have realized that this student is going to need to build a history with me quickly in order to relax. 

So here is my idea to help build a rapport with this student: I need to spend time with him in an environment that he sees as non-threatening. Music class is not that place yet, so I was thinking lunch time. What if I held a "Get to Know You Lunch" for all the new fourth graders and the specialist teachers (P.E., Art, Science, Library, Music)? It could be once a quarter, once a month, or even once a week if it was necessary to build the rapport quickly. Since students love eating with teachers and seeing their more relaxed side, he would likely see this as a reward. And I'm thinking that, by inviting all new 4th graders, he wouldn't feel singled out for something negative. He would realize he wasn't the only "new kid." He would have a chance to see that all of the specialist teachers are pretty fun, and maybe that would eventually lead to trust. I don't know if this will work, but I'm willing to give it a try. It's not that much extra effort, and if it positively affects my kids, it would definitely be worth it.

Do you have any ideas for building rapport with "the boy with a chip on his shoulder?" Share below! I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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Beethoven Trivia Game - POWERPOINT VERSION!!!
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ALL-YEAR Lesson Plan Template Bundle - Arkansas Elementary Music
Music Detective Case 1: Case of the Missing Manuscript - POWERPOINT VERSION
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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How I Direct a Musical with Few Volunteers and Keep my Sanity (I Stay on Budget, Too!)

Like many of you, I don’t have many volunteers to help with a musical. I used to create elaborate sets and costumes, almost always by myself or with my mom, and often, I ended up spending my own money. I realized I was working so hard that I couldn’t enjoy the programs, and I had to disappear from my family and friends for a couple months before each musical in order to get everything done. The following is what I do now to make the kids the stars of the show while also being happy myself. It is not a compromise to do it simpler; I genuinely thing it is a better option to think simply. 

If you like my suggestions below, you might like my "Checklist for Organizing a Musical" available on TpT here: 

Costumes: Students wear a common color shirt or outfit from home. I paint their faces (buy face paint! It makes every kid feel special!). I provide hats, animal ears, and other accessories. For example, every kid has a black shirt, and it looks really sharp on stage. At Christmas, I have elves wear red, green, or blue shirts and nice pants, jeans, or a skirt/dress that hits the knees or longer. Reindeer wear brown or black. I splurged on a Santa suit one year and bought a bunch of dollar store white beards that can be changed out every year. Mrs. Claus can wear a dress from home or you can shop Goodwill for red dresses. 

Through the years I have bought one or two nice bulk costume items. This year, I bought cheetah ears and dog hats from Oriental Trading. I’ve also bought bulk antlers and elf hats. With those four purchases and homemade costumes from pompom balls, hot glue, head bands, poster board and pipe cleaners, my kids look professional on stage. You can see the kids instead of just the costumes, which most parents prefer anyway! 

Set: For years, I painted sets using leftover smartboard boxes, butcher paper, or donated items. It took forever, but since the stage was the main focal point, I felt like I had to do it. One year, I decided to put the risers all on the stage (I have 80-100 kids per musical). Suddenly, THEY were the feature on stage. 

Now, I buy backdrops from Oriental Trading for every theme. Look it up! They’re inexpensive and save hours. I then buy or make some items that hang from the curtains at different levels. I make a “color story” to help it work together. My two coworkers and I can have the whole set decorated in less than two hours. We use binder clips and fishing line to hang everything. I just did an “American Idol” type show, and with a gold backdrop, two gold chandeliers and two columns from Oriental Trading (I do my best shopping there, obviously!), a sign I made, and gold tinsel and lights. My show looked glamorous and was so easy to put together!   

Hope this helps you enjoy life during the holidays!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Finding Inspiration Part 2

"Can we hear it again?" Those are the enchanting words every music teacher longs to hear their students ask. This week, I had the joy of hearing that question in EVERY fourth grade class after listening to "We All Need Peace" by Karl Hitzemann (see link below). When I heard that question, I knew I was going to have success this week.

Let me back up a little bit. As I said in my last blog, last week was tough. It was tough enough that I sat back and reconsidered my whole teaching strategy and came to the conclusion that my kids were losing their inspiration in music, that they weren't just inspired by games and learning...they needed the actual music. The kids loved it Monday and Tuesday. Before I played it, I talked about how music is meant to inspire others, comparing this piece to the inspiration I knew my kids had felt after performing the "Star-Spangled Banner" earlier in the year. The calm yet driving piano beat hooked them immediately, and the crescendo to the chorus is truly touching. If you are having a problem inspiring your students, look this up; it might do the trick for you.

Then, Tuesday night I had a dream. In the dream, I was visiting another school and saw a group of kids perform in such an inspiring way that, when I woke up, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I truly believe God gave me this idea. I can't tell you what it is right now, because teachers at my school might read this, and the kids want to keep it a secret. Just trust me...when I told my 4th graders about it, their eyes lit up, and when I played the song for them, a few of them were genuinely moved to tears (YES!). After the performance, I'll let you know what we did and if it was as effective as we hope it will be. I'll just say that between the great song and the dream I shared with them, they are inspired, at least for the moment.

Now for the recorder part of my lesson. You know that first day you hand out recorders, and you wish you had remembered your noise cancelling headphones? That was me this week. But honestly, I enjoy that first time giving them their recorders and letting them play without rules for a minute (I warn the nearby teachers what is happening ahead of time!). I give them time to blow their instrument as hard as they want. Then we have fun seeing if we can play our instruments without our lips touching the mouthpiece. I let them experiment with the different ways to play it, so they don't get in trouble for playing at the wrong time once instruction starts. Then I teach them "chin position," putting the mouthpiece hole on the chin to prevent accidental playing.

My theory that I'm trying out this year is this: If I start recorder on G (T123 all left hand), and E (T12345) they will have their hands in the right spot all year. Their left hand will stay on top closer to the mouth, and their right hand will have a place to go besides at the bell, eliminating the bad habit of right hand jumping between the bell and the tone holes.

This week was my first time to try out my theory. Everyone put a sticker on their left hand for reference before we started playing rhythms using G. With my first two classes, I had them read a rhythm on the board and then play it. With my last two classes, we had less time, so I played a 4- or 8-beat phrase and they echoed. I think for the first day of recorders in the future, I'll just echo play because it spurred their enthusiasm more than reading the rhythms. There will be plenty of time for that later.

The exciting thing is...the G didn't sound bad after a couple minutes! Yes, a few kids squeaked the whole time, and some forgot left hand on top. But for the most part, it was surprising that after just playing G (no B or A) for a short time, they were getting it. It was so good that I showed them how to play E after about two minutes of playing! With introducing the E, I accidentally created one of those ever-desired, principal-pleasing moments of differentiated instruction. I told them, "I'm going to play a pattern on G, but if you want a bigger challenge, try it on E." I showed them what the two pitches sounded like on the piano, and they went for it. Without any extra coaching, I had several kids playing a perfect E in the first class. Some of the students who understood started helping their classmates without my prompting, which then encouraged others to help. If only the principal had walked in...

Plan for next week: After a week of successful lessons, I plan on doing a similar lesson next week with them. We are going to start getting the "Peace" song performance-ready a little bit at a time, starting with the chorus. We're going to echo-play some more on recorders and start reading some rhythms. If it's going well, I'll get some students to improvise patterns for the class to play (good for reaching the "Creating" level on Bloom's).

They won't last long echo-playing on recorder, so I found a free piece with accompaniment called "G's a Crowd" (see link below) that my kids in the past have enjoyed. It gets them playing "real music" quickly. After this week, I'll see if they are keeping left hand on top and playing G pretty easily. If they are, I'll add B and A.

I hope you find inspiration in all this. I hear teachers talking about how they don't feel like they are inspiring their students the way their favorite teachers had done. Here's my message to teachers who may be feeling that way: Be nice to yourself. Do your best every day knowing that as long as you keep trying, you'll keep getting better. You do way more good than you think. Show them God's love every day; that's the most important thing.


P.S. If any of my 4th grade parents or teachers read this, sorry about the recorder sirens. I had to teach them something they'd love to do! I'll teach them a real song soon. :)

Recorder Karate Link:

My favorite recorder link:

Here are the links I was talking about:
"We All Need Peace"

"G's a Crowd"

Here's my TpT store, in case you're looking for something fun! I make lots of games, and for Arkansas teachers, I have made lesson plan templates with the new standards already assigned to each unit. Just plug in your instruction plan, name, date, and songs/materials, and you're ready to go!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Finding Inspiration

Are your fourth graders already teenagers, or is it just me? They're the oldest kids at my school, and it's their first taste of senioritis. The problem's OCTOBER...and they're TEN. I love them. I've known them since they were five. This week, they ate my lunch. My sweet friends reminded me I am a good teacher and that I am showing them God's love even when it's difficult...especially when it's difficult. I realized some of the problem might be that my focus has changed. When I started teaching *eleven years ago,* I felt like I didn't know what I was doing, but I had so much passion. Now that I feel more confident, I have been trying to concentrate on improving my data taking and making sure they really know everything that they're supposed to know. That isn't wrong, but maybe the focus is wrong.

So I reexamined my purpose: to inspire them and take care of them. I realized my lessons for next week were more about data and making sure they knew how to read rhythm, but maybe the plans lacked the inspiration my kids need.

I thought about what inspires them. Music inspires them - singing songs and playing instruments - not reading rhythms, even with an awesome game. I can teach them rhythms as we go along; they've got the basics. What they need is a reason to come and enjoy music. With that in mind, I began rewriting my lessons.

First, I looked for a song that would be relevant to them and to the situation that we are in right now. I found this song: "We All Need Peace" by Karl Hitzemann out of the Music K-8 Magazine Vol. 27 No. 1. I haven't shown it to them yet, but I'm hoping I can inspire them to think beyond their difficult situations and early teenager tendencies. I'll let you know what they think about it.

The other thing I decided to do was to start playing recorders. (Here are the recorders I order:PERIPOLE Angel Soprano Halo Recorder Model PB6000They are amazing - never break and sound like a real instrument.) They all love playing instruments and have been begging to start. Since 2005, I have been doing "Recorder Karate" with my kids . They LOVE it. Every time they can perform a piece from the collection, they earn that belt. The competitive sports kids love it and participate when some of them wouldn't bother if not for the pride of earning those belts. I'll be doing Recorder Karate again this year, but before I start, I want to try something new. 
Here is my thought: When starting recorder, you know how all the right handed kids (almost everyone!) want to put their right hand on top? Some argue, some forget twenty times in a class even when I mark their hand with a cute sticker, and some never get it completely. When I first started teaching, it didn't seem like a big problem, but the last few years, it has turned into a real issue. Last year, I had students playing at the concert with their right hand on top after practicing for months! I have a theory that might change that. Start with the foundation of "G" (thumb [T], 123 on left hand). Don't play B or A for a while. Add an E when the G gets easier. Yes, it will squeak terribly for a while. But doesn't it squeak some anyway?

So this is my plan for the week: 
1. Start class with the inspirational new song. Build it up. Let them know this could inspire their families and the community. 
2. Hand out recorders like I do every year and play G and E instead of BAG. I'm using rhythm flashcards that I made, and we'll be reading rhythms while we squeak away blissfully (I hope). We will not play a single B or A. It might be a struggle, but if a week or two of struggle creates a year of not saying, "Switch hands," or "Left hand on top," won't it be worth it? 

I love my kids and want to inspire them. Of course, I am a teacher and will do my job to teach them what they need. But they need more than that. As the song says, "We all need love...hope... [and] peace." I intend to do my part to help my kids feel that love, hope and peace.