Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Singing Voice

Ahhh, General Music and the singing voice. Oh, to be a trained vocalist to handle all the singing in a GM classroom!

Actually, not really. An untrained, but musical voice can be a better model for general music. What?!

Yep, an untrained, but musical voice (matches pitch, has a good tone and quality), can be a better model for kids because it sounds closer to their voices.

Imagine a full power Operatic voice singing the Tree Song. Not. Going. To. Fly. with 1st graders.

Why? Kids have light treble voices without vibrato. Vibrato doesn't happen naturally until sometime after puberty. They have a really hard time matching pitch when a song is being modeled with full throttle vibrato.

I approached my student teaching with all of the lovely sounds of my classically trained Bel Canto Voice. The kids were having a hard time matching my pitches. My co-op teacher pointed out what was going on and suggested I try singing without vibrato. So I did, and it worked! Gradually I removed my vibrato as I taught over the years. I have found that my kids have become better singers because I'm providing a better vocal model, a pleasing one, and it's one they can match.

Granted, when I'm singing Art Songs, or what have you, I put vibrato back in because it's appropriate for the style. But when I want the kids to match me, out it goes. So, it's something a trained singer always has to be aware of. We want to sing the "right" way, but what's "right" depends on the situation.

So not being classically trained in voice may be a benefit for you!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

words from Kerry

My first week of K-6 student teaching was filled with quiet, attentive, orderly students, and I remember it mostly for its peace and calmness. Ahhh….

That’s because the kids were totally engrossed in slideshow pictures and tales from Ms. Taylor’s trip to South Africa!

So my second week, when I was asked to pick a class of kids that I’d like to start teaching, I picked the first grade class. They looked like a safe bet, sitting in the dark looking up at the projector screen, with their tiny legs folded up “criss-cross-applesauce.” And little did I know, I’d just picked a class with some of the most ornery students.

I dove into that class with my lesson plan detailed on paper and locked into my mind. Teaching labs in college, everything went almost exactly as you’d written down…just follow the steps, right? I thought I knew just what pace I would teach at, what questions I would ask the kids, and just about how they respond. That wasn’t how it worked at all for my first lesson! I noticed quickly that the kids were restless and unfocused. I couldn’t seem to capture their attention in the way I’d imagined, and the two hyper ones partnered up and began distracting each other. When it was time to add movements, the class seemed completely crazy. I kept up with the lesson as best I could, and tried to separate the two kids I saw as a “problem,” but I was totally flustered! How could a roomful of first graders seem so intimidating?

After getting some feedback, I was amazed to find out that I had oversimplified the lesson. The kids were capable of much more than I was asking, and their fidgety reaction was a telltale sign. Even the two noisy boys I had separated were actually helping each other out on a partner exercise, and I had separated them right when they were the most engaged. I needed to adjust my teaching so that it was something the students could pay more attention to!

Biggest lesson learned for me: I could write all the detailed lesson plans I wanted, but nothing would replace being totally tuned in to the kids. I learned to let their discoveries and reactions guide the pace of my class. They really want to pay attention to their teacher, and so I should pay just as much attention to them while I teach. Adjusting on the fly made me nervous at first, but I gradually focused less on myself, and much more on the kids in front of me. That made for better teaching…and much more fun!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Confidence is preparation. Everything else is beyond your control.
-Richard Kline
No noble thing can be done without risks.
-Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

snow days... what to do?

Here are some thoughts about snowdays:

Just because we are not in school with students, don't forget to keep your mind fresh! Take this as an opportunity to become well planned, organized, and prepared for the rest of your placement. This will be increasingly important after snowdays for one important reason. Your students are now on different stages of your plans. You have some students whom you have taught your first and second lesson to, while you have others you have yet to see. Get the schedule out, take a look at where you are, make a note as to what has been done each day, what needs to be done, and what could be eliminated in order to get your schedule back to a manageable gameplan.

It is often a very overwhelming thing to take over your general music placement's full schedule. Add to that the scatteredness that snowdays cause, and you may find yourself staring at a class to which you have just realized has "already done that" and you have no game plan.

Also, even though many of your planning sources are at school, there are things you can look at via the internet or past course work to aid in your planning. Dig out your methods notebook. Find plans you enjoyed watching or teaching. Go to the WVDE website or THIS BLOG to see the WVContent Standards and guides to assist you in planning. Search for lesson plan formats that may fit your needs more efficiently. Search for lessons on line (although, often this is hard). Go to various websites for sources and listen to recordings.. IE...New England Dancing Masters has a great website with many of the sources your placement teacher may have. You may get inspired for a lesson after listening to the recordings.

Contrary to public opinion.....most teachers do utilize, at least a portion of their snowdays, preparing, organizing and getting prepared for what lies ahead. You should do the same!

Finally, if you do find a lesson that you want to teach from an alternate source, make sure you cite where it came from. There is nothing more embarrassing for a student teacher than to teach a lesson that has actually come from your placement teacher, via another/former student. Remember, most of us have hosted 382 at one point or another, so if you get a lesson from a friend and turn it in, make sure you know where it comes from. IT'S OK to borrow, group plan, and share lessons with peers!!! Afterall, that is what your placement teachers have done for years... Imitation is one of the stages of learning in this placement. Just make sure to give credit where credit is due. It's a great way to learn! It will also help you in the future if you ever want to present that lesson publically. You must reference the source in order to present/publish any material.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

20 pairs of eyes

Thank you so much to Kevin for sharing his impressions.

I had done my first 7 week placement, like many others, in high school band dealing with the normal high school band world activities like percussion ensemble, marching band, concert band, theory classes, and a general mentality where the world pretty much revolves around band. I have to say, I was so wrapped up in that frame of mind when starting my elementary school placement, It didn't even occur to me what exactly I was going to experience until my first day.

I walked into Mason Dixon Elementary on my first day, signed in, and was shown to the music room where Becky was getting ready for her first class. She wasn't in a rush, but was definitely concentrated on getting things set up in a particular way. To be honest, I don't really remember what we talked about for the next several minutes, but I distinctly remember the kindergarten class coming through the door. They were escorted by their teacher, walking in a straight line, hands to themselves, very quiet, and ridiculously small! They came in and sat on the floor and unlike high school, they simply looked to the teacher for what to do next. Becky softly greeted them and introduced me and explained that I would be with them, helping, teaching, learning, for the next couple months and then quickly got them into a circle to play the name game. I joined in the circle with at least 20 pairs of eyes fixed on my every move. We completed the game and went through everyones name, including mine, with an accompanying movement and by this point I was feeling extremely uncomfortable as I wasn't used to being stared at. We then moved to a movement / interpretation exercise set to music in which we had to act out different sounds and I kept thinking how much I felt like a giant and was afraid of bumping into any of the kids. And of course, they never stopped looking at me! Next, we sat back down in a circle while the next activity was being explained and (while I was being closely watched) a boy sitting right next to me tapped me on the should and asked if I could tie his shoe. I shook my head yes and quickly tied his shoe, not thinking anything of it. As soon as I tied it and look up, without saying a word, another girl on the opposite side of the circle untied her shoe, stood up, walked over to me, and held her shoe out for me to tie too!

Now, I didn't think much of this at first, but actually that one silly, innocent action instantly took away my uneasiness and made me feel more comfortable in elementary school. Unlike high school, where the kids have very active social lives and numerous other influences, these kids, who have only been alive as long as you've been in college, want to hear what you have to say, how you act, how you react, how you sing, and most of all, they want to trust you and look up to you! After that, I wasn't really afraid to sing in my "high voice", or dance, or act, or pretend.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Words from Kathy

Kathy is a former student teacher who now teaches elementary music in Marshall county. Thanks to Kathy for her perspective

Be professional in every way. Arrive on time. Leave when the cooperating teacher leaves. Attend all meetings and duties associated with the position. Use planning periods to plan. (Believe it or not, I have had to explain to a student teacher why it is inappropriate to sleep during planning periods.) Dress professionally. Don’t ask if your attendance/participation is expected. If you are excused, the cooperating teacher will let you know.

Have a plan. Lesson plans are to be completed in advance, so that they can be reviewed and discussed. Please see this as an opportunity. Your cooperating teacher will be pleased that you are prepared and will surely add constructive feedback to aid your success. Please align your plans with the Content Standard Objectives. There is a curriculum, and it must be followed. Make your life easier by setting up the classroom before the kids enter. You can learn a lot by watching your cooperating teacher, but even more by assisting, asking questions, and being a part of the process.

Be positive. We have all heard it before, “There is NO WAY that I would EVER take this job.” Let’s get this straight. We all have our preferred teaching assignments, and those will likely be taken by teachers with seniority. I have heard it from student teachers, and I don’t appreciate it. I just want to say, “It is MY job, and it means something to ME, so while you are HERE, it needs to be important to YOU!” Don’t let your disinterest diminish a meaningful classroom experience for the kids. Smile. If you have to, fake it.

Get a sense of the school environment outside of your assigned classroom. Be familiar with school policies and procedures. Are there policies regarding lesson plans? How do I make a purchase? What is the budget for the music program? Learn how to manage the budget. Ex. Who pays for all of these recorders?

Identify your strengths. Familiarize yourself with classroom resources. Observe the ability levels of the students. Study the CSO’s. NOW, make a plan based on all of that information.
Student teaching is your #1 priority.

Trust that this experience is going to take a lot of effort. You must learn to communicate effectively. You must plan accordingly. You must act professionally. Do not expect to shine because you show up, or because you wrote something down…make it worthwhile. Make it a positive experience for the kids. They need to learn. That’s what it’s all about.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Special Education Students

An email from one of the WVU M382 lab students got me thinking about special ed students, so I'm going to post my reply with the specifics edited out.

Special ed includes: gifted, behavioral disorders, learning disabilites, as well as physical disabilities/handicaps.

Email reply:

How neat that you are able to take a special ed class. I did not have any special ed classes when i went through WVU, so I had to learn by trial and error, ugh.... Like i said, i did not had a special ed class in college, so i feel a little insecure about my special ed knowledge, because i learned it through experience (ie. mistakes!) and by asking our
special ed teachers lots of questions.

I will tell you that I am CPI trained which is Nonviolent Crisis Prevention Intervention. That is an 8 hour course that teaches one how to intervene and prevent a student from going into crisis (an out of control state usually including physical violence), and how to hold/remove a student who is in danger of harming him/herself and/or others. To remain certified, we
have to go to a 4 hour refresher course every two years.

I have all of the special ed students that are enrolled at my school, gifted, BD and LD. as a general rule, they are included in all of the related arts classes even if they are pulled from their general classes to go to special ed.

Without breaking student confidentiality, most of the modifications that apply to music include: preferential seating (either for hearing or vision problems, or for behavior problems), frequent checks for understanding, tests/assignments read aloud, repeat/rephrase directions, subject materials presented in more than one mode (ex. Verbal and visual
prompts), and extra prompts to follow directions before a consequence is given
(usually BD).

There are many more specific modifications that need to be made in a general ed setting where there is more pencil and paper work going on.

I tend to apply my modifications to the whole class, since most of our work is done as an ensemble/group, although there is some individual performance going on (hello song, playing on instruments, etc...). I use a seating chart to make sure i give preferential seating to those who need it. My classes include a lot of social interaction and self control, which can
be very challenging for students with behavior disorders, so I feel proud when
they are able to make their hands be in control, and when they are able to
participate successfully in a group.

I read everyone's files (there are a lot of files, because I see every student in the school) toward the beginning of the year when i have more time available. I do this to make myself familiar with each student's IEP. I am responsible for those modifications. I may keep a copy of the IEP sheet in my room as long as it is locked up. Some of the special ed teachers are good about
providing me with a copy of an IEP, but that does not always happen.

I think the most important thing, for me anyway, is to always keep my cool. So many times, things are not as they appear. A student may not be following directions, not because of refusal, but because they really don't understand what i want them to do. It's not always obvious when a student doesn't understand my words, and it's easy to jump to conclusions and get annoyed. I try to step back, take a deep breath, and reassess what's going on. That's not easy when I'm in a "get it done" mode but necessary if I want to prevent a situation from escalating.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sick Days-Release Time

If you are sick, stay home or go home.

You have to decide if you are sick.

You don't have to be a martyr but you should only go/stay home if you are really sick.

Cooperating teachers are happy to give you release time if it means that you are interviewing for a job or going for some professional development.

We resent it when you ask for release time for things that could or should be done outside the work day. It puts us in an awkward position.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Writing Lesson Plans

The reality of teaching 6-8 classes a day means that seasoned teachers often do their best to condense what's required in a lesson plan to the bare minimum. This makes it difficult for someone just learning to write lesson plans to decipher what should be in them and why. There are some components of lesson plans that seem repetitive until you look more closely at what is being asked. Lesson plans keep a teacher "honest." Are you teaching what you think you're teaching?

The following information came from the web-site: http://www.adprima.com/mistakes.htm

I have not yet explored this entire site but there may be further information that you might find helpful in the coming weeks.

A "play by play" of a lesson plan- you may not need all of the components but it is good to know what each one is.

Lesson Plan Format:
Teacher_______________________________________ Subject_________________________

Grade Level_________________ 

I. Content: This is a statement that relates to the subject-matter content. The content may be a concept or a skill. Phrase this as follows: I want my students to: (be able to [name the skill]) OR (I want my students to understand [a description of the concept]). Often times, this content is predetermined or strongly suggested by the specific curriculum you are implementing through your teaching.

II. Prerequisites: Indicate what the student must already know or be able to do in order to be successful with this lesson. (You would want to list one or two specific behaviors necessary to begin this lesson). Some research indicates that up to 70% of what a student learns is dependent on his or her possessing the appropriate prerequisites.

III. Instructional Objective: Indicate what is to be learned - this must be a complete objective. Write this objective in terms of what an individual student will do, not what a group will do. Limit your objective to one behavioral verb. The verb you choose must come from the list of defined behavioral verbs on my web site. Make sure your objective relates to the content statement above.

IV. Instructional Procedures: Description of what you will do in teaching the lesson, and, as appropriate, includes a description of how you will introduce the lesson to the students, what actual instructional techniques you will use, and how you will bring closure to the lesson. Include what specific things students will actually do during the lesson. In most cases, you will provide some sort of summary for the students.

V. Materials and Equipment: List all materials and equipment to be used by both the teacher and learner and how they will be used.

VI. Assessment/Evaluation: Describe how you will determine the extent to which students have attained the instructional objective. Be sure this part is directly connected to the behavior called for in the instructional objective.

VII. Follow-up Activities: Indicate how other activities/materials will be used to reinforce and extend this lesson. Include homework, assignments, and projects.

VIII. Self-Assessment (to be completed after the lesson is presented): Address the major components of the lesson plan, focusing on both the strengths, and areas of needed improvement. Determine here how you plan to collect information that will be useful for planning future lessons. A good idea is to analyze the difference between what you wanted (the objective) and what was attained (the results of the assessment).

This also came from the same site and is a list of common mistakes in lesson planning.

1. The objective of the lesson does not specify what the student will actually do that can be observed. Remember, an objective is a description of what a student does that forms the basis for making an inference about learning. Poorly written objectives lead to faulty inferences.

2. The lesson assessment is disconnected from the behavior indicated in the objective. An assessment in a lesson plan is simply a description of how the teacher will determine whether the objective has been accomplished. It must be based on the same behavior that is incorporated in the objective. Anything else is flawed.

3. The prerequisites are not specified or are inconsistent with what is actually required to succeed with the lesson. Prerequisites mean just that -- a statement of what a student needs to know or be able to do to succeed and accomplish the lesson objective. It is not easy to determine what is required, but it is necessary. Some research indicates that as much as 70% of learning is dependent on students having the appropriate prerequisites.

4. The materials specified in the lesson are extraneous to the actual described learning activities. This means keep the list of materials in line with what you actually plan to do. Overkilling with materials is not a virtue!

5. The instruction in which the teacher will engage is not efficient for the level of intended student learning. Efficiency is a measure that means getting more done with the same amount of effort, or the same amount with less effort. With so much to be learned, it should be obvious that instructional efficiency is paramount.

6. The student activities described in the lesson plan do not contribute in a direct and effective way to the lesson objective. Don't have your students engaged in activities just to keep them busy. Whatever you have your students do should contribute in a direct way to their accomplishing the lesson objective.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thoughts on what to do

Jamie kindly shared some of her perspective on student teaching and the first year of teaching.

I have so much to say, but not enough room to write. Please feel free to contact me at anytime: jamieruckerATmacDOTcom

The first day/week:

I would recommend sitting in with the kids rather than sitting off in a corner for the first week.....Don't be afraid to sit on the floor with them! You will get to know them by "playing" and they will respect and look up to you. You will learn from your cooperating teacher by being engaged in her music class....And like Molly Weaver always says "We learn by DOING". She is absolutely correct.

Make it a personal goal to learn 1-5 names each class. Take notes... draw pictures if you have to. Associate them with a trait they posses like "Booger Bobby" or" Jumping Jillian." Finally, ASK QUESTIONS... Ask them even if they feel simple.

Repertoire and Paperwork:

Learn where to find repertoire. Trust me, you didn't get enough pieces to fill a year with k-5 at WVU. Ask your co-op about good publishers, arrangers, arrange something yourself and try it out, ask him/her to leaf through his/her pieces, and make yourself a binder of good repertoire. In that binder, take notes on why they are good pieces. (EX: good for steady beat, good for rhythmic notation)

Learn how to fill out paper work and do administrative things. Ask if you can fill out some of your co-ops paperwork. Get used to doing it because sometimes it seems like that's all you do when you get a job. Talk to him/her about budget. Although not all schools are the same, it is nice to know how some schools budget for music. Then... ask what are good ways to use the budget.... especially if you walk into a situation with NOTHING.

It's all about the kids:

This is my 3rd year of teaching. I taught elementary music for a year and am now teaching high school band. No matter the age, kids need us. Especially in music because it is the one time of week or day that they get to express themselves and get away from all that is standardized testing. This is the best thing I can leave you with... and I remind myself of this EVERYDAY... " It's all about the kids!" This is why we are teachers... cause we all know it ain't about the money!

As a student teacher, you are learning too. You learn from the kids and you are learning from your co-op. Sometimes I think student teachers (I know I did) get so wrapped up in themselves. Asking questions like:
How am I teaching...
Was it ok to say that?...
Hows my singing?.....
Do I look dumb?...
Is my personality to lax or too bubbly right now?
The kids are talking... I must suck.

But when it comes down to it... IT'S ALL ABOUT THE KIDS.
(say this everyday!)

Rephrase these questions:

Did the kids learn from me?
Is my personality/energy appropriate for this lesson and for the kids?
Are the students engaged?
The students are acting a little wild, is it because I am talking really loudly today?
Are the kids talking right now because of my pacing?


Be on time!
Be flexible!(it's kids!They are totally unpredictable so, adapt)
Do your job!

Good Luck to you!!!!

Jamie Rucker (Groves)
WVU '06

Jamie, thanks so much for taking time to share!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Planning and Organization

Once it has been determined which class you will pick up first, it's time to start planning and organizing.

Get a calendar and block out how many lessons you will need for this grade until the end of your placement.

Begin filling in those blocks with a possible sequence of lesson ideas around a theme/concept. These plans do not need to be fully developed but by searching out and plugging in material at this early stage you will find yourself less overwhelmed as you begin to pick up more classes.

Share these ideas with your cooperating teacher to be sure that they are grade appropriate concepts and materials. Don't be discouraged if you don't have a sense of what is appropriate for a given age level/class. This knowledge comes from experience and practice. If something you select doesn't work for one grade, you may find that it's good for another and can put it in the "maybe later" file!

Continue this process as you pick up more grades.

Monday, January 25, 2010

First-time teaching

So, one of the things I've observed in 20+ years of having student teachers is the shock and surprise after the first real-non-methods class teaching.

You can't really know something until you do it. Watching someone who's been doing it for a long time doesn't really tell you much about where the stumbles and bumps will be when you begin.

I've invited former student teachers to share some first month moments to let you know how others felt along your same journey.

Glen writes:

I remember coming home several times during my elementary placement feeling like a failure. There were hundreds of things I didn't know when I first began teaching and it was eye opening. I would walk into my apartment and wonder why my cooperating teacher could get the kids to play simple borduns with ease but I struggled, or why children need to hear a song at least six or seven times before they can begin to sing it with fluency.

As I progressed in the placement, I learned why the abovementioned situations were not successful and I learned what I needed to do to make the lessons meaningful for the students. It was only through my mistakes did I really learn anything.

Understanding that body percussion precedes instrument playing or that kids need time to process information may or may not be common knowledge to you, but it definitely will be by the end of your placement. It's tough getting started, but everything does pay off if you put in the work.

You'll be surprised at how rewarding a successful lesson with kindergarten or first grade feels (to be honest, it feels good with any grade). Just remember you're teaching kids, not music. That may sound weird, but it's true.

Good luck with your placement!

P.S one word of advice: Make a list of every piece of repertoire you know share it with your co-op. That's a nice way to get a head start on planning.

Thanks to Glen for sharing his words!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

some thoughts

These come from the book Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness- A Guide For Anyone Who Teaches Anything by Deborah Schoeberlin.

And I came to see that students learn as much if not more from what we do as teachers and how we are, than from what we say. (p. xv)

Mindfully noticing the discrepancy between what I wanted to accomplish and what I actually achieved provides useful information without the distraction of unproductive anger, frustration or disappointment. (p. 4)