Monday, August 5, 2019

Managing Contact Info and Roster Changes with ClassTag

I use ClassTag to manage parent communication with my before and after school ensemble families. Because these groups meet outside of the school day, sometimes students decide to drop out of the ensemble, and their family no longer needs to receive messages. It's really easy with ClassTag to remove students from class rosters, or to change a parent's contact information if they get a new email.

To make any changes, go to the directory tab in ClassTag.

Then, click "edit directory"

From there, click the trash icon next to a student's name to remove them from the class, the pencil icon next to a parent's contact information to update it, or the plus sign to add any additional parent. ClassTag even lets more than 2 parents per student be added, which can be very useful! 

Want to get started with ClassTag? It's a super easy and useful tool! Follow this link to get signed up! 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Teacher Summer Reading: Backlash: What Happens When We Talk Honestly about Racism in America by George Yancy

I typically get to read more during the summer (especially now that I'm done with grad school), so I have been making use of the Libby service offered through my public library to do some reading. Backlash by George Yancy came up as a suggested read for me based on my history, so I figured it was worth a try while I waited for a few other books to become available.

I found it interesting that this book about race was written specifically for white people. Of course, white people are the ones who need books to help them further understand race, but the use of Dear White America as a chapter subtitle was still rather jarring to me. Yancy's letter to white America is brilliant, full of clear explanations of the societal-level workings of racism rather than individual accusations or jargon. Yancy refutes many of the common whataboutisms and arguments against his points in a clear way.

One of Yancy's major suggestions for white people is to listen openly rather than listen to respond. Of course this wasn't a new principle for me, but hearing it in the context of racism was a new take and a different criticism of white privilege than I had heard before. To truly understand the experiences of those who have been hurt by racism, we have to listen and understand rather than becoming defensive.

Throughout the book, many of Yancy's points are made clear through hypotheticals posed to the reader. For example, one particularly striking passage asks the reader to imagine their child was black. Such a simple statement can spark so much emotion in a reader, and makes it easier for one to recognize their unconscious biases and the effects of racism on a societal and structural level.

I would recommend this book, and think it is an important read for white Americans who are trying to do better in regards to confronting their privilege.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Gunild Keetman: The Woman Behind the Schulwerk

Gunild Keetman was a German music educator who worked with Carl Orff. The Orff-Schulwerk (Orff's School) was a music school for young children. She was born in 1904 and died in 1990. In addition to teaching children at the Schulwerk, she taught various lessons on radio and television broadcasts. She was a student of Carl Orff and Dorothee Gunther, and taught at Gunther's school until it was bombed. Then she went on to her more well-known work at Orff's school.

Keetman's parents were a major influence on her love of music and education. She was expected to get a university education, and her parents fostered her interest in music. While working with Gunther, she learned modern dance and used it as a form of protest. She and other teachers from Gunther's school were left with nearly nothing after the school was destroyed in a bombing. The very ideas she had explored at a high level in Gunther's school were those that she took with her into her work with younger children at the Orff-Schulwerk.

Keetman's largest contribution to music education for children is the Music For Children volumes that she co-authored with Orff. These books, known as the "volumes" in Orff circles, have been adapted and translated into many different languages and contexts. Keetman was a strong advocate for playful learning, and she felt children learn music by playing rather than through formal pencil-paper study. This is important because music traditionally uses many theoretical, abstract concepts and can be difficult to learn, but Keetman transformed learning music into literally child's play. The whole premise of Orff teaching is teaching children to sing, say dance, and play, something that is valuable many years after Keetman begam doing it.

In addition to the volumes, Keetman wrote many other children's musical compositions for voices and instruments along with several books. While Orff is the better known name from the Orff Schulwerk, Keetman was the teacher and driving force behind many of the innovative initiatives that still inform music educators decades after they were started.

I incorporate many of Keetman's ideas into my teaching, especially the use of play in music class to facilitate student creativity. Additionally, I often have my students play repertoire that she wrote, as many of the pieces are still relevant and meaningful to students. The music she wrote is designed to have all students experience success, something that is extremely important in today's educational landscape. While I do not consider myself a strictly Orff (or Keetman) teacher, I do use many ideas from this philosophy in my teaching practice.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

ClassTag Stories: Sharing Beyond Classroom Walls

I use ClassTag to manage parent communication with my before and after school ensemble families. One of the big benefits of ClassTag is that parents can get alerts via text, email, and/or in-app notification according to their preferences. In addition to announcements, ClassTag allows teachers to share Stories, a social-media-like feature where families can see what is going on in the classroom. 

My students have a concert coming up, and I decided I'd try to come up with some new ways of promoting the concert to encourage families and teachers to attend. We made a promotional video for each ensemble, and I shared it out to the staff at my school via email. Since my students' families are already using ClassTag, I sent the video out to families by creating a story and attaching the video. It was great for families to see an "inside look" at what we're doing in class, and I hope to use this feature more frequently going forward. I love the look of the stories, they are aesthetically pleasing without taking much time for me to put together. I also love that I can share out strictly to approved parents, rather than somewhere public. I am much more comfortable sharing in-process work or other details in a closed environment like ClassTag than on the open internet.

Creating Stories is a great way to communicate and connect with families! If you're already a ClassTag user, I'd encourage you to share a ClassTag story in the next few weeks. If you haven't signed up for ClassTag yet, what are you waiting for?! Sign up here for the best family communication platform there is!

Friday, May 10, 2019

#MakeItHappen Moment: How Far They've Come (and a giveaway!)

Here's my #MakeItHappen moment for Teacher Appreciation Week:

I did some decluttering today at school. A file cabinet I rarely use seemed like a good thing to attack on a Friday (don't know what I was thinking!) Among many dusty copies and broken folders, I found a stack of paper clipped student work on a worksheet I recognized. The names on the papers were students I recognized.

Apparently, I was really careful to save student work on a district-wide assessment from TWO YEARS AGO. My now-fifth graders are almost off to middle school, and yet I got to look today at their work from third grade, and see how far they've come and how much they've learned. It's always gratifying to see student growth over time, and this was it in a big way.

Want to enter to win some Teacher Appreciation Week prizes? ClassTag will hook you up!

For more about ClassTag, check out my blog posts here.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Candy and Hats Won't Bring Them Back

It's National Teacher Appreciation Day, and my school has this whole week as Teacher Appreciation Week. I very much appreciate the pizza, candy, baseball hats, drawings, and cancelled meetings that I've been showered with this week. It's nice to hear 'thank you'. But this isn't about that. It's about what happened hundreds of miles away, this time in Colorado. Another school shooting, another evening of "thoughts and prayers", and another round of disturbing images of young children with their hands on their heads, trying desperately to get out of their schools alive. At least one student lost their life today, and many students and staff will go back to school with trauma no one should have to experience.

It happens too often

I can't keep track of all the school shootings that have happened since I've been teaching. It's only my fourth year, and already the tragedies all blend together. That's not to take away from the immense loss each one represents, but simply to highlight how frequent these events have become. Wikipedia lists 10 school shootings so far in 2019 in the United States. How can we possibly focus on learning when any day it could be our school, our students?

Nothing has changed

I vividly remember the Sandy Hook shootings, as it was the first school shooting with major media coverage while I was in college as a music education major. There was hope after Sandy Hook, hope that something would finally be done about the easy access to guns that had allowed this tragedy to happen. And there were minor improvements to at least give the illusion of safety. But the dozens of school shootings since have still happened. And every time, we get the same thoughts and prayers of politicians with no real action. By doing nothing, lawmakers have shown that the right to possess a weapon no one in modern America reasonably needs is more valuable than a child's life, a teacher's life, or the mental health of a nation of school children.

It is not normal

The kindergarten teachers I work with have a charming story about a moose about why we practice Shelter in Place and Enhanced Evacuation/active shooter drills. But the reality is so much more sinister, and even my young students are often aware of this. I've had students ask if they would get in trouble if they ran past the edge of the school property if there was someone chasing them with a gun. Kids are often still visibly shaken hours after a drill, because they know what they're practicing for. In an education system when kids are challenged to understand why they're learning something, they get it: they're being asked to learn how to stay alive in case the worst happens.

Real change is needed

I'd give up a lifetime of teacher appreciation gifts and food for the assurance that no more students will die in school. That we'll never see kids being rushed out of a school by police, or kids mourning their friends who didn't make it out. Until thoughts and prayers turn into action and policy, teachers are not appreciated. They're expendable, and so are students. Appreciate teachers by asking your elected leaders to pass common-sense gun control regulation, and do more than pray that this will never happen again.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

"Quiet Music"

My district is in the midst of The Big State Test. Literally every space in my school needs to be used for testing, including the room right next to the music room with a thin wall in between. Much of the next few weeks will be spent doing "quiet music class". Yes, music class is not normally a quiet thing. My students always point out to me that music is sound and sound isn't quiet. We all agree it's not our favorite, but it's necessary for the good of the school overall. If it's really nice I try to take students outside, but the gnats and rain have been keeping us in and quiet most of the time. Singing as a whole class can sometimes be quiet enough, but no students playing instruments and low amounts of rambunctiousness are required. Here's a few "quiet music" activities I use with my students:

For upper elementary:

Articles and questions about musicians

I don't do a lot of teaching "about" musicians, so this is a good way (along with sub plans) to squeeze in some contextual information. NewsELA is a great source of articles with pre-written questions, and they have musicians from a wide variety of genres. This year, my students are reading an article about Esperanza Spalding, and one about Lauryn Hill. Once they complete both, they will compare and contrast the two musicians based on what they read in the article.


I'm typically not one to show a lot of long videos, but quiet music time I am a little more open to using them to keep students engaged, learning and quiet. It's also a really good break for students who have tested earlier in the day and are totally fried. This week, I've been showing a walkthrough of the Benning Violin Factory by Music Express to my students. It's a relatively short video but has led to good discussions about the different string instruments and about careers in music beyond teaching and performance. You can find the video on YouTube here. There are similar videos for other families of instruments, and Music Express also has a video series of composer interviews that are quite good.

For lower elementary:

Echo songs and patterns

For whatever reason, I find my students are able to control their singing volume more effectively when they are echoing rather than singing a song that they already know. The Feierabend book of echo songs is great for this purpose, as are simple tonal and rhythmic patterns. I also challenge students to echo sing a pattern I play quietly on an instrument, which helps them hear and respond to pitch across different timbres.

Move Its

I adore the Move-It DVD! It's a lifesaver when my voice is shot or I otherwise need 2 minutes of engaged focus from younger students. It's especially great when we have to be quiet, since silence is part of my pre-existing procedures for move-its and many of the songs are slower and more relaxing. I'll often do this to settle a class back down if they start to get overexcited and a bit noisy.

Singing Games

Some of my classes enjoy the challenge of staying quiet enough to keep playing a preferred singing game. I always warn them that if they get noisy the game has to stop right away since we want the students testing to be able to focus and do their best work. Usually even the chattiest or most rambunctious class can keep themselves together for five or ten minutes to do a game they really love. Obviously, I don't use games with running or major competitions to set students up for success in staying quiet. Acka Backa, Doggie Doggie, and similar games tend to work well for me.

Quiet music class is definitely not ideal, but when it has to happen there certainly are a variety of options that allow students to keep learning music. I'll definitely be glad when testing season is over and we can bring out the xylophones and drums again! 

Managing Contact Info and Roster Changes with ClassTag

I use ClassTag  to manage parent communication with my before and after school ensemble families. Because these groups meet outside of the s...