Wednesday, December 16, 2015

One Very Good Day

Holy smokes friends, we are almost there! In just a few short days it will be Winter Break! I know that if you are like me, sometimes the stress of the season makes me not enjoy the season. As educators we are not only juggling preparing things for our own families this season, but also we juggle closing out a semester. Class parties, finals, and for those music educators out there that lovely Winter Concert program! I can tell you that during this crazy and somewhat chaotic time, all I crave is one very good day. Today was one of those days.

I'm not going to sugar coat it, if you are an educator in the state of Oklahoma you know stuff isn't that great right now. A lot of us just need one very good day. This day is what my soul needed. As much as I am known for my unicorns and rainbows outlook on life, I will be the first to admit that sometimes I am completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of what all my profession entails, the past couple of weeks I have lost sight of my unicorns and rainbows zest for teaching. Today I was reminded of why I do this, why it is important, and just how important what I do can be for others.

First of all what made this day just wonderful, a teaching idea that I came up with at 3:30 in the morning a few weeks ago. I teach at a middle school and tomorrow and Friday will be finals for our students. Instead of just giving a review sheet, which I did anyways because some kids like that kind of thing, I wanted something more hands on for my students. So I threw it back to their elementary school days with centers. By the way, whoever said centers are only for elementary school students, please direct this blog to them, or you know smack them up side the head, whatever your fancy.

I had five different stations with activities for my students to do, and they loved it. If you are a middle school teacher and you have engaged an eighth grade boy 100% you win the game of life. So here is what I did....

The Human Staff  I taped a staff on the floor, along with a either a bass clef or a treble clef, and a cup filled with pieces of paper that had the musical letter names. Students drew a letter, stood in the correct line or space, and their classmates on their team named what note they were. If the students were standing on the wrong line or space, without my prompting the others in the groups made sure that the student corrected their answer. One group even turned it into a game of music Twister. "Right foot on E, left foot is C, right hand on G, etc..." They are so smart, creative, and awesome. Man they make me look good.

Rhythmic Diction I had a set of rhythm cards, small white boards, and dry erase markers, One student clapped and counted a rhythm and the others on their team wrote down the rhythm that was performed. Each student had a chance to read and write the rhythm. Ooo look...literacy.

Fishbowl I play this game at game nights with my friends all the time, and I was really excited about trying it out in the classroom. In a fishbowl, I place slips of paper that contained all of the vocabulary and buzz words that we use in my class and content area. The first round students could use as many words to describe the term just not the actual word, the second time they act it out with no words-which for music terms can be a bit difficult, and the third time they could only use one word to describe the term. This was the class hit!

Telephone It is what you would expect, but with rhythm patterns. One student draws a rhythm card and whispers it into their classmates ear, it goes around the circle and you see if it is the same by the time it gets back to the first person. This is really not the best way to assess student knowledge because of many different factors, but my students love this game! One group timed themselves to see how quickly and accurately they could complete the task. The record for the the day was 4 seconds.

I Have, Who Has This game is a favorite in my classroom. I love it for so many reasons. Students have a set of rhythm or pitch pattern cards, one starts with I Have (whatever is on there card) Who Has (picks card of other student). This really reinforces music literacy and working together. I know of a math teacher in my building, that uses this with his sixth graders for math facts. You go Hobbs!

I even had the Yule Log and Christmas music playing in the background!!! At the end of the hour I did a short assessment over the activities that we did and my students all scored above 90%. I'm convinced that this was a better way for them to review.

The second reason why today was was locker clean out day!! Look at all the stuff that I saved from the trash can!!!

But let me tell ya, as amazing as those centers and locker clean out haul was, witnessing some student success was way better. At my site, we have a program called Student of the Month. Students are nominated by their teachers, and then the site teachers vote on the students. Well this month four out of the six students are my students! What can I say, choir kids do it better. I loved that my first hour was interrupted by my principal, assistant principal, counselors, and school nurse to introduce some of the winners! Let me give you a little context on why this was pretty important to me. At the beginning of the school year at our back to school activities our superintendent encouraged us to find our "one." One student that we could pour extra love, attention, and encouragement into. A student that we see loads of potential, but maybe they haven't had the fairest chance at life. I was able to find my one pretty quickly. This young man was just looking for an outlet, he wanted a talent, and more than anything he wanted to be loved and accepted. School has never been easy for him, and it is something that he has never loved. More than anything I wanted this student by the end of the year to love school. He has worked hard, overcame a lot of hard things, he had a speaking part on our Winter Christmas concert, and started to love learning. Today he was named Student of the Month. The excitement on his face was pure joy. I was in pure tears. Some of my favorite things I heard him say, "My mom and dad will be so proud!" "I have never won anything before in my life." And here it is the ugly cry line right here..."I just love my school." Excuse me as I sit in corner and cry my eyes out. I'm so proud of all of my students, and love being able to share their successes. Today I was reminded of why I do what I do, of why I just love unicorns and rainbows. No state lawmaker and their lack of common sense can ever make me forget this feeling.

I'm so glad that I had a day like this, it was a day that I needed. Just remember friends, no matter what you are impacting the lives of children. You are making them love school and learning. You making an impact that I'm sure they aren't even aware of, you make the difference. I'm blessed to be a teacher. I know that it is a privilege, and one that I do not take lightly. So my friends as we close out these next two days, remember that you are a game changer and you are a life changer!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Music Stands Alone

Today was a big day for music education in America. When I went to check my email during my planning period I found a little gem of an email from National Association for Music Education sharing the news about the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Pending the President's signature this now makes No Child Left Behind a thing of the past. So why is this an exciting, top of the mountain moment, doing back flips down the hallway moment for music educators? Because it includes a stand alone listing for music. I have linked below the news release from NAfME over the topic.

There are so many exciting features with this passage. I love being able to educate the whole child. Part of this simply comes from my own experiences as a student. I am the beginning of the NCLB age. As I was entering middle school and high school the expectations of students and teachers in the areas of math and reading started to ramp up intensity. I'm not great at math. I once had a teacher that said I would never be good at math and I believed it. After that moment math had always been an up hill battle. I hated when I had to be pulled out of my choir class to go work on math. I love being able as an educator to offer up so many opportunities for students to be creative. Where they have a safe place to explore their voices, create high quality music, and perform. Nothing brings me more joy then when I see students that struggle in other classroom areas succeed and thrive in my class. I'm so blessed that I'm in working situation where I can educate the whole child, but I know of many of my fellow music educators do not have that same opportunity. With the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act, this ensures that all students will have access to a well-rounded education.

The language of ESSA also makes music a "well-rounded subject." So what does this mean? Every child, no matter what, has access to music. What else does this mean? Schools can use federal funds for their music programs. It absolutely breaks my heart when I hear stories of school music programs being cut, hopefully this could be a thing of the past. Many of my fellow #oklaed bloggers have said that I'm full of unicorns and rainbows, but I'm also a realist. I understand that is an up hill battle that will take some time, but this unicorns and rainbows lover hopes that it will be a smooth transition and children will have access music and art once again.

Another thing that I'm a fan of is new the flexibility accountability system. Music and Fine Arts in general don't really fit the mold of most evaluation tools. Being able to include areas of evaluation such as student and parent engagement and school climate and culture as measurable tools is pretty exciting!

This next part...this is going to take time. Protection from class pull outs. The language does not say that students cannot be pulled from music and art classes for remediation, but it only discourages it. Which means it can still happen, and will happen. I see and understand the reasoning behind doing remediation because kids need to know how to read and they need understanding in math, but creative kids in to be creative. Hopefully this new season will provide for schools to find ways to be creative in providing the remediation services that kids need as well as providing quality fine arts education!

This is an exciting day for music teachers. This is an exciting day for all teachers. I saw a tweet from one music educator stating how excited she is that she now feels valid. While this is so exciting, I never needed an act of Congress to tell me that I'm valid and that what I teach is valid. Music changed my life, in fact it is still changing my life. How do I know what I'm doing is valid? I look in the eyes of my students. I see how learning choral music is changing them. I see the joy and hear the joy in the music that we are making. While having these new things and new supports is exciting, this doesn't change what I am doing right now. Tomorrow I will still wake up in the morning, and teach kids how to sing. I will still do what is best for kids and love them like crazy! So to my fellow music educators, be happy and celebrate this day, but more importantly keep doing what you are doing. It is being noticed and it is being celebrated. Go forth and change the world music educators!