Thursday, April 22, 2010

Please Visit my New Site

Thank you for visiting me here...
However, I have a new home for my blog and many other things. Please visit me there at

I look forward to hearing from you!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Drum Circle

The ostinato starts

ta, ta, ti-ti, ta
ta, ta, ti-ti, ta

I nod to the group
and slowly they come in
Some mimic my rhythm
others add their own

ta, ta, ti-ti, ta
ta, ta, ti-ti, ta

someone shakes maracas
another scrapes the sand
one clicks on the claves
another taps the bells in her hand

ta, ta, ti-ti, ta
ta, ta, ti-ti, ta

comes out of nowhere
but it seems to fit right in
eggs shshshshshshake
alllllllll along

ta, ta, ti-ti, ta
ta, ta, ti-ti, ta


ta, ta, ti-ti, ta
ta, ta, ti-ti, ta

Then slowly 4
But steady 3
Preparing 2

The silence now is deafening
And we are satisfied
Want more?

Ostinato - a short rhythm that is perpetually repeated throughout a piece of music. Here, it serves as the structure in which others have the freedom to play.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Erosion Blues

This past week, my students and I had a great experience as we created a makeshift recording studio in our school and recorded an original piece of music: The Erosion Blues.

It is a great example of integration, collaboration and freedom in structure.

The blues was meant to be a culminating project for our unit on Land and Water which focuses on erosion. Students were to explain a type of erosion (water, wind or ice) and use some content vocabulary to show they know the meaning of the words.

Collaboration: The music teacher taught the students the form of the 12 bar blues in music class. In fact, nearly all the students are able to play the structure on xylophones (Orff Instruments) and some were even taught it on recorder. In our recording, you only hear piano and vocals, but there may be an opportunity for the kids to lay down another track or two at their next music class!

Freedom in Structure:
The 12 bar blues creates one structure in which we sung our lyrics, but there is another structure that helped focus the small groups of 3-4 students to compose the lyrics. They follow a simple AAB form which means there is a line of lyrics (A) that is repeated (A) and then a different set of lyrics (B) completes a verse. The ends of lines A and B rhyme. For example:
A - Rivers can erode rocks, mountains and canyons wear away.
A - Rivers can erode rocks, mountains and canyons wear away.
B - It still erodes, no matter what you say!

The After Effects:
I asked my students to reflect on their experiences as we drafted, practiced and recorded our blues song. Here are some of their words:
"I thought it was fun because everyone had a lot of enery and was able to share it."
"It made me feel special...made me feel musical and unique."
"It was fun because when we sang the chorus, everybody was singing."
"I want to do something like this again. The blues is fun."

My students, in general, are excited about the blues. In fact I have two girls who are actively writing their own blues lyrics. One is completed and posted here and the other girl is presently writing her own "Moving Blues" about her family's move to another house.

This lesson transitioned me from our TIC focus last month in "Creating Community" to this month's "Freedom in Structure". It was one of those experiences that fed off of my talents and those of my students: from the students volunteering to sing out loud to the boys in charge of the recording device (my netbook powered by Audacity). The smiles were big and the excitement was contagious. There was a lot of inspiring going on!

Here are all the links you may be interested in. Please check them out and leave your comments. I will share them all with my class.

Other posts in reference to this project:
Musical Experiences - Composing in the Classroom

Balancing Testing with Creativity

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What is Freedom in Structure

Freedom in structure is something we can give our students, our children, ourselves and others. It is laying the foundation and allowing for creativity.

As a parent, I know that I’m supposed to set the ground rules for my kids, that children NEED structure, WANT structure. (That’s what all the books and online articles say.) But I know that the structure I give them does not stifle them, instead it gives them the boundaries they need in order to explore.

So is true for our students at school and I’m not just talking about the school or classroom rules, I’m talking about how we teach: the lessons and activities we do with our students as well as our philosophy in teaching.

This month, I will explore they ways in which I do this, where I fall short and how it benefits me as a teacher and my students as learners.

  • What activities do I do to practice this skill?

  • Is it beneficial or practical in today’s society?

  • What foundations do I lay down for my students?

  • What foundations are there for me?

  • Is there too much structure for my students? For me? Too little?

I’m excited to begin this series and ask you to participate by adding comments, ideas, activities or submitting your own blog or article.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Effects of Quality community Building

Shared experiences are what bond a group together. Whether the group is taking a nature walk, creating art, or sharing personal reflections about music or literature, it is all part of the process we need to share with our students. I believe that these experiences can all be linked to and integrated into the curriculum you teach.

But it is also true that you don’t have to justify everything you do by attaching a standard or strand to it. In fact, just last week, my principal emailed the staff saying this would be a good time of year to take some time and revisit those community building experiences. Sharing experiences and building community can and should be done just to be done. It creates that safe learning environment you want in your room and with your students. It allows students to share their work, ideas and plans more openly with you. And building community is a skill our students will need for the rest of their lives.

One year, I had a second grade class who truly loved our daily listening time during snack. We listened, reflected and shared every day. Students talked about the music freely and after a while, even spoke about it in their free time to one another.

“I liked your idea about how Beethoven must have really felt sad and angry at the same time when he composed that piece of music,” I heard a girl say to another one day at recess. It was then that I had that “great teacher feeling”. What I was doing was working! Those students were connecting on a new level. They felt comfortable talking with one another even outside of our Active Listening time in class.

That year I also got a great compliment about my class during field day. “Your kids work really well together,” said a parent volunteer in charge of one of the stations. “They have great communication and really look around to see what and who is where.” That made me beam!

Of course this hasn’t happened every year and I probably can’t attribute all that great teamwork to actively listening to music each day. BUT I know that those times, those experiences we shared were real and they surely contributed to a sense of community.

So, as I finish this series for the month, what have I learned? Here is a list:
• Take the time to create experiences.
• Start early in the year.
• Continue throughout the year.
• Be spontaneous sometimes.
• Keep in mind the life skills that are being taught!

It's All About Experiences

Community building in the educational profession is important for teachers, students, administration, staff, parents and the whole community. This month, I have enjoyed reflecting about how I try to build community in my classroom with my students. In the future months, the topic of community will certainly be further explored.

What I have discovered and rediscovered is that the biggest part of building community is in creating experiences with your students. When I stop and take time and really DO something with my class, the benefits are nearly immediate. We smile together, laugh together, realize things together but mostly we share – share a common experience with one another. It’s a beautiful thing…

Just yesterday, I was able to share a great experience with my class as we continued to write our Erosion Blues. There I was playing the piano as groups of students came by and started singing the lyrics they had written. As I looked up, I saw the rest of my class singing along, tapping their feet, moving and dancing - PURE JOY! Wow! That will be a memory for all of us.

I know a second grade teacher who is not afraid to bring her students outside during the school day. No worries about not sticking closely to the plan for the day, because she knows how much her students will get out of an outside experience. This is not a teacher who one would call aloof, her feet are firmly set and she is very serious about education. The thing is that she is certain that her students will benefit from a common experience and from that experience she shapes ways for her students to learn. They learn about nature and about the value of getting inspired by something. Oftentimes their experiences are what prompt them to write - to really write from the heart and gut.

When we have a true experience, then we can really learn more about ourselves and others. And that’s one thing that can really help build community!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

You Can Learn a lot from A Slinky

Every month I give my students a little gift that reminds them of the value we study for the month. For example, in December we focus on determination and I give the students chomping teeth to illustrate tenacity.

This month, our focus is on patience and, quite honestly I wasn't sure what to get them. I came across some toy Slinkies that I had bought a few weeks back and figured I could use them even though I wasn't sure how to tie it in with patience.

First, I decided to make them wait for it. I didn't give it to them until later in the month, and then I thought it would make a cute gift to give on their first day of MCAS, our high stakes test.

I put one slinky on each desk as I prepared the room for the day. The kids were so excited to see them! "Slinky!" they exclaimed as they ripped them out of the plastic. It wasn't long before they discovered that these (cheap) toys didn't work right away... you had to pry them apart to make them slink. Another bonus for having them during our patience month!

Before I asked the students to put the Slinkies in their desks, we talked a little bit about the plastic toys and I worked in additional links to patience.

"These Slinkies are here to remind us to be patient during this testing process. Be patient with me as I read instructions, be patient with others around you and most importantly, be patient with yourselves as you work and write. We are in no rush!"

Then it was time to get up and stretch before we began. We all stood, many students with their Slinkies, and stretched. After sitting back down, I reviewed with the students how to stretch at their seats and when they feel overwhelmed to do a small stretch break before getting back to work.

As I looked around the room, I saw so many kids stretching their Slinkies. So I said, "Be like your Slinky today. Stretch when you need to, and then put yourself back together and smile."

Many of them stretched their Slinky, compressed it and smiled at the smiley face printed on the toy. It was cute and it made me smile.

"See, you can learn a lot from a Slinky," I said, "Now put them in your desk where you know they will be and let's begin!"