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Teaching Tips from the Trenches

As I enter my 5th year teaching, I am always so thankful for the previous experiences I have had. Each year gets easier, my classroom management gets better, planning takes less time, and I get a little more organized.

While I am no where near "master teacher" with tons of experience, I have grown a lot since my first year teaching and I wanted to help new teachers in any way I could.

I thought I would create a "linky party" so that any teacher (no matter your teaching experience) can link up and share some "Teaching Tips from the Trenches"!

Think through every procedure WAY before kids enter your room that first day of class. I remember my first year teaching one of my three principals asked me how I would have my students enter the classroom. How would they come in? Where would they go once they were in? 

Each year I have done things a bit differently, but the number one thing for sure is that you have to have a game plan. 

Last year, I had "room positions" that we practiced at the beginning of the year. I found these posters for FREE here. I printed them on colored paper and tweaked a few of them to fit my needs with a sharpie.
They say "board spots", which are assigned numbered spots in front of my board, "circle spots" (not assigned, but I usually have students move to the same color they sit on for board spots so it limits their choices), "reading corner", "scatter spots", "partner spots", and this year I need to add one for "longways sets". Click here to read and see more pictures of my "room positions".

After these are learned, I can have my students enter with specific instruction of "go to your circle spot", etc.

Up until this year I did not have music playing when my kids entered, because I thought they would just go crazy. I tried it with kindergarten this past year and gave an instruction to "hop like a bunny", "gallop like a horse" etc. into the room and follow my circle on the floor round and around until the music stopped. When the music stopped they had to sit on the spot they landed on. It was quick, easy, joyful, and it set the tone for having a fun day in music. I only saw them once a month, so it was very easy to select a brand new song and action for them to enter to each time and tie it into the songs we would be doing that day. I am hoping to continue this tradition with Kindergarten this coming year who I will now be seeing 3 times a week since we now have full day Kindergarten in my building as well as with first grade, since that is what they have come to know and expect from last year.

Getting back to planning out procedures- here are some things you need to set an expectation for and practice with students that first day of class:

- Entering the room
- Finding their seat (assigned? I always have assigned seats). 
- Raising hands to talk
- Getting out and putting away instruments- I have one row go at a time, they pick up their instrument in a way that will not make sound. They "make a loop and return to the group" going around the class back to their seat so that they are not cutting off those in line. If your instruments have a specific place, you need to train your students to put things back in the correct places.
- Resting position for instruments
- Bathroom, drinks, kleenexes
- Drills - we practice fire, tornado, lock down, and shelter in place (which is for chemical spills or something of that nature
- Transitioning to different formations in the room
- Lining up
- Exiting quietly

What other procedures do you go over that first day? Thinking through all of these things in advance will help you be so much more successful and confident with your students!

Are you a teacher blogger? I'd love for you to link up and share a teaching tip (or more!) from the trenches!
Here's how:
#1: Save the "Teaching Tips from the Trenches" image somewhere to your computer to put into your blog post.
#2: Blog about a teaching tip (or a few). Then link the linky party image to my blog post.
#3: Click "add your link" button on my page below, add the information, and you're done! 
#4: Make sure to check back and stop by all of the other blogs that link up to get their great ideas. It would be a lovely gesture to leave a comment on at least one blog post!

Dazzling Discipline

I am linking up with Aileen Miracle at Mrs. Miracle's Music Room to bring you some ideas for Dazzling Discipline this school year.

Know your students names! This can be especially tricky when you are starting at a new school and have to learn the entire school ASAP. Since this last year I taught 1st-5th and this coming year they are adding PreK and Kindergarten to my mix, I will have to learn names for all of the PreK, Kindergarten and 1st Grade. I have a TERRIBLE memory and I know it can sometimes take a while, but you need to learn names just as quickly as you can. It is much more powerful when you are trying to connect with or correct a student if you are able to use their names. To do this I play lots of name games at the beginning of the year. Here are a couple of my favorites: 

Another thing that is a "MUST HAVE" in learning student names is a seating chart. Those first few times when they come into music I am singing hello to each student and looking at their name and the student when I sing and for some reason that seating chart really helps me to remember names based on their placement.

Be Ready for the Students 
This is not always easy when you have one grade leaving and the next at the door, but your room and materials need to be set and ready for the next group to walk in the door. If that means they are waiting in the hallway for an extra 30 seconds so that you can go to your computer and switch from the 4th grade slides to the 3rd grade slides and find the first song on itunes that they will be moving to, so be it. It is worth it to not have students sitting and waiting DURING class. 

I get all my materials for my morning up on my computer or set in my room in the morning before my classes start and I do the same thing over my lunch for my afternoon classed. Every second is important so having everything in place from the time students walk in the door will help you to not waste any class time. My board spots are numbered and I also have certain jobs assigned to a few of them, so that if I say "lights", "door" or "projector", that a student is on top of it and it is one less thing that I have to do. This also helps with multiple students volunteering to help do something.

Thing through each of the steps you students will need to do to be successful at a game or activity. I remember being in a workshop with Andrew Ellingsen and something as simple as telling us to point our shoes in the direction we were going to move in the circle immediately took care of anyone going the wrong way.
Lesson plans need to be well thought out, include a variety of songs and activities, and transitions should help weave you songs together and eliminate a lot of the talking or off task behaviors that can happen between songs.

Music room rules and procedures: Last year I came up with a set of music room rules that spelled out "MUSIC". 

My rules are:
M - Make good choices
U- Use kind words
S- Show respect to classmates, teacher, and music (I love that this includes showing respect to the music, and it helps when kids think it's ok to sing less than their best)
I- Involve yourself
C- Care for our room and instruments

The rules are on posters that I display at the front of my room: 

To accompany each of these rules I created a song based on a familiar folk songs. I display these using my projector at the beginning of the year and whenever they need the reminder until they are all memorized.

Singing the songs is so much more joyful and memorable than sitting there on the first week of school and talking through your classroom rules. Then later when I see a student not making good choices, I only have to hum or sing "Make good choices, make good choices...." and they get themselves back on track.

I have them available in a bird theme as well:

Routines: From day one we practice all of the music room procedures. It is important to set the expectations, and be firm in your expectations. My first year I was a real softy. I got walked all over because I did not follow through with my consequences each time. There can be no exceptions. When something is not as you expect it should be, students need to be reminded of the rules and procedures and practice again until they accomplish the task appropriately. Most classes get the idea pretty quick that THEY would much rather play then practice entering or transitioning quietly.

When you are having repeated behavior problems from a student...

The first step is to remain calm. Under no circumstance should a child ever see you escalate because of their behavior. It truly just fuels the fire. 

When I start to see something going astray, here are some things I do:
1) Move closer to the area where the issue is. Sometimes proximity will be enough to correct it. Tapping a student on the back may be a good reminder as you are walking around the classroom.
2) Make eye contact with the student and with the students around them. If one student is trying to pull in more, you can often make it stop by giving a stern eye to the students who they are trying to engage with.
3) Verbally acknowledge the appropriate behaviors you are seeing from others.
4) Give a verbal cue to the offender. Whether it is just their name or a reminder of what they should be doing.
5) If the behavior continues, I give the student two choices I can live with "You may participate appropriately with the group, or you can learn by sitting out and watching others participate appropriately. You pick." Then I turn away. I do not stand and wait for their answer. If they choose to participate appropriately, I may say something like "Good choice" a few minutes later where only they can hear it.
6) If the student does not make a choice, it then becomes my choice and it may not be the same for every student. This is where you really have to know your kids. For some kids it may be sitting out, for others it may be a visit with their classroom teacher, or a phone call home.

On my summer "to do" list is to read this book

I think that it will give me some great tools to add to my classroom management toolbox.

What are your best strategies for Dazzling Discipline? I'd love to hear them below!

Yearly Planning for Music Teachers

My first year teaching (during my pre-Kodaly training days) I planned for each day and and no real long term vision for my classes or from year to year. During my Level 2 training, Lisa Simmelink really helped me understand concept and long range or yearly planning. One of our assignments was to map out concepts for the whole year for one grade level.

Every music teacher wants to get their year started off on the right track, reviewing where they left off with each grade level and getting new students caught up to speed.  From there we hope to stay on track progressing through the musical concepts we have planned for that grade level. In addition to that, we are thinking about our music programs and performances and how that all fits in to our yearly calendar and planning.  Having a plan in place helps to guide my planning for the whole year. 

So let's get started with yearly plans. When I do long term planning, I like to start with yearly plans and break it down by month, just looking at concepts. What do I want my students to be practicing by that month? Will I be preparing any new concepts? Will I be presenting a concept? Make sure that you are always working both melodically and rhythmically in every lesson. Go month by month for each grade level deciding about how long you will spend preparing/practicing each concept. Remember to be flexible!

Here is a sample of what my long range planning looks like. This is for kindergarten from August through December. I make different colors for different concepts (pink for Kindergarten concepts, yellow for rhythmic concepts, blue for melodic concepts, and the older grades also include scale and meter). I separate by month across the top and the light shades of each color represent concepts that are in the Practice stage (known concepts), while the darker shades represent the concepts that are being prepared and presented.

Want to see more?

These templates are samples from my planning sets on TPT which includes both yearly plans and song lists by concept for each grade level.

Getting from Yearly Plans to Lesson Plans Once you have the concepts you want to teach for each month and each grade level, make song lists for each grade level. Make a list of all the concepts you included on your Monthly/Yearly plans for that grade level (I’ve started one for you for each grade level, but you may need to adjust it to fit your needs). Under each concept heading make a list of all the songs you plan to use while working on that concept. That way when I are look ahead to my third grade planning in September I can see I want to be practicing re and tiri-tiri and preparing ti-tiri, then I would go to my third grade song list and find a song list for ti-tiri to find songs under that concept to weave my lesson plan together.

Here's a sample of what my first page of my 3rd grade song list looks:
For the little kids I like to have a ton of songs/games/activities in each lesson (probably 7-10) in a 30 minute lesson. For the older kids, I choose less song materials per lesson, but go deeper with the songs. Plus by then, their songs are a bit longer. 

Want a closer look at my "Ready, Set, Plan" yearly planning set? Check out this video:

Do you have different strategies for long term planning? I'd love to hear them in the comments below!