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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Dance Playlist 2018

I love having upbeat, modern songs with positive lyrics (pre-censoring) to use for all kinds of things in my classroom, whether it's dance games, play-along's, or end-of-year slideshows and field day music, and I love having these on repeat at home too! If you haven't seen them yet, you'll definitely want to check out my first 2 playlists here and here for more of my favorites, but I'm back with more fun songs to add this year!

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Easy Asian Recipes for Warm Days

Now that the weather is warming up, I'm excited to pull out some of my favorite warm weather recipes- the ones that require minimal cooking and are cool and refreshing to eat! If you're looking for some new weeknight meals to try this spring and summer, here are a few of my favorites :)

1. Hiyashi Chuka

Many of you know I grew up in Japan. This is one of my favorite Japanese meals and it's so easy to make! Basically it is cold ramen noodles with a soy-sesame sauce and whatever toppings you'd like- I usually go for cucumbers, carrots, ham, egg, and bean sprouts, but you can truly use whatever you have in your fridge. This is a great way to use up that produce at the end of the week! The recipe below will show you how to make the sauce from scratch, but if you have an Asian grocery nearby see if you can find packs of Hiyashi Chuka, which will come with the noodles and sauce packs- I can throw dinner together in 10 minutes with these!

Recipe from Just One Cookbook:

2. Fresh Spring Rolls

This is another great way to use up produce and add in whatever you have on hand. All you need are rice paper wrappers like these. Soak them in warm water for 5 seconds, put in whatever ingredients you want, and wrap it up like a burrito. Add some dipping sauce and you've got a fun, easy, and delicious lunch or dinner in just a few minutes. My favorite tip: get the fresh mint and cilantro leaves. It takes them right over the top!

Recipe from Tastes Better From Scratch:

I keep some Hiyashi Chuka packs and rice paper wrappers in my pantry year-round so I can quickly whip these up whenever I feel like it. So easy, healthy, and yummy! I hope you'll give them a try this season (and let me know what you think)!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Curriculum Writing: Means vs Ends

One of the most common confusions in general music curriculum writing, I find, is the difference between end goals and means to those goals. Having worked on many curriculum writing teams in my own districts, and guided music teachers and districts creating their own curricula and long-range plans through my Lesson Planning Made Awesome course and professional development sessions, I see people confuse the two quite regularly, and it's not hard to see why. Today I want to focus in on distinguishing the two, as I see it, and talking about why it's important to understand the difference.

One of the first steps in any curriculum writing/ long-range planning is to figure out what students need to know by the end of a course/ grade level. When you're mapping out multiple grades, as is usually the case with general music, you have to decide when you're going to introduce each concept and in what order. This is your scope and sequence. In order to decide what to teach, you have to know what you want students to get out of your teaching!

Usually when you're outlining your scope and sequence, you'll be basing it off of a set of standards. Some will give you a scope and sequence (lucky you!), but others are more broad and general, and you'll need to make your scope and sequence yourself based on the standards. When I'm helping people through this process, the first thing I advise teachers to do is to make a list of the concepts they teach (or think they should teach) in each grade. Most lists will include rhythms, like when students should know half notes or barred sixteenth notes, solfege and letter names, like when students should be able to identify mi, sol, and la or read notes in treble clef, and other musical elements like form, dynamics, and more. Some will also include specific units they teach in specific grades, like recorders, ukuleles, folk dance, or world music. 

Here's the thing: the items in my first list are concepts. The units in the second list are not. The concepts are what I want to call "ends", and the units (and other similar ideas) are "means". Is it important to map out when you will teach recorders or ukuleles? Yes. Is it important to include folk dancing and music from various cultures into your general music curriculum? Absolutely! But those should not, in my opinion, be the starting point. They are the means to your ends.

Defining "means" and "ends"

When you're deciding what to teach when, you're determining how to best scaffold new knowledge and skills so that students can grow musically in the most effective way possible. You're creating a plan for long-term brain development! That means you have to think in concepts. Concepts in general music are ideas and skills that can be applied to a variety of different modes of "musicking"- they are not tied to specific literature or particular forms of music-making. These are your end goals.

Means are the ways in which students practice and apply those concepts in order to attain those end goals- that new knowledge and skill they need to continue to grow as musicians. Means are a specific form of "musicking", like playing a particular instrument, or listening to a particular type of music. 

Let's take rhythm as an example. I expect my 4th graders to understand dotted half notes. That is a concept. In order for them to understand (and demonstrate their understanding of) dotted half notes, they need to sing them, hear them, play them on instruments, show them through movement, and create their own music with them. There are lots of great ways to do that- the next step once I know the end goal is to determine the best way to get them to understand the concept. That's where the means come in!

Why it matters

But why does it matter? Isn't it just semantics, really, to distinguish between ends and means? If I know I'm going to teach ukulele in 5th grade, why does it matter if I include ukulele in my scope and sequence or not? Because at some level, you're institutionalizing your values and backgrounds and making it easier for you to lose sight of the purpose behind what you're doing in the classroom. 

It is much easier for us as teachers to hold onto specific forms of music-making that aren't suited to our student demographics or the contemporary times we live in if they are immortalized in a curriculum document- that's just the reality of how we function. If we can clarify what are actual end goals are for that recorder unit we're doing, it will be much easier for us to reflect on our teaching practice, recognize when a particular means is no longer effective or appropriate, and find an alternative means to the same end. This helps us avoid institutionalizing our values through means that are specific to our preferences.

This is especially valuable in unifying disparate teaching between school buildings and/or specific teachers. If you are clear on the musical ends for each grade, there's no reason why one teacher can't teach those ends through Mariachi music while another uses ukuleles and have all students be equally prepared for the middle school, for example.

Clarifying the end goal of anything you're teaching will also help you differentiate more effectively for your students. Some students may not have the fine motor skills to play the recorder well at that time, or they may have never seen a wind instrument played before and are slow to understand the process of playing, or they may not have grown up hearing "Hot Cross Buns" or "Mary Had a Little Lamb" before so they take longer to learn what other students find easy. There are many successful musicians in the world who can understand and perform sixteenth notes without being able to play a soprano recorder. Maybe the student can sing sixteenth notes, or perform them as part of a step routine. If you have a student who is struggling with a particular "means", you'll be able to reflect on what the end goals are and find other ways to help them meet those goals.

Keeping the end goals in mind will also help you not get bogged down with the process of specific means. If you love recorder like I do, and especially if you have a group of students who are motivated and successful with the recorder, it's easy to get excited about continuing to push ahead with more and more challenging literature. In some cases learning to play an instrument at a high level is a great benefit to their overall musical growth. But in most cases extending their time on one aspect of "musicking" takes time away from other important areas of holistic musicianship. Keeping the ends in mind will help you determine when to push ahead and when to move on.

Everything in its place

So how do you plan for specific means in curriculum writing? You can plan for the specific ways you want to accomplish your end goals through your long-range plans! Once you've set them aside for a time and focused on the ends (ideas and skills) you want students to learn, you can come back to the means with a fresh perspective. For means that are non-negotiable, like a recorder program that an administrator has already said must be taught in 3rd grade, you can determine the best way to utilize those means to meet the end goals for that grade. For other means that are not so set in stone, ask yourself whether a) this would be better suited for a different grade where it would more effectively meet the end goals, and b) this is really the best means to the ends at all. In most cases, since you can really approach most musical ends through a variety of means, this will simply be a way to help you determine the best way to approach the unit itself, how long to spend on it, and when to teach it to fit most effectively into the scaffolded sequence of musical development you've established.

If you've made it this far through my ramblings, thank you! As we approach the season of curriculum writing and reviewing for many schools and teachers, this topic has been on my mind. If you have any questions or thoughts on this I would love to chat! Please leave a comment below or send me a message. And if you'd like to learn more about my process for general music curriculum writing and lesson planning and see my concrete steps and templates for doing so, you can sign up for my free Lesson Planning Made Awesome email course right here!

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Monday, May 14, 2018

5 Tips to Get Kids to Practice

My 6 year old daughter recently started taking violin lessons. As a music teacher myself you'd think it would be simple for me to motivate my own children to practice. It isn't. But now that we've got several months under our belt we've gotten into a good rhythm, and I've been able to see which of the practice strategies I teach my students actually work at home. Today I wanted to share my top tips for getting kids to practice their instrument without making it a stressful chore!

1. Make it visible and accessible

My favorite tip for getting kids to practice more frequently is to have the instrument, sheet music, stand, and anything else they need to practice readily available in a place where they will see it. I keep my daughter's violin in a corner of our dining/ living room where we spend most of our time, so it is always right there. I tell my students at school to take out their instrument and put it in the living room or bedroom as soon as they get home, even if they aren't planning to practice right away. If their instrument requires assembly, I tell them to get it out of the case and put it together right away as well. Now all they have to do to start practicing is pick up their instrument! Not only does it make kids more likely to remember to practice, but it will seem like less of a chore to do so if they don't have to go anywhere or do anything to get started.

2. Give structure

I think most adults know that simply telling a child to "go practice" does no good- they have to know what to do for how long and in what way! If their teacher doesn't do this already, ask them to help you make a list of specific things to work on each week, then make a chart with each of those items listed and space to check off (or add a sticker etc) each item each day that they practice.

3. Give choices

I feel like I say this about basically every parenting topic ever, but giving choices will give children more of a sense of control and make it feel less like doing something because they have to. There are lots of easy ways to give kids options to choose from when they practice:

  • Choose what order they want to practice their pieces/ exercises in
  • Choose a new tempo or dynamic level for each piece/ exercise
  • Choose one different exercise or excerpt to practice each day (for example: if they're working on playing middle C on piano with their thumb, have them choose a different rhythm to play it with each day, or if they're working on learning a brand new song, have them choose 1 measure or short section to practice each day)
  • Make up their own song to practice (this could either be improvised or written down, and you could have them target a specific musical element they're working on or just make it a free-for-all)
  • Choose when to practice (before or after dinner, in the morning or the evening etc)

4. Give breaks

Just like with anything else, taking breaks can not only help keep energy up but it will also help the brain learn better. For young kids who are probably spending shorter amounts of time practicing, this may mean taking 1 or 2 days off from practicing each week. For older children who are expected to practice more material each week/ day, this may mean breaking up each day's practice session into smaller chunks.

5. Don't force it

If the child sits down to practice but is too distracted by something else, in a foul mood, or too tired, trying to force them to continue is wasted effort in my opinion. Better to walk away, do something different, and try again later. The more we can keep playing their instrument something they want to do because it's fun, the better!

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