Music With Mrs. Tanenblatt

Friday, January 30, 2015

Teaching form in the Classroom

This week I started my unit on form with PreK through fifth grade. I've found in my teaching so far that form is the most difficult unit for a lot of students. It is a very abstract concept, and unless you are an experienced musician, it can be difficult to understand the phrase structure and the subtle differences that make up the form of a piece of music.

Whenever I teach a new concept, I try to make sure my students do a few things: sing it, move to it, play it on instruments, and visualize it.

Being on a cart makes some of these things particularly challenging, but I wanted to share some of the things I've been doing in the classroom to teach form:

Fifth Grade

I wanted to do a fun, engaging lesson with my fifth graders to introduce rondo form. Since I am on a cart at one of my schools, our range of motion is somewhat limited. Even if we move desks out of the way (which I think is a waste of time during our 30 minute block for music), my fifth grade class is 33 students and there just isn't space in their classroom. Since it's icy, we couldn't go outside... I had to think of something we could do inside at our desks.

That's where this FANTASTIC resource comes in:

Rhythm Basketball by Pitch Publications!

The Nutcracker March is in rondo form... How convenient! The play-along slideshow has a different page of rhythm for each section and was labeled with letters so that we could clearly see the form.

I modified the lesson to use tennis balls instead of basketballs, and it worked great! The students bounced their tennis balls off of their desks so there was no need to move furniture around. Everyone had a fun time, myself included. Even the kids who can tend to be tough nuts to crack were opening up and participating. I can't recommend this activity enough! 

Fourth Grade

I started their form unit by reviewing Call & Response. I learned this song in college and have taught with it every year since. We had a lot of fun singing and moving to show the form:

For some of my larger classes, we modified the movement slightly. Instead of being in one large circle, we split up in several groups and just made circles wherever they would fit around the room. The moves are simple enough that my students were able to do them all without my guidance. 

We also sang and played instruments to the Banana Boat Song, Day-O. (I was disappointed that only one of my fourth graders had seen Beetlejuice. Kids these days.) This one is in their Spotlight on Music curriculum, too! I had them play guiro and cabasa on the response, which sounded great with the calypso style.

Third Grade

We were working on AB form (I don't bother throwing the terms "binary" or "ternary" at them. I'd rather give the form a name they are more likely to remember.) We used movement to experience AB form by performing the dance, Niggun Atik. I learned this at a Kodaly workshop last year and was thrilled to see it also included in the third grade curriculum for Spotlight. 

If you've never seen the dance before, this video is a pretty good demonstration:

We start by just learning the footwork, and then the next time I bring this dance into their classroom I add the clapping and Egyptian hand-holding.

Second Grade

I LOVE doing cumulative songs with this age group. They really enjoy the challenge of reading and performing all of the lyrics. In their Spotlight book, we sang "I Bought Me a Cat" and I introduced them to the vocabulary term, "verse." We defined a verse as a repeated melody with different lyrics each time. 

First Grade

Speaking of cumulative songs, I did a really fun one with my first graders: The Rattlin' Bog! I had never heard this song in my childhood... when I got to college a few of my fellow Music Ed majors were appalled that I didn't know it and proceeded to teach it to me. Now I love singing it whenever the mood calls for it! 


We learned a few call and response songs, although I have not yet introduced that terminology to my kinders. My favorite is John the Rabbit. I use the version from Music Together. We start by learning the response part, "Yes Ma'am" and "No Ma'am" and move like bunnies whenever we sing that part.

I also went out on a limb and decided to have my first graders sing this song and make finger puppets to go along with it!

I used the bunny from this template:


I love incorporating some crafts into my lessons whenever I can. Especially on my long days with no planning time. After teaching seven classes in a row, it's nice to get a break from whole-group instruction and just let the kids create for a little bit.

After they colored their bunnies (and named them, of course), they used them to perform the response part of the song.

The best part, though, is the "bunny dance break" during the instrumental interlude. 

These are some of the things I've done this week to teach form in the classroom. What do you do to teach these concepts in your room?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It's here! It's here! $2 Tuesday is here!

I am so happy to have teamed up with some amazing music sellers on Teachers Pay Teachers to participate for the first time in a $2 Tuesday Flash Sale!

This sale is going on TODAY, Tuesday, January 27, 2015. You can get some very valuable products today only for just two bucks! That's less than the cost of a latte at Starbucks. 

To see all of the products that are being offered for $2 today, simply click here.

The product from my store is a brand new instrument families board game, Opening Night! The set comes with everything you need to review the four major families of the orchestra. There is a game board, die, four playing pieces, and 48 trivia cards about the different instruments.

I'm planning to use this as a center activity when I do my big end-of-the-year review centers. It works best with four players but with a larger class you could stretch it to about six students.

Here's how it works: 

You start by placing your piece anywhere on the board. You roll the die and move that number of spaces in either direction. You then answer a trivia question about the instrument family you landed on (percussion, woodwind, string, or brass). 

If you answer it correctly, you keep the card. If not, it goes back under the pile.

The first player to collect a card from each instrument family wins! 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Token Economy: A Love-Hate Relationship

This morning, as I spent a good chunk of my planning time standing at the photocopier and paper cutter, my mind began to wander. I was completing my monthly task of copying page after page of cartoonish, fake money. This is the "token" that we use to reward students for their good behavior at one of my schools. 

This is a view of the top of my cart.
You can see the Star Bucks tucked away in one of the blue bins.

Actually, all four of the schools where I have taught have been PBIS schools, so they have all used some type of token economy. PBIS, for those unfamiliar with the acronym, stands for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and is a nationally recognized program for behavior management. (You can read more about the program here.)

This is the definition of PBIS, taken directly from their website:

PBIS is a framework or approach for assisting school personnel in adopting and organizing evidence-based behavioral interventions into an integrated continuum that enhances academic and social behavior outcomes for all students. PBIS IS NOT a packaged curriculum, scripted intervention, or manualized strategy. PBIS IS a prevention-oriented way for school personnel to (a) organize evidence-based practices, (b) improve their implementation of those practices, and (c) maximize academic and social behavior outcomes for students. PBIS supports the success of ALLstudents.
In my school, we implement it school-wide. This means that every student and teacher has recognized our four major goals:
  • Respect Myself
  • Respect Others
  • Respect Learning
  • Respect Property
As a music teacher, my main relationship with PBIS comes in the form of recognizing these correct behaviors and positively reinforcing them with my students. In order to give positive reinforcement, we use a token economy. At one of my schools, because our mascot is the Star, our tokens are called "Star Bucks." (This CONSTANTLY confused me during my first year here because I heard people talking about them and I thought they were discussing coffee.) Basically, I am supposed to hand out a Star Buck every time I see a student doing the right thing.

This brings us back to me, this morning. While I was hunched over the paper cutter, trying to trim pages and pages of these little fake dollars, I couldn't help but ponder the futility of it all. "Why do I waste my time doing this?" I thought to myself, "My students should want to succeed in my class without me having to pay them." I also thought, "I could really use an assistant to do my copying and cutting for me."

Is it really worth my time to dole out the Star Bucks, day in and day out?

The short answer is yes

The long answer? Well, keep reading...

I've been plagued by an internal struggle, a love-hate relationship, over this token economy. On one hand, it feels like bribery to me. I see correct behaviors in my students, which is GREAT. However, I can't help feeling that the only reason I am seeing these correct behaviors is because the student knows that he or she will get a Starbuck as a reward. Later, a certain number of Starbucks can be redeemed for a toy or prize from the "Star Cart." 

One of the worst side-effects that I've seen from using the token economy is how students come to expect it. I daresay they even feel entitled to it. Sometimes when I compliment a student on correct behavior, they respond by looking at me expectantly or even blatantly asking me if they can have a Starbuck. I can't help but compare this look to a trained dog who has just performed a trick and is waiting for a doggie biscuit.

Photo Source:

Is this really how we want our children to view life? Do a good deed, get a reward. By training our students to use the token economy, we are destroying their sense of intrinsic motivation. Rather than behaving well because it's the right thing to do, they are only doing so because they think they will get a reward for doing it.

On the other hand, most adults that I know do the exact same thing. We can't really blame children for acting this way when we all do it. I worked some minimum wage, dead-end jobs while I was in school. Did I serve fast food because I felt intrinsically motivated to do it? Was I selling clothing to get a sense of self-satisfaction? Of course not. I did these things because I was getting paid. 

For students, school is their job. Why shouldn't they expect to earn something when they have done their job well?

After toying with various methods of using the Star Bucks (and observing some very skilled veteran teachers), I've come up with my own system for distributing them. These are my own personal guidelines for giving them out:
  • Never distribute them to every student in a class.
    Be spontaneous with them. If students never know who is going to get one and for what, they will be more patient. I never want my students to think they earn one just for showing up. 
  • Never give a student more than one per class.
    Rather than just letting one child rack up the money, I will say something like, "Great job, Susie. You are staying so focused and quiet today. This is why you earned a Star Buck earlier."
  • Always state the reason why a student has earned the Star Buck.
    Make sure to tie the reward in with the behavior you are looking for. Students don't just earn them because you like them or because they are a good student. In fact,
  • Never use a Star Buck to reward academics.
    These are for rewarding behavior only.
  • Never use a Star Buck as a bargaining device.
    I never use phrases like, "I will give a Star Buck to the first student who stands quietly in line." To me, this defeats the purpose because then I know I'm only seeing correct behavior because I made the bargain.
Personally, I feel that the main reason for using a token economy is to prepare our students for a time when it will be taken away. They should be getting used to what's expected of them in school and consistently demonstrate it regardless of a reward. I think of my Star Bucks as training wheels. They are a useful crutch for when I feel my students need a little extra push. I use them frequently at the beginning of the school year and right after a long break, and gradually give out less and less as my students settle into our school routines.


Please let me know in the comments if you or your school uses a token economy and what your thoughts are on the subject. I'd love to know what other methods are out there.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Full STEAM Ahead!

Raise your hand if you love Arts Integration!

Raise your hand if the concept of Arts Integration completely stresses you out!

I have definitely been on both sides of this coin. So far, out of the four schools in which I've taught, two have been STEAM schools where arts integration is expected out of the classroom teachers and cultural arts teachers. (STEAM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) I've been fortunate enough to attend several local workshops on arts integration, the most interesting of which would definitely have to be The Arts Integration Conference at UMBC

I am by no means an expert on the subject, but I would like to share one important principle of arts integration:

An arts integrated lesson should have TWO objectives: one for the arts component of the lesson, and one for the general ed component. For example: While it's certainly wonderful to use a catchy song to teach multiplication tables, this would NOT be an AI lesson, because the music is merely there as a tool to enhance the math lesson. 

The reason I bring this up in a post today is because I wanted to share my most recent product, Musical Math

A brief backstory: Last year, the entire faculty at one of my schools attended a PD session with Greg Tang. It's not very often that I am asked to attend a session on teaching math, and this session showed me many teaching models that I had never heard of. When he discussed the part-whole relationship model, I immediately saw how it could be applied to music. Now that I am building up my TpT store, I finally got around to developing this product!

The product includes 30 different examples. If you have an electronic white board, you can draw the missing notes directly onto the slides. Or, you could print these slides for students to complete individually. (If there is interest I might spend the extra time to make a student follow-along packet. Let me know in the comments if this is something you might be interested in.)

I can't wait to use this with my fourth graders tomorrow. Be on the lookout for more STEAM related blog posts in the future.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What Are You Reading Now? Linky Party

Today I am linking up with Jennifer at The Yellow Brick Road to join her "What Are You Reading Now?" linky party.

I will have to confess that I took a bit of liberty with the word "now," since the first book on my list is actually something that I read six months ago, while I was relaxing on my honeymoon cruise... but it was such a nice, refreshing read that I wanted to share it in this linkup!

1. PAST: The Late Starters Orchestra by Ari L. Goldman

I wanted to share this book because it was a fascinating read to me, and also fondly reminiscent to read. Ari Goldman is a journalist and a self-proclaimed amateur cellist. I love that term amateur: it comes from the latin root "to love." Amateurs are those who do an activity not because they are getting paid, but because they truly love it. In this book, Goldman describes a love of music that spans decades and crosses generations. It reminded me of my orchestra days... I studied viola quite seriously in school, until I made the decision to major in Voice at Westminster Choir College. Although my instrument is currently in a state of sad disrepair, a part of me always hopes to return to it some day, as Goldman did in this autobiographical book. 

2. PRESENT: A Soprano on Her Head by Eloise Ristad

This was recommended to me by a conductor in college. I didn't take many private conducting lessons, but when I went to see her once for a coaching, it was quickly determined that my worst enemy on the podium is my own mind. Years later, I've finally gotten around to reading this book and I can see why it was recommended to me. In a series of short vignettes, Risted writes about musicians whom she has coached in non-traditional ways. 

From the book:

"The nontraditional workshops that I lead for musicians usually start with body movement warm-ups that are designed to encourage spontaneity. The effect is both exhilarating and exhausting. After one such warm-up all eight of us in that particular group stretched out on the floor, sensing our bodies, our breath, and then our voices, until we found the most comfortable tones we could produce. As we let the tones change and followed the changes with body movement, Liz, our soprano, ended up on her knees with her head upside down on the floor.

Effortlessly, and without thinking how--for who could have told her how to sing on her head--she found all the resonance she had been struggling for, with the added bonus of incredible dynamic control. The rest of us had goose bumps and shivers as we listened to her voice fade in and out. Someone went to the piano and started the Mozart aria that Liz had been singing earlier, just to see if standing on her head would work as well for Mozart as it had with random tones. It did, and our goose bumps got bumpier."

3. FUTURE: Dinner with Lenny by Jonathan Cott

This book was a Christmas gift from my dad last year... you can tell I'm pretty slow at getting through my reading lists. There are just so many books and so little time! Leonard Bernstein is my all-time favorite conductor and among my favorite composers, so I can't wait to read Cott's retelling of his experiences with Lenny B. 

Marin Alsop describes the book by saying, "Jonathan Cott captures the ebullience, the enormous brilliance, and the life-affirming joy that exuded from Leonard Bernstein."

I can't wait to get started with it!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Introducing Notes on the Staff

I still find it somewhat magical that I get to be the person who introduces so many children to the concept of reading notated music. I know that there are many diverse musical cultures around the world that have no use for our western system (many would argue that American Pop music is among them), but I still think of "reading music" as one of the most major things that a child should be able to do when they leave my class. My third graders are getting their very first introduction to it this week, so I thought I would take a few minutes to share my thoughts on the subject. 

When to start?

I know a lot of teachers have varying opinions on the subject. I've seen teachers wait until 5th grade and some start as early as 1st. 

I start in third grade to prepare for their recorder unit (and sometimes I may do a little taste of it at the end of 2nd grade, depending on the class). 

How to present the info?

Even though I don't teach the treble clef notes until third grade, my students start reading from basic staff lines in Kindergarten. By the time they are ready to start letter names in third grade, they have already done the following in earlier years:
  • conceptualized where high and low sounds will be on the staff
  • learned the difference between line notes and space notes
  • placed solfege on a two-, three-, and five-line system
All of this has prepared them to easily replace solfa names with letter names on the staff. (I continue movable do solfege through fifth grade.)   

Activities for Kinesthetic Learners

  • Have every child use a "hand staff" while reciting an EGBDF mnemonic device.
  • Floor staff made out of masking tape (or one of these epic rugs, which I am fortunate enough to have at one of my schools this year!)
  • Bean bag toss game:
I made this for when I teach on a cart... electrical tape on a padded table cloth.

That blurry thing flying across the room is an elephant beanie baby. I say a note name and the student has two tries to get it to land on the correct line or space.

Activities for Visual Learners
Activities for Auditory Learners

Last but not least... Don't forget to MAKE MUSIC

All the theory drills, flashcards, and games in the world cannot replace the benefits that come from actually making music. I never want to lose sight of that. It is definitely fun to do review centers and play all these games, but I don't see this as the main focus of an elementary music class by any means. All these literacy skills must lay the foundation for a life of music playing and singing. Otherwise, what's the point?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Linky Party! Teacher Survival Guide

Hello from snowy Maryland! We had a snowstorm today but the schools were open and learning DID take place. I have to give a shout-out to my principal, Mr. Powell. He was outside for the better part of the morning shoveling/sweeping the ramps to all of the portables. He must have removed about 5 inches of snow so that students could get to music and other specials. I don't know what we would have done without him!

As we begin the snowy season, I am cheered by the fact that I get to participate in a brand new linky party, courtesy of Melissa Stouffer of Mrs. Stouffer's Music Room!

January Teacher Survival Guide

For this linkup, I am going to post three tips that I use to keep me motivated as we return from the holidays and start the second lap on this racetrack:

1. New year, new start


January is the perfect time to reset the tone of a class. Maybe things were getting a little sloppy before the holidays... Some of the behaviors you intended to address got ignored in the name of holiday cheer. Maybe your lessons lost a bit of their rigor while 30 tiny smiling faces wanted nothing more than one more verse of Frosty the Snowman. 

Now is time to press the reset button! I've been reminding my students of our rules, practicing procedures, and getting everyone back on track. I mentioned this wonderful article yesterday. I'm so glad I came across it during the winter break because it was the perfect reminder of what to do to set the right tone in the classroom.

2. Audition Season

It is audition season for our county's performing and visual arts magnet programs, and I am happy to be assisting with the audition process this month. I do not get the privilege of teaching chorus at either of my schools, so I don't get a lot of time to focus on things like audition skills. We do a bit of performing in general music, but I prefer my classes to be more inclusive and experience-based. 

At the auditions, I love hearing these dedicated students who have put in the extra time outside of class and who are seriously interested in pursuing music. It's a side of things that I don't always get to see, and it reminds me what I am setting the foundation for in my classroom.

3. Second Semester Kindergarteners

Gosh, is there anything sweeter than second semester Kindergarteners? I was chatting with a Kinder teacher at the beginning of this school year; she happened to have been dealt a group of kids that seemed to be particularly lacking in life skills. Hardly any of them had been in Pre-K and they were completely overwhelmed by school. She said to me, "I just have to remember that it won't be like this all year. It will get better." and she is so right. 

I adore my kinder classes in the second half of the year. They are starting to get the hang of this school thing. They have their routines in place. They will simply eat up ANY musical style or genre that I play for them, provided that I sell it the right way. They are honest and eager to succeed.

Of course, our role as teachers is to try and maintain that feeling- that spark and love of learning- in these kids for the next twelve years.

I hope I've given you some motivation to get through this gloomy weather. If you want to share your own January Teacher Survival Guide, please head over to Mrs. Stouffer's Music Room and link up!  

Monday, January 5, 2015

Testing out our dry erase boards!

Well, we made it through our first day back! While much of my day was spent on review (reviewing class procedures, reviewing treble clef notes, reviewing rhythms), I was able to crack open my box of new dry erase boards and use them with my fifth graders today. We were learning about steps, skips, and repeats.

I know they're not exactly Earth-shattering technology, but it was the first time I've ever used the lined boards with a class and the students were all engaged and enthusiastic about it.
We did a little activity using the boards where I would tell them what note to start on and then give directions such as "draw a note one step up. Next skip down to the bottom line" etc. Then at the end I would check and see who was able to follow all of the directions and give them a Bamboo Buck (the school's PBIS reward system).
I also wanted to share this infographic that I saw floating around Facebook a few days ago: 


These were all great reminders to have fresh in mind after coming back from a long break. One important reminder for me was that it's sabotage not to provide students with written instructions. I know that is one thing I forget sometimes! So I made sure to write my directions on the board. I'm sure that contributed to the success of this activity.

I'm developing a new game called "Step Right Up!" that will be another way to review steps, skips, and repeats with a cute, glittery game show theme. I uploaded it to Teachers Pay Teachers over the break and another seller was kind enough to privately point out to me that it had a GLARING TYPO on it. Whoops! So until I get a chance to go back and double-check the whole file, it's not available yet. Should be within a day or two!

Speaking of TpT... don't forget about the HUGE giveaway that just started. Scroll down to the previous post to sign up! 5 days left!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

I'm participating in a HUGE TpT Giveaway!

I'm teaming up with some other music sellers on Teachers Pay Teachers to bring you a mega giveaway and start the new year off with a bang! 

Each of us is offering $10 worth of products in our store! The winners will be chosen on January 10th, so hurry and get your entries in this week!

I will be letting you choose any products you want to add up to the $10... which is pretty generous, if I do say so myself! ;) 

What are you waiting for? The contest only runs from Jan 5-10... Sign up now!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

One of the neat things about this giveaway is that you can get more entries every time you leave feedback on one of my TpT products. (If you haven't bought anything from my store before, now is a great time! Otherwise you can download a freebie.) 

{Why leave feedback? Check out this post by Shelley Tomich to learn about how to leave fair feedback and get TpT credits for future purchases!}

Don't forget to visit these other sellers and join their giveaways for more chances to win!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year, New Layout!

Surprise! As an impulse, I decided to change up my layout a bit today. I wasn't happy with the way my old header looked, and then things just snowballed from there :) 

I figure since I am showing off a brand new look, I should also take this opportunity to show up a new product from my TpT store:

I'm particularly jazzed about these worksheets because I am going to be starting my harmony/texture unit soon. This project will allow my students to experiment with writing three-part music and hearing how the texture fits together. 

I recently downloaded some instrument clipart from The Dancing Crayon so I really wanted to include that in this product. I also wanted to make something that incorporated a cut-and-paste component... I used to think that my 3-5 graders were "too cool" and "too mature" for that kind of thing, but I'm starting to rethink that, since they LOVE any time I ask them to color with crayons. So we're going to try it out. 

I made an exemplar and I have to admit... I had fun meticulously cutting and pasting the little squares!

I'm looking forward to trying it out with many different grades, since the actual rhythmic content is open-ended and can be adjusted to meet the level of whichever students are working on it.

Once we get back to school, I will let you know how it works out!